Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chile Well Prepared When Earthquake Struck

Although even one life lost is too many, preliminary death estimates in the Santiago, Chile earthquake are estimated in dozens rather than in tens of thousands, According to a report from the BBC. This is despite the fact that the earthquake at 8.8 on the Richter scale was rated as a hundred times stronger than the earthquake in Haiti. The Chilean earthquake, like the quake in Haiti, hit heavily populated area with vastly disparate results.

Chile is immeasurably wealthier than Haiti, a factor that must be considered in conjunction with building codes that are both exacting and strongly enforced. Corruption and bad government can be costly in human lives when an earthquake strikes. When Armenia was hit with a 6.9 earthquake in 1988, there was widespread homelessness and 25,000 deaths. A good part of the casualties were traced to fudging on the quality of construction standards, a lapse that became grimly apparent when disaster struck. Chile has a long history of familiarity with earthquakes. The largest quake ever recorded struck Chile in 1960, a factor that contributed greatly to a policy of national preparedness in that country.

A measure of the contrast between Santiago and Port Au Prince can be found in the following quote from a BBC interview with a Chilean who was at the scene when the massive earthquake struck Chile.

"We are in Santiago. Quake lasted about thirty seconds. Buildings shook violently. Seem to all have withstood structural damage but there is broken glass. Interior damage worse. Was terrifying. People still out on streets. Electricity down in many areas and no phones. We crouched in bathtub on fourteenth floor during the quake while things smashed around us. Still getting after tremors."

It is clear that infrastructure damage remains considerable. Equally significant is the question of invisible structural damage to buildings that appear to have survived the quake. In Port Au Prince, by contrast, the Presidential Palace as well as entire high income neighbourhoods disappeared in the moments following the first tremors. The strength of law in Haiti is in many instances little stronger than that of a non binding resolution of the legislature.

Like every natural disaster, the world must be on standby to help the people of Chile. Even less dramatic tasks such as approving and preparing buildings for occupancy and repairing torn gas lines will place heavy demands on Chile's government and people. But as Haiti and Chile struggle to return to normal, it is worth noting what was done right and what was done poorly. Nations that have thus far been spared the scourge of a massive earthquake would be well served by adherence to appropriate building codes and city planning. Location and strength of an earthquake are only part of the picture. Human controlled resources must be put to the best use possible . As Chile faces reconstruction and strong aftershocks, the world must stand by with prayer and with helping hands. Even with its prior preparation, Chile faces a rough road ahead. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tiffani Thiessen Craving Steak

How many times have I seen this? Some of my friends and family are vegetarian. Some are even vegan, not using any dairy products. But over time, they revert to their meat eating ways. The only time I give a vegetarian a hard time is if they try to push their ways on me.

One lady I worked with sat down at my table many years ago and smugly declared, "I'm a vegetarian."

"I'm a carnivore." I replied. "I eat only meat."

She looked almost pained at my answer.

"Have you ever seen the beauty of a lamb? she asked? "What about the soulful, sensitive eyes of a cow?"

I looked at her with mock indignation and asked, " Have you ever seen carrots being skinned alive? Have you ever seen potatoes being thrown into boiling water?, or lettuce and tomatoes being cut into tiny pieces just so some selfish person could have a salad?"

"But what about the poor innocent cow?" she asked indignantly. "Doesn't that matter to you?"

"It serves the cows right, for what they do to the poor defenseless grass" I answered.

I told someone else that I belonged to PETA. When his face lit up I explained "People for Eating Tasty Animals."

It is in the context of this friendly sparring with vegetarians that I look at the latest celebrity news. Another vegetarian has come back to eating meat. People Magazine reports that Tiffani Thiessen the six months pregnant "White Collar " star developed a craving for red meat after years of being a vegan vegetarian. People Magazine reports as follows.

"I was a vegetarian for many, many, many years and all of a sudden I started to crave red meat," Thiessen tells PEOPLE at Thursday's USA network and Vanity Fair bash in New York. "Crazy enough, I had a steak before I left tonight and I would never have eaten one before. One day I just woke up and craved meat."

It's interesting that a vegetarian could go back to eating meat after abstaining for so many years. It is not at all unusual for pregnant vegetarians to crave meat Women's Health Care Topics reports as follows .

"Other cravings may signal nutritional deficiencies. Some women for example, even vegetarians, might experience unusual cravings for steak and red meat during pregnancy. This could simply be a sign that their bodies need more iron to help support their growing baby. Many women will crave food they will loath or wouldn't dream of touching when not pregnant."

Having seen my a few pregnancies during my years of married life, cravings seem like the body's way of restoring nutritional balance during pregnancy. But it never occurred to me that vegetarians might fall off the chow wagon when expecting.

There may well be health advantages to restricting meat consumption. But it would be wise for someone who decides to become a vegetarian to consult with a nutritionist about replacing what is lost when cutting meat out of one's diet. This issue frequently comes up with teenagers.

Although I like kidding my vegetarian friends, what really interests me is why people become vegetarian and why they come back to a mainstream cuisine. It would make a good study. What would be most interesting would be to see if it would be possible to have a fast food chain that is vegetarian. I think the public might just be ready. Although I would never adopt vegetarianism for philosophical reasons, the health benefits of restrcting meat consumption intrigue me. If there is anything to be learned from the Tiffani Thiessen story, it is that there are shades of gray in the vegetarian vs. meat eater debate. As America faces its assorted health problems, from obesity to diabetes to hypertension, any discussion is worth while. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crosby Stills Nash and Young: Great or Grating?

We had rain and slush all morning. It's no weather to ride a motorcycle, but I did anyhow. I was chilly and annoyed when I was driving the van for my work. Crosby Stills Nash and Young came on the radio, and reminded me of all the garbage from the 60's that is best forgotten. It's amazing how such inane lyrics climbed the charts so many times.

"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."

Did you ever listen to the lyrics to that song?

"Don't be angry, don't be sad,
Don't sit cryin' over good things you've had,
There's a girl right next to you
And she's just waiting for something you do.
Well, there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love
Love the one you're with
Love the one you're with
Turn your heartache right into joy
She's a girl, you're a boy,
Get it together make it nice
Ain't gonna need anymore advice.

That sounds about as romantic as breeding gerbils. I wonder if they pipe that song in down at the VD clinic. Songs like that are the reason I listen to the lyrics before I let myself get hooked on a song.

How about "Teach Your Children Well." Here are some lyrics.

"Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die."

I tried to make translate the lyrics. The best I could come up with is as follows

"If your parents smoke up every day, they''ll be too blitzed to care about whether your coming or going, but what the hell, you meet a lot of interesting people in the homeless shelter. Ain't life wonderful when your account is maxed out at the bodega, but yo mamma pays for the dope you buy on account from your dealer shoo wap de wap smoke up yeah ......"

The one that really gets me going is "Four Dead In Ohio." Check out these brain dead lyrics.

"Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?"

"Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming". What the hell does that mean? How many spliffs did dou have to fire up to come up with that?" There was some classic anti Nixon humour back then. David Frye used to do classic Nixon impersonations. Then there was the Smothers Brothers. But "Four Dead in Ohio" is what comes out when your mouth is in "drive" and your brain is in "park".

The best song that ever came out of Crosby Stills Nash and Young was not even written by them. "Sweet Home Alabama" was written by Lynyrd Skynerd as an answer to that sanctimonious song "Southern Man" by Neil Young that makes Neil Young sound like he has vocal cords in his nostrils. Those lyrics cut right to the chase. Consider the following.

"Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the Southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think its a sin, yes

Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow ."

A friend of mine moved up north from Alabama around the time of the civil rights movement. He ended up in a school with a large percentage of African Americans. He ended up getting beaten up just about every day by African American kids who assumed he was racist. I haven't found any Neil Young songs that deal condemn that kind of racism.

