Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hail Obama, President of Chicago !!

It looks like Obama's Olympic diplomacy is going to be about as impressive as his other diplomatic efforts. According to Yahoo News, support in Chicago itself is tepid at best. A poll released by the Chicago Tribune showed supporters of the Olympic bid edging out opponents at 47% to45%. Although many in Chicago hope that the Olympics will bring in badly needed jobs, others are concerned about corruption and displacement. There is even a site,, which focuses on the expenses and other difficulties encountered by previous Olympic hosts. The site offers opportunities for Rio supporters to e mail their support for Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 games.

Amazingly enough, there are other Chicagoans besides Michelle Obama who are going to Copenhagen to voice opposition to Chicago hosting the 2016 Olympics. Yahoo News reports as follows.

"Members of a group called No Games Chicago hope he's wrong. They're headed to Copenhagen to tell the IOC that Chicago is in such financial straits that it cannot afford the games and is such a hotbed of political corruption that it doesn't deserve them.

"We are bringing materials to back up our claim that Chicago is not fit to host the games," said Tom Tresser, an organizer for the group."

It may seem disloyal for Chicagoans themselves to travel to Copenhagen just to oppose the Olympics, but many believe that the quality of life as well as the financial solvency of the city would be adversely affected.

There is an additional irony that occurs to Americans who do not live in Chicago. Here is an American President who apologises for America and condemns it in every world forum. This is a President who cozies up to America's enemies and is praised by them in return. Now he is a booster for the city of Chicago. Perhaps it has not dawned on him that he should likewise be defending the country of which he is now President.

America has no plans to deal with the problem of an emerging nuclear Iran. Obama seems to labour under the delusion that the sea of turmoil that rages in the world will evaporate under his radiant gaze. His escape into Olympic trivia contrasts starkly with the shoes of presidential leadership he has so woefully failed to fill.

At a time like this, the incoherence of Obama's foreign policy is truly mind boggling. his contempt for the country he leads stands in stark contrast to his incongruous loyalty to the city that was his springboard to the presidency.

We are fortunate that no world catastrophe has served as a wakeup call to our sleeping President. We are additionally fortunate to be living in a democracy where American citizens can deliver such a call in far more gentle than would America's enemies. Although one can speak of opposition to Obama's domestic agenda, it is not possible to speak in the same manner of his foreign policy since he has none.

Perhaps President Obama missed his calling. His enthusiasm for his home city vastly outstrips his enthusiasm for the 57 states he claims to have visited during his presidential campaign. Perhaps he should have run for mayor of Chicago. Whatever his secret wishes might be, for better or worse, he is now the President of the United States. Some day he may even act like it. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gay Activist As School Safety Czar

President Obama has appointed more "czars" than I can keep track of. One of them is a "safe school's " czar, whose name is Kevin Jennings. Jennings has been a teacher and a writer on educational issues from a "gay friendly" point of view. There is no law against a homosexual being a teacher. Those who uphold the laws of the jurisdiction in which they teach have the protection of the law for their personal lives.

The Washington Times reports that Jennings has had serious difficulties in upholding state laws governing reporting of abuse when he was a teacher. The Washington Times reports as follows.

According to Mr. Jennings' own description in a new audiotape discovered by Fox News, the 15-year-old boy met the "older man" in a "bus station bathroom" and was taken to the older man's home that night. When some details about the case became public, Mr. Jennings threatened to sue another teacher who called his failure to report the statutory rape "unethical." Mr. Jennings' defenders asserted that there was no evidence that he was aware the student had sex with the older man.

However, the new audiotape (click here to download or listen to the audio) contradicts this claim. In 2000, Mr. Jennings gave a talk to the Iowa chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an advocacy group that promotes homosexuality in schools. On the tape, Mr. Jennings recollected that he told the student to make sure "to use a condom" when he was with the older man. That he actively encouraged the relationship is reinforced by Mr. Jennings' own description in his 1994 book, "One Teacher in 10." In that account, the teacher boasts how he allayed the student's concerns about the relationship to such a degree that the 15-year-old "left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated."

By writing about the incident with the gay student and boasting about it, Kevin Jennings distinguished his actions from a mere lapse in judgement. He held up his conduct as praiseworthy and advocated its emulation, stating that the boy " left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated."

Fox News reports of Jenning's memoirs in which he reports about his past drug use in a manner that almost sounded like he was boasting In his book "Mama's Boy, Preacher's son: A memoir, he states as follows on page 103.

"I got stoned more often and went out to the beach at Bellows, overlooking Honolulu Harbor and the lights of the city, to drink with my buddies on Friday and Saturday nights, spending hours watching the planes take off and land at the airport, which is actually quite fascinating when you are drunk and stoned."

For someone who is supposed to promote abstinence from drugs, his opposition sounds rather tepid.

Kevin Jennings does not have any great love for religion either. Consider the following quotes from his memoirs.

"What had [God] done for me, other than make me feel shame and guilt? Squat. Screw you, buddy -- I don't need you around anymore, I decided.

"The Baptist Church had left me only a legacy of self-hatred, shame, and disappointment, and I wanted no more of it or its Father. The long erosion of my faith was now complete, and I, for many years, reacted violently to anyone who professed any kind of religion. Decades passed before I opened a Bible again."

In many communities, houses of worship offer youth outreach programs. How eager will Kevin Jennings be to work with such organisations?

According to Fox News, Kevin Jennings was involved in a conference sponsored by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) which promoted to high school students in graphic detail sex acts that I am loathe to describe in this article.

Human Events quotes a forward that Kevin Jennings wrote to a book titled "Queering Elementary Education" which includes an essay stating “‘queerly raised’ children are agents” using “strategies of adaptation, negotiation, resistance, and subversion."

Additionally, Human Events quotes his book "Always My Child as calling for “diversity policy that mandates including LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] themes in the curriculum.”

What about gay students who leave that lifestyle? Kevin Jennings has the following to say.

“Ex-gay messages have no place in our nation’s public schools. A line has been drawn. There is no ‘other side’ when you’re talking about lesbian, gay and bisexual students.”

Mr. Jennings has made the promotion and normalisation of homosexuality into a pet cause and a central focus of his published work. But do we really want a man of Kevin Jennings' opinions setting the tone of US government policy in the public schools? Does his thinking represent that of President Obama? Or did Kevin Jennings slip by the White House radar? Neither possibility is terribly reassuring

Whether they are homosexual or straight all decent Americans want schools to be safe havens of learning. But promoting homosexuality must not be bundled with basic issues of health and safety in the schools. President Obama has some explaining to do. And Kevin Jennings does not belong in such a sensitive position, when it is clear that he is promoting such a controversial agenda.

Thanks to Maggie's Notebook Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 28, 2009

Something Rotten In Denmark: President Obama

President Obama has decided to go to Denmark, where he will lobby for his adoptive home city of Chicago to be considered as host for the 2016 Olympics. Associated Press reports as follows on President Obama's "audacity of hope".

"CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says he's honored that both President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will head to Copenhagen in support of Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told The Associated Press on Monday that the president will leave Thursday for Europe. Obama would be the first U.S. president to take on such a direct role in lobbying for the games."

