Sunday, May 31, 2009

More on the domestication of cats

An article in the June 2009 issue of Scientific American is about The Taming of the Cat. It seems that they first became domesticated about 10,000 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent.
The results revealed five genetic clusters, or lineages, of wildcats. Four of these lineages corresponded neatly with four of the known subspecies of wildcat and dwelled in specific places: F. silvestris silvestris in Europe, F. s. bieti in China, F. s. ornata in Central Asia and F. s. cafra in southern Africa. The fifth lineage, however, included not only the fifth known subspecies of wildcat—F. s. lybica in the Middle East—but also the hundreds of domestic cats that were sampled, including purebred and mixed-breed felines from the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. In fact, genetically, F. s. lybica wildcats collected in remote deserts of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were virtually indistinguishable from domestic cats. That the domestic cats grouped with F. s. lybica alone among wildcats meant that domestic cats arose in a single locale, the Middle East, and not in other places where wildcats are common.
Evidence suggesting a date about 10,000 years ago includes:
In 2004 Jean-Denis Vigne of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and his colleagues reported unearthing the earliest evidence suggestive of humans keeping cats as pets. The discovery comes from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where 9,500 years ago an adult human of unknown gender was laid to rest in a shallow grave. An assortment of items accompanied the body—stone tools, a lump of iron oxide, a handful of seashells and, in its own tiny grave just 40 centimeters away, an eight-month-old cat, its body oriented in the same westward direction as the human’s.
And why did they become domesticated?
Early settlements in the Fertile Crescent between 9,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, created a completely new environment for any wild animals that were sufficiently flexible and inquisitive (or scared and hungry) to exploit it. The house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, was one such creature. Archaeologists have found remains of this rodent, which originated in the Indian subcontinent, among the first human stores of wild grain from Israel, which date to around 10,000 years ago. The house mice could not compete well with the local wild mice outside, but by moving into people’s homes and silos, they thrived.

It is almost certainly the case that these house mice attracted cats. But the trash heaps on the outskirts of town were probably just as great a draw, providing year-round pickings for those felines resourceful enough to seek them out. Both these food sources would have encouraged cats to adapt to living with people; in the lingo of evolutionary biology, natural selection favored those cats that were able to cohabitate with humans and thereby gain access to the trash and mice.
And how did they become deities in Egypt?
Testament to full domestication comes from a much later period. A nearly 3,700-year-old ivory cat statuette from Israel suggests the cat was a common sight around homes and villages in the Fertile Crescent before its introduction to Egypt. This scenario makes sense, given that all the other domestic animals (except the donkey) and plants were introduced to the Nile Valley from the Fertile Crescent. But it is Egyptian paintings from the so-called New Kingdom period—Egypt’s golden era, which began nearly 3,600 years ago—that provide the oldest known unmistakable depictions of full domestication. These paintings typically show cats poised under chairs, sometimes collared or tethered, and often eating from bowls or feeding on scraps. The abundance of these illustrations signifies that cats had become common members of Egyptian households by this time.

It is in large part as a result of evocative images such as these that scholars traditionally perceived ancient Egypt as the locus of cat domestication. Even the oldest Egyptian representations of wildcats are 5,000 to 6,000 years younger than the 9,500-year-old Cypriot burial, however. Although ancient Egyptian culture cannot claim initial domestication of the cat among its many achievements, it surely played a pivotal role in subsequently molding the domestication dynamic and spreading cats throughout the world. Indeed, the Egyptians took the love of cats to a whole new level. By 2,900 years ago the domestic cat had become the official deity of Egypt in the form of the goddess Bastet, and house cats were sacrificed, mummified and buried in great numbers at Bastet’s sacred city, Bubastis. Measured by the ton, the sheer number of cat mummies found there indicates that Egyptians were not just harvesting feral or wild populations but, for the first time in history, were actively breeding domestic cats.
There's still no explanation, however, of why cats are not mentioned in the Bible!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More on the UCU - "Jew-free Congress"

David Hirsh gives his conclusions about the UCU Congress meeting - "Michael Cushman is excited by his victory. He hasn’t noticed the significance of the fact that Congress is now free of Jews. Except for Jews like him, the Jews who speak 'as a Jew' but who are quite unable to recognize antisemitism. Haim Bresheeth. John Rose. Michael Cushman. These are the Jews now, at UCU Congress." (Michael Cushman is one of the leaders of the boycott Israel campaign in the UCU). See here for more on Cushman: "Mike Cushman's 'Protocols' Moment").

