True North Humanist Perspective May 10 2013

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Stephen Hawking: Furore deepens over Israel boycott

Political motive revealed after Cambridge University first claimed scientist's non-attendance was on medical grounds

By Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Kalman in Israel, and Sam Jones
The Guardian UK

09 May 2013 — The celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking became embroiled in a deepening furore today over his decision to boycott a prestigious conference in Israel in protest over the state's occupation of Palestine.

Hawking, a world-renowned scientist and bestselling author who has had motor neurone disease for 50 years, cancelled his appearance at the high-profile Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel's president, Shimon Peres, after a barrage of appeals from Palestinian academics.

The move, denounced by prominent Israelis and welcomed by pro-Palestinian campaigners, entangled Cambridge University – Hawking's academic base since 1975 – which initially claimed the scientist's withdrawal was on medical grounds, before conceding a political motivation.

The university's volte-face came after the Guardian presented it with the text of a letter sent from Hawking to the organisers of the high-profile conference in Jerusalem, clearly stating that he was withdrawing from the conference in order to respect the call for a boycott by Palestinian academics.

The full text of the letter, dated 3 May, said: "I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster."

Hawking's decision to throw his weight behind the academic boycott of Israel met with an angry response from the organisers of the Presidential Conference, an annual event hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres. (More)


Distant planet water signature shows clues to formation

By Anne M Stark
Extra Solar Space Daily

19 March 2013 LIVERMORE CA — A team of international scientists including a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory astrophysicist has made the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-size like planet beyond our solar system.

The finding provides astrophysicists with additional insight into how planets are formed.

"This is the sharpest spectrum ever obtained of an extrasolar planet," said co-author Bruce Macintosh, an astronomer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "This shows the power of directly imaging a planetary system - the exquisite resolution afforded by these new observations has allowed us to really begin to probe planet formation."

According to lead author Quinn Konopacky, an astronomer with the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto and a former LLNL postdoc: "We have been able to observe this planet in unprecedented detail because of Keck Obervatory's advanced instrumentation, our ground-breaking observing and data processing techniques, and because of the nature of the planetary system." The paper appears online March 14 in Science Express and in the March 21 edition of the journal, Science.

The team, using the OSIRIS instrument on the Keck II telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, has uncovered the chemical fingerprints of specific molecules, revealing a cloudy atmosphere containing water vapor and carbon monoxide. "With this level of detail," says co-author Travis Barman, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory, "we can compare the amount of carbon to the amount of oxygen present in the atmosphere, and this chemical mix provides clues as to how the planetary system formed." (More)


'Even atheists fear the word God' study suggests

Even committed non-believers find it hard to totally erase the powerful idea of God from one’s psyche

By Tom Jacobs
29 April 2013 The heads and hearts of atheists may not be on precisely the same page. That’s the implication of recently published research from Finland, which finds avowed non-believers become emotionally aroused when daring God to do terrible things.
“The results imply that atheists’ attitudes toward God are ambivalent, in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response,” concludes a research team led by University of Helsinki psychologist Marjaana Lindeman. Its study is published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion.
Lindeman and her colleagues describe two small-scale experiments. The first featured 17 Finns, recruited online, who expressed high levels of belief, or disbelief, in God. They read out loud a series of statements while skin conductance data was collected via electrodes placed on two of their fingers. (More)

Obama cuddles with plutocrats, heaping more scorn

on millions of hopeful innocents voting in 2008/2012

Embraces plutocrats again with choice of billionaire Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce

By Steven Rosenfeld
06 May 2013 WASHINGTON DC — President Obama has again sent a clear message to Americans that his priorities are not what's in the public interest.
President Obama has let the public down once again with his pick for Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, the billionaire businesswoman who led the national 2008 fundraising effort that kept the Obama campaign’s hopes alive and catapulted him to the White House.
Loyalty and trust are prized political values—and clearly Obama trusts Pritzker, whom he has known for two decades. But Obama’s fealty is going to be tested because her record as a businesswoman shares similarities with Mitt Romney’s. Her massive wealth is kept in tax-avoiding offshore accounts. Her family’s best-known business, the Hyatt hotel empire, is known for bitter and ongoing disputes with labor unions. Her resume includes running a bank that pioneered high-interest subprime loans and then failed miserably, leaving uninsured depositors with losses averaging $6,000. (More)

US rich gained $5.6 trillion in the 'recovery'

while stats show everyone else lost $669 billion

It's no accident — the bailouts went to Wall Street not Main Street
By Les Leopold
03 May 2013 WASHINGTON DC —  Oh, are we getting ripped off. And now we've got the data to prove it. From 2009 to 2011, the richest 8 million families (the top 7%) on average saw their wealth rise from $1.7 million to $2.5 million each. Meanwhile the rest of us — the bottom 93% (that's 111 million families) — suffered on average a decline of $6,000 each.
Do the math and you'll discover that the top 7% gained a whopping $5.6 trillion in net worth (assets minus liabilities) while the rest of lost $669 billion. Their wealth went up by 28% while ours went down by 4 percent.

