Thursday, October 31, 2013

Building Decent Affordable Homes For The Homeless

A Business Proposal

Residential Complex: This is a basic design of  a residential building; too many modern buildings
are built without considering that humans will inhabit the space, often lacking touches of beauty
that breathe necessary life into a complex. This reminds me of a quote of Frank Lloyd 
"All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable."

Photo Source & Credit: Civil Basics

In a recent post, Homeless in NYC (October 26th), in which I cited a New Yorker article, I briefly raised the issue and the greater implications of homelessness and some of the societal reasons for its continuance, despite some efforts to rid society, or at least alleviate its effects, of this continuing and persistent problem. There have been many solutions tabled over the years, decades, to address these problems of displacement, and here is one that I am proposing—one that would bring together private enterprise, all levels of government, charitable organizations, private individuals and, of course, the homeless themselves.

Here's the clincher. The solution would cost much less than what governments now have to spend on "managing the homeless," for want of a better term. Now that I got your attention, here is the plan, the proposal. As is the case with all visionaries, my plan is not typical, so bear with me and consider it carefully before making a judgment on its merits.

Let's start with New York City; the article above said there were about 50,000 homeless individuals, including children, which translates to people who do not have permanent residences. Many are now living, temporarily, in shelters. But, remember, these are temporary and not permanent places of residence; and some, if not many, are barely fit for human habitation. The chief point worth noting is that the word shelter has a pejorative sense, suggesting transients and transition, which is not the same as having a stable place of residence.

What families need are residences, places which have a sense of permanence, a decent place to call home. Many of these families have adults who suffer from either mental-health problems or substance-abuse problems, which means that they need help from the community on a regular or continuing basis. This is nothing that they need be ashamed of, but something that is necessary for both their well-being and that of their children and other members of their family.

Now, governments of all levels say that they are cash-strapped and have no further money for social programs. Here is where businesses can play an important part in social responsibility, giving meaning to the catch-phrase "corporate social responsibility." Many multinational corporations who have billions of dollars in cash reserves and whom have benefited from America's market capitalism system can redeem themselves and gain a positive image by voluntarily agreeing to building decent and beautiful permanent residences for families who cannot currently afford permanent housing.

The idea is might be innovative but it has some merit; consider the recent article, by Laurie Monsebraaten, in The Toronto Star (“East Bayfront condo may incorporate affordable rental units purchased by City of Toronto”; Oct. 29, 2013), which says that Toronto is planning to buy 20% of the units in a $1.1-billion condo project and rent them out as affordable housing.

Monsebraaten writes:
In a ground-breaking pilot project being unveiled Tuesday, the City of Toronto is proposing to buy between 70 and 75 units in a condominium to be built as part of the recently announced $1.1 billion Bayside neighbourhood development. The units in the proposed building east of Sherbourne Common and George Brown College would be owned and operated by a non-profit housing company and offer affordable rental housing for low- and modest-income residents, according to a staff report to be debated by the city’s affordable housing committee.

“This is definitely a landmark,” said subcommittee chair Councillor Ana Bailao. “The fact that this affordable housing is being built so early in the development and the fact that it is going to be incorporated in the same building is remarkable. We haven’t done anything like this anywhere before,” she said.
This is true, but it might not be, given that the mayor has publicly spoken harshly against the proposal, saying that only the wealthy elites ought to have access to waterfront property—a sentiment shared by many Torontonians.

