Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bernard Madoff's Lucky Pal: Uncle Sam

Something struck me when I was reading victim impact statements from Bernard Madoff's victims. In a sense they were tragic guinea pigs, alerting us to failures in the monitoring of the finance industry. The repeatedly ignored warnings are a matter of record. An analasys should be done on the many mistakes in the Madoff case.

But there is one injustice that cries out for correction. All of the Madoff victims paid income taxes on income that turned out to be nonexistent. They filed returns in good faith and now must frequently rely on various forms of public assistance. Common decency would dictate that every penny paid in taxes on income that was an illusion should be returned with interest to the victims of Madoff's perfidy. This should even stand as a precedent that anyone who pays taxes on illusory earnings will have them returned. This will still leave major losses, but people who are now penniless will at least have something to see them through old age.

Imagine the subliminal moral to the story. Someone is scammed by a thief and pays taxes that they should not have paid. As a result, they are saved from total poverty. The taxes they paid saved them from total ruin. Up until now, the government has refused to refund erroneously paid taxes. Failure to do so has made them beneficiaries as well as accomplices to Madoff's crimes. This greatly diminishes respect for the government and the IRS.

Those who invest in the stock market are bankrolling the industries that employ the American people. Our system can not function when respect for the financial system is undermined. Whether it takes en executive order, an act of Congress or an administrative law, the government should pass whatever law is needed to provide what amounts to disaster relief for Madoff's victims. It would be the first of many steps that must be taken to restore respect to our financial system and our government. It is the right thing to do. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 29, 2009

Obama, Kenya, the White House

Have you ever had to apply for a passport? You have to present all kinds of identification. One thing you have to produce is a birth certificate. There is no way around it. That is what makes an American passport a very reliable proof of identity. I suppose it might be possible to present false documents. But you would really have to work at it.

What documents do you have to present when you run for president? Does the chairman of your political party come to check your papers? It would seem logical. If a major political party is investing millions and millions in your candidacy, wouldn't they want to do a background check?

A friend of mine back in high school had drug and emotional problems. I couldn't believe it, but he actually went to the airport, started a plane and was ready to take off. Someone knew that he was not the owner. That was the only thing that stopped him. I don't know if it is still true, but at that time you did not need a key to start a plane.

Apparently, you don't need to even present the same documents you would need to get a passport if you want to run for president. All you need is audacity, a dream and wealthy backers. There is no background check. It's sort of like climbing into the cockpit of a twin engine. If you know which buttons to push, who needs a key?

Anyone who asks Obama to show his birth certificate gets stonewalled. CBS, a media conglomerate that is big into outdoor advertising banned its affiliates from putting up billboards asking "Where is the birth certificate? Lamar Advertising, a similar company soon followed suit.
Legitimate news stories are being spiked. Powerful people do not want certain questions even asked.

It is obvious to me what an Obama response should be. Long ago, he should have called in a nationally recognised reporter and urged that the most stringent forensic testing be done on all documents submitted. With presumably nothing to hide, Obama should have stood ready to facilitate the team's investigation with signed confidentiality waivers. A proper attitude on Obama's part would have been weary annoyance. The signs we have gotten, from the State of Hawaii to anyone else who might know something has been that of someone with something to hide. Because Obama was elected to represent the American people, this makes every American citizen an interested party.

There are those who would relish conclusive proof that Obama was born abroad. I have very mixed emotions for two reasons.

1) I believe that Obama's ideas need to be defeated. From malignant government involvement in the economy to relinquishing America's sovereignty through treaties and judicial activism, Obama champions ideas which should be defeated. Because he is African American, he comes with a constituency that voted for him as a bloc. This makes him useful to supporters of the liberal Democratic agenda. Disqualifying Obama on grounds of foreign birth would leave his liberal agenda unchallenged.

2) Unless there is a widespread consensus across racial lines that he is a failure, there would probably be great anger among African Americans if Obama were removed from office due to being constitutionally unqualified by reason of foreign birth. I do not want to live amidst widespread unrest that would likely ensue if he were removed from office.

Quite frankly, I believe that Obama was probably born in Kenya and is therefore unqualified to hold the office of President. I would prefer to be proven wrong, but President Obama has not sought to vindicate himself with the rigor that I would expect under the circumstances.

What is likely to be done about it? Probably nothing. The American people, as well as the unelected fourth estate that serves as our eyes and ears have chosen to ignore disturbing evidence. This is unfortunate, but this is how things stand. It is probably far better for the country if economic and political philosophy remained the focus of political discourse. The American people have walked away from an important battle. But we have started another that is far more important. Perhaps this is for the best. Sphere: Related Content

Madoff Gets 150 Years

Bernard Madoff got slammed with the 150 year maximum sentence today at his sentencing hearing with Judge Denny Chin. This pretty much assures that Madoff will leave prison feet first at room temperature. A representative sample of eleven of his many victims gave heart rending impact statements. The sentence reflects well the sense of public indignation at Madoff's looting of charities and eldlery people on the threshold of retirement.

Let's face facts. Any sentence served by Madoff is likely to be a life sentence, when you consider his age. The big question is, how much restitution will he pay? If Madoff goes to a "Club Fed" easy time prison,there will be no pressure on him to come clean. Madoff should be sent to an uncomfortable place such as Marion, Illinois or Florence, Colorado. If he wants comfort, let him cough up cash. If he starts "forgetting" refresh his memory with an impromptu transfer with no notice.

There is another set of screws that can be tightened. Shine the spotlight on his family. When his nephews and nieces, cousins and sons find that they are going from one audit to the next, maybe he will have mercy on family.

It would be nice to see unremitting hell for Madoff, but there has to be some effort made to recover his plundered billions.

The last unanswered question as Madoff goes to cold storage is that of his accomplices. Who made up the fake statements? Who reeled in new victims? It is impossible to believe that this massive fraus which spanned decades had no other willing participants. Others are guilty as well. This case has just begun. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iraqi Ancient Faith In Danger

One of Iraq's most ancient religious minorities is about to close the books on its history in Iraq. According to the Society for Threatened Peoples, the Mandaean community in Iraq, which had numbered about 30,000 people a few years ago is now down to a handful of individuals who are in the Society For Threatened Peoples "sitting on their suitcases.

The Mandaeans have lately been subjected to a series of kidnappings, mostly for ransom in recent days. The article on the Society for Threatened Peoples website reports as follows on the difficulties faced by Mandaeans in Iraq.


