Thursday, January 31, 2013

Understanding The Cravings Of Cigarette Smoking

Human Cravings

An article, by Tanya Lewis, in Scientific American says that scientists might now have found the brain mechanisms that lead to the strong cravings that many cigarette smokers have. Two areas of the brain—the orbitofrontal cortex and the prefrontal cortex—are the key areas of interest in understanding such cravings. .
The researchers scanned the brains of 10 moderate-to-heavy smokers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity by changes in blood flow. Researchers measured activity while the participants watched video clips of people smoking as well as neutral videos. Before viewing, some subjects were told cigarettes would be available immediately after the experiment, while others were told they would have to wait 4 hours before lighting up.
When participants watched the smoking videos, their brains showed increased activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area that assigns value to a behavior. When the cigarettes were available immediately as opposed to hours later, smokers reported greater cravings and their brains showed more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The researchers hypothesize that this area modulates value. In other words, it can turns up or down the "value level" of cigarettes (or other rewards) in the first area, the medial orbitofrontal cortex. The results show that addiction involves a brain circuit important for self-control and decision-making.
Prior to some of the scans, study participants were exposed to transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. This non-invasive method excites or blocks neural activity by inducing weak electrical currents in a particular region of the brain. When the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was deactivated using TMS, there was no difference in brain activity between those who watched the smoking clips and those who watched neutral videos; those two groups also reported similarly low cravings for cigarettes.
The blocking of this brain region cut off the link between craving and awareness of cigarette availability, suggesting that suppressing the area could reduce cravings brought on by impending access to the drug. "This is something that we've all been working on, trying to find the target in the brain that you could hit and cause somebody to stop smoking," study researcher Antoine Bechara, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, told LiveScience.
If this finding proves reliable, it will lead to a better and efficient method to help individuals stop smoking, that is, through the use of TMS, a non-invasive method. The health effects of cigarette smoking are well documented and not arguable. So, anything that helps individuals quit smoking is a good thing. Fewer smokers means not only better air quality, in general, but also less medical problems related to second-hand smoke. That will not only save lives but also reduce over-all health-care costs.

You can read the rest of the article at [Scientific American].

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chamber Orchestra of Europe: Mozart's Symphony No. 40

The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, under the baton of Nicolaus Harnoncourt, performs Mozart's Symphony No. 40, KV. 550, in G minor; Mozart composed this four-movement piece in 1788. If there is any doubt as to Mozart's credentials as a musical genius this piece alone ought to convince any skeptics. Can you ever tire of listening to this uplifting masterpiece?


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mali Rebels Torch Library Full Of Old Manuscripts


Aarticle, by Luke Harding, in the Guardian says that Islamist militants set fire to a library full of old manuscripts in Timbuktu before fleeing advancing French and Malian military.
Islamist insurgents retreating from the ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th century, in what the town's mayor described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage. Halle Ousmani Ciffe told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings where the manuscripts were being kept. They also burned down the town hall and governor's office, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.
French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town's airport. But they appear to have got there too late to save the leather-bound manuscripts, which were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa's medieval history.
"It's true. They have burned them," Ciffe said, in a phone interview fromMali's capital, Bamako. "They also burned down several buildings. There was one guy who was celebrating in the street and they shot him." He added: "This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali's heritage but the world's heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north."
Such is the way with extremists; they want to severe all ties to history and have no connection to the past; in their thinking it's important to forge their own narrative. Such is another reason why extremists are a threat not only to western civilization, but also to nations that are decidedly Islamic. Such extremists are friends of no one.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Guardian].

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 1

My Health

This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested in research; I am no exception. 


On Tuesday December 18th around midnight I was admitted to hospital after a a CT scan earlier that day at an emergency clinic confirmed an obstruction of my colon. The next day, on Wednesday the 19th, after a colonoscopy at the hospital and a biopsy, I found out that I had cancer; on Thursday December 20th, late in the evening and toward the early hours of Friday, I underwent a four-hour surgery, where the surgeons removed an orange-sized tumour from my colon.

The surgery itself was non-eventful; I remember being wheeled in to a large operating theatre and being placed on a cold narrow stainless-steel table with bright lights overhead. The table was surrounded by a number of masked individuals. After the anaesthesiologist placed a mask over my mouth  I went into what is best described as a deep sleep, but without any dreams or memory. I awoke hours later (in recovery) shivering; the nurse placed a couple of heated blankets on top of me, which had the desired effect, although not immediately.

I was then wheeled up to my fifth floor room; I had tubes coming out of almost every orifice of my body and a number of IV lines, including a patient-controlled pump to deliver morphine. I remember squeezing the button repeatedly that evening but less so the next day and the day after. Although the morphine alleviated my pain, it also left me drowsy, an undesirable effect.

A few more days of recovery and, after six days in the hospital, on December 24th I went home. On January 9th, a return to my surgeon's clinic and the official news: the pathology report confirmed that I had stage 3 colon cancer.  I was not surprised; the news was expected.

Such are the broad brush-strokes what took place last month. So, I now number among those who have cancer and are looking to find out more information about treatments, in particular chemotherapy and both its efficacy and side-effects.

One of my concerns is undergoing chemo and the noted side-effects of nausea and vomiting nothing pleasant about that. After my release from the hospital, I experienced both side-effects for three days. A friend of my wife recommended Emend, which is made by Merck. This drug is supposed to alleviate the symptoms of what is called Chemotherapy Induced Nausea and Vomiting, or CINV. One of the possible side effects of taking this drug is nausea. [see here]. Such leaves me with less confidence in its efficacy; if anyone has had experience with this drug I would like to hear about it.

Another problem, which is a needless distraction, is the number of well-meaning and good-hearted persons, including friends and family, who offer articles on alternative, non-conventional and unproven therapies, including fad diets. I like my balanced diet, which includes meat, fruits, vegetables and fibre. It also includes chocolate and other sweets. I need to gain both weight and strength, and my balanced diet will allow that to take place. Alternative therapies hold no interest for me, since I would rather go with the confirmed scientifically verified therapies like chemotherapy.

Faith-based healing is just that, and I sense that I lack the faith for such therapies to work. I don't mind, however, if people pray for me. I do agree that a positive attitude does seem to have some efficacy in bettering one's chances of recovery; such takes confidence in the abilities of the doctors, nurses and medical team in general. It also takes confidence in modern science and medicine, which I have. They want success.

On Friday I went for my initial consultation with my oncologist to discuss chemotherapy treatments. It seems that I will be visiting this hospital, making friends with it or at least the cancer centre, many times in the next couple of weeks for tests and medical procedures in preparation for my chemo treatments—a process that will last six months (a chemo session of half-day duration every two weeks, 12 sessions in total). I will write more about this next week.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations

The Beach Boys perform "Good Vibrations," in a 1966 performance. The song needs no explanation; I just like it and have fond memories of playing it in my bedroom as a teenager; moreover, I am looking for some good vibrations today.


