Saturday, January 25, 2014

Titan is back with his usual grumpy complaints

Spring Unveils Saturn's Hexagon  (NASA Cassini Saturn Mission Image)

Titan is back with you again and has much to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. Let us intrigue you with the polar hexagon of Saturn, photographed by Cassini as Saturn emerged into its spring a few years back. If the image is not visible to you, go to the link and you will be able to view it there. It is well worth the click and the time. NASA apparently puts a time limit on these images. The six-sided shape remains a mystery. Scientists think the hexagon is a meandering jet stream at 77 degrees north latitude, but they don't know what controls the path the stream takes. These images also show new phenomena for scientists to decipher, such as waves that can now be seen radiating from the corners of the hexagon where the jet takes its hardest turns. These images confirm the presence of a multi-walled structure in each of the hexagon's six sides, and the structure now can be seen extending to the top of Saturn's cloud layer. The images show that the inside of the hexagon is darker than the outside. The new images also show a large spot inside the hexagon that could be related to a dark spot seen inside the hexagon in 2006 in an image taken by Cassini's VIMS instrument. An earlier Voyager mosaic showed a large spot outside the hexagon. That spot existed at least until 1991 before disappearing into the long winter polar night.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a 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 it is Titan's turn to promote a charity. His choice is the Israeli-International Nala Foundation. This is a Non-Profit Organization - Affiliated with CEMTA: The Center for Emerging Tropical Diseases and AIDS, Ben-Gurion University: Consultant and Implementer for Infectious Disease Control Programs in Africa. It was founded by Prof. Zvi Bentwich and Dr. Leslie Lobel. Their involvement over the past several decades in both clinical infectious disease work and biomedical research, has led them to conclude that there is a significant connection between Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
We quote the mission statement:
    Fighting Infectious Diseases and Overcoming Poverty, specifically in Africa.
    NALA is committed to the values of TIKUN OLAM - "repairing the world", caring for the poor and the underprivileged, taking responsibility for global citizens.

Titan, Pollyanna and YandA recommend it for your support.

Claudio Abbado

A great musical voice has fallen silent and we are all poorer for it. Claudio Abbado, who died this week aged 80, was not only among the greatest of conductors; in his last decade, after suffering from very severe illness, he raised a superband of players all gathered together for his sake, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, to heights that many listeners have never experienced in other orchestral concerts. We have had the experience of being in an auditorium where he was conducting. What can we say? Rest in Peace Maestro, your life enriched the world. Detailed obituaries are available in both the Guardian and the NYTimes.


This week the birthday of Martin Luther King is celebrated in the United States as a salute to the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. Over five decades have passed since he stood at the Lincoln Memorial and declared, "I have a dream." In that speech he famously referred to the nation’s founding documents and the Emancipation Proclamation and also quoted this bit from Isaiah 40:

I have a dream that one day “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

כָּל-גֶּיא, יִנָּשֵׂא, וְכָל-הַר וְגִבְעָה, יִשְׁפָּלוּ; וְהָיָה הֶעָקֹב לְמִישׁוֹר, וְהָרְכָסִים לְבִקְעָה.  ה וְנִגְלָה, כְּבוֹד יְהוָה; וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר יַחְדָּו,  .

The dream is far from being fulfilled, but the struggle for equality of all peoples must go on. It is appropriate that this week's Torah reading "Mishpatim" deals with the issue of slavery and includes laws designed to mitigate it. The prophetic portion from Jeremiah deals with people who agreed to release their slaves under pressure and then reverted and enslaved them again. Jeremiah emits a jeremiad about this behavior being sure to lead to the destruction of the state. Whatever the cause, Jerusalem and the Temple were burned by the Babylonian army just a few years later.

The Rosetta spacecraft en route to a rendezvous with a comet was awakened after 31 months of hibernation designed to save power. It was an occasion of joy for the entire team as you can see in this BBC report. It went beyond the orbit of Jupiter on a path that should take it to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August. This is a most exciting mission and it is appropriately named Rosetta after the famous stone found in Egypt in 1799 that provided the key to deciphering the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Just as the Rosetta Stone provided the key to an ancient civilization, so ESA's Rosetta spacecraft will unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our Solar System – the comets. As the worthy successor of Champollion and Young, Rosetta will allow scientists to look back 4.6 billion years to an epoch when no planets existed and only a vast swarm of asteroids and comets surrounded the Sun. Rosetta was launched almost ten years ago and has had a complex orbit. Titan is glad to link you to the Rosetta home page, where you can find much interesting information about the mission, including a video about the trek.
Titan would like to congratulate the people of Tunisia on the formulation of a constitution that somehow has both the secularists and the Islamists pleased. Indeed, it is said to be self-contradictory but a constitution must always be full of compromises in order to be ratified and applied. We hope it is ratified soon and that it will lead Tunisia, the mother of the Arab Spring, into a new life of freedom, tranquillity and prosperity.