It is unusual for a sitting President to take off time from a busy schedule to lobby for his home city in such a competition. The AP report did not make it clear what the cost to the federal government would be of President and Mrs. Obama's trip.

What makes the trip particularly poor in its timing was a gang killing in Chicago which was videotaped and made national news Fox News reported on the fight, which caused a Chicago high school student, Derrion Albert his life. Fox News reports as follows on the fight, which was typical of gang fights which occurred on a weekly basis after school in Chicago.

"In all four students were beaten in that melee -- one was released from the hospital Friday morning.

While police continue their investigation, some students say they don't want to go back to Fenger next week.

Rival gang members have been fighting for a month -- and each time one of their fellow classmates is injured.

No knives and no guns were used in Thursday's fight. Just fists, feet and boards.

Derrion Albert, 16, was struck in the head by one of those boards.

Seconds later the honor student hit the pavement. That’s when witnesses, who are other high school students, say gangbangers began stomping on and punching Albert."

Since Fox news posted the article and the video, four reputed gang members have been arrested for Derrion Albert's murder. What is most disturbing about the murder are reports that the fear of gang violence has made Chicago students reluctant to go to school.

President Obama has put a great deal of time and energy into making peace abroad. His energies are much more sorely needed in his home city. Gangs have become a nationwide problem, fed by urban despair and unchecked immigration. Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and scores of other cities across America are blighted by gang violence. President Obama's trip to Denmark is just one more indication of his skewed priorities and general cluelessness. Cities that seek to host Olympic games usually beef up their infrastructure. It would seem that safe streets would be an additional prerequisite for having Olympic games in one's city.

Obama's trip is a nice exercise in escapism. It is kind of like Mike Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, who attempts to distract from issues like affordable housing by focusing on smoking and planting one million trees in New York City. There are a lot of problems that will be waiting for President Obama in the US when he gets back from Denmark.

The juxtaposition of Derrion Albert's murder with President Obama's frivolous trip to Denmark is a cameo illustration of his general cluelessness. Back when he was a Senator, there may have been an excuse for such a junket. Now, he is President of the United States.

Just one bit of advice to the President. You have made your best effort to make friends with rogue states since taking office. You have tried to see the loveable side of terrorists, even as you snub America's long standing allies. If you ever have a youth summit in the White House, please pay attention to the good kids who are afraid to go to school. If you invite the gang leaders themselves, it will look too much like your foreign policy.


In honour of President Obama's trip to Denmark, I am presenting this beer commercial, which illustrates perfectly how most Americans are getting through his presidency.

Tuborg beer commercial

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Egyptian Converts Barred From Leaving Egypt

Freedom of religion is so ingrained in our American outlook that it is hard to imagine life without it. For Maher El-Gowhary, the lack of such basic rights is a grim reality. Although born Muslim, El Gowhary converted to Christianity 34 years ago. Recently, he petitioned the Egyptian government to change his religion to Christian on his official identity documents. Since his petition was rejected on June 13, 2009, he has lived the life of a fugitive. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports as follows on the conditions endured by Mr. El Gowhary and his daughter Dina.

"Maher and Dina have been living in hiding ever since he filed his lawsuit, Muslim radicals have called him an apostate and several calls for 'spilling his blood' have been issued. He has to change frequently where he lives, to evade being killed, and friends supply him with food. "We cannot sleep, eat or go out in the street. What have my daughter and I done? we have just filed a lawsuit to get out rights, so why are they holding us against our will?"

He went on to say, "I filed a lawsuit to get my Christian details recorded on my ID, I asked for the same treatment as the Baha'is who could be issued ID cards that didn't identify them by religion. I was refused because I am a Christian." He said that Baha'is are protected by the government, unlike converts to Christianity, who are left on purpose by the government to fend for themselves, in order to be killed. "The State Security incites drug dealers to kill us, as they give them the impression that we are working for police investigations as spies on them. They tried to kill us on several occasions."

The latest chapter in the ordeal of Mr El Gowhary is that of his being barred from leaving the country. On September 15, he and his daughter attempted to leave Egypt for a two week holiday in China. When they arrived at the airport, they were detained by security personnel. Their passports were confiscated, and they were informed that they are barred from leaving Egypt. They have not been told who issued the order barring them from leaving Egypt. The El Gowharys are stuck in a frightening shadow existence in which they are under threat of death in their homeland and barred from going to a country that would permit them basic freedoms.

Mr. El Gowhary claims that there are several million underground Christians in Egypt, and that millions more would join them if it were not for the fear of underground terrorists and their government collaborators.

The situation in Egypt has concerned not only Coptic Christians in Egypt but secularists and non Copts abroad. AINA continues as follows about the simple demands and some of the actions taken to protest and combat Egyptian persecution of Christians.

"The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in co-ordination with The United Copts GB, submitted to the UN Human Right Council in its 12th session (September 14 to October 2, 2009) a paper titled "Religious discrimination against converts to Christianity in Egypt," criticizing Egypt and specifically citing the case of El-Gowhary as an example. IHEU calls for all states to eliminate laws which require citizens to specify their religion on official documents and to permit all citizens to freely change their religion or belief without discrimination. It also calls on OIC member states in particular to end discrimination against non Muslims."

The US government should speak up on the persecution of Christians in Egypt. There is foreign aid and tariffs that can and should be linked to the level of religious freedom in a country. Freedom of faith and freedom of travel are basic freedoms. If Egypt's Muslims wish to bring credit to their faith, let them show such basic human decency as would resonate with a dispassionate observer of their society. The treatment of the El Gowhary family falls far short of minimum standards of decency. The Egyptians should be shamed into respecting religious freedom for the Eh Gowharys and others. the US government should offer them passports and residency, if that is what is required to guard their safety. If there is anyone who deserves and appreciates America's freedoms, it is the El Gowharys. We should welcome them and champion their cause. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 25, 2009

Boycott NY Papers Tuesday September 29 !

New Yorkers are very concerned about the direction of the city. The Democratic Party just nominated Bill Thompson, Comptroller of the City of New York. The only news to leak out is a poll that says he is 16 points behind in the polls. I have scanned the New York Newspapers for news about Bill Thompson speeches or anything at all about mayoral campaign events. Yesterday the New York Post had nothing about the mayoral campaign. I turn on the radio and I hear wall to wall Bloomberg infomercials boasting of his "bipartisanship" and his "being above politics". This is Madison Avenue Newspeak to describe a man who does not listen to public opinion. The blurring of party lines that has occurred under Bloomberg means that there is less dialogue than ever about the state of the city.

Unemployment is up above 10%. Water bills, parking penalties and other city fees have skyrocketed. What I hear from friends bears no resemblance to cooked statistics and skewed news coverage.

I am sick and tired of the news blackout of the mayoral campaign. I think that Monday and Tuesday should be days that we do without newspapers. If you travel by subway, bring a book. Bring a magazine. Listen to an audio book. But let the Daily News, the New York Times and the New York Post know that we are sick of them acting like Mike Bloomberg's personal propaganda sheets. Mike Bloomberg is a media magnate. He is a master at manipulating perception. Professional journalists should be wise to that. They should resist it.