Giora Feidman & Gershwin Quartet: Jewish Wedding

Giora Feidman & the Gershwin Quartet perform "Jewish Wedding" in a 2009 concert; Feidman is an Argentinian-born Israeli clarinetist who performs klezmer music; he is known for performing the clarinet solos for the soundtrack of "Schindler's List," a 1993 Holocaust film by Steven Spielberg. The Gershwin Quartet, named after violinist Michel Gershwin, is made up of the following musicians: Michel Gershwin, violin; Nathalia Raithel, violin; Juri Gilbo, viola; and Kira Kraftzoff, violoncello.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Russia & Gay Rights

Rights & Freedoms

Aarticle, by David M. Herszenhorn, in the New York Times not only reveals what has long been known about Political Russia's cozy relationship with the Orthodox Church, but also confirms that the two now share a common view of the world. One of its campaigns of late is to promote "traditional values," and in accordance with such thinking, criminalize non-traditional ways of being and behaviour; not surprising, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted on Friday favouring legislation that would essentially make it a federal crime to promote homosexuality. Herszenhorn writes:
Inside, lawmakers voted 388-1 for the bill, which would make it a federal crime in Russia to distribute “homosexual propaganda,” with violations punishable by fines of up to $16,000. One lawmaker abstained. The bill must be approved by the lower house two more times before being sent to the upper chamber. Similar laws have been approved by a number of regions and municipalities, including St. Petersburg, where supporters of the restriction tried unsuccessfully to use it to bring charges against the pop star Madonna.
 The overwhelming vote fits with a larger pattern in recent months of the Russian government drawing closer to the Russian Orthodox Church and favoring so-called traditional values over individual liberties or behavior perceived as representing more modern, Western influences. This has included the aggressive prosecution and conviction of members of the punk band Pussy Riot for a stunt in Moscow’s main cathedral, and legislation imposing new restrictions on the Internet in the name of protecting children from pornography.
Protecting children from harm is good and necessary; yet this piece of legislation, whatever your sentiments on gays and lesbians, is worrisome and an unnecessary infringement of individual rights. Denying rights to one identifiable group opens the door to denying it to others, notably if religion and "traditional values" are used as the reason for the law's implementation. Human-rights advocates ought to be concerned.

That Russia is moving in this way (toward some form of autocratic theocracy) is not surprising given its history of anti-western bias and the need to silence dissent [see herehere & here]; that it can change course and move toward a western-style democracy is unlikely today, not under the current administration. It's going to be a long, cold Russian winter.

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

Studying The Placebo Effect

Mind Over Matter

An article, by Cara Feinberg, in Harvard Magazine examines the placebo effect. For years, placebo treatments have proven somewhat effective among certain individuals, which raises the question among scientists of how can that be. Ted Kapttchuk, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University, is among a small group of researchers who are looking into how perceptions can influence and alter a patient's health.
[Re]searchers have found that placebo treatments—interventions with no active drug ingredients—can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson’s.
The challenge now, says Kaptchuk, is to uncover the mechanisms behind these physiological responses—what is happening in our bodies, in our brains, in the method of placebo delivery (pill or needle, for example), even in the room where placebo treatments are administered (are the physical surroundings calming? is the doctor caring or curt?). The placebo effect is actually many effects woven together—some stronger than others—and that’s what Kaptchuk hopes his “pill versus needle” study shows. The experiment, among the first to tease apart the components of placebo response, shows that the methods of placebo administration are as important as the administration itself, he explains. It’s valuable insight for any caregiver: patients’ perceptions matter, and the ways physicians frame perceptions can have significant effects on their patients’ health.
For the last 15 years, Kaptchuk and fellow researchers have been dissecting placebo interventions—treatments that, prior to the 1990s, had been studied largely as foils to “real” drugs. To prove a medicine is effective, pharmaceutical companies must show not only that their drug has the desired effects, but that the effects are significantly greater than those of a placebo control group. Both groups often show healing results, Kaptchuk explains, yet for years, “We were struggling to increase drug effects while no one was trying to increase the placebo effect.”
Last year, he and colleagues from several Harvard-affiliated hospitals created the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS), headquartered at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—the only multidisciplinary institute dedicated solely to placebo study. It’s a nod to changing attitudes in Western medicine, and a direct result of the small but growing group of researchers like Kaptchuk who study not if, but how, placebo effects work.
Explanations for the phenomenon come from fields across the scientific map—clinical science, psychology, anthropology, biology, social economics, neuroscience. Disregarding the knowledge that placebo treatments can affect certain ailments, Kaptchuk says, “is like ignoring a huge chunk of healthcare.” As caregivers, “we should be using every tool in the box.”
This statement is undoubtedly true. And, yet, Kaptchuk is not using the tools of the supernatural but the tools of science to investigate the placebo phenomena, a good thing. For now this is considered the best way to go go about understanding our world. When something is considered a "mystery" it does not mean it is beyond our natural knowledge; it means that we have not yet understood its mechanisms. Such is the history of scientific investigation.

Kaptchuk's research might open up science to understanding more of how the human body, including the brain and our thoughts and perceptions, operates. Equally important, it might reveal that how we think about the treatment is as important as what the treatment is: this is not yet scientifically verifiable, but many individuals subscribe to such ideas. Perhaps science, led by Kaptchuk, will prove this as valid if not verifiable.

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pranks and Gods

Cruel Fun

Some people have a cruel streak within them and like pranks; I could never understand that type of thinking or behaviour. Yet, it starts in childhood and pranksters are often bullies who cloak themselves as practical jokers and jesters. Even so, such individuals are not harmless. Prof. Jochnowitz writes: "Children are frequently the victims of pranks. When they complain, they are asked, 'Can’t you take a joke?' Those who ask such questions are supporting the validity of committing cruel acts and considering them jokes."


by George Jochnowitz

What is a prank? It is a pointless act of unkindness. It is also an ancient tradition. According to ancient Greek tradition, the gods played a prank on Oedipus and his family by giving him information that was accurate but incomplete. They knew that their predictions were the very reasons that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. When Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta, learned what they had done, Jocasta killed herself and Oedipus blinded himself. The gods, we may assume, had a great laugh. Aristotle, generally a wise and accurate thinker, said that Oedipus had been guilty of hybris (pride), which was the reason he had done the investigation that led to the tragedy. Nonsense. Oedipus had no choice; the tragedy was carefully planned and orchestrated by the gods. Not even Aristotle, however, had the courage to say something bad about the gods.

