Friday, August 31, 2012

The Marx Brothers: Duck Soup

In this clip from the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, a 1933 American comedy, we can see through the devices  of comedy the consequences when leaders are irrational, irresponsible and unstable— a toxic combination that often lead to fateful national decisions, such as war. Tomorrow, September 1, is the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Second World War.


The Many Faces Of Humanity: Part III

Guest Voices

Most of our contributors are writers. Sheldon Levy is the one exception; his camera is his tool of expression and the photos here are the third installment of "The Many Faces of Humanity." All of the photos were taken on the streets of Montreal.

by Sheldon Levy

All photos: Copyright © 2012. Sheldon Levy. All rights reserved. Photos used by permission.


Sheldon Levy resides in Montreal. He can be contacted at You can view more of his work here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jewish Refugees In Arab Lands: Talking Reparations

Israel-Arab Relations

In an article in the algemeiner, Israel is asking the United Nations to hold a summit on Jewish refugees from Arab lands whose properties were confiscated.
The summit’s main goal would be to address the issue of Jewish property rights, according to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that between 1948 and 1951 about 850,000 Jews were expelled or forced out of Arab nations, losing an estimated $700 million in property ($6 billion today). Most of these refugees were absorbed by Israel, where today they comprise over half the population.
Such a move is long overdue by Israel. Whether it has any chance of seeing the light of day in the United Nations, which is generally hostile to Israel, will greatly depend on whether other nations support Israel's initiative.

You can read the rest of the article at [the algemeiner]

Reconsidering 'The Magic Flute'

Guest Voice

The Magic Flute was first staged at Vienna's Theater auf der Wieden on September 30, 1791, a few months before Mozart died. In the standard view, Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder, his librettist, were advocating an Enlightenment view, represented by Sarastro. In this essay, George Jochnowitz asks us to reconsider such a view of the opera, where the Queen is the villain and Sarastro the hero. Prof. Jochnowitz writes: "In my opinion, however, the ending is far from happy. I see Sarastro as a consistently villainous character, and I believe the Queen's attempt to kill him can be understood as an attempt to save her daughter from being brainwashed by the leader of a cult." Perhaps so, or it might be that Mozart's genius was such that his opera acted as a mirror to humanity.

by George Jochnowitz

Mozart's The Magic Flute is a puzzling opera. Its mood is sometimes childish, sometimes utterly solemn. The Queen of the Night is a sympathetic character who has been wronged by Sarastro when we meet her in the first act. In the second act, the situation seems reversed: Sarastro sings of wisdom, and the Queen of the Night tries vainly to persuade her daughter to commit murder. When the Queen is defeated by Sarastro at the end, the music is Mozart at his most triumphant, and the audience rejoices in the happy ending.

In my opinion, however, the ending is far from happy. I see Sarastro as a consistently villainous character, and I believe the Queen's attempt to kill him can be understood as an attempt to save her daughter from being brainwashed by the leader of a cult.

The audience sees Sarastro and the Queen through the eyes of Tamino, who is united with his beloved Pamina at the end. As for Tamino, he sees the Queen as an innocent victim when he learns that her daughter has been kidnapped by Sarastro. He goes off to rescue Pamina, but soon changes his mind about who is good and who is bad. What causes him to alter his opinion? One of Sarastro's flunkies (Sarastro is surrounded by yes-men) says to him: "Ein Weib hat also dich berückt? Ein Weib tut wenig, plaudert viel" (So a woman beguiled you? A woman does little, chatters a lot). Tamino, who has good intentions but is rather stupid, cannot see the fallacy of argument by appeal to prejudice. He falls for this sexist line and decides to join Sarastro's cult, the Temple of Wisdom.

Pamina, in the meantime, is being held prisoner. Sarastro has put her in the care of his faithful servant Monostatos, who "verlangte Liebe" (demanded love). Pamina attempts to escape and return to her mother, the Queen of the Night. Monostatos recaptures her and brings her back to Sarastro. Despite Pamina's pleas, Sarastro will not let her go. Yet Monostatos, who thwarted her attempt to flee, is sentenced to 77 lashes. Thus does Sarastro reward obedience.

This brief scene shows us just how evil Sarastro is. If he punishes Monostatos for bringing back Pamina, why must he keep her in captivity? If he disapproves of Monostatos's amorous advances, how can he put a helpless girl back into the care of this lecherous servant? Easily. He justifies it by saying that the Queen of the Night is "ein stolzes Weib" (a proud woman).

In an earlier scene, the Queen disciplines her servant, Papageno. He is punished for telling a lie by having his mouth padlocked. The punishment is very brief but effective. Papageno will never lie again. The contrast between the Queen and Sarastro is enormous. The Queen imposes a light penalty for a real offense; Monostatos, on the other hand, suffers a cruel punishment for doing precisely what Sarastro wanted done.

Let us get back to Tamino. In order to join the Temple of Wisdom, he will have to pass the test of silence. The test is singularly inappropriate. Wisdom is the result of knowledge, questioning, and discussion. Only through argument can our views be subject to scrutiny. Silence is the enemy of wisdom; it is a virtue only in a totalitarian regime like Sarastro's. Tamino, then, must be silent when Pamina is brought to him. She mistakes his silence for rejection and attempts suicide. Sarastro, who organized this cruel test, does nothing to aid Pamina, who is not even being tested. Instead she is saved by the Genii, who are spirits sent by the Queen of the Night to guide Tamino. The Genii, like the magic bells and the magic flute that gives the opera its name, are gifts of the Queen. They are forces for good throughout the opera. In fact, when Pamina and Tamino undergo the tests of fire and water, devised by Sarastro, they are protected by the flute, the instrument of the Queen.

The Queen, to be sure, has her villainous moment. When she learns that Tamino, her daughter's beloved, has joined Sarastro, she becomes desperate. She gives Pamina a dagger and tells her to kill Sarastro. The Queen has been driven mad by the hopelessness of her situation. Her action is futile: Pamina will not be able to commit the murder.

It is at this point that the Queen sings her glorious aria "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (The wrath of Hell boils in my heart). The music is so wonderful that we know the Queen's rage must be justified. Sarastro's music, to be sure, is also wonderful. Mozart didn't write bad music. It is therefore quite significant that there is no music at all, except for some trumpet blasts, during the tedious scene where Sarastro announces Tamino's wish to join the Temple. Similarly, there is only dialogue when Tamino and Papageno are asked if they wish to take the tests (Papageno sensibly declines). Mozart was just not inspired to compose music for these sequences.