Affordable Housing For the Homeless 

Even so, all new ideas are always initially met with suspicion and hostility. The important thing is to table new ideas, and bring these into public view and debate. Thus, it’s possible to take it a step further and build affordable housing for the homeless, but using private investment. Thus, here are some of the basic requirements for each residential complex:
  • Each residential complex will have no more than 16 floors, contain twelve 2-bedroom (725 sq. ft.) and four 3-bedroom apartments (1,000 sq, ft.) equipped for families—with no more than 16 units per floor. This equates to 256 units per residential complex, or about housing for asbout 1,000 individuals 
  • Each complex will be about 200,000 sq. ft. 
  • Each complex will contain 200 spots for staff and visitor parking.
  • At a maximum total of 200,000 sq, ft, and at $212 a square foot, and using a factor of 20% for unexpected expenses, the maximum building cost comes in at about $50 million. Land acquisition is not included, and might run into the millions in some cases.
  • Each complex will contain sufficient green space, including a large garden with flowers, hedges and trees. Beauty is important for everyone.
  • On the two bottom floors of the complex there will contain 1) a medical centre staffed by physicians, nurses, dietitians and physiotherapists; 2) a community centre with swimming pool and fitness centre; 3) a mental-health and well-being centre staffed by psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers; and 4) Commercial spaces dedicated to a pharmacy, a grocery store and a beauty salon.
  • Rent would be no more than 30% of earned income; since the “homeless” would now have a place of residence, they would be eligible for some form of social or government assistance, thus allowing them to pay the rent.
  • The centres will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and will always be adequately staffed. 
  • Salaries for healthcare professionals (per complex): one physician, 2 nurses, one physiotherapist, one psychologist, 2 social workers. $2-4 million per year.
  • Other ancillary salaries typical of residential complexes (cleaning, maintenance, landscaping, recreational, security, etc): $1-2 million.  
  • Estimated annual operating costs: $3-6 million; most of it would be recovered from both residential and commercial rents.
New York City would require approx. 50 such residential complexes, that is, based on current numbers. So, the total bill for construction for NYC would be about $2.5 billion (plus additional costs for land acquisition), and the total annual operating cost not to exceed $60 million; it would be a non-profit venture. Economies of scale and societal goodwill might reduce the cost of construction.

If proven socially and economically feasible, this concept can be scaled for other cities, including my own, Toronto. Bear in mind that this is an initial proposal from a non-professional, with no experience and little knowledge in this area. My chief knowledge lies in the sentiment that something new, different, ought to be considered. Thus, I welcome all comments, notably from builders and developers, on this proposal, notably on any errors I have made in costs.

As for the socio-economic considerations, I have not addressed these in this post for the reason that my views on such matters can be found in my many blog posts, including Compassionate Capitalism, Justice's Virtue and Time For Another New Deal. Moreover, I am aware of the deep divisions in our society, which come about from some fears, namely, a class of persons should receive decent accommodations without "having earned it or worked for it." That if you don't work hard for its purchase it holds less value. There is much validity in this statement, but it can be stretched too thin.

The chief question that needs addressing is the kind of society we want to live in, and whether social cohesion or harmony is important. Concomitant to this is whether there is room in our society for those individuals and families who have not "made it," to use a colloquial term with such loaded meaning. After all, society has a few individuals within its midst—often highly esteemed—who do not have to work too hard to have a nice roof over their head and good food on the table, and yet they hold both people and property in contempt. In this regard, I am reminded of a oft-quoted passage in Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby (1925):
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness  or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.… (180-81)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

U.S. School District Appeals Boobies Bracelets Decision; It Says Bracelets Are Disruptive

Free Expression

Cancer-Awareness Bracelets: CTV News says: "Easton Area School District students
Brianna Hawk, 15, left, and Kayla Martinez, 14, display their 'I (heart) Boobies!' bracelets
for photographers outside the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia on Feb. 20, 2013."
Photo Credit: Matt Rourke; AP
Source: CTV News

An AP article published in CTV News says a school district in the American state of Pennsylvania is appealing a lower-court ruling supporting the wearing of cancer-awareness bracelets at school.

The article says:
The court battle between two girls and their Pennsylvania school over "I (heart) Boobies!" bracelets could be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Easton Area School District board voted 7-1 on Tuesday night to appeal a federal appeals court's decision that rejected its claim the bracelets are lewd and should be banned from school.
The case started in 2010 when two girls, then ages 12 and 13, challenged the school's ban on the bracelets designed to promote breast cancer awareness among young people.The students, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, said they merely hoped to promote awareness of the disease at their middle school. They filed suit when they were suspended for defying the ban on their school's Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
In August, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision in favour of the girls, saying also that the district didn't prove the bracelets are disruptive. Superintendent John Reinhart told The Express-Times of Easton he supports the board's decision. "The Third Circuit Court has compromised administrators' abilities to intervene in what is and what is not appropriate in school," he said.In court sessions, Reinhart had called the bracelets "cause-based marketing energized by sexual double-entendres."
Perhaps, but how is the wearing of it disruptive? This is another case where the school district misses the point; in its effort to impose absurd and overly restrictive "dress codes" and similar policies they have given the two girls a valuable lesson in fighting unconstitutional bans on free speech. It is more than likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will either not hear the case or support the previous lower-court rulings. It is good to see young people taking a stand for what is right. Bravo.