A similar prank occurs in the Bible. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee unto the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" (Genesis 22:2). At the last moment, an angel spares Abraham, who has, we are told, passed a test of faith. His wife Sarah died at the beginning of Chapter 23, although we are not told whether there was a connection between Abraham’s obedience to God and Sarah’s death. Abraham and Isaac never spoke to each other again.

It might even be argued that the Christian doctrine of justification through faith is a prank. Since faith, by definition, is different from knowledge, we can’t ever know—as distinct from believe in—the route to salvation instead of damnation. And so if you have no faith, you don’t learn the truth until you are already in Hell and it is too late. Pranks are always based on incomplete knowledge or lack of knowledge on the part of the victim.

Children are frequently the victims of pranks. When they complain, they are asked, “Can’t you take a joke?” Those who ask such questions are supporting the validity of committing cruel acts and considering them jokes.

Dharun Ravi, who was 18 when he set up a webcam in his dormitory room to catch his roommate, Tyler Clementi, in the act of a sexual encounter with a man, thought he was committing a prank. That was his defense. His lawyer Steven Altman, called him “an 18-year-old boy, a kid.” This excuse, the jerky-kid defense, might have worked had it not led to the death of Tyler Clementi. If Clementi hadn’t committed suicide but merely tried to make an issue of this prank, he might have been asked, “Can’t you take a joke?”

Copyright ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the permission of the author.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Science Behind Exercise

Human Endurance

Many individuals exercise, and they know they derive health benefits from it. After all, that's what physicians and the medical community have been saying for years. Yet, why it is beneficial—at least as explained by science—has long remained a bit of a mystery. An article in The Economist, however might give a better scientific understanding on why exercise is good for you.
[A] paper just published in Nature by Beth Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre and her colleagues sheds some light on the matter.Dr Levine and her team were testing a theory that exercise works its magic, at least in part, by promoting autophagy. This process, whose name is derived from the Greek for “self-eating”, is a mechanism by which surplus, worn-out or malformed proteins and other cellular components are broken up for scrap and recycled.
To carry out the test, Dr Levine turned to those stalwarts of medical research, genetically modified mice. Her first batch of rodents were tweaked so that their autophagosomes—structures that form around components which have been marked for recycling—glowed green. After these mice had spent half an hour on a treadmill, she found that the number of autophagosomes in their muscles had increased, and it went on increasing until they had been running for 80 minutes.
To find out what, if anything, this exercise-boosted autophagy was doing for mice, the team engineered a second strain that was unable to respond this way. Exercise, in other words, failed to stimulate their recycling mechanism. When this second group of modified mice were tested alongside ordinary ones, they showed less endurance and had less ability to take up sugar from their bloodstreams.
There were longer-term effects, too. In mice, as in people, regular exercise helps prevent diabetes. But when the team fed their second group of modified mice a diet designed to induce diabetes, they found that exercise gave no protection at all. Dr Levine and her team reckon their results suggest that manipulating autophagy may offer a new approach to treating diabetes. And their research is also suggestive in other ways. Autophagy is a hot topic in medicine, as biologists have come to realise that it helps protect the body from all kinds of ailments.
The benefits of such studies to improve the health of individuals are potentially huge; the more we understand the human body and the mechanisms which control it—such as autophagy—the better Medicine can come up with treatments and cures for many of the diseases that ail us. More so,  it's not only about living longer but also about living longer with good to excellent health. So, such research, if it unlocks the mysteries of what makes us "tick," can also lead to individuals who live healthier lives well into their nineties, or longer. That is good news, indeed.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yes, Virginia, There Is Such A Thing As Race

Human Diversity

If we fail to make distinctions in language, we get in trouble. Such is the case when we look at two different seemingly related words: race and racism. In a desire to rid the world of the latter, some social scientists want to deny the former's existence. Denial of a reality, notably for political purposes, does not make the reality less so—it only unecessarily complicated things. In this article, Lorna Salzman writes: "Racism, as opposed to race, IS a social construct, based purely on an individual's physical appearance or phenotype. Being a social construct, it can be deconstructed and abolished. Those who vehemently deny the existence of race at the same time demand equal treatment or representation of that race, strangely enough."

by Lorna Salzman

It's hard to cut through the Politically Correct internet drone of "Race is a social construct". There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of self-appointed experts anxious to purge science of any taint of Political Incorrectness, that is to say, of any odor of racism. What has been purged, however, is any consideration of evolution and genetics, an objective study of which supports what most of us observe daily: that there are physical characteristics that are shared by one group of people that are not shared with other groups.

Your eyes aren't deceiving you. People from Japan look different from people from Africa who look different from native Americans who look different from Caucasian whites who look different from Australian aborigines. Some people prefer to regard these as geographic populations or subpopulations, but in so doing they are actually acknowledging racial differences though under a different name.

Where do evolution and genetics come in? Right here, full stop. People look different and share characteristics with other members of their group or population or race because they inherited these from their parents, who inherited from theirs, and so on. They inherited these because they inherited their ancestors' genes which then form a genome, the total sum of the genes in your cell.

In the course of evolution, geographically separated populations of humans adapted to their local environment and its pressures. Adaptive characteristics persisted in their genome such as malaria immunity in Africans. But maladaptive ones such as Tay Sachs disease also can be embedded in the genome of certain races or populations. Both of these remain there as long as there is limited interbreeding and there are no other evolutionary pressures.

Phenotypical (external appearance) traits also remain, such as the eyelid fold in Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, kinky hair in (most) Africans, and of course different skin colors. Oriental people always have black hair, for example, as do many tribal peoples. When races interbreed, new gene combinations occur which may or may not bring phenotypic changes. The fact that racially mixed offspring often have "in-between" characteristics is proof of the fact that physical traits are the result of many genes, not just one.

This is not to say that some of these characteristics might not exist in the genome of other races, but if they do, they are rarely expressed just BECAUSE they are rare: because almost no one in their racial group carries the genes for them so they cannot spread widely. The typical genome of a race retains these characteristics. The typical genome of another race does not. Races have statistically significant phenotypic differences, which reflect genuine genetic differences. This is what the word "race" means.

Genes do not get passed on individually but as part of the genome. There is rarely a characteristic that is inherited through one gene except possibly a mutation. You get half of your genome from your father and the other half from your mother. Unless there are severe environmental changes or mutations, the genes passed on in the genome remain stable even as they recombine in each generation.

Racism, as opposed to race, IS a social construct, based purely on an individual's physical appearance or phenotype. Being a social construct, it can be deconstructed and abolished. Those who vehemently deny the existence of race at the same time demand equal treatment or representation of that race, strangely enough. The medical profession would have a difficult time curing disease if it were prohibited from knowing a person's race since each race has its own physiological weaknesses or strengths and is entitled to get the most appropriate treatment for them.