Did Mozart and his librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder. know what they were doing? Did they fail to see that Sarastro was a tyrant? Did they agree with the sexism, gross even by 18th-century standards, expressed by Sarastro and his toadies? I do not know. Pamina and Tamino are together at the end of the opera, and to that extent the opera ends happily. They will live under a dictatorship, but their love will make their problems irrelevant. Pamina will forget her mother, who is destroyed despite Sarastro's claim that vengeance is unknown in his realm.

Whatever Mozart's intentions, audiences have always sided with Sarastro. In Ingmar Bergman's movie version of the opera, the singer who plays the Queen is shown smoking under a no-smoking sign during the intermission. Bergman, like most of us, has misjudged the Queen. The time has come for her to be recognized as the tragic heroine she really is.

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 originally appeared in the May 1981 issue of Ovation; it can be found on George Jochnowitz.   It is republished here with the author's permission.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Met: Mozart's Magic Flute—Overture

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York, James Levine conducting, perform the Overture from Mozart's Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte),K. 620. I am posting this in advance of tomorrow's article (post) by Prof. George Jochnowitz.


Trust & Decency Focus Of U.S. Presidential Election

U.S. Politics & The Republican National Convention

When Ann Romney, the wife of Mitt Romney, stepped up to the podium last night in defense of her man, her long-time husband, her words were no doubt aimed at women voters with families. Emotion is as important as policy in such things as appealing to the electorate. Few voters today only consider policy issues, though of course that is what's essential. In modern politics, however, voters have to like and trust the person they cast their ballot for, and Ann Romney's speech reflected that that thinking, that reality.

An AP report in Bloomberg Business Week says:
Her pitch was aimed squarely at women who are raising families. "If you listen carefully, you'll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It's how it is, isn't it?" she said. "It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right."
And Mrs. Romney defended her husband's wild success in business, offering a character testimonial to counter Democratic attack ads that have worked to paint her husband as wealthy and out-of-touch.
"Mitt doesn't like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point," she said. "And we're no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches and their communities. They don't do it so that others will think more of them. They do it because there is no greater joy."
Such a sentiment might be more important than some people realize; successful people helping others achieve success is part of the great American narrative. or used to be. It's true that the idea of the self-made businessman is a fallacy; it is also true that there is a deep satisfaction in helping others achieve success, and in doing so, not to make a big deal of it. Essentially, it's what men have to do as a men, as human beings. It's also a necessary and key character trait for someone who wants to hold high office.

That Ann Romney has to make Mitt the man and his core values more known to Americans says how far the nation has lately undervalued such core values as hard work, decency, honesty and success.  The nation has strayed, focusing on identity politics, fueling further resentments and grievances, and has thus become poorer as a result. Ann Romney's nationally televised speech has helped start the process of return.

You can read the rest of the article at [Bloomberg Business News]

Evgeny Kissin: Bach’s Siciliano

A young Evgeny Kissin (aged 19) performs J.S. Bach’s “Siciliano,” from the sonata for flute and keyboard in E-flat majorBWV 1031; Bach composed this sonata between 1730 and 1734.

Some doubt that this is a J.S. Bach composition, but it's likely that it was composed by a Bach, as one music site puts it:
No copy of this sonata has survived in Bach's hand, yet that's true of all but one of Bach's flute sonatas. Some musicologists suggest that this is the work, at least in part, of C.P.E. Bach or some other composer, yet the authorship has not been disputed seriously enough for this light, entertaining piece to be banned from the Bach catalog. Here, the composer takes note of the emerging galant style of the 1730s, with light textures, simple harmonies, and highly ornamented melodies. The sonata falls into three movements, the pattern familiar from Vivaldi concertos rather than from the more sober, four-movement church and chamber sonatas of the immediately preceding decades. (Bach continued to employ this latter style in several of his other sonatas from this same period.) 
It’s a delightful piece, full of light and air; and, moreover it has the hope and optimism so uncharacteristic of the period in which we now reside.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cantors: A Faith In Song (2003)

Jewish Music

Three Cantors: Naftali Herstik, Alberto Mizrahi, Benzion Miller, together and individually perform a concert of Jewish secular and religious music at the historic Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, which dates to 1675; the performance took place on September 10th and 11th 2003. 


The music was arranged by Benedict Weisser. Accompanying the three cantors are The Netherlands Theater Orchestra and London's Ne'imah Singers, an all-male choir, with Jules van Hessen conducting. Alberto Mizrahi is affiliated with the Anshe Emet Synagogue, Chicago; Naftali Herstik with the Great Synagogue, Jerusalem; and Benzion Miller with Young Israel Beth-El of Borough Park, New York. [You can find more information here.]

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jewish Humour: The American Dream

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 American Dream:

Three Jewish men arrive in New York from Europe, and decide to meet again in 20 years to see how they all made out in America.

20 years pass...

The first man asks the second, "So, nu? How'd you do?" He replies: Vell, you know...ven I came to this country I had no idea vhat to do with myself to make a livink. So I looked at my last name. Goldstein. So I vent into the gold business. And oy, did I make a FORTUNE!"

He turns to the next man and asks, "So nu, how 'bout you?"

He says "Vell, like you I had no idea vhat I vas going to do in this vast country to make a livink, so I too, looked to my last name. Silverberg. So I vent into silver. And oy, did I make a fortune!"

So they both turn to the last man and say, "And you? Vat happened to you?"

So the third man said, "Vell, I too had no idea how I vas to make a living here in America, so I looked at my last name. Taylor. I said, das no good. I never make money as a tailor.

So I went to shul and prayed. I said "God, if you make me a wealthy man, I promise to make You my partner."

So the first man said, "So, vat happened?" The man replied, "Vas the matter? You never heard of Lord and Taylor?"

It was a sweltering August day when the Greenberg brothers entered the posh Michigan, offices of the notorious car maker. Hyman Greenberg, the eldest of the three, announced, "We have a remarkable invention that will revolutionize the automobile industry." 

The car maker looked skeptical, but their threats to offer it to the competition kept his interest piqued. Hi Greenberg continued, "We would like to demonstrate it to you in person." After a little cajoling, they brought the car maker outside and asked him to enter a black car that was parked in front of the building. Norman Greenberg, the middle brother, opened the door of the car. "Please, step inside." "What!?" shouted the tycoon. "Are you crazy? It must be one hundred degrees in that car!"

