Friday, April 4, 2014

Titan is back with the usual rants
The Dust and Ion Tails of Comet Hale-Bopp
Credit & Copyright: John Gleason (Celestial Images)

Titan is back and would like to start with a piece of astronomical beauty, Comet Hale-Bopp. You might recall that in 1997 a group of crazies committed suicide in order to get on board the alien spacecraft accompanying this comet.  In 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp's intrinsic brightness exceeded any comet since 1811. Since it peaked on the other side of the Earth's orbit, however, the comet appeared only brighter than any comet in two decades. Visible above are the two tails shed by Comet Hale-Bopp. The blue ion tail is composed of ionized gas molecules, of which carbon monoxide particularly glows blue when reacquiring electrons. This tail is created by the particles from the fast solar wind interacting with gas from the comet's head. The blue ion tail points directly away from the Sun. The light colored dust tail is created by bits of grit that have come off the comet's nucleus and are being pushed away by the pressure of light from the Sun. This tail points nearly away from the Sun. The above photograph was taken in March 1997.

Titan has much more to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. We start with the news that the World Court has ordered Japan to stop killing whales for "research purposes." Judges at the highest U.N. court ordered Japan on Monday to halt whaling in the Antarctic, rejecting its long-held argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not primarily for human consumption. Iceland and Norway continue commercial whaling without even the pretense of science. They simply did not join the world moratorium on whale hunting. It would be nice if someone could persuade them that this is wrong.

Also in the good news column Titan welcomes the release of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan and thanks the people, institutions, and organizations that helped. On the other hand,there still is a prisoner of conscience in detention in Sri Lanka. For details go to the Miriam Shlesinger blog linked below.

As usual, 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 A School Library for Girls in Northern Afghanistan.

The donation is via GlobalGiving. The fundraising for this project seems to be struggling so Titan is pitching in and asks you to do the same with whatever amount you can spare. The project summary reads as follows: This microproject will equip a library room or area at an Ayni-supported school in Northern Afghanistan. The $2,500 goal will allow us to equip a school library with shelves, tables, and as many as 250 books. The math, science and reading books we provide are treasured by the schools, as is the place to store and use them. Our schools serve children of all ages, and the need for books and places to keep them is almost unlimited. 

In his last blog Titan pointed you at the issue of building water catchment basins in Burkina Faso. We have just received some feedback from the project helper on the ground and are delighted to share it with you. If helping to build a catchment basin can send 700 kids to school in the village of Sisene and relieve girls of hauling water so that they can get an education, then it is cheap at any price.
Four School Children
“We Are In School Now!” -  VILLAGE OF SISENE.

After construction of the rainwater catchment in Sisene, gardening began being practiced on a large scale and has become permanent. Animal husbandry, fishing, development of small businesses, markets three times each week are now standard. Cheers says Titan and even forgets that he is supposed to be grumpy.

OK That is the good news.

Titan would like to discuss two countries this week. They have little in common except that each in its own way is going to hell. They are China and Turkey. China as it continues to dominate the manufacturing economy of the world is still struggling to come to terms with the underpinning of lies on which its entire social and political system is based. Titan points you at a blog posting in the New York Review of Books by Peter Link. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is clear that the ghost of the event is still haunting China, both leadership and masses. The Chinese government’s use of lethal force against protesters in Tiananmen Square was a choice, and from the regime’s point of view the correct choice. But the massacre, as if having a will of its own, seems to come back to undermine whatever the regime claims as its legitimacy. We lack the space here to go into much detail, but we strongly recommend the blog to you. We hope you have no difficulty opening it. The NYRB likes people to pay for what it provides, for which they can hardly be blamed. If the given link does not open, try this one and click on file/download as to choose the format in which you wish to read the post.

We have been watching the recent events in Turkey. The New York Review of Books presents reviews of some new books on Turkish politics and it is a good idea to take a look at what is going on there. It can have an effect far beyond the boundaries of Turkey or of the Mideast. The following quote describes it well:
Christopher de Bellaigue writes:
    Two pilots who are flying an airplane together start punching each other in the cockpit. One ejects those members of the crew whom he believes to be close to his rival; the other screams that his copilot isn’t a pilot at all, but a thief. At that moment, the plane spins out of control and swiftly loses height, while the passengers look on in panic.

"These are lines from a recent newspaper column by Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, and I can think of no clearer aid to understanding the perverse, avoidable, almost cartoonish confrontation that has engulfed Turkey since last December, and that threatens to undo the political and economic gains of the past decade."