It is instructive to read a review by Paul Gross last year of Race: The Reality of Human Differences, by Vincent Sarich , a biochemist and anthropologist, and Frank Miele, editor of Skeptic magazine. Here is a quote from Gross:
It is no surprise that races or recognizable varieties in other species turn out to be distinguishable—although not necessarily easily—at the level of genetics......obvious external differences among the races of a plant or animal species turn out to result from genetic differences. although those can sometimes be subtle. But of course this must be so! For a race or variety to persist in time, its obvious distinguishing traits must be to some significant extent heritable. And if heritable, the traits must reside ultimately in genes or more likely in combinations of genes. "Traits" are the products of gene sets - genomes - acting in particular environments over particular life histories....however fuzzy these sets may be, they are still sufficiently stable as biological subpopulations, varieties, extended families and "races" to be identified as such. Which word one uses doesn't matter: the physical reality does.
The person most responsible for dismissing the notion that races exist is Richard Lewontin, in a 1972 paper in Evolutionary Biology, which was followed by two articles in the New Scientist and Nature. Lewontin's article was based on a statistical fallacy later pointed out by L.Cavalli-Sforza and A. Piazza and others, including one in BioEssays. These rebuttals involved complex statistical and genetic data and analysis. But here is the BioEssay conclusion regarding Lewontin:
It is not true that "racial classification is...of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance"..."it is not true, as Nature claimed, that "two random individuals from any one group are almost as different as any two random individuals from the entire world"... "and it is not true, as the New Scientist claimed, that "two individuals are different because they are individuals, not because they belong to different races", and that "you can't predict someone's race by their genes".
BioEssays goes on to say: "Lewontin uses his analysis of variation to mount an unjustified assault on classification, which he deplored for social reasons" and then concludes: "A proper analysis of human data reveals a substantial amount of information about genetic differences. What use, if any, one makes of it is quite another matter. But it is a dangerous mistake to premise the moral equality of human beings on biological similarity because dissimilarity, once revealed, then becomes an argument for moral inequality".

It then quotes the geneticist R. A. Fisher that "the best causes tend to attract to their support the worst arguments, which seems to be equally true in the intellectual and in the moral sense".

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Luddites Re-Examined

Technological Advances

An article, by Morgan Meis, in The Smart Set, a Drexel University publication, (re)examines the history and meaning of the Luddites, individuals who were ostensibly against technology. But, were they really? Or was there something larger at stake? Meis writes:
But the legend lived on. Something about the Luddites had captured the popular imagination. The attention wasn’t always positive. Calling someone a Luddite became synonymous with calling him or her a reactionary. The ineffectiveness of the Luddite rebellion probably helped in this assessment. How was smashing up stocking frames going to defeat the greater social and historical forces that had led to automated stocking frames in the first place? The Luddites, so the thinking goes, were out of their league. The development of 19th century industrial capitalism was not going to grind to a halt because of few guys in Leicester had wrecked a couple of machines. Luddism, then, is a movement of futility. The Luddites were buffoons who mistook machines for enemies and tried to halt historical processes that were unstoppable.
Or maybe not. Plenty of left-leaning historians and social scientists have, in the last generation or so, tried to rehabilitate the reputation of the Luddites. The influential and recently deceased historian, Eric Hobsbawm, wrote a famous article in 1952 called, "The Machine Breakers." In the article Hobsbawm explained that, while it may have been futile in one sense, the Luddite rebellion was an important episode in the early history of organized labor and attempts to improve the lot of the working class. Hobsbawm coined the phrase "collective bargaining by riot," as a concise and memorable summing up of how he thinks we ought to think about the Luddites. Hobsbawm pointed out that machine wrecking actually did lead, in many instances, to wage increases and other concessions from employers and the government. In none of these cases, Hobsbawm argues, "was there any question of hostility to machines as such. Wrecking was simply a technique of trade unionism in the period before, and during the early phases of, the industrial revolution."
Such is another point of view that has merit. Some workers then understood that machines were a threat to job security and good wages, and the symbolic action of Ned Ludd in the late 18th century might have been futile, but nevertheless symbolic. It was foolish then and it is foolish today to think that modern society will stop progressing in some form; much of today's advances in science and medicine are highly beneficial to humanity. And, yet, it is good, necessary and wise to question whether all technological advancements and innovation are necessarily beneficial to humanity.

You can read the rest of the article at [Smart Set]

Monday, January 21, 2013

On Demand: I Want It Now

demand (
To ask for urgently or peremptorily: demand an investigation into the murder; demanding that he leave immediately; demanded to speak to the manager.
2. To claim as just or due

When I moved to Toronto and subscribed to my cable company for a number of services, one was a TV package for my two boys—a necessity today. I soon took note that many channels were so-called "On Demand" channels, that is, you pay another fee to have immediate access to particular shows, movies or cartoons. Now, the word "demand," as the first two dictionary definitions show, is a strong word. It's a claim of right, a claim of urgency.

Now, how urgent can it be to watch a TV show? For most people, not urgent. But, yet, the selling point is that you can "demand" a show when it appeals to you; undoubtedly, it might feel good to have the power to get what you want when you want it. Yet, I am also aware of the consequences of such influences. I do not wish to put a too fine point to it, but the "demand culture" says much about who we currently are. In many ways we have become a a rushed, impatient and demanding society that has accelerated time.

Once time becomes accelerated it's almost impossible to revert to a slower pace (you can't put the genie back in the bottle); it's as if the brain becomes accustomed to speed and instant access, so that becomes the new norm; and afterwards anything slower seems excessively slow. Thus the slower pace becomes excruciatingly unacceptable. If you notice anything about children, it's that they generally are impatient—they tend to exaggerate how long they are waiting for someone or something to happen—a minute seems like an hour; five minutes seems like an eternity. I see it in both my 10-year-old and four-year-old sons. I am sure it is common.

The common explanation is they are children, and they will eventually outgrow such impatience when they become adults. I am not so sure; there are adults who exhibit signs they are still children, immature in their development. It might be a generational thing. If so, we might soon reach a point in an "On Demand" society where the speed of delivery is unsuitable for a generation who have become accustomed to accelerated time. I sense that day is fast approaching. What happens then?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

V. Horowitz: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3

Vladimir Horowitz performs Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, in D minor, opus 30, accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in a 1978 performance.


