Monday, January 26, 2009

Israel's defense of War Crimes

The shocking Irony in the recent Israeli assertion that they will defend any soldiers from war crimes (Israel vows to back soldiers accused of war crimes) would be funny, if it wasn't for the severe hypocritical nature of the issue. After all the Nuremberg trials, and Nazi war tribunals, these same descendants of people who were murdered in the Holocaust are now actively obstructing the international courts from serving justice. If past history is any indication, the worst part of all this is that they're going to get away with it. Who's going to stand in Israel's way? The West will probably raise a voiceless concern here and there, the Arab world will continue shouting injustice until people are rioting in the streets, but no concrete changes will ever occur. Until the day that the United Nations security force remains a joke, and Israel continues to function in their own political dimension, these Gaza atrocities will continue unabated. Who speaks for the innocent Gaza civilians that were killed? Israel claims it was Hamas accidentally striking their own people, but without allowing independent journalists to view the conflict, how is justice served? While the world accepts Barack Obama as the new President, there are thousands of dead civilians within Gaza, while the rest of the surviving population suffers with little infrastructure, and minimal international support. There is nothing possible that the West can say and be taken seriously if Israel continues these idiotic unregulated policies. The time may come when they will have to stand trial for these consistent abuses of human rights, and perhaps the same hostile, apathetic, and condescending attitude they portray towards Palestinians may be reciprocated back to them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martian Methane -- Volcanic Discharge or Microbial Flatus?

Thanks to the impressive tools that modern day astronomers have at their disposal, two episodes of methanic discharge have been observed on another planet. It may not seem impressive, but we have reached a point in our technological sophistication to directly probe the atmosphere of a completely different world for the gaseous signature of various chemical elements. This technological feat is not just limited to the atmosphere of Mars, but extends to those of planets in other stellar systems. We can probe the atmosphere of planetary bodies that are hundreds of light years away from Earth, which would shock atmospheric scientists of the early 20th century. It's easy to look at the world through cynical eyes as a failed experiment run randomly by semi-intelligent sentient apes, but some of these vary same hairless apes have developed the tools to investigate the universe in which they inhabit. This simple fact seems to gloss over the minds of many people. It is easy to become disheartened at a world seemingly embroiled in chaos. We see wars, famines, natural disasters, poverty, homicides, human rights violations, among other negatives on a daily basis, but such tunnel vision allows us to overlook the achievements of human endeavors. Even these achievements in science and technology seem to become vilified by people who fear and don't understand concepts that may appear alien to them. Many people feel that if something is beyond their limited understanding and scope, than it must be false, or should be attributed to a higher supernatural power. Science, and scientific thinking is hard, and critically analyzing a subject may seem like a torturous road of cognitive reasoning, but the triumphs of science cannot be overstated. Science has provided us a tool and method of thought to break away from our animal cousins, and steer our intelligence towards explaining our origins and our future. Our capacity to find other beings of our intelligence continues to fascinate many people, yet some feel so strongly for this, that they're willing to believe in extra-terrestrial visitors on minimal evidence. Evolution has provided our minds with a visceral reaction to find evidence in favor of our belief structure, whilst ignoring that which may prove contrary to our pre-determined notions.

The article that started this inquiry into the favorable role that science has played in our lives is the discovery of two discharge events of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. On Earth, such events are often biological in origin, usually from microbes. As is often the case though, restraint must be practiced until further evidence is found to indicate the biological hypothesis. Until then, we are left to guess at the possible causes of these methane spikes. Owing to the difference in the Martian environment and atmosphere, perhaps some kind of chemical reaction that mimics a biological event occurred. Even with this in mind, our inquisitive nature can allow us to imagine the possibilities that these events indicate the existence of life on another planet. If so, does this life resemble that of our own? Does Martian life use DNA as its genetic blueprint? Are the chemical reactions of Martian bacteria similar to that of Earth? Is it possible that our planets share a common ancestral organism? If so, how likely is it that such an organism came to Earth in one, or multiple events? Since the escape velocity of Earth is higher than that of Mars, and knowing that early Martian atmosphere was most likely able to support liquid water, it is more likely that if the Earth and Mars shared a common microbial ancestor, the origin would probably be Mars. This begs the question, after all these years of searching for life on mars, are we ourselves Martians? Are we the enemy that H.G Wells popularized? If there are organisms currently living on Mars, are we the invaders that will contaminate them?