In Iraq two more members of the Mandaean community have been abducted. The Society for nknown armed group in the quarter of Schare´a Falastin in Bagdad. The criminals have d
Threatened Peoples (GfbV) learned on Wednesday that the 40-year old Mandaean, Inssam Mubarak Muhalhal, and her 12-year old son Said Mazen Said were abducted on Friday by an uemanded a ransom of 100,000 US dollars, stated a GfbV colleague from the Iraqi capital by telephone.The GfbV fears that the exodus of the Mandaeans from Iraq is almost over. "The last members of this religious community, which has a history of some 2000 years in Iraq , are now sitting on packed suitcases”, said the GfbV Near-east consultant, Kamal Sido, in Göttingen. This new abduction is just one of a series of attacks, to which the Mandaean community has been subjected for a long time. At the end of June 2008 an 18-year old Mandaean was abducted in the town of Zubayr in the province of Basra and only released after payment of a large ransom. In mid-June 2008 a Mandaean was abducted in the quarter of Althoura in Bagdad on his way to work. 30,000 US dollars had to be paid for his release. In February 2008 ten members of a Mandaean family died in a rocket attack aimed at their house in the Alaza area of Kut in the south of Iraq . They had previously received threats from Islamists. Meanwhile at least 25,000 of the Mandaeans in Iraq, who previously numbered about 30,000, have in the face of the continuing terror and crimes of violence against members of their religious community fled to neighbouring countries. The Mandaean community, which traces its roots back to John the Baptist, has now only about 60 members throughout the world. About 1,200 of them live in Germany . Among the refugees from Iraq, who have come to Germany through the reception centre in Friedland, there have also been some Mandaeans. "

The displacement of the Mandaeans has been particularly traumatic to their communal and religious life. Mandaean religious law requires weekly baptisms on Sunday, which is their prescribed day of religious rest. The construction of Mandaean houses of worship as well as the training of Mandaean clergy has not kept pace with the resettlement of the Mandaeans.

It should be noted that Mandaeans present no political or religious threat in Iraq or any place else. The monotheistic faith, which is distinct from Christianity, Judaism and Islam does not seek or accept converts. It bans circumcision.Both parents must be Mandaean to transmit the faith to their children. The Mandaeans are pacifists and will not even defend themselves. This tenet of their faith, combined with their prosperity makes them easy targets for Muslim militias.

There is no contiguous area in which Mandaeans predominate. They are scattered in Iraq and in Iran, where they have been officially stripped of their status as a "people of the book", which used to provide them with limited protection.

An additional problem is faced by Mandaean refugees being processed in Australia, where some have been subject to violence at the hands of Muslim detainees with whom they are housed. Tensions in Iraq often spill over into areas abroad where Mandaeans are attempting to start over. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation did a wide ranging documentary in which the precarious position of the Mandaeans in Iraq was discussed at length. An excerpt from the transcript below conveys the magnitude of the fear faced by that besieged community.

"Michael Otterman: People I met in Syria are living in essentially slums. The Iraqis in Syria live in the outskirts of Damascus in enclaves. One's called Jeramana. It was there that I met one Mandaean who told me one of the saddest stories I heard on my trip. He was sitting at home one day back in Baghdad where four masked men barged in and demanded that he convert, and if he didn't convert they would take his son away from him. And he said, 'I'm a Mandaean, I cannot change my religion,' and he even offered them money, they didn't want his money, they wanted him to convert. When he refused to, they literally ripped his child out of his mother's arms and took him away. Three days later he got a phone call from one of the men saying, 'If you want to see your son you can find him on this highway.' When he went to the highway his son was there but he was murdered, shot in the head.

And as sad as it is, this is a story that has been repeated in some other elements by other people I met. Kidnapping, these forced conversions, are incredibly common. Mandaeans are targeted by both Sunni extremists and Shia extremists in today's Iraq, which they view as a Muslim state, there's not much room for Mandaeans.

Erica Vowles: This is Encounter on ABC Radio National and we are talking about the Mandaean community in Australia. I'm Erica Vowles and I met with many members of the community whose stories echo those conveyed by Simon Jeans and Michael Otterman, stories of family members being kidnapped or killed, and having to flee their homeland in terror for their lives.

Fedwa is a small woman with a kind face and a quiet but determined manner. She now lives in Fairfield in Sydney, with her daughters and husband. Like so many Iraqis she fled her country with only the belongings she could carry. She told Encounter that after the American invasion, her family's way of life changed.

Fedwa : Well, actually after the war things became very difficult, and for us to live and go to our work, and my girls, I have three daughters, for them to go to the schools and complete their education, things were very difficult because we were threatened all the time, we were objected to insults and discrimination and all these kind of things. So we were just losing our will and our power to live and we decided that we must leave Iraq because if you stay you will be killed, there is no other way, you will be killed.

Erica Vowles: As a doctor, Fedwa had survived the lean years of the sanctions and had risen to the top of her profession. She had always dreamed of getting a real clinic set up to help treat the local people. So after the war, aid agencies and the American military helped provide the money and the materials necessary to make this happen. But this assistance came at a price. She became a target not only for accepting the help of foreigners, but also because of her prominent position as a manager of a clinic. At first she did not take the threatening phone calls seriously.

Fedwa : First they started doing the phone calls and they said that, 'You are a Mandaean, you are a disbeliever, you must be killed, and you are a woman and you are head of and you are bossing a lot of Muslim men, and you are cooperating with the Americans troops, you should be killed, you must stop doing this.'

Erica Vowles: Then one day the phoned threats turned into a real life confrontation for Fedwa. When driving home from work she was approached.

Fedwa : A taxi just came nearby me and the car I was in was forced to stop, then a man came and he talked to me and said, 'Look, Doctor, this is last warning to you, you either listen to what we are saying or you will not be in this world again, you will be vanished, we will kill you.' So I went back home, I was so frightened, I told my husband, 'Look, we must tell the police of what has happened.' So next day I went to the court, I was just trying to make a report of what happened, and on my way back supposedly there was a car just following me, and it came near to the car I was in and the man in it started shooting, shooting heavily the taxi. And thanks God it was a crowded street so he couldn't continue, and I thought 'Oh my God, I'll be killed, I'll be killed' because I know lots of people, my colleagues and friends, who were killed in this way and simpler than this way. And I'm responsible for my family and my girls were young and I don't want to lose my life for nothing.

Erica Vowles: Fedwa went home, packed her bags and she and her family left for Jordan. After a couple of tough years working illegally in Amman, Fedwa and her family got visas to come to Australia. But she remains broken-hearted about what she had to leave behind in Baghdad.

Fedwa : Look, all my life I was looking for a decent, nice looking, equipped clinic to work in, and when I get it I was kicked out, I was kicked out, and later I was told it was smashed, no one was doing the work and they returned back to the zero line where they started...yeah."

It should be noted that even though Fedwa was working for the good of all Iraqis, she still was threatened with death. Ordinary Iraqis who could have benefitted from her dream will suffer because of fanatic and senseless hatred.

What should America do? Immigration quotas are broken down by nationality. They do not distinguish between minorities like Mandaeans and Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Mandaean applications for refugee status should get the highest possible priority. Their need to establish religious infrastructure in new homes should be respected. Those who wish to help this besieged community can contact the Mandaean Associations Union for information on how best to help this besieged people.

The Mandaeans provide a living piece of the puzzle of what the world was like at the time Christianity was born. Their loss to history would be a loss of a piece of humanity's link to the past. In any case, a greater gift to the world than democracy itself is freedom of belief and disbelief. Wherever they may find themselves, the scattered and besieged Mandaeans deserve our prayers and support.

http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/000692.php Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 26, 2009

Its a ... None of Your Business !! Swedish Parenting.

A pair of Swedish parents have made an unprecedented decision in raising their child. They have decided to keep the child's gender a secret, giving it the name "Pop" which in Swedish is apparently an androgynous name. The Local, a Swedish news digest reports as follows.

