Sunday, November 17, 2013

Grumpy Titan is here to rant at you-live with it...

Photo mosaic from Cassini with Saturn, rings, satellites and Earth

Titan is back with you again and would like to share a cosmic picture from the day that we all smiled at Saturn.  You can get a larger version at the NASA site. Titan, of course, from his orbit around Saturn, smiled back. Look at the picture and let us quote Carolyn Porco:

NASA has released a natural color image of Saturn from space, the first in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars, all are visible.

The new panoramic mosaic of the majestic Saturn system taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which shows the view as it would be seen by human eyes, was unveiled at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday.

Cassini's imaging team processed 141 wide-angle images to create the panorama. The image sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn's rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn's second outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would fit comfortably inside the span of the E ring.

"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels: from spokes in Saturn's main rings to the spray erupting from the icy moon Enceladus, from the shadows of moons cast through the gorgeous blue E ring to the inner planets Venus, Mars, and our own planet Earth, far in the distance," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team lead based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot."

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. A full year has gone by without Miriam and 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, Titan will not only refer you to Miriam's blog, but will ask you to act NOW on behalf of a Cambodian activist who has an appeal hearing before the Supreme Court on 22 November. Please click and sign the petition.
Yorm Bopha, taking part in a protest © Jenny Holligan
Yorm Bopha, taking part in a protest © Jenny Holligan


Last week Pollyanna reported on the landfall of  super typhoon Haiyan. We now know that the situation is much worse than it was thought to be then. Several thousand people are dead and the destruction is nearly total. Please donate to help the survivors. You can use the Mercy Corps  and many other sites to donate on line.

This week it is Titan's turn to promote a charity. His choice is the Malala Fund, a foundation for education of girls in the developing world. The Malala Fund is the official organization led by Malala Yousafzai focused on helping girls go to school and raise their voices for the right to education.
As you will recall, Malala was the 14 year old shot in the head last year by the Taliban because of her blogging and other activities on behalf of the education of girls in Pakistan. Please donate via the link above.


Titan is appalled at the systematic discrimination against the Roma people in Europe. Today the specific rant is aimed at Italy where Roma are treated like dirt.
More than 4,000 Roma living in authorized camps in Rome have been systematically discriminated against
More than 4,000 Roma living in authorized camps in Rome have been systematically discriminated against
© Amnesty International

In Rome, the municipal government applies a double standard of housing assistance that is designed to keep the Roma in substandard housing. Amnesty International has come out with a new report on the state of the Roma people in Italy and it is a chilling document. Double standards: Italy's housing policies discriminate against Roma, exposes how more than 4,000 Roma living in authorized camps in Rome have been systematically discriminated against, including when applying for social housing. In a news conference and press release, the organization details the system of discrimination that has place the Roma at the margins of society."There can be no excuse or justification for discriminatory housing policies. The Italian government must review housing legislation and practices and remove any obstacles that discriminate against Roma and keep them trapped in camps."

"If Italian authorities do not take adequate action immediately and instead continue violating EU anti-discrimination legislation so blatantly, it becomes more urgent than ever that the EU Commission starts an infringement procedure against Italy."

Titan recommends that each of us take a look at this picture of discrimination and forced evictions. It is not unique to Italy, the city of Rome or the Roma. It is happening to Bedouins in Israel, to indigenous people in Latin America and  to the urban poor, Uighurs and Tibetans in China. Titan will give you more details on the Israeli version below.

Shell has claimed most of the oil spilt in the Niger Delta is due to oil theft and sabotage of its pipelines
Shell has claimed most of the oil spilt in the Niger Delta is due to oil theft and sabotage of its pipelines
The Shell Oil Company is responsible for major pollution and harm to people in the Niger valley in Africa. It has caused untold damage to the region and its people and is using lies and chicanery to shift the blame to the people and to avoid having to pay compensation. Amnesty International has come out with a press release and a  report that point out the way the system works. New analysis from an independent expert found that so-called official investigation reports into the cause of oil spills in the Niger Delta can be "very subjective, misleading and downright false." The report highlights systemic weaknesses in the way the cause of a spill and the volume are determined  with some significant errors in the volumes that are recorded as spilt. The consequences for the affected communities are devastating and can result in them receiving little or no compensation. The oil companies do not have to back up the claims with full and independent evidence. The evidence that does exist remains firmly under their control. The only way this can be overcome is by publication of the truth and presenting Shell to the court of world public opinion in the negative light that it deserves.

