Friday, September 7, 2012

Titan is not always glum, just mostly

This is neither the Cassini orbiter nor the Huygens probe

Titan is back from Saturn orbit for his bi-weekly visit.  Things are quiet by and large except when our friend the Cassini spacecraft drops by for an orbit shift.  The first time he came around he dropped the Huygens probe which was OK, since Titan is happy to share his secrets with us. He was quite pleased with the pictures by Cassini that Pollyanna showed on her blog last week and we shall overlook her snide remarks.
 Titan has been called glum and outraged by a reader which motivates him to start out this week with some good news. The insurgency of the FARC organization in Colombia has been going on for nearly five decades.  In the past there have been attempts at peace talks that failed miserably.  Now we are told that the government and the rebels are preparing for talks that will start in Norway next month and then will move to Havana.  The failed talks ten years ago involved a cease fire and a safe haven, none of which will be available now.  Both President Santos and the rebel leader Londoro, known as Timoshenko,
ARC leader Rodrigo Londono, known by his war alias as Timochenko

 appear to be sincere in their desire to bring this conflict to an end.   Hundreds of thousands of people have died in this civil war, the insurgency has involved itself heavily in drug dealing with catastrophic results for the country at large and right wing paramilitary groups have used the struggle as an excuse for their nefarious activities.  We plead with both sides to settle the issues by negotiation and let the people of Colombia get on with their lives with some real hope for the future.
We also have a nice story that will, in  particular, make our many readers at the University of Oregon happy.  A police officer in Washington State spotted a mother duck and her young ducklings trying to cross SR-512 during the morning rush hour. In order to ensure that they crossed safely, he temporarily slowed/stopped traffic—and gave them a police escort all the way to the other side!

We call your attention to our Human Rights Action Update blog.

We well recall the frenzy of lies and panic cooked up by the Bush administration in the runup to the misbegotten invasion of Iraq.  We were regaled with  stories of WMD, connection with El Qaeda(how a Muslim fundamentalist hooks up with a secular dictator such as Saddam Hussein is a weird question), thousands of liters of anthrax poison, you name it.  We saw Colin Powell telling us fairy tales.  At least Powell had the decency to resign.  In the UK, the decision to join the war was taken by PM Blair despite all the legal advice that told him that it violated international law.  Now Archbishop Tutu is campaigning to bring Blair to account before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defense: in other words in violation of  articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.  George Monbiot outlines the case in the Guardian.

We ask why Archbishop Tutu is going only after Blair, while the real criminals including Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld inter alia are still enjoying impunity for their part in bringing about a senseless war in which over 100,000 innocent Iraqis lost their lives. The issue certainly was not the regime of Saddam Hussein, despicable dictator that he was.  He was a Boy Scout compared to Kim Jong Il, but North Korea does not have oil reserves and does not impinge on an area such as the Persian Gulf where American dominance is considered essential. We also note that while means could be found to put down Qaddafi, intervention in the blood bath in Syria is not on the table.  Hypocrisy galore, worldwide.

 The chances of successful prosecution of Blair or any bigwig except for Africans by the ICC are dim.  The Balkan criminals had their own tribunal as did the Rwandan killers.  The application of the Nuremburg principles by the ICC has been delayed to 2018, for the benefit of you can guess whom.
 So, go for it Archbishop, but expand your list of targets.  Tony Blair was a bit player in the Iraqi tragedy.

 Titan has discussed self immolation as a mode of political expression in the past.  In truth, it has not been an effective means of bringing down repressive regimes.  We brought it up in our blog of July 27 with respect to the self immolation of Moshe Silman and noted that the regime in Israel will not be brought down by suicide as the regime in China will survive any number of self immolations by Tibetan monks and the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was not ended until twenty years after the self immolations of Jan Palach, Jan Zajíc and Evzen Plocek.  In Israel, we have elections, in Tibet they have only suicide as protest.  Paul Mooney points out in The Daily Beast that the main reason that the over 50 self immolations in the past three years have not sparked a worldwide protest is the success of the Chinese authorities in suppressing information about them. As Mooney notes, 
 "More than a few observers have made comparisons to Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk who self immolated in Saigon in 1963 to protest the Diem government’s anti-Buddhist policies. A photo of the incident appeared in newspapers all over the world, putting pressure on the Diem regime to make religious reforms. Diem first agreed to carry out the changes, but he later reneged, setting off a series of incidents that led to his downfall.

