Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Israeli Physician Talks About Meeting Aliens: What's in it for us? What's in it for them?

(This is the English translation of Part II of the two-part series "Meeting Aliens," authored by Israeli physician, inventor and creative human, Dr. Yuval Rabinovich. The website that published the original Hebrew version is HaYadan, which may be accessed by clicking here. The English translation of Part I of the series, 'Why we have never met aliens" was published by JewishPress.com .)

It could have been very nice if an intelligent species would have contacted us. We could cooperate in outer space research, with deeper understanding of the forces that mold our joint world. They might help us use nuclear power in a non-harmful way. We may contribute advanced metallurgy. Who knows?    

If an intelligent creature would ever want to contact us, it is likely to be wise enough to find out how we treat our surrounding beings. On this point we not only have a questionable past, but also a present. In his book "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" (2014), Yuval Harari explains how Man has wiped out all large animals which could not be directly exploited. After this, he turns against his own kind.

The built-in racism in Man was used to justify cultural and physical genocide of groups of people. The attackers and the victims were not genetically far apart from each other. The Spanish conquistadors easily massacred native Central Americans and South Americans. The Europeans easily enslaved Africans. They did not feel close to each other. Nor did the Hutu and Tutsi people in Africa feel close to each other, a factor that may have been significant when violence erupted again in Africa. But the deadly hostility of Christians toward Jews cannot be a function of genetic distance; it is rather one of cultural diversity only. Even less understandable is the joy of violence between Catholic and Protestant Christians. Nowadays the world is astonished by the sight of Sunni Muslims massacring everybody, including Shiite Muslims, and at least one incident of Sunnis killing other Sunnis in the name of Sunni Islam.

For further reading about the history of racism in pseudo-scientific literature I highly recommend Stephen Jay Gould's 1981 book, "The Mismeasure of Man".

We like nothing more than grading: who is the wealthiest person on earth? Who is the fastest runner? Who jumps the highest? The record holders are highly appreciated, although I am not sure we can explain why. We also cooperate: we have sports teams who engage in ceremonial fighting in which no one is supposed to die, although on some rare occasions sports team fans do kill each other. Anyway, nothing is more important to us than competing, even if it does not achieve anything useful.

We know of only one case of two intelligent species co-existing on Earth. One of them did not survive the encounter although we do not know exactly why. We do not know why Neanderthals perished, and there is not even a consensus as to when exactly it happened. Estimates range from 40,000 to 24,000 years ago. One thing we do know: the Neanderthals – who were not our ancestors but rather a side branch of the human family tree – became completely extinct. We also know they preceded our ancestors, the Cro-Magnons in Europe. This is the only case we know of an encounter between two intelligent species. The weaker did not survive.

Bearing this in mind, we went out looking for aliens. In 1960 astrophysicist Frank Drake started the Ozma project. This is the same Frank Drake whose equation for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations in outer space was discussed in my previous article. In this project, a radio telescope was used to try and detect intelligent radio signals from nearby stars for four months.

In 1972 and 1973, two small spacecrafts were launched, each carrying messages to aliens. These were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space ships and the messages carried were designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan (the late Carl Sagan was an American astronomer who had a great role in popularising astronomy, through means such as his TV series "Cosmos"). At the same time, project "Ozma 2" was launched; alien radio transmission were searched for four years. Nowadays a few projects to search for radio messages from space are ongoing; millions of radio channels are scanned non-stop and analyzed by universities and by people in a joint effort called SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) -- so far, to no avail.

Each Pioneer spacecraft carried with it a gold-plated aluminum plaque with messages carved on it. Let us examine a few of these messages. We will ignore the fact that the drawn images correspond to the ideal American beauty and not of average people. We will also ignore the question of whether aliens can understand that two dimensional carving represents three dimensional bodies and creatures. We will focus on the messages themselves.   
The man raises his hand in what seems to be a universal gesture of peace. We consider it as a message of peace because he does not carry any weapon. This message can only be understood by another violent creature. At the bottom of the plaque we see a schematic drawing of the sun and planets as was perceived by people in the seventies of the twentieth century. Pluto was still regarded a planet and only Saturn had rings. But we will ignore these inaccuracies for the following item: from the third planet, Earth, an arrow points to the Pioneer spacecraft that was launched from it. Excuse me. An arrow? What is an arrow? It is our intuitive way to mark a direction. For this we use a symbol of an aerodynamic weapon. We grew up. We no longer use arrows but rather missiles with the same structure.

