Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Charlie Chaplin: Easy Street (1917)

Charlie Chaplin stars in Easy Street (1917), a short comedy film on how one man can change the fortunes of both himself and the neighborhood in which he resides. 

The short story of the Little Tramp, a staple of Chaplin's characterization of the times, mixes together  religion, drug addiction and its horrors, policing and the ultimate transformation of individuals and the neighbourhoods in which they reside when a bully is defeated. As Wikipedia writes:
As the story begins, the Little Tramp is sleeping rough outside a mission near the streets of a lawless slum. He is reformed somewhat at a Mission where there is singing and religious education. His religious awakening inspired by a beautiful young woman who pleads for him to stay at the Mission.
Spotting a help wanted ad for a job at the police station, Chaplin hesitantly accepts and is assigned the rough-and-tumble Easy Street as his beat. Upon entering the street, he finds a bully, roughing up the locals and pilfering their money. Chaplin gets on the wrong side of this bully and following a chase the two eventually come to blows, culminating in Chaplin inventively using a gas lamp, to render the bully unconscious. The film continues with Chaplin aiding the people of Easy Street, rescuing a damsel in distress from the clutches of a sinister drug addict and putting the bully in his place once and for all.
The story could be written today, except the story would probably end differently.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storm Leaves Path Of Destruction In Eastern U.S.

Nature's Ways

Nature knows no morality or ethics, and acts according to its own brutal laws. Yesterday proved no exception, as a storm made up predominantly of the diminished yet lethal power of Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the United States, leaving a wake of destruction, including 131 total deaths (in the Caribbean 67, in the United States 62, in Canada 2); the figures will likely climb as more accurate numbers are reported. Yesterday's surge on the east cost of the U.S resulted in flooding, fires, business and school closures and millions without power. A single act of nature can easily and without any mercy disrupt the lives of millions of individuals.

The New York Times writes:
The mammoth and merciless storm made landfall near Atlantic City around 8 p.m., with maximum sustained winds of about 80 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. That was shortly after the center had reclassified the storm as a post-tropical cyclone, a scientific renaming that had no bearing on the powerful winds, driving rains and life-threatening storm surge expected to accompany its push onto land.
The storm had unexpectedly picked up speed as it roared over the Atlantic Ocean on a slate-gray day and went on to paralyze life for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states, with extensive evacuations that turned shorefront neighborhoods into ghost towns. Even the superintendent of the Statue of Liberty left to ride out the storm at his mother’s house in New Jersey; he said the statue itself was “high and dry,” but his house in the shadow of the torch was not.
The wind-driven rain lashed sea walls and protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, where the Boardwalk was damaged as water forced its way inland. Foam was spitting, and the sand gave in to the waves along the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J., at the entrance to New York Harbor. Water was thigh-high on the streets in Sea Bright, N.J., a three-mile sand-sliver of a town where the ocean joined the Shrewsbury River. “It’s the worst I’ve seen,” said David Arnold, watching the storm from his longtime home in Long Branch, N.J. “The ocean is in the road, there are trees down everywhere. I’ve never seen it this bad.”
 In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said late Monday night that at least five deaths in the state were attributable to the storm. At least three of those involved falling trees. About 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house in Queens, killing a 30-year-old man, the city police said. About the same time, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed in North Salem in Westchester County, when a tree fell on the house they were in, according to the State Police.
The effects of "Sandy" will be felt for a few days to a week, and then for most persons, it will be a forgotten story, as the clean-up will begin, and life will move forward. So is the way it ought to be. And yet for those who were killed by its "acts of nature" (falling tree limbs, drownings, auto accidents, etc), families of the victims will not easily forget this storm's merciless acts.

We now have computer technology to predict more about a storm's track and its devastating effects—and advanced technology likely saved many lives—but it can't stop nature's devastating effects. Such might explain why in the past, when Man was far more primitive, it would try to appease Nature with sacrifices, often human ones.  It never worked; Nature is unpredictable as it is capricious. This reminds me of Shakespeare's King Lear and the soliloquy of Edmund, King Lear, in Act 1, scene ii:
Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why “bastard”? Wherefore “base”?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With “base,” with “baseness,” “bastardy,” “base,” “base”—
Who in the lusty stealth of nature take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth within a dull, stale, tirèd bed
Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ’tween a sleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate.—Fine word, “legitimate”!—
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th' legitimate. I grow, I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

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

The story was updated on Oct. 31st and again on Nov. 1st to correct the number of persons killed as a result of "Sandy."

Jan Peerce: Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen

Jan Peerce sings "Rozhinkes mit Mandlen" ("Raisins and Almonds"), a children's lullaby by Abraham Goldfaden (1840–1908), a Russian-born poet and playwright, considered the father of the modern Jewish theatre. There are many fine renditions of this famous lullaby, including a version by Netania Davrath (1931–1987), in soprano here; and a hauntingly beautiful version on violin by Itzhak Perlman here.



In dem beys hamikdash
In a vinkl kheyder
Zitzt di almone Bas Zion aleyn.
Ir ben yokhidl Yidele
Vigt zi keseyder
Un zingt im tzu shlofn a lidele sheyn: ay-lu-lu…

Unter Yidele’s vigele
Shteyt a klor vayse tzigele
Dos tzigele is geforn handlen
Dos vet zayn dayn baruf,
Rozhinkes mit mandlen
Shlof zhe Yidele, shlof.

In dem lidl, mayn kind,
Ligt fil neviyes.
Az du vest amol zayn tzezeyt oyf der velt.
A soykher vestu zayn
Fun ale tvues.
Un vest in dem oykh fardinen fil gelt.

Unter Yidele’s vigele
Shteyt a klor vayse tzigele
Dos tzigele is geforn handlen
Dos vet zayn dayn baruf,
Rozhinkes mit mandlen
Shlof zhe Yidele, shlof
Shlof zhe Yidele, shlof!

[English Translation]

In the temple, in the corner of a chamber,
The widow The Daughter of Zion is sitting all alone.
As she rocks her only son Yidele to sleep,
She sings him a pretty song, a lullaby.

Under Yidele’s cradle,
there stands a snow-white kid
that has been to market.
It will be your calling, too
Trading in raisins and almonds,
And now sleep, Yidele, sleep.

In this pretty lullaby, my child, there lie many
Some day you’ll be wandering in the wide world -
You will choose to be a tradesman,
And you’ll be trading and earning a lot of money.

Under Yidele’s cradle, there stands a snow-white kid
that has been to market.
It will be your calling, too
Trading in raisins and almonds,
And now sleep, Yidele, sleep.

And now sleep, Yidele, sleep!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Workplace Humour: Quick Thinking

Monday Humour

This week's humour is focused on the workplace and Quick Thinking:

Three Cheers For Engineers
An engineer dies and reports to the pearly gates. St. Peter checks his dossier and says, “Ah, you’re an engineer—you’re in the wrong place.” So the engineer reports to the gates of hell and is let in. Pretty soon, the engineer gets dissatisfied with the comfort-level in hell and starts designing and building improvements. After a while, they’ve got air conditioning, escalators and various useful gizmos, and the engineer is a pretty popular guy.

