Thursday, December 31, 2009

Greeks in Turkey Suffer Discrimination

Tension continues between Turkey's Greek minority and the Turkish government. Although there are only about 10,000 Greeks in Turkey today, at the turn of the century there were 2 million Greeks living in Turkey. Discrimination against the tiny Greek minority continues even now that they are less than 10,000 people out of over 70 million people.

Istanbul remains the center of the Greek Orthodox Church, as it has been for 1000 years. Despite its historical importance to Greeks around the world and its important role in the history of Istanbul, the Greek Orthodox Church must run a gauntlet of bureaucratic impediments to do even the simplest things such as maintaining church property or ordaining priests. AINA News reports as follows about Greek-Turkish tensions.

"The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said in an interview on a American television show last week that Turkey's leaders, including the prime minister, have been unresponsive to concrete concerns he raised about religious inequality in the country. The interview has been condemned by the Turkish government. This latest row comes as international criticism is growing over Turkey's treatment of its small Christian minority which numbers less than one percent of its population.

One of the world's most important Christian leaders, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, lives in a country where 99 percent of the population is Muslim. As the patriarch of 300 million Orthodox Christians, he lives in Istanbul, Turkey where his church has been headquartered for more than 1,000 years.

By citizenship his nationality is Turkish, but he belongs ethnically to the small remnants of the Greek community in Turkey".

One of the major sticking points in relations between the Greek Orthodox church and the Turkish government has been the situation of the Halki Seminary, a historical site of the Greek Church which was closed in 1971. It was built on the ruins of a monastery that was built in the 9th century. In 1844, a seminary was founded on the site that trained candidates for the priesthood from around the world. It was closed because of a Turkish law that was passed banning private schools within the Turkish republic.

The laws which have encumbered the Greek church in Turkey have also been used against private madrassas with questionable aims. Those who are sticklers for legal fine points use "equality under law" as a reason to keep the Halki seminary closed despite the disproportionate effect to this measure upon the Greek Church and the Greek minority in Turkey. There is no chance whatsoever of a tiny minority of Greek Turks taking over the Turkish Republic.

Additionally, Turkey has a law requiring that the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) be a Turkish citizen. In looking at the history of the Catholic church in Italy, the last two Popes have been German and Polish. There have been clear understandings between the Vatican and Italy that limited the church's power. This was a needed response to the excesses of the Papal States, in which the Catholic Church ran a theocracy in central Italy. The Italian model might well be a prototype for mutual respect between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Turkish Republic.

If Turkey wishes to have closer relations with Europe, including EU membership, bringing its standards of religious freedom up to those in the rest of Europe should be a prerequisite to such closeness.

Turkey's Greek population has a long history in Turkey. It should be respected and preserved. The virtual absence of Greeks in Turkey did not come about through a natural process. The pogrom of 1955 was a violent and planned action in which churches and businesses were destroyed, women were raped and people murdered with open police assistance. However belated it may be, the restoration of the rights of the Greek minority and the Greek church should not be too much to ask of the Turkish government.

Turkey has a long way to go before its standards of civic and religious freedom reach those of the rest of Europe. Until such standards are reached, the EU should take their time in welcoming the Turkish Republic into their ranks.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Schumer and Gillibrand Abandon New Yorkers

New York State occupies a unique position in the nation's health care system. Its research facilities and specialty hospitals such as the Hospital for Joint Diseases and Sloan Kettering attract patients from around the country. It should be the job of any legislator to see how his or her district will be affected by pending legislation.

New York's two Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand should have been going over the health insurance legislation that is being pushed by the Obama administration and gotten realistic answers about how it would affect New York State. Unfortunately, it has been Mike Bloomberg and Governor David Patterson who have been sounding cautionary notes about what the bill will mean for New York State. WNYC reports as follows.

"As the state's Congressional delegation celebrates the Senate's passage of healthcare reform, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson continue to voice concerns. They say the bill as it's currently written will hurt the state by depriving it of hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funds. And the mayor says he spoke to Senator Gillibrand about it."

Gillibrand and Schumer should be representing New York State. This means researching how pending legislation will affect New Yorkers. Unfortunately, they are acting a lot more like smooth talking salesmen, suavely reassuring the governor and the mayor of New York City that everything will be wonderful.

The Obama administration has been arm twisting and bribing to push though health reform legislation. It is a huge bill with hundreds and hundreds of pages. New York State has a lot at stake. Health care is a major industry here. To act as cheerleaders and point men for the Obama administration without advocating for New York State in the Senate is plain irresponsible. It is bad enough that Schumer and Gillibrand won't listen to constituents. but when they ignore the governor of the state and the mayor of the largest city in the state, it rises to the level of legislative incompetence.

For a New York senator to be indifferent to health care is like a senator from Michigan who is indifferent to the future of the automobile industry. This is gross dereliction of duty. New York needs senators who care about their state's economy. Schumer and Gillibrand do not. They should be replaced at the earliest opportunity Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coming Change in Ahmadinejad's Iran

The reports coming out of Iran indicate an increased boldness of the protesters in the streets. Reports of Basij militia members being stripped of clothes and weapons, police cars being burned and prisoners being freed from police custody by demonstrators are becoming more frequent.

There are a lot of factors that are working against the Ahmadinejad regime.. The majority of Iran's population was born after 1979. On the one hand, there are young people who might want to listen to Western music, watch American films and even attend parties with mixed dancing. Then there are other people who are traditionally Islamic in their outlook who see the need for personal choice in the area of religion. It is interesting that green ribbons are being used as a symbol of the opposition movement. Green has always been an Islamic colour. Its appropriation as the colour of the opposition almost seems to be an assertion that it is the opposition that is the custodian of Islamic values.

It is well known that many people high in the government have enriched themselves by using Islamic courts to expropriate the wealth of their opponents and to take it for themselves. Most Iranians are disgusted by "sighe" which is a form of "temporary marriage" that has become an Islamic form of what amounts to legalised prostitution. When this is juxtaposed to Ahmadinejad's imposition of sexual segregation during his second term. The Jerusalem Post reports as follows on the Ahmadinejad regime's plans for Iran during his second term.

"Since Ahmadinejad was elected, the government has made various moves to further segregate office buildings, hospitals, public parks and primary schools and in the half year since the president was reelected a number of Iranian ministers and religious leaders have called for a more strict adherence to sex segregation in various aspects of public life. "There has definitely been a concerted effort to rekindle the kind of policies that enforce gender segregation," Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari, a senior research consultant at the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies told The Media Line. "There are efforts to have separate dining areas in universities, to close co-ed places, the atmosphere is just generally different."

I would imagine that a lot of people might juxtapose the temporary marriages, the financial corruption and the rapes of prisoners in Iranian jails with the "modesty campaigns" and come to the conclusion that the regime has put a shiny veneer over a deep and profound rottenness.

Then there is Iran's minorities such as Iran's Arabs in the Khuzestan region who sit atop Iran's oil wealth and live in poverty.The Iranian government has been very generous in funding instability in Lebanon and across the Middle East. How much better would Iranians in impoverished regions be living if the government had used the money that went to war for developing Iran? The question has been asked by Iranians many times.

The world is watching as Iran moves towards developing its own atomic weapons. At the same time, Iranians pay high prices at the gas pump for gasoline, all of which must be imported. Although Iran is a leading producer of crude oil, it does not have its own refineries. Iranians pay about the same as Americans pay for gasoline out of incomes that are a fraction of ours. How much better off would the average Iranian be if Iran had raced for its own refineries instead of its own bombs?

