Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Healthy Eating Reduces Risk Of Depression

Mental Health

“Worries go down better with soup than without.”
Jewish Proverb

Healthy EatingJames McIntosh writes: “The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets.”
Photo Credit & Source: Medical News Today

An article, by James McIntosh, in Medical News Today says that individuals who make healthy eating choices associated with the Mediterranean diet have less risk of being diagnosed with depression.  While this diet has been studied on its ability to reduce the risks of coronary diseases and cancer, this is among the few studies that looks at the collaboration between diet and mental health and well-being.

Mental illness is a serious and debilitating illness and is quite common, says Medical News Today in another recent article on this subject: “In the UK, Canada, the USA and much of the developed world, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability among people aged 15 to 44.” For example, in the United States, about 57.7 million Americans suffer from some mental disorder in a given year, equating to more than one-quarter of the nation’s adults. Thus, if any proactive measure can reduce the possibility, if not the probability, of mental illness, it ought to be considered seriously.

In “Adhering to a healthy diet could reduce risk of depression” (September 17, 2015), McIntosh writes:
The study, published in BMC Medicine, found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern or Alternative Eating Index-2010 appeared to play a protective role against the illness.
"We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds," explains lead researcher Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain. "These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health."
While much research has been carried out assessing the role of diet in the prevention of noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, far less attention has been paid to the influence of diet on the development of mental disorders.
For the study, the researchers chose to compare three dietary patterns that had previously been found to have inverse associations with mortality from different diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
What we consume is important, and all the more so if we acknowledge that each of us has been born with a particular set of genes that can affect our health, in both good and bad ways. While we can’t control or change our initial genetic make-up, we can have some control on how our over-all health. (There have been studies, including one recently, which show that our environment can affect our genes in beneficial ways.)

In short, we can help ourselves, which includes not only our physical bodies but also our minds—the seat of our mental, emotional and intellectual life—by consuming the foods from which we benefit, “The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression,” concludes Sánchez-Villegas.

There is a caveat here. Healthy eating does not take place in a vacuum; it is part of a wide and comprehensive world-view that affects personal well-being and satisfaction. It is important to note that persons who are depressed rarely eat well, which leads to a further erosion of health and well-being. Persons who suffer depression also tend to self-isolate and not engage in other healthy activities like physical exercise, including walking and general engagement with the world. Depression often leads to a downward spiral of unhealthiness.

Healthy eating, it must be said, takes a desire to make healthy choices and an ability to carry out such desires. When individuals have purpose and meaning in their lives, such choices are easier to implement. It is also easier if such persons view themselves as part of a family or community, which confers a high level of meaning and purpose. The ritual of communal eating, common to many religious and cultural practices, can be a great benefit to promoting good mental health. That is, it is better to not eat alone. I would add that food tastes better in the company of others.

For more, go to [MedNewsToday

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Viktor Ullmann: The Emperor Of Atlantis (2005)

This is a video clip from Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film, which was broadcast on BBC2 TV, January 22, 2005, as part of Holocaust Memorial events. The soloists are as follows: Iwona Hossa, Tove Dahlberg, Edgaras Montvidas and Gerard Finley.

Viktor Ullmann (b, Jan. 1, 1898), Silesia-born Austrian composer, conductor and pianist of Jewish ancestry (his parents had converted to Catholicism before his birth), worked on an opera while a prisoner at Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. Viktor was deported there with his wife Elisabeth on September 8, 1942. (The Nazis did not allow the opera to be performed, but it was fittingly performed there in 1995.)

On October 16, 1944, Viktor Ullmann was deported to the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and on on October 18, 1944, he was killed in the gas chambers; he was 46. Elisabeth Ullmann (b. September 27, 1900; née Frank) died at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, precise date unknown; she was 44 or 45.

This one-act opera was first performed by the Netherlands Opera, conducted by Kerry Woodward, at the Bellevue Centre, Amsterdam, on December 16, 1975.

In “The Emperor of Atlantis,” John Mangum, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator, writes about the opera’s overarching theme:
Ullmann started with a libretto by the poet and painter Petr Kien, an allegory on the Nazis' disregard for human life. Death and Harlequin (who represents life) both no longer fulfill any function in the Empire of Atlantis, where Emperor Overall (an allegory for Hitler) values neither. As a result, the living have ceased to live and the dying have ceased to die. The Emperor tries to put a positive spin on things, declaring that his soldiers are now invincible, but in reality his armies lie wounded and bleeding, in an agony that Death cannot end. Death offers the Emperor a bargain: He will resume his work if the Emperor will be his first victim. The Emperor agrees, and the work ends with a reminder: "Thou shalt not take Death's great name in vain."
You can read more about the life and work of Viktor Ullmann here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Primo Levi: Living The Heroic Life

On Living

Primo Levi, Around 1950. As a young man, post-Holocaust. Kirsch writes of Levi’s training as a chemist: “This habit of paying attention to reality, and trying to master it, Levi attributes in large part to the fact that he had a scientific education rather than a literary one.”
Photo Credit: Mondadori Publishers; Wikipedia
Source: Tablet

An article, by Adam Kirsch, in Tablet discusses the writing of Primo Levi, the Italian-Jewish humanitarian, who is noted as the premier personal historian of the Holocaust, a man who was able to recount acts of survival when Europe was in the grips of fascist madness.