If any of you have visited the mountain parks of Alberta, Canada, you know what a lovely treasure the Athabasca River is. You will, therefore, be as outraged as Titan and his friends to learn that a million liters of coal slurry have been dumped into the river as a result of a failure of a dam at a coal mine. Over 25 kilometers of river have been contaminated and the provincial government appears to be covering up the full magnitude of the catastrophe. The entire story is outrageous.
Coal slurry spill in the river

It is often argued that democracy can be its own worst enemy if it applies its liberal principles to those who are out to destroy it. The Weimar republic is often held up as an example. It is true that liberal democracy, to be differentiated from totalitarian democracy (in the terminology of the late Prof. Jacob Talmon), must be wary of outlawing parties whose views lie outside the consensus, as  long as the parties do not carry out or advocate violence.
Article image
Symbol of an outlawed Israeli fascist party
We offer here a discussion by Jan-WernerMueller, who is a professor in the Political Science Department at Princeton University. It was long ago pointed out by R.O. Paxton of Columbia University in his studies of the mode of operation of Fascist parties that such parties never attain power on their own, but are given power by normative conservative parties that are much closer to the consensus. Thus the conservative parties in Germany thought that they could use Hitler to put down the left and then get rid of him. History has a different story to tell. Something similar happened in Italy in 1921 when a weak and stupid king collaborated with Mussolini and his thugs who actually never got more than 7% of the popular vote. In our opinion, the danger in extremist parties is not in their own real strength, but in the fact that democratic parties can be duped into giving them power that is then abused to the detriment of the full body politic. For that reason the takeover of the Republican Party in the USA by the Tea Party extremists is a matter of great concern. The late philosopher Richard Hofstadter wrote in the middle of the last century about the psychosis of the right wing. Were he with us today, he would have much to say. Basically we have people who have never come to terms with the values of the French Revolution. Such people serve as Cabinet ministers in the government of Israel today, but we shall discuss that below.

This month we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley whose vision of the world of the future included a World State and a stratified society where status depends on your genes. In the NYTimes Bookends section two writers, Adam Kirsch and Jennifer Szalai comment on the prescience — or lack thereof — of Huxley. Their takes are most interesting and worth a read.

We all thought that something good had happened when the former dictator of Guatemala was convicted of genocide in a court in his own country.
The retrial of Guatemalan former President Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges has been delayed until 2015.
The retrial of Guatemalan former President Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges has been delayed until 2015.

Our elation was short-lived since the constitutional court annulled the verdict a few days later on a technicality . Now Amnesty International raises a legitimate protest: "Reports that the retrial of former Guatemalan President General Efraín Ríos Montt will not begin until January 2015 amount to a disappointing deferral of justice for genocide victims and their relatives," Amnesty International.

It is quite possible that this mass murderer will live out his days in comfort and freedom. It is most sad to see this happening and Titan is fuming.


The so-called Prawer-Begin plan is wending its way through the legislative process and has passed its first reading by a small majority . It is designed to "solve" the problem of Bedouin in the Negev. The government claims it to be an enlightened solution to the infrastructure problem of the Bedouin. In fact, it threatens to displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel living in “unrecognized villages” in the Negev. The plan, which aims to resolve all disputed Bedouin land claims, was drafted without input from the Bedouin community, effectively deciding their fate for them.

The attached document is an unofficial translation of the plan former minister Benny Begin submitted to the government in January, which was subsequently approved. The document was translated by Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Human rights organization have protested vehemently. Recently a delegation of T'ruah, The Rabbinic Call  for Human Rights, met with a representative of the government to express their strong reservations. We have protested forced evictions wherever they occur (vid. above) and certainly object to them in our own back yard.

