Saturday, July 4, 2015

Violent Idealism

Political Idealism

“To try to reform all the power structures at once would leave us with no power structure to use in our project. In any case, we will be able to see that absolute moral renewal could be attempted only by an absolute power and that a tyrannous force such as this must destroy the whole moral life of man, not renew it.” 
Michael Polanyi & Harry ProschMeaning (1975)

A review article, by Rick Perlstein, of Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage in The Nation discusses what happens when the worst sort of impatient idealism meets with violence; this accurately describes the actions of the New Left’s radical wing in the 1970s and early ’80s. In “Ignorant Good Will” Perlstein writes about the New Left’s fascination with violence, taking inspiration from, among others, China’s Chairman Mao, no stranger to gratuitous violence and its use for selfish and grandiose political aims:
The terrorists attacked their target in New York on a sunny Tuesday in autumn—but not the sunny Tuesday we now commemorate. The year was 1981—a year in which, as Bryan Burrough observes in Days of Rage, his sprawling history of America’s post-’60s radical underground, the country had suffered the greatest number of fatalities from terrorism in that era of radical violence. That figure would not be surpassed again until the year the World Trade Center was bombed.
The 1981 attack is one of dozens of acts of cinematic violence narrated in Days of Rage, and it encapsulates some of the book’s key themes. A leader in the group that staged the attack was a man named Sekou Odinga. Born Nathaniel Burns, he had returned from Algeria, where he’d worked as a deputy for Eldridge Cleaver, who had established the Black Panther Party’s “international section” there (and was accorded official diplomatic recognition from Algiers). “We have a solidarity group in China,” Cleaver told a writer visiting his lair, which had a giant electrified map with colored lights that could be flicked on and off to represent revolutionary battlefronts all over the world. “Its chairman is Chairman Mao.” Cleaver also informally directed a new group from Algeria: the Black Liberation Army, a collection of terrorist cells that crisscrossed the United States, ambushing cops in cold blood. Upon its dissolution, Odinga helped start an even more shadowy and brutal organization, so informal that it went nameless, although its members referred to it as “the Family.”
The Family had an advantage over the Black Liberation Army, what its leaders called a “white edge”: a band of worshipful white fellow travelers who provided cover by renting cars and forging IDs. What the disciples didn’t know was that in the New York action, Mutulu Shakur and his comrades were going to carry out a “revolutionary expropriation” in order to buy cocaine. While two white accomplices, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, waited in a U-Haul truck, Shakur and two other men leaped out of a nearby van, shot a Brink’s guard to death, loaded $1.6 million in cash into the van, and sped off. Police officers intercepted the U-Haul vehicle and were about to release its white occupants—eyewitnesses had said the criminals were black—when Shakur’s crew sprang out of the rented truck and raked Rockland County’s finest with machine-gun fire, killing two.
Boudin and Gilbert ended up holding the bag, which had been the plan all along.
If the attack proved anything, it was the extraordinary resilience of “revolutionary” violence in the United States long after it had any conceivable chance of bringing about social change (assuming that such a chance existed in the first place). It also drew attention to the cultish behavior of the Family, their systematic exploitation of revolution-besotted acolytes, the incompetence of law-enforcement agencies in tracking them down, the underground network that assisted them, and the blood—barrels of it.
That romanticism of violence, particularly by those far removed from its deleterious effects (“radical chic”), carries on today among advocates and devotees of the New Left, who view America only as an “evil nation,” unredeemable in its current political and economic structure. The New Left is often confused with liberalism; it is not. It does, however, have elements of both marxist and anarchist theory in its doctrines of revolution.

More important, the New Left has little or nothing in common with its predecessor, the Old Left, which was chiefly concerned with the rights of workers, economic issues and in particular issues revolving around social class. That the New Left wanted progress on social issues is understandable, and some of its ideas on women’s rights, on minority rights, and on the environment were ahead of its time. Its opposition to the Vietnam War was also later shown to be right.

Its chief mistake, among many, it seems, was its means of persuasion, and overestimating what it could achieve in a short period of time. It had unrealistic timelines; unrealistic understanding of the public appetite for revolutionary change, and perhaps, most important, it held an unrealistic understanding and appreciation of its power and influence in relation to the power and will of the American government and all of its agencies to maintain not only the old established order but also general civil order. This is after all one of the chief responsibilities of government in a civil society.

The New Left came out of the counter-culture and hippie movements of the 1960s, essentially a protest movement that drew inspiration from the Vietnam War, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Black Power movements. Unhappy with the communism’s authoritarian nature (as became publicly evident in the former Soviet Union), it thought it had a better way to create a new political order through the creation of new power structures. Social change is always easier than economic change, the history of nations show; it is easier to gain the public trust than it is to change the thinking of markets, which like no changes at all, but do, at times, from a position of self-interest, concede small incremental improvements to the mass of humanity. The market has no morality; zero compassion, zero empathy.

