Saturday, December 15, 2012

Last Titan blog if the world ends in a week...

The pyramidal peak of Mount Rtanj in Serbia
CREDIT: Tamburix, distributed by Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license.

 Titan is back with you to share the state of the world. It is not something that even sister Pollyanna would be glad about. If you believe it is coming to an end next week, you can head for the mountain shown above for sanctuary.  The safe haven mountain in France has been closed by the authorities so only Serbia is left.  More below.

For starters, as usual, we refer you to our Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action blog. Please open it and help the people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

IN MEMORIAM Ravi Shenkar 1920-2012
Ravi Shenkar, the great Indian musician, died this week at age 92.

 He had a great career spanning both East and West and can be said to be responsible for the meeting of Eastern and Western music.  He was the mentor of the Beatle George Harrison, won countless awards for his virtuosity on the sitar  and became an iconic figure for generations of musicians.  The musician Norah Jones is his daughter.  For details of his life we refer you to the obituary in The Guardian.

This week the world is as messed up as usual and Titan will rant as usual. We start with a shocking event to which we cannot relate except with outrage and grief.  Yesterday, 28   people, including 20 children, were killed by a gunman who entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT in the USA.. He was the son of a teacher at that school. The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, 20, was found dead at the scene of the slaughter. The body of a woman believed to be his mother was found at their home in Newtown, authorities said. This is another in the chain of mass killings that plagues the United States.  President Obama spoke from his heart.

Maybe someone will find the political will to do something about it.

We continue with an issue of school segregation taking place in the heart of Europe. Five years after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Czech government was failing to provide equal education opportunities to Roma children, essentially nothing has changed.
Romani children in the Czech Republic are still being denied the educational opportunities offered to other students.
© Jiří Doležel
Again we see a government that lacks the political will to carry out its own declared policies and the children of the Romany community are continuing to receive inferior education in poor quality schools. Details can be read in a report issued last month by Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC).

It is indeed odd and troubling that a country that claims to be a democracy could have school children and even some adults expressing admiration for one of the greatest monsters that history has recorded over all time. Thousands of Indians buy Mein Kampf every week. Much of this can be attributed to Bal Thackeray, chief of the Shiv Sena party who died on Nov. 17. Thackeray freely, openly and often admitted his admiration for Hitler, his book, the Nazis and their methods. In 1993, for example, he gave an interview to Time magazine. “There is nothing wrong,” he said then, “if [Indian] Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany.” We note that a young woman who objected to the disruption of traffic in Mumbai because of Thackeray's funeral was arrested and charged. One might well worry about a country in which young people admire Hitler and hold Ghandi in contempt.

We would like to think that there is no question today in the minds of decent people that rape is a crime of violence and dominance. It appears that someone named Alyssa Royce, writing in a zine called the Good Men's Project makes a valiant, albeit misguided, attempt to shift at least part of the blame for rape to the victim and to society at large. BTW, if you opened her link you will have seen the cover of the zine and realized what the message must be. Jeff Fecke writing in Care2Causes does not buy it nor do we. Nice guys do not rape, period.

 Indeed, there must be zero tolerance on this issue. Sister Pollyanna ranted just a week ago about an Israeli talk show hostess who told a rape victim to "loosen up about sex." It is possible to go through life as a man, to enjoy sex and never rape anyone. We quote JF: "If you view your sexual partners as human beings, you want their consent. Indeed, you know full well that if they’re happy with what’s going on, you will be too. For most men, and most women, this is not a difficult concept to grasp. There will always be those who choose not to seek out consent, of course — people who enjoy violating boundaries, people who choose to act without consent, people who choose to ignore what their partner wants. They are people, not monsters, and we should recognize them as such, but they are also rapists, always — and nice people don’t hurt others."

