Saturday, February 8, 2014

Titan greets the groundhog and rants at everything and everyone

Similar to many of the small, inner moons of Saturn, Prometheus points its long axis at Saturn as if giving us directions to the planet. This image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
Prometheus points at Saturn

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 this image which shows Saturn's satellite Prometheus, which orbits inward of the bright and narrow F Ring. In the image, this elongated moon is demonstrating its natural gravity-gradient ("tidal") alignment with the planet. What is happening is that since the little moon is not spherical, it experiences the gravitational pull of Saturn more on one end than on the other so that it ends up pointing at the center of the planet. Cool, says Titan, who is big and fat enough to take a spherical shape.

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 Rabbis for Human Rights, which serves as a shofar for the distribution of information about human rights in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They work in partnership with local Israeli and international human rights organizations. They are not aligned with any specific political party. Titan, Pollyanna and YandA recommend this organization for your support.

IN MEMORIAM Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

The famous actor who won the best actor Oscar in 2005 for playing Truman Capote, has died at age 46. He was found dead in his Manhattan apartment, apparently the victim of a drug overdose. He was noted for being able to infuse humanity into the bad guys he played in many films and on the stage. The Guardian has a detailed obituary. Eugene Robinson writing in the Washington Post points out the complete failure of all attempts to obliterate drug use and suggests that some creative thinking enter the picture. In the meantime, we are told that the cause of death is still undetermined and that the autopsy tests will continue.

Russell Wilson
Celebrating with the trophy

Sunday night we (except for Yosefa who has different priorities) stayed up all night to watch the Super Bowl. Titan is grateful to Cassini and the 100m radio dish at Goldstone for the relay. Poor Broncos--on the first play from scrimmage the center sent the ball over Peyton Manning's head into the end zone where Moreno managed to recover it and reduce a touchdown to a safety. It was 2-0 Seahawks after 12 seconds without any effort on their part and it was all downhill for Denver from then on. We will refer you to Josh Levin in Slate for any details you really want.

RODENT WEATHER PREDICTION We are informed that on February 2 the groundhog of America in Punxsutawney PA saw his shadow.
Winter is with us for a while, although we in Israel are seeing very little rain. Most of you must have seen the eponymous film. Randall has his own take on it.


Titan and his friends all applaud the US drug store chain for eliminating tobacco products from its stores across the country. Titan ranted about tobacco last time and is pleased to see that the executives of CVS read his blog.

It took 16-year-old Amina Filali’s (in the picture held by her mother) suicide and nearly two years for the law to be amended ©AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar
It took 16-year-old Amina Filali’s (in the picture held by her mother) suicide and nearly two years for the law to be amended ©AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar
Finally the loophole in the Moroccan penal code that let men who raped minors off the hook by forcing the girls to marry the rapist has been repealed. It took a suicide and a worldwide rant to bring this about. Much more needs to be done to improve the legal status of women and girls across North Africa.

At long last the UN Commission of the Rights of the Child has come forth with a demand that the Holy See come totally clean on the vile issue of sexual abuse by priests and the Church coverup. The UN report called on a Vatican commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse "as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them".

Ireland's Magdalene laundries scandal was singled out by the report as an example of how the Vatican had failed to provide justice despite "slavery-like" conditions, including degrading treatment, violence and sexual abuse. The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses where some 10,000 women and girls were required to do unpaid manual labour between 1922 and 1996.

Titan thinks that the evasive response of the Vatican is unacceptable. The real protest must, of course, come from rank and file Catholics who must make their anger and distrust known to the Pope and his administration. 

This handout picture taken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on November 27, 2013 shows review mission members of the IAEA inspecting the crippled Tokyo Electric Power CO. (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in the town of Okuma in Fukushima prefecture. (photo: AFP/IAEA)
This handout picture taken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on November 27, 2013 shows review mission members of the IAEA inspecting the crippled Tokyo Electric Power CO. (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in the town of Okuma in Fukushima prefecture. (photo: AFP/IAEA)
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, we have been held in the dark by Japan’s harsh dictatorial censorship which has been matched by a global corporate media blackout aimed—successfully—at keeping Fukushima out of the public eye. That has not kept the radiation out of our environment. Pre-wrapped in denial, protected by corporate privilege, the hundreds of reactors working around the world are the ultimate engines of global terror. Harvey Wasserman, writing in EcoWatch, lists no fewer than fifty reasons to struggle against them. We quote his conclusions:

"Defined by seven decades of deceit, denial and a see-no-evil
dearth of meaningful scientific study, the glib corporate
assurances that this latest reactor disaster won’t hurt us fade to

Fukushima pours massive, unmeasured quantities of lethal radiation
into our fragile ecosphere every day, and will do so for decades to

Five power reactors have now exploded on this planet and there are
more than 400 others still operating.

What threatens us most is the inevitable next disaster … along with
the one after that … and then the one after that "…

We of the Reform Jewish persuasion have long suffered various types of violence at the hands of our Orthodox brethren who have the illusion that the Almighty has given them an exclusive right to represent and lead our people. Recently they gave vent to the fact that our movement is growing both abroad and in Israel and vandalized a Reform synagogue in the town of Ra'anana in central Israel.
Ra'anan Synagogue in the central Israeli city Ra'anana was found vandalized on Jan. 30, 2014.

