Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shaw Prize Winners 2012

Science News

This year's winners of the Shaw Prize were announced in Hong Kong. Winners were announced in the fields of Astronomy, Life Science and Medicine, and Mathematical Sciences:
David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Jane Luu, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge share the astronomy prize for discovering and characterizing trans-Neptune bodies, or those objects in the solar system orbiting just beyond Neptune. Virtually unknown until their joint discovery in 1992 by Jewitt and Luu, these 1200 or so objects are relics of the formation of the solar system and supply short-period comets. [For more information go to ScienceInsider.]
The Shaw Prize is an annual award, first given in 2004, in honour of  Sir Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫), a major figure in the Hong Kong media industry and a long-time philanthropist. The prize recognizes living "individuals, regardless of race, nationality and religious belief, who have achieved significant breakthroughs in academic and scientific research or application, and whose work has resulted in a positive and profound impact on mankind."

The awards ceremony will take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on September 17, 2012. Each winner will receive one million dollars. It is noteworthy that many winners of the Noble Prize have previously won the Shaw Prize, including 2011 Nobel laureates Jules A Hoffmann, Bruce A Beutler, Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess and Brian Schmidt.

Roy Orbison & Johnny Cash: Oh, Pretty Woman

Roy Orbison & Johnny Cash perform "Oh, Pretty Woman" live on the Johnny Cash Show in 1969. No further commentary is necessary. [For more background history, see here.]


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Spring Of Hope

Seasons in the Sun

Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never Is, but always To be blest. 
Alexander Pope, Essay on Man

A View From My Front Window:
Photo Credit: Perry J. Greenbaum, 2012.
Spring is one of my favourite seasons, although it is admittedly short here in Montreal. It seems that we go from winter cold to the summer heat in a mere few weeks. That's right, spring here lasts only a few weeks, at most a month. Trees begin to bud; my neighbour's lilacs blossom then bloom, releasing the sweet-smelling fragrance which fills the air of our backyard, as I read a new book under the shade of my umbrella. It's a luxury that costs me nothing, but affords me something both good and enjoyable.

Spring speaks of hope. After a long winter, although this one was notably mild, humans long for warmth and views of vegetation, greenery and colour. Animals too, I would presume. In Montreal, the spring season earnestly begins in May, after weeks of rain, often the cold deep-in-your-bones variety, in April. The ground is prepared. Wasn't it T.S. Eliot who said, for reasons not similar to mine, in The Waste Land,  "April is the cruellest month..." It's not quite winter; and, yet, it's not quite spring. April might not be the cruelest month, but it might be the one that offers the most promise.

What is about spring that heightens our desire to do good? To make us happy? To break into a dance?

Spring also offers us hope. Without getting too poetic about it, each spring offers renewed hope, since it follows winter, a season of dormancy and death. In the cycle of nature, spring speaks about rebirth and regeneration, hence the hope that life continues, a good and fulfilling life, at least for another season. Another year. Perhaps this will be the year that our latent hopes, our unfulfilled desires, are realized, that they come to fruition.

Truly, it's easier to have hope when things are going well; and, conversely, it's harder to have hope when they are not. Poverty and economic survival can dash hopes, or bring it out like a long-lost friend. It's often the case that a person who is undergoing many travails lives on hope, in that the hope gives him the ability, the sustenance if you will, to live, to carry on—and to wait. Yes, for a miracle.

Waiting and hoping defies the need to do something, to plan and to proceed. To some this seems foolish and wasteful of time. Perhaps so, but I think not. Such a thing as hope is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced either struggles of the soul or struggles for survival, or both; but then again many of you have.

For that reason, you carry such hopes. Maybe this year it will happen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Children At Playgrounds

A news story today caught my eye. In "Fossilized playgrounds: is active play the next dinosaur?", the article says that Canadian children are playing less at playgrounds:
Play comes in many forms, but it is generally freely chosen, spontaneous, self-directed and fun. The 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth reports that Canadian children and youth are not playing enough; assigning an "F" grade for Active Play and Leisure. Forty-six per cent of Canadian kids are getting a mere three hours or less of active play per week, including weekends.1 Additionally, kids spend 63 per cent of their free time after school and on weekends being sedentary.2 This is alarming news, as active play is a promising, accessible and cost-effective solution to help Canadian children and youth meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. 
My wife and I regularly bring our two boys, aged four and ten, to the playground, sometimes with resistance from the older boy. The attraction of the electronic devices is strong, leading to a sedentary life. This might explain the increasing rates of obesity in Canada and the United States.This might also explain why during the weekday evenings, after supper, playgrounds are empty and not full of kids playing. It's a shame, since many of the playgrounds are beautifully constructed, as are the parks. The weekends are different, however; on a nice sunny day, it's full of kids running around and playing spontaneously. Read the full article at [CanadaWireService]

Royal Opera House: Puccini's Tosca (2011)

At London`s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, with The Royal Opera Chorus Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano conducts Puccini`s Tosca in 2011; it is a Jonathan Kent production.

Floria Tosca: Angela Gheorghiu
Mario Cavaradossi: Jonas Kaufmann
Baron Scarpia: Bryn Terfel
Cesare Angelotti: Lukas Jakobski
Spoletta: Hubert Francis
Sciarrone: ZhengZhong Zhou
Sacristan: Jeremy White


Giacomo Puccini  composed Tosca, a three-act opera, and Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa wrote the Italian libretto. The work, like most operas, is based on another narrative, in this case, Victorien Sardou's La Tosca (1887), a French-language dramatic play in five acts set in Rome, Italy, in June 1800. As written, the Kingdom of Naples's control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon's invasion of Italy. (The synopsis for the opera can be found here.)