One day God calls Satan up on the telephone and says, “So, how’s it going down there in hell?” Satan replies, “Hey, things are going great. We’ve got air conditioning and escalators, and there’s no telling what this engineer is going to come up with next.” God replies, “What??? You’ve got an engineer? That’s a mistake—he should never have gotten down there. Send him up here.” Satan says, “No way. I like having an engineer on the staff, and I’m keeping him.” God says, “Send him back up here or I’ll sue.”

Satan laughs uproariously and answers, “Yeah, right! And just where are YOU going to get a lawyer?”

The Test
The following short quiz consists of four questions and tells whether you are qualified to be a “manager.” The questions are not that difficult.

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?
The correct answer is: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe and close the door.
This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?
Wrong Answer: Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant and close the refrigerator.
Correct Answer: Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door.
This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your actions.

3. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference, all the animals attend except one. Which animal does not attend?
Correct Answer: The elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator.
This tests your memory.  Okay, even if you did not answer the first three questions correctly, you still have one more chance to show your abilities.

4. There is a river you must cross. But it is inhabited by crocodiles. How do you manage it?
Correct Answer: You swim across. All the crocodiles are attending the Animal Meeting!
This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes. 

According to Andersen Consulting World wide, around 90% of the professionals they tested got all questions wrong. But many little pre-schoolers got several correct answers. Andersen Consulting says this conclusively disproves the theory that most management consultants have the brains of a four year old. They don't even have that level of achievement!

Three men are sitting in the sauna, draped in towels. Suddenly there is a beeping sound. Paul presses his forearm and the beeping stops. The others look at him questioningly. “That’s my pager,” he says. “I have a microchip under the skin of my arm.” A few minutes later a phone rings. Max lifts his palm to his ear. When he finishes he explains, “That’s my mobile phone. I have a microchip in my hand.”

Dave, feeling decidedly low-tech, steps out of the sauna. Within minutes he returns with a piece of toilet paper emerging from his buttocks. The others raise their eyebrows. With the best straight face he can muster, he explains, “I’m getting a Fax.”

The Purge Of North Korean Officers

State Executions

If you still hold any doubts as to the ruthlessness of North Korean politics, you have to look no further than the recent purges of high-ranking army officers and party officials to put these to rest, says a report in The Telegraph:
Kim Chol, vice minister of the army, was taken into custody earlier this year on the orders of Kim Jong-un, who assumed the leadership after the death of his father in December. On the orders of Kim Jong-un to leave "no trace of him behind, down to his hair," according to South Korean media, Kim Chol was forced to stand on a spot that had been zeroed in for a mortar round and "obliterated."
The execution of Kim Chol is just one example of a purge of members of the North Korean military or party who threatened the fledgling regime of Kim Jong-un. So far this year, 14 senior officials have fallen victim to the purges, according to intelligence data provided to Yoon Sang-hyun, a member of the South Korean Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee.
Those that have fallen from favour include Ri Yong-ho, the head of the army and Ri Kwang-gon, the governor of the North Korean central bank. Analysts suggest that Mr Kim, who took over as head of state after the death of his father late last year, is acting to consolidate his own power base and deter any criticism of his youthfulness and inexperience. Mr Kim is believed to be either 28 or 29.

"When Kim Jong-un became North Korean leader following the mourning period for his father in late December, high-ranking military officers started disappearing," a source told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. "From information compiled over the last month, we have concluded that dozens of military officers were purged."
Such state executions, typically on trumped-up charges of disloyalty to the party, or more likely the leader,  are commonplace in totalitarian regimes; such was the case during Stalin's long reign in the Soviet Union, where purges of top officials were brutally regular between the 1930s and 1950s—right up to his death on March 5, 1953.

In such regimes as North Korea, where the cult of personality is the norm, as the thinking goes, it's imperative that the new leader show his strength by getting rid of the old guard, who might in the end "threaten" the seat of power. That North Korea's new leader is young and inexperienced makes his actions all the more unpredictable. But then again all totalitarians use their unpredictable behaviour to cast a giant shadow of fear over the state they rule.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Telegraph]

Graffiti Affects Urban Life

Public Dissent

Does anyone have a right to deface a building with a message?; graffiti artists think so, and often do so without much consequences. It's often hard to apprehend such individuals, and police likely consider it a low-priority crime. But there is a connection between graffiti and how safe a city appears. Prof George Jochnowitz writes about his city, New York, in a piece that is a few years old, but his argument can equally apply today to any major city, including my own, Montreal: "If we love the freedom, safety and variety that characterize urban life, we must control graffiti. Mayor Giuliani and his first police commissioner, William Bratton, led a war against crime, including quality-of-life crime. Crime was reduced by 50% during the years 1994-96. Graffiti did not disappear, but they became much less common."

  by George Jochnowitz

Graffiti writers are cultural imperialists. Their message is always the same: I live in a slum and so do you. Graffiti writers are trying to do away with the variety of urban life and replace it with their own harsh culture.

People flock to New York, not simply to escape the inconvenience and expense of commuting, but to enjoy the public space. Great cities are not merely places to work, but to stroll, shop, eat, admire the architecture and enjoy the presence of others. New York's ethnic variety adds a distinctive spice to the flavor of the city's many public spaces. Apartments, private spaces, are expensive, but public space is free. Public space has one major enemy: fear of crime. Fear of crime not only inhibits people from going out, thus making the streets lonely and consequently even more dangerous, but leads to the installation of car burglar alarms, which go off for no reason at any hour of the day or night. These ear-shattering, nerve-shattering, soul-shattering alarms serve no purpose, since they are so familiar that they do not attract attention. City and state governments lack the common sense to outlaw them, and insurance companies actually encourage their use.

On July 21, 1971, the New York Times ran a story entitled "Taki 183 Spawns Pen Pals." Taki 183 was the tag, or pen-name, of a young vandal who wrote all over walls and subways stations. Almost immediately after the publication of the story, graffiti appeared everywhere in the city, especially in the subways. They spread all over the world—global graffiti. Graffiti, to be sure, have always existed. There were graffiti on the walls of the houses in Pompeii, a fact we know because they were preserved when the city was covered with lava and ashes by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. But the vandalism that started in 1971 was different. It was recreational crime, destruction for the fun of it.

If we love the freedom, safety and variety that characterize urban life, we must control graffiti. Mayor Giuliani and his first police commissioner, William Bratton, led a war against crime, including quality-of-life crime. Crime was reduced by 50% during the years 1994-96. Graffiti did not disappear, but they became much less common. Today, unfortunately, they seem to be coming back.