In particular, Kirsch raises the issue of Levi’s suicide of almost three decades ago, which seems so out of character of a man who worked so hard to make a life after the war, who articulated humanity against the backdrop of inhumanity, and who asked the essential human question of “why?” Yes, the definition of human nature continues to haunt us, and as always these questions become more pronounced, more urgent against the backdrop of current events. (e.g., the response in Europe to the “migrant crisis” and the cries of “Christian Europe” are not at all reassuring, particularly given Christianity’s influence on and complicity in the Holocaust. A more nuanced and thoughtful response would be preferable.)

As would the viewing of people as humans, and not as an excuse for a security crisis. A crisis of conscience, perhaps. Levi was an inspiration to the many of us who saw in him the human and poetic spirit that can overcome evil, that good can and does eventually win. That life is more than survival; it is life lived. Part of this living is understanding all of humanity’s many dimensions; and, in writing about the Holocaust, in bearing witness to it, in revisiting its inhumanity, Levi paid a high personal cost. We are thankful and grateful and are his beneficiaries.

In “Primo Levi’s Unlikely Suicide Haunts His Work (September 21, 2015), Kirsch writes:
When Primo Levi died in 1987 at age 67, after falling down the stairwell of his apartment building in Turin, Italy, his fellow writer and survivor Elie Wiesel delivered an epigrammatic coroner’s report: “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years later.” The long-delayed suicide of the Holocaust survivor is a story whose outlines we know too well. Jean Amery, who survived Gestapo torture and Auschwitz, took an overdose of sleeping pills in 1978; Paul Celan, who spent the war in a slave labor camp in Romania and saw his parents murdered, drowned himself in the Seine in 1970; Jerzy Kosiński, who survived in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Poland, asphyxiated himself in a bathtub in 1991. By jumping from a third-story landing, Levi seemed to be delivering the same message: he had borne the burden of an intolerable experience as long as he could, until his strength gave out and he had to let it drop.
But there was a crucial difference between Levi and these other writers of the Holocaust—a difference that shines out from every page of his Complete Works, now published for the first time in English in a beautiful three-volume edition edited by Ann Goldstein. Amery was the author of a book called On Suicide, and Celan was a poet of agonizing incommunicability, and Kosinski’s The Painted Bird was a surreal fantasia on themes of death and torture. But from his first book to his last, Primo Levi’s subject was not death but survival, not the triumph of evil but the defiance of evil. He was a man who lived through Auschwitz and emerged a humanist. This made him, for many readers—and especially many American Jews, who shared with this Italian Jew an assimilated and irreligious upbringing—one of the heroic spirits of the 20th century. Like George Orwell or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Primo Levi’s name stood for the survival of humane values in the face of overwhelming violence. This made his eventual suicide a particularly dark and dispiriting act, as though he were saying that even he could not find a way to live in a world where Auschwitz was possible.
Although this would make perfect sense, the last hours of Levi's life do not present itself as an expectation of Levi, or at least of Levi the writer with the mind of a scientist, the world has come to admire. I would like to believe, as many others do, including Diego Gambetta, that Levi’s death was an accident, that he fell from the third-floor landing of the same Turin apartment in which he was born 67 years earlier. That he had no intention to end his life, that he still had much to say and do. that he could somehow find a way to keep on living the heroic life found in the myths of Ulysses. That man is not a brute.

For more, go to [Tablet]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

SuperMoon Eclipse: Sept 27, 2015

Lunar Times

Total Lunar Eclipse: writes: “This diagram shows the moon at various stages of the total lunar eclipse on Sept. 27, 2015, with times shown for the Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) zone.”
Photo Credit & Source:
A rare celestial event, one that happened in 1982 and won’t happen again until 2033, will occur tonight—and will be evident in the western hemisphere—a supermoon eclipse. Not only will it be a full moon, but the moon will also be at its closest point in its orbit around Earth, since the orbit is not circular but elliptical. This is a supermoon, which happens once a year.

What makes this a particularly rare astronomical event is that this is taking place at the same time as another celestial event: a lunar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth will line up directly with the sun and moon, or to put it more scientifically, “the moon is moving into the shadow of the Earth.” The total result is that the moon will appear not only 14 percent larger and 33 percent brighter than a regular full moon, but also have a copper-red colour, hence the term “blood moon.” The south pole in particular will appear brighter.

In an article in (“Sunday’s ‘Supermoon’ Total Lunar Eclipse: When and Where to See It” (September 22, 2015), Joe Rao writes:
On the evening of Sept. 27, the moon will once again become immersed in the Earth's shadow, resulting in a total lunar eclipse — the fourth such event in the last 17 months,
As with all lunar eclipses, the region of visibility for Sunday's blood-moon lunar eclipse will encompass more than half of our planet. Nearly 1 billion people in the Western Hemisphere, nearly 1.5 billion throughout much of Europe and Africa and perhaps another 500 million in western Asia will be able to watch as the Harvest Full Moon becomes a shadow of its former self and morphs into a glowing coppery ball.

