Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Move To Toronto: Reflections One Year Later

ReLocation & ReAdjustments

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, 
but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
W.H. Auden

Downtown Toronto’s Chinatown: Wikipedia writes: “Toronto’s Chinatown is one of the largest in North America. It is centred on the intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, and extends outward from this point along both streets.” It is also southeast of Kensington Market, which is a popular tourist attraction and shopping point. The area along Spadina was once an area populated by Jews, who have been moving further north (uptown) during the last few decades, many now residing in Vaughan.
Photo Credit: chensiyuan; 2009;
Source: Wikipedia

It has been one year since we moved our family to Toronto, arriving on November 29th and moving into our current apartment a day later, after spending a night at a decent hotel not too far from here. My wife did all the driving, taking us from Montreal to Toronto in less than six hours (she will tell you it was five hours and 45 minutes), arriving at our hotel around 7:30 p.m. The trip was thankfully uneventful.

Everyone who has made Toronto their home, including former Montealers, invariably ask me how I am “enjoying Toronto.” My polite response has been, “I am adjusting to it.”  This is true in the sense that when one moves to another city, especially at an older age, there is a period of adjustment to meet the expectations and traditions of the new city. It is by far Canada’s largest city with a population of 2.79 million, and 5.5 million in what is called the GTA, or Greater Toronto Area—ranking it as the fourth most-populous city in North America, replacing Chicago in that position. (Montreal, by comparison, is smaller and geographically more compact and, in my view, more aesthetically pleasing and more livable of a city.)

No doubt, its tremendous growth has made Toronto what it is, what it has become. Toronto considers itself a large, hip, modern, cosmopolitan city with many people from various nations residing within its midst. A recent New York Times op-ed piece (“Toronto’s Hot Mess; November 5th) agrees with this view, the writer Stephen Marche saying, “Toronto is basically the model of what a postindustrial city can be.” Perhaps so, but I am not convinced that this is necessarily the case, despite the money, the multiculturalism and the many attractions that can be found here.

Truly, Toronto has much to recommend it, including but not limited to its many fine schools and universities, its libraries, its many condos under construction, its many cultural and sporting events, and its many beautiful and wealthy neighborhoods containing well-appointed mansions and people. I am particularly delighted by the Toronto Botanical Garden (i.e., Edwards Gardens), which I visit frequently for its beauty and aesthetic appeal. And, of course, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and its modern Odette Cancer Centre, and Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto for its beautiful building and its warm and welcoming presence. I can’t say enough good things about these places and of the many wonderful people that I have met. I also would like to thank the Toronto Fire Services for coming so quickly—within minutes—after we smelt smoke in the middle of the night in our apartment earlier this month (see An Early Morning Awakening).

And, yet, I do not feel a part of it in the same way that I do about Montreal, or for that matter New York or Tel Aviv (Note; we had a choice between Toronto and Tel Aviv, and we chose the former over the latter, chiefly for practical reasons; we hope to retire, however, in Israel in about 15 years). It might seem unfair to say so about a city that has worked so hard to change its image of “Hogtown”  or “Toronto the Good” of the Victorian era. Perhaps too hard, which might explain my current sentiments of Toronto. I certainly don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I say this without any intent to offend and without any malice, but take note of Auden. Apart from those I have met at Gilda’s Club, I have not met enough people in Toronto who laugh, who have a good sense of humor, who don’t take themselves too seriously. As well, November begins a six-month period where 80 percent of the days seem grey, overcast and filled with leaden skies, making Toronto a city affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), making it a sad city.

There are a couple of other peculiarities or particularities about this large city that are more of a nuisance than anything else; they both relate to human interactions, or a lack thereof. One is that few people or organizations, including government ones, return phone calls, perhaps reflecting their busyness or, rather, a sense of self-importance; and the second, similar to the first, is a propensity to have a problem with the truth in matters great and small, or, in other words, prevarication or equivocation seems to be an acceptable norm. I am not sure of the reasons why. Perhaps it is what Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “Pretty much all the honest truth telling in the world is done by children.”

Perhaps that is the way it is, and my expectations are all wrong, outdated. It might be the case, and allow me to show by way of an example from physics what is currently taking place. Two sinusoidal waves can be either in phase or out-of-phase; the city of Toronto and I are out-of-phase; to be in sync I will have to undergo a phase change, or more accurately, a phase shift. For now we are oscillating at different frequencies.  I can say more, but I have been reminded by what one character said on that fine well-written  and -acted Canadian TV series, Murdoch Mysteries, set in the late 19th-century and the beginning of 20th-century Toronto (circa 1895–1901). Said Inspector Brackenreid, “Toronto is a Christian city.”  So it remains, culturally, at least in spirit—not so much the sharp two-edged sword of veritas, but the blunt instrument of indifférence.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Scientists Do Have Special Obligations To Society

Scientific Philosophy

An article, in Scientific American, by Janet D. Stemwedel, an associate professor of philosophy at San José State University in California, raises the valid question of whether scientists have a particular responsibility to society, that is ought scientists and their work be limited to what is essentially considered socially good or responsible. Perhaps it can be called scientific social responsibility.

Stemwedel writes:
In this post, we’re returning to a discussion we started back in September about whether scientists have special duties or obligations to society (or, if the notion of “society” seems too fuzzy and ill-defined to you, to the other people who are not scientists with whom they share a world) in virtue of being scientists.
You may recall that, in the post where we set out some groundwork for the discussion, I offered one reason you might think that scientists have duties that are importantly different from the duties of non-scientists:
The main arguments for scientists having special duties tend to turn on scientists being in possession of special powers. This is the scientist as Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility.
What kind of special powers are we talking about? The power to build reliable knowledge about the world – and in particular, about phenomena and mechanisms in the world that are not so transparent to our everyday powers of observation and the everyday tools non-scientists have at their disposal for probing features of their world. On account of their training and experience, scientists are more likely to be able to set up experiments or conditions for observation that will help them figure out the cause of an outbreak of illness, or the robust patterns in global surface temperatures and the strength of their correlation with CO2 outputs from factories and farms, or whether a particular plan for energy generation is thermodynamically plausible. In addition, working scientists are more likely to have access to chemical reagents and modern lab equipment, to beamtimes at particle accelerators, to purpose-bred experimental animals, to populations of human subjects and institutional review boards for well-regulated clinical trials.
Scientists can build specialist knowledge that the rest of us (including scientists in other fields) cannot, and many of them have access to materials, tools, and social arrangements for use in their knowledge-building that the rest of us do not. That may fall short of a superpower, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this doesn’t represent significant power in our world.
In her book Ethics of Scientific Research, Kristin Shrader-Frechette argues that these special abilities give rise to obligations for scientists. We can separate these into positive duties and negative duties. A positive duty is an obligation to actually do something (e.g., a duty to care for the hungry, a duty to tell the truth), while a negative duty is an obligation to refrain from doing something (e.g., a duty not to lie, a duty not to steal, a duty not to kill). There may well be context sensitivity in some of these duties (e.g, if it’s a matter of self-defense, your duty not to kill may be weakened), but you get the basic difference between the two flavors of duties.
It's a good time to be a scientist; it's a time when many don't understand what scientists really do, and yet many people look to Science to solve all of humanity's problems. Perhaps that explains why some hold the view that science ought not to be bound at all, that scientists ought to have unfettered freedom, taking them wherever their interests lie; this of course is nonsense, if you consider what this is suggesting or implying. One of the reasons this question is raised now is that we today live in a different moral universe than, say, 50 or 100 years ago.