You can read the rest of the article at [CTV News].

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Disruptions Beneath Yellowstone National Park

Earth Tremors

An article, by Alexandra Witze, in Nature News says that the ground underneath Yellowstone National Park, located in the western United States (chiefly in Wyoming), contains a large magma reserve, but this is not the greatest geological risk in the region; earthquakes are.

Witze writes:
The reservoir of molten rock underneath Yellowstone National Park in the United States is at least two and a half times larger than previously thought. Despite this, the scientists who came up with this latest estimate say that the highest risk in the iconic park is not a volcanic eruption but a huge earthquake.
Yellowstone is famous for having a ‘hot spot’ of molten rock that rises from deep within the planet, fuelling the park’s geysers and hot springs1. Most of the magma resides in a partially molten blob a few kilometres beneath Earth’s surface.New pictures of this plumbing system show that the reservoir is about 80 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide, says Robert Smith, a geophysicist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “I don’t know of any other magma body that’s been imaged that’s that big,” he says.
Smith reported the finding on 27 October at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, Colorado.Yellowstone lies in the western United States, where the mountain states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho converge. The heart of the park is a caldera — a giant collapsed pit left behind by the last of three huge volcanic eruptions in the past 2.1 million years.
Yellowstone’s last mammoth volcanic eruption took place 640,000 years ago. Since then, some 50 to 60 smaller eruptions have occurred, with the most recent of these about 70,000 years ago. A much more likely risk than volcanoes, says Smith, is posed by earthquakes of magnitude 7 or greater like those that have struck the region in modern times. “They are the killer events which we’ve already had,” he says. For instance, the magnitude-7.3 Hebgen Lake earthquake that hit near Yellowstone in 1959 killed 28 people.
This area of the western United States is being stretched and thinned by geological forces, causing the crust to fracture in large quakes. The risk of more of these quakes occurring remains high, says Smith, making them a much bigger problem than any chance of a mammoth eruption.
This seems surprising when one considers that Yellowstone—almost the whole park of 9,000 square kilometres—is one gigantic super-volcano; and an active one, too. The whole park is a caldera. According to some scientific data, the eruption cycle is every 600,000 years, thus making a large eruption imminent. In a National Geographic article (2012, Sept 20), Richard A. Lovettt says: “Yellowstone's next major eruption will probably be centered in one of three parallel fault zones running north-northwest across the park, a new study predicts.” It might happen, but in ten thousand years, a short period in geological times.

Such sums up the danger posed by having a national park on a historically active volcanic site. Yet, as the article says, of the many geological disruptions that Yellowstone faces, including hydrothermal explosions, rockfalls and earthquakes, the last is the one that that carries the greatest potential of taking place. This does not make the risk of a volcanic eruption any less real, but the risk of an earthquake is now higher and greater than previously considered.

From nature's perspective, it is acting according to the way that nature has always acted, in a seemingly random or capricious way. Or not. Perhaps there is a definite pattern, one that geologists have not yet discovered and ascertained. As for how safe it is to visit Yellowstone, here is what its web-site says:
The science of forecasting a volcanic eruption has significantly advanced over the past 25 years. Most scientists think that the buildup preceding a catastrophic eruption would be detectable for weeks and perhaps months to years. Precursors to volcanic eruptions include strong earthquake swarms and rapid ground deformation and typically take place days to weeks before an actual eruption.
You can read the rest of the article at [Nature].

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New York Philharmonic Orchestra: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Leonard Bernstein, performs Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 in D minor, opus 47, at a 1979 concert at Bunka Kainan, Tokyo, Japan. Shostakovich [1906-1975] composed this work when he was only thirty, between April 1937 and July 1937, during the period of The Great Terror [1936-39]; its made its first official appearance on November 21, 1937, in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg, or simply Petersburg) when the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky gave a performance that received much public approval.

For a greater historical understanding of this symphony, I refer you to Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, who have much to say about this musical composition; its importance to humanity in understanding both the period in history in which Shostakovich wrote and the pressures of an artist can be summed up by a quote attributed to the composer:
“I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat. It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, ‘Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing …’”

—words allegedly said by Shostakovich many years after the symphony was written

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Homeless In NYC

Longing & Living

In an article in The New Yorker, Ian Frazier looks at the increasing problem of the homeless in New York City, which includes families residing in temporary shelters. If there is a statistic worth noting it's this, Frazier says: “In any case, it’s inescapably true that there are far more homeless people in the city today than there have been since 'modern homelessness' (as experts refer to it) began, back in the nineteen-seventies.”