We can not vote in the election until November 3. But we can vote at the news stand. We can also call advertisers and cancel newspaper subscriptions. We are effectively having an electoral campaign in which one man's microphone has been shut off. What are we going to do about it? The news media is supposed to be the watchdog of the people, speaking truth to power. It ain't happening. And that's a shame. What are we going to do about it? Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama Praise Songs Taught in NJ School

One of the strongest arguments for a republic is that it promotes loyalty to a system rather than blind loyalty to a leader. Even a wildly popular leader needs to be humbled by the knowledge that he must follow a constitution.

At least as critical as the role of the republic is the role of schools. One of the first things I learned as a child in school was that not everyone shared my parent's opinions. It was back in the 1960's when Republican John Volpe was running against Democrat Francis X Bellotti. I was the only kid whose parents supported Bellotti. My only knowledge of the issues was the fact that a local Republican campaign headquarters let us take bumper stickers and buttons for free on our way to the candy store. The discussion in class was as intellectually deep as it would be if it had revolved around baseball. Our teacher was a nun of the old school who would not even hint at her personal opinion. In matters of politics, according to her, you do not raise your hands. When we asked her who she was voting for, she was like a sphinx.

When I was in high school in Italy, I had a teacher who voted communist and a classmate whose father was an ardent admirer of Benito Mussolini. The fact that I liked both the teacher and my classmate forced me in a memorable way to separate my feelings about individuals from my feelings about their political convictions.

When I saw a video of some public school children being taught songs of praise for President Obama, I was appalled. The children were even younger than I was when I went to school at the age of nine with a lapel full of free campaign buttons and knowledge of my parent's gubernatorial choice. A better lesson in civics would have been the one that I got as a child, that we all have opinions that differ and we all have to live together. This is basic civic literacy. Its loss is no less tragic than the manner in which standards of literacy have fallen and deteriorated.

School is supposed to be a safe haven in which children are exposed for the first time to diversity of opinion and thought. It takes special skill to explain social issues in a way that a child can understand them. Any teacher who respects their own mission should be loathe to let education deteriorate into indoctrination. I had a teacher in high school who required that I participate in a World War I peace conference as a representative of Austria Hungary. I wanted to be a representative of the newly victorious Bolshevik government, but she wouldn't budge. She made it clear that I had to put myself in the shoes and mindset of an ideological opponent.

Lessons from my childhood took years to blossom and take root. They have served me well as marriage and work has put me in close contact with people of different persuasions than my own.

It did not bother me to see children singing praises of Obama . If they had done so at recess, it would have reminded me of my childhood. What bothered me was that the song was being taught during school hours in what looked like a school auditorium. When I was a kid, we went to the school auditorium to sing America The Beautiful, Home On The Range and Kumbaya. These songs and others were the common ground upon which Americans meet. It was with time and maturity that I learned their value as common denominators. The auditorium was a place where you were supposed to be on best behavior.

Millions of Americans hail Obama as a standard bearer of ideas that they hold dear. Millions of others oppose him. Our constitution and social traditions provide the common ground to meet as our fleeting loyalties shift in the sands of time. It is critical for children to learn that there are others in the world with opinions that may seem strange to them, and that there is decency and goodness in those who differ.

Teachers should be teaching children how to think, along with the basic rules and values of a civil society. Teaching songs of praise for Obama does nothing to advance this goal. At a time when there is heated debate about our nation's future we should be demanding better from our teachers and our schools.


For reference, I have included the Obama praise video and the words the children are being taught to sing. If the video is taken down, I have uploaded to my personal site. Information is taken from the You Tube Link

This was filmed around June 19, 2009 at the B. Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington, NJ.

Song 1:
Mm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said that all must lend a hand
To make this country strong again
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said we must be fair today
Equal work means equal pay
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said that we must take a stand
To make sure everyone gets a chance
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

He said red, yellow, black or white
All are equal in his sight
Mmm, mmm, mm!
Barack Hussein Obama

Mmm, mmm, mm
Barack Hussein Obama

Song 2:
Hello, Mr. President we honor you today!
For all your great accomplishments, we all doth say "hooray!"

Hooray, Mr. President! You're number one!
The first black American to lead this great nation!

Hooray, Mr. President we honor your great plans
To make this country's economy number one again!

Hooray Mr. President, we're really proud of you!
And we stand for all Americans under the great Red, White, and Blue!

So continue ---- Mr. President we know you'll do the trick
So here's a hearty hip-hooray ----

Hip, hip hooray!
Hip, hip hooray!
Hip, hip hooray!

School children being taught songs of praise for Obama

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Spanish and Indian: Race in South America

I once had a family visiting from Argentina. Like me, they had an appreciation of music. I played for them some music of the group Inti Illimani, which is a group that plays "Cancion Nueva." They were a bit surprised at my musical tastes. In their circles there was less crossover between music with Indian and with Spanish roots. Here in New York, Quechua music has a strong following, as it has in France for years. Additionally, they were surprised at my fondness for a group with communist leanings. During the time they were with us, I picked up some music from them to which I still listen regularly.

Cancion Nueva is music indigenous to Latin America. It often draws heavily on Quechua and Aymara influences. It is laced with a message of leftist nationalist pride. A recurring theme in it is the idea that the people of South America should discover, celebrate and propagate their heritage rather than import pop music from the US. I have heard the same arguments in Jewish circles revolve around asserting one's Jewishness. There is African American pride as well. I find that people who are learning and celebrating their heritage often develop something to give the world.

Inti Illimani had the good fortune to be in Italy on tour in 1973 when Agosto Pinochet and the military junta he headed seized power in September of that year, overthrowing a communist led government that was feared by many to be turning Chile into another Cuba. Inti Illimani had a lengthy and artistically productive exile in Italy, where their music enjoyed a strong leftist following.

Victor Jara, a renowned Chilean singer, was not so fortunate. He was in Santiago when the coup occurred. He was brutally beaten and murdered in the Soccer Stadium where he and about 5000 others were held. His death set the tone for the next decade and a half, a time during which free enterprise flourished and political freedom was brutally curtailed. Arlo Guthrie did a song about Victor Jara that conveys well the horror of his death. My favourite song of Victor Jara was once a hit in Chile. "Ni Chicha Ni Limona" which translates approximately as "Neither Chicha Nor Soda Pop" is a metaphoric allusion in which chicha, a home brewed peasant alcoholic beverage and limona, which can refer to Coke, Sprite or any American style soda pop, symbolise native Chilean versus wannabee American culture.

A lot of Latin American politics is driven by the rift between Indians and people of predominantly Spanish ancestry. To a large extent, one's percentage of Spanish blood heavily influences one's social standing. The election of Evo Morales, for instance was as much a source of pride to Bolivia's Aymara population as was Barack Obama's election to African Americans.

Unfortunately, Latin America has a long way to go in bridging the gap between its different ethnic strains. In too many instances, fluency in an Indian language, be it Mayan in Mexico or Quechua in Peru is a marker of poverty. The strains of historical narrative differ widely when told from an Indian rather than a Spanish point of view. Such differences are far more intense than the difference between an American Southerner and a Northerner looking at the civil war.

