Saturday, September 22, 2012

Titan wishes all a Chatima Tova, to be inscribed in the Book of Life

Pollyanna, Titan and YandA want to wish all of our readers a Chatima Tova, may you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life as Yom Kippur looms up at us.
As usual we start by calling your attention to our Human Rights Action Update blog.  Please check it out and act for people whose human rights are being abused.
Before we get into the garbage of the affairs of the world, Titan would like to express his satisfaction that the wave of executions in Gambia has apparently been stopped after a worldwide outcry.  He is also pleased that a court in the US state of Wisconsin has struck down a draconian law that would have deprived employees of the state government of the fundamental right of collective bargaining.  We all send our love and best wishes to Aung Sang Suu Kyi and congratulate her on finally receiving the well-deserved awards from her supporters and government in the US during her present tour of that country.
Aung San Suu Kyi: "From the depths of my heart I thank you, the people of  America"
Titan has been watching the riots and mob violence over the silly film made about Mohammed.  Indeed the video is in worse than poor taste and was obviously made to provoke at the time of the anniversary of 9/11.  Everyone seems to be pussyfooting around Muslim hypersensitivity.  The latest nonsense comes from  Nasrallah in Lebanon calling for a worldwide ban on insulting religion. The democratic world seems incapable of explaining to the Muslim radicals that freedom of expression includes poor taste and offensive material.  C'est la vie.  When the Danish cartoons came out, Condoleezza Rice pointed out that the riots were manipulated by certain states. Martin Indyk points out on CBS Face the Nation  that no one demonstrated at Syrian embassies around the Arab world when countless people are being killed whereas embassies were attacked because of a nutty video on YouTube.
We would like to show two  examples of published cartoons that make fun of Moses and Jesus and no demonstrations inflamed the world.  Certainly the liberal democracies should not back down on their freedoms to placate a bunch of fanatic nuts. The people who put out the fatwa on Salman Rushdie simply do not have our values of freedom and democracy in their arsenal.  That does not mean that we must adopt their values and subvert our own. 

 The following cartoon indeed makes fun of Jesus, the idea of redemption by his sacrifice and his status as son of God.  These are holy concepts to Christians everywhere, yet this cartoon and many others like it on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and elsewhere did not prompt the Vatican to call for a crusade nor did armies of enraged evangelicals storm the US embassy anywhere.

In 1965 the Jewish folk singer Tom Lehrer recorded the Vatican Rag, making fun of the Ecumenical Council that had been held the year before in Rome.  Again, no one got excited about it.

 We have to ask ourselves what is wrong. Buddhists did not kill anyone when the statues in Afghanistan were blown up and cartoons about deities do not arouse such outrage in general.   People who believe strongly in their faith can overlook jokes and satires.  The impression is that we are dealing here with strong feelings of inferiority or lack of self confidence in the Arab world.  Note, Arab and not Muslim world is the term we use and it is not the entire Arab world that is in flames. We note that vast portions of the Islamic world are not  rioting, including large nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa that did not explode.  In Algeria, Islamist parliamentarians handed the US ambassador a protest letter about the film, which is within their rights,  but did not kill him and there was no street violence. Roger Cohen writing in the New York Times states it better than we could, Islam cannot be immune to ridicule if it purports to be a political movement.