Frazier writes:
Most New Yorkers I talk to do not know this. They say they thought there were fewer homeless people than before, because they see fewer of them. In fact, during the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless people has gone through the roof they do not have. There are now two hundred and thirty-six homeless shelters in the city. Imagine Yankee Stadium almost four-fifths full of homeless families; about eighteen thousand adults in families in New York City were homeless as of January, 2013, and more than twenty-one thousand children. The C.F.H. says that during Bloomberg’s twelve years the number of homeless families went up by seventy-three per cent. One child out of every hundred children in the city is homeless.
The number of homeless single adults is up, too, but more of them are in programs than used to be, and some have taken to living underground, in subway tunnels and other places out of sight. Homeless individuals who do frequent the streets may have a philosophical streak they share with passersby, and of course they sometimes panhandle. Homeless families, by contrast, have fewer problems of mental illness and substance abuse, and they mostly stay off the street. If you are living on the street and you have children, they are more likely to be taken away and put in foster care. When homeless families are on the street or on public transportation, they are usually trying to get somewhere. If you see a young woman with big, wheeled suitcases and several children wearing backpacks on a train bound for some far subway stop, they could be homeless. Homeless families usually don’t engage with other passengers, and they seldom panhandle.
The majority of panhandlers are single and male; many become aggressive when denied what they want, having a sense of entitlement. Many suffer from mental illness and substance abuse, and can be a problem in urban centres. Such aggressive and potentially violent people should not have the freedom to roam the streets and harass pedestrians; this is a matter of public safety.

Homeless families, on the other hand, respond differently to their situation. Such families generally remain anonymous, bearing a burden that they are no longer part of general society. In short, there is a general sadness surrounding them and their future, that they are failures, sometimes through making bad personal decisions, often not. Their children suffer. It has been said so many times that it has now become a wear-worn cliché:  it's both sad and surprising that within the wealthiest city in the wealthiest nation, there should remain the problem of homelessness. It is irresponsible and inaccurate, however, to suggest that blame rests solely with Mayor Bloomberg, when there are enough factual  reasons why the number of persons and families without permanent affordable housing has increased.

This fact ought not surprise anyone when one considers what has been happening in America, in NYC and in many major urban centres the last odd thirty years or so. The hollowing out of the middle class, the loss of decent jobs for the least educated, notably in the once-thriving manufacturing sector, the structural changes in family life, the loss of meaning and the resulting isolation and alienation, and the reduction of community social programs (including those associated with mental health) have all contributed, to some degree, to the problem of increased homelessness.

These are some of the reasons, but not all of them; and governments cannot fix all of these problems.

There might be another important point worth making: many working families today are a few pay-cheques away from facing some of the problems that this article raises—not only in New York, not only in Toronto and not only in London—but most everywhere in the industrialized world.

You can read the rest of the article at [New Yorker].

Friday, October 25, 2013

Let's Be Friends

Human Relationships

“A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.”
Charles Darwin

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. 
Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.” 
Elie Wiesel

In a review article in The Guardian, Stuart Kelly writes about A.C. Grayling's Friendship, which looks at the value and societal importance of one of the most misunderstood of human relationships.

Kelly writes:
Part of the problem is purely linguistic. Grayling does not mention this, but there is a slippage in English between the idea of a "friend" and a "best friend". It is even more complicated now that the word has become a verb: one may "friend" a complete stranger on Facebook. A thread joins together Aristotle's statement in the Nicomachean Ethics – "his friend is another self" – to Cicero in De Amicitia – "in the face of a true friend we see a second self" – to Montaigne writing "if anyone urges me to tell why I loved him, I feel it cannot be expressed but by answering: Because it was he, because it was myself". Grayling rightly questions whether this is solipsism – a friend is a friend depending on how closely they resemble us. But the opposite tradition – a friend complements us by having qualities we lack, as exemplified by Godwin's sense of the inequality inherent in friendship – is equally problematic. If we push this to extremes, then we should seek out friends who supplement our zeal with idleness, our generosity with parsimony and our loyalty with treachery.
People form friendships for all kinds of reasons, including those that the article suggests.  One of the important necessities in close friendships is not only a commonality of interests, but also a need to form bonds of trust. Friendships are often unmade, or undone, even after many years, when one friend senses or feels that this trust has been betrayed. Friendships can also be quickly lost when an expectation is unmet.