There is one Crosby Stills Nash and Young song that I get a chuckle out of. We used to have a couple of cats camping out on our front steps. They would leave the stench of cat urin as a reminder of their presence as well as singing the feline version of "Love the One You're With." One of my kids complained about the smell. I started singing, "Our House is a ver very very fine house. With two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard."....

I don't know why, but none of my kids like Crosby Stills Nash and Young." Maybe I should sing their songs more often.

And while we're at it, what kind of name is Crosby Stills Nash and Young anyhow? It sounds like the law firm you call when you get busted for possession.

"Hello . Crosby Stills Nash and Young. good afternoon." If you are a defendant, press #1. If You are currently in custody, press #2."

There are a couple of good CSNY songs, although none come to mind right now. I used to like "Sugar Mountain", although now it just makes me fall asleep.

There has to be a list of the most annoying songs ever composed. "Take Me Out To the Ball Game is right up there in the top ten Mairzy Doats (Mares Eat Oats) was a hit back in the 1940's. It annoys me every time I hear it. The lyrics have no discernible meaning whatsoever. Kind of like a lot of Crosby Stills Nash and Young.

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Italian Courts Mug Free Speech in Google Case

When I was in junior high school, I had a particularly acute case of "commietemia", an infatuation with communism. I don't know how my parents put up with it. I had posters of Che Guevara, Lenin and the whole pantheon of commie heroes. The cure involved an honest look at the Berlin Wall and the Cambodian genocide. The beauty of "commietemia" is that it leaves you with a skepticism, an immunity to political and religious folly of all stripes. Whenever I encounter a new political ideology or philosophy, I am always mildly feverish for a few hours or days, until I start to pick the new "ism" apart in my mind.

Back in those days, you had to get on the subway or bus to broaden your search. I found "History Will Absolve Me." by Fidel Castro in the pub;ic library. It was the speech he gave as a young lawyer defending himselves and his comrades after the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, which was the opening battle of the Cuban Revolution. It is a backhanded tribute to Castro's nemesis, Fulgencio Batista that Castro's speech became public and that Castro and his buddies only did 5 years in Cuban prisons. Perhaps if Batista had been tougher, the Cuban people might have been spared 5 decades of collective misery.

Then there was the communist bookstores as well as the general news stands. I used to get "Granma" English edition. Granma is the Cuban Communist Party newspaper named after the yacht on which Castro and his revolutionary buddies sailed back to Cuba from Mexico. There was the Pyongyang Times and the Vietnam Courier from North Vietnam, which was printed on thin airmail paper that I used to roll cigarettes. The Vietnam Courier used to feature a roundup of photographs of all the anti war demonstrations around America and the world. The recurring theme of the photos was the "solidarity of the American people with the people of Vietnam".

To print an underground newspaper, you had to find a sympathetic teacher with a mimeograph machine, or go to a xerox shop. It was a lot of work. You had to cultivate resourcefulness and friendships to get the access you wanted. My efforts were low tech flops. I was a hard line Trotskyist, and not that good at building alliances based on a single issue.

Today, if I were a budding commie, I could google all my searches. On the plus side, I would never have come up against brick walls in finding books. On the downside, I wouldn't have the anti communist sites and articles cropping up in search queries as well. I would never have had that delicious, monosodium glutamate laden Chinese food for 99 cents, or those monster pretzels that they sold in Boston from push carts.

Instead of publishing an underground newspaper, I would have a blog. My potential reach would include the entire world. I could revel in hits from Mongolia and Iran. On the down side would be cyber bullying. Instead of just getting beaten up in the halls at school, the kids would have been able to pillory me on line.

In today's news is an article about three Google executives who were sentenced to suspended terms of imprisonment for not yanking a video from You Tube which featured a developmentally disabled boy being bullied in Turin, Italy. Although none were actually sentenced to prison, the verdict paves the legal way for prison sentences in similar future cases. Associated Press reports as follows.

An Italian court convicted three Google executives of privacy violations Wednesday because they did not act quickly enough to pull down an video online that showed bullies abusing an autistic boy.

The case was being closely watched around the world due to its implications for Internet freedom.

In the first such criminal trial of its kind, Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the three to a six-month suspended sentence and absolved them of defamation charges. A fourth defendant, charged only with defamation, was acquitted.

Google called the decision "astonishing" and said it would appeal.

"The judge has decided I'm primarily responsible for the actions of some teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google video," Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, who was convicted in absentia, said in a statement.

The trial could help define whether the Internet in Italy is an open, self-regulating platform or if content must be better monitored for abusive material."

I share Google's dismay with the verdict. Although Google may be slow in reviewing objectionable videos on You Tube, they have been extremely cooperative in tracking down cyber knuckleheads. There are actually people who use today's technology to record and boast about crimes. Indeed, Google aided law enforcement in tracking down the thugs in Turin who were tormenting the developmentally disabled boy. Google deals with millions of videos. Prescreening all of them ould be a prohibitively expensive burden. When people commit crimes and make a video trophy, or steal jewelry from a crime victim, they tag themselves for future apprehension. If Google were to hide the identity of crime perpetrators, they would deserve to be dragged through the legal system. This is not the case. Google has been at the forefront of creating new legal areas of free speech and acting upon those issues in an ethical way.

Instead of sentencing Google executives , justice would be far better served if law enforcement and Google worked to shorten the time frame within which videos of possibly illegal activities are identified and forwarded to law enforcement. It may well be desirable for city, state and national police forces to beef up their readiness to process videos of illegal and violent acts.

I will always be grateful to Google for the manner in which they have enabled me to research and to publish. They deserve to be commended and assisted, not punished. The Google executives facing prison time in Italy should be freed. Their convictions should be thrown out. Justice demands it. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Matisyahu and Other Music of Spiritual Yearning

I am very fond of Russian Jewish music. Despite having no Yemenite ancestry, I feel an even stronger connection to Yemenite Jewish music. Each strain of Jewish music seems to bear the imprint of its surroundings. When I listen to the music of Russians who are not Jewish, I can hear the influence it has had on Jewish song.

After almost 400 years of Jews living in what is now the United States, I find myself wondering. How will this express itself in our music? When I was finding my way to Judaism, I used music as a vehicle of spiritual exploration. The Moody Blues some Beatles and especially reggae became a sort of spiritual freight trains that I hopped in my travels of the soul.

But what is Jewish music after so many years in the new world? Some answers are coming up. And they sound pretty decent. I do not play any musical instrument. But I see the value in a song like "Rivers of Babylon", which is based on the 137th psalm. Thank G-d, Matisyahu saw ways of using reggae and other forms of music developed in African American communities to express and promote Jewish values. There is something reassuring about spiritual yearnings being expressed through the medium of different musical forms.

The Lubavitch world was delighted when Matisyahu publicly embraced Lubavitch. Some were puzzled when he looked into other forms of chassidic philosophy such as Breslov. I had no problem with that. In orthodox Judaism, there are a lot of philisophical approaches. Mixing elements of Breslov with Lubavitch doesn't faze me at all. I have worked with Satmar chassidim unloading trucks. I didn't get much yeshiva education in my life. I get what I can from everyone who is passing through. If Matisyahu models the eclectic approach, it makes me feel that much more at home. His latest song, "One Day" is the type of softer reggae music that I have an easier time connecting to . Its lyrics shine a light of hope into a violent and sometimes chaotic world. Some of the lyrics are as follows. I see the lyrics as being expressive of yearning for the messianic redemption, that help from Above that will crown our efforts below with success.

"when they feed on the souls of the innocent blood drenched pavement keep on moving though the waters stay raging in this maze you can lose your way (your way) it might drive you crazy but don't let it faze you no way (no way) sometimes in my tears I drown but I never let it get me down so when negativity surrounds I know some day it'll all turn around because all my life I've been waiting for I've been praying for for the people to say that we don't wanna fight no more they'll be no more wars and our children will play one day "

Another person whose music is guided by and permeated with Jewish values is Peter Himmelman, the son in law of Bob Dylan, whose music really touches day to day situations with deep insights. His song, "This Too Will Pass" has guided me through some sad and trying times in my life. In trying times, a song like this is like an elevated train soaring over the walls that separate us from hope.