An article by Rob Walker in the October 3, 2004, issue of The New York Times magazine tells us about “a global community, linking the form’s biggest icons with the newest up-and-comers, from the Lower East Side to Latvia.” The current graffiti writers are upper-class, as opposed to the under-class kids of the 1970s. Whatever their class, however, graffiti are acts of vandalism. Attacks on public space cause crime. Favorable publicity rewards the perpetrators of these attacks. Once again, the New York Times is serving as a tool for vandals, as it did in the days of Taki 183.

Graffiti, which are illegal, have a legal ally in car alarms. We have to consider the possibility that these alarms actually cause crime. What is a car telling us when its alarm goes off again and again? It is saying, "Nobody cares." It is saying, "Steal me. Nobody will stop you."

New York City has the lowest crime rate of the ten largest cities in the United States. When crime began to go down nation-wide, New York's drop was the first and the greatest. The reason, almost certainly, was that New York was acting to prevent quality-of-life offenses like graffiti.

Car alarms and graffiti both reflect and create an atmosphere of lawlessness. Graffiti are evidence that a crime has been committed. Car alarms are supposed to be evidence that a crime is being committed. We ignore the alarms because we know the evidence is false; even so, alarms are an attack on public space.

Mayor Bloomberg has suggested laws against various types of noise. Mysteriously, banning car alarms is not listed among his proposals, even though there are more complaints about car alarms than about any other source of noise. There is a mayoral election scheduled for 2005. If Mayor Bloomberg wants New Yorkers to appreciate him, he should speak and act against this form of noise, which is not only annoying but also pointless.

A city that feels safe becomes safer as a result. People are not afraid to go out; their very presence then protects others. New York became the nation's safest big city because Mayor Giuliani made people believe they had little to fear on the streets. The return of graffiti and the persistence of car alarms are not a good omen.

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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lay Down Your Arms: Israeli Peace Song

The Habonim Youth Choir of Toronto, conducted by Esther Ghan-Firestone and directed by Eli Rubenstein, perform an Isreali peace song written by Doron Levinson, an Israeli soldier temporarily blinded in war, and written in memory of his comrade who fell in battle during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The soloist in this 1992 performance is 17-year-old Tara Strong. The Hebrew words are taken from Isaiah 2:4: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall no longer raise up arms against nation, neither shall they teach their children war any more."

I know the song and the desires it raises are unrealistic, notably today when extremists seem the norm in leadership, but one always needs hope that some day peace will become the norm. One serves a few individuals, who profit from war; the other serves all humanity, who profit from peace. You can read more about the history of the song here. As Eli Rubinstein writes:
Perhaps the most important line is: "Every hand that holds a sword can hold a baby," which suggests that every human being can shape the moral contour of his life. The line brings to mind the unforgettable image of the firefighter attempting to rescue an infant after the tragic bombing in Oklahoma City. It reminds us of the extremes of good and evil humanity is capable of: the murderous hand of a terrorist who planted the bomb and the compassionate hands of the rescuer who tenderly [holds] the lifeless baby while the senseless inferno rages behind him. "Every hand that holds a sword can hold a baby..."

[English lyrics]
by Lisa Catherine Cohen

Dear God, please hear us—Listen to our prayer,
And help us do Thy will upon this Earth...
Let the children suffer war no more.
And let a peaceful world be given birth
Every hand that holds a sword can hold a baby
Every heart can learn to love...
Lay down your arms
Begin the journey home
And join the human family
Bridge: The road is long and steep
What we sow, we reap
Children need you:
Let us lead you—
Promises we make we all must keep
Somewhere deep inside the soldier,
There's a dreamer
Dreaming of a world of peace...
Lay down your arms—
Let Time heal every wound,
And Love will someday set us free!

The Crystals: He’s a Rebel

“He’s A Rebel” by The Crystals was the No.1 pop hit on October 28th, 1962, the day that the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved peacefully. Making peace, when others are clamouring for war, might make you a rebel in a world that has become infected with extremism.


The Cuban Missile Crisis: Ended 50 Years Ago Today

Nuclear Proliferation

An article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a collection of essays on what the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16 to 28, 1962) meant to them and the nations in which they resided. I was born in 1957, to young to remember its significance, but do have vague memories of President Kennedy speaking on black & white TV.
Over the past 50 years, dozens of articles have appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on the Cuban Missile Crisis. And with each passing year, new and relevant information has been reported -- which, for better or worse, has taught readers that the world was closer to full-scale nuclear war than was originally thought. Yet in October 1962, the Bulletin's Doomsday Clock remained unchanged: It stood at 7 minutes to midnight and the following year, in 1963, the clock's hands moved to 12 minutes to midnight, when the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect.
But how did the Doomsday Clock -- the very existence of which indicated how close the world was to nuclear catastrophe -- stand still? The answers to this seeming anomaly are that the Doomsday Clock captures trends and takes into account the capacity of leaders and societies to respond to crises with reasoned actions to prevent nuclear holocaust. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for all its potential and ultimate destruction, only lasted a few weeks; however, the lessons were quickly apparent when the United States and the Soviet Union installed the first hotline between the two capitals to improve communications, and, of course, negotiated the 1963 test ban treaty, ending all atmospheric nuclear testing. Others have suggested that the gravity of the Cuban Missile Crisis has been defined by decades of scholarship but that, in 1962, the world population, to a large degree, was unaware of what exactly had just happened. Or, more precisely, what hadn't happened.

The Bulletin turned to a few of its current Science and Security Board and Board of Sponsors members -- those who together decide the time of the Doomsday Clock -- to ask them to share their personal memories or personal reflections of the Cuban Missile Crisis
The articles are worth reading, notably for someone like myself who was too young to remember the implications.  For example, not well-remembered is that the only conflict-related military death was that of 35-year-old Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr., USAF, who was shot down over Cuba, while on a reconnaissance mission, USA Today reports:
Armed only with a camera, Anderson flew an unescorted U-2 spy plane over the island more times in the crisis than any other pilot. He and his comrades took the photos that the U.S. used to show the world the Soviets had nuclear missiles 90 miles from Florida.
After Anderson was shot down by a Soviet missile — without permission from leaders in the Kremlin — President Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev realized they had to end the crisis before their underlings pushed them into war. Within 24 hours, they did.
On October 28th, 1962, the crisis ended, when, as the Harvard Kennedy School for Science and International Affairs says,  "The Soviet government announced they had accepted the American offer to never invade Cuba in exchange for removing the nuclear weapons from Cuba. The Soviets did not mention the secret deal that the Americans would also remove their missiles from Turkey." That also shows the private deals, away from public and media scrutiny, can often resolve many crises. Would that be possible today?

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Vienna Philharmonic: Mahler's Symphony No. 1

He was not a man who ever deceived himself,
and he knew that people would not forget he was a Jew. . . . Nor did he wish it forgotten. . . . He never denied his Jewish origin. Rather he emphasized it.
Alma MahlerGustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946)

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under Leonard Bernstein, here performs Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major; Mahler completed the work in March 1888, while he worked as the second conductor at the Leipzig Opera in Germany. He wrote this piece before his decision to convert to Christianity—a  necessity to secure a prestigious post at the Vienna Court Opera.

Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, into a Jewish family in Kaliste, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now part of the Czech Republic. In  February 1897, at age 36, Mahler converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, chiefly to secure a post as artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Court Opera.  It was a procedural necessity at a time when Christian Europe was highly discriminatory in its practices.

Nevertheless, his music retained his Jewish heritage and influences, and if there was any doubt that Mahler owed his allegiances to his Jewish origins, they need be dispelled. "This, in the eyes of those who hated his innovations, far from removing his Jewish stigma, drew attention to it," Paul Johnson, a historian writes in A History of the Jews, quoting from Alma Mahler's book Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946):
"He was not a man who ever deceived himself," wrote his wife, "and he knew that people would not forget he was a Jew. . . . Nor did he wish it forgotten. . . . He never denied his Jewish origin. Rather he emphasized it."
Mahler's symphonies, hardly performed during his life, became out of fashion for decades after his death in 1911 at the age of 50. The anti-Romantic mood changed after the Second World War. Leonard Bernstein has been credited with giving Mahler new life in the 1960s, making his music popular on both sides of the Atlantic. With all due credit to Bernstein's influence,  and it was sufficient and large, it might have also to do with the changing sentiments after the destructiveness resulting from a world caught up in the mania of war. 

After its end, the world was ready to hear Mahler.

Gustav Mahler [1860-1911]: Gustav Mahler, photographed in 1907 at the end of his period as director of the Vienna Hofoper. As Mahler said: “The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one's way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.”
Photo Credit: Moriz Nähr (1859–1945)
Source: Wikipedia

Jacques Barzun: American Historian, Dead At 104

Literary Lives

Jacques Barzun, a noted historian and essayist, died on Thurday, October 25th at his home in San Antonio, Texas; he was 104. An article in the New York Times notes:
Mr. Barzun was a man of boundless curiosity, monumental productivity and manifold interests, encompassing both Berlioz and baseball. It was a life of the mind first cultivated more than a century ago in a childhood home outside Paris that became an avant-garde salon.
Mr. Barzun stood beside Sidney Hook, Daniel Bell and Lionel Trilling as among the mid-20th century’s most wide-ranging scholars, all of whom tried to reconcile the achievements of European culture and philosophy with the demands and tastes of American intellectual and cultural life.
He wrote dozens of books across many decades, demonstrating that old age did not necessarily mean intellectual decline. He published his most ambitious and encyclopedic book at the age of 92 (and credited his productivity in part to chronic insomnia). That work, “From Dawn to Decadence,” is an 877-page survey of 500 years of Western culture in which he argued that Western civilization itself had entered a period of decline.
Mr. Barzun was both of the academy and the public square, a man of letters and — he was proud to say — of the people. In books and in the classroom he championed Romantic literature, 19th-century music and the Western literary canon. He helped design the influential “great books” curriculum at Columbia, where he was one of its most admired figures for half a century, serving as provost, dean of faculty and university professor.
Jacques Barzun was born in Créteil, a suburb of Paris, on Nov. 30, 1907, influenced like many of his contemporaries by European Romanticism. Common to all thinking humans, Brazun's words incited controversy; he was right about many things (the quality of a liberal arts education) and wrong on a few others (the teaching of science in universities).

His love and devotion to Romanticism undoubtedly colored his views on science, which he worried had mechanistic tendencies. The Times writes: "This was to become a recurring theme; Mr. Barzun even considered science to have had a deleterious effect on university education. While he maintained that modern science was 'one of the most stupendous and unexpected triumphs of the human mind,' he attacked, again and again, any hint of 'mechanical scientism,' which he said had baleful consequences."

Although his magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence, viewed western civilization in decline, it was not its end, but rather another new phase in its movement forward. Thinkers like Jacques Barzun, who put forward ideas for debate and analysis, will be missed.

You can read the rest of the article at (NYT)

Vienna Philharmonic: Mozart's Requiem (1991)

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Georg Solti, perform Mozart's Requiem in D minor, KV 626, on December 5, 1991, on the 200th anniversary of the composer's death; all the other details and background information is on screen for you to enjoy.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Colorectal Cancer Patients Might Benefit From Asprin

Annals of Medicine

Some colorectal cancer patients, those whose tumors have been identified with a mutation in the gene PIK3CA, can increase their rates of survival by taking Aspirin, an article in the Harvard Gazette says. The article adds that Aspirin "has no effect on patients who lack the mutation, Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists report in the Oct. 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine":
In a study involving more than 900 patients with colorectal cancer, the researchers found that, for patients whose tumors harbored a mutation in the gene PIK3CA, aspirin use produced a sharp jump in survival: five years after diagnosis, 97 percent of those taking aspirin were still alive, compared with 74 percent of those not using aspirin. By contrast, aspirin had no impact on five-year survival rates among patients without a PIK3CA mutation.
“Our results suggest that aspirin can be particularly effective in prolonging survival among patients whose colorectal cancer tests positive for a mutation in PIK3CA,” said the study’s senior author, Shuji Ogino of Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). “For the first time, we have a genetic marker that can help doctors determine which colorectal cancers are likely to respond to a particular therapy.” He cautions that the results need to be replicated by other researchers before they can be considered definitive.
While aspirin is often prescribed for colorectal cancer patients, doctors haven’t been able to predict which patients will actually benefit from the treatment. The new finding suggests that the survival benefit is limited to the 20 percent whose tumors have the PIK3CA mutation.
While this might not be the "cure" that humanity is seeking, it is a good finding, and shows that research is making significant headway in finding a cure for cancer. It is the combination of steps like this one, rather than a giant leap, that might lead to cancer not becoming the threat it now poses. It is research, which leads to further research and conclusive findings, that will eventually defeat cancer.

As the article notes, "The study was prompted by previous research that suggested that aspirin blocks an enzyme called PTGS2 (cyclooxygenase-2), causing a slowdown in the signaling activity of another enzyme, PI3K. That led researchers to hypothesize that aspirin could be especially effective against colorectal cancers in which the PIK3CA gene is mutated."

You can read the rest of the article at [Harvard Gazette]

Road From Medievalism To Modernity Is A Long One

Religion in the Modern Age

By its very nature, by its design and purpose to uphold particular indivisible truths, religion and religious belief divide people into camps of "us" and "them": those who believe the accepted religious narrative and those who don't. Those who conform to the religious doctrines and practices and those who don't. Those who have religious faith and those who don't. The more fundamentalist the faith the lesser the invitation to debate, analyse and reason with others, notably the non-believers.