Friendships are important, and tend to be under-valued in today's materialistic culture, where things or activity often replaces human relationships. If you have one good friend, you are indeed fortunate. Some hold the view that a friendship can be maintained in a haphazard fashion, without any effort. I don't agree with such a modern take on things and hold an older view that a friendship, if it has any merit, has to be nurtured. Like a good fine wine, it takes years to mature. If you don't have any time for friendship, it's likely that you have no friends.

This is not good for one's mental health. I have a sense that a good many trips to the psychologist's or psychiatrist's couch could be averted if a good friendly ear was available to listen to some personal woes. A good friend can make all the difference in the world.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Physics Of Foaming Beer

Beer Fluid Mechanics

An article in Physics Central, a site of the American Physical Society, explains the fluid mechanics of why beer in a bottle becomes a mass of foam when the bottle is given a vertical tap on the mouth.

The article says:
The act is colloquially referred to as “beer tapping”: Someone hits a beer bottle on the head, often with the bottom of their own bottle, and within seconds the victim of the prank is left with a small amount of flat beer and a bottle dripping with foamy bubbles of carbon dioxide.

Javier Rodríguez-Rodríguez, assistant professor at the Fluid Mechanics Group of Carlos III University of Madrid and lead author of an abstract about the research, and his colleagues were at a bar discussing the process behind this phenomenon when they realized they did not fully understand it. And according to their unsuccessful search for a solution online and through scientific databases, neither did anyone else.

Through experimentation and computational simulations, they determined that the process starts with a series of waves and ends up fizzing all over the place.

The initial tap to the bottle sends a shock wave through the glass to the bottle’s bottom. The energy from the wave transfers to the beer inside sending a second shock wave up toward the beer’s surface. It then bounces back again and keeps moving back and forth through the liquid until its energy dissipates.
Engineering students and others who consume beer might find the physics behind this noteworthy, even enlightening, thus making those that drink beer more knowledgeable about their habits and diversions. Such research also shows that physicists take their work seriously, not only unraveling mysteries of the cosmos, but also everyday phenomenon that takes place regularly at the corner bar or pub. Cheers.

You can read the rest of the article at [Physics Central].

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mining The World's Oldest Hatred

Jews & Judaism

In a review article in The New Republic on David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, Anthony Grafton looks at the long and distasteful, but real, history of what can be considered the world's longest hatred of a people—that directed against the Jews during their long, illustrious history. Hatred often springs from envy and jealously, the bringing forth of strong emotions that are unchecked and irrational. These outward expressions of the hateful mind are visceral and palpable, and often dangerous, having lead to many atrocities and crimes against humanity.

That there has been, and continues to be, many attempts of trying to understand the roots of such long-standing hatred is understandable, if not admirable. Yet, even as this is done, it persists and morphs into other forms—despite attempts by many to rid the world of this noxious hatred—even the invention of imaginary figures and features taking on mythical proportions. No doubt, the business of hatred is a multi-headed Hydra. Small wonder, then, that in Anti-Semite and Jew (1946), Jean-Paul Sartre writes, “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.”

Or at least an unattractive form of him.  Countering this are a number of books, articles and essays, which shows a strong determination among the Jews to understand what, perhaps, cannot be easily understood. On one level it is easy to understand, since hate of another—he often portrayed as a flattened character or a caricature—is a convenient mode of creating fear and thus seizing control; on another level, it becomes a complicated business, where hatred of the Jews serves some other purpose, however base it might be.