Unique in South America is Paraguay. Paraguay is the only country in South America where both Spanish and an Indian language enjoy civic and legal equality. Both languages are taught in the Paraguayan schools. There are very many people there who are of Spanish rather than Guarani Indian ancestry who are fluent in Guarani. There is much speculation about the origins of Guarani. It is commonly thought that Guarani hails from Asia. A Paraguayan Jewish friend of mine is convinced that the Guarani Indians are one of the lost tribes.

South America offers an interesting point of comparison with the United States. However turbulent our race relations have been, we have evolved a great deal since the time the Republic was founded. With the large number of immigrants from Central and South America, it is certainly desirable to have some idea of their social frame of reference. My Argentinian guests informed me, for instance that most of Argentina's Afro Argentinians were wiped out in the 19th century in a calculated campaign of ethnic cleansing. There are many tiles in the South American ethnic mosaic, and a multitude of stories to go with them.

My approach to comparative cultures is like bringing my children to the park. I note how other families relate. Some of what I see is instructive, sometimes it is dysfunctional. Observing the family of nations is similarly instructive. I hope in our modern era of globalisation, that world music will achieve something approaching a mass following. The shrinking of the world is a great opportunity to see past our own driveways. There is a balance between being and developing ourselves and appreciating others. that is the dance of life.


The three videos with this article are as follows.
1) Guarani and Spanish in Paraguay (Link only, not the video)

2) VictorJara, Ni Chicha Ni Limona

3) Arlo Guthrie's Song for Victor Jara

Guarani and Spanish in Paraguay

Victor Jara: Ni Chicha Ni Limona

Arlo Guthrie: Victor Jara Song Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama: Look Folks! No Shirt Tails !

In the best of circumstances, the President of the United States is able to influence local races for Governor and for Congress. The expression is known as "shirt tails". When President Obama came to New York, everyone was watching how he greeted the Governor of New York with icy distance and then damned him with faint praise. Andrew Cuomo, aspiring Crown Prince of New York's fledgling political dynasty basked in the praise of President Obama and his teleprompter. Everyone in the lap dog press was breathlessly reporting every nuance of Emperor Obama's choreographed snub of the sitting Governor and his anointment of Crown Prince Cuomo II.

After Obama's quick visit to New York, he climbed back on his pedestal and declined to make any endorsement in the New York City mayoral race between Republican Mike Bloomberg and Democrat Bill Thompson, for the ostensible reason that he does not take sides.

It does not seem like Obama has much faith in his own ability to persuade. Even more telling is Obama's lack of willingness to go up against RINO (Republican in Name Only) Mike Bloomberg, who has purchased the acquiescence of a docile press that President Obama could only dream of. Now, Governor Patterson has returned the favour by mentioning the elephant in the room that no one has mentioned in dismissing the value of an Obama endorsement. reports as follows.

"If you look at it from their perspective, they haven’t exactly been able to govern in the first year of their administration in the way that other administrations have, where you would have, theoretically, a period in which the new administration is allowed to pass the needed pieces of legislation."

A quote like that is enough to make me a member of the David Patterson fan club. The last time he got anyone so mad was when he had the audacity not to anoint Caroline Kennedy as Hillary Clinton's replacement in the US Senate.

Now President Obama has gone to Pittsburgh. While there, he has promoted the discredited doctrine of global warming . You would think that the Europeans who fawned over Obama when he was running for President would be delighted. Unfortunately for Obama, he is getting a rude lesson in world politics. His reception at the G20 summit has been nothing short of underwhelming. Even with his friendly lip service to global warming theories, the G20 leaders are not giving him any respect. It is not likely that Obama will be forgiven for being American.

Maybe there is finally dawning on the world the idea that green technology has to be funded, and that a crippled economy will not likely be able to fund technological change. Obama the new President reminds me of a puppy rushing into a flock of pigeons, frightening all and catching none. He aspires to be a king maker and a champion of greening an economy that has been browning in the wake of an economic drought. He is making the same mistake in the economy as he is making in New York City politics, which is heavy handed interference rather than thoughtfully using government influence. It is far better to encourage industry to tackle solutions to economic and environmental problems than to throw buckets of freshly printed money at them.

It may be a blessing in disguise that the value of an Obama endorsement has tanked with the stock market. His flawed economic ideas cry out for a healthy debate, as do his ideas on health care. Even here in New York City, skepticism is starting to creep in about the wisdom of Obamanomics.

It is most telling that Obama has refused to speak against Emperor Mike Bloomberg, who, lacking only in charisma seeks to create a Peronist style movement in which he is the central focus. Many are concluding that a strong debate between two healthy political parties would be best for New York City. Mike Bloomberg, in promoting himself has totally neglected restoring two party vibrancy to New York City.

The problem with the value of an Obama endorsement is the same as the problem with the US dollar. In order to be worth something, there has to be something behind it. Right now, Obama should be concentrating on the economy and on rising joblessness. if with G-d's help he will be able to afford decent shirt tails, suitable for use during political campaigns. Until then, his influence will be minimal, which is perhaps for the best. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 21, 2009

Korpiklaani: Folk Rock From Finland

Finland has long fascinated me. It was actually fortunate enough to have separated from Russia in 1917, when Lenin let it go without a fight. I used to have a couple of Finnish stamps that were issued by the Czarist government that also had Russian writing on them. They actually survived a war with Stalin's Soviet Union in 1939 and 1940 by giving up some territory and control over foreign policy. During World War Two, they were allied with Nazi Germany yet insisted on maintaining complete civic equality for their Jewish population of about 1500 people.

After exploring a country's history, I always check out their music. While looking for Finnish music, I found a Finnish heavy metal group known as Korpiklaani that sings in Finnish. Their name translates into English as "Wilderness Clan". Although some of its repertoire reminds me of the German group "Rammstein", Korpiklaani distinguishes itself with a repertoire that includes a blend of Finnish folk music with heavy metal. A lot of videos celebrate the natural beauty of Finland. One song, "Keep on Galloping shows the band putting some kind of hex on a logger. At the end of the video, the logger seems to have morphed into a mellow tree lover.

The group has been through various incarnations under different names. Its leader Jonne Jarvela started out in 1993 heading a Sami folk music group known as Shamaani Duo. Then Jarvela relocated and changed the name of the group to Shaman. The group has had its current name since 2001. When Korpiklaani took its current name, the language of its music switched from Sami (spoken in the region known in the rest of the world as Lapland) to Finnish.

The band has achieved some popularity outside Finland. Its web site shows a tour which includes stops in Germany and in France. It seems to be building a fan base with time, even without singing in a more widely known language than Finnish. One of my favourite songs of theirs is "Running with Wolves" which is entirely instrumental. I have the same experience with Korpiklaani that I do with Led Zeppelin in that a lot of their music is too heavy for me. With Led Zeppelin, there were a few songs, most notably "Stairway to Heaven" that I liked and the rest that I ignored.

I am probably going to explore some more folk rock from Finland and the rest of Scandinavia, settling on music that showcases the beauty and uniqueness of local languages.

We are fortunate to live in times when the music of the world is only a few keystrokes away from our computer screens. The music of the world is ours for the asking on you tube and elsewhere. What a great time to be alive! I hope you enjoy the selection.