We are not sure whether this item belongs to the regular blog or to the humor section. It appears that people in Russia are panicking because of the forthcoming "end of the world" which was not really predicted by the Mayan calendar for Dec. 21, 2012. They are stocking up on food and, of course, vodka etc. and fleeing to dachas or whatever. In France, there is a mountain named Bugarach which is said to be safe. Some French and international Web sites devoted to the apocalypse claim that the mountain of Bugarach is a sacred place that will protect them from the end of the world.
Nanda Gonzague for The New York Times
A myth surrounds the Bugarach mountain and its supposed magnetism. Some people plan to take refuge there on Dec. 21, 2012.
Some even believe that, on doomsday, they will be spirited away by a group of aliens who live under the mountain. This is reminiscent of the Heaven's Gate cult whose members committed suicide in 1997 in order to be taken away by the aliens supposed to be trailing comet Hale-Bopp.
G. Rhemann image of C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp)
 The area has been closed off to protect the locals. This is madness, but we have learned to live with the silly of the world. Poor people in Bugarach.  The nuts are left with the mountain in Serbia shown at the top of this blog. We are used to being told in synagogue that our thoughts influence the weather (a New Age rabbi who thinks she understands the world) or that the Hebrew calendar is exact because God gave Moses the period of the Moon on Mt. Sinai. I wonder if He told him about the change in the lunar period as well. What is frightening is that these people live among us and vote.

For over thirty years wee have had a very cold peace with Egypt which is certainly better than a hot war if we may paraphrase Cicero and Benjamin Franklin. During our visits to Egypt we did indeed notice Mein Kampf and the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion in book store windows and even at news stands in the streets. It appears that under the new regime antisemitism has only become worse. Jeffrey Goldberg points out that antisemitism is a symptom of a poor and backward society, who are poor and backward not because of the Jews, but because of  lack of ability to function in the complex modern world and the Jews are an easy scapegoat. He quotes a relevant analysis of  Walter Russell Mead  who points out that  they lack the ability to “see the world clearly and discern cause and effect relations in complex social settings.” Mead calls anti-Semitism the “sociology of the befuddled.”  We regard this both as an oversimplification and a shifting of accountability.  In fact, countries that are not poor and backward can be virulently antisemitic, for example Christian countries because of the Church and its preachings. In modern Poland, there are effectively no Jews, since either the Nazis killed them or the Poles drove them out after the war.  Nonetheless, antisemitism rears its head today , although not as strongly as in Ukraine, possibly because Poland is more prosperous than the Ukraine and less backward. Most Poles have never met a Jew and when the drunk football hooligan shouts "Jew" he really means the Catholic on the other side of the field waving the banner of the opposing team. The BBC produced an informative documentary on Football Euro 2012 and the racist behavior of fans in Poland and Ukraine.

 It has now become known that women immigrants from Ethiopia were treated with a strong contraceptive drug that has bad side effects. The women were compelled to submit to this abuse in the transit camps and the use of it has continued. It is hard to believe, but in Israel, in 2012, Ethiopian women are still forced to receive injections of the Depo-Provera contraceptive. This injection is not a commonly prescribed means of contraception. It is considered a last resort and is usually given to women who are institutionalized or developmentally disabled or otherwise unable to use more conventional contraceptives. Yet according to an investigation recently aired on the“Vacuum” documentary series hosted by Gal Gabay and shown on Israeli Educational Television, it is also given to many new immigrants from Ethiopia. A vehement protest has been written in Haaretz by Efrat Yardai of the Achoti organization. Even the right-wing Jerusalem Post registered a protest at this abuse of powerless women.
(File photo) A televised investigation found that more than 40 women have received injections of the Depo-Provera contraceptive. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
The lack of accountability in the entire system indicates an attitude that at  best is paternalistic and at worse racist--yes we want Jewish babies, but white ones please. The issue of the treatment and integration of the Ethiopian immigrants has been discussed by Lisa Anteby and by the late Baruch Kimmerling,(1998. “The New Israelis: multi-cultures without pluri-culturalism”, Alpayim, n° 16, (: 264-308, in Hebrew). The point made by Kimmerling is that whereas the Russian immigrants were able to make it on their own, the Ethiopians were like clay in the hands of the potters, the potters being the bureaucrats of the Jewish Agency and the government who did with them as they saw fit. It is a revolting situation, reminiscent of the way immigrants from Yemen were treated a generation or more ago.