Fair disclosure, we once smoked heavily.Why mention it now? This month marked the 50th anniversary of the morning in Maryland, when  we threw out the cigarettes and never touched them again. It is also the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first US Surgeon-General's report on the dangers of smoking and let us assure you that these events, as they would say at MIT, are not unconnected. The Washington Post arrived, was brought in and opened and there was the headline. A graph showed how lung cancer had caught up with breast cancer as the cause of death in women starting with WWII when female smoking became acceptable. Now there is a new report that is more damning than the old one and connects smoking, first and second hand, to a wide variety of ills. The report, issued last Friday, finds that cigarette smoking kills even more Americans than previously estimated (about 480,000 a year, up from 443,000), and is a cause, though not necessarily the major cause, of even more diseases than previously recognized, including liver and colorectal cancers. These add to the long list of other cancers caused by smoking, as well as rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments. The report newly identifies exposure to second hand smoke as a cause of strokes. We also know that smoking is the main risk factor for bladder cancer. Here are a few graphics.

Leading Causes of Cancer DeathLung Cancer Attributable Cases

The bottom line is that the growing addiction of teenagers to tobacco is a land mine for society as a whole. Titan is providing you with a link to the Executive Summary of the report. It is a shocker. Even ectopic pregnancy can be caused by maternal smoking. It is time everyone started to rant about this and that governments declare tobacco a controlled substance and do something about the use of it.

The war in Syria has killed over 130,000 and displaced millions. A conference to put a stop to the bloodbath started in Geneva this week, but the beginning was not auspicious. Hard things were said and yet it would seem that there is no choice for the parties involved. Of course, we and the Palestinians seem to have no choice, but we continue to fight. The big powers are apparently really trying this time. Key figures there - including Ban Ki-moon, John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov and William Hague - have publicly reminded the warring parties of the real price of this conflict. An "all encompassing disaster" said the UN secretary general, which Russia's foreign minister added had caused "incalculable suffering" to the Syrian people. Gideon Levy in Haaretz calls for Israel to make a humanitarian gesture to the pitiful remnant of the population of the Yarmouk refugee camp. Fat chance. Pepe Escobar writing in RT delivers a crushing critique of what he calls the charade of Geneva II. Titan fears that he may be right and that there is no end to it. In many ways it is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the puppet masters are not the ones who are suffering.

 It is hard to believe but the lawyer for the man who shot a father who was texting a babysitter in a movie theater in Florida is mounting something like a Stand Your Ground defense based on the fact that the victim had thrown a bag of popcorn at him. It is terrible that a man can be killed and a family ruined because someone has a pet peeve about texting in movies and as a retired cop of course carries a gun legally.
As the Daily Beast writes "But even if Reeves goes to prison for life, that will not give Chad back even one more instant of life with his little Lexy. And when Nicole reaches out to touch her daughter, her hand will always have that through-and-through scar from the bullet that killed dad after mom tried to save him."

The credit card information of 20 million South Koreans has been leaked, state regulators reported on January 19. In a country of 50 million, this marks one of the country’s most devastating security breaches ever. The perpetrator? Allegedly, a single engineer. It is shocking that something like this could happen and it shows how fragile our security and privacy are in this overly connected world.
KB Financial may ditch 27 executives just to save face. Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

We can all only hope that our bank is more secure than those of South Korea. They will hang some executives out to dry for the sake of appearances.

We have a final comment for the climate change deniers:


ORT students protest the firing of Adam Verete, who expressed anti-military views in class.
ORT students protest the firing of Adam Verete, who expressed critical views of the Israeli army in class, January 20, 2014. Photo by Rami Shlush
A high school teacher in Israel is facing dismissal because of political opinions that he expressed in class. A student wrote a complaint that his left wing views offended her and the ORT education network started lynch proceedings. The ORT school network held a pre-dismissal hearing last week for Adam Verete, who teaches at ORT Greenberg in Kiryat Tivon. The letter was written by Sapir Sabah, who is in 12th grade at the school. There is support for Verete around the country and it is not at all clear that the school will succeed in firing him. The head of the ORT system, a person identified with a right wing party, declared on a radio show that "no one has the right to criticize the morality of the army." That to Titan's mind is a frightening statement since no public institution should be immune to criticism. The issue has reached a parliamentary committee. We will update you as it develops. Already students have expressed support for the teacher and say that the atmosphere in the school is such that they fear to express left wing opinions.