Korpiklaani "Metsamies"

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Joyous and Peaceful New year, 5770

Eighteen minutes before sunset today, September 18, Jews around the world will be ushering in the New Year. The New Year, Rosh HaShanah will be the year 5770, which is the number of years since the creation of the world. The holiday ends Sunday night

Although it is a holiday which is exclusive to the Jewish calendar, it pertains to the entire world, since the creation was completed on that day.

There is a critical component of prayer that takes place on the New Year, in which people ask G-d for a year that is indisputably good in all respects. But resolutions are also critical. To assess oneself and to ask how one might make a difference. because a critical aspect of the sojourn of the human race on this planet is that we are the sole species created with free will.

For better or worse, the world as we know it is in the state that it is in because of the choices we have made, as individuals and as communities. It is a good idea to step back and ask what we have done with our free will, how we can improve ourselves and the world we have affected.

You can have a kitchen full of ingredients, and not have a meal. It takes work and knowledge to make dinner of disparate ingredients. The world is a lot like that. We could feed a lot more people that the earth currently supports. We could provide for our basic needs and find ways to celebrate our differences. We all know that this is far from how things are. The reason lies within ourselves.

If the world could be compared to a computer, it could be said that people are trying to run it with faulty operating systems. Millions have been killed in the last hundred years because someone believed in communism, Nazism or some other ism enough to be willing to kill for it. G-d did not create the world without an operating system. He gave us the Torah and a set of rules that are for our good.

A friend of mine, Shmuel Klatzkin told me a story in Boston about 30 years ago. In it, a man was shown heaven and hell. When he was shown a glimpse of hell, it was a beautifully appointed banquet hall. The sole disturbing feature was that the banquet guests had no elbows. They lunged desperately at their plates, soiling their clothing, breaking dishes and leaving the floor slick with spilled food. The man cringed in horror from the vision he saw, and asked to be shown heaven.

The next room the man was shown was also a banquet hall just as lavish as the one he saw in hell. Not only that, but the guests also had no elbows. Unlike hell, however, there was a quiet hum of conversation, and no spills or screaming. What was the difference? The guests fed each other. Each ate their choice and their fill, and left in clean clothes. The difference in heaven was that the guests looked at their limitations and thought of each other. In hell, it was every man for himself, and the banquet hall there reflected it.

We are faced with the same sort of choices. Each of us has his defects and limitations. What will we make of the world we have been given? Will we think of each other? Or will we think only of ourselves? G-d is looking through the window of our banquet hall. Are we thinking of each other? Heaven or hell is ours to make, by virtue of the choices we make. May G-d guide us in making the proper choices in the upcoming year and rescue us from the poor choices of years past. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Beatles And Abba Across the Big Pond

There are a lot of musical groups that do very well in Europe and have an extremely limited following in the United States. For years, Julio Iglesias, who sings in quite a few languages had only limited success here. I am very fond of the music of Demis Roussos, who counts English as one of the languages in which he sings.

I still remember when the Beatles went on Ed Sullivan in 1964. I was about seven years old. It took a couple of years for me and my siblings to warm up to them. But the next morning in school, everyone was going wild about the Beatles. One kid had a Beatles wig, and a lot of the girls had decorated their lockers with Beatles pictures from fan magazines. My favourite Beatles moment was when they tossed some medals they had been given over the gates of Buckingham palace to protest British support of Nigeria in the Biafran war of secession between 1967 and 1970. Additionally, there was the Paul McCartney song in 1972. It was banned in Britain and a hit in Boston. In Britain, it could not even be mentioned on the BBC.

Whether I agree with someone or not, I have respect for someone who is willing to go against the grain. Muhammed Ali could have kept his heavyweight title and served in the US Army. He would have gotten a creampuff assignment. Instead, he gave up his heavyweight title and resisted the draft. I believe he was misguided, but he still stood on principle. I respect the man even if I disagree with him.

The Beatles had been performing in the UK and in Europe well before they came to the US. A friend of mine sent me a video of the Beatles performing on Swedish television. It is interesting watching the audience, to observe their attire and their decidedly more subdued manner of showing approval. It is also worth noting that the audience is Swedish, responding to a song in English. The vast majority of Swedes are fluent in a language other than Swedish. It is simple arithmetic. When only a few million people speak your language, it makes common sense to learn a more widely spoken language. There is with this a certain awareness of life beyond your national borders that has to be cultivated when you come from a large country like Russia or the US.

I am presenting with this posting the 1963 video from Swedish television. Additionally, I am presenting the video of the famous group ABBA singing their mega hit "SOS" in Swedish, which is after all their native tongue. I hope my readers will watch and listen to listen to both videos.

The Beatles on Swedish Television

ABBA SOS in Swedish Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cruelty to Furry Animals in China

Warning: Disturbing video content. Parental advisory

Last night I was looking on You Tube for music and news clips and accidentally found a Swiss documentary on the treatment of animals in China. I am a meat eater. In principle, I have nothing against wearing leather shoes or fur, although I wear fur but rarely, if ever. The video I saw raised disturbing questions about the treatment of animals in China. It showed animals crammed into small cages and thrown off of trucks. Since they were on their stomachs, painful internal injuries were a certainty. Some animals wore collars according to the narrator. This indicated that they were once pets who had been stolen from their owners.

What was most disturbing was actual footage of animals that had awakened from being stunned and were skinned alive. There was actual footage of a skinned animal blinking in its death throes. I have read of biblical prohibitions against tearing a limb from an animal that is still alive. I could not think of any modern instance in which this occurred, until I saw this film.

The first part of the film shows numbing squalor. The second part shows animals being skinned alive, struggling, breathing and blinking after being stripped of their skin.

China's fur industry is the largest in the world. It exports $2 billion dollars worth of pelts that are used in other countries. It is not always possible to trace the origin of a fur that may be labeled as coming from elsewhere. The only animal rights laws they have apply to animals in the wild. Once an animal is the possession of a human being, it loses all rights under Chinese law.

Westerners have set up factories from scratch in China. It should be possible to set up breeding facilities and processing plants that use humane procedures. There are ways to skin animals that are dead, and it is possible to skin them when they are dead. This would not be good enough for PETA, but it would satisfy the humanitarian objections of most consumers.

There is a black market in diamonds in the Congo and neighbouring African countries. When it became known that warlords were benefiting from their diamond trade, certification procedures were set up to ensure that no "blood diamonds" made it into the diamond trade. For those who care, it became possible to trace the origin of a diamond and to deny support to warlords. It should be possible to have such procedures in place to assure minimal humane standards for animals that are bred for the fur trade.

China is a paradise for western businessmen, who do not have to worry about labour laws for humans, humane laws for animals or environmental laws for the earth. The ruling elite benefits from this arrangement as the Chinese people foot the bill. It is the hidden cost of the low prices of Chinese goods.

Anyone who wears fur that comes from China is sustaining systematised animal cruelty. If this does not matter to us, it won't matter to the barons of the Chinese fur trade. We can and should insist that the animals that provide fur and leather for human use are treated humanely. Beauty that is rooted in cruelty is truly only skin deep.