Palestinians being expelled from Lydda in 1948 during Operation Dani. (Palmach archive)
Palestinian historian N
Dickens will forgive us the paraphrase and we hope the New Yorker will forgive us our copyright infraction. Ari Shavit, a writer in Haaretz, published an account of the ethnic cleansing and associated massacres carried out by the Israeli army in 1948 in the October 21, 2013 issue of the New Yorker. We apologize for the quality of the rtf file and suggest reading it with some magnification.  He focuses on the events in the Arab town of Lydda (Hebrew Lod) located east of Tel Aviv and near the international airport. The description based on accounts by participants is revolting and fills us with shame. A critique of Shavit by Ami Asher, a member of Zochrot, was published in +972. He takes Shavit to task for his partial disclosure and his feelings of gratitude for the perpetrators of the Lydda massacre for doing the “filthy work” because even “the critics of later years,” whom we can only assume include all of us, “enjoyed the fruits of their deed.”

Noam Sheizaf also writing in +972 describes the culture of denial that has developed around the "Nakhba", the Palestinian name for their national calamity of 1948. It has reached the point of legislation authorizing the finance minister to withhold  funds from organizations commemorating the Nakba. We think it all shows a lack of belief by Israelis in the justice of their actions over the last many decades. It contrasts with the free commemoration by the indigenous peoples of some of the countries of the Western Hemisphere of the many wrongs perpetrated against them over the centuries by settlers from Europe. True, you can do so in Canada, the US and other places, but in other countries, such as Ecuador, you are in trouble if you tell the truth to the establishment. Sheizaf quotes an awful interview with the man who fired an anti-tank shell into a mosque full of people.
    Q: Did you let the [Palestinians] residents get away?

    YK: At first, yes. The intention was to expel them, these were the orders of the bosses, Yigal Alon and Yitzhak Sadeh. Sometimes we had to shot one or two, and then the rest got the message and left on their own. You need to understand: if you didn’t destroy the Arab’s home, he will always want to come back. When there is no home, no village, there is nowhere to return.

    Q: Do you remember the battle for Lod and Ramleh?

    YK: I don’t like to remember this so much… we shot shells into a mosque where many people were hiding. There was no choice.

    Q: We shot?

    YK: I shot with the PIAT [anti-tank weapon]. It has an enormous shock wave.

    Q: And what were the results?

    YK: Not pretty. They were all scattered on the walls.

    Q: How many?

    YK: I don’t know. Many. I didn’t count. I opened the door, saw what I saw, and closed [it].

    Q: What did you feel?

    YK: What can you feel after a thing like that? But if we didn’t do it, we might have been fighting to this very day. Then I stood with the Browning [machine gun] over the creek through which the remaining residents escaped. Anyone who strayed off track, got a shot.

    Q: From you as well?

    YK: From me too. I felt really bad but I was a good marksman, and there were times when they only asked me to fire a single bullet. At the village next to Ramleh, two shots were enough. In 45 minutes the village was empty. They got the message.

Shavit mentions that  men from the town were rounded up and forced to bury the victims from the mosque. Then the burial crew were all shot to keep them from talking. The above interview was published in Hebrew in Yedioth Hakibbutz but it has not become common knowledge. Yoram Koniuk wrote a book about these events,  but again with no great impact.
Cover of Yedioth Hakibbutz featuring a story with a former Palmach fighter who confessed to his part in killing Palestinians during the 1948 war
It has been said that with this kind of historical memory haunting the relations between Israel Jews  and Palestinian Arabs, peace between them can never be achieved.  We wonder. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a positive effect and we despite the horrors of the Holocaust have reconciled with the Germans. On the other hand we see infinite historical memory, going back to the battle of Polya Kosovo in 1369,  poisoning the air in the Balkans. Let us hope for a better future.

The former and now present Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was tried for corruption and  acquitted. It is clear that the acquittal represents great incompetence on the part of the Attorney General Weinstein, but do not hold your breath waiting for him to resign. There is a view stated by Bradley Burston in Haaretz that with the reinstatement of his policy of F**U to the world, there might yet be peace, since as we all know Lieberman has no principles whatsoever. We are reminded of Groucho Marx-"these are my principles and if  you do not like them, I have others."