We have also been subjected to verbal violence by a Knesset member, David Rotem of Likud-Beiteini who went so far as to say that Reform is "another religion" and that we are not Jews. Our leaders did not sit still for this. Rabbi Jacobs of the US reacted strongly as did Rabbi Kariv of the Israel Reform movement. On the other hand, the same Reform leadership is engaging in dialogue with "liberal Orthodox" rabbis in the US despite the obvious oxymoronic nature of that definition. There is no ground for commonality since their Weltanschauung is not consistent with the values of liberal democracy and the freedom of the individual as we understand it. It is made clear in an article in Haaretz by a leading Orthodox rabbi. We are striving to create a Jewish environment that is egalitarian and provides a Jewish experience that fits our liberal beliefs. It is not always easy.

It is true that there are here and there Orthodox rabbis who hold an enlightened view of the world, but they are few and far between. We corresponded in our role of Amnesty activist with Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Canada who took a bold stand against harvesting of organs in China to be sold for transplants. On the other hand he believes that homosexuality is a curable disease. We also link to an article in Haaretz denouncing the vandalism in Ra'anana. In general, however, the conflict between religion and democratic values is fundamental. It is no accident that both the Catholic hierarchy and the Jewish Orthodox establishment in New York covered up sexual abuses by priests and rabbis.

We have often wondered what it is that drives the dangerous extreme nationalism of the public in Israel. We see poor people voting for the parties that perpetuate their poverty and sell them as cheap labor to unscrupulous tycoons. We see them supporting the ongoing expropriation of the land of the Palestinians and the crushing of all hopes for peace and a decent future for themselves and their children. Indeed, we have pointed out in the past in this blog that the theory of Goebbels (yamash) that any government can manipulate the public by means of fear is a tool in the hands of our government. A recent article in Haaretz drives the point home much more effectively than we could. The millennia of persecution and minority status have imprinted on the Jewish soul an existential fear and cowardice that trumps al rational thought or liberal aspirations. We see here a country, armed to the teeth with, according to foreign sources, nuclear weapons, tanks and aircraft and prospering with a strong hi-tech industry. Nonetheless the people tremble with fear if a ten year old child picks up a stone to throw at an armored car. Indeed, there is a component of the population, we among them, who do not share this existential fear. This component of the Jewish population managed to send six members to the 120 seat Knesset. The rest are convinced that although Israel has a strong second strike capability, the Iranians are willing to see Teheran become a radioactive cinder for the sake of killing Jews. The only way this mentality can be overcome is by economic pressure. Eva Illuz rightly compares the occupation to 19th century slavery in the United States and her points are well taken. She too attributes the behavior of Israel to the Diaspora minority mentality. We quote her conclusion: 
"Israel is dangerously sailing away from the moral vocabulary of most countries of the civilized world. The fact that many readers will think that my sources are unreliable because they come from organizations that defend human rights proves this point. Israel no longer speaks the ordinary moral language of enlightened nations. But in refusing to speak that language, it is de facto dooming itself to isolation. Israel will not indefinitely have the cake of “democracy” and eat it in the occupation."
Palestinian workers from Hebron at Tarqumiya Checkpoint
Palestinian workers from Hebron at Tarqumiya Checkpoint. Photo by Emil Salman
Zeev Sternhell writing in Haaretz points out that a boycott is not necessarily anti-semitic.
The Ariel University Center campus.
The Ariel University Center - one of the reasons for the boycott of the settlements' products. Photo by AP

Once an anti-semite was defined as someone who hated Jews, or as a British diplomat is reputed to have said, someone who dislikes Jews more than is necessary. Today an anti-semite is someone whom Jews hate. This is not to say that prejudice against Jews does not exist in democratic western countries. It takes its place of dishonor along with prejudice against blacks, Catholics, Muslims, you name it. Our hopes for a decent life for our grandchildren depend on a revival of Jewish morality, but this is hard to expect in the present political environment.

Marking a bat mitzvah by reading from the Torah and laying tefillin.
A member of the Conservative Movement marks her bat mitzvah by reading from the Torah and laying tefillin. Photo by United Synagogue / JTA Photo Service

Our Reform synagogues in Israel have many bar mitzvah celebrations, but very rarely a bat mitzvah. Our Conservative brethren have the same difficulty. Something discourages girls at that age from straying from the conformist norm and doing something original. One granddaughter of ours, Maya, indeed had a bat mitzvah, but she was raised by her parents and grandparents to stand up to conformity pressures. It appears that the phenomenon of the difficulty of realizing egalitarian practice in liberal synagogues is not unique to Israel, but exists abroad as well. It would be good if we could overcome this herd instinct behavior.


What If? Astrophysicists are always saying things like "This mission to this comet is equivalent to throwing a baseball from New York and hitting a particular window in San Francisco." Are they really equivalent?Tom Foster

The answer, Tom and dear readers, is that not really, since you cannot throw a baseball out of the atmosphere--Randall has the interesting detailed answer.

Here is the weekly link to Wumo

This is dedicated to all who are over the hill linguistically.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Feb/03/2014

This is for the computer literati in our readership:
Dilbert Cartoon for Feb/08/2014

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