Ahmadinejad can attempt to point his finger at the US and at Israel/ But his expensive adventurism is costing his own people dearly.It appears as though the Iranian people have lost their fear of the corrupt and violent regime that embitters their lives. People with computers and cell phones, twitter and instant messaging are smuggling the truth out to the West, where it is being beamed back into Iran. Hopefully, the many parties and organisations of Iranians that are fighting its corrupt and violent regime will soon be able to sit together in a free parliament.

Iran's people are way ahead of its government. Change seems to be in the air. May it come speedily and peacefully
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 28, 2009

Janet Napolitano: Clueless in Washington

Buy this woman some flip flops. Janet Napolitano is back pedaling on her stunning assertion in the aftermath of the attempted bombing of flight 253 that America's security apparatus was in good working order. Consider the following statement on ABC News.

"I think the important thing to recognize here is that once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have. The passengers reacted correctly, the crew reacted correctly, within an hour to 90 minutes, all 128 flights in the air had been notified. And those flights already had taken mitigation measures on the off-chance that there was somebody else also flying with some sort of destructive intent.

So the system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days."

The good news is that Ms. Napolitano has abandoned her delusional assertions without a regimen of psychotropic drugs. This morning, Ms. Napolitano expressed some belated and tenuous acquaintance reality as exemplified by this morning's words of retraction.

“Our system did not work in this instance,” No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way."

The bad news is that the US government seems to have learned little if anything at all. More cumbersome security measures seem to be in the works, perversely reassuring an anxious public by harassing them with security measures proven to be unproductive, such as random searches. Avoiding a young Arab who looks fidgety and strip searching a 90 year old lady doesn't help anyone. Conversely, there are Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs who are deeply ashamed of what is being done in the name of Islam. Such people would be very happy to fight terrorism with us. There are Shiites Pakistan and Sunnis in Iraq who know of the terror and heartbreak of a suicide bombing who would be helpful allies if we only reached out to them. We must first know of their existence and then reach out to them.

We also might want to study the success that the Israelis have had with G-d's help in thwarting terrorism. Lately, American diplomats have proven remarkably insensitive to Israel's efforts to fight terrorism. Consider the following incident that was reported in the Jerusalem Post.

"In January 2008, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria filed complaints with the Foreign Ministry after both US Security Coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton and then-consul-general Jacob Walles refused to roll down their windows or open their car doors and show identification papers at a checkpoint.

However, Israel's ire reached a new level after an incident on November 13 in which a five-car convoy of consulate vehicles with diplomatic plates arrived at the Gilboa crossing.

According to a detailed official Israel Police description of the incident obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, the drivers refused to identify themselves or open a window or door. The drivers, according to the report, purposely blocked the crossing, tried running over one of the Israeli security guards stationed there and made indecent gestures at female guards. "

It is essential not only to identify enemies but to identify friends. With credible reports of other aspiring hijackers lurking in the shadows, it is essential to find and reach out to potential allies. The US is doing a great job of offending allies and vainly kissing up to our sworn enemies.

When Nidal Malik Hasan went on his deadly shooting spree, it later turned out that there were countless warnings from fellow soldiers that were ignored for reasons of political correctness. The deaths in Fort Hood were 100% preventable. This is an unspeakable tragedy. We must honour those murdered in Fort Hood by learning from our mistakes there.

It now appears that Iran is in for more unrest. The last revolution in Iran was in winter of 1979. Reports coming out of Iran indicate that the latest unrest is more violent and fearless. Police cars are being burned A Basij militia member was beaten and stripped naked. Demonstrators are calling in some cases for a secular republic. Additionally, Ali Mousavi, nephew of Husein Mousavi, the defeated opposition candidate has reportedly died of a gunshot wound. Additionally, his body has disappeared from the morgue, according to the website.

The most dangerous time of a revolution is soon after victory. The assorted armies that fought a despotic government then want to press forward with their respective agendas. They can often take their battles to the street after a hated dictatorship has been overthrown. This is what happened when the Baby Doc dictatorship was overthrown in Haiti in 1986. Are we ready for the new Iran that seems to taking place? Do we have any idea with whom we can speak?

We are fortunate that we have been spared another 9/11 type catastrophe. In any organisation, it is a blessing when ineptitude is merely embarrassing rather than catastrophic. In a war, ignoring intelligence can have deadly consequences.

It is all to easy to laugh at Janet Napolitano's almost delusional cluelessness. Unfortunately, she is probably reflecting a prevailing mentality in the circles of government. For our own sakes, we must demand better. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Disgusting Food Around The World

Leave it to the French. They have started a movement called "improper foods" At a recent festival in Paris, visitors were offered horse meat, giving new meaning to the term "fast food". As might be expected, cheese that smells like old socks in a homeless shelter is also offered. I was not impressed. Except for gathering gastronomic weirdness into one place, there is a lot more weird food being consumed out there. Consider the following.

1) Sardinian maggot cheese (casu marzu) is purposely placed where flies can lay eggs. It is then consumed while the living maggots crawl in one's mouth and attempt to jump into one's eyes as the cheese is being eaten. Timid souls seal the cheese in a plastic bag, which smothers the lovely little critters, causing them to jump out of the cheese,

2) Lutefisk, a type of Norwegian rotted fish that is reduced to a stinking gelatinous mess that gives those who eat it a macho sense of brotherhood and reduces the vast majority to gagging at the mere sight of it.

3) Dog meat is still popular in China and Korea. It is popular in the winter, because it tends to raise body temperature.

4) Rat meat Cambodia, China and the Philippines are all places where rat meat is openly sold. The most popular varieties are not city rats but those that are captured in the country, where they eat seeds and vegetables.

5) Grasshoppers are still consumed in Morocco. There are species that are kosher, although it takes rare and specialised knowledge to discern which species are kosher. This is about the only one on the list that I would like to try.

I have read about a wooly mammoth that was extracted from a glacier. It was centuries old. It was determined not to be spoiled. I never heard if anyone ever tried it.

Honey is one of the few foods that never spoils. Edible honey has been removed from pyramids that predate the Exodus from Egypt.

There is actually wine that was bottled by Thomas Jefferson. It would be remarkable indeed if this wine were fit for human consumption. Now back to the list.

6) Kopi Luwak is a coffee made from coffee beans that have been eaten and excreted by civets, a cat like creature. People pick through civet excrement and extract the undigested coffee beans for processing. The beans fetch up to $600.00 a pound. A single cup of this wonderful brew can cost $30.00.

7) Monkey brains are eaten in Africa and in China, and have been linked to Kreutzfeldt Jakob disease, which is essentially mad cow disease. Consider the following description of their preparation in one part of the chinese speaking world.

"The monkey's head was supported by its neck in a bracket, two pieces of wood with a semicircular hole on each side such that when you put them together, they form a complete circle around the animal's neck, allowing the head to be exposed above the plank. The hair around the head is shaven with a shaving razor. A small chisel and a hammer is used to quickly chisel a circle around the crown, and the top part of the skull is removed. A teaspoon is used to scoop up the brain, which is immediately eaten. This has to be done before the monkey dies."

That is not only repulsive, but unspeakably cruel. It is the only food on this whole list that should be outlawed.

We used to have rhymes that we used to say and sing back in elementary school. Here are a couple of them.

Scab sandwich pus on top
monkey's eyeball, eagle snot.
All this stuff is dipped in glue
just a sandwich made for you.

Then there was the following song.

Big fat gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts
minulated monkey meat
evaporated turkey feet
one full quart of all purpose pus
floating in pink lemonade.....

And me without a spoon !

