Monday, February 13, 2012

Greetings and rants from Titan

Titan is back and as usual is full of rants about the world and the way it is run.  First, however, he would like to continue our tour of the solar system and introduce you to his colleague Oberon, who is orbiting the next planet out, Uranus.  Here is the best picture acquired by Voyager 2 during the 1986 flyby.

We had a good time with Uranus, a weird planet lying on its side and orbiting the Sun.
Uranus’ tilt essentially has the planet orbiting the Sun on its side, the axis of its spin is nearly pointing at the Sun.
CREDIT: NASA and Erich Karkoschka, U. of Arizona

By that we mean that the rotation axis is in the plane of the ecliptic and every 46 years it points directly at the Sun.  Its moons are named after characters in Midsummer Night's Dream, but alas Bottom has not yet been recognized despite an impassioned appeal by the late Carl Sagan.
Discovered by     William Herschel
Discovery date     January 11, 1787[1]
Alternate name(s)     Uranus IV
Adjective     Oberonian[2]
Orbital characteristics
Semi-major axis     583 520 km[3]
Eccentricity     0.0014[3]
Orbital period     13.463 234 d[3]
Inclination     0.058° (to Uranus's equator)[3]
Satellite of     Uranus
Physical characteristics
Mean radius     761.4 ± 2.6 km (0.1194 Earths)[4]
Surface area     7 285 000 km²[a]
Volume     1 849 000 000 km³[b]
Mass     3.014 ± 0.075 × 1021 kg (5.046 × 10-4 Earths)[5]
Mean density     1.63 ± 0.05 g/cm³[5]
Equatorial surface gravity     0.348 m/s²[c]
Escape velocity     0.726 km/s[d]
Rotation period     presumed synchronous[6]

    0.31 (geometrical)
    0.14 (Bond)[7]

Temperature     70–80 K[8]
Apparent magnitude     14.1[9]
Surface pressure     zero

Uranus, named after the Greek sky deity Ouranos, the earliest of the lords of the heavens, was the first planet to be discovered by scientists.
The famous pop singer Whitney Houston died yesterday at age 48 in Beverly Hills .  It is tragic to see such a young life and great talent snuffed out so early.  The link contains an obituary and summary of her career.

OK, enough of this civilized stuff, on to the garbage of the world.  A fairly mild resolution in the UN Security Council calling for Syrian president Assad to step down and put an end to the carnage  was vetoed by Russia and China.  Thousands of people have been killed and yet the international community can do no more than wring its hands.

An anti-regime demonstration in the city of al-Qsair, south-west of Homs where activists say Syrian forces have killed more than 200 people. Photograph: Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty

The disgust felt around the world at this action by Russia and China is beyond description.  Let us quote an unnamed Arab ambassador from a Gulf state who put it thus "It's absolutely unacceptable that we see on a daily basis hundreds of civilian deaths in Homs and other Syrian cities. This international silence and the use of the veto against condemning the Syrian regime is a moral and political scandal by any measure."
There is talk of a new mission to Syria, Arab League plus UN, after the previous Arab league mission accomplished nothing in terms of abatement of the violence.  In any case, it is clear that the people of Syria are being tossed to the wolves unless some way can be found to help them.  You can act via Avaaz to help smuggle in aid for the opposition and you can squawk to your government, especially if you live in Russia.   The Russian opposition thinks that the veto came about to protect Putin from the contagion of deposing dictators, represented by the Arab Spring.  For China, there is no hope of redemption.

Across our southern border, things are not so great either.  The Egyptian government apparently needs some scapegoats after its scandalous failure to prevent a football riot in Port Said last week in which 74 people were killed.  They are taking an example from Israel and going after NGO's that have foreign funding.  The trick is  putting people on trial and it is clear that it is all politically motivated.   The US is being put in a difficult position with respect to continuance of its massive aid to Egypt. The Arab Spring is rapidly turning sour. The Egyptian people elected a religious government and it is their right to do so.  Nonetheless, basic human rights standards must be maintained.  We are awaiting the full turnover of power to the elected government.   In Libya, Amnesty has documented torture and other severe human rights abuses by entities of the new government against suspected Qaddafi supporters. Amnesty is not aware of any efforts by the new Libyan leadership to hold perpetrators accountable.  A revolution driven by protest against human rights violations is betrayed if the revolutionaries adopt the values and actions of the regime that they have displaced.  There are reports of prisoners dying under  torture and the response of the Libyan government has been woefully inadequate.

