Friday, August 24, 2012

Titan really wants to rant at everyone

With the fascist killer, 1943, Woody Guthrie born 100 years ago

Titan has much to gripe about this week, as you can well imagine.  First, however, we present the weekly commercial for the hotel in Mexico

Usually Titan and Pollyanna shun what Click and Clack of Car Talk call shameless commerce. We are making an exception  to plug a hotel in Yucatan, Mexico run by the daughter of dear friends and her partner. Please check out the Mayan Beach Garden Inn-Hotel if you plan a vacation in Mexico.

 and wish our Muslim friends a belated Eid Mubarak.

We note the 150th birthday of the composer Claude Debussy, born August 22, 1862.

 We invite you a musical interlude.

We also mark  the centennial of Woody Guthrie.  Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma and died October 3, 1967 in Brooklyn.  The little Oklahoma town had a short-lived oil boom when he was a child that ended in a bust leaving all "busted, disgusted, and not to be trusted."
From his experiences in Okemah, Woody’s uniquely wry outlook on life, as well as his abiding interest in rambling around the country, was formed. And so, he took to the open road.  He wrote and sang hard-hitting songs about hard times, exploited people and rank, establishment-backed injustice.  He called his guitar, "the machine that kills fascists."  Now his son Arlo is a Republican and Woody was even memorialized on a stamp in 1998 about which Arlo  said "For a man who fought all his life against being respectable, this comes as a stunning defeat,".   For more details and commentary see the article by Lawrence Downs and Woody's  biography.
The mantle of dissident songs has passed to a new generation who are loved by the objects of their attacks.
As Downs writes,  
"It's hard to be a troubadour with dangerous ideas if people refuse to be challenged or offended by them. Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, is a hard-baked right-winger who wants to bleed the government so it has no money to help people but all it needs to wage war. Yet he says one of his favorite bands is Rage Against the Machine, whose members gave inspiration to the Occupy Wall Street movement and organized resistance to the anti-immigrant freak-out in Arizona. This boggles the mind."
Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are said to have  invented the term hootenanney (a get together of folk singers)--I doubt either of them, dead or alive, would appreciate the one at the Lincoln Center.
We strongly suggest that you go to our attached blog, Bad Astronomy, for The Amazing Meeting and a wonderful speech by the astronomer Pamela Gay
We also note a mote of good news--the lifting of political censorship of the media in Myanmar(Burma).  This is another encouraging sign that the military junta is giving up on running the country and democracy is advancing.

We hope the Guardian and Ben Jennings do not mind our starting out today with his cartoon of the Pussy Riot verdict. Indeed, as one commentator said, you can take the man out of the KGB, but you cannot take the KGB out of the man. The action of the Putin government in jailing the Pussy Riot women is obviously a way of putting a chill on dissent and making it clear that the regime will not tolerate anything that might threaten its control.  It happens everywhere, from the New York police putting down Occupy, to the Israeli police breaking the arm of a protest leader in the hope of getting her to shut up and and go away and the arrest of a student in Belarus who photographed some teddy bears dropped by Swedish journalists as a publicity stunt for freedom of expression in Belarus, highlighted in our Human Rights blog last week.   This has already cost a few bigwigs in Belarus their jobs, i.e. ridicule does work.  Meanwhile in the so-called democracies new technologies make it possible for Big Brother to track us by facial recognition as we go about our business, as pointed out by Naomi Wolf in the Guardian.  Orwell was indeed prescient, albeit a few decades premature.
What all these share is the desire of power and money to stick together and to prevent the voice of the people from being heard. Long ago Lawrence Britt in an article about fascism  pointed out the criteria by which fascism can be recognized in nascent forms in many Western democracies.  In addition to the subservience of political leaders to the power of money (vid. the standing ovation to Natanyahu in the US Congress, bought and paid for by casino earnings of right wing tycoons), Britt points out blatant sexism, as we see in the war on women fought by Republicans in the US and Orthodox Jews and others in Israel,
Sign in Beit Shemesh instructing women not to dally on the street. Photo by Michal Patel