That's all for now folks! Hearty appetite ! Makes those Frenchies with their "improper foods seem like a bunch of wusses when you see what's out there now doesn't it? Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 25, 2009

Travels By Mouse

In 30 years of living in New York, I have yet to visit the Statue of Liberty. I was once in a place in New Jersey that had a rear view of the famous statue. It felt like I was being perpetually ignored. As a visitor, I tried to empathise with New Jerseyans who were perpetually treated to the rear view of the Statue of Liberty. Believe it or not, people actually a few people actually live there.

There are places I have visited more than once, such as the Brooklyn Museum. My favourite place there is the exhibit of 19th century American paintings. I particularly like landscapes. Posed portraits are of limited appeal to me. I like the kind of views that show the world as it was when photography was in its infancy.

My favourite 19th Century artist is Mary Casatt, (1844-1926) who is best known for her portraits of mothers and children. Although she was born in Pittsburgh, she spent a good part of her adult life in France. I used to show my children books of her paintings and tell them that they were their baby pictures. When one becomes a parent, her paintings have a particular resonance.

When I really want a beer, and it's the day before payday, there are brands that do the job even as they savage the palate. My particular favourite of this genre is Country Club Malt Liquor. I used to drink it in front of the laundromat on hot summer days when my clothes were drying. My wife thought I was trying to be helpful. There are a couple of other beers like it that deliver a pleasant feeling of numbness at a modest price. (A helpful tip for New Yorkers. It is not legal to drink alcohol from a paper bag. Two police officers supplied me with that information, which was confirmed by a judge.)

Similarly, when I can't afford museum tickets, there are web sites that of course do not charge admission. I like looking for music and art. But there is one past time that is like having a museum on the tip of your tongue. That is etymology. Unlike archaeology or geology, you don't have to dig. You only have to pick a word at random and look it up in an etymological dictionary. In the age before computers, the Oxford English Dictionary was the best resource for the history of any word in the English language. From the first known written usage through each shift of meaning in the history of a word as well as related words in other languages, the Oxford English Dictionary is like a museum. It used to be about 20 volumes. Now it comes in two volumes with a magnifying glass.

But when you can't get a hold of the Oxford Unabridged, there is another way to indulge your curiousity. is a searchable website where you can type in any word and get a history of the word which will give you a well grounded sense of its origins. I typed in the word "kiosk", which I had suspected was of Turkish origin. Instantly, the site served up the following entry.

"1625, "open pavilion," from Fr. kiosque, from Turk. koshk "pavilion, palace," from Pers. "palace, portico." Modern sense influenced by Brit. kushktelephone kiosk (1928)."

It turned out I was partially right. I am sure the Oxford Dictionary will give it a more thorough treatment, but that will tide me over for now.

In etymology, you get the feeling that looking at words is like looking at a family portrait of a big family reunion. The world seems interrelated and harmonious. Soooner or later it jumps off the page and affects how you see people. If you look closely, you never have to go to the museum, because it is all around you.

I hope my readers will check out the site Without leaving your home, you can travel the boundaries of the language you speak. The museum is always at hand. Even the day before payday. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Can One Be "Good Without G-d?

My daughter and son in law came in yesterday, listening for a good part of their journey to National Public Radio, which had a program on Greg Epstein, a humanist clergyman and authour of "Good Without God", what a billion nonreligious people DO believe".

The idea that an atheist can be a good person is not a novel notion to me. It was a debate that raged through my childhood and adolescence. I have indeed met people whose theology repels me yet who have an abundance of good deeds. I refuse to blind myself to this seeming contradiction. Life sometimes challenges what we learn and believe.

My father told us of growing up in the early years of Nazi rule in Germany. He described an institution called the "Eintopfmahlgericht" (One pot meal). Every week, a uniformed Nazi party member would collect from each household a pot of stew. Its ingredients and method of preparation were dictated to each home, so there would be no fudging on quality. My father wanted to challenge my thinking by asking me what could be wrong with such a worthy enterprise. What could be wrong with feeding hungry Berliners in the throes of the Great Depression?

This troubling question nagged at me for years. One day, years later, the answer came in a conversation I overheard on the subway. "Do you want to owe HIM a favour?" one man asked another.

The image of my grandmother handing over her pot of stew to the Nazis for their charitable work flashed through my mind. What favours would the Nazis later demand of those who they helped? To me, ingratitude is repugnant. How many people would spontaneously want to repay a kindness in their hour of need? How many anti Jewish picketers or street thugs were repaying a benefactor? A good deed, or even a bad deed is not isolated from the motives of the doer. What if my grandmother would have been given the choice of donating her stew to the Salvation Army or the United Jewish Appeal? Although she was conscripted into kindness, she was denied the right to credit her good deeds to the faith of her choice.

There are many different types of people. There are emotional people, calm and detached intellectuals and driven go getters. If you ask each of them to devise a moral code, they will each accentuate different virtues. On the pyramid of human goodness, who gets to sit at the top? Without G-d, who is the most perfect type of human being ? Does such a person end up becoming a god of sorts? Is there a greater vision according to which the vast diversity within humanity can be organised into a harmonious whole?

One advantage of a non physical G-d is that there is no argument over the race or ethnicity of the supreme being. A Supreme Being that is above physicality can not be claimed by anyone to be "one of us."

Very often, the argument is not between believers in one G-d, polytheists and atheists. Far more frequently is the vocabulary of religious faith appropriated to describe a supreme being that is severely limited by the preconceived notions of the believer. One might seriously propose under some circumstances that a being called God was really created in the image of the person who calls himself a believer. Is there a danger of creating a god who is really a rubber stamp for one's vices?

In a constitutional republic, the actions of government can be measured against a founding and defining document. A law can be struck down as unconstitutional. It is this process that struck down segregation in the US. It also, in 1857 mandated the return of Dred Scott, an escaped slave to his "owner". For better, and sometimes for worse, a constitution can be a standard by which people judge and modify their actions. Scriptures are to an individual and a family a sort of constitution by which one can modify behavior and attitude.

It is inevitable that there will be conflicts between people. According to which agreed upon document will litigants agree to move from their personal judgment call of who is right?

In the absence of divine revelation, what can be the measuring standard of human conduct other than the shifting sands of intellectual fashion? The public attitude towards marriage and abortion as well as " mercy killing" has shifted greatly in the last forty or fifty years. How will they change in the future? If public consensus is the last word in what is moral, then perhaps we should attempt to shape and modify it. If so, then who should be in charge?

The Christians and Muslims were politically dominant in a big chunk of the world. They racked up a considerable toll in bloodshed. Hindus came up with the caste system and widows who burned themselves on their deceased husband's funeral pyre.

So along came the French Revolution, the Communist Manifesto and National Socialism. Humanity, the proletariat and the master race became the gold standard, the acme of human goodness. It brought us a body count of millions and millions, far more than were ever killed in the name of God. They had their own scriptures, and their own auto da fe. Then we have Richard Lamm, who said back in 1984 that the elderly have a "duty to die." That was 25 years ago. By what authority will Lamm cling to life when he himself is elderly?

It takes a very selective and edited vision to present humanism, in which a Supreme Being is replaced with humanity as a blueprint for the ideal society. You can find a multitude of great atheists who behave well, but you have to deal with the large number of failures, not only under totalitarianism, but under the tyranny of the pleasures of the moment, of those who couple and procreate according to no higher plan or set of rules. Intellectual honesty would demand dealing with a representative sample of one's "faithful".

A lot of people will use a selective reading of scriptures to rubber stamp their vices. When poor people and rich people pray in different houses of worship, it is easy for their "God" to degenerate into something created in their own image. When people invoke "Allah" to have twenty minute "marriages" in Iran or to gang rape and kidnap Christian girls in Egypt for conversion to Islam, then such a "God" that condones that must surely be an idol.