"It is," smiled the youngest brother, Max, "but sit down and push the white button." Intrigued, the tycoon pushed the button. All of a sudden a whoosh of freezing air started blowing from vents all around the car, and within seconds the automobile was not only comfortable, it was quite cool! 

"This is amazing!" exclaimed the tycoon. "How much do you want for the patent?" 

Norman spoke up, "The price is one million dollars." Then he paused. "And there is something else. We want the name 'Greenberg Brothers Air Conditioning' to be stamped right next to your logo."

"Money is no problem," the car maker said, "but no way will I have a Jewish name next to my logo on my cars!" 

They haggled back and forth for awhile and finally they settled. One and one-half million dollars, and the name Greenberg would be left off. However, the first names of the Greenberg brothers would be forever emblazoned upon the console of every air conditioning system. And that is why today, whenever you enter a vehicle, you will see those three names clearly defined on the air-conditioning control panel: NORM - HI - MAX!


Only in America... can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.

Only in America... are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink.

Only in America... do people order double cheese burgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

Only in America... do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters.

Only in America... do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and leave useless things and junk in boxes in the garage.

Only in America... do we use answering machines to screen calls and then have call waiting so we won't miss a call from someone we didn't want to talk to in the first place.

Only in America... do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.

For Taliban, It's Business As Usual In Afghanistan

Human Rights

An article by Ahmad Nadeem in Reuters says that in Afghanistan 17 persons were beheaded by Taliban Islamists, which forbid many things, including mixed dancing, music, women's education and many of the things that define modern western society. Its methods are crude, but highly effective:
The Taliban beheaded seventeen party-goers, including two women dancers, in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province as punishment, recalling the darkest days of rule by the ultra-conservative Islamist insurgents before their ouster in 2001.
The bodies were found on Monday in a house near the Musa Qala district where a party was held on Sunday night with music and mixed-sex dancing, said district governor Nimatullah. Men and women do not usually mingle in Afghanistan unless they are related, and parties involving both genders are rare and kept secret.
The killings, about 75 km (46 miles) north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, came at the beginning of a violent 24 hours for NATO and Afghan authorities in which 10 Afghan soldiers were killed in a mass insurgent attack, also in Helmand, while two U.S. soldiers were slain by a rogue Afghan soldier.
 "The victims threw a late-night dance and music party when the Taliban attacked" on Sunday night, Nimatullah, who only has one name, told Reuters.
This is business as usual for Islamists, the Taliban representing a singular view that is both pre-modern and anti-western. Such barbaric acts tend to define pre-modern regimes, which resort to the use of violence both to instill terror and to enforce their laws.

The aim of such groups as the Taliban is to rid Afghanistan of "foreign ideas," represented by the foreign troops on its soil and return the country back to its "pure" understanding of Islamic sharia law. It has no use for western values, including its liberation of women, or its protection of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. Human rights and the primacy of the individual, as defined by the U.N. Charter, are secular western ideas.

So here we have defined the problem, the heart of the human conflict; it's about ideas. It is these same-held ideas that western nations cherish, that inform its views on human rights, that now need promoting and promulgating. So, that being the case, I ask the following two questions. Will the same feminists, gay-rights groups, church bodies and Leftists so vocal and strident in their anti-Israel rhetoric now act similarly in regards to Afghanistan's dismal and repressive record of human rights? In particular, will you speak out and demonstrate support for these women, who long for the same freedoms that you now enjoy? Ignorance is now not a moral option

You can read the rest of the article at [Reuters]

Waiting For The Year 2000

A Look Back

Brother Portable Typewriter: This is similar to the typewriter I started using in 1973 to bang out my term papers and other school assignments; it was my companion well into university, when I started using an IBM Selectric, an electric typewriter. Such was a clear advancement, since it also had a correcting feature.
Source: MrMartin'sWeb

In 1975, after graduating from high school at age 17, I remember quite vividly having a talk with my Mom about the year 2000. Not only about my plans for what I wanted to be when I attained adulthood—I already knew I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, greatly inspired by the Space Program and Neil Armstrong—but what would the physical future look like and what changes awaited our generation. One of the questions was what life would be like in the Year 2000, 25 years later. What then seemed like an eternity, yet full of promise and hope.

I knew that I would be 42. What I didn't know, but thought worth thinking about, was what changes would take place to society and its human inhabitants. Having seen the results of civil rights and women's-rights legislation, I felt that we were moving and progressing in the right direction. Would technological and scientific advances lead to an end to hatreds and wars? The thinking partly centred on the naive belief that we all could arrive at harmonious ways to share the planet; the United Nations being one of the international bodies that would lead by example. But it was Science in general that would lead the way. I was, like many science students, politically unaware.

Remember: this was way before the era of personal computers, cordless phones, any mobile electronic devices and even VCRs. We still had transistors in our radios and tubes in our TVs and were living at at a time when colour TV was still viewed as a big deal as was hi-fi stereo equipment. Computers existed then in large form as mainframes with spinning discs the size of long-playing records; in technical institutions and universities they were housed in dedicated rooms kept cold to dissipate the heat that such large mainframes generated. The idea of personal computers was not widely disseminated and all that we now take for granted, including easily accessible electronic databases, digital film-less cameras and electronic mobile devices such as cell-phones and tablets, were only thought of only in inchoate form.

While these electronic devices are often convenient and useful, they are not what persons in the 1970s were seeking in terms of future betterment. The thoughts then were not so much about personal electronic devices, although that was suggested with the popularity of transistor radios, but it was more about pursuing individual goals that would have a collective benefit. The 1970s were still part of a thought, an idea, where the individual could make a huge difference on society. So, if you became an engineer, you would help design better airplanes, or safer cars, or more efficient machines or alternative energy sources to replace petroleum products. You could even dare to become an astronaut.

I was raised on science-fiction writers like Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. One of the predictions was that humanity would be better, act better toward each other, with increased food production, development of vaccines to fight diseases, increased education and better use of natural resources. That it would rise above its past ignominies. That it would forego hatreds. That it would forge a new narrative. In all such areas where technology has been used for good, humanity has generally raised the standard—although many, particularly environmentalists, will disagree.

Yet, humanity is still mired in the same hatreds and arguments that has plagued it since its inception. We still commit acts of barbarianism and commit atrocities, as humans are wont to do, but now do it with better technology. More precision. Technology is a double-edged sword. Sure, technology has been a boon to humanity—without question—but it alone will not advance civilization, will not better humanity, will not make us better human beings.