Puccini's opera premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on January 14, 1900, to a good reception, with numerous encores. But its greater success was in Milan's La Scala, two months later, with Arturo Toscanini conducting on March 17, 1900. It was a great success and played to packed houses.

Front Cover of Tosca: This is an image of the front cover of the original 1899 libretto.
Source: Wikipedia

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jewish Humour: The In-laws

Monday Humor

Much of the Jewish humour on this site can be found in this wonderful book: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding.

This week's humour is focused on the In-laws

Two Jewish women were sitting under hair dryers at the hairdresser. 

The first lady says, "So nu, how's your family?"

The second one responds, "Oh just fine. My daughter is married to the most wonderful man. She never has to cook, he always takes her out. She never has to clean, he got her a housekeeper. She never has to work, he's got such a good job. She never has to worry about the children, he got her a nanny."

She continues with a question to the first lady, "So how is your son these days?"

The first woman says, "Just awful. He is married to such a witch of a woman. She makes him take her out to dinner every night, she never cooks a dish. She made him get her a housekeeper, G-d forbid she should vacuum a carpet! He has to work like a dog because she won't get a job and she never takes care of their children, because she made him get her a nanny!"

Once two ladies came before King Solomon, fighting over a boy.

“He’s my son-in law” one said

“No he’s mine” countered the other.

After thinking for a few minutes the King finally decided on a ruling. “Bring me my sword and we will cut the boy in half, they will each get half.”

“No” the first lady screamed “don’t cut him in half I would rather the second lady get the whole son-in-law.”

Ah hah, said King Solomon with a big smile I now know who is the real mother-in-law. For a only the real mother-in-law would stand quietly while her son-in-law gets cut in half.”


George went on a vacation to the Middle East with most of his family, including his mother-in-law. During their vacation, and while they were visiting Jerusalem, George's mother-in-law died. With the death certificate in hand, George went to the American Consulate Office to make arrangements to send the body back to the States for proper burial. 

The Consul, after hearing of the death of the mother-in-law, told George, "My friend, the sending of a body back to the States for burial is very, very expensive. It could cost as much as $5,000." The Consul continued, "In most of these cases, the person responsible for the remains normally decides to bury the body here. This would only cost $150."

George thinks for some time, and answers the Consul, "I don't care how much it will cost to send the body back. That's what I want to do." 

 The Consul, after hearing this says, "You must have loved your mother-in-law very much, considering the difference in price between $5,000 and $150." 

 "No, it's not that," says George. "You see, I know of a case many, many years ago of a person that was buried here in Jerusalem, and on the third day he was resurrected. Consequently, I do not want to take that chance!"

Voting In 2012: America & Elsewhere

World Politics

Our political institutions work remarkably well. They are designed to clang against each other. The noise is democracy at work. 
Michael Novak

There have already been a number of important elections this year: Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia for an unprecedented third term and assumed office on May 7th; François Hollande was elected president of France and assumed office on May 15th. There are important upcoming elections in Greece on June 17th, Egypt on June 16th and 17th, Mexico on July 1st and Israel on September 4th.

Without a doubt, all of these elections are important on the national and regional levels and certainly to the citizens of these nations. Yet, the one that the whole world will be watching is the American presidential election. Despite misgivings by some, the most important election, however, still remains the presidential elections in the United States scheduled for November 6th. It will pit President Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

One can argue that this will be the most important U.S. presidential election since 1980, and for reasons similar to then. This election will be between two persons with very different ideas and visions of America. Such is always the message. Focus on the differences.

The election will also focus on two very different men who have had very different backgrounds and formative influences. Now, one can say this about all presidential elections in the U.S. (and elsewhere), but in the 2012 elections it's more true. At least that's the message. Mitt Romney grew up in a privileged way, and he makes no secret about it. For him that and his business experience, notably at Bain Capital, are benefits and show that he is a leader who understands business and what it will take to help create jobs and revive an American economy that is sluggish.

For Obama and his supporters, Bain Capital reflects the problem with Romney, suggesting a heartless wealthy man, and thus explains the attack ads. If Romney hopes to win, it would be important if he makes his views on the important issues more clear, notably if he wants the support of those who are not social conservatives. Romney's platform is actually quite centrist and moderate across the board.

As great as the differences between these two men and the parties they represent seem , they are not as major as the differences between parties in Russia, in France, in Greece and in Egypt. It's true that Democrats and Republicans disagree on many major economic and social issues and minor ones too, but their differences are not as great as the party faithful make it out to be. They are both capitalists and have successfully taken advantage of the American economic and political systems.

Although some Republicans might say President Obama is a socialist or even a communist, he's really not. And some Democrats might say Romney is a heartless capitalist, whose decisions closed companies and laid off thousands, well, that is the way capitalism and business works—it is independent of whether the decision-maker is a Republican or Democrat. Consider the alternative. In Greece, for example, there are real Marxists trying to form a government. In Russia, Communists still command some respect and garner a significant share of the votes. In the U.S., branding someone a socialist is hardball politics and part of the rhetoric of trying to win.

For those loyal to the Obama vision, he needs another four years to complete his task, including creating jobs. For his detractors, another four years will ruin America, and Mitt Romney is the only right and sane choice. This election will come down to the economy and voters will cast their ballot based on whom they believe" will make it better for themselves personally. Foreign policy issues rarely influence the decision-making process. No doubt, this will be a polarizing and nasty election, reflecting greatly the state of America itself. Again, depending on how you view politics, such polarization is either good or bad for democracy. I tend to view that it is generally a good thing to have candidates with distinct views. Such is the clanging sound of democracy. After all, do we really want two candidates who think alike?