For me, music is a spiritual vehicle. I take it very seriously, measuring it against where I want to go in life. One of my all time favourite songs is "The Balance" by the Moody Blues. Part of the lyrics read as follows.

"After he had journeyed, And his feet were sore, And he was tired, He came upon an orange grove And he rested And he lay in the cool, And while he rested, he took to himself an orange and tasted it, And it was good. And he felt the earth to his spine, And he asked, and he saw the tree above him, and the stars, And the veins in the leaf, And the light, and the balance. And he saw magnificent perfection, Whereon he thought of himself in balance, And he knew he was. Just open your eyes, And realize, the way it's always been. Just open your mind And you will find The way it's always been. Just open your heart And that's a start"

There is a Korean fruit store near where I live that plays a lot of Christian pop music. It's not my spiritual path, but it reminds me of the need to reinforce my environment with music that takes me where I want to go. I have only scratched the surface. There is a lot of good modern Jewish music out there, as well as other music of spiritual searchers. I am grateful to Matisyahu, the Moody Blues, and all the others out there who are lighting up the world with their music. Keep it up. We need you

Matisyahu Video Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lithuania KGB Archives Opened to Scholars

New York City is home to many emigres from the former USSR. The majority are immersed in the day to day demands of earning a living. There are however some who maintain an interest in the history and current affairs of the former USSR. Until the early 1990's, you had to leave the USSR to get an uncensored history of that country's history. Leon Trotsky was completely written out of historical accounts of the Russian Revolution. That was as major an excision as cutting Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton out of America's history books. With the fall of communism, the freedom to seek out uncensored history can now be enjoyed in Russia itself.

For over 50 years, Lithuania was a captive "republic" of the Soviet Union. It was handed over to the USSR when Nazi Germany and the USSR concluded the "Treaty of Friendship" in 1939. During that time, the KGB kept meticulous records of their secret deliberations as they ran the police state that was Soviet occupied Lithuania. Unfortunately, during the late 1980's some of the most sensitive material in the Lithuanian KGB archives was destroyed. Fortunately, much material does remain.

In an earth shaking act of scholarly friendship, the Lithuanian government has agreed to make available to the Hoover institution a complete set of microfilms of the Lithuanian KGB archives, spanning the entire history of the Soviet occupation. Since the archives are almost entirely in Russian, there will be no shortage of scholars with the language skills needed to study the archival material. The Hoover Digest reports as follows on the major breakthrough for historians of the Soviet era.

"Since 1991, the Lithuanian Archives Department and its dedicated staff have been meticulously reconstructing the finding aids and inventories destroyed by the Soviets. They have found the KGB files to be a font of source material for the study of the organization and functioning of the Soviet security apparatus. Moreover, Lithuanian law regarding state security and privacy issues is not very restrictive, and, as a result, some 95 percent of the KGB materials are open to historical research. The documentation is virtually all in Russian, a language readily understood by scholars specializing in Soviet and East European history and politics, and Hoover has assumed the responsibility of translating the reconstructed finding aids from Lithuanian to Russian. Scholars now have a gold mine of material for examining and studying five decades of Lithuanian history."

I am looking forward to the treatment that historians give this vast treasure trove of information. History really becomes interesting when material relating to it becomes declassified. That is when the information that was held back from the public sees the light of day.

One peculiarity of the Stalin regime was that it could ban not only the words of its opponents but its own words as well. I speak of the time between 1939 and 1941, when the people of the USSR were psychologically prepared for friendship with their erstwhile nemesis, Nazi Germany. During that two year period, news articles were written, newsreels were made and textbooks written that supported Soviet German friendship. There was even talk of the similarities between international socialism and national socialism. What happened to all of that material. Was it all destroyed? Does no remnant exist of two years during which Stalin and his regime lied to themselves and to the peoples of the USSR? If I could issue any appeal to scholars of Soviet history, it would be to reconstruct as a multimedia archive the films, broadcasts and printed materials that promoted Nazi-Soviet friendship.

There are those who believe that those two years were an aberration, a time that the Soviets deluded themselves for short term gain. There is another school of thought (to which I subscribe) that these two years of intertwined Soviet and German history were totally true and reflective of the essence of Marxism and Nazism. For years, the common folk have looked at the mounds of corpses left by both ideologies and seen this truth. A closer examination of those two years in the history of Europe would make this ideological kinship even more clear to the public.

A post communist Russia and its newly independent neighbours are taking their faltering and awkward steps in the path of democracy. To steady them in this course, an honest recounting of history is essential. The Hoover Institution and the government of Lithuania are to be commended for their assistance in this cause. As it casts its long shadows into the future, history never really enters the past tense. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mass Anti Circumcision Bill: Possible Consequences

The following is a fictitious sequence of news dispatches and community announcements portraying what life would be like in Massachusetts if the bill introduced as a private citizen by Charles A. Antonelli were to be passed. The byline of WhatIfItHappened News Service is intended as a clear fiction disclaimer. Additionally, the events will be dated in the year 2015. I do, however see the fictitious events portrayed as being well within the realm of possibility.

May 15 2015 Boston WhatIfItHappened News Service (WNS)

The Massachusetts State legislature passed the Childrens Comprehensive Circumcision Protection Act (CCCP) by a narrow margin in the State Senate of 21-17 with one member abstaining. The legislation, which was previously approved in the State House of Representatives is expected to be signed into law by Governor Tom Fooey, who had voiced his strong support for the bill. The bill, which is to be signed into law this coming Monday, is the first of its kind in the nation. The news was greeted with jubilation by Stuart Gelding, president of Massachusetts Anti Circumcision Task Force.

"Today is a great day for the children of Massachusetts." said Mr. Gelding. "An ancient and barbaric ritual will finally be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Rabbi Shimon Altman, Director of the Religious Freedom Protection Alliance stated "The Jewish people has faced evil decrees before. We have survived for thousands of years until now, and we shall overcome this latest evil decree. We will appeal this evil law all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States ."

Ibrahim Masseri, Imam of the al Iqwa Islamic Center of Boston stated "The decree banning circumcision will go down in history with the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain as a piece of hate inspired legislation. We stand together with our Jewish brothers in fighting this evil legislation."

It is expected that the law will face legal challenges. The law leaves the state deeply divided, with some speculating that the legislation could hurt the Democrats in the 2016 elections."

May 30 2015 Boston WhatIf News Service

The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis issued the following announcement.

Jewish citizens of Massachusetts are still free to travel to neighboring states to practice Brit Milah, the circumcision on the eighth day of life as mandated in Scripture. No Jew will be prevented by reason of indigence from the fulfillment of this commandment. Anyone who needs financial or logistical assistance in circumcising an infant according to the tenants of our faith will be assisted in doing so at any orthodox synagogue in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

May 31, 2015 Boston WhatIf News Service

Charles Carlini, compliance officer for the newly enacted Massachusetts anti circumcision legislation has warned that any Massachusetts citizen who travels to another state to circumvent the ban on infant circumcision would be prosecuted for "genital mutilation".
"We will not allow the laws of the Commonwealth to be taken lightly. Massachusetts children will be protected, wherever they travel".

June 5, 2015 Boston WhatIfNews Service

In what is widely seen as a test case of the anti circumcision bill, a father and mother of a child who had been circumcised in New Haven, Connecticut were both arrested after a routine traffic stop. An examination of their infant son established that he had been circumcised in a religious ceremony, in defiance of Massachusetts state law. The couple are being held on $100,000 dollars bail in the Norfolk County Jail. Their children were put in foster care by Child Protective Services. A hearing will be held Monday to determine arrangements for supervised visitation.

