Polish inmates help restore Jewish legacy – sort of

Before World War II, Poland was home to about 3.5 million Jews, the largest Jewish community in Europe.

Some 90% of them were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Today there are only a few thousand Jews left in Poland to look after the country’s 1,400-or-so Jewish cemeteries, most of which are overgrown or in ruins.

But now prisoners have volunteered to take part in a nationwide programme organised by the prison service and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland…

It gets the prisoners used to working and it helps destroy the stereotypes which still exist in Polish and Israeli culture. Thanks to this programme anti-Semitism can be defeated and the prisoners can learn a lot about Jews.”

Anti-Semitic incidents are on the decline in Poland, but the country has a reputation for being hostile to Jews…

A dozen prisoners from Grodzisk Mazowiecki outside Warsaw, carrying wooden rakes and metal trowels, walk the short distance to the town’s cemetery in the pouring rain.

As they arrive, workers are cutting the overgrown grass and weeds. Decades of neglect are clearly visible. Gravestones, some dating back to the 1700s, stick out of the grass at precarious angles or lie broken on the ground.

It is hard to imagine now, but at one time 85% of the town’s population was Jewish and the graveyard was seven times larger.

Small Jewish towns, or shtetls, were widespread across Poland and Eastern Europe before the war, but they were wiped out during the Holocaust.

A pleasant tale; but, I can’t help but compare it to the obligatory arrest of a couple dozen drug dealers every time there’s an election coming up – in my neck of the prairie.

It’s like listening to the teabagger Republican now running for governor here in New Mexico – who makes a big deal about every election she won for office downstate. She was going to put an end to plea-bargaining away penalties for drunk driving. One of our biggest problems.

She plea-bargained 800 DWI cases while she was DA.

Iceland passes gay marriage law. Unanimous? Yes.


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Iceland, the only country in the world to have an openly gay head of state, has passed a law allowing same-sex partners to get married in a vote which met with no political resistance.

The Althingi parliament voted 49 to zero to change the wording of marriage legislation to include matrimony between “man and man, woman and woman,” in addition to unions between men and women.

The longest-lived democratic parliament in the world, BTW. Meeting since the year 930.

Iceland, a socially tolerant island nation of about 320,000 people, became the first country to elect an openly gay head of state in 2009 when Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir became prime minister after being nominated by her party.

“The attitude in Iceland is fairly pragmatic,” said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political scientist at the University of Iceland. “It (gay marriage) has not been a big issue in national politics — it’s not been controversial…”

Iceland’s protestant church has yet to decide whether to allow same-sex marriages in church, although the law says “ministers will always be free to perform (gay) marriage ceremonies, but never obliged to.”

Too bad that here in “the land of the free”, civil rights are still constrained by churches, political parties, state and federal governments – generally for one or another piece-of-crap superstition.

Japan’s Ikaros unfurls solar sail in space


Image of sail from onboard camera

Japanese scientists are celebrating the successful deployment of their solar sail, Ikaros.

The 200-sq-m membrane is attached to a small disc-shaped spacecraft that was put in orbit last month by an H-IIA rocket.

Ikaros will demonstrate the principle of using sunlight as a simple and efficient means of propulsion…The mission team will be watching to see if Ikaros produces a measurable acceleration, and how well its systems are able to steer the craft through space…

The principle of solar sailing is a simple one. Photons, or particles of light, falling on a highly reflective, ultra-thin (in this case, just 7.5 microns) surface will exert a pressure.

The force is tiny but continuous, and over time should produce a considerable velocity.

Bravo!

Setting sail through space is an excellent analogy to the history of human exploration.

Firm rediscovers wave power technology squashed by Tories

A renewable energy company has gone “back to the future” to develop a device to harness power from waves. AWS Ocean Energy chief executive Simon Grey said its prototype AWS-III on Loch Ness had evolved from “forgotten” technology first seen in 1985.

He said the device could eventually be used in the Northern Isles.

The technology was also tested on Loch Ness in the 1980s, but the Conservative government of the time suspended the wave energy programme…

He said: “We discovered that the work done in 1985 was rated as the most promising by the Department of Energy at the time.

“We have since taken that design and evolved it further so it is more cost effective in terms of producing power.”