Idolatry is not only a faith with many gods. It can be worship of self or one's national or class interests. Being truly monotheistic is a matter of self examination and self discipline.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson was approached by a man who told him, "Rebbe, I am an atheist." The Rebbe replied, "The god you don't believe in, I also don't believe in."

I do not believe that the struggle against godlessness is only a struggle with godless others, but also a struggle with one's self. Greg Epstein sounds like a thoughtful man. He has stated his opposition to those who call themselves believers. How does he define his struggle within? Does he have a book or code that describes how he should behave and feel? Who wrote his book? How will his book look in fifty years?

The prophets of Jewish Scripture were withering in their denunciation of the failures of their time. Their books that were left to us were indeed protest literature. Some of the prophets were imprisoned and even killed. Will Greg Epstein's prophets be as demanding? I want a faith that can criticise itself with the harshness of prophetic language and still stand. Has secular humanism reached that level? I'm still waiting to see. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avraham Fried and Modern Miracles

I was listening to JM in the AM this morning. JM in the AM, which stands for Jewish music in the morning is a wildly popular program of contemporary Jewish music. In the last 20 years, Jewish religiously oriented music has encompassed the spectrum of modern popular music as well as its traditional forms. Thanks in good part to the State of Israel, fondness for music by Jews from Arab countries has also cut across ethnic boundaries within Judaism.

This morning, Nachum Segal, who is the JM in the AM emcee had two Jewish superstars in his studio discussing their upcoming performance at the January 10 HASC concert. HASC, which stands for Hebrew Academy for Special Children is most well known for the summer camp it runs for children with cognitive and physical disabilities. It runs a full range of activities, both Jewish and recreational. It is widely respected in the Jewish community for its work with the developmentally disabled and their families. Every year they hold a fund raising concert to help defray the costs of running their summer program. This year, it will be held Sunday, January 10 at Avery Fisher Hall.

In past years, I have been turned on to new Jewish music, most notably the Yeshiva Boys Choir.

This year, Lipa Shmeltzer and Avraham Fried, two major Jewish music stars are the featured talent at the January 10 HASC concert. Lipa Shmeltzer has a following that extends well into the chassidic community, putting his compositions in Yiddish to engaging melodies.

Avraham Fried is from a Lubavitch chassidic family and was raised in that tradition. In addition to his own compositions, he has presented studio quality renditions of chassidic nigunim (songs). Many people like me who did not grow up in observant homes learned not from parents and grandparents but from Avraham Fried and others like him who use their musical talent to further traditional music.

Avraham Fried told an amazing story on JM in the AM. He has performed at the Kremlin in its special concert hall and at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. He shared the news with his mother, who was born in Kharkov, Ukraine. Her reaction to the news of her son's concerts extended far beyond the matter of the prestigious venue. She told the following story.

Avraham Fried's mother lived with her parents in a building with thin walls and neighbours who could not be trusted. One Channukah night, her father wanted to enhance the atmosphere created by the flickering flames of the menorah in their small apartment. Among their Judaic treasures was an old phonograph record of Jewish religious music. Fried's grandfather put on the record to listen and to sing along. Within five minutes, there was a knock at the door. Fried's grandfather was taken from the apartment in handcuffs, and spent the night at the police lockup. He was fortunate enough to have been released the next morning rather than to have suffered further legal difficulties. But it was clear that in the Kharkov, Ukraine of Soviet times, playing a Jewish song in your apartment could be considered a criminal offense.

Avraham Fried's mother could not help remembering the fearful night so many years ago and its contrast to modern times when that same music that got her father arrested was being played in the Kremlin itself.

When the Jews went out of Egypt, it was an external liberation that freed us to complete the far more daunting task of perfecting ourselves. The former Soviet Union, having freed itself from communism is now up against the task of its people freeing themselves from inner shackles. By singing in the Kremlin, Avraham Fried is reminding all people, Jew and gentile alike that "with G-d all things are possible, that liberation is not a fact but an ongoing process. In celebrating and living the miracle that his mother sees, he is perpetuating and extending it.

It is entirely fitting that someone who is extending the limits of religious freedom should assist an agency like HASC that is helping disabled Jewish children challenge their limitations and achieve new successes. It is entirely fitting that the son of a woman who treasures the civic rights of America and in the lands of the former USSR would want to extend the birthright of a Jewish education and life to children who may need help in reaching for it themselves.

There are moments when I am reminded that we are indeed living in amazing times. I thank Avraham Fried for bringing this miracle to life yet again.

Avraham Fried Video Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Priest Tells Congregants to Shoplift

An Anglican priest in York, England has advised his poor congregants to get through hard times by shoplifting, distinguishing it morally from violent robbery, prostitution and burglary. The Daily Mail reported as follows on the stunning sermon by the Reverend Tim Jones.

'My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift,' he told his stunned congregation at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York.

'I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

'I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

'I would ask them not to take any more than they need. I offer the advice with a heavy heart. Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift.

'The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are."

Is this what passes for theology these days? Anyone who wants to can decide that they are poor enough and that someone else is rich enough to steal from. This is a moral slippery slope at the top of which stands people like Tim Jones.

He has created a polarised world in which there are given passes to break the laws against theft. The "rich" stores are the bad guys. What about the working stiffs who stock the shelves and work the cash registers? Is not a job such as that a social program of sorts? The very luxuries that Reverend Tim sneers at are feeding and clothing people. The hefty taxes paid by the British public fund a generous social welfare net. And yet Reverend Tim has decided to play god.

If such licence indeed exists, then others will want to play god as well. This will leave Britain with 61 million deities who will preside over person to person wealth redistribution. This is a theological adaptation that hardly resembles any known faith, including that ostensibly studied by Reverend Tim.

There are indeed inequities that put a burden on the poor. There is also private as well as governmental charity. There are also unions and consumer organisations that lobby for better treatment of workers. In the chaos that would inevitably result from following Reverend Tim, there would be far more hunger and actual poverty. Prosperity is ultimately founded upon an orderly society that embodies empathy and concern for others. Tim Jones advocates a self centred theology which is at its heart polytheistic. It is trendoid and counterproductive and a recipe for disaster. If he were a car, he would be recalled by his manufacturer. His divinity school should behave in a similar fashion. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thoughts of December 25, 1989 and 2009

President Obama has put a Christmas deadline on the approval of his health plan in the Senate. Many people of goodwill view the plan as an albatross and a disaster in the making. There is certainly a lot of ego buried in his ostensible altruism.

Back in 1989, December 25 in Romania, December 25 took on a tone that jarred markedly with the peace and goodwill that Western Christians associate with that day. On December 25, 1989, Nicolai Ceacescu and his wife Elena were executed by a firing squad after a two hour trial. The irony did not extend to within Romania's borders, where Christmas is celebrated on January 7, according to the Julian calendar.

Ceaucescu was in some ways like the genial and beloved neighbour who turns out to be a psychopath behind closed doors. Nixon's visit to Romania in 1969 left the impression that Ceaucescu was easy going and pragmatic, kind of like another Tito. He actually refused to allow Romanian troops to join the Warsaw Pact countries invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, openly condemning the Soviet led invasion. Most Americans thought he was acreative communist maverick

This was the impression I was left with when a Romanian American friend told me of his visit to Romania in 1976. He told me that he was not even allowed to visit his relatives in their homes. He had to exchange money at ridiculous rates for each day he was in Romania instead of just staying cheaply with family in their homes. Secret police were tailing him for his entire visit. He was an outsider, and Romania's seedy side was something to be hidden from outsiders.