Our world has changed, but not that scientists then did not care about money; they likely did, but there was little to be gained by such pursuits. What was more important was trying to find the Truth of the universe and from that gain fame, a pursuit of something noble that would be long remembered by humanity. A sense of immortality. This seems less important today in an age that has, to a large degree, become utilitarian and devoid of beauty and mystery. Money alone drives much of what today is called scientific research. So does lack of clarity, as if opaqueness equates to depth of knowledge.

Even so, in spite of this or because of this, much of science today has become an echo chamber, despite protests to the contrary, and has become about serving the needs of self-interest or narrow interests, whatever these might be. Much of science also speaks to itself, to a narrow field of specialists, not even accessible by other scientists and intelligent laymen, Science is an important undertaking, no doubt, but like all professions its work ought to fit in within the framework of general society and its interests.

There are scientists whose arrogance of material knowledge is similar to that of religious leaders in their arrogance of special spiritual knowledge. The former says that the knowledge comes directly from a deity; the latter from personally unraveling the secrets of the universe. The similarities are striking, but it also leads to another important question on the place of knowledge, or to know, within the framework of what is and how so. This reminds me of what Albert Einstein said, in 1931, in Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”

To its credit, science, notably the medical sciences in recent years, has shown itself capable of providing many important answers, and thus improve the lives of individuals. But to say or assert that it, and Science in general, are the only important fields of human endeavor is surely missing the mark. Without other fields like art, languages, literature, history, music, philosophy, political theory and religious studies, to name only a scant few that enrich our lives, science would not be as interesting or as important as it is today. Science stands on the shoulders of others, to quote a well-known scientific maxim. This is something to think about.

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

New Atheism & The Unbelievers

Secular America

A search for meaning in a highly industrialized west has led to two competing streams of thought and being: one focuses on religion and faith, the other on secularism and rationalism. While these two streams have always been around and fought to capture the heart and minds of humanity, the battles are greater today, or at least seems so. Lorna Salzman writes: “Whether there is an actual revival of religion as opposed to a backlash against growing secularism and the striking diminution of religious practice is debatable. But both require the same response, because the root of religion, old or new, lies in the absence of reason.”

by Lorna Salzman

From Dec. 13–19, a documentary entitled The Unbelievers (2013) will be showing at the Quad Cinema on W. 13th St. in Manhattan. This is a film featuring Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, and Lawrence Krauss, a physicist, on the “new” atheism. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of hearing Dawkins in person, you should run, not walk, to see it.

Last weekend I attended a two day series of panels at New York University (NYU) on the theme of “Global Secularism(s)” (Try to overlook the postmodernist use of the plural). One main theme was what was called “post-secularism,” which was intended to refer to the purported revival of religious faith, reflecting perhaps a reaction to the vigorous growth of secularism, agnosticism and atheism, for which Dawkins must be thanked, along with Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens.

Whether there is an actual revival of religion as opposed to a backlash against growing secularism and the striking diminution of religious practice is debatable. But both require the same response, because the root of religion, old or new, lies in the absence of reason. Why at this point in time we are seeing so many facets of irrationality is an interesting topic, but it should not be relegated to academic discussions. It requires special attention on the part of secular society, not only because of its inferred suspicion and distrust of science but because it is being strengthened by radical Islam through both terrorist and “stealth” jihad, in a campaign to subvert the principles that underly secularism which got passed down to western civilization from the Enlightenment, and which give meaning to our own society and Constitution.

On a smaller scale we see the anti-evolution, the anti-vaccination and the conspiracy theory movements which have reverted to the human default position of irrationality by rejecting the information, evidence and proofs of modern science in favor of imaginary, fictional and supernatural forces. On the larger scale we see a reactive conspiracy: one headed by religious leaders of all faiths who have seen the secular handwriting on the wall and fear, quite rightly, for their influence and power, which continue to be on the wane in all western countries. At least one conference was convened in France a couple of years ago, resulting in a consensus of those present that secularism posed a greater threat to humanity than Islamist terrorism. And at the extreme right there are the jihadist offspring of Islamic fundamentalism, determined to blow modern nonMuslim society to smithereens body by body.

This is not surprising of course, because in a secular sandstorm like the one blowing around us all religious leaders quickly gather together behind the camels because they realize that all of their faiths are threatened. Personally I find this gratifying because it is a confirmation of the desertion of religion by millions of people. In the U.S., the most religious country in the west, 20% now profess to be non-practitioners if not outright nonbelievers, up from about 8% a decade ago. This is just about the only comforting trend today, and it is not about to reverse itself, notwithstanding the predictions about “post-secularism.”

One of the outstanding speakers at the NYU conference—in fact the only one to directly and loudly condemn Islamism—was Maryam Namazie, an Iranian leftist and founder of One Law For All in Great Britain. An activist rather than an academic, her presentation on the poison of shariah law and the oppression of Muslim women was powerful and unchallengeable. Two Muslim women on the same panel had to sit there and listen to her, after presenting their own remarks about how the hijab was “empowering” for women and why the resistance of Muslim women to the “authority” of the Canadian state to ban it in public was really resistance to “state authority.” (I challenged both of them on their statements in the question period).

It is easy to despair, but there is hope from many quarters: the annual Women in Secularism conference in Washington DC; Free Inquiry, published by the Council on Secular Humanism; One Law For All; the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason; the web sites and blogs of Dawkins and Sam Harris; Freedom from Religion Foundation; The Evolution Institute; The Lawfare Institute which defends free speech and fights against the efforts of Muslim leaders to impose Islam on our society; the Council of ExMuslims; the Discourse the important public discourse of exMuslims like Ibn Warraq, Tafiq Hamid, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, and important French and Canadian intellectuals and activists (including Tim Murray and Madeline Weld). Not least is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser’s American-Islamic Forum on Democracy, dedicated to persuading American Muslims of the imperative of religion-state separation. Ten years ago most of these did not exist. Today, despite the Obama effort to ban the use of pejorative terms when discussion Islamist terrorism or shariah law, one now finds the words “Islamic terrorists” even in the New York Times. The Times they are a-changing.

