Friday, October 19, 2012

Titan is with you again

Titan is also back from the holidays and into the routine of life, mostly orbiting Saturn and waiting for Cassini to drop by for an orbit shift and a bit of a chat. Huygens is taking up space on the surface but is suffering from dead battery syndrome.  Above we show some of his photoartistry.  As usual, we call your attention to our Human Rights Action blog and ask you to pick up on the links and take action on behalf of people who are suffering persecution and discrimination around the world.

Alex Karras who died this week of multiple illnesses had two successful careers, one as a tackle for the Detroit Lions NFL team and an equally successful one as a television and movie actor.  He was among the more than 3,500 former players who are suing the National Football League, in cases that have been consolidated, over the long-term damage caused by concussions and repeated hits to the head.
We remember both of his personae well and fondly.  He played for the Lions where he anchored the defensive line for 12 seasons over 13 years, 1958 to 1970.  He was also a thorn in the side to the League management in that he objected strongly to the way players were treated like chattels on the one hand, deployed as seen fit, and children on the other, held to restrictive behavioral standards, scolded and disciplined.  He was suspended in 1963 for betting on games, which he regarded as a personal vendetta of the commissioner for what amounted in his  view to a bagatelle.
He was born on July 15, 1935, in Gary, Ind., where his father, George, a Greek immigrant, was a doctor, and his mother, the former Emmeline Wilson, was a nurse. An all-state football player in high school, he attended the University of Iowa, where in 1957 he won the Outland Trophy as the outstanding interior lineman in college football. In 1958, he was drafted in the first round by the Lions.  On television he would, with tongue in cheek, claim that he was the son of a steel worker from Gary and that he enjoyed sacking quarterbacks because their fathers took them on picnics when they were kids.
Much as it was great to see him play, it was also great to see him in his dramatic career.  He played in several films and TV series, served in the the ABC broadcast booth for Monday night football and  wrote a few books, including a send up of broadcasting entitled "Tuesday Night Football" and an autobiography.  In Blazing Saddles, he played an outlaw who knocks out a horse.  We append an obituary from the New York Times.   Rest in Peace, Alex.

We are pleased that the appeals court in Russia has released one of the Pussy Riot singers and we call for the release of the other two as well. It is outrageous that they are being sent to serve their term in a notoriously tough prison camp where conditions will be most difficult and it will be hard for them to have visits from their children.
"Virgin Mary, redeem us from Putin" frightened the President
We are also glad(wow, we are starting to sound like Pollyanna) that people in Pakistan including Muslim clerics have received a wake up call from the attempt by the Taliban to murder Malalah Yousafzai, but the issue of freedom of education for girls and freedom of religion in general is still problematic there.  The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a blasphemy against humanity.
Muslim women protest
In Asia, there is a superstitious belief that the liver bile of bears has medicinal value.  As a result, bears are captured in the wild and "milked" in a very cruel manner in so-called bear farms.  It is a vile practice causing untold suffering to innocent animals.
© The Endangered Species Restoration project, S. Korea
 We are pleased to note that the   International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a motion to end bear bile farming at their World Congress on Friday night. We hope that this will bring pressure on various governments to take the required steps.
The new IUCN motion calls for:

    Countries to close down bear bile farming and extraction facilities,
    Capping the growth of the industry in China,
    Those who back the bear bile industry and claim it doesn’t affect wild bear numbers, to provide independent scientific evidence to the next IUCN World Conservation Congress.

The IUCN also specifically encouraged the governments of South Korea and Viet Nam to continue efforts towards ending bear farming

AVAAZ is calling for a petition signing on behalf of a Tunisian woman who was raped by police officers and is facing "indecency" charges.  Please sign against this outrage.

