Saturday, March 8, 2014

Titan salutes International Women's Day

Titan is back with you again and has much to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. Of course, if you are a galaxy whose business is making stars, the advent of a supermassive black hole is anything but a positive event.

DEAD GALAXY  The giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5044, seen in this composite image, is filled with cold gas, yet it is not making stars. New research suggests a black hole may be to blame. The galaxy is filled with threads of warm hydrogen gas (red) that snake through an atmosphere of hot gas (blue). Stars appear white. 

He will also discuss International Women's Day that fell on Saturday March 8.

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.

The charity for this week will be an international one based in the US. It is the Committee of Concerned Scientists or CCS. Their declared goal is to achieve

    Academic freedom for all scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars
    Freedom of exchange of scientific and other scholarly information, data and personnel
    Freedom of research, inquiry, publication and travel to and from scholarly and scientific meetings
    Freedom of association
    Freedom of emigration
    Recognition, implementation and preservation of human rights, individual and collective, without distinctions based on race, language, religion, sex or national origin
    Compliance by governments with provisions of international agreements they have signed pertaining to the human rights of scientists

As we see more and more regimes becoming repressive with respect to freedom of all kinds, it is important to support organizations such as CCS. Please open the site and pitch in with a donation for a worthy cause.

International Women's Day, March 8,
This event has been going on every year since 1911.   Each year the UN declares a Theme for  International Women's Day. For 2014 : INSPIRING CHANGE

Some groups select their own International Women's Day theme, specific to their local context. For example, the European Parliament's 2013 theme was "Women's response to the crisis" and their 2012 theme "Equal pay for work of equal value".

Women's equality has made positive gains but the world is still unequal. International Women's Day celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action.

In Israel, there is great inequality as described by Aliza Shinhar in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. We might note that every year the day falls near the festival of Purim in which we celebrate the saving of the Jewish people from genocide. The salvation was brought about through the courage and wisdom of a woman, Esther, who,according to the Purim story, became queen of Persia at a very critical moment in history. It is amusing that Prof. Shinhar refers to her as the virgin Esther when she won the crown by outperforming all her competitors in the royal bed. Details, details...
Part of a Scroll of Esther from Alsace
Part of a Scroll of Esther from Alsace Photo: REUTERS

There is a lot of pious talk about advancing women, but Titan thinks that it is mostly hypocrisy. Even if we leave the Third World and the Muslim countries aside, we still have a situation in Europe in which one third of the women in the EU countries have experienced some form of sexual violence and harassment during their lifetimes. In the US, the Republican party is conducting a war against women especially in the area of reproductive rights. If the present status of women is the result of 103 years of IWD, then the future looks bleak. Nonetheless, we who specialize in futile struggles will continue to rant about abuse of women

So let us raise a glass for International Women's Day and do our best to continue the struggle for equality and rights, for women's rights are indeed  human rights.

OK Titan, get off your soap box and go back to orbiting Saturn and giving Cassini the odd gravity boost.

If you thought that Titan was really going to get off his soap box and let you off with just  the women's day rant, then you really do not know this cantankerous piece of Solar System flotsam puffed up with a mythological name, a cushy orbit outside of the radiation belts of the magnetosphere of Saturn and a coterie of orbiting goddess groupies who gaze upon him in awe.

This week Titan would like to talk about the high incidence of evil acts around the world, what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. She was writing about the Eichmann trial and the evil of  the Nazis, but evil certainly did not vanish from the Earth with the fall of the Nazi regime. If we look around, we see it. Take  for example the action of the President of Uganda, Museveni who has just signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. This is a terrible law which criminalizes consensual sex between adults and can inflict up to life imprisonment.
Ugandan President Museveni (Above) has signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
Ugandan President Museveni (Above) has signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

 Helen Epstein writing in the New York Review of Books discusses the total ignoring of science in Uganda. As she writes: "Museveni’s considerations were clearly political. Now in his twenty-eighth year in office, his popular support is plummeting and conservative Christians are among his few remaining allies. His government is wracked with corruption and he himself has  recently been accused of stealing $5 million per month from the  national workers’ pension fund; his henchmen have harassed and  possibly murdered rival politicians; his troops are involved in  bloody conflicts in several neighboring countries, including South Sudan, which could explode into a regional conflict, and there is widespread discontent even within his own political party."

In  situations such as these, dictators look for something to distract the public. A tabloid newspaper, owned by his half-brother, published a gay hit list.

The Red Pepper, a tabloid in Uganda, has printed the names of 200 people it accuses of being homosexuals on its front page

Also in the NYRB, Edward Mendelson, writing about W.H. Auden, discusses the poet's position on the nature of evil. Long before  Arendt, he realized that evil was latent in all of us. He wrote:

More than ever
life-out-there is goodly, miraculous, loveable,
   but we shan’t, not since Stalin and Hitler,
trust ourselves ever again: we know that, subjectively,
   all is possible.

