Friday, September 20, 2013

Titan a bit late this week

The family of satellites around Saturn
Titan is back, albeit a fortnight late. He and Pollyanna were hosting the Jewish satellites and ring components of Saturn at their synagogue on the shore of the methane lake and had no time to blog. We are pleased to note that the ladies such as Dione, Rhea, Phoebe and Pandora came modestly attired in contrast to their usual appearance in art musea around Terra and on ancient Greek coins. The succah was constructed and decorated in a cooperative effort led by Prometheus looking forward and Epithemeus  looking backward with Enceladus helping by blowing off steam..

The shul is on the fjord at center right..Cassini photo

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. As the weeks and months go by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week it is Titan's turn to promote a charity. His choice is Oxfam, an international NGO based in Britain that does wonderful work around the world, from Haiti to Congo.

A hot lunch at school helps the kids to learn

Please donate via the Web site. One nice feature is Oxfam Unwrapped in which you can donate something helpful in the name of a loved one as a birthday or anniversary present. When our granddaughter Maya turned 18 we gave a pregnant nanny goat via Oxfam to a family in Africa. Her father overheard her saying on the phone that "my granddad gave me a goat for my birthday" and there was a little sorting out to do.

Uri Avnery turned 90 this week and we all wish him the best of health and continued success.
We have demonstrated with him on countless occasion, sharing the smell and taste of tear gas at Bil'in and elsewhere. We have long admired him. In the 1950's he revolutionized Israeli journalism with his weekly Ha'Olam Haze and he also served in the Knesset as the sole voice of peace and rationality.To this day, he writes, blogs and leads the Gush Shalom movement. He indeed is the modern voice of prophecy. Gideon Levy gives us a lovely tribute to Uri.

IN MEMORIAM Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

 Poet Seamus Heaney, who has died aged 74
The world and Ireland mourned the loss of its Nobel laureate poet, Seamus Heaney, with equal measures of poetry and pain.  His  funeral was full of grace notes and a included a final message from the great man himself: "Don't be afraid." He was widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney was raised in County Derry, and later lived for many years in Dublin. He was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and edited several widely used anthologies. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." Heaney taught at Harvard University (1985-2006) and served as the Oxford Professor of Poetry (1989-1994). He died on August 30. The New Yorker provides a beautiful appreciation of his life and work.

Titan is chuckling a bit about the confusion that has hit the scientists who have been using Cassini data to study him from up close. New gravity measurements imply that the reigning theory that explained the subsurface methane source by means of a thin flexible ice layer on the surface may be wrong. Now new studies indicate that Titan has a thick, rigid crust of ice, a finding that confounds scientists whose explanations for the moon’s dynamic surface and atmosphere rely on a flexible crust. This confounds the gravity-elevation relationship. More details are given in Nature August 29 online for those with access.
NASA's Cassini probe captured an arrow-shaped storm (left, in white) 
striking Titan in mid-2010. Methane 
rainstorms are among the many dynamic processes 
that take place on the moon. 
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Titan would like to call your attention to a study of the fault lines that have split society in Haiti since the great earthquake of January 2010. Truthout presents an interview by Leslie Thatcher with  Beverly Bell, the author of the book, Fault Line. The author points out how the effects of natural disasters, such as Katrina or a major earthquake depend on class. She also raises the issues of the exploitation of Haiti under the guise of aid and rebuilding. There was a "gold rush" of corporations and NGOs seeking to profit from the catastrophe. One should be very careful when donating to causes such as Haiti when it is not obvious that the money is going to the right places and where transparency and accountability are not as they should be.
Fault Line, Views Across Haiti's Divide
By Beverly Bell
Forward by Edwige Danticat
Cornell University Press, 2013
235 pages

Titan is furious about the decision of the Venezuelan government to withdraw from the American Convention for Human Rights. This is an outrageous act which denies the citizens of Venezuela the right to appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Please rant about this on your social networks and to all your email contacts.  Yuck!!