Both of these trends—anti-clericalism/atheism and the public discussing of Islamism—are now fixed and new efforts are flowing into the current that constitutes the growing secularism of our time. Now we must hope that the morally misguided post-modern and Marxist influences that have taken over many of our universities will be counteracted and demolished.

You can view a promo clip of The Unbelievers here.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Veronica Monica & The Story Of Chanukah

Shalom Sesame with  Veronica Monica & The Story Of Chanukah. Tonight marks the first night of Chanukah, the eight-day “Festival of Lights” or  more accurately, “Feast of Dedication.” The story is well known and often told of how a small band of fighters, led by Judah Maccabee, were able to defeat a large army of the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. This was a miracle in itself, it seems, but the greater miracle, the Talmud says, was that a small flask of oil for the temple rededication lasted eight days instead of only one.

Wikipedia says:
By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event.[18] Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.
There are many wonderful things about Chanukah, including how to spell the name of this holiday: in Hebrew (חנוכה), but in English there are many variants (i.e., Hanukah, Chanukah, Hanukkah and Chanukkah). Then there is the food associated with it, including latkes (i.e., potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (i.e., jelly-filled doughnuts), of which we’ll eat our fill for the next eight days. And we’ll give our two boys so much Chanukah gelt (i,e., chocolate coins), they’ll plotz. Thay will also play dreidel, a four-sided top that has on each side one Hebrew letter: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and ש (Shin),which translates to “Nes Gadol Haya Sham.” This phrase means, “A great miracle happened there [in Israel].” This reminds me of that most Jewish holidays can be summed up in nine words: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

Since the Jews follow a lunisolar calendar to calculate the holidays and festivals, the question invariably comes up (outside Israel) on when that holiday falls on the Gregorian calendar. This brings up another joke:
Q: When does Chanukah take place this year?
A: The same as every year, on the 25th of Kislev.
And, finally, another Jewish joke:
Last year, just before Hanukkah, Miriam, a grandmother was giving directions to her grown up grandson who was coming to visit with his wife. You come to the front door of the condominium complex. I am in apartment 2B.
Miriam continued, There is a big panel at the door. With your elbow push button 2B. I will buzz you in. Come inside, the elevator is on the right. Get in, and with your elbow hit 2. When you get out I am on the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell.
Grandma, that sounds easy, replied Jonathan, the grandson, but why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow.
To which she answered, You're coming to visit empty handed?
That’s it. I wish everyone a Happy Chanukah and all the best.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why Not The ‘Little Satan’?

The Iran-Israel File

Now that the Islamic Republic of Iran has come to some terms with the United States over its nuclear ambitions, is there any logical, rational reason why it could not do the same with the State of Israel? Is there any possibility that Iran can recognize Israel and have eventual diplomatic relations? Such are the important questions posed by Prof. George Jochnowitz in this essay, who says: “If America is the Great Satan, according to Iran, Israel is the Little Satan. President Rouhani has made a deal with the Great Satan, a country Iran has had reason to resent. He apparently has never considered the possibility of coming to any sort of agreement with the Little Satan. This is not surprising, since nuclear bombs are meant to be Iran’s way of ending the existence of the Little Satan. But it ought to be surprising. Iran has never had any sort of disagreement with Israel. Iran has never done anything to help the Palestinians. Iran’s mullahs dislike Arabs and hate Sunnis.”

by George Jochnowitz

The United States, according to Iran, is the Great Satan. Iran has a good reason to hate the United States. In 1953, the United States and Great Britain, working together, overthrew the elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh.

In his place came the Shah. The United States should have been able to guess that a monarchy installed by foreigners, unlike one that had been there for centuries, would sooner or later be toppled by a revolution. The revolution put Ayatollah Khomeini into power, perhaps the most anti-American ruler on earth. Women’s rights ended abruptly, and the country became a theocracy. Diplomatic relations with Israel ended at once. Americans were held hostage for 444 days.

Iranians who supported the mullahs hated the United States for creating a monarchy in Iran. Iranians who opposed the mullahs hated the United States for creating a situation that led to Iran’s theocracy. Left and right, religious and irreligious, all Iranians had their reasons to hate America.

Israel, on the other hand, had never done anything to violate Iranian sovereignty or to hurt Iran in any way. It didn’t matter. Radical Islamists, like Iran’s rulers, simply hated Israel for existing in the land of the Holy City, Al-Quds. Every year, Iran has an Al-Quds day. In 2001, former President Ali Akhbar Rafsanjani said that if one day the world of Islam comes to possess nuclear weapons, Israel could be destroyed. Rafsanjani said that the use of a nuclear bomb against Israel would leave nothing standing, but that retaliation, no matter how severe, would merely do damage to the world of Islam.

That, of course, explains why Iran embarked on its nuclear program. North Korea, another country that considers Israel its great enemy, helped Iran by shipping nuclear fuel to Iran. Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities were directed against Israel, of course, but many countries were frightened. The United States and other nations recently negotiated a deal to get Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment, at least temporarily. Israel, the target of the enrichment, feels the threat still remains. And as President Rafsanjani said in 2001, the reason an Islamic country would want nuclear weapons is to destroy Israel.

If America is the Great Satan, according to Iran, Israel is the Little Satan. President Rouhani has made a deal with the Great Satan, a country Iran has had reason to resent. He apparently has never considered the possibility of coming to any sort of agreement with the Little Satan. This is not surprising, since nuclear bombs are meant to be Iran’s way of ending the existence of the Little Satan. But it ought to be surprising. Iran has never had any sort of disagreement with Israel. Iran has never done anything to help the Palestinians. Iran’s mullahs dislike Arabs and hate Sunnis.

Iranians have never considered the possibility that it is in their interest to recognize Israel and to establish diplomatic relations with the Little Satan. If they could do such an unheard of thing, there would no longer be a question about the deal. They could trade with Israel. The whole world would change. The Palestinians, who have never been willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state and who insist that they will not give up the areas of the West Bank that today have about a half million Jewish residents, would, for the first time, accept a boundary change for the sake of independence.

Today, the Palestinians are the only group in human history that has ever rejected independence because of a boundary dispute. If Rouhani could recognize Israel as a Jewish state, so could Mahmoud Abbas. He could even agree to give up his claims on all the land east of the 1967 boundary, the Green Line, a line that was never accepted as permanent in the days before 1967 when it existed.