What is most relevant to us today is the capability of people who were themselves victimized to turn against others and abuse them. We know that the freed slaves who were taken to Africa from the US in 1820 to found Liberia enslaved the local people. Auden recognized that victims, no matter how guiltless in their own victimization, are tempted to become victimizers in turn. As he put it briskly in a song, “Many a sore bottom finds/A sorer one to kick.”

Today when we look at the rise of neo-Fascism in Europe and elsewhere and the spread of racism, we cannot but wonder that he may be right and that the idea that ordinary citizens and murderous dictators belong to different moral species is naive. We see horrible atrocities committed in the name of religion. Steve Weissman writing in Reader Supported News notes that even Pope Francis who is hailed as a liberal gives in at the end of the day to the right wing forces that he cannot control. Nowhere is this more obvious than in France where the right wing wave of French Spring which espouses antisemitism and xenophobia is prospering. The demonstrations include followers of the anti-Semitic comic Dieudonné doing his reverse Nazi salute, the quenelle, and full-fledged neo-Nazis yelling “Jews Out of France.” Catholic associations have played a leading role in calling the marches and rallies, and Church leaders such as the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon Philippe Barbarin have taken a prominent part.We cannot depend on the Pope or any religious leader to play a  significant humanistic role. Yes, the Pope has taken some positive stances, such as holding up the sainthood of Pius XII and cracking down on child abusing priests. Whether he can stand up to the Fascists is something that history will decide.

Soon a year will have passed since the collapse of a building in Bangladesh. The building housed garment factories producing for the biggest brands in the West. Over 1,100 people were killed in one of the worst industrial accidents in history. The companies involved agreed to set up a fund to compensate the victims and their families and to improve worker safety. Here is a partial list of companies that have not donated to the fund: 
Adler Modemrkte,Auchan, Ascena Retail, Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, Cato Fashions, Children's Place, Grabalok, Gueldenpfennig, Kids for Fashion, KiK, LPP, Manifattura Corona, Matalan, NKD, Premier Clothing, Primark, PWT, Walmart and Yes Zee.
Think twice before buying their products. Please open the link and join the campaign to force these companies to pay up. Put in your own details if the rubrics are filled.

The Sochi games are behind us. David Remnick writing in the New Yorker describes how Putin got the IOC to give Russia the 2014 Winter Games. We can only admire his lovely turn of phrase that the "IOC has a history of financial receptivity and political amoralism..." : Who could have put it better?

Carlo Stenger blogging in Haaretz, points out the three irredentist groups in Israel who cannot possibly coexist with respect for each others' values. They are the Haredim or ultra religious, who demonstrated last week in large numbers against induction into military service, the messianic nationalists who regard democracy as secondary to occupying the Greater Land of Israel and last, and indeed least, the liberal Zionists who confirm the need and justification for a Jewish state, but want it to be a liberal democracy. We are now reading Ari Shavit's book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Random House) and while we disagree with many of his positions, the gloomy picture he paints is hard to contradict. Noam Sheizaf gives it a tough, but fair review in +972.

Martin Luther King once defined militarism as one of the three factors that can destroy a society. The other two are racism and materialism. While Israel has plenty of the latter two, the worship of the army and the use of the education system to generate cannon fodder for the ambitions of the military class must certainly be the central evil here. Here is an official recruiting poster designed to attract women soldiers to be teachers.
"When I enter the classroom, I know that I am preparing the citizens of tomorrow for the next war."

It is frightening to think that young children are exposed to this pernicious brainwashing. Titan would like to strangle this young lady...

Israel has taken on a tough policy with respect to refugees from Africa. In that it is no different from Australia and many other countries. Israel has been "persuading" asylum seekers to leave and they are being sent to third countries. They are not being sent to Eritrea or Sudan because of danger to their lives there, but they can be sent to Uganda and Ethiopia. Efrat Lachter had a look at what awaits them in Ethiopia.
Mai-Aini refugee camp
A typically forlorn scene in the Mai-Aini refugee camp. Photo by Efrat Lachter

 One cannot but think of border police in Spain and Switzerland in the 1940's, but for analysis of that, see the Auden discussion above.


What If?
In terms of human-made objects, has Voyager 1 traveled the farthest distance? It's certainly the farthest from Earth we know about. But what about the edge of ultracentrifuges, or generator turbines that have been running for years, for example?-Matt Russell
The question is not so silly and the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/06/2014

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Wizard of Id Cartoon for Mar/05/2014

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