The books are:

The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power
by Soner Cagaptay Potomac, 168 pp., $25.95

Gülen: The Ambiguous
Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World by Joshua D.
Hendrick New York University Press, 276 pp., $49.00

Imamin Ordusu
[The Imam’s Army] by Ahmet Şık 298 pp., available at

In the review de Bellaigue gives a succint summary of the forces operating in Turkish politics and profiles the PM Erdogan and his adversary Fethullah Gülen. These two former allies are now struggling for control of modern Turkey. Back in 2006, Fethullah Gülen was acquitted of trying to take over the Turkish state, but Erdoğan has revived the idea. Having been a supporter of the Ergenekon (a mythical terrorist organization cooked up to put down the secular military) investigation, Erdoğan is now keen for the files to be reopened, no doubt with a view to expose judicial abuses by the Gülenists. Last month Erdoğan responded with an abuse of his own, steering legislation through parliament that gives the government increased control over judges and prosecutors. The two men’s dispute marks the end of a partnership that brought Islamism to power in Turkey, and it challenges the belief, once entertained even by some liberals, that if Turkey were to become  more responsive to its pious majority it would also be more just.

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Part 2 of its Assessment Report.
Earth on fire
Fire photo bypeasap; Earth photo by NASA; composite by Phil Plait.
 It is dire and much more than ranting is need to try to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Phil Plait, as usual, gives an excellent summary of the conclusions with a good slap at the spinning deniers. You can also find a good summary in the Guardian. The report plainly states the world is warming, the climate is changing, and we already see the impacts today. Climate change is happening now.  The document also goes into detail on projections for the future, and the great majority of them are grim. It is also clear that the changes are the result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution despite what the Koch brothers would like to tell you. There are means of mitigation, but that would require a political will that seems to be absent in the countries such as the US, China, India and Russia that are the greatest polluters. The bottom line is that the rich pollute, but the poor in the Third World will bear the brunt.
Titan would like to call your attention to a blog posting dealing with the addiction of the world to fossil fuels. It is most illuminating and also depressing.

The High Court of India has reversed a ruling of a lower court and has again criminalized homosexuality. By doing so India has reverted to being one of the backward nations of the planet along with Uganda, parts of the Arab world and various benighted dictatorships in the Third World along with a former member of the G8 which was just booted out. Titan appends a brief outcry from an Indian former judge. We note that Scott got it right in Dilbert, in a  strip was censored by ArcaMax.
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A few weeks ago Titan told you the sad story of Mohammed Ali and Zakia who are in love but were prevented from marrying because of ethnic mismatching between them. Zakia is a member of the Tajik ethnic group, and Mohammad Ali is a Hazara. There are new developments. Zakia managed to escape from the women's shelter where she was being held to keep her family from killing her and the two have eloped. The happily ever after part is still well over the horizon. The police are looking for them and the people who helped them are being punished. The police have already arrested two women for helping Zakia escape. On top of that, the head of the Bamian Women’s Ministry, Fatima Kazimi, fled on Saturday, saying she was worried about retaliation against her and her family for helping the young woman evade her father’s wrath in the first place. She has lost her position and probably is now unemployable anywhere in Afghanistan.

Fatima Kazimi, head of the Bamian Women’s Ministry, helped protect Zakia. On Saturday, Ms. Kazimi fled, too, in fear of reprisal. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
The young couple cannot leave the country because they cannot obtain passports and they probably have run out of money in their hiding place. It is a tragedy all around and we can only hope that somehow matters will be sorted out. In view of what we know of Afghanistan, their only hope is to leave somehow and start a new life in a different and more liberal place.

A search and rescue worker looks for survivors in the aftermath of the mudslide in Oso, Wash. Credit David Ryder/Getty Images
As the people of Oso, Washington State, USA try to go on after experiencing a mudslide that buried parts of their town and as of this writing took a toll of 28 dead with 20 more still missing, perhaps we should think of human actions that cause such disasters. It is mainly associated with logging. If the trees on a mountainside are removed, there is nothing left to retain the soil and it can wash away in heavy rain. The mudslide took place in what was once a forest, but after it was excessively logged, with a large fraction of the trees removed, there was nothing to hold the land in place during heavy rains. A federal survey determined that nearly 50 percent of the entire basin above Deer Creek had been logged over a 30-year period. It does not  take a degree in forestry to see how one event led to the other. Timothy Egan, writing in the New York Times, tells the sad tale of a mudslide that could have been prevented and certainly was predictable. Hurricane Mitch passed over Honduras in 1998 and left huge mudslides in its wake, also caused by overlogging on mountainsides. When will we people ever learn?

The census has begun despite claims by minority groups that they were not consulted The census has been has been widely criticized for stoking religious and ethnic tensions because the government has denied members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority the  right to identify themselves as Rohingya.