Rachmaninoff completed this work in 1909, and as Wikipediia notes: "The concerto was first performed on November 28, 1909 by Rachmaninoff himself with the now-defunct New York Symphony Society with Walter Damrosch conducting, at the New Theater (later rechristened the Century Theater)."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Tactics Of Non-Violence

Peaceful Prospects

An article, by John-Paul Flintoff, in The New Statesman profiles one of the modern leaders of the non-violence or pacifist movement, Gene Sharp.
Gene Sharp is not a typical pacifist. “When I used to lecture, I would always get complaints from the pacifists,” says the academic, who turns 85 this month. “They would say I wasn’t pure. They said that what I was proposing was ‘still conflict’.” Military people often understood him better. A retired US army colonel, Robert Helvey, heard Sharp lecture 20 years ago and persuaded him to visit Burma, where rebels asked Sharp to give them advice.
He wrote a pamphlet. “I didn’t know Burma well,” he recalls. “So I had to write generically: if a movement wanted to bring a dictatorship to an end, how would they do it?” That pamphlet, From Dictatorship to Democracy(1993), contained the idea for which Sharp is now known all over the world – that power is held only by the consent of the people over whom it is exercised, and that consent can be withdrawn. All regimes depend on certain pillars of support and, with a proper strategy, resisters can remove those pillars non-violently.
The book was originally published in English and Burmese. “And I thought that was it,” Sharp says. But it went on display in a bookshop in Bangkok. From there, nobody knows exactly how it spread. But it did – everywhere. “I’m still amazed. It didn’t spread because of propaganda or some sales pitch but because people found it usable, and important.”
Such explains much. There are in reality very few people who adore violence; most rational leaders see it as the only means to a just end, and as a necessity to restore law and order in a nation beset by instability. In many cases, this is undoubtedly true. For example, the tactics of non-violence will not work against fanatics, terrorists and other religiously inspired groups; these are unwavering in their beliefs and the rightness of their cause.

Yet, if time permits, non-violence can have success against authoritarian or military dictatorships, as was the case in Burma, but this often takes decades to bear fruit. Some will say this is the exception that proves the rule. Thus, it does not necessarily follow that violence, or war, is always necessary; it's only the case to quote an oft-cited expression, when, "if you have a hammer, everything seems like a nail."
You can read the rest of the article at [New Statesman]

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Left Is Soft On Anti-Semitism

On Politics

Some articles stand the test of time; this one, originally published in the Village Voice (March 6, 1969) is among them. Today, the differences between the Old Left and the New Left are more pronounced than when this article was first published more than 40 years ago. There are many reasons; one, however, stands out: Morality. If we forget about morality, we forget about an important if not essential part of what makes society better for everyone. The New Left, in many ways, has forgotten about morality. As George Jochnowitz writes: "The New Left has been very good about fighting anti-black racism. It should be equally good about combating anti-Semitism, not because there are pogroms taking place in Brooklyn, but because the left is committed to morality."

by George Jochnowitz

Since blacks are so conspicuous among the poor and oppressed of America, it is inevitable for the left to identify with their aims and aspirations. During the last few months it has been widely taken for granted that most blacks are anti-Semitic. This may or may not be so; nobody knows for sure. In any case, the normal support of the left for the blacks had led the Movement to maintain a strangely sympathetic silence on the subject of anti-Semitism—a silence that violates the principle of brotherhood that has always been one of the moral bases of the left.

The left is not anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitic statements per se do not appear in the Movement's press and Movement leaders do not make anti-Jewish public remarks. But the left will instantly attack anyone who opposes anti-Semitism. Opponents of anti-Semitism are immediately dismissed as hysterical, anti-black, conservative, or vulgar. The Movement (and perhaps a sizeable segment of establishment-left-liberal types) is not anti-Semitic, but it certainly is soft on anti-Semitism.

For example, consider the February 6 issue of the Village Voice; three articles dealt with the strong anti-anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping New York. Let us look at two of these columns.

Charles Wright, a black, feels that since there is no immediate danger of Jews being murdered, opposition to anti-Semitism is unjustified. He says, "I have known for a very long time that I do not have to pray for American Jews. They are safe on that beachhead. Therefore I fail to understand their mass hysteria."

What a strange point of view Wright expresses here. Does an evil have to be an imminent threat in order to justify our being against it? Be that as it may, Wright includes a quote by Rabbi Jay Kaufman of B'nai B'rith in his column. Rabbi Kaufman characterized recent Negro anti-Semitism as "rare to the American continent though classical in Europe. It does not spring from religious roots but (is?) carefully cultivated, artificially created by demagogue leaders." This is the entire quote cited in Wright's article. I do not know in what context it was uttered, but as it stands, it looks harmless to me.

Rabbi Kaufman seems to be saying that we are not faced with an indigeneous black movement, but with the work of a vocal minority. Wright, however, feels that Kaufman" ... sounds strangely like an extremist..." Maybe, but not according to the quote that Wright himself selected. Nevertheless, Wright feels that the rabbi's statements are in themselves a justification for anti-Semitism. He says, "Religious blacks who are not anti-Semitic perhaps will have second thoughts after reading Rabbi Kaufman's remarks. They might as well give Bobby Joe and Betty Sue the subway fare to go downtown and protest against Jews." Wright is obviously simply out of his fucking mind.

Wright's incoherent prose is not half so offensive as Jack Newfield's "The Jewish Backlash and an Embattled Mayor." A woman with peroxide blonde hair is the chief character in Newfield's piece, which begins with the following paragraph:"She was in her first row seat an hour before the Mayor arrived. Her hair was dyed blonde, her narrow, pinched face looked doughy from too much makeup, and her short skirt kept revealing the top of her net stockings. She was about 45 years old, and she had come to the Forest Hills Jewish Center to boo John Lindsay."

Newfield evidently feels that bad taste is somehow intimately related to racism. He reminds me of the Daily News or equivalent publications which apparently think that the long hair and inelegant attire of many peace marchers (remember peace marchers?) prove that anything they say is invalid.

I have heard expressed privately the view that the badness of Jews is proven by the face that they bleach their hair, vacation in Miami Beach, and stage vulgar bar mitzvah celebrations. I never thought I would see anything like this view stated in print, but Jack Newfield has done it. Newfield, to be sure never specifically equates racism with dyed hair, but he refers to it too often for the reader to fail to get the point.

Newfield's main argument is that Jewish backlash is a grave threat to New York City. He quotes four of 20 questions from an article by Meir Kahane that appeared in a weekly called the Jewish Press. The four questions do indeed seem to indicate overreaction to anti-Semitism, e.g. "How can he" [the Mayor] "continue to push for community control in the face of the clear and present danger it poses for all decent people—Jews in particular?" Newfield comes to the conclusion that " least we should understand that Meir Kahane has poisoned the city much more than Leslie Campbell." Campbell apparently feels that wishing Jew boys were dead is a legitimate expression of a political point of view. If Newfield thinks that Campbell's idea is less hateful than Kahane's over-reaction, Newfield has something morally wrong with him.