All of the team, Titan, Pollyanna and YandA, love chocolate.  We were, therefore, taken aback by disclosures of the terrible conditions in the cacao plantations in West Africa.  A majority of the workers there are children held in what amounts to modern day slavery.  Read more and view the video.   We have written to the Green Movement in Israel in the hope of obtaining information about the source of raw materials for the chocolate we consume. 
Work on cocoa farms in the region can be demanding - and dangerous
 The chocolate industry is worth more than $90bn (£56.5bn) a year, and more than 40% of people in the Ivory Coast live below the poverty line.
Ten years ago, under international pressure, chocolate companies signed an international protocol to stop the practice of dangerous child labor. They promised to "commit significant resources" and act "as a matter of urgency."
Cocoa pod
Cocoa is the raw ingredient for chocolate and one of West Africa's main export
But the report by Tulane University in the US, found that the chocolate industry's funding since 2001 had "not been sufficient" and it needed to do more.  Let us all start making noise about this and think of children in Ivory Coast when we next bite into some delicious chocolate. If necessary, we shall have to give up chocolate, alas.

It is impossible  to talk about human rights in the world without touching upon the arch-violator of human rights, the government of China.  This week Titan wishes to join the protest by Amnesty International against the excessive and unjustified use of force against Tibetans who are doing no more than to protest the discrimination against their community that has become standard policy.  We all call upon the Chinese government to cease and desist the use of lethal force against nonviolent Tibetan protestors.  We show a demonstration in India against the persecution.
Tibetans' grievances against cultural and religious repression under Chinese rule are worsening
© Gerardo Angiulli / Demotix
We have just had another case of self-immolation, this time an 18 year old nun.  
Tenzin Choezin, the Buddhist nun who was reported by the International Campaign for Tibet to have set herself on fire Photograph: Freetibet/AFP/Getty Images
 The usual culprits are also creating havoc in Darfur.  China, Russia, and Belarus continue to supply weapons and munitions to Sudan despite  compelling evidence that the arms will be used against civilians in Darfur. Exports include supplying significant quantities of ammunition, helicopter gunships, attack aircraft, air-to-ground rockets and armored vehicles.
Arms sold to Sudan are often used to commit human rights violations in Darfur
© Private
Let us start with something that is at least somewhat positive.  The members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe who were about to be forced to resettle near a garbage dump in East Jerusalem have  won a reprieve.  They have also been assured that their school in Khan al-Ahmar would be allowed to remain standing until the tribe moves to the new site, Palestinian sources said. A demolition order has been issued for the school, which is built out of tires and mud.
Italian architect Valerio Marazzi, who designed and built a school for the Jahalin Bedouin tribe.
Photo by: Alex Levac
 Please sign this petition  to try   even at the 11th hour, to save the life of Khader Adnan. Like all Palestinian administrative detainees, he is subject to ‘occupiers’ justice’ i.e. no justice at all. In Ireland internment, imprisonment without trial, was a major issue in the early 1970’s and its failure led to the fall of the Stormont Government.  The petition is a letter to the International Red Cross pleading with them intercede with the Israeli authorities on his behalf.  He has been on hunger strike for 58 days as we write.
As Israelis we should all blush with shame over this matter of administrative detention.  It means that a low-ranking Army officer can throw anyone into prison, no charge, no trial and no effective recourse.  There is indeed a charade of getting a judge to sign off, on "evidence" that the detainee is not allowed to see and probably (in our estimation) does not exist.  The judge will sign off on anything the Army requests since the judiciary in Israel sits in the back pocket of the military establishment.  The Supreme Court itself sits by idly while the Army flouts its decisions.
About the International Committee of the Red Cross, let me quote from Tony Greenstein's blog( I am sure he will not mind):
"Israel has routinely detained, without trial but with torture, thousands of Palestinian prisoners. This has merited no response from those who are so concerned at human rights in Syria. It has also merited no response from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC throughout the 2nd World War repeatedly failed to take up the case of the civilian population in Nazi occupied areas. They even allowed the Nazis to use them to whitewash the the ‘model’ camp of Thereinstadt in the Czech Republic. In anticipation of the ICRC visit, a few thousand detainees were ‘transferred’ to Auschwitz where they were murdered. Even at Auschwitz the ICRC allowed itself to be fooled by the Czech children’s camp, where in contrast to the rest of the camp, the children were treated humanely, until it was time to be gassed –after the ICRC had long left never to return or inquire.