In addition, administrators in some parts of the country —including rebel-controlled areas in the states of Kachin and Wa —said they were barring census takers because they were worried that the census would be used for political purposes. The population will be asked to define themselves as members of one of 135 ethnic groups, but Rohingya would not be allowed to identify themselves as such on the ballot. The government defines them as Bengali and although they have been in the country for many generations, they are denied citizenship by national law. Titan hopes that the census will pass somehow without bloodshed.

People with abnormally high cholesterol levels are prescribed drugs known as statins. It has now come to light that for men statins also help out with erectile function. Ill blows the wind that profits nobody. [1591 Shakespeare, Henry VI, Pt. 3 ii. v. 55]

During the Purim festival it is customary to dress up and often the costumes push the limits of the envelope. A group of students in the town of Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem pushed it a bit harder than usual this year. They dressed up as KKK men and a few of their classmates dressed up as African-Americans being abused by them.
Israeli high school students dressing up as KKK members for Purim 2014.
A Facebook photo of Israeli students dressing up as either KKK members or the black men they appear to be threatening. Photo by Mizbala
Some saw it as an innocent prank, something that kids do, others as social protest against the treatment of refugees from Africa by the government and others saw it as a monstrous display of insensitivity especially in a town with an absorption center full of Ethiopian immigrants. Others commented on the insensitive reaction of the town authorities. Titan thinks that it was indeed stupid and insensitive, but in a democracy stupidity and insensitivity are protected free speech, whatever we may think of the education that these kids received or did not receive from their parents and educators.

The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday morning convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert, along with nine other former senior officials and businessmen, of taking and giving bribes in the development of a massive Jerusalem construction project promoted while Olmert was mayor of the city over a decade ago. To many of us, including Titan, the corruption was no surprise, but the conviction was to some extent. In 2012, Olmert was acquitted of major charges in separate cases involving his links to a U.S. businessman while he was Jerusalem mayor and an Israeli cabinet minister.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Decision time has come in the corruption case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Photo by Amit Shabi

The story goes on since his former bureau chief Shula Zaken, who was also convicted, is trading for a light sentence in return for testimony against Olmert in an obstruction of justice case that has not yet gone to trial. Three of the accused were acquitted. Titan quotes Irma La Douce-"Don't get caught 'cause that's a crime." People who are really arrogant are sure that they will never be caught and convicted. We have a gripe against Olmert for the two miserable wars he generated as PM and the unnecessary and profitless loss of life entailed.

Rabbi Avraham Yosef, the rabbi of the town of Holon,near Tel Aviv, the son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was asked by a university student in an online forum whether Jewish law permits submitting someone else's paper as your own. His answer was yes, which is shocking. One of our religious colleagues who thinks that Haaretz is very quick to jump on the Orthodox community looked up the original exchange which we shall append. He thinks the English translation of the what the Rabbi wrote gives an erroneous interpretation, i.e. what is the antecedent of the pronoun "she." Nonetheless he condemned the Rabbi as do many other religious people, so let us not jump to the conclusion that Jewish law is lenient on plagiarism. It definitely is not and forbids it categorically. Here is the original exchange and the Hebrew-challenged will forgive us.
 ”חברה שלי צריכה להגיש עבודה באוניברסיטה. היא לקחה עבודה מוכנה של מישהי אחרת וביקשה ממני לשנות את הניסוח כדי שהעבודה לא תיראה אותו הדבר (העבודה מוגשת לאותו מרצה). אני חושבת שמרצה מודע לתעשיית מיחזור העבודות שנעשית בקורס שלו (עובדה שכל שנה הוא נותן בדיוק את אותה המשימה) אבל אני לא בטוחה. האם מותר לי לעזור לחברה שלי לנסח מחדש את העבודה?"
הרב, בנו של הרב עובדיה יוסף ז"ל, כתב בתשובה: "מותר. וזו מצות גמילות חסד, בפרט כאשר היא שולטת היטב בחומר".
The message read: "My friend needs to submit a paper in one of her university classes. She took someone else's paper from a previous year and asked me to change the wording so the paper won't look the same (the paper will be handed in to the same lecturer). I believe that the lecturer is aware that many students recycle papers in his course since every year he gives the exact same assignment – but I'm not sure. Am I allowed to help my friend reword the paper?"
Rabbi Yosef answered that she is, in fact, allowed to do so, and even said that she would be doing "the mitzvah of charity" – especially if she is well acquainted with the material.

What the rabbi fails to understand is that a university term paper especially in the humanities or social sciences is designed to show more than just knowing the material. We want to see the research and writing skills and the ability to integrate material and formulate a coherent and substantive set of ideas, to say nothing of originality of thinking. It may be that this differs from the yeshiva learning that the rabbi knows which involves much learning by rote.