June 30, 2015 Boston WhatIf News Service

Charles A Carlini, compliance officer for the Massachusetts ban on circumcision has issued the following directive.

"All pediatricians in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are required to file a circumcision certificate for all of their patients under the age of 18. Anyone who is registered as uncircumcised who is later found upon medical examination to have been circumcised must be reported to child Protective Services. Anyone who is a mandated reporter such as a teacher or school nurse is required to report instances of suspected circumcision as well.

Failure to report circumcision or falsifying a report of circumcision will be punishable by fine, imprisonment and disbarment from medical or teaching practice."

July 7, Newton Mass WhatIfNews Service

A Newton couple was arrested for child abuse for the circumcision of their newborn. The child was taken into custody by child protective services. The couple, unidentified to protect the child's identity, are being held on $75,000 dollars bail. Rabbi Mark Berliner, Rabbi of Synagogue Beth Elohim in Newton was taken in for questioning as a possible material witness.

July 31, 2015. Newton Mass WhatIf News Service

Many Jewish residents of this heavily Jewish town are looking to move out of state since the ban on circumcision was enacted in May of this year. Many cited the ban on circumcision as a reason.
Of 163 families that moved out of Newton, 71 had moved to Rhode Island. Another 47 families had moved to New Hampshire. 30 families had moved to Connecticut. A small yet significant number had moved to Israel. Additionally, 17 Newton businesses had moved out of the state, resulting in a loss to the state of 93 jobs.

"It is an irony of history that Rhode Island is yet again a place of refuge for those seeking religious freedom ". said Rhode Island Governor Anthony Bernardino. "Back in the days of the Puritans, we took in Massachusetts refugees. I guess history repeats itself".

August 11, Boston Massachusetts WhatIf News Service

Tourism in Massachusetts is down 7% from last year after the circumcision ban passed in May of this year was enacted. Jews, Muslims and opponents of nanny state regulation have joined almost spontaneously in shunning a state that they see as having far more similarity to its intolerant Puritan beginnings than to modern democratic norms. The ban is widely seen as contributing to the image of Massachusetts as a left wing social laboratory. Some national businesses have reported that Jewish and Muslim workers are refusing transfers to Massachusetts as well. Charles A. Carlini, compliance officer for the circumcision ban pledged a public relations campaign to blunt the economic impact to the state."

November 2, 2016 Boston Massachusetts, In what is seen as a stinging rebuke to the Massachusetts Democrats, both the State Senate and the House of Representatives have solid Republican majorities. In what is seen as a major shift in political allegiance, Newton Massachusetts, Sharon as well as other strongly Jewish areas reported a majority of almost 70% supporting the Republicans. Additionally, The Massachusetts Muslim Association sponsored a drive in mosques across the state to turn Democrats out of office for being "unresponsive to the concerns of our community".

These are fictitious news dispatches. But they do portray what could be a likely outcome of the proposed ban on circumcision in Massachusetts. Those who are dismissive of this ban as not being serious would do well to fight this attempt of a lunatic fringe to join the political mainstream. This is an attack on freedom of religion as well as an attack on the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children. It is, therefore an attack on all of us. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, February 19, 2010

Obama and American Political Jokes

I heard a joke about Barack Obama. It goes as follows. Barack Obama was meeting with Queen Elizabeth. He asked her what he could do to make his presidency a success.

"Surround yourself with smart people". replied the queen. "Let me give you an example."

The queen called in Tony Blair and asked "I have a riddle for you. I'm my father's child. I'm not my brother. I'm not my sister. Who am I ".

"Well that's easy." replied Tony Blair. "It's me"

Obama was very impressed. He came back to Washington and decided to test Joe Biden. He asked him the same question. Biden asked for a day to think about it. He called Al Gore for a little help. Then he came back to Obama.

"I've got the answer." Biden announced proudly. If It's my father's child, and it's not my brother or sister, it can only be me."

Obama shook his head and said, " Joe. You're an idiot. If it's your father's child, and it's not your brother or your sister, it's Tony Blair !"


Just to be "bipartisan", back in the days when people were saying how stupid Dan Quayle was, there was a short joke that went as follows.

Dan Quayle was speaking to an African American audience. In an attempt to establish a rapport, he told them, "I've always been a great admirer of Malcolm the tenth.

The used to say of Gerald Ford that he was so stupid that he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Why didn't Gerald Ford like M and M's ? They're too hard to peel.

There is another joke about Henry Kissinger that would fit Obama perfectly. Someone went to heaven and he saw all the important historical figures. He saw Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt. As he looked through the hall, he saw a throne. Sitting at the top of its gilded steps was Henry Kissinger, staring at the assembled notables with imperious disdain.

The observer was awed at being able to mingle with the great men of world history. But when he looked at Henry Kissinger, he was shocked and indignant.

"That's Henry Kissinger!" he exclaimed. But he acts like he is the most important person here.!" Does he think he's G-d?"

The angel accompanying the observer shook his head and replied, "No my friend. That's G-d. He thinks he's Henry Kissinger.

The best political humour comes from dictatorships. The secret police often collect such jokes. But American political humour is pretty good as well. We have three more years of Obama to go. (Heaven help us) I'm sure the book of Obama jokes will get bigger during that time. I'm looking forward to reading it. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mass. Bill Would Ban Circumcision

Every year when Jews celebrate Hannukah, the story of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks is told. In ancient Greece ,Judaism was permitted as a philosophy. It was as a way of life and a system of laws that the Greeks opposed Judaism. One of the commandments that was banned under Greek rule was circumcision. In Greece as well as under subsequent totalitarian regimes through the ages, there were those who risked death and imprisonment to fulfill this biblical commandment. After the age of eight days, a Jewish male is supposed to be circumcised. It is a clear commandment. It can not be wished away by the government on behalf of those who practice Judaism.

A man named Charles A. Antonelli of Massachusetts is waging a campaign to pass a law that would compel Jews and Muslims living in Massachusetts to violate the tenets of their own faith by forbidding circumcision on anyone under the age of 18 unless there is a pressing medical need. The bill does not merely overlook the requirements of Jewish and Islamic law. It specifically bans circumcisions that are performed on minors for religious reasons. It bans a commandment that has been performed for thousands of years around the world and for the entire time that the United States has been in existence.

This bill purports to protect the rights of children not to be encumbered by irreversible procedures that could not be done later in life. A close examination of the statute shows that it does not ban abortion. Perhaps Mr. Antonelli has a blind spot in his vision of freedom for the children of Massachusetts.

If passed, the bill would make Massachusetts a state where parents have no right to prevent their children from being taught about homosexuality in public school and no right to practice circumcision as a religious ritual. There is in Massachusetts a pattern of second guessing and undermining parental values and judgements when clash with "enlightened " values. Those parents who subscribe to non religious circumcision as being medically desirable would under the Antonelli statute be banned from exercising their medical judgement on behalf of their children. It also creates a legal and psychological precedent of questioning years after the fact parenting decisions made in good faith on behalf of children by their parents and guardians.

I lived in a town that banned fluoridation of the water. Fluoridated water is generally credited with preventing tooth decay. My parents decided that the school system in my town was good enough to outweigh the problems created by non fluoridated water. I have no intention of setting up a web site blaming my parents for the state of my teeth. A recurring theme of the web sites condemning circumcision is a sense of mournful loss for a foreskin that is gone forever. Parents make decisions all the time on behalf of their children. A child might need surgery. The parents take the child to a mediocre doctor who causes the child injury. Is Antonelli going to step in and sue the parents?

I was taught to read using the phonics method in Catholic schools. My sister was taught using the whole word method, in which words are looked at and memorised. With the exception of dyslexic students, phonics works better as a method to teach reading. My sister is still annoyed that she was taught using the whole word method. But she got over it. She got two degrees and makes a good living.

There are many arguments for and against circumcision. Anyone can look them up. There is a theological debate as well. In America we have the right to choose our faith and our expressions of religious faith. We have a right to exercise good faith medical judgment as well.