 near deification of the military and a strong political involvement of organized religion as pointed out so clearly by Scott Arlan, highlighted by Pollyanna last week.  One can see a connection between the "protection of the faith" by Putin(a lifetime proponent of socialist atheism) and the blasphemy laws of Pakistan (see below), all, of course, with the acquiescence of a conservative, uneducated populace.  The BBC Moscow correspondent found a strong decrease in sympathy and support for the Pussy Riot women within a short train ride of Moscow, although they did enjoy support in the city itself.  Demonstrations were dispersed and we can see that the next in line may well be Gary Kasparov the chess champion who is one of the most vocal proponents of democracy in Russia.  He was arrested and beaten and now the police claim that he bit one of them.  BTW, this is a favorite tactic of the police in Israel, claiming that someone attacked them.  We like his response to the accusation:
You may read the rest of the transcript of his interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo".  These is also a link there to the video of the interview.
We say Gung Ho Gary--you and the Pussy Riot girls have it right. The one thing a dictatorship cannot tolerate is ridicule, and Putin and the Russian judicial system have got nothing but since his cops arrested the three punk singers. The name alone should have tipped him to the trouble he was bringing on himself.  Of course people with certain types of egos really are vulnerable to humor and usually have no sense of humor themselves.  We have noticed that not only in politicians but in doctors, especially male doctors, who need their aura of omnipotence and omniscience to maintain their self image. Of course, it may well be that Putin cares nothing about criticism, ridicule or whatever as long as he continues to hold power.
It should be understood that the fight against free speech is not confined to dictatorships.  We should all be deeply grateful for the accomplishments of WikiLeaks, and applaud Ecuador’s decision to grant diplomatic asylum to its founder, Julian Assange, who is now living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Michael Moore and Oliver Stone writing in the New York Times point out a few of the achievements of WikiLeaks:
"Since WikiLeaks’ founding, it has revealed the “Collateral Murder” footage that shows the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a United States Apache attack helicopter; further fine-grained detail about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; United States collusion with Yemen’s dictatorship to conceal our responsibility for bombing strikes there; the Obama administration’s pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and much more."
We might mention that a few plums about Israel have come out in WikiLeaks such as Amos Gilead, the "strategist" telling an American diplomat that Israel wants the Palestinians to remain violent since "we are not good at Ghandi." If the US government can pursue a foreign citizen for acts he committed outside the US and that are not crimes in the country where committed, we all appear to have a severe problem with free speech.
The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a disgrace to humanity and indeed an insult to religion.
Christians argue they are often falsely accused of blasphemy

 Now an 11 year old Christian girl has been arrested on the charge of desecrating the holy Quran.  Many of those accused of blasphemy have been killed by violent mobs, while politicians who advocate a change in legislation have also been targeted.  The girl apparently is suffering from Down syndrome and it is not clear exactly what she did to arouse the fury of the mob.  She may have held a basket containing Quran pages. Attempts to repeal or alter the laws have led to the murder of politicians including a Cabinet minister.  The entire matter shows a lack of humanity in the culture of the country and in the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. In general, religion can be very pernicious, as shown in this Oatmeal segment sent to us by Hadass.  Thanks, we love it.
Let us go a bit further with the question of what is blasphemy and what is understood as protected free speech in a liberal democracy. Muslims took terrible offense at a few cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet in a not so respectful manner.  Indeed, a demonstrator in London stood with a "Down With Free Speech" sign (unfortunately the picture has vanished from the Web).  Yet when Tom Lehrer satirized the Catholic Church reforms after Vatican II with his hilarious Vatican Rag, no one became upset. He was summing up the events of 1964 and we quote:
"Another big news story of year concerned the ecumenical council in Rome, known as Vatican II. Among the things they did in an attempt to make the church more commercial was to introduce the vernacular into portions of the mass, to replace Latin, and to widen somewhat the range of music permissible in the liturgy, but I feel that if they really want to sell the product, in this secular age, what they ought to do is to redo some of the liturgical music in popular song forms. I have a modest example here. It's called The Vatican Rag."

Before we leave the world scene and get on to the lovely things at home, we would like to comment on justice as administered in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.  A death penalty conviction was just overturned and the federal court had the following to say about the behavior of the prosecution:
“The Court finds these actions not only unconstitutional in regards to due process, but abhorrent to the judicial process.”
It does not get much stronger.  The case may or may not be retried, but let us hope the message gets through.  It shows how dangerous to justice the death penalty is.  We recall a case a few years ago when DNA evidence surfaced after the execution of the man who had been convicted.  The DA in Virginia chose to destroy this evidence lest it come out that Virginia had executed an innocent man.  The fact that there might be a killer out there who got away with it was less important.  Carry me back...We will leave Todd Akin and the gender politics in the US to more skillful bloggers, such as Andy Borowitz, who now has a job at the New Yorker, i.e. he has joined the workforce.  Mazal tov.
We decry the violence and killing in the labor dispute in the South African platinum mining industry.
View Photo Gallery — Striking miners shot, killed in South Africa: In one of the worst shootings by South African authorities since the end of the apartheid era, police opened fire Thursday on striking miners who had charged a line of officers. Several miners reportedly were killed and others were wounded.
  The death of 34 workers and 2 policemen this week is a totally unjustified tragedy.  South Africa has not experienced such events since the end of apartheid.  Let us hope the issues can be resolved peaceably.  We have little doubt that the miners were both underpaid and betrayed by their official union.    We might mention that union busting goes on all over the world.  Even Amnesty International USA fell into a trap when it appropriately brought out a tee shirt with a Free Pussy Riot logo and then proceeded to market it via Amazon, one of the biggest union busters on the planet.   Please post and tweet this in the hope that AIUSA will be embarrassed and shape up.