Fur in China Part 1

Fur in China Part 2 Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Nanny State Rules Proposed in NYC

New York City is contemplating extending its smoking ban to beaches and parks. The move is one of a few moves being contemplated by Mayor Bloomberg if he is reelected (heaven forbid) in November. The Daily Mail reports as follows on the latest extension of the nanny state in New York City

"If the proposals go ahead tourists could be fined for lighting up in Central Park, the 843-acre wilderness that attracts 25 million visitors a year, or ordered off the city’s seven beaches.

Health Commissioner Dr Thomas Farley announced the outdoor smoking ban as part of a huge dossier aimed at improving New Yorkers’ health over the next three years.

The plans also include ways of cutting obesity rates and drug and alcohol abuse."

New York City already has the most expensive cigarettes in the nation. Many see the latest move as an attempt to create the illusion that all other problems in the city have been solved, and that with the free time on its hands, the city can now work on smoking and other bad habits. What seems even more likely is that the proposed rules are another attempt to raise money through summonses.

Meanwhile Zagreb, Croatia has reversed its smoking ban after cafe and restaurant owners complained that it was bad for business AFP reports as follows.

"ZAGREB — The Croatian government unveiled Thursday proposals to water down new legislation banning smoking in public following a backlash from cafe and restaurant owners.

According to proposed amendments forwarded to the parliament, cafes smaller than 50 square metres (538 square feet) will be allowed to decide whether they will be a smoking or non-smoking location after meeting certain criteria.

Bigger cafes will also be allowed to have a smoking zone, provided it does not cover more than 20 percent of the establishment's overall surface area.

Since the law banning smoking in all public places was introduced in May, managers of cafes and restaurants say their businesses are being ruined."

The percentage of smokers in America has dropped due to increasing public awareness of the risks of smoking. legislation that mandates providing information to consumers also enables individuals to make wise health choices. People who must regulate salt or sugar, for instance find nutrition labels helpful.

The fad of sweeping bans on public smoking is deeply insulting to the public. In open spaces the only prohibition should be on littering. People should be required not to leave their cigarette butts on the street.

There has been a disturbing tendency in New York City of deals being made behind closed doors with city Council members to pass unpopular legislation, instead of listening to constituents. This has been one disadvantage of having a billionaire mayor. From term limits to the trans fat ban, New Yorkers are saddled with unpopular, patronising legislation. Democracy has become a sham as Mayor Bloomberg studiously avoids seeking popular approval for ideas he knows to be very unpopular.

We have had nanny state legislation shoved down our throats, as well as a repeal of mayoral term limits custom tailored to our billionaire mayor. We have a chance to enforce the term limits that were voted for in open referenda in 1993 and 1996 by the New York City electorate and repealed in 2008 by the City Council. The only thing that can be said about permitting Bloomberg to run again is that the deal was not made in a smoke filled room.

A billionaire can not be bought. That has been a selling point for Bloomberg as mayor. Unfortunately, a billionaire can buy a lot of influence, especially if he makes his billions in the news media. In eight years of Bloomberg being mayor, we have seen the will of the people treated as an annoying inconvenience. The latest extension of the smoking ban as well as Mike Bloomberg pushing through a run for a third term are clear indicators that our elected representatives do not feel they have to answer to us. Today's Democratic primary will yield a victor who can reject the political culture of indifference to the people. We have one last chance in November to vote for common sense in public health policy as well as the term mayoral term limits that were stolen from us by our city Council. It's up to us. I think the choice is clear Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 14, 2009

NYC Elections: This Time, We Have A Choice

The last two times Mike Bloomberg ran for mayor, he was running against Freddie Ferrer, the Democratic Party nominee. Without hesitation, I voted for Mike Bloomberg, despite my gut level feeling that he was insensitive to the concerns of citizens in the outer boroughs who earn less than a million dollars a year.

What was so awful about Freddie Ferrer? Ferrer criticised the one part of Rudy Giuliani's record that was unassailable, and that was Giuliani's record on crime. At a time when the anemic mayoralty of David Dinkins was in general disrepute, Ferrer spoke up for the Dinkins record. Anyone who lived through the Crown Heights riots or experienced the ubiquitous levels of low level criminality that blighted our existence took Ferrer's pre election posture as a wake up call.

The current crop of Democratic mayoral nominees does not face the voter with such a stark choice. Bill Thompson, who is likely to win the Democratic nomination has not made the mistake of criticising common sense "broken windows" law enforcement policies. I do not feel that I have to choose between a mayor like Ferrer who has fundamentally flawed ideas on crime and a man like Bloomberg, who views the Brooklyn skyline as a distant vista on his political landscape.

Voters who feel that their borough is being mined for tickets and that they are being nickeled and dimed to death look at Thompson with optimism. Although New York's three main newspapers have focused the limelight on Mayor Bloomberg, it will look almost Orwellian if such a ridiculous charade persists after tomorrow's primary.

Bill Thompson has been a City Comptroller since 2001, in truly trying times. He worked his way up in the system, and did not get or buy any hard breaks. If the New York Post and the New York Times choose to ignore him, the people will not. In any normal political environment, Bill Thompson, the son of a Supreme Court justice and a city school teacher would attract widespread attention from the media. This election is anything but typical. A media mogul, a billionaire like Bloomberg can pull strings that most people don't even know exist.

When the New York Post trumpets Bill Thompson owing $1000.00 on water bills and sends Andrea Peyser to interview an ex wife, they inadvertently do Bill Thompson a favour. I have heard far too many people panic because of water bills from the city. I have known far too many decent people who have been badmouthed by a vindictive spouse. When Bill Thompson gets the coverage he gets from the Post, he becomes Everyman. Mike Bloomberg can pay for all the silence he wants. The rest of us have to live with ourselves.

In any election with a candidate other than Bloomberg, an African American with a good shot at the Democratic nomination would get respectful press coverage. But New York under Emperor Mike Bloomberg is not a normal place.

There are countries like Swaziland and North Korea where the king or national leader pays to have songs of praise composed and broadcast at all hours. We laugh at such places with a smug sense of superiority. In New York under Mike Bloomberg, we are not at all far from such an approach to political news coverage. After tomorrow's primary, it will be impossible even for Emperor Mike to ignore the fact that he is indeed running against a viable candidate.

When I was a boy, our house was robbed. Our dog was sleeping soundly. A sleeping pill in a meatball gave the thieves the complete run of our house as drug induced sleep turned a temperamental dog into a sleeping lamb. Mike Bloomberg swaggers through New York with the same self assurance as the team of burglars that breezed through our home forty years ago. With his billions and his media empire, he can afford a lot of meatballs. It is clear that the mainstream media of New York is lapping up Bloomberg's meatball stew. But New Yorkers have a choice. We have woken up from the fog. There is a choice tomorrow, and we know it. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank You NYPD

In the last few days, I have had some inconveniences, for which I am very grateful.

The first was last Thursday, at the Goodwill store in downtown Brooklyn. I made a purchase of a lap top carrying case that would have cost a lot more if it were brand new. I also bought some great hardcover books about Fiorello LaGuardia and Queen Victoria. The cashier asked me for ID when I paid with a credit card. It had happened before. I thanked her for making sure that I was really the one whose name was on my credit card. I wish everyone cared as much.