But violent idealists do, and plenty of emotion to fuel their anger and resentments. Yet, like all impatient and intemperate groups, revolution, violence and terrorism became an acceptable and “normal” way to achieve a “desired end.” Or to put it in simple terms, create disorder and disharmony. This, of course, means the destruction of old power structures, which only leads, as Polanyi & Prosch astutely write in Meaning, to horrible results for humanity. This shows that it is not enough to have a degree of idealism or good intentions, and that idealism combined with violence never achieves its desired aims. It becomes an end in itself, where it often leads to confusion, social unrest and eventually the restoration of law and order through tyranny.

A better long-term strategy for social change is to patiently and diligently work within the current system and use the nation’s judicial and political systems, the two arms of democracy. Laws have legitimacy, and that is what counts in the end. The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States is one recent example of using this approach, as was working to change cultural views through film, books, TV and other social media—an evolutionary process of societal adaptation. Idealism ought to also have a practical objective, if it is to eventually gain broad social acceptance. Gay individuals wanting to get married meets this criteria.

Overthrowing a democratically elected government does not.

For more, go to [The Nation]

Happy July Fourth, or Independence Day, to my American friends. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Elton John: Someone Saved My Life Tonight (1980)

Elton John performs “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” at New York City’s Central Park in 1980. The band is as follows: Elton John (piano and lead vocals); Tim Renwick (guitar and vocals); Richard Zito (guitar and vocals); James Newton Howard (keyboards and vocals); Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums and lead vocals on “Saturday Night” & “All I Want Is You”). An estimated 400,000 were present on the Great Lawn for the free show. (Concerts at Central Park have a long tradition, dating to the mid-19th century, says NYC Parks.)

Here is the set list for the Elton John show of September 13, 1980:
  1. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding 
  2. Tiny Dancer 
  3. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 
  4. All the Girls Love Alice 
  5. Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time) 
  6. Sartorial Eloquence 
  7. Philadelphia Freedom (Elton John Band song)
  8. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word 
  9. Saturday Night (Nigel Olsson cover)
  10. All I Want Is You (Nigel Olsson cover)
  11. Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting 
  12. Harmony 
  13. White Lady White Powder 
  14. Little Jeannie 
  15. Bennie and the Jets 
  16. Imagine (John Lennon cover)
  17. Ego 
  18. Have Mercy on the Criminal 
  19. Someone Saved My Life Tonight 
  20. Your Song 
  21. Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!) 
  22. Good Golly Miss Molly (Little Richard cover)
Many of us can recall moments when someone did something, some action, some kind gesture, some noble act to “save” you from a certain misfortune that you were then unaware of; this is the central meaning of this song. This is the essence of friendship. Nothing more to add.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Migration Of Jewish Cuisine


My mother made borscht, having learned how to make it from her mother who immigrated from the Transylvanian region of Romania to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century; my father, who was born in Poland and came to Canada after the Second World War, nevertheless, enjoyed my mother’s borscht. I, on the other hand, learned how to make borscht from my wife, who is from Russia, and I find this recipe delicious, although it differs slightly from my mother’s. Although all these are Jewish-style borscht, and all our families spoke Yiddish, there are differences in how the beet borscht soup is made, These regional differences are encapsulated in a cookbook—also the history of a lost Jewish world—recently translated from Yiddish into English by Eve Jochnowitz, the daughter of Prof. George Jochnowitz, who writes: “Its 400 recipes range from traditional Jewish dishes (kugel, blintzes, fruit compote, borscht) to vegetarian versions of Jewish holiday staples (cholent, kishke, schnitzel) to appetizers, soups, main courses, and desserts that introduced vegetables and fruits that had not traditionally been part of the repertoire of the Jewish homemaker (Chickpea Cutlets, Jerusalem Artichoke Soup; Leek Frittata; Apple Charlotte with Whole Wheat Breadcrumbs).”

by George Jochnowitz

Borscht: This is a staple comfort food in many Jewish households; and healthy and delicious too.
Photo Credit: Liz West
Source: The Forward

Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region.

Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The Hague, The Netherlands. 1965) offers us the following information: “The custom of preparing fish as a Sabbath delicacy dates at least to Talmudic times, and is universal in our area. However, sweetened fish, also called poyliše fiš “Polish fish,” is generally unpalatable to those east of the border, who prefer their fish seasoned only with pepper” (p. 18). He includes a map, Figure 2.1, on page 19 showing us the boundary line between gefilte fish with and without sugar.