Dozens of doctors have received fictitious promotions and the title of managers at three state-owned hospitals in Israel: Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin. The titles include deputy department head, unit head, clinic head and service manager. This does not involve extra work or extra salary, just prestige and a bit of money on the side. If a patient wants a second opinion, the HMO or the supplementary insurance will cover it only if the doctor involved has a position of authority such as Head or Deputy Head of a department or some other administrative post. What is done is that fictitious departments are created with no staff, no budget and no patients,but the title enables the doctor to get these consultations. The director-general of the Ministry of Health is about to lower the boom on this example of Israbluff. The Civil Service Commission sent a letter to the hospitals and demanded the  cancellation of the bogus appointments, calling them “deceiving the public.”

Richard Silverstein in Tikkun Olam tells us that the police in Israel are about to use the techniques of spy agencies against its own citizens. The national police have decided that they need a domestic version of America’s NSA. They desire the capability to use the same tools developed by Unit 8200 (the IDF’s SIGINT group) on Israeli citizens. Of course, they claim they’re using these tools against organized crime gangs inside Israel. But really, who believes they won’t be used against any citizen the police believe are enemies or threats to the state? Why not use them to bug the phones of Israeli activists? Track their activity on the internet? See who they collaborate with both inside and outside Israel? Richard reports on what Doron Ofek wrote and it makes good reading. The name and picture of the new spymaster who left unit 8200 to take the job has gone on and off the Facebook status of the Ministry involved. Here it is and if Titan goes to jail you are invited to bring him chicken soup with a hacksaw blade.
yoav hassan
Newly appointed Israeli police SIGINT chief, Yoav Hassan with police chief, Yochanan Danino
 In the US they have a Fourth Amendment to violate, here in Israel we have no defense from the caprices of any government agency.

Lest you get the idea that boorish behavior is a monopoly of teenage high school kids, we call your attention to young but still much older idiots. Backpacking in Latin America or in India is more or less a rite of passage for young people after getting out of the army and before going on to real life. In India and Goa they usually just get stoned to the high heavens and sadly a few have died of overdoses of drugs. In Latin America, besides the drugs,  they get their kicks from vandalism and thuggish behavior at sites either of historical value or sacred to the native peoples. We have lovely reports such as the following from Haaretz: "Some 60 young, mainly Israeli, travelers have been arrested at a Peruvian archaeological site for what local media are describing as a late-night drunken, drug-addled sex orgy, Channel 2's Mako website reported Tuesday."
Fire at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
Fire at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, Dec. 30, 2011. An Israeli tourist was suspected of causing the disaster. Photo by AP
A Peruvian TV station billed the event as "a night of Israeli debauchery." Stolen Inca artifacts, as well as marijuana and components for making cocaine, were confiscated from four makeshift huts where the travelers were living, in the Saksaywaman archaeological site outside the city of Cusco. The travelers left behind drug paraphernalia, spray paint cans and other garbage. The huts, found to have been built illegally, were destroyed. Michelle Hites of the Chilean Jewish community complains strongly about the damage to the local Jews and to the image of Israel caused by the loutish behavior of young Israelis.

In 1970 Mordechai Spiegler scored a goal for Israel in a World Cup match and forced a 1-1 tie with Sweden. That remains Israel's sole World Cup achievement. With eight million residents, Israel is larger than Croatia, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Bosnia — which all qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Highly-rated Israeli players such as Ronny Rosenthal (Liverpool, Tottenham), Eyal Berkovic (West Ham, Manchester City), Haim Revivo (Celta Vigo, Fenerbahce) and Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool, Chelsea) enjoyed success in Europe, but their individual achievements did not lead to national progress. An AP article in Haaretz addresses the issue.
Some blame it on the military service requirement and on the stresses on national priorities dictated by MidEast politics.  Shlomi Barzel, head of communications for the Israel Football Association, refuses to use that as an excuse. "The bottom line is that we are not good enough," he said. "The conditions were good enough to succeed and we didn't take advantage of them. The talent was there but we didn't build for the long run."

As sports fans say, there is always next year.


What If?

Great Tree, Great Axe

If all the seas were one sea,
What a great sea that would be!
If all the trees were one tree,
What a great tree that would be!
If all the men were one man,
What a great man that would be!
If all the axes were one axe,
What a great axe that would be!
And if the great man took the great axe,
And cut down the great tree,
And let if fall into the great sea,
What a great splish-splash that would be!
... How great would all of these things be?
—John Eifert (quoting a Mother Goose rhyme)

Once upon a time people used to think for themselves, with the exception of Sir Joseph Porter, whose lack of thinking got him the job of Ruler of the Queen's Navy...


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  1. All the bad stuff cushioned by the beautiful opening, and the funny stuff at the end!