So, now I look back at the past imperfect to foresee dimly what's ahead of us; surely, a strange thought, indeed, but please bear with me for a few moments. When I was on the cusp of adulthood and about to become a contributing member of civil society, I thought that Science & Technology would answer the majority of humanity's needs; this includes manned space programs and space exploration . Today, in my early fifties, I realize that science and its applications are important and make our lives easier and, even, exciting and purposeful. 

Yet, its limitations are hauntingly apparent. We are still waiting.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

London Symphony Orchestra: Candide Overture

The London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bersnstein conducting, performs the Overture from Candide at London's Babican Centre on December 13, 1989. The operetta, composed by Bernstein [1918-1990], is based on Voltaire's novel of the same name. [This is a clip from Deutsche Grammophon released on a DVD (2006; 147 min.)]. This performance stars Jerry Hadley as Candide, June Anderson as Cunegonde, Christa Ludwig as the Old Lady, and Adolph Green as Dr. Pangloss.


When Candide was first performed in 1956, the original libretto was written by Lillian Hellman; since 1974, however, it has been performed from Hugh Wheeler's book adaption of Voltaire, which is generally more faithful to Voltaire's novel. The primary lyricist is the poet Richard Wilbur, and there have been other contributors such as Stephen Sondheim, John Wells and John LaTouche. The work has a long history of rewrites, or adaptations; this speaks of the difficulty of capturing Voltaire's voice and making it relevant for modern audiences.

It was met with a poor response when it opened on Broadway on December 1, 1956; the general consensus was there was a mismatch between the gay music of Bernstein and the seriousness and earnestness of Hellman's libretto. In a New York Times article, John Rockwell writes:
''Candide'' opened on Broadway in 1956 and lasted for only 73 performances. The problem was apparently the clash between Lillian Hellman's earnest book and the cheerier Bernstein music and attendant lyrics. Hal Prince revived the score in 1973 with a stripped-down orchestration, a brand-new book by Hugh Wheeler and additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. This proved so successful in Brooklyn that it moved on to Broadway, where it ran for 740 performances.
Of course, with all due respect to Hal Prince's production skills, it's still Bernstein's music that carries it forward.

Frank Sinatra: Fly Me To The Moon

Frank Sinatra sings "Fly Me to the Moon," which was played on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.


In Remembrance Of Neil Armstrong
American astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor & the first human to set foot on the moon.
Born: August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio
Died: August 25, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio

You and your heroics will be long remembered. "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

The Armstrong family's statement ends with the following request:
Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.
You can watch an excellent video clip of the Apollo 11 moon landing and Neil Armstrong's first moments on the lunar surface here; it also captures the spirit here on Earth, as a good part of the world watched this historic event: my whole family were sitting in front of our b&w TV that afternoon and evening.

Neil Armstrong [1930-2012]: American Hero

Space Exploration

First Steps: Neil Armstrong descends the ladder of Apollo 11's lunar module on July 20, 1969 (at 10:56 pm EDT) . Polaroid image of slow scan television monitor at Goldstone Station. 
Photo Credit:NASA;  NASA image S69-42583

Neil Armstrong, American hero and the first man to walk on the moon, died yesterday; he was 82. Armstrong was one of only 12 men to set foot on the moon between 1969 and 1972. An Associated Press article by Lisa Cornwell and Seth Borenstein captures what all of us felt about this man.
Neil Armstrong was a soft-spoken engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved pilot he made "one giant leap for mankind" with a small step onto the moon. The modest man, who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter-million miles away, but credited others for the feat, died Saturday. He was 82.
 Armstrong died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, his family said in a statement. It didn't say where he died; he had lived in suburban Cincinnati.
Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions. His first words after becoming the first person to set foot on the surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
 "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said.
As I have written previously, I was 11 when Armstrong said those words 43 years ago, forever etched in my memory. Mr. Armstrong was among my childhood heroes; I had his poster taped to my wall, just above my bed; Mr. Armstrong inspired me to enter the field of engineering; Mr. Armstrong's example showed me how to think big but to do so with a mix of awe and humility, and, may I add, with a generous dose of humour.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong, for setting the bar so high in terms of what a human can achieve. We need it, now more than ever.

You can read the rest of the article at [US News & World Report]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Wives Behind Russia's Literary Giants

Russian Literature

Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam [1899-1980]: The wife of Osip Mandelstam, the poet, who perished in  Stalinist Russia in 1938,  Nadezhda became an acclaimed writer in her her own right. Her books, Hope Against Hope, published in 1970; and Hope Abandoned published in 1974, are well-written memoirs of the early years of Stalinist repression and the struggles of her husband for artistic freedom. [Nadezhda in Russian means "hope"]
Source: FindaGrave

For the greats of Russian literature—Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Bulgakov and Mandelstam—their wives served as help-mates in every way, placing the needs of their husband-writers above theirs, much to the detriment of the women. Such is the conventional thinking of today, forcing a 21st century view of earlier traditional times on today's readers. But things are not always so neatly dissected. The latest book that looks at such a relationship is The Wives: The Women Behind Russia's Literary Giants by Alexandra Popoff (Pegasus, 336 pp., $27.95).

In a book review in The New Republic, Yelena Akhtiorskaya writes:
Alexandra Popoff’s book is a look at Russian writers’ wives—greatest hits edition—the women who brought us the men who brought us the classics. Included are Anna Dostoevsky and Sophia Tolstoy (the originals), Véra Nabokov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Elena Bulgakov, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn, each of them paired with a handy epithet—Nursemaid of Talent (Mrs. Tolstoy) or Mysterious Margarita (guess who). The central argument of The Wives is twofold: that great writers have demanding habits, and that the women who tended to those habits deserve recognition.
Short of rattling off the words, which of course is the essence of the activity of literature, wives are responsible for the books—not an altogether absurd claim by Popoff’s logic. These women made profound sacrifices for the sake of their husbands’ vocation. Natalya Solzhenitsyn, for example, spent eighteen years secluded in “a zone of quiet” in Vermont, assisting Solzhenitsyn fourteen hours a day; “people might say it’s a convict’s life, but we are happy.” What’s more, the glamour that befell their husbands never touched them. Dostoevsky was a celebrity, but his wife Anna went about in rags (or rather, she stayed home).
But, and here is Popoff’s main point, they do not deserve pity along with credit. “This book should change a popular perception of such lives as miserable, lonely, and unfulfilled,” writes Popoff in a neatly tacked-on epilogue
Now, many women (and enlightened men) today still might argue otherwise; that such women led miserable lives, chiefly because they were subservient to the interests and needs of their husbands, and thus lived unfulfilled lives. The wives' letters might show otherwise, but that never stopped ideological feminists from pushing their views.