To summarize, we are a very successful species. We wiped out almost all large animals, except those we found useful as a food source or as working beasts. The only intelligent creature we ever met did not survive. After that we started killing our own, justifying it in the ways in which they differ from us. We are also eager to meet aliens. We are still the masters in using aerodynamic weapons but our intentions are peaceful.

Why don't you come over?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Did the Goats Cross the Road?

Life in southern Israel can be quite unique. Take, for example, the issue of animal rights.

“Ima, there is a duck in the road.”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s a duck in the road.”  [In the middle of the Negev Desert, mind you.]

“Where are you?”

“On the road, Ima. Where do you think I am?”

Given the start of the conversation and the tin-can sound of the hands-free bluetooth set my daughter was using in the car, I wasn’t sure.

But it turns out she was driving home from her job in Be’er Sheva and was on the ubiquitous Highway 60, heading for the Shoqat Junction.

This Negev Bedouin herd of goats and sheep has finally crossed the road.
Photo: brewbooks / Wikimedia Commons
At the end, she drove around the duck, who apparently had no intention of disrupting his scheduled midday siesta. 

She checked in the rearview mirror, of course, to make sure she had not unduly ruffled his feathers. And reported back to me to set my fears at ease.

It was a similar conversation to the one I’d had with her just a few days earlier, only at that point, at least she wasn’t the driver.

“Ima?”  “Mmmm?”  “We’re stuck.” 

Stuck?  How could they be stuck? It was nearly all highway between Arad and Tel Aviv. No way could they be stuck.

“Where are you,” I asked with resignation, hoping I didn’t have to go get her.

“I don’t know. I think we’re still on Route 31 – or maybe we’re on Route 40.  We’re not on Highway 6 yet.”

The latter was a high-speed thruway that zoomed from one end of the country to the other. 

“Why are you stuck?"  (This time, I added silently.)

“There’s a herd of goats crossing and the shepherd is having trouble with them – a few of them don’t want to leave the other side.”

Why did the goat cross the highway?  Apparently not because she wanted to, if she had anything to do that day with Israeli Bedouin shepherds ...

Motorists were backed up nearly half a mile, my daughter told me – all of them waiting patiently for goats to cross to the other side. 

This is life in Israel. The world waits for the creations of G-d -- all of the creations, be they large or small -- and especially should they decide to impede motor vehicles.

And yet Israel is accused of being an apartheid state, by a United Nations Human Rights Council that dares accuse the sole democracy in the Middle East of committing "war crimes" and "violations of human rights" when it defends its citizens against terror attacks and targets the weapons fired from behind the safety of helpless civilians in Gaza. 

A nation where even a goat has more rights than a Jew with a PhD would have in the nation of Saudi Arabia -- and where every citizen gets a vote, regardless of color, ethnicity or creed. Even when they spew hatred of the Jewish State. 

Go find another place to match that in the Middle East.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

US-Israel Bilateral Deep-Freeze 'Gets Physical'

Perhaps the Creator has decided to embody the diplomatic "deep freeze" that has been taking place between the White House and Jerusalem -- showing what that can actually look and feel like when words become physical reality. 

Jews who learn Torah know, of course, that words do translate into reality at some level in any case. It is why we are warned to be careful with our words.

So this week has been an interesting one for weather around the world but especially in the United States and Israel.

Meteorologists reported record-breaking low temperatures in the United States and saw the second 'super storm' of the winter in Israel.

The Holy Land was covered with snow on Friday morning -- with some areas buried under as much as 10 inches of the white stuff -- and the central region continued to benefit from a gullywasher's worth of rain. But by midday the southern region of the Holy Land shone with brilliant sunshine and temperatures were back in the mid-50s.

Early Friday morning, Feb. 20 2015 this Negev yard was covered in snow. Four hours later, it was beautiful -- but bare.

Just one day earlier Israelis were shivering in the cold with freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions. 

The second "super storm" of this winter blanketed even southern Israel's Negev towns with snow on Feb. 19, 2015.

Even communities in the northern Negev saw a few inches of snow and lost power for short periods of time.

Meanwhile, at the same time 5,000 miles away on the other side of 'The Pond'...

The Hudson River was freezing over, on the West Side of New York City. The East River did the same on the other side of the city, with New York commuters who use the ferry service standing at the riverside, staring at the ice with wonder mixed with horror.