If Iran recognized Israel, the whole world would become a more peaceful and less dangerous place. But can Iran ever figure out that it has no quarrel with Israel and never did?

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.  It is published here with the permission of the author.

Western Yiddish In Orange County, New York State

On The Farm

Many professions have their arcane language, including those practicing science and law, as a shorthand way of communication. There are also particularities related to other professions that have taken hold because of the combination of immigration and adaptation of the native language to the mother tongue. This is often the case with a regional dialect, Yiddish being no exception. In this article Prof. George Jochnowitz looks at the profession of cattle dealers and the language in which they conducted business: “In 1948, there were perhaps 15 families in the cattle-dealer community. In 1997, there were no more than five German-Jewish cattle dealers in the Middletown area, only one of whom was in the business full time. The decline was caused by two factors: the increasing suburbanization of the United States in general and of Orange County in particular, and the tendency for Jews to leave the businesses of their parents and enter the arts and the professions. The language of the cattle-dealer households became predominantly English, replacing regional varieties of German or Western Yiddish.”

by George Jochnowitz

Middletown, New York, is a city of 20 or 30,000 people about 70 miles northwest of New York City. It is located in the center of Orange County, in an area of dairy farms and onion farms. In the 1930s, Orange County attracted a number of German Jewish cattle dealers fleeing Hitler, who had succeeded in reaching America. Dealing in cattle was a traditional occupation among Jews in central and southern Germany. Immigrants tend to move to cities. My own maternal grandfather was typical. Although he had been a cattle dealer in Poland, when he arrived in the United States in 1930 he moved to Brooklyn, where he owned and ran a kosher butcher store. Some of the German Jewish cattle dealers, on the other hand, did not follow the pattern of abandoning their profession and living in cities. They were able to rebuild their careers in Orange County, and they became an important part of the Middletown Jewish community, where most of them were active members in Temple Sinai, a Conservative congregation.

In 1948, there were perhaps 15 families in the cattle-dealer community. In 1997, there were no more than five German-Jewish cattle dealers in the Middletown area, only one of whom was in the business full time. The decline was caused by two factors: the increasing suburbanization of the United States in general and of Orange County in particular, and the tendency for Jews to leave the businesses of their parents and enter the arts and the professions. The language of the cattle-dealer households became predominantly English, replacing regional varieties of German or Western Yiddish. Nevertheless, I was able to elicit a number of lexical items, some specifically belonging to the world of cattle dealing, others that were survivals of Western Yiddish. I was able to interview two informants: L, who was born in Bavaria, near Bad Kissingen, in 1911, and arrived in America in 1937; and R, born in Ulrichstein, Hesse, in 1931, who arrived in America in 1934.

A third informant died suddenly before an interview could be arranged. Both informants stated that their cattle dealer language—to an extent, a secret language—was not Yiddish, which for them meant the Eastern Yiddish spoken by American Jews, a language more distinctly differentiated from German. Neither had any name for the speech of cattle dealers, although both recognized it as something that existed and was worthy of study. Florence Guggenhein-Grünberg (1954) describes a community of horse dealers in Switzerland somewhat similar to the one in Orange County. "Living in a kind of rural ghetto, the Surbtal Jews preserved this language nearly unchanged down to the 20th century" (48). Yet she says it was only with great difficulty that one could find people speaking it among themselves. In the America of 1997, in a community where it is common to drive to synagogue on the Sabbath, it may be impossible.

Guggenheim-Grünberg tells us that there is a distinction between loshn ekoudesh, the secret language of the cattle dealers, and yidishdaytsh, the ordinary vernacular (51). My own small sample of informants had no name at all for the language and offered no indication that they were dealing with two different, albeit overlapping, forms of speech. What they did have was an inventory of lexical items. R provided me with about 45 words; L with about 125. Many of the words were numbers. R volunteered dales '4', tes vof '16', yus alef '11', me:ye '100', and he me:ye '500' as soon as he knew I was going to interview him about his language. As for L, when I asked him how he pronounced the names of the letters of the alphabet, he produced this astonishing sequence: olf beys gimel dalet hey vov zoyen xes tes yut kaf lames mem nun samekh shive shmone tishe meye. 

Apparently the letters exist primarily as the names of numbers. After the letter samekh, equivalent to '60', we move directly into the Hebrew words for '70', '80', '90' and '100'. The alphabet—the names of the letters—-has gotten lost in the process. I am sure, however, that had I persisted in my questioning, L would have recited the complete alphabet. In addition to the names of the numbers, L volunteered the word rat 'three times the number of marks or dollars cited'. Thus, meye rat is $300 or marks; kaf rat is $60 or marks. Otherwise, shuk was used for 'mark'. It could also be used as a verb: es shukt, 'it costs'.

R and L differ on the pronunciation of the final consonant of two letters: R saysyus and dales; L says yut and dalet. Both agree on lames, however. L's use of lames is thus inconsistent with his pronunciations yut and dalet. When we leave the alphabet and consider the word yad, used to mean 'pointer for reading the Torah', not 'hand', L and R agree. Furthermore, the final consonant is at least partially voiced, suggesting that this lexical item has been influenced by the pronunciation of American Whole Hebrew. There is no t-d distinction in the German or the cattle dealer language of either L or R, although there is in their English. R's English sounds basically native. In Provencal, intervocalic d became z

In Judeo-Provencal, the letter daled was apparently pronounced z in medial position and z or s in final position (See Jochnowitz 1978, 66; Pansier 1927, Vol. 3, 181; Saboly 1824, 84-85). Forms such as asar for the month of Adar and talmus, apparently for 'Talmud', have been reported. Encyclopedia Judaica, however, in its list of pronunciations for letters of the Hebrew alphabet in the article "Hebrew Grammar," shows no z or s for daled, since it does not list the Jewish community of Provence (Vol. 8, pp. 85-86). When Jews were expelled from southern France in 1498 (the order was not completely carried out until 1501), could they have brought the pronunciations yus and lames with them to Germany?

The existence of a separate system of words for numbers reflects the fact that the cattle dealers are speaking a trade language. They wanted to have a private way of discussing price among themselves. Nevertheless, L reports that in Germany, the non-Jewish cattle dealers understood the language quite well. In fact, Guggenheim-Grünberg reports the existence of a book published in 1764 (von Reizenstein) that "offers the reader a large vocabulary and several dialogues on matters of horse trade, accompanied by German translations. The pronunciation of Yiddish in this book is that of the Jews of central Germany--a western Yiddish dialect, too, but different from Swiss Yiddish" (49).\

In addition to price, there needed to be words for the products. Although horses are not used as farm animals in Orange County, L reported sus for 'horse'. R, who grew up in the United States, knew only gaul and fert. Both, to be sure, reported bo:re (Heb. parah) for 'cow'. Both had a word for 'pregnant cow', pronounced padesh by R and badesh by L, who added that one could say "five months badesh". Guggenheim-Grünberg gives the etymology as Heb. pe-tet-resh, perhaps 'first-born' plus Ger. -isch (56).