What was so awful about Romania? Time magazine presented a grim picture back in 1973, reporting as follows.

"Ceauşescu's emphasis on industrialization has produced a phenomenal annual growth rate of nearly 12%, but Bucharest cupboards are bare. Peasants are so wretchedly poor that some villages have no shops and people live by primitive forms of barter. In recent months, there have been increasing reports of unrest and even strikes.The answer from Ceauşescu has been an increasingly autocratic rule and the nourishing of a personality cult.

For two weeks before Ceauşescu's 55th birthday in January, the entire government press became a giant birthday card with Comrade pictures and Ceauşescu." greetings to "beloved Congratulatory messages were actively solicited, and in they poured, including salutations from Richard Nixon, Willy Brandt and Mao Tse-tung."

It is no coincidence that Ceaucescu's latter years sound like those of North Korea's Kim Il Sung. Dictator of the Month reports as follows on the aftermath of Ceaucescu's visits to China, North Korea and North Vietnam.

Ceauşescu visited the People's Republic of China, North Korea and North Vietnam in 1971 and was inspired by the hardline model he found there. He took great interest in the idea of total national transformation as embodied in the programs of the Korean Workers' Party and China's Cultural Revolution. Shortly after returning home, he began to emulate North Korea's system, influenced by the Juche philosophy of North Korean President Kim Il Sung. North Korean books on Juche were translated into Romanian and widely distributed in the country. On 6 July 1971, he delivered a speech before the Executive Committee of the PCR.

This quasi-Maoist speech, which came to be known as the July Theses, contained seventeen proposals. Among these were: continuous growth in the "leading role" of the Party; improvement of Party education and of mass political action; youth participation on large construction projects as part of their "patriotic work"; an intensification of political-ideological education in schools and universities, as well as in children's, youth and student organizations; and an expansion of political propaganda, orienting radio and television shows to this end, as well as publishing houses, theatres and cinemas, opera, ballet, artists' unions, promoting a "militant, revolutionary" character in artistic productions. The liberalisation of 1965 was condemned and an Index of banned books and authors was re-established.

Reports I have from coworkers who once lived in Romania round out the picture of Ceaucescu as a man who used Romania as his social laboratory. One co worker kept his book of ration coupons to show people how bad communism was. Another told me how a chicken wing was considered to be a generous portion of meat for a holiday meal. The disastrous free fall of Romania's economy was caused an insane emulation of Kim Il Sung's "Ju che" philosophy of self reliance. Ceaucescu kept the population on the edge of starvation so he could sell foodstuffs abroad. Meanwhile, Romanians were infuriated to turn on their televisions and to see that the stores were filled with food and consumer goods. When Ceaucescu went on tour, he was shown stores that had been especially stocked for his visit. Whether he wanted to be deceived or not, he was detached from the reality that was the lot of ordinary Romanians. Additionally, despite his sweeping socialist rhetoric, he had multiple luxury homes around the country as well as millions in Western currency.

Ceausescu's last public speech was in Timosoara, Romania, which has a significant Hungarian minority, which had been subject to brutal repression by the communist regime. eventually, Romanian students crossed ethnic lines and supported the Hungarians. The response of the communist Party was to organise a state sponsored demonstration to show support for the government. Ceausescu showed up at this last demonstration, which spun wildly out of control. Widely portrayed is the stunned look on his face as the crowd jeered at him. From Timosoara spread the revolt until finally the army switched sides.

What was the fatal flaw of Ceausescu? Ultimately, his regime succumbed to death of multiple causes. A willingness to make the well being of the people take a back seat to political ideology created a feeling of alienation from the government, a feeling that the leaders did not feel the pain of the people.

This would almost be a forgivable sin if the leadership felt the failure of its ruling ideology. Unfortunately, the communist leadership had luxuries that were out of the reach of common folk. Whatever Nicolai and Elena Ceausescu said about communism and worker's rights, they themselves lived a life of unimaginable luxury. There is a hollow ring to hypocrisy, whether it is Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Fae Baker or Eliot Spitzer counseling religious and civic rectitude or a limousine liberal railing against greenhouse gases and flying by private jet. Romania did not have the safety valve of democratic elections to either "throw the bums out" or to elect a Congress full of new scoundrels to keep the bums from trashing the country.

We have a Congress that routinely exemts itself from measures it imposes on the people. From Al Gore's jet, Nancy Pelosi's opulent perks to a Congressional health plan that will be unchanged by health care reform, our elected leaders routinely insulate themselves from the fallout of their toxic ideologies with a lead apron of legislative exemptions. Our tone deaf leaders have November 2010 to fear as they force upon us a legislative agenda that is widely unpopular. We are fortunate to have the means at our disposal of replacing unresponsive leadership. Now we must use them.


Note on the picture with this article. In Communist Romania, the pre communist flag had a communist seal in the middle. When Romanians demonstrated against the regime, they cut the seal out, leaving a flag that was almost like the one that had been used prior to communist rule.


Romania's revolution Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yankee Doodle, Lorena Bobbitt and Labeling

Yankee Doodle is widely known as an upbeat song of the American Revolution. There are many versions to it, as well as verses. Originally, it started out as a derisive song, adapted from an English folk tune that poked fun at American freedom fighters. Yankee was coined as a derisive term for Americans and "Doodle" was a term for a simpleton. As the tide turned in the American revolution, the song was adapted as a defiant badge of honour by American fighters.

I experienced this phenomenon of a label of derision being turned inside out 16 years ago when John and Lorena Bobbitt made the news when Lorena Bobbitt, tired of abusive treatment from her husband, cut off his fifth appendage, which in a miracle of medical expertise was reattached to good enough effect to see him through two additional marriages and star roles in two porn flicks.

My coworkers in the factory where I was employed included quite a few Ecuadorians, who taught me a bit of Guayaquil street slang and Quechua profanity. One day at lunch we were talking about John and Lorena. I mentioned that she was Ecuadorian. The first reaction was disbelief and then denial. An Ecuadorian woman would not, according to them treat a man like that. Very quickly, when the news became common knowledge, they reframed the story. Lorena, the downtrodden Ecuadorian woman had taken revenge against her Yankee tormentor. Instead of denying Lorena Bobbitt's Ecuadorian origins, they expressed raucous pride in Lorena's bloody deed. The best I could manage as a comeback was a lame joke about Lorena losing her driver's license for cutting someone off.

The Lorena Bobbitt episode was a valuable lesson in how people can turn something pejorative into a badge of pride. When people put labels on each other, it reduces dialogue to sign waving and to flag displays. It doesn't change anyone's minds and simply results in the formation of ideological encampments. "Liberal" , "Bible thumper", "appeaser" and "war monger are among the epithets that short circuit the thinking process in much the same way as does profanity. When one stops using profanity, one is more descriptive of one's feelings in a way that facilitates communication. The same happens when one articulates concepts instead of trading dismissive labels.

There is a place for labels and symbols. In elections, after having made one's case, a party symbol might help a voter find the candidate they have decided upon. In countries with a high rate of illiteracy, this can be critical. Beyond this, dismissive labeling should be avoided and replaced with the exchange of ideas and concepts that distinguishes us as human. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 18, 2009

London "Honor Killer" Gets Life

The Swiss passed a ban on minarets, or prayer towers, from which calls to prayer are sounded from loudspeakers. The French have banned hijabs, or head coverings from the public schools.