The lunar eclipse will also feature the "biggest" full moon (in apparent size) of 2015, since the moon will also be at perigee on the very same day ─ its closest point to the Earth ─ 221,753 miles (356,877 km) away. [Visibility Maps for the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse (Gallery)
The Sept. 27 event is therefore being called a "supermoon eclipse." The last such eclipse happened in 1982, and the next won't occur until 2033.
In this video, by you can learn more about the total eclipse of the Harvest Moon from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Totality begins here in the east at 10:11 p.m. and ends at 11;23 p.m. (EDT). If you can’t see it in the sky, you can watch it online here.

For more, go to []

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Scientists Build Tiny ‘Cloak Of Invisibility’


Reflected Light: The Berkley Lab writes: “A 3D illustration of a metasurface skin cloak made from an ultrathin layer of nanoantennas (gold blocks) covering an arbitrarily shaped object. Light reflects off the cloak as if it were reflecting off a flat mirror. ”
Photo Credit: UC Berkeley; Xiang Zhang Group
Source: UC Berkley

A press release, by Lynn Yarris, for Berkley Lab, and reported widely in the science media, says that researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkley, have taken the first steps in designing an invisibility cloak, which has been able to hide a tiny object measuring approximately 1,300 square microns in area.

The research project is led by Xiang Zhang, director of materials sciences at the Berkeley Lab and professor at UC Berkeley’s department of mechanical engineering. In “Making 3D Objects Disappear” (September 17, 2015), Yarris writes:
Working with brick-like blocks of gold nanoantennas, the Berkeley researchers fashioned a “skin cloak” barely 80 nanometers in thickness, that was wrapped around a three-dimensional object about the size of a few biological cells and arbitrarily shaped with multiple bumps and dents. The surface of the skin cloak was meta-engineered to reroute reflected light waves so that the object was rendered invisible to optical detection when the cloak is activated.
“This is the first time a 3D object of arbitrary shape has been cloaked from visible light,” said Xiang Zhang, director of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a world authority on metamaterials—artificial nanostructures engineered with electromagnetic properties not found in nature. “Our ultra-thin cloak now looks like a coat. It is easy to design and implement, and is potentially scalable for hiding macroscopic objects.”It is the scattering of light—be it visible, infrared, X-ray, etc.,—from its interaction with matter that enables us to detect and observe objects.
The rules that govern these interactions in natural materials can be circumvented in metamaterials whose optical properties arise from their physical structure rather than their chemical composition. For the past ten years, Zhang and his research group have been pushing the boundaries of how light interacts with metamaterials, managing to curve the path of light or bend it backwards, phenomena not seen in natural materials, and to render objects optically undetectable. In the past, their metamaterial-based optical carpet cloaks were bulky and hard to scale-up, and entailed a phase difference between the cloaked region and the surrounding background that made the cloak itself detectable—though what it concealed was not.
The cloaking technology comes with an on-off switch, which is what one would expect. After all, the idea behind cloaking is that it is only used temporarily, as needed, for a period of time. Such a cloak is part of science-fiction lore, including Star Trek and more recently a staple of the Harry Potter series. This cloak is microscopic in size, but it is believed that the principle under-girding it would make it work on the macroscopic level.

Equally important to note is that the research has focused on a discrete wavelength of 730 nanometers, which is close to wavelength of infrared light. For the cloak to have marketable commercial applications, it would have to work at much wider wavelengths of the visible spectrum (380 nm to 740 nm). That it can potentially be scalable to large objects and can be used for various wavelengths of the visible spectrum makes this technology useful for both industrial and military use.

But this will not happen soon; the next step is to see if a larger object can be cloaked or hidden using the same engineering principles that worked on the macroscopic level. A more comprehensive article  (“An ultrathin invisibility skin cloak for visible light”; September 18, 2015) can be found in the journal Science.

For more, go to [Berkley]

Friday, September 25, 2015

Erich Salomon’s Candid Camera

Photographing People

Erich Salomon: The NYRB writes of one of his most well-known photos: “French Prime Minister Aristide Briand pointing at the photographer, during the negotiations of the Seven-Power Conference, Paris, July 19, 1931.”
Photo Credit: Erich Salomon; Getty Images
Source: NYRB

An article, by Christopher Benfey, in The New York Review of Books gives a revealing portrait of Erich Salomon, the pioneer of concealed camera photography.