The two main issues this week in Israel are the question of initiating a war with Iran over their development of nuclear capability and the near lethal lynching of an Arab youth in Jerusalem by a gang of Jewish thugs.  Let us start with the war.  The debate has gone public and it appears that everyone, the public, the military hierarchy, the retired security chiefs--all are against a preemptive strike against the nuclear facilities in Iran.  The result would be regional war and instability, a rain of missiles on population centers in Israel and only a marginal delay in the nuclear development of Iran would result from it.  Nonetheless, the Katzenjammer twins, or Max and Moritz if you are more European, Natanyahu and Barak, are pushing the idea and as Aluf Benn points out in Haaretz the open debate seems to serve their purpose.  It has sunk to the level of senior defense officials and politicians briefing a 91 year old demented rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, on the issue because he controls the Cabinet votes of ministers of the orthodox Shas party.  The rabbi suggested that we all pray very strongly, which is probably the best advice he could give us.  In the meantime, we go to our futile little demonstrations in the hope that someone will listen and some rationality will sneak in through the back door.

  Zeev Sternhell, as usual, provides a cogent analysis of the situation and the alternatives.

On Thursday evening August 16, a group of Jewish teenagers cruised the streets of Jerusalem looking for Arabs to beat up.  They claimed later that the Arab youths had harassed Jewish girls.  In the resulting attack, a young Arab was beaten so badly that he is still in intensive care.  The youths also tried to prevent ambulance teams from helping him, saying, "let him die, he is an Arab." Police have arrested 7 Jewish teens, two of them girls, suspected of involvement in the beating of three Arabs.
Ohad Zwigenberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Two Israeli suspects in an attack on young Palestinians last week were led into a magistrate’s court in Jerusalem on Monday by police officers.

 An account of the events posted by a witness on her Facebook page has been translated for a NYTimes blogger.  Read it and shudder.  This is what we are. The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said in connection with atrocities in the Vietnam war, "a few are guilty, we all are responsible."  We must also ask about the hundreds of people who stood by while this was happening.  They stood by because the victims were Arabs whose lives are considered worthless by Israeli Jews.  
It is phony to say these are extreme cases. This sort of racially motivated hatred is the deliberately created result of Zionist education.  As Zvi Barel writes in Haaretz--    "Israeli "literature" promoting hate of Arabs predates the occupation. The children's book series "Danidin" by Shraga Gafni is full of expressions and illustrations that laid excellent infrastructure for Arab-hatred. The "Mikraot Yisrael" (Israeli Readers ) series, which helped educate hundreds of thousands of Israeli children, is striking in terms of the "incitement" concealed within it.

Similar books published in the Palestinian Authority keep those who monitor Palestinian incitement very busy. But there isn't really a need to list all the recipes for Arab-hatred that have been fed to us, and which we developed on our own, in order to come up with a defense for those criminals in Jerusalem, whose "only crime" was to do what Israeli pedagogy and the "Death-to-Arabs" ethos directed them to do.

This is an ethos that will continue to be an integral part of the Israeli-Jewish national identity, even if the occupation were to end tomorrow. Because "Death to the Arabs" isn't an expression of "routine" hatred of those who are different, or the loathsome slogan of some "price tag" gang. It does not resemble the xenophobia or the fear of Muslims that characterizes European racism.

Hatred of Arabs is part of the test of loyalty and identity that the state gives its Jewish citizens. A good Jew hates Arabs. A loyal Israeli will leave an Arab to die, because "he's an Arab." And someone who isn't like that, as we know, "sleeps with Arabs.""

A similar ideology, to kill because of ethnicity, drove a senseless murder of a black man by white teenagers in Jackson MS in the US last year.  The killing was captured on a motel parking lot security camera and you are invited to see it as reported by CNNThe killer was given a life sentence.  We wonder what punishment will be meted out to these killers.  The juveniles will probably get off with a slap on the wrist and the adult leader will get a few years maybe.  Cast your mind back to Kafr Kassem in 1956 when murderers in uniform were punished only symbolically and October 2000 when no one was indicted despite the recommendation of a commission of inquiry.  We suggest reading the entire Barel article.

OK, even Titan the nudnik can get tired of ranting and would like to share a few tidbits with you.  We start out with the What If? answer from our friends at XKCD.  This is in general a fun site, great stuff Randall!

The passing of  Helen Gurley Brown was marked by sister Pollyanna last week.  In the wake of her death, the New Yorker released its reaction to the publication of Sex and the Single Girl in 1963:
Anyone who has raised a teenager will have some empathy for parents...

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