The Guardian—Independent Radical Weekly sees the legitimacy of Jewish touchiness on this subject. An editorial the February 8 issue says, "It is entirely rational, however, for Jews to be extremely sensitive to the possibility of a renewal of overt anti-Semitism." The same editorial suggests the following solution to the problem: "As far as the Jewish community is concerned, it must understand that the only way to contribute to ending anti-white and anti-Semitic attitudes in blacks is to purge itself of anti-black racism, climb off the black man's back, and join the anti-capitalist struggle."

The Guardian is confusing ends and means. The Jewish community should follow the Guardian's advice because everyone should—because it is the right thing to do. It is silly to think that good behavior on the part of the Jews will end prejudice against them. Jews behave relatively well anyway. It is even sillier to think that the Jewish community can control the actions of all its members any more than the black community can.

Since it is not yet possible to control thoroughly the thoughts of a community, thank God, the world must face the fact that individuals of all colors and creeds will believe and say wicked things. Prejudice cannot be eliminated, but people in a position of power can oppose its manifestations and try to show how wrong it is. If there are bad Jews or bad blacks in the world, that is very sad, but it doesn't excuse bigotry on either side. The New Left has been very good about fighting anti-black racism. It should be equally good about combating anti-Semitism, not because there are pogroms taking place in Brooklyn, but because the left is committed to morality.

The Guardian's answer to the Jewish problem follows from its analysis of anti-Semitism as "...due to the fact that the only whites many black people ever come into contact with, aside from cops, are white Jews who operate marginal and exploitative businesses in the ghettos, who employ blacks as domestics or low-paid workers in small industry, who teach a racist curriculum in the schools, or who make humiliating welfare investigations." This explanation is frequently offered, but I doubt its validity.

An Anti-Defamation League survey made some years ago suggests that blacks consider Jews less vicious than white society as a whole. No one has ever suggested that Jewish landlords are worse than banks or insurance companies that own slum properties, or that Jewish merchants are more exploitative than the A & P. The Black Nationalist Movement has not concentrated upon economic issues. It dislikes Jews because Jews are numerous among both the establishment liberals and the left—two groups that agree on at least one question: the universal brotherhood of man.

The doctrine of brotherhood is ultimately destructive to nationalist aspirations. The left can support nationalism because it is in favor of the right of people to be free from oppression and to do their own thing. But love and friendship eventually erode national identity. Perhaps this is as it should be, I don't know. Jews have easy access to their own history and take pride in the achievements of their people, but rich, unpersecuted Jews have been notoriously unsuccessful in preserving their identity. I cannot decide whether this is good or bad, but in any event, integration implies the same fate for the blacks. The left is committed to black power, but it supports and practices integration, and in doing so is guilty of cultural genocide.

From a nationalist point of view, the blacks are totally justified in being anti-left. And what could be more anti-Movement than holding a counter-demonstration in Washington, the only major U.S. city with a a black majority, on the day of the March on the Pentagon. The Washington Star of October 22,1967 (page A-6), reported that Charles Kenyatta said, "We're not worried about those Caucasians on the Potomac," and went on to add, "What the hell we gotta be concerned about them? We want our own freedom," at this demonstration. And in a column under the headline "Seven Are Suspended by City College," on page 41 of the October 20, 1967, New York Times, Rap Brown is quoted as saying "student power means white power."

Blacks and Jews come into frequent economic contact , but there is no economic source of conflict between them. Jewish sons are particularly unlikely to go into their fathers' businesses and the Jewish merchant will vanish from Harlem as soon as their are blacks (or anyone else) with the capital to take their shops from them. The Puerto Ricans have already done this to a large extent. The black students who enter the City University today will be teachers in four years, and Jewish UFT members including the most racist, will welcome them if for no other reason than to let them take over ghetto classes.

Individual blacks may dislike Jews because they consider them exploiters, but black power as a political force is anti-Jewish because it fears the left will love black identity out of existence, and because, alienated or not, the Jews are numerous in leftist activities in New York. This is part of a continuing tradition. When the Daily Worker ceased publication on January 13, 1958, the Yiddish language Freiheit remained the only communist daily published in the United States. The Freiheit's readers are identifiably Jews, and whatever one thinks of the Old Left, one cannot dismiss it as establishment liberal.

Analysis is basically irrelevant, however. Prejudice is immoral, and the left must retain its sensitivity to moral questions. The basis of morality is pity, and the basis of pity is sex. Under the circumstances, there is no reason for the New Left to continue to be soft on anti-Semitism.

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 ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This essay appeared in  the Village Voice (March 6, 1969). This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the permission of the author.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First, We Kill All The Scholars


William Shakespeare stands so much above everyone else in the English canon that he begs for conspiracy. He couldn't have possibly written those plays; they're too brilliant, say the deniers, who have invented a whole industry built on doubt. "There's a whole Shakespeare industry out there churning stuff out with assembly-line regularity. My favorite comment was that of Mark Twain, who said that the Shakespeare plays were written by a different person with the same name,"Lorna Salzman writes.

by Lorna Salzman

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has thrown his weight behind the Shakespeare doubters, claiming the plays were written by the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, adding yet another candidate to the lengthy ballot of candidates. Cast your vote now for the winner.

Conspiracy theories go back a long way before 9/11. Pseudo-scholars never seem to tire of beating the "who wrote Shakespeare's plays?" dead horse in order to get attention for their feeble treatise or book. There's a whole Shakespeare industry out there churning stuff out with assembly-line regularity. My favorite comment was that of Mark Twain, who said that the Shakespeare plays were written by a different person with the same name.

It is hard for many of us brought up in an age of diaries, confessions and electronic communications to believe that the greatest writer that ever lived left us nothing but a few town clerk documents on debts and property. But no one else of Shakespeare's time left us anything either. Shakespeare was an actor and later a playwright. Later he was a prosperous property owner. Being a playwright in those days was a profession like any other. He hung out with the theater crowd, like any actor today does; after the show you go out for a beer and a bite with the gang. You meet in pubs and have arguments, make jokes, and have a good time.

Why would you write down any of these conversations...especially when it would take days for a letter to get anywhere? Who would care what you wrote, when you had already given your opinion in person at the pub? What would you write about that you didn't already talk about with the guys? Why would we imagine that Shakespeare said to himself: I am the greatest writer that ever lived and I want to make sure posterity has a complete accurate record of every idea and opinion that ever entered my head. Actually, it is truly regrettable that he didn't do so, because now we are stuck with trunkfuls of speculations by scribblers hoping to cash in on the Shakespeare Conspiracy Industry. Shakepeare was a playwright, not a philosopher.