'A good cow', according to R, is tof bo:re. There is no agreement for gender, and the adjective precedes the noun, as in German. A bad or a sick cow, according to L, is kholne. Both informants defined khoule as 'sick'. me:genen, according to L, meant 'cough' when used for a cow. An animal that had died, according to L, had gepeyert. R, on the other hand, defined beyern simply as 'die'. Similar verbs are found in standard Yiddish (peygern) and Judeo-Italian (pegare).

Other words had nothing to do with dealing in cattle at all, but had an emotional or comic connotation that could be expressed effectively. Jewish languages generally have words of Hebrew origin for 'fear'. R used eyme and mo:re; L just volunteered mo:re. Both offered dayes for 'worries'. L changed the vowel in moy do:ye, 'not my worry'. L used broukhes to mean both 'angry' and 'anger'. R said rökhes for 'anti-Semitism' and L and R said ro:she for 'anti-Semite'. L used rishes for 'anti-Semitism'.

Both informants agreed that a conceited person had geyes. L pointed out the homophony of dales meaning 'prayer shawl', poverty, and 'dollars' when said with a German accent. Thus, a man with dales had no dales, although he might wear a dales.

L used fi:vere meaning 'let's go'. Guggenheim-Grünberg cites fi:efrekhhoulekhe 'to flee', and notes its similarity to standard Yiddish makhn vayivrakh(59). R volunteered low lonu with the meaning of "we won't make this sale'. L produced low lonu shteyt in Hallel meaning 'there is nothing at all'. A friend of mine who grew up in Flensburg and whose family was so assimilated that he didn't know there was a Jewish New Year until he got married, told me he had heard law lone from other German Jews.

Some words of Romance origin have religious implications. layenen means 'read from the Torah' (leyenen is also possible, according to L). R produced o:rn meaning 'to pray', but L knew only awsgeort, 'finished praying'. Otherwise, L said davenen. The religious and comic meet in the saying L told me: "Anybody who doesn't oumer every night doesn't get cheesecake on Shavuos."

What does all this mean? Can we say there is a cattle-dealer language in Orange County if I was not able to interview more than two informants? Max Weinreich would have agreed that there is. Any form of any language used by Jews with any degree of consistency is a Jewish language. Speaking of Judeo-Greek, which he called "Yavanic," he referred to it as follows:
A fusion language, the stock of which was mostly Greek, but in which the "mistakes" vis-a-vis standard Greek are not individual, but characteristic of Jews. In other words, the deviations are systematized, and it is therefore necessary to speak of a separate language of the Jews, however similar to Greek. (1980: 62)
Certainly we can agree that any form of speech is worthy of description, of historical analysis, and of comparison with other varieties. However, can we agree that there is a language if no one uses it unless a visiting linguist comes by? Is it enough to say that if an occasional word, pronunciation or intonation survives, the language has survived? Then what are we to say when these words are borrowed by speakers of surrounding languages? A friend of mine from China had used the following expressions: "Every Monday and Thursday"; "Enough already"; "Hurry shoyn"; "Should we eat after the exhibition or will you khalish?" The last example was addressed to an Italian-American friend, who understood it. What language is he speaking? Can we say he has learned Judeo-English? Is there a Judeo-English? Can we say that when a language has spread outside of the Jewish community that originally used it, it is no longer entirely a Jewish language? Perhaps we need a term to describe a dialect that is nobody's primary language and whose boundaries cannot be defined.

Is cattle-dealer language a dialect of Western Yiddish? Max Weinreich is reputed to have defined a language as a dialect with an army and navy. His definition doesn't help when none of the varieties is spoken by people with firearms. Should Western Yiddish be considered Yiddish because of its historical and geographical connections with Eastern Yiddish, or should we take the word of its speakers? My two informants did not consider their language Yiddish, although they did consider it Jewish.

Is the language alive? According to Hutterer (1969) "In western and central Europe the WY dialects must have died out within a short time during the period of reforms following the Enlightenment" (4). Yet one of my informants, R, grew up in the United States. He described his first language, the language of his parents, as German, but now he is most at home in English. Neither informant, I must point out, expressed any trace of embarrassment or discomfort about using Jewish words or a Jewish way of speaking.

Judeo-Italian has been described as moribund or dead for the last century or so. Yet there is a theater group in Rome that not only performs plays in Giudaico-romanesco but writes new ones. Jana DeBenedetti (1997) has written a dissertation on this group and on the survival of the Jewish language of Rome. There are no simple answers. There is variation and fuzzy boundaries. Nancy Dorian (1981) has written, "It is not certain how widespread a phenomenon the semi-speaker is in language death settings. . . . But it is evident in a number of reports on dying language communities that a semi-speaker group does exist" (115).

Dorian takes it for granted that the Scottish Gaelic dialects she has studied are dying. Languages do indeed die. Judeo-Provencal died with its last speaker, Armand Lunel, in 1977. On the other hand, languages in general, and Jewish languages in particular, occasionally show that reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.

DeBenedetti, Jana L. 1997. Dabbera in Scionaccodesce (Speak Giudaico-Romancesco): Keeping the Jewish-Roman Dialect Alive. Dissertation. State University of New York at Albany.

Dorian, Nancy C. 1981. Language Death: The Life Cycle of a Scottish Gaelic Dialect. Philadelphia:U. of Pennsylvania Press.

Guggenheim-Grünberg, Florence. 1954. "Horse Dealers' Language of the Swiss Jews in Endingen and Lengnau." The Field of Yiddish. Uriel Weinreich, ed. New York: Publications of the Linguistic Circle of New York (now the International Linguistic Association).

Hutterer, C.J. 1969. "Theoretical and Practical Problems of Western Yiddish Dialectology." The Field of Yiddish, Third Collection. Marvin I. Herzog, Wita Ravid, and Uriel Weinreich, eds. The Hague: Mouton.

Jochnowitz, George. 1978. "Shuadit: la langue juive de Provence." Archives juives 14, 63-67.

Saboly, N. 1824 (nouvelle edition). Noues Juzioou (Noels juifs). Avignon.

von Reizenstein, Wolf E. 1764. Der vollkommene Pferd-Kenner. Uffenheim, Germany.

Weinreich, Max. 1980. History of the Yiddish Language. Tr. of Geshikhte fun der Yidishe Shprakh (New York: YIVO Institute 1973). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I have used the YIVO system of Romanization, with the addition of : to indicate length. I am grateful to Marvin I. Herzog and to Steven Lowenstein for their help and advice.