In “The Unguarded Moment” (September 9, 2015) Benfey writes about his father, who lived next door to the famous photographer, and whose families had ties beyond those of photographs and photography:
My father turns ninety this fall, on Halloween, and we will celebrate accordingly. The American Chemical Society, in a special symposium, will honor him in turn for his contributions to the history of organic chemistry, his work on science in early Japan and China, and his innovative spiral-shaped periodic table. Meanwhile, photographs of another birthday party, which my father attended when he was four years old, have recently been brought to our attention. They were taken in 1929, by the Berlin photographer and photojournalist Erich Salomon (1886-1944), at his home at number 11 Hölderlinstrasse, in Berlin. My father, according to his birth certificate, lived next door at number 10.
The photographs of my father, along with other children at the party—including Salomon’s younger son, Dirk, the shyly smiling birthday boy—were first shown in public two years later at yet another birthday celebration, Salomon’s forty-fifth, held at the posh Hotel Kaiserhof in 1931, when Salomon was at the height of his fame. There, before an audience of four hundred distinguished Berliners, Salomon presented a slideshow that began with his celebrated portraits of “famous contemporaries in unguarded moments” (Berühmte Zeitgenossen in unbewachten Augenblicken, the title of his 1931 book of photographs of world leaders, movie stars, and other celebrities), including shots of many people in the audience. The slideshow ended with images of children, one of whom is identified, in Salomon’s lecture notes, as “Teddy Benfey.”
Such in a nutshell explains the difference between biography, historical memoir and personal anecdotes. One has some personal connection attached to the story, the memory of it passed down from generation to generation. I, too, was interested in Erich Salomon the photographer, and have previously written a post a few years ago about him [“Erich Salomon: Discreet Photographer Of The Political Class”; June 22, 2012].

A thought to consider. What would Freud (a contemporary of Salomon) say then about such unguarded moments and what they reveal about the unconscious mind? about the idiosyncratic nature of the individuals who were the subjects of his photos. No doubt, much, since it is easy to interpret (too) much from a single photo or action; this does not necessarily mean that such an interpretation has any validity.

It would seem that Salomon’s photos, with their intended purpose to capture candor, do tell a particular story about an event anchored in time and a place. Although I have no personal connection to him or his family, Erich Salomon’s photographs convey a sense of intimacy—as one can expect with any work of art. This I can say with a high level of certainty and a high degree of candor.

For more, go to [NYRB]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Al Stewart: Time Passages (1978)

Al Stewart and band perform “Time Passages,” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, N.J., on November 12, 1978. It is on the 1978 album of the same name. I remember buying this album when it was released, spending many hours enjoying the long sax solo by Phil Kenzie. Stewart, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, spent his formative years in England, notably in  Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England

Time Passages
by Al Stewart & Peter White

It was late in December, the sky turned to snow
All round the day was going down slow
Night like a river beginning to flow
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Well I'm not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don't last
Well it's just now and then my line gets cast into these
Time passages
There’s something back here that you left behind
Oh time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Hear the echoes and feel yourself starting to turn
Don’t know why you should feel
That there's something to learn
It’s just a game that you play

Well the picture is changing
Now you’re part of a crowd
They're laughing at something
And the music's loud
A girl comes towards you
You once used to know
You reach out your hand
But you’re all alone, in these
Time passages
I know you're in there, you're just out of sight
Time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Alex Katz: This Is Now

Landscapes In Time

Alex Katz’s 10:30 am (2006) measures 144 inches x 192 inches (365.8 cm x 487.7 cm). In the painting above (oil on linen), viewers perceive there is something more beyond the canvas. We are thus invited in, perhaps, to view the greater forest which reside behind the trees that have such a dominating presence. How we view the natural world in the here and now—its immediacy—is one of the recurring themes of Alex Katz (b. 1927), an American figurative artist born in Brooklyn, New York (of Jewish-Russian ancestry). Katz, 88, is scheduled to have an exhibit at the Guggenheim-Bilbao called This is Now (October 23, 2015 – February 7, 2016).
The Guggenhein writes: “Landscape is one of the main themes in the work of Alex Katz, one of the most unique voices in American art. This exhibition shows the artist's approach to this subject over different phases in his career, and spans from the 1980s to his latest paintings of monumental landscape. These works reveal Katz’s mastery over materials as well as the power and clarity of his vision. Loaded with the elegiac poetry of immediacy, his paintings are intended to make us reflect on the convergence of perception and awareness, on the relationship between art and nature, and on the notion of the sublime of the moment.”
Photo Credit & Source: Alex Katz; Guggenheim-Bilbao

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The First Day Of Autumn (2015)

Changes Of Colour

These photos were taken a few days ago at the park near where we reside. Although it was not yet officially autumn, you can see a hint of it in these photos. You will see more noticeable and spectacular changes in the next few weeks, when the temperatures turn colder and the leaves become brighter, This is when I plan to post more photos of the changes in Nature’s colours, notably of the trees. Autumn officially begins in the northern hemisphere with the autumnal equinox today at 4:21 a.m. ET

All Photos: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Johnny Cash: Hurt (2002)

Johnny Cash performs Hurt.
Via: Youtube

Johnny Cash [1932–2003] performs “Hurt.” The song was written bTrent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, an American rock band, and is found on their album, The Downward Spiral (1994). It is the second track on the Cash CD, American IV: The Man Comes Around. Cash’s role as an elder statesman of American music give the song more meaning than if it were sung by someone much younger. Johnny Cash died on September 12, 2003; he was 71. His wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash, had died four months earlier.

The song voices regrets, of unfulfilled promises and of outright lies that define the human condition. As it does of pain, which for some is considered a necessary form of punishment for sins and a requirement for redemption. Does pain lead to redemption? Or is it unnecessary suffering? In medical terms, pain is a sign that something is not working right in our bodies. The Bible has a lot to say on this matter, which goes a long way to explain the song’s roots.