I read Peter Ackroyd's biography of Shakespeare and apparently those smarmy critics who think Shakespeare was an ignorant peasant boy never read this book. It opens with a fascinating and detailed history of Stratford, its nearby farms and villages and then recounts how the residents earned their living, the clash of Catholicism with Protestantism, Shakespeare's parents and grandparents, and, not least, how the local schools educated their children. Shakespeare's father was a glover, a burgess and mayor at one time, a prosperous businessman and often a money lender. His mother came from well to do yeoman's background.

When he wasn't in school, Shakespeare devoured the Bible and numerous books, says Ackroyd. In his plays there are references to and influences from Malory's Morte d'Arthur (mentioned in Falstaff); old English romances of Sir Degore and Sig Eglamour and Bevis of Southampton; The Book of Riddels; The Hundred Merry Tales. Biographers agreed that he owned a copy of William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure and Richard Robinson's translation of Gesta Romanorum, legends which he borrowed for some of his plots.

After lower school he advanced to the King's New School, as the son of an alderman. To be admitted to this school he had to demonstrate fluency in reading and writing English and show he was "fit" to study Latin and ready to learn Grammar. Latin was the basis of the curriculum, both grammar and rhetoric, via reading, writing and memorization. After a few months he studied William Lilly's Introduction of Grammar, with examples from Cato, Cicero and Terence, after which the pupils were expected to imitate these masters by writing simple Latin sentences. Many English phrases in his plays can be traced directly back to Latin phrases in his textbooks. Imagine this curriculum being offered in today's high schools....

Later he read selections from Plautus and Terence, moving on in following years to Aesop in Latin, which he apparently memorized. By this time he could translate easily from English into Latin and vice versa. Many of his plots were taken from Latin poets and his works contain words from Virgil and Horace. He began to read Ovid's Metamorphoses from where he absorbed myths. Later he also studied Sallust, Caesar, Seneca and Juvenal (from which Hamlet reads).

In 1569 theatre came to Stratford as it came to towns all over England in the form of travelling troupes; when Shakespeare was five he saw the Queen's Men and the Earl of Worcester's Men. Imagine again theater troupes travelling all over the United States to present the latest dramas.... Over the next few years ten more troupes came to Stratford; in one year alone Stratford had five companies, including the Earl of Warwick's Men, the Earl of Oxford's Men, the Earl of Essex's Men and other travelling players. And Shakespeare's father likely took his son to Coventry to see the famous cycle of mystery plays; Shakespeare mentions King Herod, the villain of these plays, five times

It is quite evident that Shakespeare and the students of his day absorbed an intense and thorough classical education, undoubtedly far better than most students today get in high school or maybe even college—no gender or cultural studies!—but rigorous immersion in the Latin classics and language. Add on to this the exciting exposure to theatre presented by travelling players, and the nonsense about Shakespeare being an ignorant country boy carries no weight whatsoever.

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

India's Rape Problem

Changing Societal Norms

Something about this case—about the sense of impunity that cloaked the six men who allegedly lured her on to the bus, about this young woman from an impoverished village whose family poured their resources into helping her achieve her dreams, who was relishing life as a newly independent professional in a bustling city—has fixated the country and has women from every class and community in the capital talking about the often-violent, misogynist treatment they face. — Stephanie Nolen, Globe & Mail (January 11, 2013)

India has been cast in a harsh light the last few weeks, as the media has finally reported what has been known for long inside India. It's dangerous to be a woman in India. An article in the Globe & Mail highlights some of what ails India, including repressive societal norms, a weak judiciary and an unwillingness to see rape as a crime. Stephanie Nolen writes:
Dorothy Kamal’s first call of the week came on Wednesday night: A teenager, raped months ago by her family’s elderly tenant, turned up at a Delhi hospital miscarrying the pregnancy that resulted from the assault. Doctors called police, and the police in turn called Ms. Kamal, an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
Ms. Kamal couldn’t head out on the case right away because the Delhi Commission for Women – which manages the rape crisis service – forbids counsellors from going out at night, lest they be attacked themselves. But come morning, she went to the young woman’s hospital bedside and explained how pressing rape charges works.
But the matronly Ms. Kamal is still not optimistic about the process, even as the police arrested six men within a day of their alleged roles in a gruesome rape and murder of a student. The police, the doctors who collect medical evidence and the legal system all stand ready to betray a woman, said Ms. Kamal, and the fight for justice can be just as hard as living through a rape.
“It’s safer for them to not report than it is to report – why would somebody want to go out and report if they will not be believed or they will be humiliated or simply told you are responsible for this or you are a woman of loose character?” said Anuja Gupta, who heads RAHI, a foundation supporting women assaulted by members of their family. The victims her team accompanies to police routinely hear all that and more, she said.
Blaming women for being raped is not only blatantly immoral but a tactic that aims to humiliate; it's out of the Dark Ages. It will solve nothing. Denying that that there is a serious malaise in India will not in any way make India safer for women. India and its leaders must do something serious to change societal norms, which will of course take time, if not a generation or two. For now, the courts must apply its laws against all perpetrators of rape, sending a clear unequivocal message to society that rape is a serious crime that will not go unpunished. India's women deserve at least that much.

You can read the rest of the article at [G&M]

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Self-Satisfied Individual

Our Modern Society

There is a self-satisfied dogmatism with which mankind at each period of its history cherishes the delusion of the finality of existing modes of knowledge.
Alfred North Whitehead, [1861-1947], 
British Mathematician & Philosopher
They are happy and confident and bright; even well-spoken and thoughtful. They might even speak with the voice of authority, and never display any doubt. But this cohort will never achieve anything great for humanity, which might surprise them. These are the self-satisfied and self-contained individuals prominent in the arts, sciences, academia, media, religion, and politics. They are public figures who have much to say about themselves, but more important, about how others ought to live. Their knowledge and opinions are certain and unwavering.

They might use humour, but they take themselves seriously about what they say and how they say it. They are proud of their accomplishments, often meagre, but magnified by a media ignorant of real accomplishment and quality work. Such individuals, by dint of their inflated egos and puffed-up views of themselves and their work, seek greater and greater strokes. More and more recognition. They bask in the limelight, and give little; this is not surprising since they actually have little to give.

The chief problem is that a self-satisfied individual, often self-contained in his well-mapped world of ideas, is assured that he is right in all things that matter; in his view, the world is fine enough and he's content. A content person cannot view injustices, let alone risk fighting against them; a content person can't see the need to fight against poverty, when he himself has never felt its sting; a self-satisfied individual cannot see the need to improve healthcare for everyone when his healthcare options are fine; and so on. The only injustice that such individuals see as important are those aligned against the Self and its threat to self-importance and worldly recognition.