The following picture provides the possible chemical and perhaps biological roles that may come into play in the production of Martian methane. Yet, the amount detected in the two observed methane episodes seems far more than is possible from the chemical reactions indicated. It's possible that there are chemical pathways we have not yet uncovered, so the jury on this is definitely still out. It does however increase our fascination with Mars, and should make Mars a priority for detecting exobiological organisms. Congress, it is in your hands to increase the funding to help us better understand our place in the universe.

Oldest Preserved Human Brain found in Armenia

Archaeologists have unearthed, in Armenia, the oldest known preserved human brain. This dates back to approximately 6000 years, in the height of the Armenian bronze age. The cave in question, named Areni-1, located near the town of Areni, in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia, has provided significant information regarding wine-making practices, the agricultural crops, and the tools and weapons used in the region. Further, due to the vastly different styles of pottery discovered, it appears that this area was significant in trade and perhaps the emigration of various different people. The dominant culture during this period of Armenian and Near-Eastern history was known as the Kura-Araxes, and they were identified by their distinctive style of pottery, shape of tools and dwellings, and burial practices. Yet, the Areni-1 cave has shown that the Kura-Arax culture was not homogenous, and had significant trading practices.

Interestingly, the brain in question was discovered along with other skulls, all belonging to girls between the ages of 12-14. The outward appearance and signs of trauma indicate a ritualized activity, perhaps related to ancient religious practices.

The pictures are in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia, including that of the Areni Cave complex.

The full text of the story follows, in case the link becomes severed.

In a cave overlooking southeastern Armenia’s Arpa River, just across the border from Iran (note: the border is not Iran, but the former Armenian territory, now an exclave of Azerbaijan, called Nakhichevan), scientists have uncovered what may be the oldest preserved human brain from an ancient society. The cave also offers surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a winemaking enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery.

Excavations in and just outside of Areni-1 cave during 2007 and 2008 yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago, reported Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, January 11 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. In eastern Europe and the Near East, an area that encompasses much of southwest Asia, the Copper Age ran from approximately 6,500 to 5,500 years ago.

The finds show that major cultural developments occurred during the Copper Age in areas outside southern Iraq, which is traditionally regarded as the cradle of civilization, Areshian noted. The new cave discoveries move cultural activity in what’s now Armenia back by about 800 years.

“This is exciting work,” comments Rana Ă–zbal of Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey.

A basin two meters long installed inside the Armenian cave and surrounded by large jars and the scattered remains of grape husks and seeds apparently belonged to a large-scale winemaking operation.

Researchers also found a trio of Copper Age human skulls, each buried in a separate niche inside the three-chambered, 600-square–meter cave. The skulls belonged to 12- to 14-year-old girls, according to anatomical analyses conducted independently by three biological anthropologists. Fractures identified on two skulls indicate that the girls were killed by blows from a club of some sort, probably in a ritual ceremony, Areshian suggested.

Remarkably, one skull contained a shriveled but well-preserved brain. “This is the oldest known human brain from the Old World,” Areshian said. The Old World comprises Europe, Asia, Africa and surrounding islands.

Scientists now studying the brain have noted preserved blood vessels on its surface. Surviving red blood cells have been extracted from those hardy vessels for analysis.

It’s unclear who frequented Areshi-1, where these people lived or how big their settlements were. No trace of household activities has been found in or outside the cave.

Whoever they were, these people participated in trade networks that ran throughout the Near East, Areshian proposes. Copper Age pottery at the site falls into four groups, only one of which represents a local product. A group of painted ceramic items came from west-central Iran. Some pots display a style typical of the Maikop culture from southern Russia and southeastern Europe. Still other pieces were characteristic of the Kura-Arax culture that flourished just west of Maikop territory in Russia.