To see if I still feel/I focus on the pain

This is neither pleasant nor desirable, but guilt can act as a powerful force that whispers in our ears an admixture of truth and lies. Confusion becomes normative when we can’t tell the difference between the two, between truth and lies, and the result is more suffering and pain. Unnecessarily so, notably if it does not lead to any good. But for many pain is the only sensation they know and feel and understand. And so is hurt. This can all contribute to a downward spiral. This is not a pretty picture, but one of the ugly truths that art depicts.

Yet, change is always possible, if such is our genuine desire. Confessions of guilt can also offer healing, notably if there is a desire for repentance, or as Judaism says, teshuvah. Jews worldwide are now in the latter part of period known as the Ten Days of Repentance, beginning with Rosh HaShanah and ending with Yom Kippur—a time for reflection, introspection and positive change toward wholeness. This is never easy, but so it must begin. As it has often been said, all new beginnings are never easy.

I look at this song, despite its difficult subject, as a clarion call (a shofar’s blast, if you will) for change.

by Trent Reznor

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Yom Kippur (יוֹם כִּפּוּ, Judaism’s Day of Atonement) begins tonight after sunset, the tenth day of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar. The end of Yom Kippur concludes the Ten Days of Repentance and what is also known as the High Holy Days. Its central themes are atonement and repentance, and individuals traditionally fast on this day and attend services at a synagogue—even those who consider themselves in no way religious. It is customary to say, G’mar Chatima Tova (גמר חתימה טובה‎) and May you have an easy and meaningful fast. Yom Kippur ends tomorrow at nightfall during the concluding Ne'ilah service with a tekiah gedolah, a long shofar blast

Monday, September 21, 2015

Displaced Persons Camps, No. 3: A Personal Story


Last week, I wrote a post about persons displaced by war in the Middle East; this week I recount a bit of family history, my father's story, as I know and understand it.

A DP Camp Marriage: Yad Vashem writes: “Much attention was paid to weddings, and very often they were the main agenda in the social life of the camp. During the first year after liberation there were numerous weddings, not uncommonly six or more in a single day, even fifty in a week. During 1946 there were 1,070 weddings. But statistics, as impressive as they may appear, do not convey the atmosphere surrounding the weddings. To get married had many bright, as well as sad, aspects, reflecting the essence of being a survivor in a DP camp. First there was a question of halakah (Jewish law). Most couples decided to be married in a Jewish wedding ceremony. It was not just a question of being religious. Even for the secular, it meant forming a new link with the past, overcoming the disaster and continuing the family chain, being Jewish and keeping and manifesting the Jewish tradition.”
Photo Source: Yad Vashem

My father spent six years in a displaced persons camp; this is what my mother told me, although my father never talked about it. I do not remember the name of the camp or its geographical location, but I do know that such camps were the outcome of a devastating war that left tens of millions of persons displaced, no longer having a permanent place to call home.

The survivors of the Holocaust are called, in Hebrew, “She'erit Ha-Peletah” (The Surviving Remnant), a remnant being a part of something larger. Initially, when the Allies set up the camps, the Jews were placed with the Poles, Ukrainians and Baltsmany of whom were Nazi sympathizers, a mistake that was only rectified with the Harrison Report to President Truman (August 1945). The Jews were then placed in a separate DP camp; the report also led to improvements in the general conditions of the DP camps.

As is common when such large groups of people are put together, out of necessity, there were criminal elements inside the camp, and acting in accordance to their baser instincts and desires, without any compassion or moral inclinations, they acted like thugs. Such is the sorry state of human affairs. A few, a small minority, take advantage of the kindness and generosity of others and the obedience to law and moral codes of the majority.

Soon the Jews adapted to “life” inside the gates of the camp, and as the photo and the previous documentary shows, many marriages took place; children were born in DP camps, and life continued the best it could under less-than-ideal conditions. This included schools, the continuation of religious and cultural services and all manners of things associated with living, this being the antithesis of death. The camps had an emphasis on the continuity of life.

There is a bit of a mistake in the otherwise excellent documentary when it suggests that Jews had a choice of where they could emigrate; apart from Israel, the choice was left up to the governments. For example, my father had told me that he had applied to a number of nations, including Argentina, Australia and the United States before being accepted by Canada. He arrived here in 1951, first by ship in Halifax, then by train to Toronto and then to Montreal. It was there where he soon met and married my mother, an arranged marriage, in 1952. It was in Montreal that he made a life for himself for more than 28 years; and in doing so, he made a life for us.

He kept up a correspondence with those who moved elsewhere; I remember fondly the distinctive airmail envelopes that contained the thin blue paper (onion-skin); the letters were written in Yiddish in Hebrew script. What was more exciting was receiving visitors from abroad. On one occasion, a couple visited us from Australia (I think they lived in Melbourne) in 1967 for the Montreal world’s fair: I was about nine and excited to meet someone from the other side of the world.