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

Copyright ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article was originally published in  in Les Cahiers du CREDYO No. 5 (2010), published by the Centre de Recherche, d'Etudes et de Documentation du Yidich Occidental. This article can also be found on George Jochnowitz. It is published here with the permission of the author.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Discriminating Mind

Human Psychology

There is such a thing as having a discriminating palate; no one would find this objectionable or question whether the individual in question was immoral in some way. Yet, the word itself (discrimination) has, to a large degree, become narrowed to a negative meaning. While negative discrimination against a person or a class of persons is deplorable, Gad Saad looks at how the act of discrimination in itself has positive human adaptive benefits: “People’s understandable desire to not appear as though they discriminate (against others) has yielded some rather shoddy and irrational thinking in contexts where the ability to discriminate between sets of stimuli makes perfect adaptive sense. I’ll begin by offering three examples of discrimination, each of which is a manifestation of the adaptive nature of our perceptual and cognitive systems”:

by Gad Saad

Some words carry a positive or negative connotation depending on how they are used. Pride is one such example. A person could exhibit pride in their work, in which case this is a good attribute to possess. On the other hand, in some moral precepts pride is considered the most egregious of all seven deadly sins. This brings me to today’s topic, namely the various possible meanings of the verb “to discriminate.” The negative connotation of this word, namely to discriminate against a protected class of people, has utterly usurped all of its other possible meanings. People’s understandable desire to not appear as though they discriminate (against others) has yielded some rather shoddy and irrational thinking in contexts where the ability to discriminate between sets of stimuli makes perfect adaptive sense. I’ll begin by offering three examples of discrimination, each of which is a manifestation of the adaptive nature of our perceptual and cognitive systems:

1) The notion of discrimination is central to the field of psychophysics. For example, what is the amount that one needs to reduce the differential volume of two sounds so that you are able to discriminate between them (known as the differential threshold)? What are the mechanisms that permit organisms including humans to engage in say olfactory discrimination or color discrimination? Needless to say, sensorial discrimination is a central feature of our evolved perceptual and cognitive systems.

2) In my doctoral dissertation (Cornell University, 1994), I proposed the Discrimination Framework, as a means of studying the stopping strategies that people use in deciding when to stop searching for additional information and commit to a choice. Discrimination in this case refers to the cognitive process that allows people to collect sufficient information in favor of one of the two competing alternatives such that it allows them to discriminate between the two options (in terms of which one is the clear winner). The cognitive process of discrimination in my doctoral dissertation is not unlike that found in signal detection theory, a form of stimulus discrimination in psychophysics.

3) Keeping track of statistical regularities in our environment permits us to discriminate between the probabilistic likelihood of events. For example, all other things equal, would you be more afraid of four young men walking down an alley or four elderly men? If you were to state that the young men strike you as more dangerous, does this imply that you are “discriminating” against the youth? Or better yet, does it perhaps mean that you are “discriminating” against the elderly in thinking that they are less capable of being violent? Should you instead answer one of the following two usual canards: a) “I know a young man who is very nice. So it is ‘discriminatory’ to assume that the four young men are more dangerous only because they are young.” Or, b) “Most young men are not violent. Hence, it is ‘discriminatory’ to judge these four young men when most men of their age group are peaceful.” I suspect that even the most politically correct individuals when walking down a dark alley will use greater precaution when confronted with the sight of four young men walking toward them. Their ability to discriminate between statistical realities is not “discriminatory” against the youth (or the elderly). Their caution is perfectly adaptive.

When people refrain from discriminating (in the positive sense of the term), they end up with astonishingly faulty reasoning, which is at times suicidal. For example, in an earlier article, I discussed the adaptive benefits of profiling. On a family trip that we took two years ago, airport security agents should have been able to discriminate between the respective statistical likelihoods of my being a terrorist (adult male born in Lebanon) versus my then two-year old daughter. Since they did not wish to appear “discriminatory", she was randomly chosen for a more in-depth security screening. Incidentally, here is the FBI list of most wanted terrorists: Are you able to identify any statistical regularity in the list, or would it be “discriminatory” to do so? Political correctness and the desperate quest to avoid any semblance of appearing “discriminatory” resulted in the following baffling exchange between Congressman Lamar Smith and Attorney-General Eric Holder.

It would seem that Mr. Holder is unable or perhaps unwilling to discriminate between reality and politically correct fiction. In another of my earlier articles, I discussed the case of a young female teacher who had a sexual relationship with one of her male under-aged students (see here). The legal system did not wish to appear “discriminatory” against men, and as such she was treated much more harshly than was otherwise warranted. Statistically speaking, men comprise the overwhelming majority of pedophilic sexual predators, and as such this universal statistical regularity should have better informed how the law treated this otherwise despicable teacher. 

Finally, in another one of my earlier posts (see here; see also chapter 1 of my trade book The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature), I pointed to a common cognitive error that people commit in mixing up facts that are true at the population-level with supposed “violations” at the individual-level. For example, it is a biological fact that men are taller than women even though WNBA (female) players are taller than most men on earth. This fact, which is unequivocally veridical at the population-level, does not constitute a “discriminatory” statement because one is able to identify woman X who is taller than man Y.

Bottom line: The usurping of the verb “to discriminate” into its strictly negative connotation has yielded cognitive biases that at best result in poor choices and at worst are suicidal in their blissful ignorance of statistical truths.


Please consider following me on Twitter (@GadSaad).

Dr. Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing, holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption, and advisory fellow at the Center for Inquiry. He has published 65+ scientific articles in numerous disciplines including in marketing, consumer behavior, advertising, medicine, economics, and bibliometrics. He has authored two books, The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007), and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature (Prometheus Books, 2011), as well as edited a third book, Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences (Springer, 2011). His Psychology Today blog, Homo Consumericus, has thus far garnered 2.3-million+ total views.
Copyright ©2013. Gad Saad. All Rights Reserved. This post was originally published in Psychology Today on August 11, 2013. It is republished here with the author’s permission.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Human Spirit Remains Strong In The Philippines

An article, by Ker Than, in National Geographic shows that the human spirit is alive and well in the Philippines in a photo essay documenting the destruction and the beginning of the rebuilding phase of the island nation by NatGeo's photojournalist in Asia.