Grafton writes:
Anti-Judaism is an astonishing enterprise. It is certainly not the first effort to survey the long grim history of the charges that have been brought against the Jews by their long gray line of self-appointed prosecutors. During World War II, a learned rabbi named Joshua Trachtenberg brought out The Devil and the Jews, an erudite and wide-ranging effort to explain why Christians found it rational to associate Jews with Satan and malevolent magic, and charge them with crimes that would have been as ludicrous as the indictment of the witch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail if the punishments meted out had not been so savage. In 1955, Léon Poliakov, a Russian émigré who settled in France, published the first of four volumes in which he traced the history of anti-Semitism from antiquity to 1933. As the memory of the Holocaust spread outside the Jewish world, historians began to excavate in the archives that preserved its documents. New social and cultural explanations of the Judeocide, by professional scholars and passionate amateurs alike, now appear every year.
But Nirenberg is after different quarry: he does not trace the millennial story of the Jews and their conflicts with non-Jews, though he does describe individual and communal fights. Nor does he compile a catalogue of the vile ideas about Jews that non-Jews have entertained and publicized. He wants to know why: why have so many cultures and so many intellectuals had so much to say about the Jews? More particularly, he wants to know why so many of them generated their descriptions and explanations of Jewishness not out of personal knowledge or scholarly research, but out of thin air—and from assumptions, some inherited and others newly minted, that the Jews could be wholly known even to those who knew no Jews. Nirenberg’s answer—and to summarize it, as to summarize so much of this impassioned book, is to flatten it—is that ideas about the Jews can do, and have done, many different and important jobs. True, they are anything but stable: this is not a paper chase after some original idea of the Jew that crops up everywhere from early Christianity to early Nazism. Visions of the Jews change emphasis and content as the larger societies that entertain them change shape and texture. Ideas have multiple contexts, and Nirenberg shows dazzling skill and a daunting command of the sources as he observes the changes and draws connections between them and his authors’ larger worlds.
No doubt, such illiterate and often-fantastical descriptions of the Jews have served the dubious purposes of those in power. That Christianity and Islam, competing religions, have conspired over the ages to belittle the Jews—often as a way to increase their importance on the world stage—is itself not surprising. That Jews have, during the various stages of their history, been portrayed as both powerful and weak, shows how ludicrous are the thoughts and actions of its enemies.

What this also suggests, at least initially, is that it is hard for some non-Jews (and a few Jews) to accept that such a small sliver of the world’s peoples (never more than one percent) has done so much to bettering civilization in their many and various contributions to the arts, science, philosophy, politics, religion and economics. The rational approach would be that instead of hating the Jews, the world ought to applaud them for tikkun olam—helping to repair the world. Yes, making it a better place for humanity through both pursuing knowledge and applying it humanely for all.

Yet, no rational argument will convince the haters to stop hating; such people will continue to mine the world's oldest hatred. Even so, despite this or because of this, the Jews will not stop trying to understand (and to reduce the influences of) the sources and conduits of such hatred. Such pursuit of knowledge is relentless; that alone gives us reason to pause; that advances and progress in our civilization has long been connected to Jewish thinking cannot be denied. Therefore, an attack on the Jewish People is, in effect, an attack on modern human civilization. That today we are witnessing such a strong coordinated attack on the Jews (often by proxy through Israel) suggests that our civilization is now in a dark period. Nothing to be cheery about, is it?

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Recovery Month 3

On Wellness

Today is Day 308 since I have been diagnosed with cancer, and Day 98 living with chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a side-effect of chemo treatment.This is the second monthly installment of my  post-chemo recovery phase; I did post anything for the month of September.

Adapting To Unexpected Changes
I’ve always associated the moment of writing with
a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward.”
Seamus Heaney

It’s good to be back, to return to writing again, it being one of my great joys in life, this despite having an acute awareness that the physical part of writing is not as easy as it once was—my neuropathy being the chief reason why this is so. My mental abilities seem as sharp as ever, although I could be mistaken.

It, the neuropathy, that is, has become so much a part of me, now that it has been with me, so to speak, for more than three months, and the expectation—made from reading both medical literature and anecdotal sources—is that it will persist for at least a year, probably longer. Since there is nothing that the medical community can do to better my condition, I have learned to live with it and its pervading and invading influences. It has been a change. 

I have spoken to an occupational therapist (OT), who could only offer suggestions on how to reduce the high level of sensitivity that I feel when touching various surfaces, notably cotton and linens. I find that wearing socks at night does help. As does wearing gloves during cold weather; although the OT said it would be better for my recovery if I did not always wear gloves or socks. I find that it gives me a protective barrier and I feel better; she said it might delay my recovery. Some decisions are hard to make, but are necessary for our survival and our sanity. 