That same night, my daughter was getting ready to take a bus trip. The cops pulled her over and asked for ID. They asked to see the contents of her wallet. She looks younger than her age, so they thought she was a runaway. She almost missed her bus, but they were kind enough to make sure the driver waited. It was a pain in the neck. But I am grateful to the police. I don't want them to be too shy to pull over a real runaway in the Port Authority. I'd rather they make a few mistakes. What really impressed me was that my son got pulled over five years ago as a suspected runaway when he was old enough to vote. They let him go when it was clear that he was old enough to vote. but the information was still in the NYPD data base. I hope they keep that up. You never know when info like that might be useful later.

Tonight, I dropped my daughter off and parked my motor cycle in the back yard. The cops asked my daughter who was going to the back yard. She said it was her father. I feel very reassured that police are willing to ask questions, to make observations and act on them. I hope there are more such interactions between police and citizens.

For every twenty stops, maybe one might lead to the discovery of a crime. That is my guess. I respect the police for continuing to ask questions. I am sure older police have a better batting average. But I do not mind being part of on the job training.

I feel a lot safer knowing that citizens are being watched. I know the difference between looking for possible criminal behavior and monitoring political speech. And I think the NYPD does as well.

I wish every cashier would ask for ID when a credit card is presented. Unfortunately, such requests are in my experience all too rare.

New York has become a lot friendlier and a lot safer since I moved here thirty years ago. the lion's share of this major improvement is due to the many nameless individuals who have been doing their jobs. I hope more people follow the example of the cashier at the Goodwill store. and to the NYPD I say thank you. Keep asking questions. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11, Of Arrows and Olive Branches

Today is supposed to be a day of national service, declared by President Obama. I still remember vividly the dazed look on the faces of passer by in Brooklyn. There was a shock, a numbness. It reminded me of when I stuck my entire hand into scalding water. The first few seconds, I felt nothing. After that, I felt searing pain.

America was like that when the planes hit. After the numbed silence came the anger. The natural question was "Who did this?"

In other places, there was honking of car horns in the street. There was celebration. We live in a world where some people are proud to raise a son to be a suicide bomber. Some actually take the trouble to come to America, to live among us and to kill us. And there are those who sponsor them.

There are those who believe that if we show enough kindness, enough respect and enough flexibility in understanding our enemies, that we can turn them into friends. The track record of success for this approach is real poor. It makes no distinction between those who are out to physically destroy us, those who like us and those in between. The foreign policy upon which this is based involves giving the cold shoulder to reliable friends like Britain and Germany, and cozying up to the rough crowd. It has not worked. The last believer in this misguided path was Jimmy Carter. His spiritual godfather is Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister of Britain, who sought to purchase "peace in our time" with Czech territory. History did not absolve his "audacity of hope" any more than the millions did who were killed in World War Two.

September 11 is, despite not being a national holiday is a formative milestone in the history of our country. I consider it to be a time of patriotic reflection.

Upon what do I reflect? I think of the eagle on the dollar bill. In its right claw is arrows, symbolising war, or at least the bearing of arms to defend the peace. In the right claw is the olive branch, symbolising peace. The olive tree actually produces food, in the form of oil and olives. Its oil is sometimes burned for light.

There are those who are temperamentally suited for peaceful pursuits, for caring professions and for acts of kindness. And there are those who take up the arrows of our time, such as soldiers and policemen. Almost no one is totally peaceful or totally warlike. For an individual or a nation to survive, they must sensibly balance these tendencies.

The eagle on the dollar bill clasps in its beak a banner saying "E pluribus unum," which translates as "Out of many, one." This involves fashioning America's diverse elements into an orderly society, it involves using our G-d given minds to harmonise the arrows and the olive branch.

Those who seek to placate our enemies, to follow a path of pacifism evoke images of an eagle that has dropped its arrows. Those who on the other extreme espouse Darwinian capitalism seem more intent on dropping the olive branch. I believe that the seal on the dollar bill represents the middle path that should be our future.

There are some holidays that belong more to the olive branch than to the arrows. Thanksgiving is such a holiday. September 11, a formative day in our history without an agreed upon name seems to belong more to the arrows. A fitting observance of this holiday would be to honour our police, military and firemen for their defense of the peace we so treasure.

I fear that a day of public service envisioned by President Obama should not be scheduled for September 11. Each of the major faiths in America has time and resources devoted to "extending the olive branch." Kindness and compassion will not be endangered if honour is given to our armed peace keepers on September 11.

The lessons of 9/11 are still being learned. I feel that President Obama has a firm grip on the olive branch. I don't know about the arrows. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Caster Semenya Gender Mystery Solved

The controversy over South African Olympic runner has taken a strange turn. Tests to determine the biological gender of Caster Semenya established not only extremely high levels of testosterone but the presence of internal male organs. The Brisbane Times reports as follows.

"WORLD champion 800 metre runner Caster Semenya has been revealed to have both male and female sexual organs, posing an ethical and political quandary for the world international athletics body, the IAAF, and South Africa.

Extensive physical and emotional examinations of Semenya, 18, have shown the athlete is technically a hermaphrodite.

Medical reports indicate she has no ovaries, but rather has internal testes, producing amounts of testosterone considered abnormal for a woman."

Efforts to conduct tests to determine if Semenya was properly classified by gender were hampered by indignation among South Africans, who saw racism in the decision to challenge Caster Semenya's qualifications. On a simple human level, sympathy ran high for the Semenya family, whose "fifteen minutes of fame turned into an embarassing examination of personal medical history.

What should be done? Caster Semenya was believed by her family to be a female and was in fact raised as such. She participated in good faith in sports in which she excelled. Despite this, it was discovered that she had a rare medical condition. It would have been far better to conduct the tests privately and to let the current Olympic medal line up stand. A ruling for this rare situation should pertain to future competitions, but not this one. What is far more important is that the feelings of athletes and their families be respected, even as the rules of sportsmanship are upheld and enforced.

There may be significant health issues for Caster Semenya, issues she should get help in addressing. The psychological damage of intrusive publicity should not be part of the mix.

I do not believe racism was involved in flagging Caster Semenya. There were numerous instances of athletes from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 60's and 70's who were widely reported to have been treated by "sport doctors" in a manner that would not be allowed under current regulations. It is such memories that probably lurk in the back of veteran Olympics observers.

The situation with Caster Semenya is rare. It was handled terribly. It should be studied as a case history on how not to handle such matters in the future. She is an honest athlete in a rare situation. I wish her well. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fanged Frogs and Kangaroos in Trees?

A corner of the world that seldom gets world attention is Papua New Guinea. Scientists have returned from a jungle area in Papua New Guinea breathless with excitement at a treasure trove of heretofore unheard of species that have come to the attention of science. The Guardian reports as follows.

"They found the three-kilometre wide crater populated by spectacular birds of paradise and in the absence of big cats and monkeys, which are found in the remote jungles of the Amazon and Sumatra, the main predators are giant monitor lizards while kangaroos have evolved to live in trees. New species include a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo grunter, named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder.