Than writes:
Photojournalist David Guttenfelder was on assignment in North Korea when he first learned about the catastrophic damage that Super Typhoon Haiyan had inflicted on the Philippines.
Guttenfelder, who is the chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press news agency and a frequent National Geographic contributor, read about it on Twitter while traveling in a car from the capital city of Pyongyang to the far northeast corner of the country, near the Russian border.
"There's 3G service in North Korea now, weirdly ... [and] I started to read about the scale of the destruction," Guttenfelder said. "I saw a picture someone had tweeted of the typhoon taken from space, which was really amazing."
But it wasn't until he saw another tweet, about the death toll from the typhoon, estimated to be in the thousands, that Guttenfelder knew he needed to see the devastation firsthand. "My job was to cover major events in Asia, so I knew I had to go," Guttenfelder said.
Shortly after, Guttenfelder was on a flight from Pyongyang to China, then to Japan, then to the capital city of the Philippines, Manila. From there, he hitched a ride with a military aid aircraft to Tacloban, the city hardest hit by the typhoon.
Nature has the capacity to quickly destroy what man has taken years to build; the people of the Philippines will now begin the long process of rebuilding what was destroyed; it will take billions of dollars. There were too many lives lost, too much damage to property, and yet the indomitable human spirit will prevail, with the help of other nations like Canada, the U.S., Australia and Israel, who always seem on the front lines of humanitarian aid. The silence from many wealthy nations is telling, but then again these nations are always silent on important universal human matters.

You can read the rest of the article and see the photos at [NatGeo].

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Kirov Ballet: Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

The Kirov Ballet performs Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, where Yulia Makhalina dances the part of Odette/Odile and Igor Zelensky the part of Prince Siegfried. Viktor Fedotov conducts the Kirov Theatre Orchestrea at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg in this 1990 production. The choreography is by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, and the dancers perform to the familiar happy ending of Konstantin Sergeyev's 1950 version in this production by Oleg Vinogradov. This is among the best performances of Swan Like you will encounter.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky worked on the composition in 1875-76, completing it in April 1876. Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres in Moscow, had commissioned the music, offering Tchaikovsky a modest fee of 800 rubles. It made its premiere, with the Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia, on March 4, 1877, originally billed as The Lake of the Swans. A synopsis of the four-act ballet can be found here.

Swan Lake, a perennial favourite, is essentially a story of love and redemption. But it was not initially well-received. In "The History of Swan Lake," for, Aaron Greene writes:
Like The NutcrackerSwan Lake was unsuccessful after its first year of performance. Conductors, dancers and audiences alike thought Tchaikovsky's music was too complicated and hard to dance to. The production’s original choreography by German ballet master, Julius Reisinger, was uninspiring and unoriginal. Much is unknown about the original production of Swan Lake – no notes, techniques or instruction concerning the ballet was written down. Only little can be found in letters and memos. It wasn’t until after Tchaikovsky’s death that Swan Lake was revived. Much of the Swan Lake we know of today was a revision by the famous choreographers Petipa and Ivanov.
Tchaikovsky died on November 6, 1893, leaving many versions of the ballet. Within two years after his death, however, most ballet companies came to accept the version, both choreographically and musically of the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This was first performed for the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on January 15, 1895. For this revival, Riccardo Drigo, chief conductor and composer of the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, also revised Tchaikovsky's score. This continues today, notably with the choreography, with various companies making  modifications to the production, often in keeping with modern sensibilities and regional tastes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

An Israeli Managing In China

Chinese-Israeli Relations

Chen Lichtenstein: "When people start working together, they need to choose one way of doing things and take decisions about how to address challenges. But most importantly, they need to do so in a fair and transparent way."
Credit: China Daily USA
SourceChina Daily USA

An article ("Israeli manager sows the seeds of success"), by Wang Zhuoqiong, in China Daily USA shows how well China and Israel can work together, citing the example of an Israeli executive, Chen Lichtenstein, who is now managing one of China's largest state-owned companies, an agribusiness.

Wang Zhuoqiong writes:
That is why Lichtenstein, president and chief executive officer of China National Agrochmical Corp (CNAC), a strategic business division of ChemChina, also known as China National Chemical Corp, seems perfectly comfortable in the almost entirely Chinese environment within which he operates. In 2011, CNAC completed a merger transaction with MAI, Israeli-headquartered Makhteshim Agan Industries, the world's seventh largest crop-chemicals company, through which CNAC became MAI's controlling shareholder.
The Stanford University doctoral degree holder of both the Graduate School of Business and the School of Law, said he is inspired by his new mission, which includes the study of CNAC's Chinese subsidiaries, making investment decisions and building up research and development, distribution and manufacturing foundations. Lichtenstein admitted that 10 or even five years ago, if one were to predict his present position, he would not believe it. Yet now, as his thinking has evolved and his level of understanding and trust increased, alongside the support received from CNAC management and colleagues alike, he said the ability to execute jobs and the vision of what needs to be done motivates him enormously.
"What I am doing is learning, doing one-on-one interviews and interacting a lot with management and other colleagues, which helps me see and understand the SOE (State-owned-enterprise) and better connect with my team," he said. His understated confidence comes from the orderly integration process that CNAC and MAI ran in the past 18 months - a process that emerged from study to design and execution. During this period, which resulted in his recent appointment, Lichtenstein led the integration on behalf of MAI, being MAI's deputy CEO. He realized the surprising similarity between the people of China and Israel.
He said one of the similarities between China and the Israeli people is the long tradition and heritage based on thinking, wisdom and, to an extent, a peaceful way of achieving progress through communication, dialogue and the facilitation of agreement. Respecting individuals and family values serves as another connection between Chinese and Jewish cultures, he said. A third common point, which builds upon the others, is thoughtful leadership.
"I do not feel I am representing a culture that is conflicting with the Chinese culture when operating in China," he said. "The Jewish people have almost always been a minority, and found ways to work with other cultures."
This is a point that cannot be overemphasized, and gives essential meaning to the idea of strategic thinking. Often, when a western business enters a foreign market it tries to bring its ideas and ways of operating to the domestic nation. With a large, both geographically and demographically, nation like China this strategy will never be successful. It is both important to find a common denominator, usually in the ways of values, and then take the best from both nations' history.

The fact that both China and Israel value education, reflective thinking, hard work and action makes this relationship more than a business one. I am not surprised by Chen Lichtenstein's success in China and expect many more such alliances between the two nations in the future.

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

A Retrospective: John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address

John F. Kennedy‘s Inaugural Address as president of the United States took place on January 20th, 1961, which he gave immediately after taking the presidential oath of office from Chief Justice Earl Warren. (The second part of the speech can be viewed here.)