As we all know, the civil suit by the Corrie family against the Israeli government failed and the judge went so far as to say that she was responsible for her own death.  Please, US readers, sign the petition to the US State Department to investigate Rachel Corrie's death.  Maybe justice can be found on the other side
of the ocean.
This week we are not going to deal separately with the world and home since the issues we wish to bring up transcend national boundaries.  We would like to address the question of why a powerful regime so greatly fears individual dissidents and will take extraordinary steps to quiet any criticism or call for change.
Recently there has been a flurry of articles in the West pointing out that, despite its economic might, China does not meet the criteria of a superpower.  Its main defects are a tattered social fabric, internal political corruption and the lack of a true sense of national identity.  It is no accident that last year the regime did not mark the centennial of the 1911 revolution led by Sun Yat-sen that brought down the last dynastic emperor. The Party has no interest in reminding the public of a revolution whose goal was the attainment of democracy. These same pundits point out that the Soviet Union at the height of its power could match the United States only militarily whereas in all other areas it lagged behind the Western nations.  In 1975, the French historian, Emanuel Todd predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse because of its internal weaknesses on a time scale of 15 years.  He was indeed correct.

A shared trait of such regimes, which differentiates them from liberal democracies, is the paranoid fear of individual dissidents that grips these rulers.  Anyone who raises her/his voice in protest is considered a major danger to the government and nation.  Jefferson wrote that " … governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;" A regime that is not sure of the justice of its authority and lacks the consent of the governed will persecute forcefully any poem, song, idea or thought that casts doubt upon the legitimacy of its actions.  Such regimes constantly rewrite history, such as the amnesia of the Chinese government re Tiananmen Square and the regular "updating" of the Soviet Encyclopedia.  Thus China persecutes Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei self portrait, for Time

and Mao Hengfeng 
Mao Hengfeng with her children
and holds the Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, in prison.  Their sole "crime" was to harbor the subversive idea that human beings have inalienable rights.  Similarly, Putin and his regime tremble with fear of a few female singers (vid. above) whose voice might bring down the government and a chess grandmaster who has some strange thoughts about democratic reforms.
Garry Kasparov being roughed up by police at Pussy Riot demonstration

 The government of Belarus has gone further, jailing a young man who just photographed a few balloon borne teddy bears sent from Sweden as a gimmick to make the dictator Lukashenko appear ridiculous.
A few of the 800 teddy bears "in training"
Apparently humor is dangerous as well.
The unreasonable pursuit of Julian Assange, the man from Wikileaks,
  by the United States government is a worrisome sign of decay.

In Israel we see the fear of individual expression in the opinion censorship run by Passport Control at the borders.  Prof  Noam Chomsky was denied entry and Prof. Joel Beinin, the editor of Jewish Voice for Peace, was subjected to hours of harassing questioning at the airport, both punished for their opinions and statements.  There are countless other examples of the "Thought Police" of the Israeli government.  Most recently we witnessed the censoring,  by Yaron Dekel, the commander of the army radio station, of a song.  The song,  "A Matter of Habit" by Yizhar Ashdot and Alona Kimchi describes the feelings of a soldier compelled to commit atrocities as part of the enforcement of the West Bank Occupation.  We embed the song for those who know Hebrew.  A translation into English is available on the Tikkun Olam site of Richard Silverstein.

 It should be noted that a talk show host on this station called for physical violence against leftists and another host expressed his hope that the United States would elect a president "who really hates Arabs."  Protests against the incitement to violence were ignored and one must conclude that the station encourages such sentiments.  A call for soldiers to look themselves honestly in the face and ask about what they are called upon to do is regarded as sedition and dangerous to the well being of the state. As pointed out by Uri Blau, the act of censorship proves that every word of the song is true.

A people that believes in the justice of its ways does not fear criticism and is willing to listen and make amends as needed.  Anyone with self confidence will not be outraged because an Arab does not wish to sing Hatikva nor will he arrest demonstrators on trumped up charges of attacking a police officer or other  vile reactions towards the fundamental right of protest against the consensual norms.  One can only understand the large number of anti-democratic legislative initiatives of  right wing members of the outgoing Knesset and their irrational fury towards the New Israel Fund and various human rights organization as a result of an inner fear and feeling that indeed they have gone the wrong way. Indeed they have a majority, but if we may quote Jefferson again, "An elective despotism was not the government we fought for."  Supporters of liberal democracy and human rights must overcome their disgust and indifference and make a point of voting in the forthcoming elections.  We recommend supporting Meretz and Zahava Gal-On, but even Shelly Yahimowitz and her Labor Party are preferable to four more years of our fascist-like right wing government.