Airmail envelope
Photo Credit & Source:
Although my father did all he could to forget the past and make better the present in an attempt to secure the future, the past did seep into our lives and sometimes became an intruder. Memories are important; but the question on my mind is how much should one remember the past horrors, possibly giving these more meaning and importance today than they deserve. When does knowledge and understanding of such events become an impediment to living happily today? Can memory be an unwelcome guest? Or is it necessary to make us more human?

Finding the right balance is tricky, and not easy. Perhaps I can take some instruction and comfort from my father, who spoke little about the past (at least with us) and spoke more about how to live in the here and know. He was a proud and grateful Canadian, and cherished the values of liberal democracy that defines Canada.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Prince’s Trust: All-Star Rock Concert (1986)

Here is some video footage from the 10th anniversary Prince’s Trust All-Star Rock Concert at Wembley Arena in London, England, on June 20, 1986. In attendance were Charles & Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Prince’s Trust, a philanthropic venture initiated in 1976, says on its site that it “supports 13 to 30 year olds who are unemployed and those struggling at school and at risk of exclusion.” In other words, it aims to give those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder a hand up, which is not the same as a hand out.

The Set List Of Songs

God Save The Queen, Wonderland (Big Country), Fields Of Fire (Big Country), Look Away (Big Country), Chance (Big Country), In A Big Country (Big Country), Tom’s Diner (Suzanne Vega), Cracking (Suzanne Vega), Small Blue Thing (Suzanne Vega), Marlene On The Wall (Suzanne Vega), Lesson In Love (Level 42), Leaving Me Now (Level 42), Something About You (Level 42), Hot Water (Level 42), Opening, Your Song (Elton John), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins)

Better Be Good To Me (Tina Turner), Tearing Us Apart (Eric Clapton & Tina Turner), Call Of The Wild (Midge Ure), Money For Nothing (Mark Knopfler), Every Time You Go Away (Paul Young), Reach Out (Joan Armatrading), No One Is To Blame (Howard Jones), Sailing (Rod Stewart), I’m Still Standing (Elton John), Every Time You Go Away (Paul Young & George Michael), I Saw Her Standing There (Paul McCartney), Long Tall Sally (Paul McCartney), Dancing In The Street (David Bowie & Mick Jagger), Get Back (Paul McCartney Plus Everyone).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Nuclear Energy Future Is No Future

It is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man.
Albert Einstein, “The Real Problem Is in the Hearts of Men,”
The New York Times Magazine, June 23, 1946

Cerenkov Radiation: The characteristic blue glow is common when nuclear fuel rods are placed in a pool of water, which is where spent fuel rods are initially placed for a period of about 10 years. This photo shows the eerie blue glow surrounding the underwater core of the Reed Research Reactor, Reed College, Oregon.  I have viewed this effect first-hand, decades ago, at one of the nuclear sites I visited.
Photo Credit: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission; 2007
Source: Wikipedia

An opinion piece, by David Biello, in Scientific American posits the importance of nuclear energy as a viable and safe fuel source for all of humanity. That it is possible or probable is not as important a consideration as whether nuclear energy in any form (fission or fusion) is the preferable choice. I think the answer is clear.

In “The World Really Could Go Nuclear” (September 14, 2015), Biello writes:
In just two decades Sweden went from burning oil for generating electricity to fissioning uranium. And if the world as a whole were to follow that example, all fossil fuel–fired power plants could be replaced with nuclear facilities in a little over 30 years. That's the conclusion of a new nuclear grand plan published May 13 inPLoS One. Such a switch would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nearly achieving much-ballyhooed global goals to combat climate change. Even swelling electricity demands, concentrated in developing nations, could be met. All that's missing is the wealth, will and wherewithal to build hundreds of fission-based reactors, largely due to concerns about safety and cost.
"If we are serious about tackling emissionsand climate change, no climate-neutral source should be ignored," argues Staffan Qvist, a physicist at Uppsala University, who led the effort to develop this nuclear plan. "The mantra 'nuclear can't be done quickly enough to tackle climate change' is one of the most pervasive in the debate today and mostly just taken as true, while the data prove the exact opposite."
The data Qvist and his co-author Barry Brook, an ecologist and computer modeler at the University of Tasmania, relied on comes from two countries in Europe: Sweden and France. The Swedes began research to build nuclear reactors in 1962 in a bid to wean the country off burning oil for power as well as to protect rivers from hydroelectric dams. By 1972, the first boiling water reactor at Oskarshamn began to host fission and churn out electricity. The cost was roughly $1,400 per kilowatt of electric capacity (in 2005 dollars), which is cheap compared to the $7,000 per kilowatt of electric capacity of two new advanced nuclear reactors being built in the U.S. right now. By 1986, with the addition of 11 more reactors, half of Sweden's electricity came from nuclear power and carbon dioxide emissions per Swede had dropped by 75 percent compared to the peak in 1970.
That carbon dioxide levels would drop is not surprising, but results from a scientific fact. Burning uranium, a fissionable material, does not produce greenhouse gases in the same way as fossil fuels. But as much as this nuclear solution would reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases—an idea to counter the effects of climate change—it would lead to much great problems for humans and our planet, perhaps insurmountable ones. I was surprised that the article did not mention the potential problems of a nuclear society,

There are many, so let’s start at the beginning with the front end of the process. Mining uranium does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Equally important, uranium mining itself poses a number of known health and environmental risks. For example, there are the uranium mines at Eliot Lake in northern Ontario, which operated from the 1950s to the 1990s. Although no longer operational, the deleterious effects of uranium mining are still continuing and doing harm to humans, animals and nature. I, for one, would never visit Eliot Lake.