Now, I am not an American citizen, so I won't be voting in the upcoming elections in the U.S. Yet as a Canadian I will be watching it intently. It would seem that the race will be close, with a certain percentage sticking to party allegiances. Whomever becomes the victor come November 6th, he will have the knowledge that at least 50 per cent of the population didn't vote for him. A good president will take that into consideration; it would be the smart thing to do.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cher: Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves

Cher sings "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves," an early 1970s song that says much about what some Americans go through. Some things never change.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Paul McCartney: Maybe I'm Amazed

Paul McCartney performs "Maybe I'm Amazed," an obvious love tribute to Linda McCartney, his wife and inspiration. This 1970 song is highly under-rated; love is the most important and powerful emotion among the many emotions that guide humans. Thus, we often fear it and its effect on us, embarrassed to make real and genuine declarations of love. We also fear being amazed, surprised and overcome by joy.

Happy birthday to my wife, "Oggie"; I am amazed.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Leonard Bernstein: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17

Leonard Bernstein performs the third movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV. 453, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernstein conducting.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed the work in 1784. There is some debate among musicologists when this was first performed. I will go along with the program notes of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as written by Philip Huscher:
Mozart’s popularity with the Viennese concert public can be gauged from the number of piano concertoshe wrote each year; 1784 was the peak year, with six new concertos. Those are the first works that Mozart entered in the catalog he started that February—a detailed listing, complete with date, instrumentation, and the opening bars of each new piece of music. Both the first entry, a piano concerto in E-flat (K. 449) and this G major concerto, the fifth item, were written not for Mozart’s own use, but for one of his most gifted students, Barbara Ployer, often called Babette. Mozart said she paid him handsomely for it, though its value to musicians through the years can’t be rendered in common currency.
 Barbara Ployer gave the first performance on June 13 at her family’s summer home in the Viennese suburb of Döbling, accompanied by an orchestra her father hired for the occasion. Mozart brought along as his guest the celebrated Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, whose newest hit, The Barber of Seville, had already made Figaro an operatic sensation before either Mozart or Rossini got the chance. Mozart himself took the keyboard part in his Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds—the work that directly precedes the concerto in his catalog—and, as an added attraction, joined Miss Ployer in his two-piano sonata, K.448. The evening was an upscale entertainment heightened by great music. In the way that Mozart managed better than nearly any composer at any time, this music touches both connoisseur and dilettante alike—it’s music of surpassing technical brilliance, but also, in Mozart’s own words, “written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Charlie Chaplin: The Rink (1916)

Charlie Chaplin stars in The Rink, a 21-minute silent short in which he also directed, one of the dozen films that he made for Mutual Studios.

It's a comedy set in a hectic restaurant and then a roller rink. In this 1916 silent work, Chaplin shows not only his able skills at roller skating, but also, of greater importance, his ability to make us laugh aloud. As one film site says:
Charlie Chaplin's 2-reel laugh parade The Rink was based on "Skating," a sketch Chaplin had previously performed while a member of the Fred Karno stage troupe. Chaplin plays a waiter who determines what his customers have had for dinner by checking the food spots on their clothes. After quitting time, Chaplin repairs to the ice skating rink, where his skill and grace catches the eye of pretty socialite Edna Purviance. She invites him to a soiree, where he runs afoul of massive Eric Campbell for the third time that day. A melee results, whereupon Chaplin hooks a passing auto with his cane and makes his escape. The Rink was the eighth of Chaplin's "golden dozen" short subjects filmed during his stay at Mutual Studios.  —Hal Erickson, Rovi

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Predictable Violence Of Protests

Dissent & Dignity

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. 
Martin Luther King, Jr

Young Protesters Amass in Montreal as a group of mounted police look on. Many of the protesters wear the requisite black masks and hoist the black flag of the anarchists, an ideology that believes in stateless societies. Yet their use of such symbols is a western invention. The city of Montreal adopted a new bylaw on March 18 that has made it illegal to don a mask, scarf or hood during a public demonstration—thus making it illegal to hide your face while protesting. In addition, a proposed federal law would make it illegal to wear a mask, as is the case with some in this protest, during a riot or an unlawful assembly. The maximum penalty for wearing one in an unlawful assembly would be five years in prison, and 10 years for wearing one during a riot.
Photo Credit: Sheldon Levy, 2012

You see them come out regularly and predictably, protesting against Israel, America, Capitalism and The West, saying the words with apparent meaning and accompanied by malice, hate and evil intentions. "Death to Israel", "Death to the Jews", "Death to America," and "Death to Capitalism." Such anti-western, anti-Israel protests used to be much more common in Iran during the early years of the Islamic Revolution, but now citizens in Iran have more mundane interests like work and economic survival. Of course, they do come out during special holidays (i.e., "Quds Day", or Jerusalem Day), at the behest and sponsorship of Iran's Islamic government. Regular protests are very common still in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Predictably, we have come to expect such actions and thinking among many of the 56 members of the OIC, the Islamic nations that work and in harmony and co-operation toward their common goal—one being destroying Israel, the other, destroying the West and its ways. That explains one of the chief reasons why some Muslim students, radicalized and politicized by their perceived religious obligations for holy war, see a need to protest against the very West in which many have been raised and educated since birth. Protest signs, chants and demonstrations all call for the demise of the West in a party atmosphere. It's quite surreal, and yet quite real. They might not realize it but they have adopted more of the West than they would like to admit, including the liberty to protest.