My interest in languages and dialects led me to discover the regional variations in East European Jewish cultural traditions that Herzog mentions. My daughter Eve, who is a baker and a cook, in addition to being a Yiddish teacher, is the translator of a vegetarian cookbook by health-conscious Fania Lewando of pre-WWII Vilna, called The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook: Garden-Fresh Recipes Rediscovered and Adapted for Today's Kitchen by Fania Lewando.

Its 400 recipes range from traditional Jewish dishes (kugel, blintzes, fruit compote, borscht) to vegetarian versions of Jewish holiday staples (cholent, kishke, schnitzel) to appetizers, soups, main courses, and desserts that introduced vegetables and fruits that had not traditionally been part of the repertoire of the Jewish homemaker (Chickpea Cutlets, Jerusalem Artichoke Soup; Leek Frittata; Apple Charlotte with Whole Wheat Breadcrumbs).

Accompanying the recipes are lush full-color drawings of vegetables and fruit that had originally appeared on bilingual (Yiddish and English) seed packets. Lewando's cookbook was sold throughout Europe.

Eve cites Herzog when discussing the recipes in the book. In her discussion of Fania Lewando’s recipe for toasted farfel porridge, she paraphrases Herzog by telling us, “Chopping would have been the method for making dough into farfel in Fania’s Vilna. In other parts of the Yiddish world, traditional methods of farfel preparation included cutting, plucking, and grating the dough” (pp. 87-88).

Eve’s interests led her to earn a doctorate in culinary ethnography. Now she has finished translating this cookbook, originally written in Yiddish. Interestingly, it was necessary to know both Yiddish and culinary ethnography to do this translation.

On June 2, there was a celebration of the book’s launching at YIVO, located in New York’s Center for Jewish History. The following day, Eve participated in a discussion of Lewando and her work at New York’s Tenement Museum.

During these events, we learned about the popularity of Lewando’s restaurant in Vilna and about how innovative her recipes were. Lewando included recipes from different Yiddish-speaking areas as well as from cooking traditions of other communities. She also invented her own dishes. I was delighted to taste blueberry soup and cabbage cake for the first time in my life.

Lewando was interested in health and in vegetarianism, two subjects that are connected. She wanted to improve the world by creating and spreading healthy vegetarianism. The book contained impassioned essays by Lewando and by a physician about the benefits of vegetarianism. Lewando wanted to make history.

For a brief while, it seemed she was making history. The restaurant owned by her husband, Lazar Lewando, and operated by Fania, was respected as no kosher restaurant in Eastern Europe had ever been. It was not your ordinary dairy restaurant. It was a place that appealed to writers, artists, and intellectuals. Famous people signed their names in the guest book. Among them was Marc Chagall. It was the wave of the future. The world was ready for a new and sophisticated vegetarian haute cuisine, and Fania Lewando was providing exactly what humanity was looking for.

Alas, a different aspect of history unmade her and her plans. Her cookbook first appeared in 1938, a year before the outbreak of World War II. She and her husband were unable to flee to the Soviet Union, where some other Jews managed to escape and survive. Her dreams of a new and healthy vegetarian world were lost—at least at that time.

But in 1995 a couple attending an antiquarian book fair in England came upon a copy of Lewando's cookbook. Recognizing its historical value, they purchased it and donated it to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City, the premier repository for books and artifacts relating to prewar European Jewry. Enchanted by the book's contents and by its backstory, YIVO commissioned a translation of the book to make Lewando's charming, delicious, and practical recipes available to an audience beyond the wildest dreams of the visionary woman who created them.

Now that her book exists in an English translation, and now that the world is more health-conscious and interested in vegetarianism than ever before, maybe her dream will be realized through this translation.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached

Copyright ©2015. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This review originally appeared in Arutz Sheva (June 29, 2015) and then in the algemeiner (June 30, 2015). It is republished here with the author’s permission.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Health Risks Of Radiation


Non-Ionizing Versus Ionizing Radiation: Ionizing radiation is the greater concern; the World Health Organization writes: “Epidemiological studies on populations exposed to  radiation (for example atomic bomb survivors or radiotherapy patients) showed a significant increase of cancer risk at doses above 100 mSv.” It, however, adds: “If the dose is low or  delivered over a long period of time (low dose rate), there is greater likelihood for damaged cells to successfully repair themselves. However, long-term effects may still occur if the cell damage is repaired but incorporates errors, transforming an irradiated cell that still retains its capacity for cell division. This transformation may lead to cancer after years or even decades have passed. Effects of this type will not always occur, but their likelihood is proportional to  the radiation dose. This risk is higher for children and adolescents, as they are significantly more sensitive to radiation exposure than adults.”
Source: Teraphysics

An article, by Sarah Laskow, in Foreign Policy gives a comprehensive review on humanity’s use of radiation, with the intent of answering a couple of important question. What do we really know about the harmful effects to humans of ionizing radiation like gamma rays (γ) and medical x-rays? The question to ask is what is considered a safe dose?