It's as if the entire economic recovery is going into the pockets of the rich. And that's no accident. Here's why. (More)

Chances are the United States will be the last empire

Planet Earth can't afford to sustain continuing plunder

And then there was one — Imperial gigantism and the decline of Planet Earth
By Tom Engelhardt

07 May 2013 — It stretched from the Caspian to the Baltic Sea, from the middle of Europe to the Kurile Islands in the Pacific, from Siberia to Central Asia. Its nuclear arsenal held 45,000 warheads, and its military had five million troops under arms. There had been nothing like it in Eurasia since the Mongols conquered China, took parts of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, and rode into the Middle East, looting Baghdad. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, by far the poorer, weaker imperial power disappeared.

And then there was one. There had never been such a moment: a single nation astride the globe without a competitor in sight. There wasn’t even a name for such a state (or state of mind). “Superpower” had already been used when there were two of them. “Hyperpower” was tried briefly but didn’t stick. “Sole superpower” stood in for a while but didn’t satisfy.  “Great Power,” once the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over from the centuries when various European nations and Japan were expanding their empires.  Some started speaking about a “unipolar” world in which all roads led... well, to Washington.

To this day, we’ve never quite taken in that moment when Soviet imperial rot unexpectedly -- above all, to Washington -- became imperial crash-and-burn.  Left standing, the Cold War's victor seemed, then, like an empire of everything under the sun.  It was as if humanity had always been traveling toward this spot.  It seemed like the end of the line. (More)


Some hear death knell for a two-state solution

despite Kerry's effort to restart Israel-Palestine talks

'Obama’s failure makes it clear that the US will never be an honest broker.' Harvard's Stephen Walt

By Mitchell Plitnick
Inter Press Service
30 April 2013 — Despite indications that US Secretary of State John Kerry is committing a substantial amount of time and effort to revive the long-stalled Israel-Palestinian “peace process”, a growing number of experts believe a two-state solution is no longer viable and the lack of a realistic discussion of the issue in the United States is leaving the country without an alternative policy.

In the two months since confirmation in his post, Kerry has made three trips to the region. On Monday 29 April, he hosted an Arab League delegation, including the League’s secretary general, the Qatari prime minister and representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Lebanon. (More)


Spring brings worse for Shias as 9th century religious

fanaticism now explodes in the turbulent Middle East

Shia constitute an estimated one percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population, which in turn constitutes about 90 percent of the country’s 82 million inhabitants. Their true number is difficult to know with certainty, as many Shia are believed to observe takiyya, the practice of hiding one’s sectarian identity in order to avoid persecution.

By Cam McGrath
Inter Press Service

26 April 2013 CAIRO Egypt — The mob that surrounded the home of Mohamed Nour, an Egyptian Shia living in Cairo’s Bab El-Shaariya district, claimed it was on a mission to “inoculate” Egypt against Shia religious beliefs. Without intervention, Shia doctrine would spread across Egypt “like a cancer,” they had warned.

Born a Sunni Muslim, Nour converted to Shia Islam nearly two decades ago. He has faced constant threats and harassment since his Sunni neighbours learned of his conversion early last year.

“My neighbours no longer talk to me and they are trying to get me to move from here,” he says. “People throw rocks at my house, make threatening phone calls, and set my car on fire. I am worried about my family’s safety.”

The schism between Sunni and Shia Islam dates back to the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632, but hostility towards Egypt’s minority Shia community is firmly rooted in modern politics.

During his 29 years in power, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is said to have expressed a visceral hatred of Iran, crafting his foreign policy to contain the “Shia tide”, the belief that Iran was exporting Shia Islam to expand its political influence in the Arab world. (More)

Hamas ‘Talibanising’ Gaza


By Mel Frykberg
Inter Press News
09 May 2013 RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank — The Islamist resistance group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is being accused by its Palestinian Authority (PA) rivals in the West Bank of Talibanising Gaza and turning the coastal territory into a new Muslim Brotherhood neighbourhood.

Earlier in the year Hamas launched a “virtue campaign” aimed at spreading Islamic Sharia and fighting against “Western dress and behavior.”