Musically, I like the Muslim prayer chants. They remind me of some Jewish religious prayer chants from Arab countries. I see hijabs (not face coverings) as a way to put the brakes on hypersexualisation in fashion. Orthodox Jewish women also choose to cover up for similar reasons.

Prayer towers (minarets) go back a long way. I do not feel threatened by them. On the one hand, they may be an attempt at times to be "in your face" about religion by building the highest tower and mounting the largest loudspeaker on it. Banning minarets specifically reminds me a lot of the limits placed on churches and synagogues in Arab countries to keep them low and humble. Such restrictions on dress and architecture are unbecoming to a free society.

Great Britain, France and Belgium all have a loophole that allows polygamy. A man can fly to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, or any country that permits polygamy and come back to Europe with a second marriage that is recognised by the government. In Britain, such spouses can even have their benefits deposited in the husband's bank account.

Instead of wasting time with hijabs and minarets, those who get a second wife should be deported with their families to their country of origin. If this is not possible, they should be jailed until another country is ready to take them.

A flicker of sanity has come to Britain. Mehmet Goren, 49, has been sentenced to life in prison for the torture and murder of his daughter, 15 years old who was killed back in 1999. Her father had disapproved of her relationship with a Sunni Muslim. Failure to find a corpse and fact finding trips to Turkey to study honour killings allegedly slowed down the quest for justice. The Telegraph reports as follows on the fact finding mission.

"The Tulay murder verdicts follow a police investigation which saw detectives travel to Kurdistan to learn about honour killings. Turkish psychiatrists were then brought to give evidence on the issue as expert witnesses in a British court for the first time.

Their findings, coupled with a greater understanding of 'honour' violence, persuaded the Crown Prosecution Service to overturn a decision 10 years ago not to bring charges against Mehmet Goren over Tulay's disappearance.

It was only after greater awareness of the phenomenon of honour killings, that a new team of detectives began a reinvestigation five years ago. In a landmark investigation, police travelled to Kurdistan to learn about local "honour codes" as they built their case."

British police need to travel to London to learn about British law. Those who want to murder, rape and disfigure those who do not conform need to experience western criminal justice and learn how to impart and enforce their values without resorting to murder. If they don't like that, they should stay home.

Europeans and Americans must enforce criminal and civil law. We must not bend it to those who come to our shores with contempt for our values and political system. Those Muslims who can adapt to our freedoms should be welcome to stay. But a state within a state is the end of life as we know it. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nigora Kholova and Music From Tajikistan

The big question after the fall of the Soviet Union is what will happen to its former republics inn the south. Armenia, Azerbaijan Uzbekistan and Georgia as wel as Tajikistan are now feeling the pull of Iran and Turkey. The iron curtain that insulated the Soviet south from its ethnic relatives no longer exists.

I see the effect of this locally when I go into a grocery and see money from Azerbaijan which has the Latin rather than the Cyrillic alphabet. Jewish immigration from Uzbekistan, Georgia and other former Soviet Republics is sweet consolation for the poverty and economic instability that spurred their immigration to the US and to Israel.

Tajikistan has Tjik as its main language. Tajik is essentially Farsi. The two languages are mutually intelligible. I enjoy listening to the music and watching movies from that part of the world. Iranian films have developed a surprising following in the west and especially in societies with stricter standards of what may be shown on the silver screen. People in my synagogue who are from Iran maintain a fondness for music and films from Iran. One particularly popular film was Marmoulak (The Lizard) about a convict who escapes and disguises himself as an imam. Although it was banned after a short time, it is really not directed against the regime or against Islam.

I found a good video of a singer whose rise to local stardom reminds me a lot of Tanya Tucker. Her name is Nigora Holova, and she sings in Tajik (Farsi). Ste started singing when she was barely into her teens and is now about 20. She sings in traditional style. Even when she dresses in western clothing she is subdued in her style. Some of the videos of her performances have her being introduced in Russian, indicating that her fan base crosses ethnic lines. One video shows her singing in front of a giant poster of Emomali Rahmon, Tajikistan's Premier. Another video which I have posted with this article is of a traditional Tajik wedding. The elaborate traditional dress as well as some of the pre wedding ceremonies remind me of my son's wedding to a Yemenite girl. Both had the feeling of timeless tradition transported to modern times. Separate dancing for men and women is a feature of every Jewish wedding I have been to. The women portrayed in this wedding video are modestly clad yet not in an extreme way. It is a living reminder of the moderate sort of Islam that does not often make the 6 o'clock news.

An Afghan Prime Minister back in the 60's once told a journalist "I like to light my American cigarette withs Russian matches. It was a succinct metaphor for deriving benefits from cordial relations with the east and the west. I can easily imagine Tajikistan attempting to stick to such a course. With a million men out of its 7 million people working outside Tajikistan, it probably is not eager to make enemies.

I hope America cultivates friendships in Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and all the former Soviet Republics. Iran and Turkey are certainly making their presence felt there and there is much mineral and petroleum wealth, particularly in Azerbaijan. Their cultural wealth is certainly worthy of consideration. I feel confident that my readers will agree.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hidden Costs of Low Wages

In the globalisation debate, much is made of jobs being outsourced to developing countries. Less attention is paid to the downward pull on wages in countries that manufacture clothing and other products for the developed world.

Harpers Magazine did an admirable job in its latest issue of putting a human face on the garment trade in Cambodia with an article titled "Shopping For Sweat, The High Cost of a Two Dollar Shirt. The reporter who wrote the article, Ken Silverstein traveled to Cambodia to visit factories which assemble articles of apparel that are bought in the United States.

Although the jobs brought to Cambodia were clearly an asset to the country, it was clear after reading "Shopping For Sweat"that the system needs fine tuning. When Americans look for the cheapest dry goods they can buy, there is a trickle down effect that is transcontinental.

It is hard for westerners to translate into terms we can understand what a paycheck computed at 38 cents an hour would look like to a Cambodian garment worker. The cost of living is vastly different. The standard of living is lower. If Cambodians are flocking to such jobs, they are probably being paid well. Right?

As different as Cambodian society is, there are still common denominators with the west, such as inflation. One statistic cited in the article was the fact that an average Cambodian working in an apparel factory earned $45.00 in 2000 and $56.00 in 2009. During this time, the US dollar (in which Cambodians are paid) had lost 37% of is value. This means that real wages dropped during that time, with a noticeable drop in living standards. Even a grateful factory worker will eventually notice such a development.

Many countries favoured by manufacturers who go overseas are authoritarian regimes. Cambodia, Vietnam and China do not have well enforced laws protecting workers. Indeed, the attraction of such countries is often the prospect of a docile workforce. Often, the government will present this feature of their country as a selling point.

Workers who do get a favourable wage package run the danger of losing their jobs when the factory moves to a country where labour and environmental las are less stringent. Not only do workers underbid each other. There is an international competition that keeps wages down.

Americans do care about how workers are being treated. There are companies that boast that their workers are treated well and paid a living wage. In response to this, in 1999 Reebok, Nike and three other companies founded the Fair Labor Association, a group which promised to monitor working conditions and labour practices. Firms were hired to monitor factories and interview workers.

How did this work? According to Harpers, the effort was more cosmetic than it was substantial. Harpers reported as follows on the success of firms that monitored labour practices.

"For workers at apparel
plants, though, the benefits have
proved elusive. A recent academic
study—whose lead author, Richard M.
Locke, is the deputy dean of MIT’s
business school—reviewed Nike’s own
data and found that conditions had
“stagnated or deteriorated” at 78 percent
of the company’s supplier factories
between 1998 and 2005."