For more thoughts on UCU, see Flesh is Grass - UCU Congress Delirium.

Norm has chimed in - UCU steps back into the sewer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

UCU votes again to boycott Israel

David Hirsh, blogging live from the UCU Congress, reports on the course of the discussion and the votes on the proposals to boycott Israel academia. The boycott motion passed, despite the legal advice given to leaders of UCU that "to pass this motion would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions." The leading British academic union has once again disgraced itself by singling out Israel from all other nations of the world.

Reading through David's notes on the discussion it is very interesting to discover how obsessed the boycotters are with Israel. Several other motions were passed expressing concern with other war-torn parts of the world (for example, Sri Lanka), but the discussions were much less extensive and revealed a much lower level of personal engagement. Why are the academics of UCU Congress so personally touched by the Palestinian cause above all others in the world? Why do they continue to decide to engage in actions whose main effect is to alienate members of their own union? (It certainly isn't having any effect on Israel).

Why do Jews and (ex-)Israelis like Haim Breesheth bring to the fore their own Jewish identity, as if this gives them greater moral authority than others? David reports these words from Breesheth -
I am speaking as an Israeli and as a Jew.
Very many Israeli academics are supporting their government 96%
Do not rely upon Jewish academics in Israel.
This is not the way we will resolve the situation. Not the way South Africa was resolved.
three quarters of Israelis have education. three quarters of army officers and soldiers in tanks and planes and checkpoints have all been through academia.
out of 20,000 israeli academics less than 200 support bds.
To support Palestinians and Israeli academics who are against the war crimes committed you can make history today. I know Sally and Sasha are not looking forward to calling this null and void.
I urge you to take a moral position. vote for the amendment.
How does Breeshet know that 96% of Israeli academics support the government? Has he taken a poll? In the last election, the right-wing bloc certainly did not win 96% of the votes! And what does he mean by saying that three quarters of Israelis have education, including soldiers? He seems to be implying that they gained their political opinions from their university education. How true is that in Israel? I have my doubts - Israel is a highly politicized society, and the people I know in Israel who have gone to university generally leave with the same political opinions they entered with.

From my own experience of Israeli academics (anecdotal) many of them are opposed to the occupation - I don't know if it's a majority or not. It's not particularly surprising that fewer than 200 of Israeli academics support BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) - why would people support something that could cripple their own work? Yet he sees this as evidence to back his assertion that Israeli academics "support their government." BDS is not the only way to oppose actions of the Israeli government. I oppose many actions of the Israeli government, especially the current right-wing government, but such opposition doesn't require support of BDS! His is a very narrow definition of what it means to oppose the government.

This vote is not making history - except as further evidence for the moral degeneration of some British academics.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's spring boycott season

The UCU (British University and College Union) is once again bringing a boycott motion to the floor for its Congress happening at the end of this month. The motion is below. I've underlined the sentences which actually call for implementing the boycott. The most bizarre part of this motion, however, is to be found in the italicized paragraphs, which advise that the lawyers consulted by the union have determined that support of it "would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions." If the motion is passed as it currently stands, "the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect."

28 Composite (Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Committee, North West Regional Committee) Gaza

Congress notes:

1. The deaths, injuries and destruction caused by the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza.
2. The sale of over £18.8 million of British arms to Israel in 2008, up from £7.5 million in 2007

Congress condemns:

1. The Israeli attack on Gaza and refusals by the US and UK governments to condemn it
2. The total support for Israel by the US government
3. The siege of Gaza by the Israeli government in breach of international law.