Of course, by doing so, by making such judgments, today's modern women are projecting their views and desires onto these women, who lived generations ago. Even today, there are women who enjoy being in the background; if it's a free decision on their part, they should neither be shamed nor bullied into acting or thinking otherwise. That is true freedom.

You can read the rest of the article at [The New Republic]

Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra: Rossini's La gazza ladra—Overture

The Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra performs the Overture from Gioachino Rossini's opera, La gazza ladra ("The Thieving Magpie"), with Gustavo Dudamel at the podium, at the Teatro Teresa Carreño's Sala Ríos Reyna in Caracas, Venezuela, on February 3, 2009. 

This opera is classified as a melodramma or opera semiseria in two acts; the libretto was written by Giovanni Gherardini, an adaptation of La pie voleuse, an 1815 drama by Jean-Marie-Théodore Badouin d'Aubigny and Louis-Charles Caigniez; Rossini's opera premiered at La Scala in Milan, Italy, on May 31, 1817. Almost two hundred years later, the Overture remains the favourite of opera lovers, a point that Opera News makes clear in an article of July 2012:
For most of its two-century career, La Gazza Ladra has been known best for its scintillating, martially infused overture, and repeated hearings of the complete opera haven't displaced the overture's primacy in my affections. Still, once the curtain rises, there's more fine, splendidly constructed music (much of it comfortably familiar in outline, if not specifics, from other operas of Rossini's). Exceeding three hours of music, its storyline flimsy, its tunes less than top-drawer, La Gazza Ladra still manages, by that weird Rossinian alchemy, to beguile.  
That it does.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Romney Energy Plan Puts Power In Research

Research Energy

In an article by David Malakoff  ("Basic Research Burns Bright in Romney Energy Plan") in ScienceInsider, Mitt Romney's energy policy is generally given a positive review, essentially because it advocates that the United States return to more basic, or pure research, and that it ought to conduct a comprehensive survey on known energy resources:
The 14-page plan also endorses expanding the production and use of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, and launching a new "comprehensive survey" of carbon-based energy resources in the United States.

"Government has a role to play in innovation in the energy industry," begins a three-paragraph section devoted to research and development. "History shows that the United States has moved forward in astonishing ways thanks to national investment in basic research and advanced technology." But the federal government “should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favored approaches,” it says, singling out government support for wind and solar power companies as examples of wasting public dollars.
The Romney plan also notes that "the United States is blessed with a cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources," but that "we do not even know the extent of our blessings." That's because "surveys and inventories of resource deposits are decades out of date—when they have even been done at all." To close that gap, Romney promises to “conduct a comprehensive survey of our untapped resources so that policymakers and developers have a full picture from which to work."
Knowledge is power. So a comprehensive survey makes sense, and it's a wonder why it has not been done previously. For that reason alone the plan deserves attention, given its link to energy resources; pure research, as well, although sounding counter-intuitive, is the way to go. From pure research comes innovation and proven ideas, leading to technologies that eventually become proven and innovative and, yes, revolutionary.

Equally important, this is especially important now to limit America's dependence on Mideast and foreign oil, notably from unfriendly and unstable regimes, many whom fund terrorism. It will also lead the United States to energy independence by 2020, while creating three million jobs and bringing in more than $1 trillion in revenue. It's important to note that every 1.5 million jobs created equates to an one-percentage point drop in unemployment. A two-point percentage drop is significant; and it would have the added  benefit of raising the spirits in America. So says the Romney plan.

You can read the rest of the article at [ScienceInsider]

Christiaan Barnard: First Human Heart Transplant

Great Advances in Science

“On Saturday, I was a surgeon in South Africa, very little known.
On Monday, I was world renowned.”
Dr. Christiaan Barnard, heart surgeon

Christiaan Neethling Barnard [1922-2001], shown here in this June 1968 photo, says: “The prime goal is to alleviate suffering, and not to prolong life. And if your treatment does not alleviate suffering, but only prolongs life, that treatment should be stopped.”

The date is a memorable one, December 3, 1967, not notable for something bad that took place, which is often the case of why we remember tragic, unhappy events. In this case what took place was something remarkable and hopeful in bettering the human condition: the first successful human heart transplant. I remember reading about it in the newspaper as a ten-year-old.

One site dedicated to transplant surgery puts it:
This great feat was accomplished by the surgeon, Dr. Christiaan (Neethling) Barnard from South Africa who was the first person to perform a human heart transplant on December 3, 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa. It was done at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on Louis Washkansky, an ill South African grocer who would most certainly die without the transplant.
The heart donor was Denise Darvell, a 24-year-old Caucasian woman who had died in a car accident; a drunk driver had also killed her mother in the same incident. [Not as well known then was that Darvell also donated her kidneys to another person; in this case, 10-year-old Jonathan van Wyk, a black boy, which was both atypical and controversial during South Africa's apartheid era]. 

The heart recipient was Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old grocer and Lithuanian Jew, who survived the nine-hour operation and lived for 18 days; he died of pneumonia, a result of taking immunosupressive drugs to increase the risk of acceptance of a donor heart. The first attempt is always the hardest, but scientists and doctors learn from it. As for the surgeon who performed the first successful human heart transplant, he became a recognized name, a fact to which I can I can attest. An entry in Wikipedia says:
Barnard became an international superstar overnight and was celebrated around the world for his daring accomplishment. He was quite photogenic, and enjoyed the media attention following the operation. Barnard continued to perform heart transplants. A transplant operation was conducted on 2 January 1968, and the patient, Philip Blaiberg, survived for 19 months. Dirk van Zyl, who received a new heart in 1971, was the longest-lived recipient, surviving over 23 years.[4]
Barnard performed ten orthotopic transplants (1967–1973). He was also the first to perform a heterotopic heart transplant, an operation that he himself devised. Forty-nine consecutive heterotopic heart transplants were performed in Cape Town between 1975 and 1984.
Each year, about 3,500 heart transplants are done worldwide; the largest number in the United States. Much of the success in survival rates are due to improvements in post-operative care, including better immunosuppressant drugs like cyclosporine. [You can also read about the history and the procedures involved in heart transplants here, here and here].