Which is not to say that monitoring
is inherently useless. When factory
inspections are genuinely independent,
unannounced, and thorough, they can
uncover serious abuses. But one gets
what one pays for, as the old saying
goes; and since the apparel companies’
dues pay for the monitoring firms that
inspect their plants, they tend to get
the lax policing that they want."

Harpers described workers who live in garbage dumps, as well as workers who had to spend their free time foraging for food. It created a picture of workers whose standard of living is being eroded by inflation and international competition. There is little doubt that the best intentions of western consumers have been circumvented for the sake of cheap apparel.

What can be done? How can westerners protect and expand the gains of the workers in Cambodia and elsewhere?

I believe that a tariff on goods from countries with limited freedom of collective bargaining and worker's rights could help, not as a punitive measure but as a corrective one. If every shipment of apparel from Cambodia or elsewhere had perhaps a 20% tarriff on it, then the money could be held in an account that would build wells, roads and other amenities that might make life better for factory workers and for other Cambodians. Rather than be seen as punitive, such a tariff would put all manufacturers in the same boat. No one would be able gain an unfair advantage by underpaying workers. To avoid corruption, the aid could be administered under western supervision. Some of the tariffs collected could go to creating an economic ripple effect by encouraging businesses that are built around a core of apparel and other kinds of factories.

Whether in America or abroad, well paid workers can create economic opportunities for others. Henry Ford decided quite wisely that if he would pay his workers well enough to afford a car, that he could become rich building cars for his workers. Prosperity begets prosperity.

The Americans who manage overseas factories are, for better or worse the America that many people see. If we export a managerial style that contributes to comfort and prosperity, it will create good will that will benefit America.

Saving a buck in the short run does not necessarily turn a profit in the long run. This is a lesson that is useful not only in Cambodia, China and Vietnam. It is a lesson that can and should be applied here at home. And the sooner we start, the better off we will be. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Killer Fog and Environmental Common Sense

The Obama administration has invested a lot of effort in pushing climate change legislation in Copenhagen, even as the "Climategate" scandal continues to cast doubt on the entire scientific foundation of the "climate control" movement. How much do the proponents of global arming legislation even believe in what they tell the world what must be done. The New York Times reports as follows about Mike Bloomberg, a loud and leading proponent of global warming.

"Mr. Bloomberg owns a helicopter and two jets, both Falcon 900s. He flies everywhere on private jets, by far the least efficient form of transportation on or above the earth. He takes his jet to Bermuda many weekends. He has flown around the globe on it. He uses it to go to Washington. He is planning to get to Copenhagen for the climate conference by private jet, too.

The carbon math works out like this: by taking his Falcon 900 to Denmark, Mr. Bloomberg will be responsible for the release of 37 times the carbon dioxide than if he and his entourage flew on a scheduled commercial flight. The calculations were done at my request by Dimitri Simos, the developer of software used by the airline industry to assess aircraft emission and performance. Mr. Simos said that a Falcon 900 carrying eight people from Newark to Copenhagen would produce 21.6 tons of carbon dioxide. By adding eight people to the scheduled Scandinavian Airlines flight, the aircraft, usually an Airbus A330-300, would produce an additional 0.58 tons of carbon dioxide.

Mr. Bloomberg’s routine trips to Bermuda are even more carbon costly: the private jet produces 130 times more emissions than going commercial. On those jaunts, Mr. Simos said, the Falcon produces 4.3 tons of carbon dioxide; putting another two people on an American Airlines Boeing 757-200 that flies to Bermuda would produce only 66 more pounds. "

The expounds at length about those who preach conservation to everyone else while they cut themselves as much slack as they need to be comfortable.

A look back at the latter half of the 20th century shows how far the industrialised world has come. When I was a child, the Charles River, which went through Boston and a long string of its suburbs, was choked with industrial pollution. When I used to fish there, it was mostly carp and an occasional eel that would give us any attention. I remember stabbing the muck with a stick and oily rainbows coming up that seemed strangely beautiful. In the 1960's and 1970's volunteer cleanup efforts along with environmental legislation healed the sick river to the point that many species of fish started actually returning.

In the US was the infamous Donora, Pennsylvania killer smog which sickened thousands and killed 20 people during a week in Donora Pennsylvania. So dense was the smog that it turned day into night in the small town of 14,000 residents.

This was of course dwarfed by the infamous London killer fog, which from December 5 to December 9, 1952 turned day to a plague of sooty darkeness, killing thousands and sickening many more. NPR reported as follows on the 50th anniversary of the natural disaster, during which the smoke crept into people's houses.

"Cribb remembers being stunned by the blackness of the gathering fog. After a few minutes he couldn't see the curb from his spot behind the wheel. After a few more minutes, Tom Cribb got out and started walking in front of the hearse, to keep his nephew on the road. He carried a powerful hurricane lantern in one hand, but it was useless.

"It's like you were blind," says Cribb.

Everyone in London walked blind for the next four days. By the time the smog blew off on Tuesday Dec. 9, thousands of Londoners were dead, and thousands more were about to die. Those who had survived no longer spoke of London's romantic pea-soup fog.

As the smoke coming out of London's chimneys mixed with natural fog, the air turned colder. Londoners heaped more coal on their fires, making more smoke. Soon it was so dark some said they couldn't see their feet.

By Sunday, Dec. 7, visibility fell to one foot."

It was disasters like these that were beyond the question of debate. Everyone with eyes and working lungs could see the havoc wreaked by pollution. Since then, treading softly and reducing pollution has changed the face of our cities.

What remains to be done? What health challenges are there in our daily lives? Industrialisation, and improved transportation have taken physical challenges out of our lives that once kept us healthy. When I did warehouse work, there was no need to exercise. It was built into my day. City living and modern conveniences are taking away opportunities to burn calories that make formal exercise a necessity.

One answer to this would be to encourage bicycle riding. The problem with this is that right now, there is an inadequate sense of responsibility among cyclists, who sometimes cause injuries to pedestrians and accidents involving cars. Licensing, insuring and traffic enforcement for bicycles should accompany any effort to promote their use. Unregulated bicycles could become a real hazard.

Aside from any considerations of clean energy, diversification of energy sources makes economic and political sense. An eclectic mix of solar, petroleum, wind and fossil fuels should be a high priority. A good part of our weakened dollar is due to balance of payment problems created by imported fossil fuels. This is plain obvious common sense that does not have to be proven with skewed data from some "climate control unit".

The whole idea that we can "control " the climate reeks of arrogance. There is no question that we have the ability to create spectacular disasters. But it would be far more sensible to view ourselves as an influence rather that the controllers of the earth's climates.

Awareness and education is the best preparation for a healthy population. Smoking has dropped due to education. Eating habits change in response to education. Making nutritional information available in restaurants as well as groceries is an important step in promoting healthy choices. It would be wise to promote fast foods that are also healthy foods. I have restaurants that I go to which are very cooperative in providing me useful information for menu choices that are suitable for diabetics.

If there is one motto that humans should have in taking care of the earth it would simply be to "tread softly". We should consider the effects of our actions and our lifestyles on planetary health. Some of what needs to be done involves individual choices. Other desirable courses of action involve industry.

It is far more efficient for private enterprise to seek solutions to planetary and personal health issues. A business that is losing money will change course a lot more quickly and efficiently than will the government. Wherever possible, the role of government should be to facilitate and not to compel.

A holistic approach to environmental issues will involve considerations of national economic health. Such an approach can and should make the business world and those who seek to protect the environment natural allies.

It would be good to see recognition of what we have accomplished as a species and how we can build on these accomplishments. I do not see such common sense emanating from Copenhagen. And that is a pity.