"These discoveries are really significant," said Steve Backshall, a climber and naturalist who became so friendly with the never-before seen Bosavi silky cuscus, a marsupial that lives up trees and feeds on fruits and leaves, that it sat on his shoulder."

Although the land that is being explored is owned by local tribes, it remains so unexplored by humans that local species have no fear of humans. The species have bred and developed over centuries to the extent that they are separate and distinct from species that exist elsewhere. The rain forest in Papua New Guinea is reported to be destroyed at a rate of 3.5% a year, leading to fears that many species could become extinct even as they are being discovered.

An alternative to destroying jungles to make room for humans would be to look to the rain forests for medical remedies and replenishable resources that could enhance human existence. A middle road between destroying ecosystems and turning our back on development would be to tread softly, to look for renewable plant life that could enhance life without destroying the system from which it came.

Papua New Guinea also has interesting human resources. Before it was colonised by Europeans, its people spoke a multitude of languages. Colonisation and development made it necessary for its tribes to communicate with each other, and to communicate with Europeans. Pidgin English developed as a result. Pidgin is a generic term for a language composed of a few hundred words drawn from a colonising language and local languages. There are many such languages, such as Chinese Pidgin English and assorted African pidgin languages. The process also occurs in other colonising languages.

A sampling of PNG Pidgin English is as follows. It is drawn from a dictionary I found on line.

bury - planim
bus - bas, PMV
bush - bus
bush knife - busnaip
bush Pig, wild pig - welpig
businessman - man bisnis
busy - i gat wok
busy (doing something) - wok long
but - tasol
butter - bata
buttock - as
button - baten
buttress root - kil bilong diwai
buy - baim

cabbage - kabis
cake - kek
calendar - kalenda
calf of leg - baksait bilong lek

I have also included a Pidgin English translation of the story of creation with which the Scriptures begin in one of the videos with this posting.

It is a humbling thought that so much remains unknown and undiscovered on our small planet after so many generations of history and after so much technological advancement. The newly discovered species in Papua New Guinea and the intelligent manner that their design and function matches their unique environment is a reminder that the human race should tread softly in the earth of which we are citizens. With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility.

There is much to be learned from this remote corner of the world. We should learn from it in a manner that leaves it a better place

Pidgin English rendition of biblical creation story

Video of newly discovered life forms in Papua New Guinea
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Israelites" in Brooklyn

I was coming home from shul this afternoon with my sons. There is one corner near my home that has become a sort of open air market for everything from t shirts to soda and bootleg movies. Often a group calling themselves "Israelites" sets up a sound system and starts haranguing passers by about how African Americans are the true Jews. Their usual attire is a cross between a priest's vestments and a costume for a high school play. Any time they see a Jew in a yarmulka or wearing a prayer shawl, they immediately launch into a rant against "the white man's religion" and "fake Jews". A former coworker of mine who is a white woman married to a dark skinned Hispanic passed by these people with her husband and listened to him being berated over a loudspeaker for betraying his race. My daughters heard an angry diatribe about how white Jewish women would one day be their *****es.

Unfortunately, New York state's legal eagles have extended free speech protection to the verbal abuse of pedestrians over loudspeakers. The only law that is occasionally enforced regarding these individuals concerns noise.

It is impossible to listen to the Israelites without thinking of the "Christian Identity" Aryan style spinoff from Christianity. The two seem to be spiritual twins. Both groups are dependent upon the existence of a racial enemy to have any sense of help. In the case of the Israelites, to whom I have regular (unwanted) exposure, there is no focus on being a good person or strengthening the family and community. If there were no Jews or white people for the Israelites to hate, they would be at a loss to define themselves.

The image of this group of hate contorted men remained in my mind's eye on the way home. There is a lesson to be learned in everything we see, even if it is only by negative example.

I started questioning myself as I thought of the passing encounter. Do I define myself by my hatred? I don't tell racist jokes. But do I gossip for a sense of superiority? What about office politicss? There are times to hate. There is a time to take up arms. But does that define who I am or what I believe in. What are my core beliefs? How do I fight for what I believe in? Do I respect the humanity of my adversary.

The men who were preaching hate on a hot Saturday afternoon were middle aged. They probably had children. What do they teach at their dinner table? Is it anything like what they say on the street?

I have no illusions of winning these hate filled individuals over. I could see them putting down the megaphone and taking up the rifle. But I feel a deep and saddened sense of pity when I see these people. I sense a cavernous spiritual emptiness at the core of their being. I have met a couple of Israelites who turned away from this hate cult to real Jewish faith. It it is that which I wish for these empty men in purple costumes. The best way to eliminate enemies is to turn them into friends. I hope that when the Israelites get to the end of their dead end spiritual road that they turn around and look for something real. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wrongfully Imprisoned Compensated in Texas

There is a lot for which Texas prisons can be criticised. They are riddled with violence that is far more frequently perpetrated by inmates that guards, with a blind eye turned by the prison administration. But Texas has passed legislation that is a shining beacon of light to other states. The State of Texas has passed legislation that compensates the wrongly convicted with a generous package of monetary compensation and post incarceration counseling and educational assistance to ease the transition to life on the outside. Associated Press reports as follows.

"Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year - making it by far the nation's most generous package."

The article continues as follows in describing the services provided to exonerees.

"Exonerees also receive an array of social services, including job training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment. Though 27 other states have some form of compensation law for the wrongly convicted, none comes close to offering the social services and money Texas provides.

The annuity payments are especially popular among exonerees, who acknowledge their lack of experience in managing personal finances. A social worker who meets with the exonerees is setting them up with financial advisers and has led discussions alerting them to swindlers.

The annuities are "a way to guarantee these guys ... payments for life as long as they follow the law," said Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney representing a dozen exonerees."

The compensation paid by the State of Texas is given on the condition that the exoneree drops all litigation against the Texas government. The size and scope of the compensation provided is a strong incentive for the wrongfully convicted to settle. Additionally, it corrects an anomaly in which parolees who were justly convicted received more help in fitting back into society than people who were belatedly found innocent. It is worth noting in reading the AP article that one attorney alone was able to find a dozen exonerees.

If prison and capital punishment are an expression of society's anger at criminal behavior, this law in Texas is a fitting expression of society's aversion to wrongfully inflicted punishment. It is a tribute to the decency of the Texan legislature and people that this law was passed. If there are hundreds or thousands of wrongfully convicted who need to be compensated for their years in prison, then we must step up to the plate and pay the price.

I hope that other states follow the lead of Texas in passing similar legislation. There are two additional steps that should be considered in Texas and elsewhere.

1) Restructure prisons in a way that cuts out prison violence and does away with the need for seeking protection by joining prison gangs. Prisons should be austere yet safe places in which restitution and rehabilitation are part of the program. Whether innocent or guilty, those incarcerated should not be so traumatised by their prison experience that they experience a life time of mental illness.

2) It is expensive to incarcerate a prisoner. Prisoners should have proper representation prior to conviction to make sure that innocent people are not being locked up.

Texas has long had issues with violence in prisons. It has a lot to do to clean that problem up. But it should be saluted and emulated for its trailblazing work in compensating the wrongfully convicted. Thank you Texas.

Innocence Project of Texas Sphere: Related Content