There is a wellspring of emotion that is evoked by the Antonelli bill, a piece of proposed legislation that knowingly takes aim at a religious practice. It could well be renamed the Edict of Expulsion From the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, because it could well expose Jews who circumcise their children to a fine and up to fourteen years in prison.

I am surprised that the news articles that report on this bill mention that Antonelli is "Delivery Compliance Administrator for IBM Global Services in Boston". It is unfortunate that IBM is saddled with an employee who is working so hard to pass what amounts to hate legislation. I sincerely doubt that the bill will pass. Because if it did, I would look with disfavour upon traveling to Massachusetts, buying products made there or dealing with financial institutions that have their corporate headquarters in Massachusetts.

Those who wonder if there will ever be peace between Jews and Muslims can look at this bill and see a united front forming against the Antonelli bill against the circumcision of minors.

Although this bill seems to affect only Jews and Muslims, its reach is far more insidious, injecting the reach of the state into the lives of families living in Massachusetts. Anyone who wonders if there is not a malignant quality to the philosophy of the nanny state need wonder no longer. Charles A. Antonelli is here to protect us from ourselves, whether we want it or not. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Separate Currency For South Carolina?

Some proposals are totally impractical, but raise good points. One such idea came out of South Carolina. South Carolina Republican Mike Pitts has introduced a bill that would ban the US dollar from South Carolina, replacing it with gold and silver coins. He is concerned about running up a deficit that is paid for by printing up new currency with no backing.The Political Hotsheet reports as follows on Mr. Pitts explanation of his unusual proposal.

"In an interview, Pitts told Hotsheet that he believes that "if the federal government continues to spend money at the rate it's spending money, and if it continues to print money at the rate it's printing money, our economic system is going to collapse."

"The Germans felt their system wouldn't collapse, but it took a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread in the 1930s," he said. "The Soviet Union didn't think their system would collapse, but it did. Ours is capable of collapsing also."

History is littered with currencies that collapsed when money was printed to cover debt. Most national currencies are fiat currencies. A fiat currency is not indexed to any tangible commodity but is simply issued by the government with a promise that it will be accepted. The potential for abuse is obvious. Even when a paper currency is backed by a commodity, the assumption made by those issuing it is that most people will not demand to have the gold, silver or whatever commodity is being used to back the currency. This can prove very tempting to those who want to crank out easy money.

Inflation is not new. The Daily Reckoning presents the following account of inflation in the ancient Roman empire.

"Although Rome didn’t actually have paper money, it provided one of the first examples of true debasement of a currency. The denarius, Rome’s coinage of the time, was, essentially, pure silver at the beginning of the first century A.D. By A.D. 54, Emperor Nero had entered the scene, and the denarius was approximately 94% silver. By around A.D.100, the denarius’ silver content was down to 85%.

Emperors that succeeded Nero liked the idea of devaluing their currency in order to pay the bills and increase their own wealth. By 218, the denarius was down to 43% silver, and in 244, Emperor Philip the Arab had the silver content dropped to 0.05%. Around the time of Rome’s collapse, the denarius contained only 0.02% silver and virtually nobody accepted it as a medium of exchange or a store of value."

How hard would it be to print a monthly announcement of how many dollars are printed each month and put into circulation as well as how many dollars are destroyed because they are worn out. Someone has this information. Don't we have the right to know it as well? It could be printed on the financial page of every newspaper in the nation the first business day of every month.

Inflation has the effect of lowering wages. Inflation is really a de facto wage cut.The manner in which the money supply is managed effects the lives of all of us. Should this process not be more transparent?

Mike Pitts' proposal to have South Carolina's use its own currency will never pass constitutional muster. He might only succeed in getting his phone tapped. But he raises a valuable point. What is actually behind the money we possess? Probably a lot less than we think. And that should concern us all. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Manuscript Burned At Columbia in 1968

There is a lot of nostalgia for the culture of the sixties. The music, the art and the news are suitable fodder for the nostalgia movement. When I see young people wearing clothing with peace signs on it, I feel like filling them in on the real deal. I have told my own children of my regret at having taken part in the antiwar movement back in the sixties.

Promoting antiwar demonstrations was a part of a strategy during the sixties and seventies by communists in America and abroad to politically "tie the hands of US imperialism." I used to attend communist meetings at which that was discussed. When the Young Socialist Alliance declared a "full mobilisation", the local office of the National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) was full of Trotskyists, young and old stuffing envelopes and answering phones. The People's Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) enjoyed strong support from the Communist Party.

When Pnom Penh and Saigon fell in 1975, everyone knew what happened. Cambodia turned into a hermit kingdom in which about two million people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge regime under the notorious dictator Pol Pot. In Vietnam, thousands of ethnic Chinese were pushed into leaving Vietnam in rickety boats.

While America went through its turbulence in the sixties, China went through a catastrophic upheaval, in which radical students trashed universities and the economy of China was thrown into turmoil. The goal was to erase memories and records of prerevolutionary China. Many students sorrowfully remember denouncing their own professors, destroying library books and other "revolutionary" acts.

America too has its own chapters of shame from the radical sixties. Does anyone remember Mark Rudd? He was one of the leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, which figured in a lot of headline grabbing campus violence. Back in 1968, when radical students took over Columbia University, there was considerable vandalism to university property. There was one particularly saddening episode that even shamed the SDS at that time. That was the burning of a manuscript by Columbia University assistant professor Orest A. Ranum, who angered SDS radicals by sympathising with their aims and criticising their tactics. During the takeover of Columbia, his office was broken into. A manuscript representing ten years of research for a textbook on European history were purposely burned. The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the loss as follows.

"The papers were irreplaceable. They dated back to Ranum's time as a student at the University of Minnesota, where he got his Ph.D. in history. The notes were going to lay the basis for a textbook on early modern European history that he had been commissioned to write for a series edited by the British historian Sir John Plumb.

After the papers were burned, Ranum withdrew from the book project and returned the small advance he had received from the publisher. He left Columbia for the Johns Hopkins University, where, now 76, he is an emeritus professor of history and one of the country's best-known experts on 17th-century France."

In one particularly touching footnote to the burning of Ranum's manuscript, scholars at the Jewish Theological Seminary who were working on the Dead Sea Scrolls offered to attempt a reconstruction of the destroyed manuscript. In his typically self effacing style, Ranum turned them down out of the conviction that his manuscript was not important enough.

For years, the thug who burned Professor Ranum's manuscript enjoyed anonymity. Now, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the name of the perpetrator has been revealed. the Chronicle of Higher Education reports as follows of the recent revelations in a detail laden article on the events at Columbia University in 1968.

"SDS has always denied responsibility for burning Ranum's papers. For more than 38 years, Rudd didn't correct the record. Then, suddenly, he confessed, saying that only he and Jacobs—who died of skin cancer 12 years ago—knew who burned Ranum's papers, and that both had kept it a secret from the rest of SDS. In a 2006 speech at Drew University, Rudd issued a lengthy apologia, not only acknowledging complicity in the arson but also taking the blame for the strategy that he believes destroyed the New Left.

Rudd confesses to approving the setting of the fire but denies that he knew or approved of the burning of Ranum's manuscript. Years later, Rudd regrets having acted in secret, and not having put the plans to commit arson in an occupied building up for a vote.

"At Columbia we felt ourselves at war, and once war is declared, the limit on tactics and weapons gets blurred very quickly. So does the definition of participatory democracy, on which SDS prided itself, since it was J.J. and I who made this decision alone, without democratic consultation of any sort."

Rudd has come clean in speeches and in his book which he is promoting, "Underground: My Life With SDS and the Weathermen."