It is also interesting to note human adaptability, e.g., before July, I had never heard of the word, neuropathy, and now we are on intimate terms. I would like to return to a more fuller,  normal use of my limbs by the summer, if only to rise to the tennis challenge of my friend, Jack; I owe him a good game or two.  I am sure that Jack will be the victor, since I haven't touched a tennis racquet in a number of years and he has done that and more, from what he has told me, playing quite often. I used to be a good, competitive player in my younger years.

There is some good news, however: my last CT scan in September  was all clear; and on October 30th, I am scheduled for minor surgery to remove my port-a-cath, which was inserted into my main artery in February for my chemo treatments. I also have two appointments at the end of the year, one another CT scan (they are monitoring my lungs carefully) and the other with Dr. Chan, my medical oncologist, to discuss the results.

Some of the subjects I would like to raise in the next few months include the  status of my continuing battle (or struggle with bureaucracy) with the provincial government of Ontario for a disability pension, which dates to April 2013; and the views I hold almost one year after first being diagnosed, noting that all things, particularly changes to our health tend to shape our thoughts and emotions. Even so, despite whatever difficulties I face, what often keeps me going is my family and friends, my love of writing and the community surrounding it,  and the knowledge of the many stories that I have read on the persevering human spirit.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Evgeny Kissin: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1

Evgeny Kissin performs Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, opus 23, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa at the podium, at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1995. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer, composed this piece between November 1874 and February 1875; it was revised a number of times until 1888, which is the version usually performed. (I have written about the history of this piece in a previous post, which also includes a 1932 recording by Arthur Rubinstein.)


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Elgar's Code of Conduct

Affairs of the Heart & Mind

An article, by Mark MacNamara, in Nautilus says that cryptographers have been assiduously and perhaps arduously trying to crack what is known as the Dorabella Cipher, which British composer Edward Elgar penned in 1897, the year of Queen Victorias Jubilee.

MacNamara writes
On July 14, following a visit the previous weekend to some family friends, the Reverend and Mrs. Alfred Penny, Elgar spun off what looked like a drawing or scribble and gave it to his wife, Alice, to attach to a thank-you note. It was intended for Dora Penny, a 23-year-old ardent admirer, who sang in a local choral group and liked to dance.
They’d known each for a year and a half; she was not a lover, rather an entertainment, a colorful Aquarian butterfly with which to go biking, kiting, and strolling through the bracken and harebells of Malvern; someone who could read music well enough to turn the pages at the piano bench, but with whom he could also could talk about maps, fashion, and the fortunes of the Wolverhampton Wanderers football team. He nicknamed her Dorabella.
Elgar’s scribble was actually a cipher. It consisted of 87 glyphs unevenly spread over three lines. It contained 24 different symbols that featured one, two, or three cusps or curves. The glyphs were tilted in what appeared to be eight various angles. In a glance it gave the sense of seagulls, or sheep, or bits of stubble. Dora looked at it, couldn’t figure it out, put it in a drawer, and didn’t draw it out again for 40 years.

The scribble, known as the Dorabella Cipher, has never been decrypted and stands with such other famous unsolved puzzles as the Voynich Manuscript, a 240-page codex dating from the 15th century; the Phaistos Disk, an apparently Bronze-age piece of clay found in Crete in 1908; and the Zodiac Killer ciphers of the 1960s and ’70s.
Perhaps its not surprising that Elgar could come up with such a cipher, since mathematics and music are intricately and intimately linked. So is love and beauty, and I suspect that the answer to this cipher lies in the intersection of all these things that mattered most to Elgar.

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's Time To Recognize Israel, President Rouhani

Israel & Iran

Iran (then called Persia) and Israel used to have good relations. True, that was thousands of years ago, but there is no valid reason for the modern states of Iran and Israel to today hold such distrust of each other. It would be far better to start building toward mutually beneficial relations. It must first start with an official recognition from Iran of Israel’s existence, which thus far it has not done for no rational political reason, says George Jochnowitz. “Iran’s hostility towards Israel makes no sense whatsoever. Iran has mentioned the plight of the Palestinians on occasion, but Iran has hardly ever been friends with an Arab nation. The big exception is with Assad’s Syria, since Assad is an Alawite and therefore a member of a Shiite sect. Palestinians, and most Arabs, are Sunnis. Sunnis and Shiites have been at war for centuries.” President Rouhani has the chance of being remembered as the leader who took a bold step and won.

by George Jochnowitz

Presidents Obama and Rouhani have had a phone conversation. It was the first time since 1979 that the presidents of Iran and the United States have spoken to each other. Iran resents the United States for putting the Shah into power in 1953. The United States resents Iran for holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1980). Despite these tangible offenses, the leaders of the two countries were finally able to speak.