We have a friend and colleague (nameless to protect him and his family) who worked in the Ministry of Education of a major Arab country in the 1990's at the time when a UNESCO report on the backwardness of education in the Arab world was published.  He was given the task of preparing a response.  He presented the minister with a plan for the upgrading of education in that country over a five year period (the country is wealthy) and was deported from the country on the spot, since the minister expected him to refute the report instead of dealing seriously with the conclusions.  Under the UNESCO program of Education for All(EFA), efforts are said to be under way to deal with the cultural backwardness of the Arab world. The original report noted that in Greece, with a population of 25 million, there are 50 times the number of books translated into Greek from English and French than are translated into Arabic in the entire Arab world. Now we are told that progress is being made, but we would like to quote from an EFA report from 2011:
 "The Arab region has achieved significant progress over the last decade and fast expansion
of average levels of educational attainment. Developments in the region include higher
enrollment rates at all levels, the progressive closing of the gender gaps in formal education
in many countries, and commitments from governments toward achieving the EFA goals.
Yet, this progress still places states in the Arab region below that of South-East Asia, Latin
America, and East Asia. With 6 million children still out of school and 60 million adult
illiterates, the Arab region must continue to build on progress made to achieve and sustain
developments in education."
We cannot avoid the suspicion that the war against free expression, the blasphemy laws of Pakistan and Sudan and the exploitation of cultural backwardness are all part of a design to maintain control over large populations (vid. ultra-orthodox Judaism below) and to distract attention from economic woes.
It is not acceptable that the use of freedom of expression by individuals should be seen as the responsibility of democratic governments. When an idiot Swedish journalist published a false and reprehensible article about Israel in a tabloid, instead of letting the Swedish Press Association police its own ranks, our Foreign Minister, Lieberman, protested to the Swedish government.  He too, a native of the former USSR, fails to understand freedom of the press, but at least no one demonstrated nor was there any violence. The Danish cartoons cost Denmark over a billion dollars in export sales and the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Arab counties were sacked. We tend to agree with the New Yorker that the present violence was probably directed by fascist elements in Libya and elsewhere and the film outrage was an excuse and a means of arousing the benighted masses. More evidence is surfacing that the attack in Libya was  planned in advance.  We also agree with the protester in the US who put things in perspective.
A few weeks ago Titan ranted at the treatment of asylum seekers by the Israeli government.  It appears that we are not the only bad guys around.  Australia sent them to a remote island state, Nauru, where the conditions are terrible.  The detention place was closed because of public outcry, but now our friends from Amnesty Australia are shouting that the place is being reopened with no real transparency.  They are calling on their members to write to their MP's.  The first refugees have already been taken there.  In the past, conditions were so bad that a child swallowed a light bulb to try and end his own life.  Nauru is a tiny phosphate island (21 devastated by irresponsible mining techniques and now with the phosphate gone is supporting itself by taking money from Australia to host the detention center. One would expect Amnesty International to raise its voice, but only the locals are doing anything. Australia has indeed  announced that it will increase its refugee intake to 20,000 per year.  The ostensible reason for off shore processing is to deter people from taking the risky boat ride from Indonesia, often in rickety craft. Two weeks ago, a boat believed to have been carrying 150 asylum seekers, mostly Afghans, sank off Indonesia's Java island. The 55 survivors rescued were taken to Merak, a port in western Indonesia.  The first group of Sri Lankans has already arrived in Nauru. What happens there is scant comfort for us here. Italy and Libya also trample on the rights of migrants.
Across Libya, 'irregular migrants' are detained in poor conditions where they face torture and other ill-treatment.
© Gabriele del Grande
The incident of the Eritrean refugees on the southern border of Israel continues to fester.  Yossi Gurevich, writing in +972, tells what really happened in the desert and in the chambers of the Supreme Court.  What is disgusting is that the judges heard "evidence" in camera, the disclosure of which would have exposed the State to danger from 18 emaciated and dehydrated men stranded on the border. They then went off to their nice weekend and by the time the court reconvened the case had become moot. Our late friend Baruch Kimmerling wrote once about judges (in particular a certain past  Chief Justice) who are experts at masquerading as human rights defenders.
Here in Israel we are going our usual way, somehow getting through the holidays.  Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have traditionally been a time of taking stock and evaluating our lives.  As a nation, we have had a very bad year, in which our government  hit new levels of folly and incompetence just when we thought that the nadir had been reached.  We are no closer to peace with the Palestinians, the babbling about attacking Iran continues, our democracy is continuing to be eroded by those who regard it as anathema, yet somehow we muddle through. Gideon Levy, who is a scathing critic of the way things are around here, takes a time out on the eve of Rosh Hashana to say that this still can be a wonderful country.  Yes, things could always be worse Gideon, but let us not be delusional.  Democracy is heavily under attack and we must all struggle to defend it. Academic freedom is the next victim in the queueNurit Elstein  of the Hebrew University pointed out a year ago that the real danger lies not only with the members of parliament , but in the attitudes of the brainwashed public.
Bradley Burston in his Special Place in Hell blog says that this year he is giving the Lord the day off.  Peace and its achievement are our problem, not His.  I would like to quote his optimistic summation:
I still believe in the tools of peace. I believe in voting. I believe in individuals and groups who are rebuilding human bridges demolished in fire and terror and war and enforced separation. I believe in talking with people whom history and geography and extremisms of faith and behavior have made my formal enemy.
I believe that God's favorite religion is not Judaism nor Islam nor Christianity. I believe that God's true religion is peace.