My emotions are mixed. On the one hand, Rudd is setting the historical record straight. On the other hand, he is not doing so solely out of altruism. The radicals who became household names were shameless self promoters who knew how to get on the news and on the television talk shows of that time. Mark Rudd is no different. If he donates his book royalties to Professor Ranum, or to the cause of those who were hurt by student radicals, I will believe that he is sincere. But so far, all I see is that he has cleaned out his filth encrusted conscience and found something he could wash off and sell.

We should not let the real history of the sixties fade. The memories of the players in that dramatic time should be encouraged to leave their memories to posterity. As repulsive as some of them might indeed still be, we need collective remembrance to guide us in the future. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Do You Get Your Caffeine ?

My motorcycle repair shop is in Brooklyn's Chinatown. My mechanic goes out of his way to save parts whenever possible. That's enough to keep me coming back.

It's very enjoyable shopping in Brooklyn's Chinatown. I picked up a pound of loose jasmine tea for five dollars. It is green tea mixed with jasmine blossoms.It came in a tin with a plastic plug to keep the leaves fresh.

There are two ways I like to drink tea. One is to drink it loose. You pour boiling water over the leaves and let it steep for one to five minutes. The leaves settle to the bottom of the cup. It's the same idea as Turkish coffee, in which the coffee grounds settle in the pot in which the coffee is prepared. The problem with the loose leaf method is that tea can get unpalatably bitter if the leaves are left in too long. I find that adding milk and drinking the tea and drinking it right away keeps it from getting too bitter.

As an alternative to loose leaf tea, I picked up a three piece tea cup in Chinatown. In addition to the cup, it comes with a smaller ceramic cup with holes in it that fits inside the tea cup. In this cup you are supposed to put a small amount of tea leaves. Then there is a lid that you put on the cup and the tea basket that seals the steam in. You leave the lid on your tea for no more than five minutes. Then you take the top off, remove the basket with the tea leaves and add sweetener and milk, if that is your preference. The cup cost me $3.75. I do not like drinking tea with tea bags. It's just not the same as the basket and the loose leaf ways of drinking tea

There is another tea that is sold loose in Chinatown. It is called Imperial Gunpowder tea. It has a smoky flavour that makes the smoky image evoked by gunpowder appropriate to describing the tea's flavour. It comes in cube shaped boxes that are somewhat flimsy. The graphics look like 1970's communist Chinese retro. For a guy like me who is suspicious of slick Madison Avenue packaging, the homey simple style of the packaging graphics is reassuring. You can buy a kilogram of Imperial Gunpowder tea for a few dollars in Chinatown, which is much less than in non Chinese neighbourhoods.

What is amazing about Imperial Gunpowder tea is that it has a smoky flavour to it. There is a markedly different quality to the caffeine lift you get from it and from the jasmine tea. There is little doubt in my mind that there are ingredients other than caffeine that give coffee and tea their kick.

This brings me to the subject of Turkish coffee, also known as Greek coffee. The first thing you need is the correct fineness. Turkish coffee is brewed with coffee beans that are ground to the fineness of dust. It is even finer than espresso ground coffee. The easiest way to get that type of coffee is to buy it ready ground. If you have your supermarket grind your coffee, you can ask them to grind for Turkish coffee.. You can also pick up a grinder for about fifteen bucks and grind your own coffee beans.

The next thing you need is a Turkish coffee pot, (pictured above). You could get away with using a tiny sauce pan, but it's a bit harder to make good coffee with it. You fill the Turkish coffee pot with water and bring it to a full boil. Then you take away the pot from the stove, and spoon in the Turkish ground coffee. You pass the pot over the flame on the stove, keeping the water bubbling with the ground coffee gradually submerging in the little pot. You can not leave it on the stove. You have to stand there and pass the pot in and out of the flame on the stove. You want the coffee to bubble without overflowing. When the coffee is frothy like a good cup of espresso, you can put it down on a seving plate and pour it into tiny Turkish coffee cups. Wait a minute or so before drinking to let the grounds settle. If you drink the coffee too quickly, your throat will feel like it was paved over with mud. Leave the last muddy sip in the cup. In Israel, this type of coffee has spread beyond its original base of Arabs and Jews from Arab countries. The slang term for it is "cafe bootz" (mud coffee).

After picking up my motorcycle in Chinatown, my "buzz du jour" is Chinese green tea. I always like to have music to go with my caffeine buzz. Chinese pop music is very catchy. I like shopping in the stores that play it.The only reason I didn't get any music this time around is because I was in a hurry. My total lack of familiarity with the Chinese writing system makes it very hard to shop for Chinese music. I have on occasion gone into a store and hummed a song that I was looking for. In a well stocked record store, this works very well, although my children find it a bit embarrassing.

There is one more beverage with caffeine that is virtually unknown in the US, known as yerba mate. (pronounced "mahtay" I will address that at greater length in another article.

I am fortunate to have found an honest motorcycle mechanic who does not overcharge for unnecessary work. I feel doubly fortunate that he is in Chinatown. Getting my motorcycle fixed, listening to Chinese pop music and stocking up on Chinese tea and vegetables is a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kurt Greenbaum and Internet Free Speech

There is unprecedented freedom in the new cyber age to speak out and be heard. When I look at my site meter and see people all around the country and the world reading my articles, this becomes readily apparent.

There is a note of caution to those who like to sound off. You can be tracked by those determined to do so. When you leave a comment on a newspaper web site or an on line bulletin board, there is an electronic trail. Your ISP is recorded as well as other information that can be used to track down the location and identity of someone posting a comment. A pen name or "name withheld" notation does not under all circumstances suffice to hide your identity.

Freedom of speech and fostering spirited debate weigh on the side of anonymity. Public safety and defamatory postings are among the considerations that could abrogate the reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Chicago Tribune cited as follows an instance of an instance of slander being judged to fall outside the pale of acceptable on line speech.

"In a typical scenario, someone makes a comment alleged to be defamatory. That's what happened when Lisa Stone, a Buffalo Grove village trustee, took offense to a posting on a Daily Herald site by someone calling himself "Hipcheck16."

The comment, made to Stone's 15-year-old son, insinuated the teen made a habit of inviting strange men to his home.

"Or do they usually invite you to their house?" Hipcheck16 added.

An appalled Stone sought the writer's identity in court, and a judge ruled in November that she should be told the commenter's name. The poster's attorney has appealed. Stone said she believes the man, identified as "John Doe" in court documents, would never have made the comments to her son's face."

The article cites a considerably shakier case in which an anonymous individual twice left an obscene reply to a poll asking readers what the most disgusting thing was that they had ever eaten. The comment was deleted twice. That is when Kurt Greenbaum, editor of the St Louis Post Dispatch swung into action. In his personal blog under the smug sounding title, "Post a vulgar comment while you're at work, lose your job.", he described his actions as follows.

"By mid-morning, a number of folks had commented about their experiences with Bird’s Nest Soup, octopus, cow brains and rattlesnake. Then, while I was in our 10 a.m. news meeting, someone posted a vulgar, two-syllable word for a part of a woman’s anatomy. It was there only a minute before a colleague deleted it.

A few minutes later, the same guy posted the same single-word comment again. I deleted it, but noticed in the WordPress e-mail that his comment had come from an IP address at a local school. So I called the school. They were happy to have me forward the e-mail, though I wasn’t sure what they’d be able to do with the meager information it included.

About six hours later, I heard from the school’s headmaster. The school’s IT director took a shine to the challenge. Long story short: Using the time-frame of the comments, our website location and the IP addresses in the WordPress e-mail, he tracked it back to a specific computer. The headmaster confronted the employee, who resigned on the spot."

I fail to see the urgent threat to public safety contained in the sophomoric comment. The user name could have been banned. The commenter could have been e mailed and warned. I was not alone in my disgust with the St. Louis Post Dispatch editor. I scanned the comments on Greenbaum's pompous and self satisfied article. He was overwhelmingly condemned by the numerous individuals who weighed in on his dubious actions. The following comment by one Ira Mitchell was fairly typical.