In an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in March, the parents were quoted saying their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.

“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother said. “It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.” Reimer's accounts of therapy

The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.

Pop's wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop's hairstyle changes on a regular basis. And Pop usually decides how Pop is going to dress on a given morning.

Although Pop knows that there are physical differences between a boy and a girl, Pop's parents never use personal pronouns when referring to the child – they just say Pop."

Central to the parent's decision is a strong decision on the "Nature vs. Nurture" debate. Proponents of the "Nature" theory believe that the core of a child'd personality, including gender identity is hard wired and that experiences and upbring are important yet limited in their effect upon the psychological development of a child.

Proponents of the "Nurture" theory believe that a child's personality is the product of his or her environment and upbringing. They tend to minimise or dismiss the effect of biologically determined traits.

Pop will be the first child known to have been raised in a "non directional" way. In a very real sense, Pop's childhood will be a prolonged experiment. Pop's parents seem to be very focused on gender identity and on theories of character development. The childhood they will be shaping will not be a typical one.

Although Pop's home environment will certainly be unique, it will not be the first time that a home has been set up as a social laboratory. The article in The Local referred as follows to a famous case in 1967, when a botched medical circumcision turned into a prolonged experiment.

"....a circumcision left one of two twin brothers without a penis. Dr. John Money, who asserted that gender was learned rather than innate, convinced the parents to raise 'David' as 'Brenda' and the child had cosmetic genitalia reconstruction surgery.

She was raised as a female, with girls’ clothes, games and codes of behaviour. The parents never told Brenda the secret until she was a teenager and rebelled against femininity. She then started receiving testosterone injections and underwent another genetic reconstruction process to become David again. David Reimer denounced the experiment as a crushing failure before committing suicide at the age of 38. "

Dr. Money was scathingly portrayed in a book written by Reimer, "As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl." Reimer's account of "therapy" with Dr. Money is at such marked variance with the case histories put out by Money at Johns Hopkins University that it almost suggests falsification. At the very least, it seems that Money's commitment to the success of gender reassignment left him deaf and blind in dealing with a child who was fundamentally opposed to his "experiment".

Although many in the psychiatric community are eagerly awaiting the results of Pop's upbringing, there are vocal critics who question the basic premises of the prolonged experiment that is Pop's upbringing. Toronto psychologist Susan Pinker was cited in the Swedish news article as follows.

“Ignoring children's natures simply doesn’t work,” says Susan Pinker, a psychologist and newspaper columnist from Toronto, Canada, who wrote the book The Sexual Paradox, which focuses on sex differences in the workplace.

“Child-rearing should not be about providing an opportunity to prove an ideological point, but about responding to each child’s needs as an individual,” Pinker tells The Local.

“It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to keep this a secret for long. Children are curious about their own identity, and are likely to gravitate towards others of the same sex during free play time in early childhood.”

Pinker says there are many ways that males and females differ from birth; even if gender is kept ‘secret,’ prenatal hormones developed in the second trimester of pregnancy already alter the way the child behaves and feels.

She says once children can speak, males tell aggressive stories 87 per cent of the time, while females only 17 per cent. In a study, children aged two to four were given a task to work together for a reward, and boys used physical tactics 50 times more than girls, she says. "

A proponent of the experiment made a stunning admission in an interview with the reporter from "The Local."

"But Swedish gender equality consultant Kristina Henkel says Pop’s parents' experiment might have positive results.

“If the parents are doing this because they want to create a discussion with other adults about why gender is important, then I think they can make a point of it,” Henkel says in a telephone interview with The Local. "

Sometimes the stupidity comes at you with such blinding speed that you need to put it on instant replay. What is a "gender equality consultant"? And what sort of parent raises a child to "create a discussion with other adults" ? How is Pop going to feel when he sees that his or her parents are too interested in philosophy and ideology to really listen to the child?

Voices of caution are also being sounded in the Swedish medical establishment. "The Local" reports as follows.

"Anna Nordenström, a paediatric endocrinologist at Karolinska Institutet, says it’s hard to know what effects the parents' decision will have on Pop.

“It will affect the child, but it’s hard to say if it will hurt the child,” says Nordenström, who studies hormonal influences on gender development.

“I don’t know what they are trying to achieve. It’s going to make the child different, make them very special.”

She says if Pop is still ‘genderless’ by the time he or she starts school, Pop will certainly receive a lot of attention from classmates. "

I am willing to bet that in Sweden Dr. Nordenstrom must be very subdued in voicing her reservations about Pop's upbringing. Very special? What does that mean? I can just imagine what "a lot of attention from classmates" means. What is Pop supposed to do when it's time to go to the bathroom? Flip a coin? The most annoying parents are those who have no recollection of what it was like to be a child. Pop's parents are running an experiment. How cute. How chic. How progressive. They should have bought a hamster Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran: Cracks in the Wall?

It is well known that there are rifts in the Iranian leadership. While no one in power there loves the US or Israel, there are some who want to take some of the rough edges off of Ahmadinejad's rule. The latest reports from Press TV, a news agency that broadcasts from Iran hint at a new stage in the violence. According to Press TV, eight members of the hated Basij militia were killed in a recent demonstration. Press TV reports as follows.

"Twenty people including, eight Basij members, have been killed during the post-election unrest in Tehran, Iranian officials say.

All the Basij members were killed by gunfire, indicating that there were gunmen fomenting unrest among protesters, the officials said.

The volunteer Basij forces were among the main targets of the rioters during the recent protests in Tehran.

Iranian police have arrested a rioter who attacked an unarmed Basiji member during the post-election protests in Tehran. "


How were the Basij members killed? Are there factions beside the Basijis who are now armed? For the past few days, it looked like they had the upper hand with armed strength. Could the balance of power be changing? In another story on Press TV, the Iran government seems to be embarassed by reports of attacks upon Teheran's main university. A government spokesman promised to seek and punish the attackers. Press TV reports as follows.

"Iran's Minister of Science, Research and Technology says that punishment will be meted out to those who recently attacked a number of Iranian universities.

Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi said Thursday that a fact-finding commission had been formed to investigate the violent attacks, which left many students seriously wounded and hospitalized.

The attacks also led to the destruction of the students' private properties and university equipment.

The violent attacks were carried out after the announcement of the disputed June 12 election results by unidentified men, causing an outrage among academics, student communities and the public."

Is the government serious? Will they really find the attackers? One thing is sure. They are losing not only hearts and minds but men as well.

In another development, a religious leader named Ayatollah Makarem appears to be calling for reconciliation. In the following Press TV coverage, he seems to hint at some sort of compromise.

Senior cleric Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi has called for Iran's presidential election dispute to be settled through "national conciliation".

"Extremely bitter events have occurred in the days following the magnificent 10th [presidential] election, and certain adventurists took advantage of the disputes between the honorable candidates," Grand Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi said in a statement published on his website on Thursday.

The octogenarian professor of theology said that the recent events "have caused deep regret and sorrow in all Iranians loyal to the Islamic establishment and the revolution,... and have gladdened the enemy."