So far, the more than 50 incidents in Tibet have not had the same impact as that single incident. Beijing remains unmoved."

A Tibetan exile is consoled as she cries during a candlelit vigil in Dharmsala, India to show solidarity with two Tibetans from the Kirti monastery in Ngaba who exiles claim immolated themselves (Ashwini Bhatia / AP Photos)

We think that a Facebook/Twitter campaign calling attention to what is happening in Tibet might cause the mainstream media around the world to take notice and eventually lead to pressure on the Chinese regime.  If leaders of the enlightened (so-called) democracies were to turn the screws on China, perhaps some reforms in the area of human rights would follow. Of course, we know that money talks loudest and have few illusions, but eventually things changed in South Africa and Burma, mainly as a result of external pressure.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University indicates that the highly touted health benefits of organic produce are somewhat dubious.  The conclusions reached were that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli. The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.
Indeed, there are fewer pesticide residues in organic food and as pointed out by advocates for organic farming, the Stanford researchers failed to appreciate the differences they did find between the two types of food — differences that validated the reasons people usually cite for buying organic.  Organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  The use of antibiotics in raising cattle and pigs contributes to pollution of the aquatic environment.  We think that organic agriculture has environmental advantages that transcend immediate health benefits.  What do you think?
Normally Titan would not regard the matter of the labor dispute of the referees of the National Football League in the US as a matter of great importance.  While we enjoy watching the games, the application of the rules governing how oversize millionaires may bash one another's brains out is something we take for granted.  What is unconscionable in our opinion is that the league, whose income is in the billions (the poor players only make millions) is bargaining in bad faith with officials whose pay is much smaller and are trying to curtail their benefits.  Worse that that, they have managed to hire scabs to keep the league going.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Unable to reach a labor deal with its officials, the N.F.L. will use scabs in Week 1.

The scabs are of course inexperienced and incompetent, many of them high school referees and we can only hope that the public will feel cheated and start to protest.  It is also a source of anger to see news media, such as the New York Times launder language and call the scabs "replacement workers."  Shame all around. A scab is probably the lowest form of life that still calls itself human.
We usually stay out of US politics although we vote absentee in Maryland district 7, but as the campaign heats up, we shall start getting more involved. We believe that the reelection of Barack Obama is important not only for the US, but for Israel and for the world.  The thought of Romney handling foreign policy is enough to give you the chills, even without his domestic agenda.  We would like to share with you the wonderful speech given by Michelle at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte NC.  It is well worth 25 minutes of your time to listen to her.

Since Titan started off  his worldwide coverage with something positive, we shall look for something good on the home front before getting into our usual rants.  We have something in that the court case that the heads of our universities have filed against the recognition of the "university center" in Ariel as a full scale university has caused the defense minister, Barak, to hold off on the establishment of the university in the Occupied Territory.  Just to show how silly the whole thing is, the authority to recognize the institution as a university is invested in the general in command of the Central Region.  We assume that this supreme academic authority graduated from a kindergarten for normal kids and not a special ed one.  Over 1000 Israeli academics (included us) signed a petition against the recognition of Ariel and the heads of all the universities in the country with one notable exception filed a lawsuit to the High Court.  Bar-Ilan University, which answers only to God, refused to participate in the lawsuit. This is not surprising behavior for the Alma Mater of Yigal Amir (assassin of Yitzhak Rabin).  Let us hope that the entire matter finds its way to the dumpster of history, where it belongs.

We have just seen increases in the prices of food, fuel and other basic commodities.  One might think that the protest movement of last year has completely fizzled out.  Indeed the establishment is strong and devious, but despite what Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, "the masses are asses", in reality they are not and the power of people will eventually come to bear on the tycoons and their government flunkies.  This intelligence, availability of information and freedom of expression all mean that we, as a nation, are also accountable for the occupation and its evils.  Amira Haas makes this clear in an incisive article in Haaretz.