Broadcast news anchors repeated the symptoms for frostbite on local channels and correspondents issued warnings for locals the “make sure to keep every body part covered.”

At two degrees Farenheit the temperature dropped to a record low for the third time this week.

Pipes burst: not only water pipes but also those carrying sewage through the Big Apple.

Further north, the fast-flowing river beneath Niagra Falls was sluggish and in fact had begun to freeze over by Friday as well.

Weekend weather forecasts predict more snow for New York – and rain for Israel. Go figure. 

Has Barack Obama made up with Binyamin Netanyahu yet? 

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Light Unto the Nations? Not in the Skies.

An ugly conflict between "right" and "smart" in Israel's national airline this week has come to symbolize a national struggle so unpleasant it nearly defies description. But this is an issue that must be addressed because it is essential to resolve the underlying issues that also lead to eruptions of violence as well.

For months, El Al Airlines has been struggling to deal with difficult Chassidic male passengers who refuse to sit next to females on the planes. They block women from taking their ticketed seats -- as was witnessed by this writer this week -- leaving the female passengers with nowhere to sit. Some also take up the entire overhead bin with carry-on luggage, hatbox and carefully-folded rekel (long coat), leaving no place for any other passenger's items.

A few can be quite nasty and intractable in their manner; others chuckle at the women and snicker with each other (as happened this week) over efforts made by female passengers and/or flight attendants to cope with their resistance.

Flight attendants are caught between a rock and a hard place by all this. Generally they try to find alternate seating arrangements for the displaced passenger -- but I don't understand why the airline does not try to establish an alternate airline altogether for this sector of the population. Either that, or simple eject the aggressive passenger from the flight. In any other country, that is what would be done. 

In Israel, however, it is a complicated problem. The hareidi population has a strong advocate in the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) political party which wields a great deal of influence over funding and legislation in the government -- and has a great deal of power over the airline as a result. Moreover, numbers talk. The population itself flies a great deal between major cities in the world, including Tel Aviv, New York, London, Brussels, Antwerp and Paris among others; those tickets comprise a significant percentage of the El Al market. Offending one's customer base is not good business. 

But in the eyes of the wondering non-religious Jews and those people who are not Jewish at all (some of whom have never even met an observant Jew before) the image is indelibly burned into their memories. It's not a nice one. That message goes home to the tourists and the other American Jews who fly on "Israel's national airline" to visit the Jewish State too. And they reconsider those plans, because when they factor in the cost and the potential for unpleasantness, the two points outweigh the advantage of El Al's peerless security record. Very few foreign flights are attacked on their way to Israel.

Slowly, the extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews -- whose Chassidic observance could probably be questioned, given the emphasis placed on physicality over spirituality -- the extremists succeed in scaring away other passengers.

Worse, this becomes to the public eye what “hareidi” Jews are all about – this horrific hilul Hashem, this desecration of G-d's Torah while claiming to be mehader the mitzvah of tznius and negiah.

The halachos of derech shalom, derech eretz, ahavas Yisroel and yes, also the mitzvah of not being mevayesh b'pumbit one's fellow Jew, which is machshiv k'retzach – all those halachos somehow are not even considered when measured against the sexual terror of these men.

For that is what this is really all about. Fear, plain and simple, cold fear because they are simply unable to manage their sexual issues properly. One who is at peace with one's physical body is not at war with that of another.

This was not about sitting next to girls who were dressed in revealing garb. It is winter, after all. Everyone was bundled quite warmly. It is about men who have issues about being near women, any women, at any time at all. They cannot manage their sexuality at any time because they are not taught how to do it. In fact, they are trained to allow their behavior to run unchecked with no self-regulation other than insisting there be no female presence in their immediate environment other than family -- and that minimally at best.

Men in this world rely on their rabbis citing extreme examples in Torah to regulate their behavior. They rely on their women to restrict their sexuality. They reject the presence of anything and anyone else, fearful of contamination by all, that it might taint the purity of their holy Torah learning. They can and do use violence when they perceive a threat to that insularity, real or imagined.

How pure and holy can such learning be, governed by hatred, violence and fear? What kind of merit is earned by a mitzvah performed with a poisoned mind and evil intent – or deed – towards a fellow Jew? 

Does the mitzvah supposedly earned outweigh the massive hilul Hashem committed on the world's only Jewish airline? 