By definition and by default, the non-believers' non-acceptance of the accepted religious narrative, places such person outside the camp, as an outsider, a heretic, an infidel; and in its reactionary forms, where a harsh interpretation of religious law is considered necessary, law-breakers (including blasphemers) are worthy of execution. I know that this simple equation doesn't account for all individuals and for all cases but it's generally true of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The faithful, like all faithful individuals, see a need to defend not only their religion in general as fundamentally and completely true, but also their religious narrative and their religious patrimony. It's considered an honour and a necessity to do so. Anyone who dares to question the accepted religious narrative and its accepted interpretation is considered a heretic, a free thinker, an unbeliever. At the core of it all is the "belief," and to add a further argument, a belief in the full religious narrative, doctrines, "truth" and history of the founding of the religion. This narrative runs across all religions, and its severity and degrees of restriction are in relation to how much it has come in contact with modernity and Enlightenment ideas.

At its onset and earlier formative years, religions tend to be aggressive and seek dominance and adherents or followers. In many ways, it's a numbers game, and the more followers the greater the validity of the religion's truth claims. Greater numbers, besides instilling validity, also ensures that it survives in a sea of competing ideas and ideologies. And while the ferocity of religious zeal ebbs and flows, there is a point in its historical development that particular religions make peace with its surrounding ideologies, notably secular modern ones. The road to medievalism to modernity, however, is a long one.

Today, Islam is the religion that receives extensive news coverage, since its ideas and ideology, in its current form, seem contrary to the ideas present in modern western culture. The voices of the extremists, those of the fundamentalists, speak loudest, backed by claims of tradition and honour and truth. Of course all religions make such claims. In the case of Islam, many commentators say it has been hijacked by extremists, by Islamists who want to install a fundamentalist medieval version of Islam, including strict interpretations of Sharia law; yet, while this battle is taking place, many others point out that such individuals do not represent the views of the majority of Islam's followers.

This should not be surprising, given that within Judaism and Christianity today there remains small groups of extremist followers who want to preserve the very old traditions of the elders, and feel threatened by modern ideas and modernity. It is just more pronounced and noticeable in Islam, which is following a certain arc of historical development. That being the case, the extremists have done a disservice to Islam and its Muslim followers. The moderates within its ranks have a tough road ahead of them, although not insurmountable, as history shows that modernity eventually informs all religious beliefs and ideologies and overtakes pre-modern ideas. There is no reason that Islam should be an exception; its people can prosper.

Islam is not unique in the history of humanity and religious belief in its use of violence, harsh rhetoric, inflammatory language and excessive force to keep the faithful in line and to warn the "infidels" or non-faithful of the consequences of their lack of faith. Consider the following about a far older religion—Christianity. In Christianity, there were many notable extremist elements during its long 2,000-year history, before it became informed by western liberal ideas and thought, including the Scientific Revolution, the European Enlightenment and the Jewish Haskalah. Some people might be surprised to learn of the following less than noble history of Christianity and its long 2,000-year history of anti-Jewish violence. In A Brief History of Antisemitism, we read:
Although Jesus' death had been ordered and carried out by non-Jews, most Christians believed that the Jews and their priests were responsible. St. Paul later proclaimed that the Jews "killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God's will and enemies of their fellow men..." (I Thessalonians 2:15-16).
As Christianity spread, the differences between Christianity and Judaism became more and more pronounced. But it was not until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire that anti-Judaism became a serious threat to Jewish existence.
By the fourth century, Jews were generally despised by Christians everywhere. St. Augustine, one of Christianity's most influential leaders, likened the Jewish people to Cain, who had murdered his own brother and thus became the first criminal in biblical history. St. Augustine wrote that Jews were a "wicked sect" and should be subjected to permanent exile because of their evil ways. John the author of the book of Revelations even called Jews "the children of the devil" (John.8:44).
Laws were passed throughout the Christian world to "protect" the "faithful" from Jewish "contamination" by forbidding them to eat with, do business with, or have sex with Jews, and by the sixth century, Jews were not allowed to hold public office, employ Christian servants, or even show themselves in the streets during Holy Week (the week commemorating the time between Jesus' "Last Supper" and his crucifixion).
Beginning in 1096, Christian leaders launched a series of crusades against the Muslims to win control of Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus. On their way to the Middle East, the crusader armies attacked Jewish communities along the route. The First Crusade was especially bloody. Entire communities of Jews were forced to choose between baptism or death, and since few Jews would renounce their faith, the First Crusade resulted in nearly 10,000 Jews being slaughtered during the first six months alone.
Godfrey Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade, vowed "to leave no single member of the Jewish race alive," and ordered the synagogue in Jerusalem burned to the ground with its entire Jewish congregation trapped inside.
This hatred and slaughter of Jews (and Muslims) continued essentially unabated for centuries, and did not end with the entry of Christianity's newer sect, Protestantism, despite its early attempt to exhibit some tolerance of the Jews. For the most part, Christianity has entered and resides in the modern age. Even so, the charge of deicide in the past and today the demonization of Israel by the Leftist church plague Jewish-Christian relations [see here].

That Islam is today marked by continued spasms of hatred and intolerance is undeniable and problematic for western society as a whole, which of course includes Israel and the Jews; yet, it is equally problematic for the citizens of Islamic nations, who are being denied an opportunity to become tolerant and modern and free—as is their human desire. What is not always noted in the major media is that the violence is hardly representative of the majority of Muslims, but is advocated and provoked by extremist fringe groups who want to sow discord and who want to use violence to silence dissent, discussion and open debate. An example is the response of Libyans after the murder of American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi [see here and here].

Moreover, it must be said that Islam's record of bloodshed is no worse than that of historical Christianity; and Islam is a far younger religion, dating to the seventh century C.E.  Few will find such thoughts comforting, but it's not a matter of comfort but facts: the history of religion cannot be cleansed of its history of violence; the historical record is full of bloodshed. No one abhors the violence more than me, but violence never ends when we want it to; it ends when its perpetrators view it as no longer profitable, and decide to embrace the view of tolerance, openness and free speech; and equally important to stop the hatred and focus their energies on doing good. That will take time.

Yet, the process has begun with the raising of important questions within the Arab world: Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, a retired Saudi Naval Commodore, writes in an article ("It's time to stop the hatred") that first appeared in the Arab News, and has been republished in The Canadian Jewish News (Oct 18, 2012):
The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom and lack of respect for the human lives. As well, the Arab world has had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people, These dictators' atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.
That Islamists are in power in Egypt, Tunisia and in Gaza give many in the West reason to be concerned; yet, it is a necessary transition that might not turn out all bad. Slogans are not enough; the Islamists have to govern and bring about the necessary changes for their constituents. In the Palestine-Israel Journal, Khaled Hroub writes
In the next era these two issues, or mechanisms — the slogan of “Islam Is the Solution” and speaking in the name of religion — will be subjected to an open and comprehensive public test. This may take a long time, the life span of an entire generation, but it seems that it is inevitable and the passage of this historic stage of the life of the Arab peoples is necessary to gradually turn their exaggerated mania concerning identity into an understanding of the political, social and economic reality. Or, in other words, to turn people’s awareness and public opinion from placing their hopes on dreamy ideological and utopian slogans to confronting reality and holding parties and movements accountable according to the information provided in their actual programs and reality on the ground.
My hope is that Islam can (eventually) evolve to a more moderate form, as Judaism and Christianity have done before it. Some hard-line Western commentators consider such thinking as not possible, looking at current events in the Middle East as proof that Islam can never reform. I don't agree: Jewish commentators in "civilized Europe" might have thought the same thing about Christianity a scant hundred years ago.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Orchestre de Paris: Mahler's Symphony No.1

The Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, performs the final movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major, the Stürmisch bewegt—Energisch ("Stormily agitated—Energetic"); Mahler completed the work in March 1888, while he worked as the second conductor at the Leipzig Opera in Germany.