"Under these circumstances, where both our friends and enemies are observing the situation in our country, it is incumbent upon us to fully maintain calm and not to allow adventurists to disturb public order and destroy public and private property, and, as the great Leader of the Islamic Revolution has emphasized, the problems must be solved through legal means," added the Grand Ayatollah.

Although his language was couched in terms that would not threaten Ahmadinejad, the following words in his speech seemed to leave the door open to a compromise.

"Definitively, something must be done to ensure that there are no embers burning under the ashes, and (to ensure) that hostilities, antagonism and rivalries are transformed into amity and cooperation among all parties."

The longer the unrest continues in Iran, the more fundamental will be popular opposition to the very idea of a theocratic state. The government may be trying to cut its losses.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bernard Madoff and Creative Justice

Vigilante justice is a problem world wide. According to the Times of London, two elderly couples who had been swindled of their life savings bypassed legal authorities and took matters into their own hands, tying up James Amburn, who had apparently invested around $3 million dollars belonging to the two couples in Florida real estate which subsequently went into foreclosure. The Times of London reports as follows on the privatised justice allegedly administered by the aggrieved couples

"After being bundled into the boot of an Audi in the west German town of Speyer, Mr Amburn was driven southwards to Chieming, close to the Austrian border, where one of the couples Roland K, and his wife, Sieglinde, 79, had a holiday home.

The financial adviser claims he was held there in a cellar for four days almost naked, fed soup twice a day and beaten. Another couple, Gerhard F, 63, and his wife, Iris, 66, both retired doctors, allegedly helped to torture the prisoner.

“I was beaten. They threatened again and again to kill me,” Mr Amburn said. At least two of his ribs were fractured.

Mr Amburn says he tried to escape once when he was permitted to smoke in the garden. He scaled the wall and ran though the rain in his underpants calling for help.

The pensioners pursued him in their car, shouting: “Stop that man! He’s a burglar!” Two locals pinned him to the pavement and he was taken back to the cellar, where he claims he received another beating.

The investment consultant’s break came when he was allowed to send a fax to a Swiss bank asking for the transfer of the funds demanded by the gang.

On the fax he pretended to refer to call options and to insurance policies (the German word for a financial policy is police). This came out as “call.pol-ice.”

“They didn’t notice it but someone at the bank was bright enough to spot it,” Mr Amburn said.

The pensioners are under arrest on suspicion of deprivation of liberty, torture and inflicting grievous bodily harm. These charges carry a maximum of 15 years in prison."

Although the article focuses mainly on the Amburn kidnapping, it does place it in the context of other crimes committed by senior citizens angry at the system for everything from bloated bonuses for bank presidents and other injustices.

In related developments, Bernard Madoff has been pleading through his lawyers for a twelve year sentence for his massive Ponzi scheme conviction, according to the New York Post. Citing anti Jewish e-mails to Madoff and his lawyer, Madoff's defense team ignored the disproportionately high percentage of Jewish victims who Madoff had met in his and his wife's social circles.( Perhaps since so many of Madoff's victims were Jewish, he could be prosecuted for hate crimes.)

In a further display of unmitigated gall, Madoff cited the calls for vengeance as evidence of a call for "mob vengeance."

The writer of the New York Post article pointed out that if Madoff were to get twelve years in jail, that he would be serving one year for every $451 million he stole.

I believe that the interests of justice would best be served by merging the German kidnapping case with Madoff's sentencing. Like Madoff, the two German couples who kidnapped the man who robbed them are also elderly people facing possible hard time for crimes that look very bad on paper. I believe they are misguided elderly folks who should get community service. I propose the following as community service.

Since the two couples in Germany have already secured their home for purposes of imprisonment, I feel that Mr. Madoff should be transferred to their custody. For two months, Mr. Madoff should live at their expense. That would take care of the requirement for community service. Afterward, the two couples should get a salary and funds for property maintenance as well as a food allowance for the cost of incarcerating Bernard Madoff. Their prior experience for which they have been charged in the German courts shows that they have the skills needed to make Mr. Madoff's incarceration both memorable and educational. Most American prisons are located in rural areas and near small towns. The two German couples could provide similar ambiance in their own home.

Normally, an elderly couple who has lost their entire life savings would be destitute. Taking care of Mr. Madoff could solve this problem, since the couple would probably earn about $80 thousand a year taking care of him.

There are so many stories sitting side by side in our daily papers waiting to be merged. Bernard Madoff's upcoming sentence and the impromptu justice meted out by elderly German scam victims are two such stories. Wouldn't it be nice if we could tie the two stories together? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Suspicious Death Sparks Chinese Riots

Take a good look at that cell phone and that clock radio that are made in China. The cheap labour that keeps them cheap isn't so cheap after all. Malcolm Moore of the London Telegraph reports of serious riots in a small Chinese city known as Shishou in China's Hubei province.

The death of a cook in a local hotel is reported to have sparked the riots. Police reported the death of Yu Yuangao as a suicide. The fact that he is illiterate made the suicide note provided by police as proof of their story highly dubious. Family and friends of the deceased report that Mr. Yu had been planning to blow the whistle on drug trafficking in the hotel, and that corrupt cops collaborated with gangsters in having him rubbed out.

The unrest was serious. Pictures of cops in riot formation as well as of an overturned police car reached the west. Estimates of the size of the angry mob surrounding the hotel ranged from a few thousand to around 70,000. The protest spilled into cyberspace as hackers defaced the web site of the city government. The speed with which the riot spread and its vehemence shocked seasoned observers.

What was remarkable about the London Telegraph's report is that it was not presented as an odd occurrence but as a possible trend. The Telegraph reports as follows about other instances of civil unrest within China.

"After months of calm, there have recently been a spate of riots being reported in the Chinese media, or on the internet. Is this because media restrictions have been lifted, allowing news of riots to spread, or has there been a genuine increase in social tension in the countryside?

It is impossible to tell. China no longer publishes the figures for how many riots take place each year, but most people put the figure at around 80,000 and the vast majority go totally unnoticed.

The fact that there have been a dozen riots reported in the last couple of months may not demonstrate anything out of the ordinary. There is no theme that connects the recent protests - some are about property, some are work disputes, some are because of corruption. "

Eighty thousand riots is a lot of unrest. Is there a common thread connecting some of these occurences? The general feeling that corruption, labour disputes and property disagreements are not being adjudicated fairly undoubtedly pushes people over the edge.

Statistics are hard to come by, but it is known that the economic downturn in the west has been strongly felt in China. When people cut down on optional purchases such as fancy shoes and electronics, the impact registers in China, where many of these goods are manufactured.

With all of the political rhetoric about China being a state of the workers and peasants, the daily reality suggests something far different. The western companies that set up shop in China do so because they can rely on a work force that is kept docile by a ruthless police state.

The Chinese government can only go so far in papering over their social problems. Peasants have migrated to China's cities by the millions in search of factory work that pays more than can be earned on collective farms. Many of these workers are now unemployed in strange surroundings.