"You seem to revel in the fact that a guy who made a mildly-offensive, silly comment on an asinine blog post is no longer employed. That's a dick move in and of itself. However, the worst part of all of this is what you think passes for interesting content. "Strangest thing you ever ate?" What's next, "Tell us your favorite song?" Something tells me you're going to see many things worse than the "P" word on what you call columns in the future thanks to a certain type of media on which you feel you're an expert. For someone who has self-annointed himself the "STL Social Media Guy", you're pretty clueless -- and perhaps dangerous to the Social Media movement (from a laughingstock perspective at the very least). Oh and if you're going to report me to my boss for an implied (again) "P" word, that's fine."

The reaction of Greenbaum seems to be a textbook case of annoying speech that should at least be free from retaliation, even if it is not protected. Since the controversy erupted back in November, Greenbaum has been pilloried in cyberspace. His name was bought as a url and redirected to a site that is devoted solely to condemning him. The site comes up #2 on a Google search for Kurt Greenbaum that lists his work telephone and extension. The site even lists the church Greenbaum attends. I do not envy the guy. But he brought it on himself.

I once wrote about a murder in Brooklyn. Someone posted a comment who sounded like they might be what the police called a "person of interest". I have saved the comment but not published it. I would gladly share it with law enforcement if they were interested. The person implied that he or she was friends with the killer(s) and used gang slang.

That is my bottom line. If I can stop a crime or bring a criminal to justice by working with law enforcement, I will do it. Other than that, keeping those who make comments anonymous is pretty much a sacred duty. And just to be crystal clear, the crime would have to be pretty heinous to use my position as a writer to cost someone their job or their freedom. I don't even like complaining about a rude waitress. Costing a person their job is no laughing matter.

Unfortunately, the question of internet anonymity is pretty murky. You are probably safer commenting from home or from an internet cafe if you feel that what you say will tick off some thin skinned editor. Had the anonymous commenter who lost his job been at home, his internet service provider probably would have shrugged off any inquiry. The legal department for the ISP would have blocked any request for an actual name and address. Whatever protection the law or web site might promise you, you might have to sue to get it. And that can take a very long time. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bioethics: A New State Religion?

Years ago, I read parts of a book, "Jewish Bioethics" by Dr. Fred Rosner. The late Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Immanuel Jakobowits was a pioneer in developing the field of evaluating ethical dilemmas in medicine in accordance with traditional Jewish teachings. There were times in my life when asking and being informed of Jewish law in a particular instance was of great comfort to me and other family members. People in other faith traditions also turn to their clergy in times when troublesome problems occur. I know of a couple of instances where friends stood their ground when Jewish law demanded efforts to cure the patient that were at odds with prevailing medical wisdom.

I instinctively felt ambivalent when I heard that Rahm Emmanuel's brother, Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel came out as a bioethicist in discussions of public health. This is an individual hired by the government and put into positions of shaping public health policy. He wants "bioethicists" advising families of the seriously and terminally ill on medical decisions. It has become clear that the new age "bioethicist" is of a different stripe from the personal clergyman called by distraught family.

The Hoover Institution Policy Review focused in a recent issue on the shifting role and definition of bioethics from the domain of personal clergy people and spiritual advisors to an arm of the hospital administration and the government.

Dr. Douglas Hanto is one of the new breed of bioethicist. Two years ago, Lisa Cunningham, a 40 year old social worker with a young son found out about Dr. Hanto when she was at the threshhold of geting a kidney transplant. What did Dr. Hanto do ? How did he touch the life of Ms. Cunningham in her hour of tribulation? The Hoover Policy Review reports as follows.

A few years ago, Hanto, a former head of the ethics committee of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, had his hospital turn away a fragile patient named Lisa Cunningham, a 40-year-old former social worker with a young son, whose prospective donor read about her plight in a local newspaper. Arthur Caplan, a prominent bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, condemned donor solicitation online as “an outbreak of impatience combined with a me-first attitude,” he told a reporter.

How was Ms. Cunningham hurting anyone else? She was on a waiting list for kidneys belonging to deceased individuals. She found a living donor. Everyone behind her moved up the list by one slot. But Dr. Hanto doesn't like that. Everyone has to wait their turn. Dr. Hanto is quite a powerful man.

Bioethicists are expanding their reach, much as Hollywood stars are into areas far outside their professional domain. Consider the view of Ruth Macklin. The HooverInstitution Policy Review continues as follows

"Bioethicists like Ruth Macklin of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine would have bioethics adopt an aggressive pursuit of social justice. “As a liberal, humanitarian bioethicist,” she told interviewers, “I acknowledge that my chief concern is in striving for greater social justice within and among societies, and reducing disparities in health, wealth, and other resources among populations in the world.” Howard Brody opines that the future agenda of bioethics “ought to be concerned with power disparities.” These may be noble aspirations, but one must ask what particular authority or skill bioethicists possess that qualifies them to solve global health problems, let alone economic ones. Achieving social justice in health is a complex task that requires the forging of a meaningful universal agreement on what health care should be like and what kind of scheme should dictate the national and transnational allocation of medical resources. "

Indeed, Sally Santel, the author of the Hoover Institution Journal was invited to address the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) concerning whether or not ASBH should take political positions, her opposition to the idea got a decidedly chilly reception.

It seems that there is an aggressive effort underway to usurp the role once occupied by trained clergy in making life and death decisions. As coercive as religious authority might be, I have the right when consulting my clergyman to hang up the phone and call someone else. People like DR. Hanto take that free choice out of the equation.

Who pays the bioethicist? You can call yourself a doctor. You can have credentials as a computer technician or a plumber. But is it not presumptuous to call oneself a bioethicist? It's almost like calling yourself a dignitary. I want someone trained in and a believer of my faith to guide me in life and death decisions. People like Ezekiel Emmanuel and Douglas Hanto want to change that. Who elected them? How do you discharge them from office?

I have great respect for doctors. They have a lot of schooling and a great deal of scientific knowledge. I have always asked questions of doctors and attached heavy weight to their medical opinions and judgement. But it is my right to incorporate the knowledge they present to me into my own ethical framework. The new system being quietly imposed upon us is one step away from discharging privately trained clergy and replacing them with clergy trained by the state.

I am haunted by the story of Lisa Cunningham, barred from a kidney transplant by a self styled moral arbiter. I fear that such instances of overreaching arrogance will become more and more commonplace.

The system of checks and balances is commonly assumed to involve the legislative, the executive and the judicial. The family, the clergy and the press are all completely independent of the three branches of government. Yet strong and vibrant private institutions such as the family, clergy and press are a critical counterbalance to the overreaching authority of the government. It is critical that this authority not be undermined. As government seeks to do more and more. We must ask ourselves what the price will be. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Testicularly Challenged Seattle Security Guards

This is what I call an on the job welfare program. In Seattle, Washington, a 15 year old girl was set upon by a wolf pack of teenagers who took offense to what she was wearing. (!) A video in the downtown bus terminal shows the girl trying to stand near security guards who were hired as decoration for the bus terminal. What she did not know was that the security guards were hired as "observers", kind of like the United Nations, but not as well paid.

The video of the incident shows one of the security guards calling on his radio for help. Not one of the security guards even attempts defensive moves on behalf of the 15 year old girl. Despite the fact that she was unconscious after the attack, not one guard checks on the girl. During the beating, one "guard" actually turns his back on the unconscious teen. King5 News Reports as follows.

"The video clearly shows that all of this is taking place right in front of three security guards. They are well marked with bright yellow jackets that have SECURITY written on the back. While the victim is on the ground getting punched, the guards immediately reach for their radios and call for help, but they do little else.

After the victim is punched, the attack gets worse. The suspect then kicks the girl’s face and stomps on her head six times. The guards make no attempt to get in the middle of the girls or to pull the attacker away. One guard is seen in the distance looking on. He never approaches the scene. Another guard turns his back on the assault. The third stands just inches from the girls, looking on."