Israel US Crawford 2005
Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush. Sharon taught everyone how to smile and wink, especially at Washington. Photo by AP
Ariel Sharon is safely under ground, but the aftereffects of his life and actions continue to reverberate. Zeev Sternhell writing in Haaretz describes how he rose to power and was a major source of the philosophy of "only force works" that dominates thinking and policy making in Israel. At a more personal level, Amit Schejter who served in the First Lebanon War explains why he does not mourn Sharon. Indeed, says Titan, no decent person should. In Israel we need someone like Glenda Jackson who stood up when all of Parliament was being polite, too polite, about the late Margaret Thatcher, and spoke truth to power.

Two little girls died after their family apartment in Jerusalem was subjected to pest control by means of a deadly gas.
The two girls who died after being poisoned by pesticides: Abigail, right, and Yael, left.
The two girls who died after being poisoned by pesticides: Abigail, right, and Yael, left.
The other two children are in poor condition in hospital and the parents are in good condition. The criminal negligence involved in this tragic event screams to the high heavens. Titan is foaming at the mouth over the atmosphere of "trust me, it will be OK," that has cost so many lives over the years. We hope that that there will be a crackdown on this industry and that people will begin to obey the rules. The use of phosphine gas in occupied buildings is stupidity beyond anyone's imagination.

We had a major pest in Israel this week, the PM of Canada, Stephen Harper. He came, hugged Natanyahu passionately
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
One of our closest friends: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in September, 2013. Photo by AP

and gave a speech in the Knesset that could have been composed by any AIPAC hack writer. Just a few days before the visit the Foreign Ministry in Ottawa issued a policy statement that  essentially contradicted everything that the PM said. In particular, the policy paper states that Canada believes the settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. The inflation of the importance of the visit indicates Israel's growing isolation in the world. The nations are getting fed up with us.


What If?
What if every virus in the world were collected into one area? How much volume would they take up and what would they look like? Thank you Dave for a yucky question that gets a yucky answer.

WUMO has its usual goodies. We can only give you the links because of the copyright warning.

Dedicated to all who exercise parental control on their kids' computers:
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jan/20/2014

Long ago the late Robert Benchely wrote a piece on phobias We find the last sentence to be particularly precious.


The discovery of phobias by the psychiatrists has done much to clear the atmosphere. Whereas in the old days a person would say: "Let's get the heck out of here!" today he says: "Let's get the heck out of here! I've got claustrophobia!"
Most everybody knows the name of the phobia that he has personally, and it is a great comfort to him. If he is afraid of high places, he just says: "Oh, it's just my old acrophobia," and jumps.
If he is afraid of being alone he knows that he has monophobia and has the satisfaction of knowing that he is a pathological case. If he keeps worrying, in the middle of a meal, about the possibility of being buried alive, he can flatter himself that he has taphephobia, and that it is no worse than a bad cold.
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But there are some honeys among the phobias that don't get much publicity. There is, for example, phobophobia, which is the fear of having a phobia, even though you may not have one at the moment. This takes the form of the patient sitting in terror and saying to himself: "Supposing I should be afraid of food, I would starve to death!" Not a very pretty picture, you will admit.
Then there is kemophobia, or the fear of sitting too close to the edge of a chair and falling off. People with kemophobia are constantly hitching themselves back in their chairs until they tip themselves over backward. This gives the same general effect as falling off the chair frontward, so they find themselves in a cul-de-sac.
Then there is goctophobia, or the fear of raising the hand too far and striking oneself in the face, with the possibility of putting an eye out. These patients keep their hands in their pockets all the time and have to be fed by paid attendants. A nasty complication arises when they also have nictophobia, or fear of paid attendants.
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Some of the other little known phobias are octophobia, or fear of the figure 8; genophobia, or the fear of being burned on door-handles; kneebophobia, or the fear that one knee is going to bend backwards instead of forwards some day, and optophobia, or the dread of opening the eyes for fear of what they will see.
Tell us your phobias and we will tell you what you are afraid of.

Titan has no idea what phobias are troubling the Weingartens, pere et fils, but they seem to be hung up on the topic recently:
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jan/25/2014 

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jan/24/2014

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