The radical followers of Islam have found favour in the eyes of the New Left, also radicalized by their socialist or Marxist beliefs. Again, why the New Left has joined forces with radical Islam has some intelligent persons wondering what these groups, one highly religious, the other highly secular, have in common. That I'll leave to the experts, but I can discuss their methods. Each has a profound belief in radicalism to bring about a New World Order, an Utopia, if you will.

Such persons, living in the West, are not happy about their situation, and want everyone to know about it. They are not above using violent symbols and violent actions and vulgar signs to express their views, often filled with hateful rhetoric. Absent is any meaningful idea within the Western tradition of post-Enlightenment America. Absent is the idea that issues can be discussed and worked out within the democratic western tradition. No, it's about extreme language and extreme actions, as if that will serve their purposes.

That might explain why there is an absence of any protest against Syria, a nation that has killed more than 10,000 of its own citizens. If such protesters were truly concerned about brutal regimes, they might start with, for example, Syria, Iran and North Korea, where the freedom to dissent from government policy is severely restricted. But it's not the brutality that bothers them; for such persons, brutality can serve a purpose.

Third Selma March for Civil Rights—March 21, 1965: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, second from right, participating in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 21, 1965. First row, from far left: John Lewis, an unidentified nun, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Bunche, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Fred Shuttlesworth. Second row: Visible behind (and between) Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Bunche is Rabbi Maurice Davis.
More than 3,000 marchers set out on Sunday March 21 from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery; they walked 12 miles a day and slept in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000 in number. The march led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in July 1965. Rabbi Heschel later wrote, "When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying."
Source: Wikipedia
Today's protesters are cut from a different cloth. Unlike liberal and socially minded protesters in the last generation, such as during the civil-rights era of the 1960s, protesters today often have an unclear or unrealistic message. One of the major failures of today's group of protesters is that they tell you what they don't like or what they hate, but fail to frame their expectations in a realistic way. "Death to America," "Death to Israel," or "Death to the West" is not a viable option, and never will be. As is the message of the anarchists who outwardly broadcast their belief in a stateless society.

Do they expect the vast majority of persons in the West to accept their message? Do they expect the West and its economic system of capitalism to be replaced by Marxism or some other unproven and reckless economic system?  Do they expect Sharia law to become the de-facto legal system in the West? Do they expect education to be free? Some in their fantasies do, I expect. Most don't, but feel they ought to do something about their unhappiness, anger and inability to conform sufficiently to Western traditions.

When hate and anger become the centerpiece of a protest, only bad results can take place. The wearing of masks, scarves and hoods to hide one's identity— the cloak of anonymity— often emboldens persons to commit illegal acts without fear of consequences. Predictably, such  protests turn violent, especially when marxists, anarchists, anti-capitalists, anti-democracy and associated leftist unions join forces in an attempt to cause trouble and upset the social order.  Civil liberties does not include the right to cause mayhem and disturb the public peace.

The Constitution of most democracies tolerate peaceful assembly and legitimate protest, but not the use of violence. Never, and rightly so. The best way to achieve public support is to keep the peace and rein in the troublemakers. When violence takes place, it speaks of protesters who view violence as a normal and acceptable means to get results. Even when the protests might at first appear legal, they lose favour and legitimacy when violence occurs.

The student protests in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec are recent examples [see here, here and here] of a failure of peaceful purpose. Such is a sign of the times—an protest movement that has no understanding on how to peacefully achieve its aims. Such speak volumes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cantor Shepsil Kanarek

Michael Rosenberg [1900-1972], a well known Yiddish comedian of another era, performs in-character as Shepsil Kanarek from Poughkeepsie, New York, auditioning for a cantor position for the High Holidays. Rosenberg had roles in 13 films between 1931 and 1950. Even if your understanding of Yiddish is limited, you can get a sense of this sketch. The comedic timing is perfect.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Jewish Humour: Children

Monday Humor

Much of the Jewish humour on this site can be found in this wonderful book: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding.

This week's humour is focused on Children

A mother writes a letter to her son.
Dear Darling Son and That Person You Married,

I hope you are well. Please don't worry about me. I'm just fine considering I can't breathe or eat. The important thing is that you have a nice holiday, thousands of miles away from your ailing mother. I've sent along my last ten pounds in this card, which I hope you'll spend on my grandchildren. God knows their mother never buys them anything nice. They look so thin in their pictures, poor babies.

Thank you so much for the birthday flowers, dear boy. I put them in the freezer so they'll stay fresh for my grave. Which reminds me—we buried Grandma last week. I know she died years ago, but I got to yearning for a good funeral, so Aunt Minnie and I dug her up and had the services all over again. I would have invited you, but I know that woman you live with would have never let you come. I bet she's never even watched that videotape of my haemorrhoid surgery, has she?

Well son, it's time for me to crawl off to bed now. I lost my cane beating off muggers last week, but don't you worry about me. I'm also getting used to the cold since they turned my heat off and am grateful because the frost on my bed numbs the constant pain. Now don't you even think about sending any more money, because I know you need it for those expensive family holidays you take every year.

Give my love to my darling grand-babies and my regards to whatever-her-name-is —the one with the black roots who stole you screaming from my bosom.
Love, Mum

Bette and Freda were speaking about their sons, each of whom was currently serving jail sentences.

Bette says: "Oy, my Benny has it so hard. He is locked away in maximum security, He never speaks to anyone nor does he see the light of day. He has no exercise and he lives a horrible life."