So this holiday season, I'm leaving You alone to do what You like.
And may this be a year of unexpected peace. 

Right on Mr. Burston,  all the things we want, social justice, democracy and freedom, inter alia, depend on peace, terminating the occupation and getting on with creating an environment in which all the states of the region can prosper.  Shlomo Avineri holds, probably correctly, that democracy cannot flourish in places that have no such tradition.  He points out the Pussy Riot case as an example of a neo-Soviet regime in Russia

and holds little hope for Egypt and the other components of the Arab Spring.  We have a very tough row to hoe. Carlo Strenger (linked above) predicts the doom of  liberal Zionism unless we, the marginalized minority on the Left, can manage by some miracle to get our act together.  Sefi Rachelevski holds out hope in the idea that the disgusted community of non-voters can unite behind a liberal coalition that should even include the moderate side of the Likud.  His article fails to mention a role for the Israeli Arab community, which in our opinion, is a major oversight.


Israel is unique in the Western world in that there are schools funded by the state that do not teach the core curriculum.  Schools of the ultra-orthodox "haredi" community do not think it necessary to teach much math, science, English etc.  Recently a haredi Knesset member wrote an article in Haaretz in which he claimed that it is possible to make a living and do well without such secular intrusions into the time needed to study God's holy torah.  We could not help but be reminded of an actual incident in which this was shown to be false. During the big wave of construction of the Tel Aviv University campus, some of our students took summer jobs as building workers and earned more than we could pay them as research assistants.  One of them was approached by a metal worker who had been give the task of making window frames with a 1.5 meter diagonal.  He said "we all know , 60, 80 and the diagonal  is a meter.    I tried to add 25 cm to each side and it does not work."  Our student said "use 90 and 120" and indeed Pythagoras did not fail his duty.  The metal man was amazed and asked how he got this idea and the student explained that the source was school. The man said he would bash his kids' ears back if anyone talked about dropping out of school.  Then we turn to a story of an Irish building worker who would have saved himself much grief if he had known a bit of basic physics.

In Iran, where women have been entering universities in ever greater numbers,  a new edict has banned women from 77 subjects, ranging from engineering, nuclear physics and computer science, to English literature, archaeology and business. This is obviously designed to deny education to women who now outnumber men in universities.
Female university students in Iran have outnumbered men for the past decade
 The banning of women from significant courses may be a reaction to the role that women played in the protests in Iran in the wake of the 2009 elections.
Some say it was the prominent role of women in 2009's protests that has unnerved Iran's conservative leaders

 The denial of education to women in Iran is analogous to the Bais Yakov school for girls run by the Jewish haredi communities in which the level of education is kept low enough to ensure that the girls grow up with no aspirations beyond marriage, elementary school teaching and motherhood. Indeed some of these schools are trying to prepare girls for bagrut (matriculation) exams, but the rabbis are fighting it. We quote from the haredi  online gazette linked above:
The Rabbis are decrying the situation as Bais Yaakov schools are part of the haredi school system which rejects participation in the Bagrut exams, along with rejecting any supervision of the curriculum by the Ministry of Education. An excerpt from the letter published in the name of Rav Elyashiv says, "There is no place for studies in Bais Yaakov that lead to the exams of the bagrut,as there is an inherent contradiction in the education of Bais Yaakov that aspires to yiras shamayaim (fear of heaven) and the educational system that leads to the bagrut exams."

OK, enough ranting about politics. We invite those who read Hebrew to share the anger of one of our greatest writers, Yoram Koniuk, who calls attention to our failures on the cultural front.  It is scant comfort to see that it is not just us.  We borrow a cartoon that Pollyanna used last week.

On with What If, weird as usual.  What if a rainstorm fell as one huge drop?
We too had to look up Skrillex,
As some of you may know, Titan and his friends shun a certain red fruit which was created by God to be cattle feed.  It is nice to know that our beloved Cynthia is with us.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Your "proof" of secular studies being beneficial because a university student used pythagorean theorem to assist a window frame maker make correct measurements is NOT a proof! We charedim DO learn an alternative to Pythagorean Theorem. I've seen it in Tractate Sukka & 'Eruvin: In general, Talmudic learning is far more sophisticated than anything in secular learning. OTOH, I teach remedial secular studies to charedi kids who want to branch out of their system & it's hard work! I would have been nice if they'd learned some BASIC English. Math is already in the gemara, but it could certainly be strengthened if exercises were extrapolated from that text.