Barnard was also known as an outspoken critic of South Africa's apartheid regime, using his fame to campaign for changes in the nation's laws; even so, by dint of being a white male in South Africa, he was likely denied the Nobel Prize in Medicine, a distinction he deserved. Barnard married three times, and was divorced three times, having two children in each of the marriages. Barnard retired as Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Cape Town in 1983 after he could no longer conduct surgery— he had developed rheumatoid arthritis in his hands in 1956, and his condition worsened over the years.

He spent a good deal of time doing charitable work, helping poor children, particularly in his latter years during which he resided on a 32,000-acre sheep farm and game preserve in the Karroo region of South Africa where he grew up. This was in stark contrast to his early years growing up in poverty, raised by a rather poor Afrikaner preacher and his wife. Sometimes things even up when one dedicates himself to doing good. 

Christiaan Neethling Barnard died of a severe severe asthma attack, while on holiday, on September 2, 2001; he was 78.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Change Your Name; Change Your Luck

South Korea

Japanese tourist Kumi Nemoto (L) consults fortune-teller Ilwol-doryeong, 33, at Funny Sculptor Fortune-telling Cafe in Seoul November 19, 2010. Fortune-telling has permeated South Korea's youth culture in the form of ''saju,'' or ''fate,'' cafes, where fortune-tellers tell customers in very specific terms about their possible jobs and marriages. KOREA-FORTUNETELLING/ REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: SOCIETY)
South Korea's Fortune Tellers: At Funny Sculptor Fortune-telling Cafe in the capital of Seoul, a fortune-teller tells a young women her fate. "Fortune-telling has permeated South Korea's youth culture in the form of saju, or fate cafes, where fortune-tellers tell customers in very specific terms about their possible jobs and marriages," Reuters writes.
Photo Credit: Jo Yong-Hak, Reuters, 2010
Source: Reuters
A name has a meaning, and some persons like their birth names and some don't. In South Korea, however, both men and women are changing their names to change their destiny; for men, it's to better their fortunes, and for women to find a husband. In an article in Voice of America ("Trying to Catch 'Mr Right'"),  Jason Strother writes:
There is a belief in Korea that a name can determine one’s destiny. And, for many lonely hearted ladies as well as their parents, the hope is that by changing their name they will have a better chance at meeting that special someone for marriage.
For help with selecting a more virtuous name, some seek the advice of fortune-tellers or other "divinely inspired" mediums—like Tae-Eul, a shaman priest who consults clients from a shrine inside his Seoul apartment.
He says he asks the gods if a new name can be fulfilling for one’s life. Tae-Eul says his male clients want to change their name for better luck in making money, but women do it to find a soul mate.
Tae-Eul says a name can bring bad luck if the Chinese characters it is based on do not match with the person’s birth date. He says he has seen good results for those who have changed their names to more compatible ones.
More than 725,000 South Koreans have changed their names in the last decade, but there are no statistics on how many did so to improve their lives; and of course there are no statistics on the correlation between name-changing and improved fortunes. But this is not a scientific matter; it's an emotional and personal one. So, it's understandable that in a traditional culture like South Korea, where marriage and raising children is esteemed, women will do what is necessary to conform, which includes going to fortune tellers.

You can read the rest of the article at [Voice of America]

Reconsidering Così Fan Tutte

Guest Voice

In this essay, George Jochnowitz examines Mozart's Così fan tutte, a comedic opera, or opera buffa, that was first staged in 1790; the libretto was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte. The plot centres on two men who test the fidelity of their fiancés—two sisters—a theme that is timeless. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the opera was considered risqué and rarely performed; it regained its place in the opera repotoire after the Second World War, and today the opera is often performed, much to the delight of audiences. As Prof Jochnowitz writes: "At the end of the opera, the disguises are taken off and the lovers are married. Who marries whom? The libretto does not say. The silence of the text suggests that we go back to the beginning: Ferrando with Dorabella, Guglielmo with Fiordiligi. That is the way the final scene is usually staged. It is in keeping with the comic mood of the opera, the traditions of the times, and probably the intentions of the composer and librettist."

by George Jochnowitz
“This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel,” said Horace Walpole. Così fan tutte is certainly a comedy. Its librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, was a man who thought; its composer, Mozart, was without any question a man who felt. Da Ponte was a genius, but Così fan tutte is performed and loved today because the greatest of all geniuses, Mozart, gave us its music—music that at times is comic, at times light, but at other times passionate and profound.

Così fan tutte means “so do they all,” with tutte (all) in the feminine. What is it that they all do? Don Alfonso, the cynical baritone who organizes the practical joke that forms the plot of the opera, thinks he knows what all women do: they are fickle. To prove his point, he persuades the heroes of the opera, Ferrando and Guglielmo, to leave their fiancées, return in disguise, and steal the hearts of Dorabella and  in the late 2Fiordiligi away from the men they are engaged to marry.

This is the kind of nasty plot that is typical of the comedies of the 17th and 18th centuries, a plot involving disguise and deception, in which the reality of human emotion is denied and mocked. Contemporary audiences generally dislike comedies of this period—after all, there is more feeling as well as more humor in an I Love Lucy program.

The early scenes of Così fan tutte are standard 18th-century comedy. Guglielmo tells us his beloved is perfection, the phoenix: “La fenice è Fiordiligi.” Ferrando thinks it is his fiancée: “Dorabella è la fenice.” Neither the music nor the words suggest men in love; what we hear instead is fun and energy.

Ferrando and Guglielmo, who have been teased by Don Alfonso into going along with his gag, pretend to leave for war. They come back wearing ridiculous disguises and proceed to woo the ladies. It is not clear at this point which gentleman is after which lady, but the way they go about showing their love is by pretending to commit suicide. They are “saved” by the maid, Despina, who disguises herself as a doctor and cures them with a giant magnet. All in good fun.

In Act I, there are solo arias, duets, trios, sextets, and a chorus. One thing is missing: there are no love duets. Nowhere in the opera does Ferrando sing a love duet with Dorabella, nor does Fiordiligi ever sing a duet with Guglielmo. Why should they? They don’t love each other. If they did, it would break the mood. There is no place for love in 18th-century comedy.

