Saturday, June 23, 2012

Titan is back and ranting

Titan is back after a long hiatus caused by the broken arm of his faithful amanuensis.  In that time, many bad things have happened and there is much to gripe about which is our role in life.  Last week, you got mostly sweetness and light from our beloved sister Pollyanna.  First, however, we want to mark an event in the history of the Voyager spacecraft.

We were involved with the the Plasma Science experiment on both Voyager 1 and 2 throughout the entire planetary phase of the mission, from the first Jupiter encounter in 1979 up to the last hurrah at Neptune in 1989.  The spacecraft continued their exploration of the outer Solar System and now Voyager 1 is about to exit the domain of the Sun, the heliosphere, and to embark on an interstellar voyage.  An artist's conception is shown here:

Our project scientist Ed Stone said it best at the Neptune celebration, quoting T.S. Eliot (great poet, human scum),
 "...Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers." 
Our Voyagers are indeed faring forward and we wish them well on their long journey, until the  moment around 2025 when the available electrical power will no longer support science instrument operation. At this time scientific data return and all spacecraft operations will end.   Then the two inert objects will continue on forever and in the next few million years will fly within a few light years of various stars.

We mark the passing of Lord Peter Archer of Sandwell QC, who died on 14 June 2012, aged 85. He was one of the founding members of Amnesty International and throughout a long career as a Labor parliamentarian and a lawyer was a tireless fighter on behalf of human rights.  We append an obituary provided by Amnesty International.

Our first gripe is over the incompetence of the International Criminal Court.  The trial of Ratko Mladic the last of the major Serb war criminals

 has been suspended until further notice because of the failure of the prosecution to provide the relevant evidence to the defence team. For his victims, as stated by Gladstone,  justice delayed is justice denied, and there exists a danger that he might die a natural death (age 70) without paying for his crimes.  The ICC owes people more.

ENVIRONMENTAL MATTERS.   First we would like to ask you to join a call for Yahoo to stop promoting the sale of whale meat in Japan.  We would also like to thank Prince William for his call to end rhinoceros hunting and Sir Paul McCartney for his support of environmental responsibility in the Arctic.

We are pleased to learn that Monsanto has lost a major court case in Brazil and has been ordered to pay $2 billion to Brazilian  farmers whom it has been ripping off for decades.  In fact, the bill may exceed 7 gigabucks, although Monsanto is good at dragging out court cases by endless appeals.  It has also been caught red handed enslaving workers in Argentina.  Nice people indeed.

Be careful of what you say and do in a Canadian airport because Big Brother is watching and listening.  We are informed by the Edmonton Journal, via Ottawa Citizen,  that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has announced that audio-video monitoring and recording is already established at a number of airports and border entry points. The agency has not shared which CBSA sites have these high-definition cameras and microphones installed.  The audio part has not yet been activated, but it may well be soon.   One might expect that this intrusion on privacy will be challenged in the courts.

We have a report from India that a seven year old girl was murdered as a sacrifice to the gods.  Her liver was offered to the gods in return for a good agricultural harvest in the central state of Chhattisgarh, India, police said on Sunday.  It is incredible that such practices still exist, but indeed there are parts of the Third World where illiteracy, superstition and primitive attitudes survive. Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, said: "Modern India is home to hundreds of millions who can't read or write, but who often seek refuge from life's realities through astrology or the magical arts of shamans. Unfortunately these people focus their horrific attention on society's weaker members, mainly women and children who are easier to handle and kidnap."

In an  analogous development, we note that a man has been executed in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft.  Nice world we have.  Our daughter Zohar has long claimed that superstition brings bad luck.  It brings much worse, mainly horrible violations of the fundamental rights of human beings.

During our period of enforced silence, much has happened in Israel, mostly negative developments, as the enemies of democracy continue their campaign against the rights of the rest of us and the prospects for peace fade as the West Bank settlements expand like cancers.  Nonetheless, we would like to start with some good news, namely that the courts have ruled that non-Orthodox rabbis must be paid by local authorities and the government has acquiesced.  Naturally, the Orthodox establishment is up in arms, but we have high hopes that the rule will be extended to cities as well as to the rural areas where it now applies.  Kudos to IRAC, the legal arm of the Reform Movement, for leading this fight.