China seems to be having more and more trouble delivering a docile work force to overseas bosses. Forced abortions, the occupation of Tibet and persecution of religious minorities have all been perpetrated with seeming impunity. But the patience of China's workers and peasants seems to finally be wearing thin. It seems that China's coat of shining teflon is starting to flake. The" Mandate of Heaven" that seems to have protected the People's Republic of China may be drawing to a close. Stay tuned. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 22, 2009

Letter From My Daughter's Graduation

Today was my daughter's graduation day. The whole ceremony was well put together. A couple of moments stand out in my mind. One girl spoke very proudly of her grandfather, who was born in Samarkand during the reign of Stalin. Samarkand was a bit more free for those who kept the Jewish faith, or any faith at all. The Muslim majority and religious Jews used to cover for each other at times, making their respective religious observances that much easier.

The girl's father had been a student in an underground yeshiva for two years while living in Samarkand. Unfortunately, the family was transferred to Azerbaijan, where there was no underground yeshiva with which their son could make contact. His Jewish education ended until he was able to emigrate to Israel as an adult. Despite his meager Jewish education, the strength of his two years in the underground yeshiva were enough to pull him to full Jewish observance. In Israel he became a professor of mathematics who drew others to religious observance.

The other story was of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who when he was a young boy ran into an old Jewish man who was opposed to religious observance. When he observed that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was wearing a yarmulka, he pleaded with him to take it off, saying that it looked terribly uncomfortable. He pointed out that it was hot out, and the head covering was making the Rebbe uncomfortable. The Rebbe deflected each argument and plea with tact and respect for the man's advanced years. Finally the old man said, "If you believe that you would be committing a sin, let the sin be on me."

The Rebbe answered, "What difference does it make if it's your sin or my sin? We're all connected, we are all one. If I sin, it hurts you and if you sin, It hurts me."

My Jewish education is even more limited than the man from Samarkand, since I was not raised Jewish but converted as an adult. I did, however pick up fragments on the way that shed light on my path, some from yeshiva teachers and some from secular instructors.

My rabbi, Rabbi Lipskier of Morristown once said to a student who said he was looking for G-d. "G-d knows how to hide better than you know how to look for him."

My fifth grade math teacher, Sister Barbara Joseph had been trying to teach me multiplication unsuccessfully for an entire year. Finally, she told me. "Don't worry about learning multiplication. You'll learn it eventually, because you must learn it."

When she said that, I felt a weight lifted from me. With less feeling of pressure I was able to learn that which had eluded me for most of the school year.

In junior high school, Mrs. Marchant and Miss Mattison were my English and Social studies teachers, respectively. Their classrooms were across the hall from each other. I was very much influenced by the hippies, the yippies and the radical politics that were dominating news coverage at that time. They both came from very conservative backgrounds. They were outspoken and eloquent in advocating their world view. Even though I opposed them and closed my mind to their arguments at the time, years later, I replayed the discussions with them in my mind as the years went by. They did me a great favour by challenging my world view, although I never came back to thank them.

When I was eighteen, I had a job as a dish washer. A co worker, "Jenny" was an Italian immigrant from Sicily. One day, she told a story of her childhood in Sicily. She spoke glowingly of how helpful Benito Mussolini was after a big earthquake destroyed her village. She had nothing bad to say about the fascists. She simply described what she saw. I was shocked that anyone could speak well of Il Duce. But I kept my mouth shut and listened. She taught me without intending to that everyone can be a teacher, that common people carry within their memory fragments of history. I learned from her to listen and not be judgemental, that everyone can teach you something. Since then, I have learned that each person I meet is like a book of history.

My homeroom teacher in ninth grade was one of the first orthodox Jews I ever met. It was public school and there was no opportunity to ask her questions. I was interested in Judaism, being of mixed ancestry. There was a series of absences in the fall. I knew so little of Judaism that I had only the vaguest idea of what the holidays were. When she got married, she covered her hair. She seemed to be more politically conservative than I had expected, from what I could observe. What made the most lasting impression was when she called me out in the hall one day. I had been picking on another kid in homeroom so I could stay away from the bottom of the junior high school food chain. In quiet yet insistent tones, Mrs Wolfson described how hurtful my words were. She was quite upset, yet she controlled herself. I was ashamed of my behavior. She taught me a valuable lesson about human decency. It was a lesson about her faith that I have thought about many times.

I had a Pakistani Muslim teacher who accompanied us on a school trip to Dachau. He was very tall. During India's bloody War of Partition in 1947, there were treacherous bands of killers who killed anyone who was of the "wrong" faith for the area they lived in. Hindus and Muslims were murdered. Around two million were killed in a few months, with knives, guns and bare hands. A group of Hindu bandits decided my teacher had to die, along with many others who were with them. They told him that he was not worth the price of a bullet. They lined him up with nine other Muslims, and shot them all through the neck. Because my teacher was much taller than the others, he took his bullet in the shoulder and lived to tell us about it.

I took a course in German, in which I had taken copious notes. Unfortunately, they were thrown out by accident. I was very unhappy, until I realised that most of the value of the notes was the act of taking notes fixed the material in my memory more thoroughly than if I had simply listened attentively. I heard the same observation validated in chassidic teachings years later. I am sure that science has made similar observations.

My teachers have been many. Some taught me well what they were supposed to. Others taught me without intending to. Some were not officially teachers, but traveling companions and co workers. My children have taught me at least as much as I have taught them.

A note was sounded at the my daughter's graduation that it was not the end of the student's education but the beginning. I was told the same thing over thirty years ago. It is indeed true. The only diploma that ever marked the end of an education was a death certificate. But who knows what awaits us? Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Werner Beinhart: A German Cult Classic Cartoon

There are certain cartoons in America that are not directed at children. The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park are aired at night because some of their subject material might be inappropriate for young audiences. Along with some episodes that are forgettable and some that are some episodes that deal with prejudice and societal attitudes. One episode of the Simpsons comes to mind in which Homer thought his Arab neighbour was a terrorist.

I was looking for East German cartoons. (I still have not found any.) When scouring You Tube, I found a series of cartoons called "Werner Beinhart". The main character likes soccer, drinking beer and outwitting cops. He is definitely not a role model, but he is fun to watch. The graphics of the cartoon have that old quality from the good old days before everything was done by computer. On Line Video Guide describes him as follows.

Werner is a cult-hero among young Germans; he is the opposite of the dutiful, work-oriented model usually promulgated to them. Intead, he roars swiftly through the city on his highly customized motorcycle, cleverly outwitting the traffic policemen whose paths he crosses, while he picks up yet another in an endless series of cases of beer. He has no visible means of support, is as articulate as a stone, and seems to spend his days in a perpetual party.This Animal House like comedy combines live action and animation. The story takes place on the north coast of Germany, and much of the dialog is in an obscure local dialect. ~ Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide

I found one episode in which Werner Beinhart wakes up in the morning drinking beer and throws open the windows of his apartment. He fancies himself as a sports announcer at a soccer match. The window from which he is "broadcasting" overlooks an open air market. At first, the birds join in, eating popcorn and drinking beer. As the cartoon progresses, Beinhart turns the open air market into a scene of slapstick chaos, narrating every mishap in which hapless shoppers become unwitting players and everything from melons and eggs become impromptu soccer balls.