The Israel Press Council’s ethics tribunal has reprimanded Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy  and the newspaper for a column suggesting that service in the Border Police influenced a man who murdered four people in a Be’er Sheva bank. They have been ordered to apologize, but will appeal the decision. It might indeed seem far fetched to say that the service of Ittamar Alon in the Border Police in 1995/6 caused him to shoot four people in a bank in 2013. Titan thinks that they had it backwards. The sort of person who will gun down people in a bank is the sort of person who will join the Border Police. We have a vivid memory of standing unarmed (at age 78) opposite a Border Police officer who threw a stun grenade and laughed. One might forgive the needless grenade, but never the smile on the face of the self-satisfied officer.

In view of their total inability to cope with organized crime, our local gendarmes are asking for draconian authority, such as the right to administrative detention for anyone and other means that are reminiscent of certain regimes. To quote an editorial in Haaretz: "... But civil rights don’t interest Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch,"  whose purview includes the Israel Police. “Enough with the hypocrisy and those human rights organizations,” he said Tuesday in remarks to an Israeli journalists’ convention in Eilat. This disregard for the principles of democracy is an example of what we discussed above. Israel is being led away from liberal democracy and towards a totalitarian regime by the people of the right who have never come to terms with the idea of the value of the individual and the fundamental rights of human beings.

Yasser Arafat memorial
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died nine years ago at a Paris hospital after exhibiting symptoms doctors thought to be from influenza, was probably poisoned by the radioactive isotope polonium-210, Swiss forensic scientists have concluded in a report released Wednesday. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images / November 21, 2004)
The Los Angeles Times quotes El Jazeera about the probable cause of death of Yasser Arafat. Swiss forensic examiners found sufficient traces of the deadly radioactive isotope polonium-210 in the exhumed remains of Yasser Arafat to conclude with relative certainty that the late Palestinian leader died of poisoning in 2004. He apparently was killed by the same radioactive means used against Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006. We await further results from other laboratories for confirmation and maybe someone will be able to find out who the perpetrator might be. Titan has some suspicions but will keep them to himself for the nonce.

The Leftern Wall blog (thanks Yosefa) has some comments on the racist statements that come over the radio, especially from  those stations run by the Army. The blogger notes that a relay race is being held in the Jordan Valley in memory of Rahavam Zeevi, a noted right winger who was assassinated. We disapprove of violence and of assassination as a means of achieving political goals, but if we are to commemorate anyone, a rotten fascist like Zeevi (may the Lord be good to him) does not qualify. Whenever we drive along the Ayalon Freeway north of the G'lilot interchange and pass under the Rahavam Zeevi Memorial bridge, we think of the wisdom of Clarence Darrow. We also note that Jewish women who fulfill their military service requirement by working in hospitals have been banned from night shifts. Israeli National Service Administration Director Sar-Shalom Jerbi issued the directive two weeks ago. The purpose is to prevent contact between Jewish women and non-Jewish men, mainly Arabs. It reminds us of the futile and silly campaign of the Jewish Agency to stop young American Jews from dating non-Jews.


What If?  Will Evans asks: I was absentmindedly stirring a cup of hot tea, when I got to thinking, "aren't I actually adding kinetic energy into this cup?" I know that stirring does help to cool down the tea, but what if I were to stir it faster? Would I be able to boil a cup of water by stirring?

 The answer is NO!  This led Titan to think of how people seem to have difficulty with quantitative thinking. Recently India launched a probe to Mars and someone on the BBC wondered if that money might have been better spent on solving the social and economic problems of India. We recall that in 1976 some misguided souls from the left tried to blow up the data center for the Viking Mars probe at JPL in Pasadena on the grounds that the cost of the Mars lander should have been spent for the poor. We had an opportunity to talk to students at UCLA who agreed with this argument. We did a bit of a calculation for them. The Viking Mars Lander Project cost about $1 billion spread over ten years. Even if we ignore that fact the the project provided meaningful employment for many people, we are left with $100 million per year. In Los Angeles County at the time there were about a million people on welfare. It follows that by canceling the Viking Mars Lander we could have given each welfare client in one US county $100 per year which would hardly have had a major impact on their lives. In India the numbers must be even more compelling.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Nov/15/2013
Dilbert Cartoon for Nov/09/2013

The BBC recently had a radio discussion of why optimism or pessimism.

Of course, as one of the corollaries to Murphy's Law says, your stand on any issue depends on where you sit:
The Other Coast Cartoon for Nov/16/2013

No comments:

Post a Comment