Iran and Israel have no such offenses as part of their history. Israel has never ever done anything to harm Iran. Iran, to be sure, sends weapons to Hezbollah, which is a threat to Israel. But Iran has never engaged in any direct hostility against Israel.

Nevertheless, in 2001, Iran’s President Rafsanjani, who is generally described as a moderate, called the existence of Israel an ugly, colonialist phenomenon and said that nuclear war could destroy everything on the ground in Israel but would merely damage the world of Islam.

Iranian leaders have consistently spoken against Israel’s existence. Furthermore, they are creating a nuclear arsenal and have endured severe sanctions in order to keep increasing their nuclear capabilities, while claiming that they are not interested in building a bomb. Their claim is not convincing in light of their willingness to endure economic hardships resulting from sanctions. So then, why are they continuing to oppose Israel?

Iran’s hostility towards Israel makes no sense whatsoever. Iran has mentioned the plight of the Palestinians on occasion, but Iran has hardly ever been friends with an Arab nation. The big exception is with Assad’s Syria, since Assad is an Alawite and therefore a member of a Shiite sect. Palestinians, and most Arabs, are Sunnis. Sunnis and Shiites have been at war for centuries.

Iran has never faced up to the fact that it has no reason to be enemies with Israel. Neither has the rest of the world. Leaders of all nations take it for granted that Iran is Israel’s enemy, and nobody has ever asked why. Hostility to Israel is the rule and not the exception. Who needs a motive?

On the other hand, Iran does have a reason to worry about the status of Shiites in the Arab world. That is why Iran is aiding Hezbollah, a Shiite organization. Week after week, bombs go off in market places and even in mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. They kill lots of people who happen to be present at the sites of the bombings. The victims are typically Shiites, and the bombs are, by and large, directed against Shiites.

Although Iranian leaders have not been reacting publicly to these religious murders, they are concerned about terrorism. “In July, China and Iran signed an agreement on security cooperation to strengthen their bilateral cooperation to combat terrorism and drug-related crimes. But more such collaborative efforts are needed to bring an end to the scourge of terrorism,” according to an op-ed in China Daily by He Wenping that appeared on September 25.

China is worried about terrorism in Xinjiang Province; Iran is concerned about attacks on Shiites. It makes sense for them to cooperate. Somehow, Iran has not seen fit to publicize this issue.

Recognizing Israel would do Iran a world of good. It could benefit from Israeli technology. It could end the nuclear expansion that provoked the sanctions. It could open up the United States to becoming a trading partner of Iran. Rouhani would like to make Iran rich and secure. On the other hand, think of how timid he was about recognizing that the Holocaust had happened. If one hates Israel, one is quite open to the concept of denial, since the Holocaust was one of the factors leading to the United Nations vote dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into two states.

On the third hand, what would Iran’s mullahs say? Would they declare Rouhani’s presidency invalid? Perhaps they would. If so, maybe Rouhani could use this as a way of ending the power of Iran’s theocrats.

Israel is the most hated nation on earth, which is a reason that the Palestinians have never been able to accept a compromise with Israel that would have created a Palestinian state. The Palestinians are the only independence movement ever to reject independence because of a boundary dispute. They had to reject it; one can’t make a deal with a party that is universally detested. If Rouhani recognized Israel, it would help the Palestinians.

Recognize Israel, President Rouhani.

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 originally appeared in Arutz Sheva (Wednesday October 2, 2013). This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the permission of Arutz Sheva and the author.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Creative Space

​Working It Out

I have decided to return to my blog, posting bits and pieces of what interests me, as I have always done. It might not be medically wise, but I have missed both the writing and the relationship with my readers. So, despite a continuing medical condition that makes writing somewhat difficult, it is a labor love. Thus, I plan to persist. I do not yet know how many times a week I will post my thoughts, but I hope to do so at least once a week, if not more. The posts might be shorter than usual, at least initially. But I plan to continue and progress forward.

Below is a photo, taken today, showing where I often like to compose my thoughts and put them in blog form. It is our dining-room table, which only proves that you can write anywhere; I do.

Creative Space No. 1:
Photo Credit: Perry J. Greenbaum