The crisis engendered by the use of poison gas by the Syrian army has had the world on tenterhooks for some time. Obama drew his lines in the sand, but fortunately we were spared the results of a possible attack on Syria by the American forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. No one in his/her right mind (this definition excludes some Republican politicians and Israeli pundits and politicians) wished to see the attack take place for it would have driven Assad over the cliff and it is hard to imagine what his reaction might have been, including an attack on Israel to say nothing about the loss of innocent lives. We all should be grateful to the Russians who gave both Obama and Assad ladders to help them climb down from their respective untenable trees. The deal is good for the world at large. Putin wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes in which he appealed to the American people to avoid war. Indeed, the American people have no stomach for war after the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter still going on. We point you at a line-by-line exegesis and fact checking by Max Fischer in the Washington Post. Putin's piece was much better than the old time imperialist dogs diatribes of Cold War days, but it contains a few factual errors and contradictions that Fischer points out. It is indeed odd to claim that the Syrian rebels carried out the gas attack and a few paragraphs later to call for removal of the government stockpiles of gas. Cheers to Kerry and Lavrov for pulling it off.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hold a joint press conference in Geneva on Sept. 14, 2013, after they met for talks on Syria's chemical weapons.
Photo by Larry Downing/AFP/Getty Images
 It raises hope that Kerry might do something real in our part of the world as well, although, as the Onion points out, he could not win an election from Dubya. As Benjamin Franklin once said, paraphrasing M. Tullius Cicero, "the worst peace is better than the best war."

This week a nut shot and killed 12 people before being killed himself at the Washington Navy Yard. It seems that the people of America via their lawmakers are addicted to mass killings and have no real desire to put a stop to them. David Weigel writing in Slate explains why the latest round of killing will not change anything. Indeed polls show that the vast majority of Americans are for gun control, but the NRA has the organization and coherence to intimidate members of Congress who know that their constituents do not care enough about the issue actually to get out, register and vote. People have the governments that they deserve.

This is the season of the year in which Jews are inundated with holidays, first Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to cleanse our souls and then Succot, Shmini Atzeret and Simhat Torah for thanksgiving and fun.

In order to make sure that we are happy, the Lord commanded us three times as in Deut. XVI,
 וְשָׂמַחְתָּ, בְּחַגֶּךָ:  אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ, וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ, וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה, אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ.  טו שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תָּחֹג לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בַּמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר יְהוָה:  כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ
 "You shall rejoice in your holidays...and indeed be happy" as well in Lev. XXIII
  .ושְׂמַחְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--שִׁבְעַת יָמִים
 "you shall rejoice before your God--seven days." This is to make sure that we do not get fed up on holidays and rejoicing. In Israel during these few weeks essentially nothing gets done, schools are mostly out and people talk about the almost Messianic time in the future knowm as "after the holidays." Actually it is churlish to complain, we get music festivals, goodies at the Cinematheque, unemployed actors get to perform before children at various venues and we really enjoy the traffic jams. The succah itself is a hut with a roof of branches, designed to be leaky since we are challenging the Lord to come up with some needed rain. Prayers for rain commence at this time and for once they do not satisfy the Ambrose Bierce definition in his Devil's Dictionary
:“PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy." It is now the season in which the laws of the universe as applied to Mideast climate call for precipitation.


Titan shouts cheers for the courts in Israel. The District Court of Jerusalem found that the libel suit of the Im Tirzu organization of fascist louts against people who called them a fascist organization on Facebook was unfounded on the basis of the fact that the allegation is true and that they have many of the characteristics of a fascist organization
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Sep/16/2013

More importantly the Supreme Court sitting as nine justices found unanimously that the so-called law
against infiltration as amended to allow incarceration without trial for up to three years is unconstitutional. It is a great breakthrough for human rights. Indeed, the people in South Tel Aviv where the refugee population, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, is concentrated find life difficult and we hope efforts will be made to disperse the refugees so that one neighborhood will not be impacted. We may also expect the right/fascist wing of our Knesset to come up with new legislative initiatives to limit the power of the Supreme Court.
Saharonim detention facility.
African migrants held in Saharonim detention facility. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Titan, Pollyanna and YandA congratulate Ms Anat Hoffmann on being chosen Person of the Year by the readers of the Haaretz English edition. She is not only the leader of the Women of the Wall movement, but also the Executive Director of IRAC, the legal arm of Reform Judaism in Israel. 