Mr Grey said the wave energy programme in the 1980s was fully funded by the UK government but the work was later suspended…

In 2008, AWS Ocean Energy said it had set its sights on winning the world’s largest prize for marine energy innovation.

It said it planned to double its workforce in 12 months, in part to improve its chances of securing the Scottish government’s Saltire Prize.

You can rely on conservative beancounters to screw up critical aspects of potential progress. Teabaggers and their ilk fear science, education and free thought almost as much as the foreign demons they see under their featherbed every night.

American conservatives and their allies opposing alternative energy programs always conveniently forget it was their ideological hero, Ronald Reagan, who made his first order in the White House – removal of the 1st Gen solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed.

Populist ideology trumping science, once again.

New government job title: Minister for Pornography

Shane Jones is among several members of Helen Clark’s Labour government, which lost power in the November 2008 election, to be embarrassed by new revelations about their spending while in office.
Mr Jones, who was Minister for Building and Construction, blamed being “a red-blooded male” for spending taxpayers’ money on pay-per-view “blue” movies while staying in hotels.
 
“It shouldn’t have happened, it has happened, and it doesn’t make me feel particularly worthy but I’m not going to hide from it,” he said.

My wife is threatening to kill me.

“Not surprisingly, this has injured her. She’s enraged and, you know, I’ve got a very formidable mother, she won’t be happy.”

His other spending included chartering a private plane on his ministerial credit card after a scheduled flight was cancelled.

Analysts say the revelations are likely to damage the prospects of Mr Jones, who had been regarded as a possible future leader of the Labour party but is being dubbed “the Minister for Pornography”.

Anyone in public service had better live a straight arrow life. Between Puritans, teabaggers and opportunist journalists – someone is going to report on the least step away from sainthood.

Throw in taxpayer dollars and you’re cooked!

India moves to make it easier for couples to divorce

The Indian government has proposed a new law which will make it easier for couples to get divorced. It has ordered that the country’s Hindu marriage act should be altered to allow irretrievable breakdown of marriage as grounds for divorce.

Up until now, a divorce would in most cases be granted by the courts only if there were mutual consent…

Minister of information Ambika Soni said that the proposed change in the law would help an estranged partner get a divorce “if any party does not come to court or wilfully avoids the court”.

Last year the Supreme Court said the judiciary should strive to keep married people together, but it also ruled that couples who had completely split should not be denied a divorce.

The latest proposed amendment, passed by a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will include irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a legal justification for divorce for the first time…

Official figures on the divorce rate are unavailable but experts say that roughly 11 Indian marriages in every 1,000 end in divorce. The rate in the United States is about 400 in every 1,000.

Divorce – when equally available to either partner in a marriage – provides a measure of women’s freedom in a nation. Whether divorce is difficult or easy isn’t always the question. Some nations make it as simple as stating divorce is requested – by the man.

When it’s as easy for a woman to rid herself of a partnership that has come to dissatisfactory ends, then a path to equal rights is established.

U.S. arrests over 400 in latest Mexican drug gang sweep

More than 400 people accused of having ties to trafficking for Mexican drug cartels were arrested in 16 U.S. states this week.

As part of the latest sweep, 429 people were arrested and nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana, 247 pounds of cocaine, $5.8 million in U.S. currency and 141 weapons were seized, the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration said.

The suspects were charged with various offenses, including conspiracy and distribution of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines.

The sweep is the latest effort by Mexico and the Obama administration to try to clamp down on drug trafficking along the border where violence has escalated. Pressure has grown on the two governments to tackle the problems…

There is a bond that exists between Mexico and the United States,” Eric Holder told reporters during a news conference to announce the drug arrests. “We have shared interests and I think that is what we focus on and that is what will keep this relationship strong…”

With the escalating violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Barack Obama plans to seek an additional $500 million for security and to send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border.

Thirty-nine of the arrests were in New Mexico – mostly up in the Española Valley north of Santa Fe. No one was surprised. Probably least of all the junkies and drug dealers.

They’re been there for decades. Once in a while there is a wave of arrests. It keeps the newspapers and TV happy and, after all, elections are coming, this autumn.