In “The Mushroom Cloud and the X-Ray Machine” (March 26, 2015), Laskow writes about the history of determining safe radiation exposure, beginning with the United States testing of nuclear weapons on Ailuk Atoll in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954 (It detonated a thermonuclear bomb of 15 megatons, 1,000 times greater than was dropped over Hiroshima.) There was fallout:
In the 1950s, the U.S. government may have had the best of intentions when it told the residents of Ailuk that they were safe, but technically speaking, authorities weren’t in a position to offer those assurances. What U.S. government scientists said at the time was that below 25 roentgens, they could not see any effects on a person’s body. But they allowed for the possibility that, over time, small amounts of radiation exposure might cause genetic damage. In other words, the most reliable science of the era could not measure the effects of the relatively low levels of radiation that reached Ailuk.
Today, despite the 2,053 nuclear weapons tested around the world during the Cold War, the more than 430 nuclear power plants currently operating in 31 countries, and the skyrocketing use of radiation in medicine—annually, there are 20 million nuclear-medicine procedures in the United States alone—scientists are still uncertain about those risks. The estimated total levels of radiation that reached Ailuk were ultimately determined to be less than 10 roentgens. By today’s safety standards, such levels would be less than what is referred to as “low dose,” which is anything below 100 millisieverts (mSv), the metric measure now used, or roughly equal to 10 roentgens.
Over the past 17 years, the U.S. Energy Department has invested in more than 240 projects, at a cost of over $130 million, to discover the effects of low-dose radiation on humans and the environment, to no avail. This January, the House of Representatives passed a bill calling for a new road map for low-dose research to find a science-backed reason to end what are—in the words of House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican—“overly restrictive regulations” on nuclear industries.
Although the bill appears on its face benign, calling for coordinated efforts by scientists to finally get to the bottom of low-dose exposure risks, its goal is to discredit the so-called “linear no-threshold” (LNT) model, which has formed the basis for radiation safety policy for decades. This model assumes that radiation at any dose is harmful—an approach used by regulatory bodies, both in the United States and internationally. While most scientists agree that the LNT model offers a reasonably conservative guide for establishing standards, they know it’s based on an estimate—and they understand that, eventually, studies will pinpoint the exact effects of radiation at low doses.
This last point is particularly important to me, because in 1980 I worked as a summer engineering student at a research nuclear reactor; and like all employees who worked around or near the reactor, I received doses of radiation. Before the summer ended, I was given a whole-body scan in a machine similar to a CT scanner to see if I suffered any ill effects during my short four-month internship. None was detected; equally important, my radiation monitor (a thermoluminescent dosimeter, or TLD) registered a low dose. I think it was 17 millirems), which is equivalent to 0.17 mSv, well within safety standards. So I was “safe.” (Today, for example, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission lists the annual dose limit as 50 mSv).

But was I? To be sure, I was certainly within government and industry regulations. But, is this sufficient? Is it a surprise that I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2012? Or was this a random non-correlating event? A mere coincidence? family history? the misfortune of a bad genes? I have no proof of any connection, nor am I willing or have any desire to look for any. The only question that concerns me today is what I can do to limit my exposure to ionizing radiation to only what is medically necessary.

Tomorrow, for example, I am going for a CT scan of my lungs and abdomen (expected dose of radiation: 102 mSv, a not-insignificant dose, but much lower than what an individual undergoing radiation treatment for cancer typically receives). This will be my sixth CT scan in less than three years. It is important to remember that there is an cumulative effect to exposure to radiation.

There are important questions and concerns that many of us today face, One being that science has not yet obtained sufficient understanding of radiation and its effects to humans to know what is really a safe amount of radiation. Then there are the non-medical cases. As is the case with newer technologies, radiation has the ability to do both good and bad, the trick it seems is to determine and thus know the boundary lines between the two. This is important, because if we regularly use a technology like radiation for good purposes (like X-rays, cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment), we ought to know its full effects on the human body, including its risks to well-being and health.

For more, go to [FP]

Today is Canada Day, a celebration and recognition of our nation’s birth on July 1, 1867, a national holiday with the usual and expected fireworks and festivities. To all my fellow Canadians, Happy Canada Day.