Freda says: "Well, mine Jacob is in minimum security. He exercises every day, he spends time in the prison library, takes some classes, and writes home each week."

"Oy," says Bette, "You must get such naches from Jacob."

Benjamin has just completed his first year at Manchester University and rings his mother Miriam. 

"Mum," he says, "if it’s OK with you, I’ll be coming home next weekend to see you and dad."

"If it’s OK with me?" she replies, crying. "Oh Benjy, of course it will be OK with me. You give me so much naches. I’m thrilled you’re coming. I just can’t wait to see you again. I’ll make you all you favourite food. But please drive carefully."

When the call is over, Miriam immediately starts getting his old room ready for him. The weekend quickly arrives and all goes well. There are many things they talk about, but then she asks him, "So, my boychick, you have a nice girlfriend already in Manchester?"

Benjamin was prepared for this question. He knew it would come up during his visit. "Well, mum," he replies, "I have some good news and some bad news. What do you want to hear first?"

"So give me the bad news first," she replies, looking very worried.

"I'm gay, mum," he replies.

"Oy vay!" cries Miriam, "so tell me the good news before I faint on the floor."

"I'm in love with such a nice doctor, mum," he replies.

Death By Gas

The Politics of Hate

Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death.
Tadeusz Borowski, 
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1959

Tadeusz Borowski [ 1922-1951]: "There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.”
Source: Wikipedia

I recently read a book, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (1959) by Tadeusz Borowski, essentially a memoir of the writer's experience while incarcerated as a slave labourer, at Auschwitz and Dachau during the Second World War. When Borowski wrote these words, he was a 24-year-old man scarred by the war. Of the dozens of books I have read about the Holocaust (the Shoah), there have been a handful of writers who have written powerfully about their degrading experiences, including Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, and Primo Levi, who in my estimation best articulated man's inhumanity to man. Levi`s language is beautiful and rises above the ugliness of the subject, returning man's humanity to us.

The book by Borowski, a Polish writer and journalist, is as unpleasant and dark as any book on the Holocaust can be. It stands out for its simple stark language, an impassioned journalistic account of what took place. It does not make any apologies; it does not try to beautify or sanitize. It recounts; it explains. As an example, here's one excerpt, one of many disturbing passages from Borowski's book, in a language that captures the utter hopelessness of the time and place.
The lights on the ramp flicker with a spectral glow, the wave of the people feverish, agitated, stupefied people—flows on and on, endlessly. They think now they will have to face a new life in the camp, and they prepare themselves emotionally for the hard struggle ahead. they do not know that in just a few moments they will die, that the goild, money, and diamonds which they have so prudently hidden in their clothing and on their bodies are now useless to them. Experienced professionals will probe into every recess of their flesh, will pull the gold from from under the tongue and the diamonds from the uterus and the colon. They will  rip out gold teeth, In tightly sealed containers they will ship them to Berlin. (48-49)
These are the ones stepping off the transports to Auschwitz, stepping to the left and certain and immediate death by gas. Before anyone objects to the language, I offer no apology. Nor do I apologize for pointing out the obvious, a factual account that some want to deny, dismiss and even disprove. Yes, I know that the Jews were not the only victims of the Nazis, but the focus here will be on the Jewish People, since it was the Jews who were the primary victims and target of Nazi racist policies and hate. Its aim was to make Germany, Europe and the world, free of Jews, or Judenfrei.

Here's another excerpt from Borowski's book:
Trucks leave and return, without interruption, as on a monstrous conveyor belt. A Red Cross van drives back and forth, incessantly: it transports the gas that will kill these people. The enormous cross on the hood, red as blood, seems to dissolve in the sun. (38)
For the record, there were six death or extermination camps: Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau); Chełmno-Belzec; Majdanek; Sobibor; and Treblinka—all in Nazi-occupied Poland—whose chief purpose was to plunder the goods of its victims and and then murder them in an efficient way; gas being the decided weapon and method of execution. (It is important to make a distinction between death camps and concentration camps, which numbered around 1,500. ) In Auschwitz, the Nazis murdered 1.1 million Jews.

While historians might quibble about the actual numbers, the rounded figure of six million is near as one can get to a final accurate number and the most-accepted number by historians. It was also the figure established at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946 and confirmed later by Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official. The killings includes more than one million children.
The transports swell into weeks, months, years. When the war is over, they will count up the marks in their notebooks—all four and a half million of them. The bloodiest battle of the war, the greatest victory of the strong, united Germany. Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuher—and four crematoria
To place it in proportion, two-thirds of European Jewry were killed; six million out of nine million European Jews, equal to more than one-third of the world's Jews (then about 16 million). But the destruction went much deeper and wider than numbers, as important as these might be, can inform. It affected families well into the second and in some cases, the third generations. I come from such a family, and because I do, I am compelled to ensure that my father's family, all whom were killed in Poland, did not die in vain. As such, I feel morally compelled as a duty, so to speak, to write about it. It's not a pleasant subject, by any measure or means, but it's not supposed to be. Intentional death by gas never is.

Tadeusz Borowski, a Pole, killed himself, by gas, on July 1, 1951. It was three days after his wife gave birth to a daughter. He was 28.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Arthur Rubinstein: Frédéric Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2

Arthur Rubinstein performs from Frédéric Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, opus 21. This is a clip from a DVD of Rubinstein performing various works by Edvard Grieg, Frédéric Chopin and Camille Saint-Saëns with the London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn conducting, in a 1975 concert; this recording was released as a DVD in 2006. Rubinstein is 88 here, a year before his retirement.