Then there are the fail-safe systems. The safety and environmental concerns posed by human, system and computer errors are serious and cannot be easily ignored, let alone contained should an malfunction or error occur. There have been 33 recorded nuclear incidents since 1952, of which Fukushima in Japan (2011), Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986), and Three Mile Island in the United States (1979) are the most well-known, Even with the best fail-safe systems, mistakes happen.  You can be assured they will happen in the future; statistics will validate this point.

There is always the possibility of political actors, terrorists and other ill-intentioned entities turning low-grade uranium into weapons-grade material. This is what India did in 1974 when it detonated its first atomic test for what it deemed “peaceful purposes.” It was built using plutonium from a research reactor that Canada donated in 1956; plutonium can be extracted and refined from nuclear waste. Human civilization can’t always be confident that all parties and nations will act as India did. The best way to reduce such threats is to remove the temptation for evil. Building more nuclear power plants actually increases such threats.

Then there is the huge problem of the long-term storage of more than 250,000 tonnes of nuclear waste worldwide. In Canada the plan calls for storing 2.4 million spent fuel rods 680 metres (2,230 feet) below ground in sedimentary shale and limestone rock formations; these are called DGRs, or Deep Geologic Repositories. The cost: $24 billion to store 48,000-tonnes of nuclear waste . It is exactly what it sounds like: storing nuclear fuel waste fuel deep in the Canadian Shield.

I have heard about this idea for at least 30 years, and it might be another 30 before a government decides to go ahead with it, if such a decision is ever made at all. It will, undoubtedly, cost much more and not be as safe as its proponents say it is. Who can guarantee geological stability for hundreds of thousands of years? It is important to note that nuclear waste, one of which is Pu 239, has a half-life of 24,100 years, which means that it is harmful for 250,000 years. (Nearly all plutonium is man-made.)

Each of the facts is sufficient to make one wonder of the wisdom of using nuclear energy; when combined, it would seem foolish to even consider its viability. Nuclear energy is a less-than-ideal choice. I think that humanity can do better with renewable and alternative energy sources and finding ways to do more with less, which includes energy conservation. Even France, a nation that has for decades relied on nuclear plants to supply its energy requirements, has recently decided to reduce the percentage of power produced by nuclear plants and increase the percentage produced by renewable energy sources. It seems that not only France, but the world is now ready for renewables.

As it ought to be when faced with certain choices. In my case, my cautious choice follows a certain path, built with some first-hand knowledge and experience. When I was an engineering student, a mere youngster, I worked one summer at a nuclear research facility in Chalk River, Ontario (see “My Summer At A Nuclear Research Facility”). I was then, and for a few years afterward, a proponent of nuclear energy, an acolyte of the nuclear-power industry. What can I say? I did’t know any better.

My youthful enthusiasm, however, was soon replaced by varying experiences and knowledge that changed my view to the current one. I can say with utmost sincerity and rationality that a nuclear energy future is not a good one.

For more, go to [ScientAmer]

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Tears Of A Man

Human Emotions

Sorrowing Old Man (‘At Eternity's Gate’), by Vincent van Gogh, completed at Saint-Rémy de Provence, in 1890, two months before his death. This oil painting is based on an earlier lithograph, writes Wikipedia: “The lithograph was based on a pencil drawing Worn Out, one of a series of studies he made in 1882 of a pensioner and war veteran, Adrianus Jacobus Zuyderland, at a local almshouse in The Hague and itself a reworking of a drawing and watercolor he had made the previous year.”
Source: Wikipedia

An article, by Sandra Newman, in Aeon says that prior to the modern era, public displays of emotion were common among men. There are always exceptions, though, particularly among the artistic class, who are generally more attuned to the finer and higher human sensibilities. Van Gogh undoubtedly understood the depths of emotional and mental pain, which is depicted powerfully in this painting.

In “Man, weeping,” Newman, an American author, writes:
One of our most firmly entrenched ideas of masculinity is that men don’t cry. Although he might shed a discreet tear at a funeral, and it’s acceptable for him to well up when he slams his fingers in a car door, a real man is expected to quickly regain control. Sobbing openly is strictly for girls.
This isn’t just a social expectation; it’s a scientific fact. All the research to date finds that women cry significantly more than men. A meta-study by the German Society of Ophthalmology in 2009 found that women weep, on average, five times as often, and almost twice as long per episode. The discrepancy is such a commonplace, we tend to assume it’s biologically hard-wired; that, whether you like it or not, this is one gender difference that isn’t going away.
But actually, the gender gap in crying seems to be a recent development. Historical and literary evidence suggests that, in the past, not only did men cry in public, but no one saw it as feminine or shameful. In fact, male weeping was regarded as normal in almost every part of the world for most of recorded history.
So, what happened? Although the article can’t say for sure, Newman comes up with a few ideas, saying that urbanization, industrialization and, in particular, modern workplace practices favouring productivity and no display of emotions might be some of the reasons men today stop themselves from tearing up in public. Such ended not only the noble art of crying, but the humanly necessary one.