Nothing in the job contracts of the guards required them to intervene. They were simply hired to "observe". Simple laws of human decency would dictate at least some sort of action on the girl's behalf, but apparently common decency had called in sick on the day of the attack.

Fortunately, the girl did not suffer permanent damage, despite numerous kicks to her head. Four perps have been arrested, after an admirable job by the Seattle Police Department of hunting down the assailants.

Many are asking what earthly good a squad of "observers" is. It would be better for such useless individuals to be collecting welfare and being trained at a real job than to spend their entire work day creating an illusion of safety. Anyone who is a security guard should have some training in dealing with such situations. Even circling the girl and maintaining a defensive posture on her behalf would have been preferable.

I remember the Crown Heights riots of 1991, when police were ordered not to attack or arrest rioters. The sight of police actually emboldened lawbreakers. I remember clearly when cops changed their approach after about three days of violence. The disorder quickly subsided. The lesson from this is that a small show of resolution and willingness to use force can often stop an attack. Security guards should be trained in on the spot intervention as they call for police backup. Their pay should reflect their added responsibilities.

The Seattle Fiasco should be studied. There are probably many malls decorated with men who look like police but are really out for a stroll for low wages. Such a law enforcement strategy is worse than useless. We should stop it now.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Utility Bills, A Survival Guide


  A notice came in the mail today. It told me that the city marshals could be coming by any day to cut off our gas and to take out our gas meter. My first objective was to buy time. The notice said that  $643.25 is due immediately. My prior experience is that they will give you more time if you ask.

Each utility has its own rules. I almost always have some kind of agreement running with Con Edison or Keyspan. (The gas company) You have to know what each notice means. When the electric company tells you that you have broken your agreement and need to pay the entire balance of $900.00 or whatever, don't panic. Call immediately. Usually, you have a couple of weeks to come up with enough money to pay only the overdue portion and reinstate the agreement. The general rule is that you try to get the agreement reinstated before they read the meter again. The gas company operates the same way. Usually, what they really want right away is less than what they are demanding in the notice.

With both gas and electric, you can often get agreements that will split a past balance over a number of months. They will probably ask you to pay the past due balance spread out over four months or so. Try to see how thinly they will spread out the balance. You can usually get a twelve installment plan. It's best to make an agreement you can keep. Any you have to keep track of your agreements with the gas and the electric company. For the duration of the agreement, you will be paying your current bill, plus a portion of the arrears.Keep track of that. And keep track of how many days you have after a broken agreement notice to reinstate the agreement. It takes a while to learn how to read between the lines.

With cell phone bills or cable bills, you have to keep track of the past due amount. If you let two months accumulate, you can end up with a big bill to pay. Always meet the deadline to pay an overdue bill a day or so before a new billing cycle begins. That can buy you enough time to pay the current portion a month later. If you have a big cell phone bill, try to analyse where the charges are coming from. Getting more anytime minutes can help you avoid overtime minutes. Also, look for mistakes. They might have put you on the wrong plan. If you are asking for a plan with higher minutes, you can ask for a break on the bill. You can ask for anything. Sometimes a reconnect fee can be waived. It adds up. But if you don't ask, you won't get. If you have family in Canada or overseas, ask about plans that give you a break on international service or calls to Canada. Crunch the numbers. It may be worth your while.

Keep up with your notices. Learn how strict each utility is about cutting off when the notice says. Keep track of what you promise and when you have to deliver.

Always be polite and friendly. I had a fifteen minute conversation with a tech support guy from India about the political situation in India. I guessed which party he supported. He was shocked. I once had a hospital clerk who wouldn't give me discharge papers to let my newborn come home from the hospital. We got into a conversation about Greek music. Her face lit up, and she typed out the release papers as we were speaking. Another guy at a hospital was a stickler for procedure. He was from Biafra. We talked about the Biafra Nigeria civil war. Afterward, he wasn't such a stickler for detail. But be careful with that one. If I had praised the wrong side in that conflict, things might have turened out differently.

Never get angry at anyone, over the phone or in person. Always shift the discussion so that you and the service representative, clerk or relationship specialist are both facing the same system. If they stand their ground, express sympathy. Say that you realise that certain exceptions probably have to be granted at the managerial level. Ask if you can speak with someone who has the authority to bend the rules. Do not phrase  it in a way that you want to complain to the person's supervisor. If you are mentioning the authority to bend rules, it might appeal to the ego of the service representative, who may want to prove that they have more authority.

I once got a ticket dismissed by saying to the judge, " I realise that the wording of this ticket could be interpreted to my detriment. I ask that your honour use whatever discretion might be used to my benefit."

Another time I was appealing a ticket for written for a 15 passenger van that was legally a station wagon. I was driving for my work. I pleaded "not guilty".

"As you can see from the registration, I was drivng a station wagon." I said as I  I presented the papers. As far as the city was concerned, I was driving a station wagon.Had the traffic agent copied the information from the dashboard, I would have been stuck.

The judge cross examined me.

"You were driving for your work. Is that correct?"

"Yes your honour." I replied.

So you drive a van for your work. Is that correct?"

I noticed that answering affirmatively would have undermined my position. So I answered very carefully.

"I drive whatever vehicle the agency assigns me." I replied.

The judge smiled. He seemed amused as he dismissed my ticket..

Beating tickets in New York City is a whole separate chapter. In general, although it is time consuming, you are better off fighting them in person. Appealing a ticket on line or by mail is a waste of time. Once you are denied on line or by mail, it is very difficult to appeal.

Some numbers are always busy. I once had to call a post office with a number that ended in three zeroes. Instead of dialing "3000" at the end, I dialed "3001, 3002,3003, etc. until I got a phone to ring. The person replied, "Yes this is the Post Office. But I don't know how you got my desk." They connected me to the right person without a long wait time. It doesn't work every time. But it's worth a try.

On more than one occasion I have gotten a service representative who was downright difficult. I knew that they were mistaken. So I just said. "Excuse me. I have to answer the door." and hung up. Immediately, I called back and got someone who was more reasonable. This has worked on numerous occasions. For it to work, you must be polite to a fault. If they note your computer records, the next service representative might not be working with a clean slate.

The most important things to remember in dealing with people in government, utilities and businesses are as follows.

1) They are part of a system, but they are individuals. If you can appeal to someone as an individual, you can then shift the discussion so that you both are trying to work your way through the system.

2) Each agency or company has its administrative rules. Get to know what they are. Because that is what you have to work with.

3) Keep track of what you promise, and deliver. Because there will be a data trail. I once told a reluctant clerk, "If you will look at my payment records, you will notice that I always pay at the last minute." But I have lived in this apartment for 15 years. I'm not running off to Brazil."

4) The whole world looks different if you speak kindly. Once I got a call from a telemarketer. "Mr. Stettner, today is your lucky day. You have just won $500.00 worth of gifts for only $9.95. I listened to what she had to say.

"Are you reading from a script?" I asked.

The line grew quiet, except for the hum of other telemarketers in the background. "Yes I am. She admitted."

"Is today your first day on the job?" I asked.

"Yes it is." she replied

"I've worked at telemarketing. I was miserable at it. I dreaded every call. It's very difficult work for me to adjust to." I answered. "I wish you success at whatever you do, but I'm not interested.. Have a good day."

But there are some situations that just seem to cry out for rudeness. A friend of mine got a call from a fraudulent charity. He asked the person. "Isn't  it against the law to call a person on the phone and use obscene and abusive language?"

"Yes it is." the telemarketer replied.

"But if you receive a call, then you are not bound in the same manner in the language you may use. Is that correct?"

"That is correct." replied the telemarketer.

"So sir, since you have called me...."

I leave the rest of the conversation to the imagination of my readers. But that was one call where the telemarketer hung up.

We are in tough times. Paying your bills and keeping services running takes tact,  knowledge and skill. If you handle it right, you may enjoy yourself along the way. Sphere: Related Content