We have recently seen an outcry from a Rabbi Navon who objects to the celebration of Christmas on the streets of Haifa.  For details see Yossi Gurevich (see blog alongside in Hebrew). We cannot but think of the huge Hannuka menora at Union Square in San Francisco put up by Habad next to the Christmas tree. Perhaps we should remember the letter that Lord Rothschild wrote to Herzl in 1902 in which he explained his opposition to political Zionism. The letter is quoted in an article by Shulamit Aloni in which she denounces the orthodox fanaticism that controls Israel. Lord Rothschild writes that he "should view with horror the establishment of a Jewish colony pure and simple; such a colony would be Imperium Imperio; it would be a Ghetto with the prejudice of the Ghetto; it would be a small petty
Jewish state, orthodox and illiberal, excluding the Gentile and the Christian."
We hoped that this would not happen, but it has and Israel is certainly no longer worthy of the vision of its founders who hoped for a liberal democratic Jewish state. The term Jewish and democratic are always said in the same breath. As Knesset member Ahmed Tibi once said, Israel is democratic for Jews and Jewish for Arabs.

Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah from Hebron celebrated his 17th birthday Wednesday.
Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah, a 17-year-old Palestinian shot to death at an army checkpoint in Hebron

 His mother sent him to buy a cake for the planned party, and when he left his home on his way to the bakery he was stopped at an army checkpoint, where he was shot to death by a woman officer from the Border Police unit. These are the facts. From here, each side has a different version. Here is a description containing both versions of the story. Decide for yourself who is telling the truth

Prof. Rivka Feldhay, a historian-philosopher of science at Tel Aviv University  was supposed to appear in a symposium in Germany in the presence of PM Natanyahu and Chancellor Merkel with other Israeli academics and their German counterparts.
Prof. Feldhay
At the last minute she was banned because she apparently signed a petition in 2002 calling on soldiers to refuse to serve the Occupation. The matter has raised a major outcry in Israel and Germany. She is obviously on some kind of blacklist, as we probably are as well. Prof. Feldhay was subjected to an unwarranted attack by a journalist and gave him a worthy reply. Most of us have signed many such petitions over the years and are on some kind of list. (Our friend, the late Baruch Kimmerling was left off a published list of Likud boycotees and was mortally offended). Titan himself signed a petition many Julian days ago against the binding of his brother Prometheus and his subjection to a steady vulture attack. As punishment, Zeus kicked him out of his cushy Earth orbit and exiled him to the boondocks of Saturn.  At least for the last nine years the loneliness has been relieved by visits from the Cassini orbiter.
Alas, Huygens was a nice guest, but his batteries died and he has not had much to say for a long time.

Recently a group of soldiers entered Hebron and Kadum and retreated before stone throwers instead of opening fire.

As Gideon Levy points out we should be proud to have soldiers who think twice before killing children. Of course, the collective penis of Israeli society was mortally offended and the right wing is calling for blood. In the same way that the High Command of the IDF seems to have internalized the lessons of the Goldstone report and the Mavi Marmora disaster, it seems to have given orders that the itchy finger on the trigger should be restrained, in contrast to the lady of the Border Police who can put a notch on her gun.

What If deals with the silly question of how many model rocket engines would be needed to launch something into space. It shows an inability on the part of many people to think quantitatively and to understand orders of magnitude.
Our physician partner, the first half of YandA, recently attended a symposium on the intelligent use of antibiotic medications.  We dedicate this XKCD creation to her and her colleagues:
In the wake of the US elections, there was a movement in several red states, in particular Texas, to secede from the Union. Doonesbury suggests that it might be a good idea to expel Texas.

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