Radiocarbon dating of pottery and other Copper Age finds pushes back the origins of the Maikop and Kura-Arax cultures by nearly 1,000 years, Areshian says.

Additional discoveries at Areni-1 include metal knives, seeds from more than 30 types of fruit, remains of dozens of cereal species, rope, cloth, straw, grass, reeds and dried grapes and prunes.

A hard, carbonate crust covering the Copper Age soil layers, along with extreme dryness and stable temperatures inside the cave, contributed to preservation of artifacts and, in particular, the young girl’s brain.

Medieval ovens from the 12th to 14th centuries have also been excavated at the cave’s entrance, underneath a rock shelter.

Areshian expects much more material to emerge from further excavations at Areni-1 and from explorations of the many other caves bordering the Arpa River. “One of these caves is much larger than Areni-1, covering about an acre inside,” he said.

Repost "Antagonistm of Zionism"

(Note: This was initially posted on Dec 02 2006, but is just as applicable today)

With so much talk and discussion about the state of the world, many words and phrases become tainted with antagonism and disgust. Much has changed through the last few centuries, but a lot has also remained the same. Human nature, which can be slowly molded and shaped cannot change to extremes, especially when masses are involved. Individuals can vary, and some will produce brilliant insights, but when a group of individuals are introduced, the variability of so many human beings becomes a very strong factor for a quasi-static equilibrium. In other words, the extremes in the spectrum, although strong when considered individually are diluted with the buffered middle ground. As with most stable systems, the outliers are far less numerous then the middle ground. Nothing explains this systemic formula better then language. Words especially, can be so powerful, as to significantly shape history. A few key words which I will address in this essay will be Zionism and Judaism (I would address anti-Semitism, but have already done so in a prior essay); explaining the differences and similarities of the terms, and helping to clarify a reasoned and thoughtful position.

Due to the situation in the world today, it's absolutely vital to first, elucidate the facts behind a philosophy called Zionism. This one word is heavily loaded with connotative meaning and can be used through instances ranging from vilification, to anger, pride, cultural kinship, etc. Through many of my previous essays, I have used the word negatively, but in a context outside cultural or religious exclusivity. As with any philosophical entity, Zionism can have positive and negative context, but due to the nature of the current political, religious, and social system, few positives can be gleamed from the modern incarnation and ultimate meaning behind the term. As with any philosophical entity, Zionism competes to influence as many people as possible. Just as Capitalism competes with Socialism and Communism, Zionism competes with other forms of philosophical thought. It just so happens that those other forms are extremely diverse, sharing only the lack of such specifics found in Zionism amongst themselves.