The Rise & Fall Of Volapük As A Universal Language

Modern Universal Languages

I can understand the desire of individuals who want to create a universal language, although such a desire doesn't reside in me. Then again, the desire likely includes the need to create an easy and predictable single mode of communication among the hundreds of language and national groups—thus making a brave attempt to somewhat defeat the babel of languages common today. It also speaks about defeating the linguistic hegemony of a particular language.

An article in The Public Domain Review by Arika Okrent looks at one such language—Volapük—that gained popularity at the end of the 19th century, but was eventually replaced by Esperanto in its quest for an universal language.
Johann Schleyer was a German priest whose irrational passion for umlauts may have been his undoing. During one sleepless night in 1879, he felt a Divine presence telling him to create a universal language. The result was Volapük. It was designed to be easy to learn, with a system of simple roots derived from European languages, and regular affixes which attached to the roots to make new words. Volapük was the first invented language to gain widespread success. By the end of the 1880s there were more than 200 Volapük societies and clubs around the world and 25 Volapük journals. Over 1500 diplomas in Volapük had been awarded. In 1889, when the third international Volapük congress was held in Paris, the proceedings were entirely in Volapük. Everyone had at least heard of it. President Grover Cleveland’s wife even named her dog Volapük.
Though Schleyer was German, a large part of the Volapük vocabulary was based on English. “Volapük” was a compound formed from two roots, vol (from “world”) and pük (from “speak”). However, it was often hard to spot the source of a Volapük word because of the way Schleyer had set up the sound system of the language. “Paper” was pöp, “beer” bil, “proof” blöf and “love”löf. He had rational reasons for most of the phonological choices he made. For simplicity, he tried to limit all word roots to one syllable. He avoided the ‘r’ sound, “for the sake of children and old people, also for some Asiatic nations.” The umlauts, however, were there for löf.
The umlauts might have been the language's undoing in its race for popularity, Okrent writes. "By 1890 the Volapük movement was falling apart due to arguments about umlauts and other reforms. Schleyer left the Volapük Academy and formed his own academy of loyalists. Other Volapükists created their own versions of the language – Nal Bino, Balta, Bopal, Spelin, Dil, Orba – all of which immediately fell into the obscurity that soon swallowed Volapük itself."

Umlauts aside, it's almost impossible for a modern invented language to gain world acceptance. As the article notes, there have been hundreds of invented languages that never really see the light of day, let alone gain some semblance of acceptance; thus the chances of one becoming popular are slim indeed.

You can read the rest of the article at [Public Domain]

Extreme Hate Meets Extreme Honor

Faux Virtue

Can you have too much virtue? Can you have too much honor? Undoubtedly and perhaps surprisingly so, notably if it channeled to hate, leading to actions that are inhumane. Today the odd combination of the desire for honor and the obsession to hate often reside in some strange harmony of  irrational hostility in the same person; but it's not a new thing, George Jochnowitz writes:  "Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet was rewritten as Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. The nobles of the Shakespeare play and the hooligans of Bernstein’s musical had the same value: 'honor.' Their idiotic commitment to their idea of 'honor' leads to tragedy in both cases. Aristocrats and hooligans share the same extremist ideas. Their extremism is the same as the senseless hostility of Ahmadinejad, who wants to kill Israelis just as the Montagues wanted to kill the Capulets."

by George Jochnowitz
Extremes meet. The most irrational example may be the unofficial alliance between extreme leftists and Islamists. Marxism and Islam have been de facto allies at least since the Bandung Conference of 1955, when Third World countries united with Marxist regimes in order to fight against freedom and Israel. This alliance did not stop Marxists from persecuting Muslims in their own lands, nor did it prevent Islamists from suppressing Marxists in their theocratic states. Leftists and Muslims disagree about everything—women’s rights, religion, the economy—you name it. These differences did not prevent them from joining to fight democracy and Zionism, whom they defined as their enemies, for no good reason.

Who were the only two members of the House of Representatives to vote against a resolution calling upon the Security Council to charge Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Geneva Convention? They were ultra-rightist Ron Paul and ultra-leftist Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich has lost a primary election, and so he won’t be in Congress next year. Neither will Ron Paul, who has announced his retirement. However, his son, Rand Paul, is now a member of the Senate.

The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement have no official positions on Israel. Both, however, oppose the government of the United States. Both talk about nothing but economics. Rightists who oppose the government are called libertarians; Leftists who are anti-government are called anarchists. The Libertarian magazine Reason, in its November 2012 issue, contains an article by Brian Doherty entitled “Ron Paul: Man of the Left.” We would expect Ron Paul to support the Tea Party, and he does. He and his son Rand attended a Tea Party rally in Austin, Texas, on May 6. It is hard to imagine how someone who supports the Tea Party could accept the ideas of the Occupy Movement.

Nevertheless, Doherty writes, “Ron Paul was the only prominent candidate who dared say anything good about the Occupy movement during the Republican primary season.” He did so despite the fact that “in October 2011 an Occupy intruder broke into an unoccupied Paul booth in the middle of the night, stole literature and DVDs, and defecated into the middle of the Paulites’ space.” Perhaps Paul felt that the actions of an individual don’t speak for the whole movement. What is more likely is that he understood that anti-war activists agreed with his choice of ending America’s commitments abroad—an America with no foreign policy whatsoever.

If Reason, a magazine at the right end of the spectrum, is troubled by Paul because of his support of the Occupy Movement, it is surprising to learn that The New York Review of Books, a publication that is liberal and leftist, printed Michael Greenberg’s “New York: The Police and the Protesters” in its October 12, 2012, issue.

Greenberg’s sympathies are with the Occupiers as opposed to the police. Nevertheless, he cites a damning quote by an Occupier: “We don’t talk to people with power, because to do so would acknowledge the legitimacy of their power.” If the power of governing officials is illegitimate, it is not too much of a jump to say they should be overthrown. Greenberg also tells us that Norman Siegel, a former executive of NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union), said, “There are ways to use the system to challenge the system. Unfortunately, Occupy wasn’t willing or sophisticated enough to maneuver in this manner.” But maybe Occupy was very sophisticated indeed about this matter. Using the system to challenge the system would be acknowledging that the United States has freedom of speech. The extremism of the Occupy Movement is shown by the fact that it has no demands, meaning its demands can never be met. It can never compromise, and so it is hoping for revolution. It has chosen not to pursue its goals in a way that would recognize America as a free country.