Congress resolves:

1. To congratulate student unions who have occupied and protested over Gaza
2. To call for an immediate lifting of the siege
3. To demand the British government end its complicity in denying Palestinian rights
4. To demand the British government bans arms sales and economic support for Israel
5. To support self-determination for the Palestinian people
6. To call for a ban on imports of all goods from the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories
7. To demand the British government expels the Israeli ambassador
8. To donate to the special Stop the War fund for Gaza.

Amendment 28A.1: The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this amendment would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the amendment is further amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this amendment. If the amendment is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.

28A.1 North West Regional Committee

Add at end:

‘Congress affirms support for the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign.’

Motion 29: The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this motion would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the motion is amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this motion. If the motion is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.

29 Composite (University of Brighton Grand Parade, College of North East London, University of East London)

Congress notes:

· targeting by Israel of civilians, homes, hospitals, UN facilities, university and school buildings to overthrow a democratically elected government;
· blockade of medicine, food, fuel, trade and education of Gaza, and continued occupation and settlement of the West Bank;
· complicity of Israeli educational institutions in colonisation and military preparation;
· student occupations globally demanding justice and solidarity.

Congress believes:

· a solution is impossible until Israel dismantles illegal settlements, withdraws to 1967 borders, and negotiates with Hamas;
· international pressure is necessary to force Israel to abide by international law.

Congress affirms support for the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign.

Congress resolves to:

· intensify solidarity and renew urgently its call to members to reflect on the moral and political appropriateness of collaboration with Israeli educational institutions;
· Support those Israelis who refuse to collaborate with Israel’s war against Palestinians
· Demand that the British Government condemn Israeli aggression and ban arms sales to Israel
· host an Autumn international, inter-union conference of BDS supporters to investigate implementation of the strategy, including an option of institutional boycotts.
One wonders what is the point of passing a motion which will automatically be of no force - except, of course, for the purpose of making the Jewish members of the UCU feel even more uncomfortable and making anti-semitism masked as anti-Zionism even more respectable among people who call themselves academics.

Friday, May 01, 2009

"60 years of occupation"?

When people talk about "60 years of occupation," what do they mean? Occupation of what? Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Golan Heights since the 1967 war. Gaza is not now occupied by Israeli troops, nor are there any Israeli settlers living there - although I think one could fairly argue that Israel still controls Gaza because of how it limits entry in and out. The occupation of Gaza thus lasted from 1967 to 2005.

The only piece of territory that Israel has "occupied" for 60 years is the land within the armistice lines of 1949. A quote from a local "anti-occupation" organization says "This art installation [a fake checkpoint] aims to provide a glimpse into the daily lives of Palestinian civilians who have been living under a violent military occupation for the past 60 years."

Does this statement mean that the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been living under a violent military occupation for that period of time? It is true that until 1966 Arabs in Israel lived under military rule - but not since then. And while there is discrimination against Arab Israelis, and there have been some violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and the police, it is not true to say that they are living under a "violent military occupation." In fact, some Arab Israelis serve in the Israeli army - especially those from the Druse, Bedouin, and Circassian communities.

Thus, while the quoted statement is factually incorrect, it seems to me that it implies something else too - that the state of Israel itself, within the Green line (the armistice lines of 1949) is merely an illegitimate military occupation, with all that implies legally. Those who "occupy" land are supposed to leave it at some point and hand it back to its legitimate occupants. Thus a reference to "60 years of occupation" is actually a statement that the existence of the state of Israel is in itself illegitimate, and that those who live in Israel by virtue of the establishment of the state are also there illegitimately. The Jews who arrived in Israel in the wake of statehood therefore have no legitimate status - they are merely "settlers" who have illegally settled in an occupied territory. And, simply, they must now leave and return to their homes - which of course, do not exist any more... (at least, those Jews who came from Poland or Iraq or Tunisia or Ukraine).

Such is the possible meaning of a little phrase....