The parents of Rachel Corrie sued the State of Israel for one dollar for the wrongful death of their daughter who was run over by an army bulldozer while trying to protect a house in Rafah nine years ago.
Corrie was involved in a campaign to stop Palestinian homes in Gaza being demolished
 The trial was a travesty as soldiers, standing behind curtains so as not to meet the eyes of Cindy and Craig Corrie, lied in typical Israeli army style and the judge Oded Gershon, presiding at the Haifa District Court, said Ms Corrie had been protecting terrorists in a designated combat zone and that the army was not at fault. Rachel Corrie joins Abir Aramin
Abir Aramin, killed while buying candy

and many others who were murdered in cold blood by killers who enjoy complete impunity provided by their commanders and the state.  At least in the case of 10 year old Abir, the court awarded damages for the wrongful death, but no criminal charges were ever lodged against the soldiers who killed her and the Supreme Court in one of its not finest hours upheld the decision, although it did call the investigation sloppy. That was a euphemistic way of saying whitewash and that the army did not want to prosecute.  We Israelis can only bow our heads in shame. The Yesh Din organization responded: "If Aramin would have been a Jewish girl it's likely that the investigation would have been efficient and quick. The law authorities have prevented Abir's family from achieving justice and unfortunately it's not the only case."
In the wake of the removal of the population of the illegal outpost Migron, vandals desecrated the Trappist Monastery in Latrun.  The door was set afire and anti-Christian slogans were painted on the walls along with the names of the illegal outposts scheduled to be vacated by court order.The slogans were of the type "Jesus is a monkey" and other examples of high level orthodox Jewish scholarship and philosophy.
'Jesus is a monkey' Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg
 There was a similar incident a while ago with a Baptist church in which the vandals daubed "Death to Christianity".  We hope that the police investigation will be more effective than investigations of mosque burnings in the past. This type of bigotry is typical of our messianic lunatic fringe, all of whom are orthodox Jews and pray to some entity three times a day.

Two weeks ago we unloaded on the hooligans responsible for the pogrom in Jerusalem in which an Arab youth was severely beaten by a gang of Jewish thugs.  We would like to call your attention to three articles published in the wake of the pogrom.  In Forward, Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America raises the question of the extent to which she, as all of us, bear responsibility for the hateful actions of the scum of the Earth.  In another article, Rachel Liel of the New Israel Fund, writing in Haaretz,  drives home the point made so forcefully by Zvi Barel (vid. our last blog) that these actions did not take place in a vacuum, but are a result of the education provided to young Jewish Israelis.  They are brought up to hate and in their hearts they know that their criminal actions bear the stamp of approval of the state and society. We are reminded of our grandmother telling us of the Cossacks shouting, "beat a Jew and save Russia."  Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Committee, the legal arm of Reform Judaism, calls for steps against the orthodox rabbis who foment hate and racism.  The police and the state attorney are hesitant to prosecute these caricatures of religious leaders because of the political backing that they enjoy.
Getty Images
Obscenity: A gate in Hebron on which settlers  painted the Hebrew words, ‘Death to Arabs’ in 2005.
The Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin apologized to Jamal Julany, one of the victims of a racist attack in Zion Square, during his visit to the 17-year-old.  "We are sorry," said Rivlin, a Likud Party leader. He went on to say, "It is hard to see you hospitalized because of an inconceivable act" and "What happened is the responsibility of every leader and member of Knesset."  We salute Mr. Rivlin. Note that the Chief Rabbis, the various cabinet ministers including our ultra-religious interior minister Eli Yishai and the Chief of Police did not bother to visit the victim.
("ואהבתם את הגר, כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים" (דברים י, יט
And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
Gideon Levy said it best:
The most moral army in the world stands armed over 20 bereft African migrants imprisoned for a week already between the fences of Israel's southern border, and this army's soldiers are given the diabolical order to provide them water, but only "as little as possible." The most moral army in the world, of the Middle East's only democracy, does not give them food.
Eritreans caught between Israel and Egypt's border fences, on Wednesday. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
This same moral army has blocked doctors from Physicians for Human Rights and food-bearing activists from reaching the refugees.  One of the women of them was pregnant, but miscarried, which must rejoice the heart of our ultra orthodox interior minister Eli Yishai who gives fascist xenophobes a bad name. 
Worthy heir of a defunct unnameable regime