According to the Deutsche Grammophon site, the program includes the following works:

Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cantor Moishe Oysher: Shema Koleinu

Cantor Moishe Oysher [1906-1958] sings Shema Koleinu ("Hear our Voice''), which forms part of the service during Yom Kippur. It is a cry from the heart and soul to God to display pity and compassion and accept, with compassion and favour, the prayers of the Jewish People. It is essentially a plaintive cry to God to remember the Jewish People, a reminder of his everlasting and eternal Covenant.


Friday, May 18, 2012

The Café Society

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves."
F Scott Fitzgerald, The Rich Boy (1926)

I enjoy coffee, so much so that I recently tried an experiment. On March 29th, after a wonderful breakfast with my wife, daughter and youngest son—a going-away breakfast of sorts for my daughter who was moving to Israel in a few days—I decided to give up coffee.

Coffee is a stimulant. It is a legal stimulant, a legal and socially acceptable drug, if you will, infused with all kinds of ritual, at the workplace, at home, and at cafés. Unlike tea, which has a much longer history dating to the Third Millennium BCE in Ancient China, coffee as a beverage is only a few hundred years old. The earliest recorded mention of coffee is in the Sufi monasteries in southern Arabia in the mid-fifteenth century; it made its way to Europe in the mid-seventeenth century. But its acceptance as a hot beverage was not quick; it met resistance from some quarters of the Catholic Church, notes the National Coffee Association based in New York City:
Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the 'bitter invention of Satan.' With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

Despite such controversy, in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication. In England 'penny universities' sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.
Coffee became associated with stimulating conversation; tea with reflective thought. In my early adult years, notably while attending university, I could easily consume four or five cups of coffee a day. But its stimulating effects have taken its toll on my body's nervous system. So, ever since I was diagnosed with mild hypertension about five years ago, I have limited my daily coffee intake to two cups. But to limit it to none, well, that was a daunting prospect. Yet,  I decided that it was something that I needed to do for the sake of improving my health.

That got me thinking about the history of cafés, coffeehouses, and the history of writers hanging out in such venues and their establishment as public places to observe and be seen. In short order, it became normative for the "beautiful people" to frequent such fashionable establishments. The Café Society was a phrase coined in the 1930s (attributed to either Lucius Beebe or Maury Henry Biddle Paul), during the height of the Great Depressions, to describe a set of people who met and gave parties in fashionable restaurants and night clubs in Paris, London and New York City. Here one site describes  the New York Society:
The milieu known loosely as Café Society was a glittering alloy of screen and stage performers, radio personalities, star athletes, debutantes, musicians, old money socialites, press agents, promoters, and producers; those who were talented and those who wanted to associate with the talented. Despite the Depression, Café Society rubbed elbows nightly in 1930s Manhattan. Its gathering places were nightclubs like the Colony, El Morocco, Dave’s Blue Room, The Hollywood, and, foremost, the Stork Club, nightspots where entrance alone – if you could get past the doorman – would set you back five or even ten dollars. This gathering of the beautiful and the lucky was a living incarnation of what moviegoers paid two dimes to see on screen in the 1930s: cool glamour, light conversation attended by chilled champagne, romances begun while fox-trotting to elegant jazz music.  That right outside the door the unemployment rate was twenty-five percent made this privileged party seem closer to dreamscape than reality.
No doubt these glamorous get-togethers were fun and fashionable, but there is no record of any of these   soirées translating to anything remotely beneficial for humanity. No great medical advancements or discoveries; no great scientific advances; no great political or economic programs; no great literary efforts. It was precisely what it was meant to be—a gathering of the beautiful people. [For those interested, there is a wonderful bookCafe Society: Socialites, Patrons, and Artists 1920-1960, by Thierry Coudet on the French Society.]

That era is long gone. Today the meaning of café society, if it applies at all, is different; it describes actual cafés where people, chiefly young, urban and educated students sit, work, and drink coffee of all types while tapping the keys of their laptops, touch-screen phones and other electronic devices. A glow of screens, punctuated by quiet conversation, related to what is on-screen. The persons are neither primarily fashionable nor work in the entertainment industry, nor are they wealthy or famous. They are in the main average people like you and I, who look at cafés as a safe place to congregate.

My experiment to deny myself coffee lasted about a month. I have now returned to my ritual of a cup of coffee in the morning, and I truly enjoy it. No guilt. But I have found going to the large coffee chains to have a coffee, cappuccino or espresso less enjoyable than it used to be. If I do venture out for a coffee, I rather prefer going to an old-fashioned, unfashionable café in Little Italy, and having an espresso in the company of old Italian men discussing something passionately and expressively with the use of their hands. Even that social ritual is becoming less common

As for the original Café Society, it has been replaced by the "Jet Set" and other modern configurations. The glamor has been lost. Even so, the comings and goings of such persons are still covered by the media, and they still draw a faithful following for reasons that have everything to do with a cult-like fascination with the lives of the rich and famous. Whether they really have something to say does not deter such persons from weighing in on a host of social, political and economic issues. They are free to do so; and we are equally free to ignore les bons mots of the "beautiful people." And drink our coffee in the quiet confines of our home.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Charlie Chaplin: The Idle Class (1921)

Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed and starred in this silent film, The Idle Class, released in 1921.