This week three Jewish women who chose to read the Torah and wear a talit (prayer shawl)at the Western Wall were arrested by the police in Jerusalem.  
Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall (Nshot Ha-Kotel) arrested at the Western Wall, Old City of Jerusalem (photo: Women of the Wall)
 What is frightening is that the public in Israel accepts this religious bullying by the Orthodox rabbinate and even Reform Jews in the US and other places where their freedom is protected have not made a loud protest.  True, the Reform movement in the US has been funding the cases that have been brought to court, such as the most recent court order that enabled the Reform congregation of Natanya to move into a building provided by the Municipality.  For the record, the Municipality provides structures for 298 Orthodox congregations.
One is tempted to seek the wisdom of Jefferson with respect to religion.  While he was referring to Christianity, his strictures are valid for all faiths:
 I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to Liberty.

And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva, in the brain of Jupiter.

For orthodox Christianity substitute the orthodoxy of your choice and for the mystical generation of Jesus substitute the mythical miracle from your local religion. The priest is generic.

It is incredible that, with all the modern security systems available, thieves could make off with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of paintings by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin and Matisse from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam. It appears that successful museum jacking is not all that uncommon and apparently not too difficult.  We assume that the thieves will have trouble fencing their loot.  Let us hope that they are not fanatic Muslims out to destroy art as a Western decadence. Last week Pollyanna ranted about mutilation of a Rothko painting at Tate Modern in London.  Somehow, art security needs to be beefed up. There were no human guards at the museum, just the electronics, obviously not enough.  Here is a link to a slide show of the pilfered paintings.

An unmanned aircraft flew into Israel and was shot down after about 30 minutes of flight over the country.  Our generals, air force and others, who give as!@#@!#les a bad name were all very pleased with themselves.  We are much less so. We agree with Reuven Pedatzur, writing in Haaretz, that the attempt to pass off a resounding operational failure as a success is as troubling as the snafu itself.  The drone spent hours near and in Israeli air space and yet was only shot down near Dimona.  The public deserves answers and accountability, but, as in the case of the idiot decision to open a road in the Negev thus costing the lives of many civilians, no one will be held accountable for a failure that is so unconvincingly denied. The glaring incompetence of the military establishment makes the need for peace even more urgent.  We are reminded of a conversation between Hindenberg and Ludendorf at the beginning of World War I:
H: The British soldier is a lion.
L: Fortunately for us, he is commanded by donkeys.
In the end, Germany lost the war, but not through the military genius of Sir John Haig. Norman Dixon writes that wars are won by the side whose generals are marginally less incompetent than those of their adversary.  How long can we rely on this?
The Supreme Court in Israel has denied the petition of settlers in the south Hebron mountain area to demolish a school for Bedouin children.  Cheers.
This interesting subject is discussed in a book
Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything
Margaret Wertheim
2011 Walker and Company $27.00hb 323pp

reviewed in by Margaret Harris.  We all encounter them, the folks who are going to convince you that Einstein(or Schroedinger or Feynman) have it all wrong and they have a great new theory of everything that solves physics, chemistry, whatever.   It can be a prediction of the Second Coming of Jesus by the Hubble Space Telescope or something of that ilk.  Our favorite is the "observation" of the Pearly Gates of Heaven by the imaging system on board the Voyager spacecraft.  Since we were involved in the Voyager project, we felt cheated that the bigwigs of the project had held out on us working stiffs and we had had to rely on The National Enquirer.  The book looks interesting.

What If deals this week with lightning and its consequences.  Not much new for a physicist, but amusing.
We had a link to the significance of xkcd...
Proper disclosure: We too had to look up the Ackermann Function and Graham's Number.

Finally we thank a lady in North Dakota for providing a bit of humor and what is more important, insight into the need for artificial intelligence, since natural intelligence appears to be in short supply.

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