Thus, such individuals might achieve temporary fame in their lifetime, aided by a media who themselves operate on similar levels; but later on they are quickly forgotten. As it ought to be. Only individuals who truly helped humanity ought to be remembered long after their death. Unfortunately, for the self-satisfied individuals, their greatest weakness is their perceived strength. Doubt and uncertainty about the present condition can operate as a catalyst for a better future; the men and women who achieve greatness are often filled with doubt and uncertainty about the future, and thus want to better humanity's lot. That is to say doubt is not always bad—it can be good and necessary. "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts,” Bertrand Russell once said.

Not so for this group of self-satisfied and self-contained individuals, who focus on their individuality; they are what they have always been: focused on Self.  That makes them selfish. Of course, they don't view themselves that way. How could they otherwise?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Science Informing Government

Scientific Knowledge

One of the many problems plaguing our society is scientific illiteracy; and this is a serious problem, chiefly since much of what we take for granted in our advancement as a civilization is due to scientific progress. An article in The Guardian, by Jeff Forshaw, is helpful in explaining why governments, which means politicians, ought to rely more on scientists when addressing complex scientific questions. It all centres on the Scientific Method:
The scientific input to a political debate can be in the form of bare facts, such as the numbers that result from measuring something. It can also be in the form of predictions about what is likely to happen, or what has happened in the past. To do this requires the construction of a model, which is an effort that often takes a good deal of technical knowledge and creative guesswork. Once we have the model, we test it against measured data. If the data agree with the predictions the model is not excluded. This process should be repeated, to test the model in a variety of different ways, and a good model is one that agrees with data spanning a wide range of disconnected phenomena.
We would be all the more convinced of a model's veracity if it also succeeds in predicting something genuinely new. Over time, a body of evidence accumulates and the quality of a model is judged against it. However, no body of evidence is utterly compelling and it remains logically possible to reject a whole mountain of it in favour of some extreme viewpoint. The process I just described is what scientists actually do and it is not complicated.
There is a huge difference between hearsay and scientific facts, between an invalidated opinion and a rigorously tested experiment. There is a tendency in a democracy to think that all opinions are equally valid; this of course is nonsense. The media is often to blame, journalists themselves often ill-equipped to understand science, seeking sensationalism and controversy over facts. As for politicians, intelligent in many areas, they often fall into the trap of saying foolish unscientific things without any understanding or knowledge they have done so. It would be better if they understood first and that's where scientists come into the picture.

Science can't address or solve all of society's ills, but they can address the scientific questions better than anyone else before an issue becomes hopelessly politicized. (The controversial issue of climate change is one recent example.) As Forshaw writes rather persuasively in the article: "In other words, scientific experts know better than anyone how nature works and we should be prepared either to develop sufficient expertise to engage in a scientific dialogue or defer to their better understanding." That makes perfect sense.

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

Hilary Hahn: Glazunov Violin Concerto

Hilary Hahn performs with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne from Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A minor, opus 82.  Glazunov completed the work in 1904, dedicating it to violinist Leopold Auer. With Glazunov at the podium and Auer as violinist, the first performance was held at a Russian Musical Society concert in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 15, 1905.


The Kennedy Center in Washington in its programme notes writes about this piece, providing historical context:
The year of the Violin Concerto's premiere, 1905, was a significant one in Russian history. The students at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where both Glazunov and his mentor Rimsky-Korsakov were members of the faculty, staged large-scale protests over the Tsarist government's handling of the abortive January revolution, and both Glazunov and Rimsky supported them, to the extent of taking part in the concerts they organized and even creating symbolic pieces for those events. Rimsky left the institution; Glazunov agreed to become its director, but on his own terms, and for the remainder of his life he was more conspicuously active as a pedagogue and conductor than as a composer. He conducted the first convert given in St. Petersburg after the Revolution that did succeed, in 1917, and he became perhaps the single most significant factor in ensuring the continuity of the great Russian musical tradition from the age of Borodin and Tchaikovsky to that of his own onetime protégés Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Illnesses Of Writers

Medical Cures

There has long been a fascination on how famous creative individuals of the past died, and more pointedly how they were able to keep on writing in spite of their illnesses, many debilitating in nature. (One of the most famous examples is that of Mozart.) In an article in The Wall Street Journal, Raymond Tallis reviews a book (Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough, by John J. Ross). In it, the physician mixes some fine detective work with intelligent speculation based on modern science to determine what ailed famous literary figures.
Unsurprisingly, infectious diseases dominate Dr. Ross's literary ward round as they dominated all eras in which the germs that cause them were not understood and antibiotics not available. The usual suspects, syphilis (Shakespeare), gonorrhea (Joyce) and tuberculosis (the Brontës, Orwell), are joined by more exotic transmissible misfortunes such as yaws, a tropical disease that causes dreadful ulcers (London), and relapsing fever, or Brucellosis (Yeats). Bipolar disorder—in which frenzied productivity alternates with increasingly frequent crashes into depression—is plausibly ascribed to Melville, Hawthorne and London. Some of Dr. Ross's subjects seem also to have had mild autism, which made ordinary relationships agonizingly difficult. Their medical troubles were frequently compounded by heroic alcohol consumption, intended to mitigate their symptoms. Downwardly mobile parents and other childhood traumas also loom large in the literary C.V.
Job himself would have been grateful to have been spared the burden of illness carried by Jack London. A charismatic, handsome giant in his youth, he was a dying wreck at 40. His problems included yaws, gout, kidney stones, a rotten mouth from recurrent scurvy and massive fluid retention from nephritis. His self-medication with an entire pharmacy's worth of remedies was enthusiastically supported by his star-struck doctor. It included a cocktail of morphine and atropine that killed a man who had survived appalling ordeals at sea and in the Klondike and who, by the time he was 20, had outlived most of his waterfront mates. Even so, in the last week of his life, he worked for a 60-hour stretch, broken only by two hours' sleep, on a final unfinished novel. Melville similarly surmounted family tragedies, critical neglect, profound depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, cardiac failure and agonizing arthritis to write "Billy Budd," the late masterpiece that showed how his mind could still function at the highest level.
Such shows at least two things: that medicine continues to advance, and what we now take as effective therapy will (eventually) be replaced by a better therapy as our knowledge of the human body increases; and that the human spirit among many writers is strong and resistant to illness and death. In other words, the will to live and the need to create dominate many writers' views and their lives. The lesson here, at least as I understand it, is that we require both the advantages of modern medicine and the courage of the human heart.

You can read the rest of the article at [WSJ}

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Return Shortly

Some of you might have noticed that I have not updated this blog for the last few weeks. As always there are reasons. I have had a medical emergency (surgery to remove a tumor on my colon), which compelled me to take care of first things first. I am in the midst of a what is expected to be a long recovery, and once I have the required strength and presence of mind I will continue to post the usual mixture of articles and musical pieces. I might also elect to write about my illness and give some views on cancer, its treatment and what it does to the human body and mind.