The behavior of our army and government makes all of us ashamed.  Ordinary decency says bring them in, as the editorial in Haaretz says.The issue was resolved with two women and a child allowed to enter Israel and the rest sent back to the tender mercies of Egypt. The entire episode is terrible, especially the decision of the general in command of the southern region Major General Tal Russo to deny medical access to the refugees.  This evil man should be vilified around the world as an example of the heritage of an army from the past.  His military genius led to the deaths of twelve civilians along the Egyptian border, but that is a separate issue.
To put the advent of refugees from Eritrea in some perspective, we quote from the report of Human Rights Watch, a non-profit organization, based in New York, that monitors human rights violations around the world.
Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries. The government of President Isaias Afewerki has effectively banned the independent press. Journalists languish in detention, as do officials who question Isaias’s leadership; many have died in jail. No civil society organizations are allowed to exist. Arbitrary arrest of citizens is rampant, and torture in detention is common.  Leading religious institutions – Orthodox Christian and Muslim – are run by government-appointees; adherents of other religions are jailed until they renounce their faiths.  Nearly all men and many women over 18 are conscripted into indefinite “national service,” which exploits them as forced labor at survival wages. 
It is, therefore, clear why Eritreans in large numbers are trying to flee what amounts to a huge prison.  In addition, there is the danger of death by starvation. Human rights organizations are pleading with several other countries, including Sudan and Jordan to refrain from deporting Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers.  If people flee to Sudan, itself a hellhole in many ways, it should give you an idea of the situation from which they are fleeing.  A severe drought hit the region in 2011, leaving more than 10 million people in need of urgent assistance. Eritrea’s government denied the country was affected by the drought or food shortages, and denied UN aid agencies and humanitarian organizations access to the country.  For more details of what is happening in this miserable country, we refer you to the annual report of Amnesty International on Eritrea.
There has been much talk in recent weeks and months about whether or not Israel should carry out a preemptive attack on nuclear facilities in Iran to prevent that nation from attaining nuclear weapons capability.  While a few nuts at the top talk seriously about it, others, including many stalwarts of the defense establishment, have criticized the idea brutally.  In our mind, there is no real means of preventing Iran from going nuclear if it chooses and we shall simply have to live with the a nuclear Iran in a balance of terror, much as the USA and USSR lived for decades and Pakistan and India live today.  It will not be pleasant, but with a strong second strike capability, we can be sure that Iran will not undertake adventures that would lead to its destruction.  Indeed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  the President rants about wiping Israel off the map, but we  really should not take him too seriously. The leaders of Iran will not sacrifice their people to destroy Israel.
In the wake of all the fierce argumentation going on, it was a surprise to read a nuanced opinion from Ephraim Halevy,
Efraim Halevy, on the right, with Avi Benayahu, former army spokesman, on left. Photo by Moti Kimche
 a former head of the Mossad, who gave a long interview to Ari Shavit of Haaretz.  We strongly recommend reading the entire interview since it presents matters in a balanced way.  In particular, we were struck by his call to understand the motivations and attitudes of the Irani people and leadership.  We quote from the interview:
    “What we need to do is to try and understand the Iranians,” the former Mossad head says. “The basic feeling of that ancient nation is one of humiliation. Both religious Iranians and secular Iranians feel that for 200 years the Western powers used them as their playthings. They do not forget for a moment that the British and the Americans intervened in their internal affairs and toppled the regime of Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953. From their perspective, the reason why, to this day, there is no modern rail network and no modern oil refineries in Iran is that the West prevented that. Thus, the deep motive behind the Iranian nuclear project - which was launched by the Shah - is not the confrontation with Israel, but the desire to restore to Iran the greatness of which it was long deprived.

“I believe that if the West could find a way to propose to Iran alternative methods to acquire that sense of greatness, Iran would forsake the nuclear road. If Iran were offered trains and oil refineries and a place of honor in regional trade, it would consider this seriously. You say carrots? The carrots offered to Iran until now were not big enough. Maybe the sticks were not thick enough, either.

What Ephraim Halevy has to say makes quite a bit of sense.  I wonder if anyone at the top will listen or just settle for some rabbinical advice from Ovadia Yosef.  The advice to pray may be the best.

What If? is indeed interesting this week and will even give you a free lesson in basic atmospheric science.
What would the world be like if the land masses were spread out the same way as now - only rotated by an angle of 90 degrees?
It would profoundly alter our biosphere in general and public radio in particular.
Socke asks what would happen if the Earth’s surface were slid around by 90 degrees, putting our current North and South Poles on the equator. We’re not changing the tilt of the Earth’s axis; we’re just imagining that the surface were arranged differently. 

Randall goes on from here.  Enjoy!
He also had a comic that we should have hauled out during the Olympic games:
Local g
A computer password can lead to big trouble.

YandA, Pollyanna and Titan have not reached this stage yet:

and we wind up(far too long again) with some empathy for mothers sending little girls back to school (from the New Yorker)

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