Ultimately, a good place to start is to attempt to define what Zionism is in itself. I will avoid quoting the dictionary meaning because ultimately, if one wishes, they can readily reference any sources to find the appropriate definition. Therefore, in the broader socio-historical context, Zionism is a type of nationalism. It arose in the late 19th century; a time of worldwide nationalistic awakening. In a time when various small states where organizing into countries based on ethnic, social and linguistic ties, the map of the world was constantly being drawn and redrawn. Countries such as Germany arose out of the combined common states of the region, and vied for dominance with those of others, such as the Prussians, Poles, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Yugoslavians (in the nationalism context of the time). These trends did not go unnoticed in the population of Jews that lived in those regions. They had looked at the world changing around them, strengthening through nationalism, and realized that a similar trend within would have to start. With these benign origins, many unfortunate circumstances occurred to where the term now generally garners suspicion and negativity. The greatest disservice to Zionism was the establishment of the State of Israel with little thought to the displaced people of Palestine. The land that was once largely occupied by Semitic Palestinian Arabs, was established as a haven for mainly European Jews. Few of them had any genetic and biological ties to the region, with only a vague sense of religion tying them to those lands. Being such an unstable place, surrounded by those angered at the displacement of Palestinians (which also effected the economies of the Arab neighbor states), Israel needed the support of Europe and ultimately the United States. With the world opening its eyes and realizing that the United States has unilaterally supported Israel, regardless of human rights abuses, aggression upon its neighbors, and other antagonistic moves, many have developed a resentment and hatred. It's not often hatred based on the religion itself, but on the political entity, which ultimately becomes entangled and undistinguished from the religion. Judaism itself, being an organized religion has many faults, just as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a host of others. Faulting people for being religious is especially easy, when one feels partial to reason, and does not believe organized religion benefits the human condition. When Judaism is taken in religious context, then when one applies detrimental effects towards organized religion, Judaism cannot be excluded. Semantically speaking however, a Jew does not by necessity have to practice organized religion. It can be applied in a cultural and ethnic context. Even this context is difficult to define, because a Jew can be Italian, thus ethnically Italian, yet still identify as Jewish (through Religion). Even if that individual was not a practicing Jew, the context would remain. As an example, a Japanese person cannot be considered under any other ethnic grouping even when associating with various religions. The difficulty in thus describing Judaism is the confusion aroused between the religious, ethnic, cultural, and social ties. Therefore, it's difficult to remove the criticism of Israel, or Judaism, from racism. One can find fault with Christianity and France, without necessitating racism towards French people. However, finding fault with Judaism and Israel, does equate to racism in today's society. It's rather unfortunate, because nobody should be above accountability and reproach. Moreover, It has become such a powerful force in American Politics because the criticism of Israel's faults has become sacrilegious . In fact, there's more open and free debate and dialogue in Israel on the treatment of the Palestinians, then there is in the United States Congress.

In short summary then, my criticism of Israel, and even Judaism, does not equate to racism, because I am not directing it towards a specific people, but a specific system. Criticism can apply to a religious system, a political system, even a social system, without necessarily equating it to an individual. There are millions of Jews that are outside of the religious and Zionistic spectrum who do not keep Israel or Judaism above reproach. There is a natural tendency to feel defensive about one's own people and culture. Often times, I find that the criticism that I'm willing to place on other cultures, doesn't seem to apply as strongly to mine, and must force myself to think objectively and clearly. State corruption for example, provides a window into the inefficiency of some countries to function for their people's benefit. Armenia, is one of these countries that has a significant amount of corruption, and the same standards that I'm willing to apply to African countries should also as strongly apply to Armenia. There are times I find myself laxing in applying these standards, but must objectively look at the situation and leave defensive tendencies behind. Certain defensive tendencies are beneficial when used as an organizing force for good, however, any culture that feels morally, physical, and socially superior to another is not in itself superior. There is not one entity (whether a person, a state, a religion, a rule of law, etc.) that cannot benefit from some form of improvement and constructive criticism. When one looks at global politics today, the influence that Superiority has over others, destabilizes the world. Under the guidance of the Bush Administration, the egotistic belief over moral, religious, and cultural superiority cannot be underestimated. Just as Arab Nationalism believes in its own moral superiority, Zionism shares this common thread. In fact, having defined Zionism under the pretext of Nationalism, the belief in intrinsic superiority with other's extrinsic inferiority is perpetuated. Thus, the issue is not with Zionism, or Judaism, but with Nationalism, and Religion. These are the underlying themes and those in power are those that control the sense of religion and nationalism. It is up to the common people, those outside of the elite to thirst for knowledge and the freedom from mental enslavement.

Israel's "Unilateral Ceasefire"

After 22 days of disproportionate military aggression and willful destruction of non-military targets such as the UN food warehouse and a primary school, Israel has declared a ceasefire as though they are the most benevolent government in the world. Does Israel really expect the world to forget their destructive rampage and suddenly treat them as victims? Well, the truth is, as far as the Western media is concerned, Israel can continue acting the martyr. Within a few months, people would have officially forgotten these destructive events, just as they have with Israel's incursion into Lebanon. Israel's claim for protecting themselves from tinker-toy rockets falls flat when their occupation of Gaza has no end in sight.

