Stephen Hawking’s boycott hits Israel where it hurts: science | Hilary Rose and Steven Rose | Science |

Stephen Hawking’s boycott hits Israel where it hurts: science | Hilary Rose and Steven Rose | Science |

Hark at how they squeal…

That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.

Hawking’s public refusal follows that of prominent singers, artists and writers, from Brian Eno to Mike Leigh, Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich, all of whom have publicly rejected invitations to perform in Israel. But what winds Israel up is the fact that this rejection is by a famous scientist and that science and technology drive its economy. Hawking’s decision threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state. Its research ties with European and American scientists must be protected.

That Israel, a Middle East country, has managed to secure membership of the European Research Area and the many collaborative links with European labs underlines the importance of these links. When European parliamentarians challenged its membership on the grounds of Israel’s numerous breaches of UN resolutions and of the European Human Rights conventions, the European Commission responded to the effect that research trumped human rights.

Israel’s science and technology are not just a source of prestige and technological innovation, but underpin its military strength. It was an Israeli engineer who developed the drones that the US now employs in quantity. Israeli home-produced chemical weapons minimally match those of Syria, and Israeli universities amply supply the Israel Defence Forces with the sociological, psychological and technological methods it employs to suppress Palestinian protests against the occupation.

The complicity of Israeli academia in Israeli state policy is incontrovertible. However, this is the first time that a scientist of Hawking’s status has taken so public a stand – and the hyperventilating response of the Jerusalem conference organisers (it is worth noting that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where the conference Hawking refused to attend was to be held, is built on illegally annexed Palestinian land) has only added to its public impact.

Lastly it has been the very public debates over the rights and wrongs of an academic boycott that have drawn attention to the subservience of the Israeli universities to the state. Until the boycott began internal critics were few and far between, and some of the sharpest such as Ilan Pappé were forced out. However, this subservience is beginning to yield. When in 2012 the education minister attempted to close the politics department at Ben Gurion on “academic grounds”, it was immediately recognised as a political attack on one of the very few departments where academics were willing to name Israel as an apartheid state. Prof Gilad Haran from the Weizmann Institute launched a petition stating “We sense that academic freedom in Israel’s higher education system is in severe danger.” The department remains open – one small victory.

Bangladesh eases trade union laws after factory building collapse | World news |

Bangladesh eases trade union laws after factory building collapse | World news |

This is the very minimum workers in Bangladesh should expect.  Everyone must help them by keeping the pressure on the Bangladesh government and the international companies which have been exploiting them.

Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate and internationally respected social activistcalled for both a minimum wage and a 50 cent (33p) surcharge on garments made in Bangladesh, which would finance a social welfare fund assuring safety at work, healthcare and pensions for workers.

On Sunday, the government set up a new minimum wage board that will issue recommendations for pay rises within three months, textiles minister Abdul Latif Siddiky said.

The board will include representatives of factory owners, workers and the government, he added.

In the Guardian, Yunus, founder of the microfinance pioneer Grameen Bank, said the garment industry had brought many benefits to Bangladesh, but should be reformed.

Yunus’ proposed 50 cent surcharge is ripe for skimming by factory owners and the contracting clients, the large international corporations.

Gove’s claims of teenagers’ ignorance harpooned by retired teacher | Politics |

Gove’s claims of teenagers’ ignorance harpooned by retired teacher | Politics |

The man is an absolute disaster.  One might be tempted to advise him to pay less attention to the UK’s relationship with the European Union and more time focussed on his brief.  The danger of that is he might actually do more damage given the opportunity.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has come under fire for citing PR-commissioned opinion polls as evidence of teenagers’ ignorance of important historical events.

Gove’s department has admitted he cited polls originating from Premier Inn and UKTV Gold press releases, prompting the Labour MP and historian Tristram Hunt to label him “Mr Sloppy”.

In a Mail on Sunday article published in March, Gove said: “Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58% think Sherlock Holmes was real.”

This prompted Janet Downs, who describes herself as a grandparent and retired teacher, to send a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department for Education asking for the evidence to support Gove’s claim.

Three weeks later, the department wrote back to say “unfortunately, I am not able to provide you with the details of the survey as it was commissioned and conducted by UKTV Gold”.

The survey, which dated from 2008 and had been written up by several newspapers, was released alongside a quote from the channel director saying it showed the strength of the UK’s fiction. The statistics on teenagers were a subgroup from a poll surveying all UK adults.

Downs then further challenged the department, asking why Gove’s article had referred to “survey after survey” if only one poll had been used.

After another four weeks, she received a response detailing “the other survey’s [sic] the secretary of state referred to”.

These included a poll commissioned by Premier Inn, which used its research to suggest historical ignorance was something that “can be rectified by visiting all the fantastic landmarks and places of interest the UK has to offer”, and an article in the London Mums magazine.

None of the pieces included links to the original research, and none of the articles cited stated whether the research was commissioned by professional polling companies, or met the standards of the British Polling Council.

The response to the FoI request also cited research commissioned by the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft and a poll commissioned by the Sea Cadets, though it linked to a newspaper writeup rather than the original research.

China was furious because Australia would not submit to its demands under Kevin Rudd

China has been playing the diplomacy game for millennia longer than any other culture; it’s difficult to credit China’s leadership would have been surprised by Rudd’s stance upon assuming leadership of his country. A Chinese leader who had similar experience in Washington would have to ensure his hinterland was always confident he hadn’t gone native during his stay abroad. Australian politicians face similar domestic challenges.

Alternatively, a degree of China’s ‘hurt’ may well have been staged to assist Rudd with his hinterland.

China News

One of Australia’s foremost China experts says then prime minister Kevin Rudd may have fallen victim to “bite your friend” syndrome during his dealings with the Asian power, as Beijing expected too much in return.

In a paper to be released today by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Ross Terrill, once described by the Chinese as a “vanguard officer” for Gough Whitlam‘s 1971 visit, says Mr Rudd, a “liberal internationalist”, was the first leader of an important power who knew China well, spoke Chinese and had lived in Beijing.

“This exposed him to the danger of what I call ‘bite your friend’ syndrome,” Dr Terrill says. “Someone with a foot in the Chinese cultural camp can be easy prey, expected to deliver for the camp, risking emotional kickback if he doesn’t.”

Dr Terrill says when Mr Rudd took office in 2007, he was hailed at home as…

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Northrop Grumman completes commercial lunar lander study


Preliminary sketch of the 'Pumpkin' ascent stage (Photo: Northrop Grumman; courtesy gizmag)

Northrop Grumman completes commercial lunar lander study.

Futuristic McDonald’s to open in Georgia

Futuristic McDonald’s to open in Georgia.

Clearly MacDonald’s have judged the security situation in Georgia has improved sufficiently to justify investing in the Caucasian republic.

Abu Dhabi International Airport lets travelers rest up in cocoon-like GoSleep pods


gosleep pod (image: courtesy gizmag)

gosleep pod (image: courtesy gizmag)

Abu Dhabi International Airport lets travelers rest up in cocoon-like GoSleep pods.

Forget airports and any travel terminii…let’s put them in offices, shops, factories…