Here are some particulars of the speech, Wikipedia informs us:
Kennedy took the oath of office at at 12:51 (ET) Friday, 20 January 1961,[1][6] and gave the speech afterwards.[2]. The address is 1364 words and took 13 minutes and 42 seconds to deliver, from the first word to the last word, not including applause at the end, making it the fourth-shortest inaugural address ever delivered. The speech was also the first inaugural address delivered to a televised audience in color.[7] It is widely considered to be among the best presidential inauguration speeches in American history.[8]
With good reason; it was a hopeful speech from a young, charismatic president who understood the then-new medium of TV. No one knows what  President Kennedy would have accomplished had he not been assassinated 50 years ago, on Friday November 22, 1963, and completed his full term. I was only six when that tragic event took place, and yet understood from looking at the faces of my parents and other adults that this was indeed a horrible nation-altering event. That weekend. my parents and I were glued in front of our black-and-white TV watching preparations for the state funeral, which took place on Monday the 25th, which we also watched. Our household was saddened by the loss of a president and what he represented.

JFK might have been elected for another four years, and changed the course of history. We can only speculate, which is within the realm of political pundits and commentators. Those who liked him said he was great; and those who did not said he was horrible. This was expected then, and even more so today in an America that is highly polarized and cynical.

JFK's inaugural speech represents everything good and positive about America and its history and its people. That is why, as a Canadian who has always respected and appreciated the U.S., I look at it as a hopeful and great speech. Some will agree with me; others will not. Such is the beauty of democracy and what made America the great nation it became. Perhaps one day soon, I will recognize that America.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

An Early Morning Awakening

This morning, at around 3:30, I awoke with a feeling of nausea, something I haven't had since my chemo treatments. I attributed it to eating too much stuffed cabbages (i.e., holishkes). After walking to the bathroom, I smelt smoke in our apartment, although saw no fire. I awoke my wife, who awoke our two boys. We immediately called 911 for the fire department. We opened the door to the balcony to let in some fresh air, and then went downstairs to the lobby of our building, bundling our sleepy five-year-old in a blanket.

The firefighters were already in the building, arriving within minutes of our call; the police also came a few minutes later. In all, about two dozen firefighters walked up and down our building trying to locate the source of the smoky smell, which they attributed to either a "burning pot on the stove or some paper."

After about 45 minutes of searching, they had no luck in finding the source. We returned to our apartment at about 4:30 am, and there remains a faint smoke smell: I would have been happier if they had found the source. The youngest and my wife went back to sleep; the oldest couldn't and is now watching TV. And I writing.

We thank the Toronto firefighters for their professionalism. I am still a little shaken, recalling memories of a fire that destroyed our residence when I was 12. But we are all well, although tired.

The Oldest Big Cat Fossils Found

The Fossil Record

Big Cat: The Panthera blytheae resembles a modern snow leopard shown here.
Credit: Mauricio Anton 
Source: Nature

An article, by Sid Perkins, in Nature News says that big cats that are in some ways similar to today's snow leopards have been moving around the Himalayas in Asia for six million years; so shows  the fossil evidence.

Perkins writes:
The remains of Panthera blytheae extend the known lineage of pantherine cats by at least 2 million years and bolster the notion that this group of carnivores originated in Asia. 
Researchers unearthed bones representing at least three individuals in southwestern Tibet. The most complete remnants include a partial adult skull with several teeth still embedded in the upper jaw, says Jack Tseng, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Those fragments were excavated from rocks about 4.42 million years old, but other fossils belonging to the same species came from nearby strata that were laid down about 5.95 million years ago, he and his colleagues report today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1.
“These are beautiful fossils of great significance,” says Zhe-Xi Luo, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois who was not involved in the study. “They add an evolutionary root to the pantherine family tree.”
Many features of the P. blytheae’s teeth are similar to those of the snow leopard, but some ridges and cusps are distinct, indicating that the fossils represent a new species. Judging from the size of the partial skull, the big cat was about the same size as the clouded leopard and about 10% smaller than the snow leopard, both of which live in the Himalayas today. A comparison of dozens of anatomical features for 12 living and extinct species of felines indicates that the snow leopard is P. blytheae’s “sister species”, says Tseng. Today’s tiger is also a very close relative, he adds.
This is interesting for two reasons, say the paleontologists: the first is that their original expectation was that the P. blytheae would show less development, or evolution, than current species of big cats like the snow leopard; and the second is that the fossil record is incomplete, missing intermediate forms, which go back to the progenitor. We’d need quite a lot of intermediate fossils to know how the lineage developed.” says Lars Werdelin, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. 

These pieces form the larger puzzle of how a species developed over a period of millions of years. Without them, scientists have to rely on educated guesses and the current fossil record on how a species came about. So far, the results have been astonishingly good and accurate, if not fascinating.

For the rest of the article, go to [Nature].

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Disaster Is On The Way

Science & Predictions

An article, by Nathaniel Rich, in The New Yorker says that advances in science have made it easier to predict disasters, such as the recent typhoon in the Philippines. Predictions, however accurate, are not the same as preparation, which are necessary to avoid the greatest possible damage to humans, animals and property.

Rich writes:
Nevertheless, our knowledge of how disasters occur, and how they will occur in the future, has never been more sophisticated. We are now able to prophesy impending cataclysms with a specificity that would have been inconceivable just several years ago. Several factors have contributed to this progress: a growing public anxiety about disasters; advances in disciplines as disparate as computer science, fluid mechanics, and neuroscience; and an infusion of funding from governments, universities, and especially corporations, which have figured out that disaster planning saves money in the long run. But the field remains in its infancy. Disaster prediction—like disaster science, disaster economics, disaster-response technology, disaster art, disaster cinema, disaster lit—is a growth industry. All indications suggest a growth curve that will continue to steepen well into the next century. Disaster is big business, and its prophets will profit.

Milestones in the past year include the March publication, by a team of U.C.L.A. scientists, of a new computer model that predicts where the next global pandemic will originate. The model gives the most favorable odds to Egypt’s Nile Delta and several areas in coastal and central China. One of these places is the most likely site for a particularly virulent strain of bird flu to jump species to human beings, creating a globetrotting virus that would kill more than six million Americans, according to a 2009 Department of Defense report that was declassified in September. In June, at a conference in Brisbane, an emergency-management specialist explained that Geographic Information Systems technology—which collects exhaustive data on land elevation, the condition of roads and buildings, water levels, population density, and meteorology—will help governments prepare for a flood years before it occurs. The technology will be used to determine when a flood is likely to happen, whether your house will be submerged, and whether you will survive if you don’t evacuate.
Such sophisticated modeling, using data and mathematical algorithms, seems useful in giving out warnings to residents of an upcoming weather event, like a hurricane, a flood or a typhoon. Human nature, being what it is, however, often ignores such warnings; all it would take is one error in the model, one wrong prediction, and all future predictions will be ignored by many people. The larger problem is that many people now reside in areas that such predictive models say will eventually be the target of some natural disaster. Such is human nature, which differs from the forces of nature in so many ways.

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