Over Guantanamo and torture the ICRC has kept silent, so it is not surprising that the conditions of Palestinian prisoners merit no mention. Its record over the hunger strike of Khader Adnan is no exception.

But Israel is behaving like the most stupid occupier. It believes that the use of force is all that is necessary and it has behaved with the utmost brutality, failing to even understand the outrage at detaining people at will on secret evidence for months and years at a time.

Khader Adnan’s life at risk as He enters day 56 of hunger Strike - since 17 December 2011‏"


One of the characteristics of the establishment in Israel is systematic evasion of accountability for catastrophes brought about by human incompetence.  The greatest fire in Israel's history broke out in early December 2010 and was only  put out 82 hours later. Within four hours of the blaze, a bus carrying Prison Service cadets coming from  the Damon Prison was caught in the flames, killing 42 people. More than 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes and 5000 hectares of land were destroyed.  Now the State Comptroller has laid personal responsibility for the incompetence and lack of equipment needed to fight the blaze at the door of the Interior Minister Eli Yishai
Minister Eli Yishai Photo: Gil Yohanan
and the Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Minister Yuval Steinitz Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Yedioth Ahronoth
It will be important to see if the PM has the cojones needed to collect the bill.  Titan has severe doubts. We have also seen that the army forgives incompetence and lack of judgement, but at least it will take steps if an officer tries to cover up failure with deceit.  Operational failures seem to be a different story. For example, most recently in the case of  the failure to stop demonstrators from Syria crossing the fence at Majd al-Shams in May, and of the attacks near Eilat in August, Chief of Staff Gantz drew criticism, which we share,  for not taking strict action against officers who failed in their duty.  It is indeed a question of where the line is drawn.  In our army, incompetence carries little sanction, i.e. the Chief of Intelligence told a Knesset committee on January 25, 2011 that the Mubarek regime was stable and he still has his job.  If that lack of insight caused diplomatic or other damage, he should have been sacked.  Apparently, the mafiosi of the military caste look out for each other within limits. 
As an example of the "chutzpa" of the military mafia, consider the case of Brig. Gen. (res. ) Aharon Haliva who told his reserve division that their training was curtailed because of social unrest.  Some people give idiots a bad name.  He is not even an active officer but he still has the military mindset.  One of his officers gave him a good reply which you can read in the linked article.
Brig. Gen. ‏(res.‏) Aharon Haliva. Asked the reserve soldiers not to leak the conversation.
Photo by: Amos Halfon

These are the women who stand at checkpoints and help Palestinians deal with the autocratic and heavy handed minions of the Occupation.They help the Palestinians who are choked by the brutal bureaucracy of the Israeli Occupation.  Amira Hass describes their work and asks the difficult question whether helping individuals helps prolong the occupation.  It is the old dilemma-is worse better?  The doctrinaire Marxists saw palliative social efforts as something counterproductive because they postponed the revolution.  Sylvia Piterman, a retired senior economist has written a report on the Occupation and how it works.   It is reminiscent of Kafka's "The Castle."
Franz Kafka

There is no shortage of Kafkaesque sagas of individual Palestinians in the mazes of the occupation in our newspapers. But the report tells a saga of thousands. That is why throughout the report one can hear the refrain: There's a method here, there's a purpose behind the wholesale denial of permits and of restrictions of movement.
Doesn't the assistance to individuals (even when there are thousands ) beautify the system? That is a question that comes up in the report, as in the constant conversations of the activists. This is a dilemma that faces every anti-occupation group in Israel. In the overall battle against a regime of privileges for Jews, Jewish Israelis exploit their superior rights in order to try and help people (usually of those classes which are not wrapped with money and connections ) in their daily dealings with the empire of prohibitions: to go to Israel for medical treatment, to overturn a home demolition order, to prepare a building plan, to dig a water cistern, to file a complaint with the police against settler harassment, to go to study, to visit a sick mother.

The theoretical understanding that this is a repugnant system, and its overall rejection does not weaken their caring and commitment to individuals

We pride ourselves on being open minded and liberal, free of prejudice.  Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal takes us down the long road of the future of liberalism...
Gene Weingarten in his new medium retains the old flair:(click on image to enlarge)

Our times are marked by social unrest of which Titan approves even if the idiot Israeli general does not.  Indeed it is time for people to stop behaving like sheep and to take their own destiny into their own hands. XKCD shows us what this can bring about (click to enlarge):

The Colbert Report can be most illuminating:

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