I doubt it.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Why Do Israeli Media Sing the Enemy's Song?

November 1, 2014 - After a week in which security personnel have been trying to keep the capital from going up in flames, some Israeli media are nevertheless singing soulfully about the "occupation."

What the hell is that all about?

A somewhat confusing report on “the voices behind the riots” written for Jerusalem Online.com by Yael Klein allegedly quotes a “French news agency reporter” and “AP news agency” to describe the Arab “fear of becoming the next Mohammed Abu Hadir.” (sic)

Talk about slanted coverage.

The article cites this week's shooting of Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick as a cause of current tensions, Frankly, that was an attempted targeted assassination by a convicted Islamic Jihad terrorist, who first asked Glick his name to be sure of his identity before firing four bullets at him at point-blank range. Oddly, that fact is not mentioned once in the article.

The murder attempt led directly to the closing of the Temple Mount to all visitors and worshipers for the first time since 1967, Jews as well as Arabs even though it was a Muslim Arab who tried to kill Glick and it is Arabs who are rioting. This detail was also ignored in the article, which cites the closing of the Mount as another cause of the continued violence by Arab “protesters” who have been “rioting” for weeks.

Instead, Klein attempts to pin the blame for the wave of destruction and attacks in Jerusalem by Arab terrorists on the revenge killing of young Abu Khder. While the murder was despicable she never mentions that the Jewish murderers were caught and detained immediately, unlike the Arab terrorists triggered the wave of violence in the first place by abducting and murdering three Jewish teens on June 12, less than three weeks earlier. 

Abu Khder was murdered and his body was discovered the day after the bodies of the three Jewish teens were found in a shallow grave in a field just north of Hebron.  

“Riots in Arab neighborhoods are unceasing, and the young men confronting the security forces have no faith in the situation changing.”

Huh??  HELLO.

The rioting young men who are hurling rocks and firebombs (Molotov cocktails) and fireworks at civilians and security forces -- who are doing their best to kill people on the roads of Jerusalem and anywhere else they can find them – THEY have no faith in the situation changing? Really? Why not? Could it be because they have no intention of changing it themselves, perchance?

“Hisham, 14, from Shuafat who was born during the second intifada, dreams of a new uprising that will protect Al-Aqsa.”

From what?  From his own people who are doing their best to destroy the structure with their own violence? Perhaps he just dreams of a new uprising because he is drunk on a hefty overdose of adrenalin and jazzed from the Friday sermon at the mosque.

“The Temple Mount compound, where the mosque erects, is a symbol for the Israeli occupation for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” Klein explains. She writes for the Jerusalem Online website, mind you – not an Arab website and not Haaretz -- but aside from the phrasing, I also don't get how the Temple Mount has suddenly become a symbol of the "occupation" since it is supposed to be the third holiest site in Islam. 

More to the point, I don't get this writer's intimate use of the enemy's language. 

What on earth is wrong with us? Since when have Israeli media become so self-destructive that we are now willing to trumpet Arab propaganda? 

There is a difference between recognizing a legitimate issue, and cozying up to total bullshit.

Are Arab youth having difficulties in their neighborhoods? Yes. They’re getting mixed messages from families, the mosque and political leaders. They have no idea which is right. More to the point – which is right for them.

Sadly, their own parents are in the same boat.

It’s been too many years and three generations fed on a steady diet of hate, thanks to a stupid Israeli government decision to abandon control over public communications and education of Arab youth in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem restored to the capital in 1967.

This kind of damage cannot be undone quickly. But someone is going to have to bite the bullet and do it; since the current Israeli administration is hated internationally anyway, it may as well be now. 

Annex Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, and give them autonomy status similar to that of Puerto Rico with the U.S. 

Cut Gaza loose -- it's just an enemy Arab state anyway at this point -- and then seal off the southern border, the way the northern border is sealed off with Lebanon. 

Israeli media are certainly doing no one any good whatsoever by feeding the frenzy to destroy any hope of co-existence by advancing radical Palestinian Authority propaganda. Disagreement is one thing. Incitement is quite another. Bashing your own people with Arab propaganda while they're actively being attacked by that same enemy? Wrong.

It's time for those who are citizens of this country to learn the definition of "allegiance." Those who believe they're supposed to be in Ramallah or Gaza (like MK Hanin Zoabi, for instance) really should be allowed to move on -- preferably across the border. 

Don't forget to surrender your passports, benefits and blue identity cards on the way out.