The video below is the opening segment of a documentary on You Tube about the 1952 Killer London fog. The entire seven segmants can be viewed on You Tube Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 14, 2009

Poland's 600 Year Old Muslim Community

Before World War Two, Poland was a multi-ethnic country. Ethnic Germans, Ukrainians and Jews were large minorities within prewar Poland. Post war Poland has a solidly Polish majority. The expulsions of ethnic Germans and the murder of its Jewish minority are among many of the upheavals that along with the redrawing of its borders radically changed the demographics of Poland.

About 15 years ago I read an article about Polish Muslims. I am not talking about recent immigrants, but the descendants of Tatars whose ancestors have lived in Poland for centuries. These are people who speak fluent Polish along with some who speak Tatar, which is a Turkic language. The Central Europe Review describes the background of this tiny minority as follows.

"Bohoniki and Kruszyniany have been Tartar villages since the 17th century, when King Jan Sobieski III allowed Tartars to settle there as a reward for their loyal service. Descendants of those people still live there, which is evident in the Asian features of the Bohoniki keeper. However, he says, "Our original Tartar blood gets thinner and thinner." Yet the village mosques are still in operation, as Polish Muslims are not confined to these two villages, and they do not necessarily have to be Tartars, even though Tartars constitute the majority of Polish Muslims.

They are organized in six religious communities: Warsaw, Białystok, Bohoniki, Kruszyniany, Gdańsk, and Gorzów Wielkopolski. They have three mosques: an 18th century one in Kruszyniany, a mid-19th century one in Bohoniki and a new mosque built in Gdańsk in 1990. There are also prayer houses in Warsaw and Białystok. "It's very difficult to estimate the number of Muslims in Poland, because no census has been conducted thus far. A few years ago, the Polish Muslim Association intended to do it, but the questionnaire they came up with looked more like a police dossier than a declaration of religious creed," says Marek Szymanowicz, a Muslim from Kraków."

Over the years, the Muslim Tatars have become more mixed culturally and racially with Polish people. With a presence dating back 600 years in Polish history, they are an integral part of Poland, although little known. Although there is interaction with recent Muslim immigrants from the Arab world, they have a distinct ethnic identity of which they are proud.

Although there is no persecution of the Polish Muslim Tatars, the community does chafe at lack of recognition of their rituals. A marriage that is consecrated in a mosque, for instance must also be followed by a civil marriage. The community is struggling to finish construction of a clergy training school in Bialistok. Without local or national subsidies, progress is very slow. Polish Muslims do not tend towards radicalism. The Polish Muslim Tatars have a separate association from more recent Muslim immigrants . The Polish Muslims are Sunni. The two other associations are Shiite. It would seem to be wise for Poland's Catholic majority to accept its Tatar minority as a fascinating living remnant from Poland's past.

As leaders of the Association of Polish Tartars , Selim Chazbijewicz, a professor and poet and Dr Ali Miśkiewicz from the University of Białystok have attempted to educate his own community about their rich past as well as the Polish Christian majority. Seeking strength in numbers, they have networked with Tatars of Lithuania and Belarus as well as members of other ethnic minorities in Poland.

Although it is interesting to see the past through archaeology, it is infinitely more vivid to hear of and meet people whose existence and living traditions hearken back to past chapters in world and local history. I am grateful to Selim Chazbijewicz and Ali Miśkiewicz for keeping the memories alive of their tiny minority within Poland. Although I have known of this community for decades, their existence continues to fascinate me. By being themselves and celebrating their traditions, this little community has lent beauty to Poland. For this I thank them. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Note to Readers Here and on

My good friend Siempre Solo beat me out for the #1 spot on He worked hard at it. Below is my note of congratulation.

You have maintained what looks like a feverish pace. I crunched the numbers, just like you do and figured that you would be in #1 place by the end of the week. By sheer determination you made it about 5 days before I thought you would, both in number of posts and number of comments.

I enjoyed being #1 for as long as I have. As a matter of self discipline, I force myself to write no less than two articles a day. Friday I wrote an article for my daughter's school, plus a brief piece on British libel law. I find that I have to keep the creative juices flowing with a schedule I am faithful to. More articles is bad for both my family life and the quality of my writing.

When I know what I want to write about and what to say, it all falls into place. There are days that shopping for a topic is the hardest part. It's like those days when you go to a bookstore and browse forever, waiting for a title to grab you. has done a lot for me. It provides me with 95% of my hits. I get around 25,000 hits a month on and about 2000 hits a month on and combined.

Audience visualisation is very helpful to me. There is great diversity in the audience. This is a powerful creative stimulant. I really benefit from reading and commenting on article s from people whose background and perspectives differ from mine.

I like to calculate ho many hits and comments I get per article. What I most like to write about is not what gets the most hits. My most popular article in terms of hits was about Zenni Optical, from whom I bought two pairs of glasses. I did the article for gratitude. I didn't earn a dime. I got over 20,000 hits on that one.

My article on the Manhattan declaration got over 120 comments. Gay rights activists were furious at me. That heated up the give and take.

The articles I like most are ones about obscure topics that might only get about 60 hits. I have written about "Bikini", which is a 60's Hungarian rock group and another about the survival of Coptic as a spoken language. Neither were runaway hits. My tastes and those of my audience don't always coincide. I hope that those who like my more popular articles will trust me enough to look at the more obscure ones. I find that if I craft my articles to get lots of hits and comments that my quality drops. I try to maintain a reckless indifference to popular tastes.In the short run, this may hurt my popularity, but it keeps the soul from leaving my posts.

On my own sites I have a sitemeter. I have gotten hits from all around the world. I wonder about the people in Hanoi and Riyadh who have clicked on my articles. I have gotten notes of appreciation from Pat Paulsen's widow and from someone who knew a member of the White Rose.The following comment on that post is one of my most treasured moments in blogging.

Dear Mr. Stettner,
Many years ago I worked with a physician whose German mother (also a physician who practiced in Chicago and was associated with the Waldorf School) had been a member of the White Rose while a student in Germany. This lady was sent away on an errand the day the Nazis came for the other students, and thus narrowly missed arrest and death. The story of the White Rose that she recounted was every bit as compelling as the one you provided.
Thank you for reminding us of the profound importance of fighting for a cause that may seem momentarily "lost".

My dream remains that of making a living from my writing. I do not have a college degree. It is an uphill battle. But my posts remain my on line resume. I am very grateful to and its readership for giving me the exposure that has kept this dream alive. Anywhere in the top ten is something I can show off on a job interview.

I am grateful not to be languishing in a job I hate as I strive towards my dreams. I do work in health care that is meaningful and rewarding. Out of respect for the privacy of my clients I maintain silence about that.

The name Rudi Stettner is a pen name. My family likes its privacy. If I choose to write about topics close to my heart or sensitive to family privacy, I am able to be more candid with a pen name. My neighbours and friends all know who Rudi Stettner and Magdeburger Joe are. Because Rudi Stettner is based on the name of a journalist uncle who was killed by the Nazis, I feel a sense of intimacy with it. The name gives me a creative push and a standard to live up to.

So congratulations Siempre, upon reaching #1. I hope it is a stepping stone to your dreams, as I believe my time at #1 has been for me. You have a background and perspectives that are worth sharing. You really do have "Something to say."

We are both participating in a sector of the media that is truly "grass roots". There is a vibrant chemistry to those who post frequently on sparring and competing with each other ideologically and in terms of ratings. Although I will always be shooting for #1,the biggest competition will be to make the me that I am into the me that I feel I could be. This is, I believe a struggle within each individual. Along with my best wishes for your success, I wish you success in that struggle as well. Sphere: Related Content