Charlie Chaplin was the master at commenting on the social, economic and political issues of the day in a humorous way. Some stories stand the test of time.; and as with all good stories, this one has conflict and plays up on the issues surrounding identity and class.
The conflict here is between Charlie the wealthy and alcoholic husband and Charlie the Tramp: the idle rich and the idle poor. In the opening scene wealthy Edna descends from a Pullman car while the Tramp crawls out from under another one. At a fancy masquerade ball Edna's husband appears as a knight whose visor is stuck closed. The Tramp shows up, running from the law, and is mistaken for the husband. Edna finds the new "husband" more to her liking than the real one. When true identities are revealed, a fight breaks out and the Tramp is ejected.
—By Ed Stephan <>

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

North Korea's Enemy: Israel

Guest Voices

We welcome back regular contributor, George Jochnowitz, with an excellent analysis on North Korea and its relationship to Israel. "The Marxist-Islamic alliance seems to make no sense. Marxists are atheists and Muslims are religious. What both doctrines have in common is a commitment to extremism," says Prof Jochnowitz, about an unlikely but real union of extreme hate, notably of democracy, freedom and western values

by George Jochnowitz

On Sunday April 15 Korea’s ruling dynast, Kim Jong-un, gave a speech saying that his “first, second, and third” priorities were to strengthen his country’s military. His statement, and North Korea’s attempt to launch a long-range missile, are a threat to the world. The country most threatened may well be Israel.

The Korean War ended in 1953. Since that time, North Korea has fought against only one country: Israel. In 1973, North Korea sent not only planes but pilots to Egypt to fight against Israel during the Yom Kippur War [1]. “Egypt’s military relationship with North Korea goes back to the early 70s, when Pyongyang sent an air battalion to Egypt as a sign of solidarity in its war with Israel” [2]. North Korea had nothing to gain by entering this war.

North Korea has been allied with Iran ever since Ayatollah Khomeini took power. North Korea has always been a member of the Marxist-Islamic alliance, and so it has helped Iran to obtain nuclear materials. Khomeini’s Iran began to aid Syria, and so it was natural for North Korea to add Syria to its list of Islamist allies. Therefore, North Korea built a nuclear facility in Syria. This behavior was logically consistent with North Korea’s alliance with militant Islam, but consistency does not mean practicality, nor does it reflect self-interest.

Israel attacked this site, the al-Kibar nuclear facility, on September 6, 2007, and destroyed it. Israel naturally feared that Syria, like Iran, would be willing to take great risks and endure great damage in order to destroy Israel. After all, Iran’s moderate ex-President Ali Akhbar Rafsanjani, in the annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) sermon given on December 14, 2001, had said that if one day the world of Islam came to possess nuclear weapons, Israel could be destroyed. Rafsanjani said that the use of a nuclear bomb against Israel would leave nothing standing, but that retaliation, no matter how severe, would merely do damage to the world of Islam [3].

Iran does not share a border with Israel, nor do its interests conflict with those of Israel. Nevertheless, President Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. North Korea is not even near Israel, but it has directly participated in a war against it—something that not even Iran has ever done. North Korea’s anti-Israel actions have surpassed those of Iran. If North Korea is not being practical, it is not alone. The ferocious hostility of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez towards Israel is another example of unmotivated hatred. Venezuela is even farther from Israel than North Korea is, and has no rational reason whatsoever to get involved in Iran’s (and North Korea’s) struggle against Israel.

Why should this be? Perhaps the best explanation was offered by Andrei S. Markovits: “A new European (and American) commonality for all lefts—a new litmus test of progressive politics—seems to have developed: anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism (though not anti-Semitism, at least not yet)” [4]. The words “not yet” sound less convincing today than when Markovits wrote, in 2005. The Left seems to be more anti-Semitic than before as well as more anti-Zionist. But of course, there is certain logical connection between anti-Semitism and the fact that Israel is the most hated country on earth. Anti-Zionism is the child of anti-Semitism. In a world where everybody hates everybody else, anti-Semitism nevertheless stands out for its ferocity and its universality. Similarly, anti-Zionism is the most powerful political force on earth, despite the numerous disagreements and conflicts of interest that exist among nations and political movements everywhere.

An example of irrational anti-Semitism by Sarah Schulman recently appeared as an op-ed [5]. Schulman is a feminist and a gay-rights activist. Israel is a country where women are drafted into the armed forces, where Golda Meir became Prime Minister before any other woman in the world who was not related to a previous head of government did so, where openly homosexual men and women serve in the armed forces, and where there is a gay-rights parade every year not only in Tel Aviv but in Jerusalem. Shouldn’t a pro-gay, pro-woman writer also be pro-Israel? Schulman says no: “In Israel, gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights.” In other words, since Israel is not perfect, it should be opposed. Furthermore, she informs us that there are Palestinian gay-rights organizations. Nevertheless, Palestinians flee the West Bank and seek political asylum in Israel. The existence of the organizations on the West Bank has not ended honor murders of gays. They certainly have not ended the executions of homosexuals in Iran and Saudi Arabia—an issue Schulman does not mention in her op-ed. Schulman is like North Korea. Her opposition to Israel has no practical component.

The world has never known about North Korea’s planes and pilots fighting against Israel. Even Israel has forgotten. The world has already forgotten Schulman’s op-ed—her own little war. We shouldn’t forget. North Korea is arming Iran with nuclear materials. Schulman is using her influence to try to undo the popularity and respect that Israel has begun to gain among homosexuals. As threats go, these are minor, but they are part of an enormous alliance filled with threats.