Following a recent law passed by Hamas, when the new school year begins from September this year, it will now be illegal for male school teachers to teach Palestinian girls in Gaza’s schools. Furthermore, girls and boys from the age of nine upwards will be forcibly segregated throughout the Gaza Strip, including those in private and Christian schools where co-education exists to a certain degree.

The law will affect the seven percent of schools in Gaza that are private, including Christian schools. They will need to finance the expansion of their buildings to be able to hold special classes for each gender. Gaza has 690 schools with 466,000 students for a population of 1.7 million. (More)

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Reader Supported News
10 May 2013In a surprise move, the eight Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday blocked a floor vote on President Obama's nominee, Gina McCarthy, as EPA Administrator.
In doing so the Republican senators broke their earlier promisadditione to move McCarthy's nomination if she answered an unprecedented 1079 written questions, a quest she completed. Political observers assume the Republican roadblock is meant to derail or delay the implementation of a new EPA rule, promised by President Obama to finally regulate carbon pollution.
The Republican ranking member, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, orchestrated the double cross. Vitter is an unabashed mouthpiece for the petroleum industry and record breaking receptacle for petrodollars having received $1.2 million in oil company largesse during his public service career. With cash gushers of oily money cascading down their open gullets, the Republican leadership's mercenary devotion to Big Oil shouldn't shock us. However, the boldness of the party's most recent assault on the public interest might cause us to ponder how GOP's honchos' knee jerk slavishness to petroleum interest has infected its rank and file.

The perversity of the modern conservative mind is displayed in two studies published last week. Those studies illustrate the extent to which the right wing has become the ideological sock puppet of Big Oil and the GOP's army of right wing Christian fundamentalists oil industry foot soldiers. A peer reviewed National Academy of Sciences report shows that the label "energy efficient" on a product actually makes it less likely that self-identified conservatives will purchase that product. Why? Because morally twisted right wing orthodoxy has taken the "conserve" out of conservatism. Craven hatred of all things environmental has made the labels "clean," "green" or "efficient" pariah among GOP acolytes. Conversely, dirty energy is patriotic and even "blessed." (More)

By Stephen Lendman
08 May 2013 — Since 1922, BBC's first general manager, John Reith, explained his mandate. UK officials "know they can trust us not be be really impartial," he said.

It's a reliable business/government partner. Earlier it was called the "British Falsehood Corporation." More recently it's been known as the "British Bombing (or Bombast) Club."

Its claim about "honesty, integrity (being) what the BBC stands for, free from political influence and commercial pressure" doesn't wash. It never did.

UK-based Media Lens offers independent, "authoritative criticism." Its reports reflect "reality." It's free from corporate or government influence.

It once called BBC reporting fundamentally one-sided, imbalanced, "biased, blinkered and culpable." (More)

'A just and lasting compromise was possible to the benefit of both Arabs and Jews'
By William T. Hathaway
10 May 2013 — Albert Einstein wrote in 1939, “There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us, we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people…. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs.” Einstein was opposed from the start to the setting up of a Jewish state and to mass emigration into Palestine. He was also one of the signatories to an Open Letter to the New York Times in 1948 denouncing the terrorist activities of Menachem Begin and the massacre carried out in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. (Source:

Now that the “greater calamity” has occurred, Einstein’s prescience takes on a heartbreaking dimension, because it could have been avoided. A “just and lasting compromise” was possible, and it would have benefited both peoples. Jews and Arabs could be living in harmony, mutually benefiting from their different cultural gifts. But the imposition of a Jewish state, mass immigration, and ethnic cleansing destroyed that possibility, and now they are dying from nationalism and mutual atrocities. (More)

Mystery at Ray’s Rock

Mystery at Ray's Rock, photo by Ken Jefferies
A picture is worth a thousand words but even then it may not reveal all. Clearly, from the above May 4, 2013, photo by our esteemed East Central Ontario Editor, Ken Jeffries, Randy Ray, fourth from the left and third from the right, knows something that the others don’t, or are pretending they don’t. These otherwise earnest men have stopped for the camera during their annual restore-the-cottage-from-winter-wrath ritual on Ray’s Rock at Twin Lakes, 40 Campbellford minutes northeast of Peterborough. From left are David Dauphinee, London, Ontario; Bob Levoir, Ottawa, Canada; Gord Looker, Port Sydney, Ontario; Randy Ray, Ottawa, Canada; Bill Thompson, Baltimore, Ontario; and Gordon Kent, Toronto, Ontario. — Photo by Ken Jeffries.