Ron Paul and the Occupy Movement are so much on the extremes that their views have begun to coincide. Brian Doherty and Michael Greenberg, on the other hand, represent opposite sides of the existing political culture. And so both of them have reservations about those on their side who seem to want to step beyond the political culture. Both Reason and The New York Review of Books are operating within the boundaries of a democratic society, unlike Ron Paul and the Occupy Movement.

Maurice H. Keen studied the destructive effects of a phenomenon called “honor,” as an obituary in the New York Times tells us.

Keen illustrated the strange values of chivalry by telling us of a knight who had committed rape arson, murder and kidnapping—after a truce had been declared. “He was executed for violating the truce, not for murder and rape. Murder and rape were accepted as the norm.”

Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet was rewritten as Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. The nobles of the Shakespeare play and the hooligans of Bernstein’s musical had the same value: “honor.” Their idiotic commitment to their idea of “honor” leads to tragedy in both cases. Aristocrats and hooligans share the same extremist ideas. Their extremism is the same as the senseless hostility of Ahmadinejad, who wants to kill Israelis just as the Montagues wanted to kill the Capulets.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad too is obsessed with “honor.” He has subjected his country to sanctions. He has said Israel should be wiped off the map and is producing nuclear materials, thus provoking Israel to attack him. Iran has no reason to be enemies with Israel. Iran doesn’t really want to support the Palestinians, just to destroy Israel. Iranians don’t like Arabs and Shiites don’t like Sunnis. So why is Ahmadinejad risking the lives of his people and the future of his country. “Honor.” Extremes meet.

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 article appeared in the algemeiner (October 4, 2012). It is republished here with the permission of both the author and the algemeiner.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unemployed In Spain Waiting For A Miracle

Middle-Class Poverty in Europe

Waiting in Line: With four of ten individuals in Spain unemployed, the highest rate in Europe, many have to resort to waiting in food lines.
Photo Credit: Getty Images, 2012
Photo Source: ExPat Newsletter

The economic crisis, and that's the right word, has hit Spain especially hard. People who never expected to be without a job, including engineers and other professionals, are now in the undignified position of having to wait in line to receive a free meal, their daily bread if you will, The Voice of America writes:
In central Madrid on a Saturday afternoon, the economic crisis seems like something only economists worry about. But in the working class suburb of Mostoles, the crisis hits home.Here at the San Simon de Rojas food-distribution center, unemployed construction worker Antonio Molino Pelaez is just one of many getting acquainted to life on the streets. "When I had a job, I had a good life. I didn't have lot of money but enough to eat. Now I can't survive. I have nothing," he says. "It affects me a lot, because I'm a man of 41 and I don't have any prospects. I don't have a future. I don't have anything."
Pelaez, who eats here six days a week — on Sundays when the food-distribution center is closed, he doesn't eat — has no wife or family to support, a fact for which he is grateful. Many people who come to the food center do have families, including the unemployed waitress who is serving the hungry; living in an abandoned building with her children and unemployed husband, she is too embarrassed to come to the center merely to take a handout.
It's a story heard over and over again. Twenty-five per cent of Spanish workers are unemployed and a growing number of them can't afford to buy enough food to live.
Consider the full impact of such a statement: "a growing number of them can't afford to buy enough food to live." What that means is that those who are fortunate enough to have homes can only pay for their housing; yet after doing so, there is no money left for the necessities of life, of living, which includes food. While the economists and political leaders in Europe (and America) might debate and dicker on how nations like Spain and Greece got in such a financial mess, they do so with little understanding of how it affects the middle-class, many of whom have now slipped into poverty—through no fault of their own.

Here are some facts. The nation was doing well financially, enjoying twenty years of sustained growth, and where 8 out of 10 individuals owned homes—the world's highest rate of home ownership. But Spain, like the United States, had a real estate bubble, a result of speculation and government incentives to encourage home ownership. Then the 2008 world recession hit it, and it has not yet recovered, resulting in a high unemployment rate, the New York Times reports: "In April 2012, Spain’s unemployment rate reached 24.4 percent, the highest in Europe and an especially stark figure given that the government had not yet begun to lay off public sector servants in any significant number."

Such are the hard facts and data, but that does not remotely tell the many individual stories of heartache and loss, and such facts matter little to the many millions of individuals, including professionals, who have lost their jobs, their residences and their way of life. Even if there is some bank bailout (an estimated €100bn of rescue loans has been set aside, with terms, of course) to resolve the liquidity crisis, as it is called by economists, it might be too little too late for many of the unemployed. The prospects of ever finding a job for many middle-aged men are now dimmer than ever. That's a shame; a real shame.

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

The Leftist Church & The Jews

Jewish-Christian Relations

This article is a follow-up to earlier posts (see here and here) on the state of affairs between the Church and the Jews; and more important as to how the Leftist Church, typically mainline Protestant churches, but not exclusively, tend to view Israel and the Jewish People. What they all share is a hostility toward Israel and a deep-rooted anti-Zionism bordering on hate. This article does not apply in general to Evangelicals, who have been unwavering supporters of Israel, and whose views on the Jewish State are generally diametrically opposite those of the Leftist church.

The Jews started it all—and by "it" I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings … we would think with a different mind, interpret all our experience differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.
Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:
How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed
the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels

Christianity has had a long and tortured relationship with the Jewish People during its 2,000-year history. This hatred and slaughter of Jews (and Muslims in some cases) continued essentially unabated for centuries, and did not end with the entry of Christianity's newer sect, Protestantism, despite its early attempt to exhibit some tolerance of the Jews.

It did not last long; one famous and classic example is Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, whose public stinging rejection from the Jews, resulted in this reaction: a provocative if not inflammatory 65,000-word anti-Semitic treatise in German (Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen), translated in English to, On Jews and Their Lies (1543):
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly—and I myself was unaware of it—will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.....
and so on, ad nauseam.
Notwithstanding the apology one can make for sixteenth century language, one could hardly doubt Mr. Luther's lack of tolerance. This literary embarrassment, written by one of the "giants" of the Protestant reformation, remained as is, unchallenged or unchanged and vociferously defended by many Christian followers for more than four hundred years. It seemed unworthy, perhaps even ignoble to consider that such a piece of writing ought to be examined and deemed precisely what it always was: an anti-Semitic diatribe. Or in modern parlance  a rant. Despite so long a wait, modern times and modern sensibilities finally caught up with him, and in 1994 the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected Luther's anti-Semitic writings. Although I applaud its actions, I wonder why it took four centuries to act. It goes to show that change happens slowly among religious institutions, notably when it comes to rejecting the views of a leading religious figure or hero.

When one considers that it is only in the last fifty years or so, in the post-Holocaust period, that the Christian Church, in general, has become more tolerant of the Jewish People and its religion and traditions, it's not surprising that old prejudices remain and are revived. To its credit, the best minds within the Church has done so, not be denying the validity and veracity of its book, the New Testament, but by focusing its energies on what it has in common with the Jewish People, "the People of the Book." It's true that the New Testament itself, the book loved, adored and read by Christians the world over, contains passages that are acutely anti-Semitic, leading to animus towards the Jews. There is the (in)famous passage justifying religious hatred towards the Jews: "When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!' " (Matthew 27:24-25).