The Marxist-Islamic alliance seems to make no sense. Marxists are atheists and Muslims are religious. What both doctrines have in common is a commitment to extremism. Marxist countries have always persecuted Muslims within their own borders (Chechnya is an example, among many), and Islamic countries have not tolerated Communist parties in their own lands. On the international level, however, they are united against the forces they perceive as their enemies—freedom and Israel. As I have written, this union is held together by blind faith [6].

Nowhere in the world is faith more blind than in North Korea. The entire population burst into tears when the previous monarch, Kim Jong-Il, died. A few of the people might have been acting, but if so, they were very good actors. When Mao was alive, China had as much faith as North Korea does today, and so the Chinese people, or most of them, mourned when Chairman Mao died. The citizens of the USSR mourned when Stalin died. Indeed, there are people today, in Russia and elsewhere, who still love him. Irrationality lives.

North Korea is 5,000 miles from Israel. Did North Korea fear that Israel would invade its territory? Venezuela, which is almost 11,000 miles from Israel, is Iran’s greatest ally and is blindly opposed to Israel’s existence. Does Hugo Chavez fear that Israel will seize some territory from Venezuela? It is safe to assume that neither of these countries fears anything from Israel. Instead, they believe that Israel is uniquely wicked and supremely powerful. They believe that no crime has ever been as great as the creation of a Jewish state in a part of the British Empire with an Arab majority. They believe that Jews are so powerful that they control the United States and have turned it into their puppet.

Iran is a mere 1,000 miles from Israel. Iran has good reason to fear Israel’s nuclear ability. But as we read above, Iran’s former President Rafsanjani said that an Israeli attack would only do damage to the world of Islam, whereas Israel could be wiped out. Rafsanjani is correct. The question is why did he want to wipe out Israel? Why does President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say similar things today? Does he worry about the Palestinians? Iran has never been a pro-Arab country. Iran and Iraq fought an amazingly bloody war from 1980 through 1988, a war that cost a million Iranian casualties. Before Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, Iran and Israel were friends. Persia and the Jewish people have had good relations way back, since the days of Queen Esther and King Ahasueros. Khomeini, however, led Iran into the world of blind faith. And so today, Iran looks to North Korea for help. North Korea is happy to oblige, with whatever nuclear technology it has at its disposal.

When Ahmadinejad talks about wiping Israel off the map, his words have a genocidal echo. An attempt to destroy Israel means an attack on its population—Jews, Muslims, Russian Orthodox Christians, and Bahais. Can it be that a desire to commit genocide is among the motivations behind Ahmadinejad?

Genocide is irrational. North Korea did not attempt to exterminate its own citizens, but its economic policies led to repeated famines that were close to genocide. Hitler’s need to erase Jewish genes from the face of the earth was absolutely irrational. Hitler knew he needed scientists. Once World War II had begun, he realized he needed atomic scientists. Such scientists were likely to be Jews, or—in the case of Enrico Fermi—married to a Jew and therefore Jewish under the Nuremberg Laws. Hitler didn’t care. Hitler was a music lover and adored the music of Bruckner, Richard Strauss, and Wagner. He almost certainly would have loved Mahler’s music most of all. He didn’t care. Mahler had been born a Jew, even though he was a convert to Catholicism. Hitler banned his music.

When the Soviet Army began marching through Hungary, Hitler had a choice. He could use the railroads to supply his troops, or to evacuate them. Or he could try to rush as many Jews from Budapest to Auschwitz as he could before he lost Hungary. Hitler decided killing Jews was more important than saving German soldiers. He had his own faith—the belief that he had to exterminate Jews while he could.

North Korea is making an analogous choice. It is giving preference to its nuclear industry in order to aid Iran and threaten Israel instead of working to protect its citizens from starvation. North Korea is a Marxist country, and Marxist countries have famines. China had the worst famine in human history because of Mao’s insane policies [7]. Pol Pot caused about one-third of the population of Cambodia to starve to death. North Korea’s anti-Zionism and its disregard for the lives of its people are both symptoms of its irrationality.

Is there a way Israel can deal with North Korea’s hostility? Perhaps there is a back door. Fidel Castro, who is no longer in power but is the brother of the current leader of Cuba, Raul Castro, has said in an interview that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, and that with time it might be possible for Cuba and Israel to reestablish diplomatic relations [8]. Over a year has passed, and nothing has happened. The interview received remarkably little publicity. Can Israel make a deal with Cuba? That would almost certainly shake the confidence of Hugo Chavez. It might conceivably cause the latest member of the Kim Dynasty, Kim Jong-un, to reconsider his views. The world still doesn’t know Kim Jong-un. Is he as irrational as his father and grandfather? Would he consider cooperating with Israel and trying to give his people enough to eat? Might he want to lead North Korea into the world of the 21st century? It is hard to say. Unfortunately, the most dangerous enemies are those whose policies serve no rational purpose.

1 Asia Times, online edition, June 21, 2006

2 Lake, Eli J. and Richard Sale, “U.S. Worries over Egypt-North Korea Missile Program” Middle East Times. June 22, 2001.

3 MEMRI Special Dispatch Series No. 325

4 Dissent, Winter 2005

5 “Israel and ‘”Pinkwashing,’” The New York Times, November 23, 2011.

6 “Marx and Islam,” Partisan Review, Vol. 55, no. 3, 1988.

7 See my review of Frank Dikotter’s Mao’s Great Famine in Jewish Currents,Summer and Autumn 2011.

7 Goldberg, Jeffrey, “Fidel Castro and Israel’s Right to Exist,” The Atlantic on line,September 22, 2010.

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 at
Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz.   It was originally published in Arutz Sheva (April 20, 2012). It is republished here with both the author's permission and Arutz Sheva.