Something significant happens in Act II. The young women do not recognize their disguised lovers, but there is a different thing they recognize. They know which of the two they prefer: neither prefers her finacé! Dorabella will take the dark one: “Prenderò quel brunettino.” Fiordiligi likes the blond one, “il biondino.” Dorabella, the mezzo, has chosen Guglielmo, the bass. Fiordiligi, the soprano, likes Ferrando, the tenor. The situation at the beginning was all wrong. Can a mezzo ever wind up with a tenor? Ridiculous.

Not too much further into the second act, Guglielmo and Dorabella sing a duet, “Il core vi dono” (I give you my heart). It is the first male-female duet in Così fan tutte. We can hear the hearts beating in the words and in the music: “Perche batte batte batte qui?” (Why is it beating beating beating here?). In literature, when we say two hearts are beating as one, it is merely a figure of speech. In music, we hear it; we feel it; we know it has to be true. This love duet is one of the most beautiful in all opera. But it is more than that. It is also the most convincing. The music has taken us from the coldness of comedy to the warmth of love.

When the women fall in love, they become real. Each has her own personality. Dorabella has given in to her passion. Fiordiligi cannot come to terms with her emotions. Her great second-act aria, “Per pietà,” is filled with doubt and turmoil. When Fiordiligi finally surrenders to Ferrando, it is not because she is fickle. She has found the great love of her life. She tried to be loyal to Guglielmo as long as possible, but she failed. Besides, Guglielmo never deserved her loyalty, nor did Ferrando merit devotion from Dorabella. Both men had casually agreed to play Don Alfonso’s game. The initial pairings were wrong from the start.

Don Alfonso has won his bet. He makes Guglielmo and Ferrando sing after him “Così fan tutte,” to the notes E F A D E. We heard almost the same theme in the overture: E F A D G E, a sequence of half notes, marked andante. It is neither a light nor a comic melody. Rather, it sounds solemn, almost ominous. Is that the appropriate music for asserting that women are fickle and love is a joke?

At the end of the opera, the disguises are taken off and the lovers are married. Who marries whom? The libretto does not say. The silence of the text suggests that we go back to the beginning: Ferrando with Dorabella, Guglielmo with Fiordiligi. That is the way the final scene is usually staged. It is in keeping with the comic mood of the opera, the traditions of the times, and probably the intentions of the composer and librettist.

Once in a great while, the final scene is done differently, and the women get to marry the men they have fallen in love with. That is the way it ought to be. We know, because the music has told us so, that Fiordiligi loves Ferrando and Dorabella loves Guglielmo. We know, because the music has told us so, that their love is real. We know that if they went back to their original fiancés, the men would forever resent the women for their betrayal, and the women would hate the men for the cruelty of their joke.

If women are indeed fickle, why should Fiordiligi and Dorabella show loyalty to their original fiancés? If women are capable of true lasting love, then why shouldn’t they stay with the men they love? The answer usually given is that the opera isn’t about real people, that it is a comedy not to be taken seriously. The problem is caused by Mozart’s greatness. He was too good a composer; his music has too much feeling to go with such a silly story. The title, Così fan tutte, says that women’s emotions are not real. Mozart’s music proves that the title is wrong.

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 was published originally in The Blessed Human Race; ican be found on George Jochnowitz.   It is republished here with the author's permission.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Met: Mozart's 'Così Fan Tutte' Overture

The Met Orchestra, under the baton of James Levine, performs the Overture from Mozart's Così Fan Tutte ("Thus Do They All," or "The School For Lovers"), K. 588, which Mozart first staged at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790; it was first performed in the United States at The Metropolitan Opera ("The Met') in New York City on March 24,1922. This clip is in advance of tomorrow's post, Reconsidering Così Fan Tutte by Prof. George Jochnowitz. [You can read the synopsis here.]


Losing Sociability

Modes of Human Behaviour

Every once in a while, I repost articles that I have written previously. Below is an emended article on courtesy (Oct 4, 2010), a subject, a way of life, a human behaviour that never loses its importance. Or shouldn't; not if we cherish civil society, and equally important if we value friendships.

Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of the pleasures, costs nothing and conveys much. It pleases him who gives and him who receives, and thus, like mercy, it is twice blessed. 
Erastus Wiman [1834-1904], Canadian journalist

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them. 
Francis Bacon [1561-1626], English philosopher & scientist.

One of the orphans of the electronic-communications age is courtesy. This is particular striking, given the various ways and modes of communication we have at our disposal today. Yet, in one of those paradoxes of modern life, communication technologies have become almost a means of closing or, at least, limiting intimate or close connections between people. Modern communication has become, in many ways, a device of exclusion. Such is one school of thought.

Towards that end, some persons respond to emails, phone calls, and letters only when it suits them. That could mean no response or one so delayed that it becomes essentially meaningless that it has no connection to the original communication. The problem with that line of selfish thought is that it negates the idea that another person took the time to write a note, a letter, or make a phone call.

Part of the problem stems from business practices that carry-over into the space of personal life, where individuals cannot make distinctions. The language of modern time-management language is prioritize and manage, giving its adherents an excuse, a way out, a line of defence for their blunders in etiquette. One of the arguments given is, "I do not have time to respond to each email or letter." If and when confronted by the hurt party, such persons, with a smile on their lips, always plead busyness, personal distractions or a technological glitch. In other words, all valid excuses for the modern man. It would be uncool, unwise for the sender of the long-unresponded missive to press the matter further; that would be a sign of immaturity, a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy for someone's inability to be courteous. There might me a scientific reason; there might be a genetic aberration in the prefrontal cortex of non-responders, one associated with personality traits.

Or it might be something more banal; the person you are contacting just doesn't like you or need your friendship. The silence is his poor and cowardly way of showing that. And that's the key. Importance is usually given to those types of personal correspondence that advances a career or public standing, or closely associated to such thinking, a non-response would hurt someone's standing. For example, a letter from an important or influential person. So, letters, electronic or otherwise, that a receiver finds a nuisance, or those that have no immediate benefit to career or public image are deleted or thrown in the trash. There is a word to describe such behaviour: rude.

This might sound counter-productive in an age of social networking, where people ardently use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter—chiefly for self-promotion, it seems—to build networks and community. But the modes of communications have changed. It is more fashionable to post on the wall in a group message than to speak personally, which has the limitation of reaching only one person at a time. Community for the most part is counted by the number of friends or connections you have, and not necessarily by the persons who are intimates or friends. That is in itself telling, it speaking in the language of marketing and public relations. Hardly a language of friendship and intimacy.