This is a way of life for the practitioners of Putin politics in Israel.  A Knesset member for Kadima, the "progressive party", has called for human rights activists to be placed in detention camps.  In a discussion of the deportation of African refugees and asylum seekers Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich called the Africans' supporters phonies - who would happily deport Jews they did not like, settlers and the ultra-Orthodox - and keep the Africans here in Israel.
"These phonies - first of all I would jail them all for incitement of Jews against Jews. This is Solution Number One: to jail all human rights [activists]."

"We can transport them afterwards to those same places that we're building, the camps. Let them work there." 

This week we see the beginning of the deportation of refugees and asylum seekers.  People who have lived her for years, children who were born here and have no other homeland, hard and honest workers, all being driven out because only Jews have rights here.
Israel deports African migrants

What is happening contradicts every value that we have grown up with, the idea that Jews are a people of mercy and chesed (usually translated lovingkindness, but having more connotations in Hebrew) and here we are, crushing the Palestinians, exploiting foreign workers, trampling on dissent and basic human and civil rights and freedoms.  We call your attention to a petition circulating on the Web among Jews, calling on our government to remember where we came from.  We are told by the likes of Yehezkel Dror (we knew him back in ancient student days) and other right-wing pundits that morality is a luxury that we cannot afford when faced with existential threats.  In fact, the threats are mostly cooked up by the establishment to control us by means of totally irrational fear.  The Palestinians are no match for our tanks and planes, no Arab state has an interest in going to war against us, the Iranians are quite aware of our second strike capability and will not commit suicide and assimilation by intermarriage etc. is a matter of personal choices and human rights.  Please sign this petition and let us all try to overcome the macho image of the conquering Sabra who negates all of Jewish history and human values.
In blood and sweat / A race will arise to us / Proud and generous and brutal….” Thus wrote Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the founder of extreme right-wing Zionism, who was also a writer and a poet.  Uri Avineri writes "To paraphrase Jabotinsky: our educational system now produces a race stupid and mean and brutal."   The bottom line for society in Israel is the brutality, but the stupidity and meanness are prominent as well--just try driving on the roads or getting off a train with a mass of bodies blocking the exit and pushing in as you try to get out.  Trivial maybe, but symptomatic of a national character and mind set.
Last December in this blog, we pointed you at a review of Gershon Gorenberg's book The Unmaking of Israel.  We again recommend it.  The real danger to the future of Israel lies in the occupation, the expansion of the settlements, the attack on liberal democracy and the pursuit of wealth a la the American model in a frenzy of what President Peres calls "swinish capitalism."  We have succumbed to wild nationalism, racism and a complete rejection of the values that permeate the world view and religious convictions of the vast majority of world Jewry.  Carlo Strenger calls it a bad dream and Bradley Burston says Israel is still worth saving.  Titan is having his doubts and finds escape at Saturn and hope for the grandchildren elsewhere.  Of course, the US and Canada have their own problems with liberal democracy, but they at least have an ideal of democracy, still unattained, but nonetheless extant.  Here we encounter the rejection of the idea.  Yaakov Talmon and Baruch Kimmerling, alas Israel needs you now.   "She is a fen of stagnant waters."
We choose to point you this week at a pair of books on Burma and an article Burmese Days n the New York Review of Books for July 12, 2012  by Christian Caryl in which the changes taking place in Burma are described.  All very much worth a read in the light of the hesitant return to democracy in that country.

Indeed,  we could rant on and on, but enough of trying your patience.  First, however, we must register our protest at the announced forthcoming retirement of Click and Clack.  We have been listeners to Car Talk for decades and have followed them on the Web in Israel after years of enjoying them in the US.  To those who are unfamiliar with the Magliozzi brothers, we recommend a tour of their Web site and some fun listening.
Tom and Ray Magliozzi Picture
Listeners say they will miss Click and Clack, the comedian mechanics who host NPR's Car Talk. | June 11, 2012

As you all know, our guru Gene Weingarten has moved from the written page to the comics.  Here is another sample of his efforts to enlighten us about history.

We just heard a symposium on the search for exoplanets.  It was fascinating.  XKCD has a nice take on them:

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