I could not find any underlying moral or political commentary in the cartoon at all. But so what... The cartoon reminded me of an anarchic form of keep away that we used to play in elementary school that was strictly banned by the recess monitors. It was the only game at which I excelled. The object of the game was to keep the ball in the hands of your team by any means necessary. There were no goalposts and no scores. You could switch teams. We had no set field boundaries and would storm into a baseball game in progress or a round of jump rope. I could easily imagine Werner Beinhart starring at such a game.

In 1990, there was a full length feature Werner Beinhart film that was very successful in Germany. To this day the cartoons have a loyal following. I find the various episodes useful for keeping my very rusty German language skills from going completely to seed. I do not watch it around my younger children. It has the same calming effect on them that can be observed after drinking a 20 ounce bottle of Pepsi. I hope my readers enjoy this classic episode.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWaiGks31I4 Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Seismic Shift In Iran

The news coming out of Iran is electrifying. The regime is so desperate that they have shipped in Hamas and Hezbollah militias to force the Iranian people to accept the stolen elections. The Wall Street Journal published a digest of Twitter and other communications that slipped through the barricade of the Iranian government.The picture created in accounts from people in Iran is that of a groundswell of popular opposition to Ahmadinejad and the theocracy that he represents. Although Mousawi's candidacy was a catalyst, it seems as though the concerns of Iranians range far beyond the stated agenda of Hussein Mousawi. The Wall Street Journal relates an eyewitness account of an anti government demonstration in Teheran as follows.

"There is something in the air in Tehran these days. We remain afraid, but we also dare to speak.

I left my home in Tajrish along with my family at 3 p.m. to head to the protest on Monday. We knew that people were supposed to gather in Enghelab [Revolution] Square at 4 p.m. and march toward Azadi [Freedom] Square. From Gisha Bridge onwards, we saw people walking. Cars were blowing their horns and people were flashing the victory sign. I also saw a group of about 20 militiamen with long beards and batons on motorbikes.

My hand was hanging out of the taxi window with a little green ribbon -- the color of the reformists -- tied around my finger. One of the militiamen told me to "throw that ribbon away!" When I refused, 15 people attacked me inside the car. They beat me with their batons and tried to pull me out.

My wife and my daughter who were sitting in the back seat cried and held me tight. I also held myself tight to the chair. As they tried to shatter the car windows the driver went out and explained that he is just a taxi driver, we are just his passengers, and he hadn't done anything wrong. After about five minutes they left us alone.

Soon we joined the crowd at Enghelab Street. What I saw there was the most magnificent scene I have ever witnessed in my life. The huge numbers of people were marching hand-in-hand peacefully. There were no slogans being shouted. Hands were held up in victory signs with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: silence. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor were marching cheerfully. It was an amazing show of solidarity. I was so proud.

Enghelab Street, the widest avenue in Tehran, was full of people. Some estimated that there were one to two million people there. As we marched, we passed a police department and a Basij base. In both places, we could see fully-armed riot police and militiamen watching us from behind fences. Near Sharif University of Technology, where the students had chased away Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a few days before, Mir Hossein Mousavi (the reformist president-elect) and Mehdi Karrubi, the other reformist candidate, spoke to the people and were received with cries of praise and applause.

My family and I had put stickers on our mouths to represent the suppression of the regime. Other people carried signs. One quoted the national poet Ahmad Shamlu: "To slaughter us/why did you need to invite us/to such an elegant party." Another made fun of the government's claim that Ahmadinejad won 24 million votes: "The Miracle of the Third Millennium: 2 x 2 = 24 million." Others just read: "Where is my vote?"

When we finally arrived at Azadi Square, which can accommodate around 500,000 people, it was full. We saw smoke coming from Jenah Freeway and heard the gunshots. People were scared but continued walking forward.

Later, my sister told me that she saw four militiamen come out from a house and shoot a girl. Then they shot a young boy in his eye and the bullet came out of his ear. She said that four people were shot.

On my way home at around 2 a.m. I saw about 10 buses full of armed riot police parked on the side of the road. There were scattered militiamen in civilian clothes carrying clubs patrolling the empty streets. And in Tajrish Square I saw a boy around 16 holding a club, looking for something to attack.

At Ahmadinejad's "victory" ceremony, government buses transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full TV coverage of that ceremony, where fruit juice and cake were plentiful. At most, 100,000 gathered to hear his speech, including all the militiamen and soldiers.

We reformists have no radio, no newspaper, and no television. All our Internet sites are filtered, as well as social networks such as Facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication were also cut off during the demonstrations. And yet we had hundreds of thousands, if not millions."

It should be noted that the man relating this account was accompanied by his wife and daughter. He witnessed violence and intimidation, as did members of his extended family. Despite this, he took to the streets with his family, as did countless other people. Those who demonstrate in Iran today are running the risk that the demonstrations will subside and that the secret police will hunt down the participants. It is difficult to overstate the risks taken by the people of Iran.

Another misconception that is melting away from our picture of Iran is that of yuppies and students being the sole supporters of Mousawi. It has now become apparent that women in religious garb, peasants from villages and parents of grown children have broadened the ranks of the opposition with their numbers and concerns.

To understand this phenomenon, one should look at the events prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. A leader of the opposition to the communist dictatorship was a small group called Neues Forum. The group was essentially reformist. It did not challenge the foundations of the East German state. It essentially wanted a kinder, gentler "communism with a human face." It was very effective in organising impressive demonstrations, but when free elections were held, its supporters melted away and supported mainstream parties that wanted to do away with East Germany.

In Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek was a loyal communist who believed in democracy and free speech. His reforms ended when the Russians and allied Warsaw Pact nations invaded in August of 1968. The Velvet Revolution of 1989 in Czechoslovakia went beyond Dubcek and the Communist Party for leadership to dissidents with no Communist Party experience. Under a dictatorship, you go as far as you dare and no further. Party loyalists like Mousawi, Dubcek and Neues Forum open the door that others walk through.

The Ahmadinejad regime claimed to be asserting Iran's sovereignty in developing nuclear weapons. During the unrest, they showed themselves to be unconcerned with this principle. Hamas and Hezbollah were seen in the streets beating Iranians demonstrating for their freedom. The Jerusalem Post quotes as follows some Iranians who were angered at the betrayal of Iranian sovereignty.

"The most important thing that I believe people outside of Iran should be aware of," the young man went on, "is the participation of Palestinian forces in these riots."

Another protester, who spoke as he carried a kitchen knife in one hand and a stone in the other, also cited the presence of Hamas in Teheran.

On Monday, he said, "my brother had his ribs beaten in by those Palestinian animals. Taking our people's money is not enough, they are thirsty for our blood too."

It was ironic, this man said, that the victorious Ahmadinejad "tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel." His hope, he added, was that Israel would "come to its senses" and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians.

When asked if these militia fighters could have been mistaken for Lebanese Shi'ites, sent by Hizbullah, he rejected the idea. "Ask anyone, they will tell you the same thing. They [Palestinian extremists] are out beating Iranians in the streets… The more we gave this arrogant race, the more they want… [But] we will not let them push us around in our own country.

The news coming out of Iran points to a seismic shift. Each day seems to bring a change in the attitude of the people. In this large country with 70 million people in the land mass of Alaska, the latest developments are dramatic and important.