Where is the Western government clamoring at Israel to stop as it did when Russia invaded Georgia? Certainly there are reports and significant coverage, but the unbiased opinion and the silence especially of the US media absolutely criminal. We have reached an age of media manipulation so obvious that even a 5 year old child, with their limited capacity of understanding complex psychology and credulous nature are not naive enough to believe. Yet, a majority of the American public turns a blind eye at the plight of the Palestinians.

Our ability to reach an hasty conclusion when faced with limited facts and increased emotional responsiveness is used by the Media to further influence our beliefs. Where are the Palestinian voices, especially from the moderate West Bank, when debating Israel's invasion? Most discourse on the subject, even those that seem unbiased often involves individuals with a Jewish background? How can a discussion remain absolutely objective when the parties have personal interests in the debate? Obviously they can follow certain routes, obfuscate possible questions, and in general appear genuine when in fact, they're obviously avoiding elephants in the room. Where are the questions regarding Israel's disregard for the United Nations? Why don't they inquire about the possible causes of the conflict? Hamas did not just develop in isolation, but was brought forth and fueled by Israel's aggressive treatment of the Palestinians. With the numerous assaults on human rights, and the Israeli government's superiority complex, the situation will continue to remain tense and explosive for quite some time. One solution that hasn't been tried yet, and perhaps is the only one left is to hold Israel accountable for their actions. Why must we continue slapping them on their wrists for even the gravest of human injustices when we hold them beyond contempt? If Russia behaves as aggressively as Israel, we at least acknowledge to the world that we don't condone the behavior. Yet in the Western media, especially within the United States, Israel has remained untouchable. We're in the dark as far as peace demonstrations even within Israel. Is the Israeli lobby in America so powerful that it can manipulate nearly 300 million Americans into believing anything that's fed to them? Are people left devoid of critical thinking and allowed to become complacent puppets? Sadly, the answer to those questions appears to be yes. We, in the West, especially us Americans should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this behavior to continue unopposed; especially when our hard-earned tax dollars are involved in purchasing the weapons that are used to destroy targets the Israeli's deem potentially dangerous. Basically, Israel is the political equivalent of Judge Dredd, acting as judge, jury, and executioner with a short sited view of their actions. Perhaps in the immediate future, their incursion into Gaza may result in increased political leverage, but as time has consistenly shown, the discontent will arise within the population and either all Gazans will forget about the hell-fire from the skies, or a few will use Israel as a political crutch to grab power and continue defying Israel and the West.

As is often the case, the blame is not Israel's alone, and in general, even the most intense anti-Israeli activists will acknowledge the role of Hamas in perpetuating this conflict. Yet, once again, it must be stated that Hamas does not work in isolation, and especially in this case, it takes two idiots to start a fire. The difference is that it's easy to jump on the bandwagon blaming only one of the idiots, but when everybody ignores the other idiot, he can carry on behaving degiantly. Thinking of this in another way, it's as though two brats are fighting, and the parents, who have mostly given up on breaking up their argument, continue to blame only one of the brats, whilst showing favortism to the other (such as purchasing expensive toys that he can use to hurt the other one). The "chosen" brat happens to have a bloated sense of enitlement, and knows from the parent's constant apathy that his control and power over the other brat is unlimited. The obvious solution of discipline to this insignificant domestic disturbance can be applied to the stage of global politics. Further, enforcing international law cannot remain unilateral. If all countries are required to declair their intentions for nuclear ambitions, then Israel should not be allowed to maintain nuclear ambiguity. As in many other cases however, Israel is often treated as a special case, due mostly to their powerful and politically influential lobby.

Essentially, Israel's "unilateral ceasefire" may appear to work in the short term. An uneasy peace may return to Gaza, and under severe political and economic pressures, the Hamas government may end up sighning numerous declarations. Yet, with Israel's continued economic pressure, and their control over water and energy rights over Gaza, the population will once again become outraged, and Hamas will continue venting their frustrations. An occupation like this cannot work or become peaceful. The only two solutions would be a genocide, or a long-term peace built upon universally applied standards for peace and justice. The West cannot remain ambivalent to the treatment of the Palestinians, and we cannot continue supplying Israel with funds and weapons when their actions seem almost Fascist.