Anat Hoffman
Anat Hoffman. Photo by Gali Eytan
Indeed the time has come for the expansion of the liberal movements of Judaism in Israel and the breaking of the Orthodox monopoly and control of the lives of unwilling people. We, as members of a Reform congregation, look forward to the liberalization of the attitudes of the government and the public towards our movement. Indeed, the solidly secular Israeli whose entire definition of being Jewish consists of not being an Arab will probably remain indifferent to anything that contains spiritual and moral values, but there certainly exists a population for which  an egalitarian and humanistic approach to Judaism will resonate.

OK Titan, enough of this nice guy holiday stuff.
Let us have some healthy rants for a change. We can start with a posting on +972 about a Colonel in the Israel Army who thinks that he outranks the justices of the Supreme Court. After a three-year sisyphean legal struggle, the IDF finally implemented a High Court of Justice order that Ali Shabana be allowed to access his land. The son of the owner, accompanied by a Yesh Din team, ploughed the land. One would think that a new day of justice had dawned. Two hours later, Colonel Yossi Pinto, Commander of the Binyamin Brigade, signed a Closed Military Zone order, which forbade the owners of the land from reaching it and effectively ordered the end of plowing by the owners. Please read the details in the link and fume with us. The problem is twofold, the evil nature of officers like Pinto and the lack of ability of the Court to enforce its edicts. It would be great if the justices would call up Pinto on contempt of court and send him to prison to meditate about his sins. We doubt if they would ever show such courage and integrity.

In principle, an arrested person is entitled to see a lawyer before interrogation. In reality, we are told that only 13% of arrested people in Israel get legal help and the police violate the law by not informing the arrested person of his/her rights. The number of false arrests has also increased significantly. The result has been a severe erosion of the faith of the public in the police. It would be nice if they cared.

We are told by the Bank of Israel that we are headed for a major crisis in the housing mortgage market if any economic downturn comes. The price of housing has skyrocketed and the number of households greatly overextended in their mortgage payments(>40% of income) has increased drastically. The banks have been ordered by the Central Bank to refuse mortgages to people obviously unable to pay them lest we experience mass foreclosures as in the US a few years ago. Naturally the real estate sharks are howling foul, but the future may well be grim.

Worker dies
Ahsan Abu-Srur is taken away in an ambulance. Photo by Screenshot
This week a West Bank Arab (in Israel illegally) was injured while working on a construction site in Tel Aviv. The reaction of his employer, the contractor, was to leave him to die on the sidewalk, witnesses said. The victim, Ahsan Abu-Srur, 54, from the Askfar refugee camp near Nablus, was apparently abandoned by his employer, without any attempt to assist him. The body was found lying on the sidewalk outside 7 Ben Atar Street, in south Tel Aviv by passersbys, and then taken to Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, where he was pronounced dead.

Several eyewitnesses told Haaretz that they had seen the contractor arriving at the apartment where the renovations were being done. He noticed the laborer was apparently critically injured and, with the help of two workers, dragged the man to the sidewalk opposite and left him there, without helping him.

Titan wonders how law enforcement will deal with this. In a previous instance, when police dumped an Arab in hospital clothes with a catheter in place at a roadside where he died, there was a prosecution and people were sent to prison. Let us see how this works out. When evil becomes institutionalized, as in the functioning of the army of occupation, it will inevitably spill out into civil society and one can even see it becoming normative behavior. A recent blog in the NYTimes comments on the recent whistleblowers and how the system reacts to them. In particular, it is noted how people within a system tend to lose their moral compass, as pointed out by Hanna Arendt in her book on the Eichmann trial. Here we see an individual refusing to help someone for whose injury he must be held accountable and it is hard not to conclude that this was motivated by racism and acceptance of evil as a norm. It is the sad fulfillment of the prophecy of the late Yishayahu Leibowitz that the corruption and brutalization caused by the occupation and the ruling of another nation would corrupt our society totally. The contractor who threw the dying worker out on the sidewalk, Col. Pinto mentioned above and the officers and soldiers of the army are all part of the same terrible matrix. We, the uninvolved citizens, are accountable for all of this.
What If? ask how many punched cards would be needed to store Google's mass of data?

The Onion has something for us-great political news:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Sep/20/2013

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