Even so, I have said in previous writings that I support the Internet, as it has done much good. To be sure, the Internet and its associated technologies have expanded the reach of individuals, and increased the access of information, previously limited to a few. (It has allowed blogs, like this one, to reach as many people who hold similar interests and views and who have access to a computer or mobile phone. 

The Internet, however, has shrunk time, and our ability to focus intently on one thing. The technology has changed the ways humans think, says Nicholas Carr in a 2008 article in The Atlantic Monthly ("Is Google Making Us Stupid?")
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.Undoubtedly so,
Perhaps so. Yet, what is often forgotten in the haste to clear your in-box, or voice-mail messages is that a real person took the time and effort to draft that letter or make that phone call. This is something I hasten to teach my children, namely, that the virtual world differs from the world of flesh and blood. (Personal disclosure: I attempt to respond to all emails, letters and phone calls within a day of receipt, often within the same day.) So, what does deleting that letter or throwing it in the trash say? Too much. 

The Specious Argument of Busyness

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United State, with child film star Shirley Temple in a July 1938 photo, once remarked: “As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along.”

That argument of busyness, seemingly plausible and often used as a weapon of defence, has merit if you are a narcissistic and uncaring individual who forms superficial relationships, considering friends on social-media sites as genuine and deep. Without putting too fine a point to it, friendship takes time to nurture; consider yourself fortunate to have one or two long-term friendships. If we want to make real social connections, have enduring relationships and develop deep friendships, it takes time and a desire to invest in such relationships. 

If we want such deeply personal human contacts, we need to fight against that tendency of following the path of least resistance, and return to old-fashioned courtesy and consideration, which are the superiour values we hold as a society. That is how real friendships are nurtured. And that is how social skills are developed, by communicating individually and intimately.

I would like to draw your attention to—at least as courtesy is concerned—a period before modern communication technologies became ever-present, back to the late 1930s. Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States during the Great Depression, received an enormous amount of letters:
During her first year in the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt received 300,000 pieces of mail from adults and children. She continued to receive hundreds of thousands of letters in the years that followed.
The First Lady had a secretary who was in charge of the mail. Her secretary would read the mail and either reply to it or send it to another department for action. She would also select about 50 letters a day for Mrs. Roosevelt to read. The First Lady would sometime dictate replies to those letters.
The important point is that Mrs. Roosevelt, despite her importance and position, read 50 letters a day, and responded to some of them. The responses were by no means long, but a response was drafted and sent. Can you imagine that happening today? Can you imagine that an important and influential politician, businessperson, or celebrity responding to an average person, an average citizen? Yet courtesy has little to do with wealth or social status and everything to do with what in my time was called class. In fact, I have received responses from well-known individuals of high accomplishment who are very busy; and no responses from persons of mediocre or lesser talents. 

That in itself says much about the level of courtesy in today's society. I sense that rudeness, though not normative, is acceptable in some (many?) circles, given license and liberty in an age that gives little credence to traditional etiquette. That's a shame, since how and how quickly we communicate does matter. The intent here is not to act as a public scold, but to think, remind and reflect about the human condition and human dignity. As humans, we have the ability to change for the common good, but only if we deem values like courtesy as important. "Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy," Emerson said.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Iranian Leader Lashes Out At Israel—Again

Incitement To Genocide

If there is any doubt of the Iranian leader's malicious and malevolent intentions, these should now be put to rest. In an article ("Ahmadinejad: 'Black stain' of Zionism must be removed") in Ynet News, Dudi Cohen writes of the speech that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered last Friday denouncing Israel. The Iranian leader said: "The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humanity":
Massive rallies commenced in Tehran and throughout the Islamic Republic to mark al-Quds Day in support of the "Palestinian resistance to the Israeli regime."

Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and held signs bearing slogans such as "Down with the US" and "Death to Israel" at the rallies the Fars New Agency reported. Hezbollah flags were also waved during the rallies alongside pictures of Iranian leaders Khamenei and Khomeini.

"The Zionist regime is a malignant cancer, if even one cell remains on Palestinian land, the current situation will continue in the future," the president said and warned: "Zionists want to spread."

Ahmadinejad added that al-Quds Day is the day of unity among all human beings to remove the "Zionist black stain" from the human society," Iran's PressTV reported.

“Today, countering the Zionist entity and the fabricated Zionist regime safeguards rights of all human beings, defends human dignity and paves the way to save humankind from arrogance, poverty and misery,” Ahmadinejad said in his address.

He added that "Zionist presence on even one centimeter of Palestinian land was dangerous. That's my personal understanding. Don't blame me later, this is how I see things."
The speech was well reported, yet very few nations other than the United States and France spoke out against it. This itself is troubling. The Iranian people live under a repressive regime and have been acutely and painfully aware of its harshness and inhumanity for more than 30 years. The speech is calculated to focus the Iranian people elsewhere. Some Iranian apologists will say, however, that this speech is mere political rhetoric and bluster; this conjecture, however, is doubtful as it is disingenuous, since this is the latest in a number of similar speeches that the Iranian leader has made over the years.

Without any doubt, this is hate speech and incitement to genoicide, which goes against the provisions of the United Nations Charter: it states that "all members must refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." The U.N.'s response is captured in the brief and anemic statement of Ban Ki-moon: "The secretary-general is dismayed by the remarks threatening Israel's existence attributed over the last two days to the Supreme Leader and the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the U.N. press office said. "The secretary-general condemns these offensive and inflammatory statements."

Yet there is more that can be done; there are provision within the U.N. Charter and in international law that Israel can exercise and which can be endorsed by the international community of nations, notably the G8 and G20 members, to make it legally clear that such language of incitement to genocide must not continue unabated [prohibited under the U.N.'s Genocide Convention; article III (1948)]; the Iranian leader must be held accountable. The sooner the better for humanity's sake.

An example of such an outstanding legal effort is the "Responsibility to Prevent Petition," a coalition chaired by MP Prof. Irwin Cotler of Canada. The Coalition includes some 100 leading scholars, jurists, former government leaders, parliamentarians and Iranian activists who have endorsed a 200-page International Report. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I am painfully reminded of the past: The international community cannot repeat the mistakes of 1938.

You can read the rest of the article, including an open letter to President Shimon Peres at [Jerusalem Post]