What can we do? I hope that our government withholds its recognition of the Ahmadinejad "victory". What will I do? I will continue to post my articles as an unabashed display of solidarity with those in Iran seeking freedom. If they can penetrate the cyber wall thrown up around their country by the Ahmadinejad regime , let them not find that the west does not care. Let them find that people are following events in their country with fascination and admiration. They are often in my thoughts and prayers. May the Iranian people know that millions abroad care deeply about their welfare and that of Iran. I am a blogger with a very small readership. But I hope others join me in solidarity with the brave, dangerous and courageous struggle of the Iranian people.

Dolores Ibarurri, also known as "La Passionaria" was a leader of the Republican opposition to Francisco Franco who spent much of her life in exile in Moscow. She is quoted as saying, "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." It is quite apparent from recent events that the Iranian people concur with these stirring words. The world must feel their pain, see their desperation and respect their decision. Sphere: Related Content

William Shatner Gets Flustered

People are making a big deal about William Shatner on Conan O'Brien's show. In a case of "the shot heard 'round the world, even London's Daily Mail reported of the actor's rudeness towards O'Brien. The Daily Mail reported as follows.

"William Shatner became one of the all-time nightmare guests on an American TV show after making a series of rude hand gestures at the host.

Red-faced and visibly sweating the 78-year-old Star Trek actor appeared out of sorts on the long-running Tonight Show.

He appeared on the programme, hosted by Conan O'Brien, to promote his biography and up-coming TV series."

But his behaviour got so bad at one point new host Conan O'Brien walked off stage before getting on his table and shouting: 'What is wrong with you.'

With a build up like that, I had to check it out on You Tube myself. Shatner did indeed flip the bird. That can not be denied. But prior to that, Conan O'Brien had been taunting Shatner about his inability to give the Vulcan salute,separating two left fingers and two right fingers and saising the palm. He was really taunting Shatner. Finally Shatner got fed up. That's how I see it.

Network bosses blurred out the Captain Kirk actor's gestures in the broadcast.

The actor mimed masturbation and flicked the finger at host Conan during the interview.

In my opinion, it was O'Brien who was being obnoxious. If I were in Shatner's shoes, I would have been sorely tempted to convey comradely greetings from Chuck U Farley. It would not surprise me if others felt the same. I think Conan O'Brien is an obnoxious twit. Even though Shatner may have been a little over the top, I hope he taught O'Brien a lesson.

The link is below. Judge for yourself

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZB_o8NnLOU Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 18, 2009

High Five to Zenni Optical

One of the pleasures of blogging is the ability to thank merchants who do a good job. I try to praise as loudly as I complain. I am not getting paid for this article. If I were I would say so clearly.

My old glasses were a mass of tiny scratches, held together with tape and a paper clip. Stuffing them into my motorcycle helmet had taken its toll. I needed frames that could take abuse. My son told me about an on line optometrist called Zenni Optical. He was able to get a complete set of prescription glasses for $8.00. Mine cost more for two reasons. One is that I was getting bifocals. The second reason is that I wanted a titanium frame as well as clip on sun shields. With all of the extras I paid $68.50, which included a per order shipping charge of $4.95 and an eyeglass case.

The Zenni web site instructs you to type in your prescription information. I had no problem with this, except for one line on the form that asked for pupilary distance, which is the distance between the pupils. Although opticians need this number, it is not usually written on the prescription. When you do get this number, write it down and do not forget it. Unlike all the other numbers, this number does not generally change in adulthood. I was able to go back to my optometrist and get the number for pupilary distance.

Zenni promises delivery within 14 days on simple orders. Mine was a bit more complex so it took 17 days. They e-mailed me when they shipped out my order.

I was told that the glasses are made in China, and this is what keeps the price down. I like to buy American, but that is not always easy to find. I was delighted with the quality of the glasses I got. Titanium is supposed to return to its original shape when bent. For me, that was a critical selling point. I was not disappointed. The glasses fit, they retained their shape. They are a pleasure to look through and to read with. I am probably going to buy a cheaper pair to use as backups.

When a merchant treats me right, I am not shy about giving them five stars. Conversely, I am happy to skewer those who displease me with a five rasberry rating. It is a pleasure to recommend Zenni Optical to my readers. I hope you will check them out. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17, 1953 Berlin, June 17 2009 Teheran

Fifty-six years ago today, workers in East Berlin made history. East Berlin in 1953 was a grim place. The city landscape was still battered from the war that had ended eight years before. Consumer goods were in short supply. Electricity was rationed. Houses often went dark at night.

In addition to general austerity, the government was implementing a transition to communism as it was being practiced in the USSR. Private farms were being nationalised. Regulations aimed at the dwindling number of private enterprises were driving them out of business and into the arms of the communist government. The Berlin Wall was eight years in the future. People could and did flee on foot by the thousands to West Germany.

Stalinist repression and post war austerity left the German people as short of patience as they were of basic amenities. Then the communist government announced that production quotas would be raised 10%. Anyone unable to make the new quotas would have their pay cut.

Construction workers who were given the news walked out in anger and disgust. The protests snowballed. The next day, 400,000 workers were in the streets. The original demands morphed into demands for fundamental change. Soviet troops and "Volkspolizei" were called in to quell what had become an uprising in which government buildings were sacked. Protests quickly spread to 500 other cities and villages. According to the West German government, almost 400 people were killed in the unrest, including some who were executed. Over 1800 people were injured. Around 1200 people were sentenced to imprisonment.

It is difficult to overstate the sacrifice and the courage of those who took to the street to protest communist enslavement. Although Stalin had died three months prior, Stalinism was very much alive. East Germany was not only under the communist boot, it was under Soviet military occupation.

It would be 37 more years before the extinguished hopes of East Germany's people burst yet again into the flame of freedom with the events of 1989 which culminated in German reunification. In 1989, enough soldiers and police decided that the blood of the people ran through their veins as well. On November 9 of that year, the hated Berlin Wall became a place of celebration. Instead of shooting, border guards joined in the merriment as surging crowds danced upon it and swept by it.

Today, Iran finds itself at a crossroads. The demonstrations have the same contagious quality. Although Mousawi, the defeated candidate was by no means a dissident, the manifest injustice of his defeat was the catalyst for mounting general discontent.

Germany 1953 and Iran in 2009 are geographically and chronologically far apart. But a common denominator joins them across time and space. In both countries, a brave and desperate people has stood up and said "Enough!"

I am awed by their self sacrifice and their courage. A people that has no experience with democracy has found an inner compass and fortitude. I who write and voice my opinions freely am humbled at their bravery. May G-d protect and watch over them. May G-d grant them success.

Below is a newsreel in German of the 1953 uprising. Even if you do not understand German, it still gives a feeling for the events of those days.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letterman's Half @$$ed Apology

David Letterman has been on the hot seat ever since he did a monologue in which he trashed Sarah Palin's 14 year old daughter. Everyone but Letterman himself was appalled that he made misogynist jokes about not only Sarah Palin but about her family as well. Finally, a week later, Letterman attempted what can only be described as damage control. Letterman stuttered and stammered his way through the following statement.