This passage alone has done the Christians a great harm in their desire for validity as a religion of "love and peace." For the Jews, understandably,  it is hard to accept such a statement when its followers, its devotees, acted otherwise, driven to excesses by the very words in the New Testament that has led to the greatest charge levied against the Jews—the crime of deicide, a charge that carried so much weight that it was used to justify the many massacres, by mob and state, against the Jews. That the Gospel accounts are contradictory are another matter, as is the chief contradiction of who is ultimately responsibility for the crime of deicide, if that really matters. Consider the following and think about it carefully: If it were the superintended will of G-d to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice for all humanity, then why ought someone else bear responsibility for its commission?

Even so, is the crime of deicide, the killing of a god, pales in comparison to the killing of a human; the reasons are so clear that any rational human should understand why this is so. Making a clear case of it is Eliezer Berkovits, a Jewish theologian and a rabbi, in Faith After the Holocaust (1973):
That deicide is the greatest of human crimes is among the most dangerous fallacies ever taught to man. The truth is that the capital crime of man is not deicide, but homicide. To torture and to kill one innocent child is a crime infinitely more abominable than the killing of any god. Had Christianity, instead, of being preoccupied with what it believed to have been a deicide, concentrated its educative attention on the human crime of homicide, mankind would have been spared much horror and tragedy. There would have been much less suffering and much less sorrow among all men; nor would there have been either Auschwitz or Treblinka.Unfortunately, the teaching of deicide became an excuse, and often a license, for homicide. Pity any god thus caricatured by his devotees! (127)
Pity indeed. Yet the wheels of justice move slowly. It was only in 1965 that the Catholic Church removed the accusation against the Jewish People; and has been noted above only in 1994 did the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America act likewise, repudiating the hateful writings of its namesake, Martin Luther, with its 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community.”  It's a good start, as was what the Catholic Church did in 1965, led in its efforts by Augustin Bea, a Jesuit priest from Baden, Germany, and who was head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity. But even a conservative Catholic as Paul Johnson, the noted historian, admits that the document, "Declarations of the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," hasn't gone as fair as it should. Johnson writes in A History of the Jews (1987):
It was a grudging document, less forthright than Bea had hoped, making no apology for the church's persecution of the Jews, and inadequate acknowledgement of the contribution of Judaism to Christianity. The key passage read: "True the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, not against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be represented as rejected of God or accursed, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures." This was not much. But it was something. In view of the fierce opposition it aroused, it might even be considered a great deal. (517)
True enough; but that there was fierce opposition a scant fifty years ago also says too much. Even so, being generous of spirit, one could say that modern Christianity now tends to generally ignore the passages that accuse the Jews of deicide, or at least give them secondary meaning or status; such generosity is a testament to our modern age and its influences on Christianity; but more important it is a testament that after almost two thousand years of bloodshed in which the Jews were the primary targets of hate and killing, the Christian is generally no longer interested in investing his energies in hatred and killing; his interests lie in more loftier ideals.

Except, perhaps, for the Leftist Church, which includes many Protestant churches and some Catholic orders, who have turned their attention to liberation theology, human rights and social issues, in their general drift "Left," which has left them over the years with a steeply declining membership. Some astute church commentators attribute their loss in members to a straying from original goals, or mission, if you will, including the necessity of improving and repairing relations with the Jewish People.

But, no, in their impeccable analysis, the problem of "world peace" forms a straight line to the policies of Israel, a small sliver of a nation that continually faces threats for its survival. That this nation, of all nations, is selected for their campaigns and actions, is not surprising if you understand the Leftist Church's influences and its underlying ideologies. Like all Leftists, it has to identify an enemy, and how convenient an enemy it has found in Israel, dovetailing nicely with the many New Testament passages vilifying the Jews.

For the Leftists in the church, the recent history, the last fifty years or so, of improving relations with their Jewish brethren is of little importance. What seems important to them, no doubt, is following the words of their hero, the founder of the Protestant Church; the response is nothing short of reactionary. Rather than showing the Jewish People gratitude and humility for opening an universe of ideas to them, for bringing knowledge and truth to the world, including the "Christian" world, the Leftist church response is haughty ingratitude, ignorance and hate. That's a sad testimony, indeed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Child-Free Zones A Good Place For Adults

Our Modern Society

Some public establishments, such as restaurants and movie theatres, are establishing child-free zones as a way to deal with children who are both rowdy and misbehaving. Equally important, it's a place, a sanctuary, if you will, where childless couples, single adults or parents with children can be and relax in a place where there are no children. An article by Sarah Boesveld in the National Post says:
As more and more businesses strive to cater to families, there has also been a recent rise in establishments trying to keep out the kids —positioning themselves as sanctuaries where adults can be adults, or at least get a little peace and quiet. This week, Cineplex announced the expansion of the theatre chain’s very own “adult space” — upscale, VIP theatres with roomier seats, where moviegoers can get a martini with their Bond flick, free from the presence of anyone under the legal drinking age. Last week, Air Asia introduced “quiet zones” on its economy class flights, open only to guests over the age of 12. Last year, a Pennsylvania restaurant made headlines for banning children under 6 after fielding customer noise complaints.

But what may be a selling point to some is discriminatory to others. The Atlantic magazine, somewhat jokingly, dubbed Air Asia’s quiet zone “baby apartheid.” At the end of August, a settlement was reached in a human rights complaint filed by an Ottawa mother who, in 2010, was turned away from a trendy restaurant because she brought her baby (the settlement details are secret, but the place now lets infants in).
The polarized reactions of the ongoing battle over public space and parenthood is telling of cultural shifts we may not be entirely used to yet, said Jean Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, and mother of two. Having children is now seen as a choice, not a natural product of marriage as it was generations ago, she said. This is mostly good, “but the few downsides are that there’s not quite as much tolerance for children anymore,” she said. “Because it is seen as a choice and because some people have made a choice not to have kids, they’re not quite as welcome in a public space.”
At the same time, there’s a “growing minority” of parents who expect to be able to take their babies everywhere, she said.
I am going to weigh in on this; I am a parent with two young boys, aged four and ten, and I don't think they ought to accompany my wife and me all the time. We, at times, like to go to restaurants where there is an adult atmosphere, and where we can dine quietly, without interruption and the need to make child-like conversation. Dining in a "fancy" restaurant is an experience that my wife and I still enjoy, as it ought to be.

There are some things that only adults can enjoy. That's a normal response to both having children and being a mature adult. Restaurants and movie theatres and all kinds of public establishments have the right to establish rules to cater to an adult set. It's not discrimination; it's a restriction. And it's a welcome measure; ask any mature parent.

You can read the rest of the article at [National Post]