“All right, here – I’ve been thinking about this situation with Governor Palin and her family now for about a week – it was a week ago tonight, and maybe you know about it, maybe you don’t know about it. But there was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium. And it was kind of a coarse joke. There’s no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18. Yeah. But the joke really, in and of itself, can’t be defended. The next day, people are outraged. They’re angry at me because they said, ‘How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?’ And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani … and I really should have made the joke about Rudy …” (audience applauds) “But I didn’t, and now people are getting angry and they’re saying, ‘Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who’s completely innocent, minding her own business,’ and, turns out, she was at the ball game. I had no idea she was there. So she’s now at the ball game, and people think that I made the joke about her. And, but still, I’m wondering, ‘Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?’ I’ve never made jokes like this as long as we’ve been on the air, 30 long years, and you can’t really be doing jokes like that. And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself."

I tried to wade through the apology. The only reason it sounds real is because it sounds real incoherent. It reminds me of those articles in the National Enquirer where they show movie stars on the street without their make up. Most of them look thoroughly forgettable. Letterman's apology looks like his script writer called in sick. He claims he didn't know he was bashing the 14 year old. He thought he was bashing the 18 year old. He has a team of gag writers and fact checkers. But he didn't know who he was trashing..

‘Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?’

The whole reason you're up there sweating under your stage make up is that you did make a joke like that. And it took a week for one of your sycophants to get through with the message that you had screwed up.

I wish Letterman would have left his apology with what I have just quoted. Unfortunately, he dug the hole a lot deeper. Consider the following conclusion to Letterman's semi coherent babble in front of a live mike.

“And then I was watching the Jim LehrerNewshour’ – this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy, now I’m beginning to understand what the problem is here. It’s the perception rather than the intent.’ It doesn’t make any difference what my intent was, it’s the perception. And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not a very good joke. And I’m certainly – ” (audience applause) “– thank you. Well, my responsibility – I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault. That it was misunderstood.” (audience applauds) “Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I’m sorry about it and I’ll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much.” (audience

In his "apology", Letterman tries to plea bargain his offense down to telling a bad joke or telling a joke poorly. The crime was not what he said, but the perception. He goes on to say that it was his fault that the joke was misconstrued. In the magic studio of David Letterman, a lapse in common decency became a lapse of comedic skill. Letterman's following words stand for themselves.

"There was one awkward moment during the seventh inning stretch. Her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

I can't think of any way to misunderstand that. Letterman even got a free pass on talking about Palin looking like a "slutty flight attendant". Last time I checked with my feminist friends, calling a woman "slutty" was a major faux pas. But Palin is a Republican, so Letterman gets a pass.

No one should be surprised if the children of political figures are fair game. When George Bush's daughters were caught drinking with a fake ID, the bartender (staunch Democrat, she) called the obliging press to magnify the embarrassment of the first family. Meanwhile, stories about errant Democratic offspring are spiked.

I have had people apologise to me with an approximation of Letterman's words. I'm sorry you were offended by what I said. I immediately answer "I would accept your apology except it is not an apology. You can not apologise for how I feel. You can apologise for what you did or said."

I recall jokes dating back to Nixon about Nixon that were downright filthy. I do not recall any jokes about Carter's daughter or Reagan's children. When a politician jumps into the ring( so to speak), he expects to take a punch. But no one expects someone to jump from the ring and punch his kids. It is beneath contempt. As much as people might enjoy a bare knuckles political fracas, some things are off limits.

David Letterman has revealed a lot about himself. Without his script writer, he is a babbling little twerp. He lacks the decency to apologise for his mistakes. How this will play out in his private like makes for interesting speculation. And his script writers do a poor job of preparing for his show.

I do not plan to watch David Letterman anytime soon, unless I am writing the names of his sponsors for boycott purposes. Why should I want to watch Letterman? Who knows what will crawl out from beneath my flat screen if I do? Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Stench From Teheran

The protests in Iran are not quieting down. Far from fading away like a bad hangover, the feeling among many that the election was stolen persists and spreads.

Is Iran's opposition nothing more than a bunch of hot headed sore losers? Is the Revolutionary Guards and other sections of the armed forces simply enforcing lawful authority?

A number of factors seem to validate suspicions of wrongdoing.

Forty million people cast ballots. They were paper ballots, many cast in rural areas. How were they counted and certified within a few hours?

Iran is not a monolith. It has regions with different ethnic groups and political allegiances. Even in cities there are Ahmadinejad strongholds and Bastions of support for Mousawi. Anyone who has pored over a political map of America with its red states and blue states has some idea of political diversity within Iran.

Why were the election returns across Iran consistent in their percentages of support for Ahmadinejad? The absurdity of this is along the lines of saying with a straight face that Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant went 67% for John McCain, with identical percentages in Idaho and Texas. My neighbours would be out in the street too if someone tried to pull a scam like that.

Detailed precinct by precinct data has not been forthcoming. Many ballot boxes lack accompanying paperwork which would validate the contents of accompanying ballot boxes. Mousawi's poll watchers claim that ten million ballots are improperly validated.

Each polling station was supposed to have observers from both parties. In some stations, Mousawi's observers were ejected.

Iran does not have an independent system of oversight of its electoral process. Interested parties are policing themselves. Significant sectors of the population have lost faith in this process.

Reports from Iran resemble the groundswell of mass demonstrations that swept the Shah from power in 1979. Iran has never had a democratic system to reflect and express the will of the people. In the absence of this, the will of the people bursts forth in tumultuous, imperfect and sometimes destructive ways. Stealing votes in a dictatorship involves ripping the duct tape off a voter's mouth long enough to stuff words into it. Those who attempt such a dangerous game run the risk of inflaming an indignant populace. This seems to be precisely what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has done. He does so at his own peril. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Soccer Team Songs From Europe

Outside the United States, the world seems to be in love with soccer. I have yet to be smitten with soccer fever. But one thing I am very fond of is soccer team songs. In America, we have logos on cups and baseball caps. Soccer fans take fan memorabilia to a whole new level with team songs.

I have my personal favourites. FC Koln (Cologne in English has a Scottish melody with lyrics praising the team for that city. In soccer shorthand, FC stands for football club.

My second and third favourite soccer songs are those of FC Hansa of Rostock and Eisern Union (Iron Union) of Berlin. Both songs were recorded by the Puhdys. The Rostock song has a pulsating stadium feel to it, while the Eisern Union song has more of a heavy metal feel .

None of the words are terribly profound. I like the words to Eisern Union. Its name is legend... Legend without end . Eisern Union ! Red, white power team Eisern Union The sun from Berlin ....We will accompany you... Iron Union.

I like the normal tension between cities and nations to be sublimated into sportsmanship and song. If there is a CD available of the world's best soccer team songs I would like to find it. Such music always picks up my mood on a dreary day.

Although I like German soccer songs the most, one of my favourite team is Juventus of Torino, Italy. In general, I hear less of post game violence by Italian soccer fans. The Juventus song sounds less like a soccer team song in the German mold and more like an Italian love song. Since I am crazy about Italian pop music, the shift in style suits me just fine.

I hope my readers appreciate this music as much as I do. If anyone can call my attention to any other great soccer songs, please let me know about them.




http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpstuKzBE7E Sphere: Related Content