But there’s more, and it has to do with ideas of masculinity—chiefly viewing men’s tears as a sign of weakness and a loss of control—that have proven resilient to change. Until recently. Repressing the normal and natural need to cry is never good for one’s mental or physical health. For one, emotional tears release stress hormones and encourage the release of endorphins, the brain;s neurotransmitters that help us feel better.

In a piece (“The Health Benefits of Tears;” July 27, 2010,) in Psychology Today Judith Orloff, an assistant clinical professor at psychiatry at UCLA, writes:
My heart goes out to them when I hear this. I know where that sentiment comes from:parents who were uncomfortable around tears, a society that tells us we’re weak for crying—in particular that “powerful men don’t cry.” I reject these notions. The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man and woman is someone who has the strength and self awareness to cry. These are the people who impress me, not those who put up some macho front of faux-bravado.
This is indeed good news, a shift way from the way things were while I was growing up  in the 1960s and ’70s. I was rather a sensitive soul as a youngster and decided to change this side of me by becoming “emotionally tougher.” I remember doing this to myself before I entered engineering school and later on when I worked as an engineer in a high-stress environment. After a number of years in such a “masculine” emotionless environment, I was unable to cry, even when I had good reason to do so, or even when I felt sad. I felt like an onion with many protective layers covering my soul.

To a great degree, this can become an impediment to adult maturity and undermine emotional growth. This was certainly true in my case. I suspect it might be true in many others, but it takes an awareness that this is indeed true.

It was only after I left this job, and the field altogether, and after some therapy and psychological counselling, that I was able to give myself permission to tear up. Today, tears are free to flow, when necessary, and I feel a freedom to do so. There is nothing wrong with men who cry; in fact, it might be all right. Three cheers for a saner and healthier society.

For more, go to [Aeon]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mediterranean Diet: Lowers Risk Of Breast Cancer

Women’s Health

Mediterranean Diet: Sarah G. Miller writes: “Martinez-Gonzalez agreed. Women should be encouraged to eat more extra-virgin olive oil, salads with fresh vegetables and have fruit for dessert, he said. Women's consumption of red meat and processed meat, sweet desserts, soda and fast food should be reduced, he said.”
Photo Credit: Gts; Shutterstock
Source: LiveScience

Another study, this one from Spain, confirms the magnanimous benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, salads and fish and poor in red and processed meats and dairy products. An article, by Sarah G. Miller, in Live Science says the following about the latest study:
In the study, researchers found that women who were asked to follow a Mediterranean diet that was high in extra-virgin olive oil were 68 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who were advised only to reduce the amount of fat in their diets.

In the study, 4,152 post-menopausal women who had never had breast cancer were asked to follow one of three diets: One was a Mediterranean diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil (extra-virgin olive oil accounted for 15 percent of their daily calories), the second was a Mediterranean diet rich in nuts, and the third was a control diet, in which the women were advised to reduce the amount of fat they ate. After about five years, 35 women in the study had developed breast cancer. [6 Foods That May Affect Breast Cancer Risk]

Women in the extra-virgin olive oil group were the least likely to developbreast cancer. The researchers also observed a slight decrease in risk for the women in the nut group, but this was not statistically significant (meaning it could have been due to chance), according to the study published today (Sept. 14) in JAMA Internal Medicine.
There have been many studies that confirms this finding as well as the benefits of such a diet to reduce the risk of  cancer, of coronary disease and cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia. That such a large benefit can be derived from a change in diet might be surprising, but it is well worth the change from a statistical point of view.

I have switched over to the Mediterranean diet a couple of years ago (during my chemo treatments), eating more fish and salads with olive oil and slowly reducing my consumption of read meat and processed meats to zero. I have, for all intents and purposes, decided to follow a pescatarian diet, although at the moment I still eat chicken once a week, and turkey once or twice a year for the holidays.

I hope to eliminate chicken and turkey from my diet by the end of the year. If it was as easy as completely eliminating read meat, then I ought to have little problems at all. Although I do enjoy the taste of chicken and turkey, my reasons are centred on the health benefits of eliminating meat (other than fish) from my diet. I can also understand the ethical reasons, which reminds me of a quote I recently read, attributed to Albert Einstein (Einstein Archive 60-058): “I have always eaten animal flesh with a somewhat guilty conscience.”

For more, go to [LiveScience]

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Quebec Legalizes Physician Assisted Suicide

Life of Dignity

Dr. Balfour M. Mount, Emeritus Professor of Palliative Medicine. McGill University: “There’s no need [to legalize euthanasia] because of pain and symptom control. We’re able to control the suffering, and through palliative care with a skilled team able to minimise suffering that’s physical, psychological, social, spiritual, existential,” he says. “If there is an exception, palliative sedation is legal. It’s part of palliative care—it doesn’t need a legislative change.”
Photo Credit & Source: McGill University

An article, by Brigitte Noël, in Vice News says that Quebec has become the first province in Canada to legalize physician assisted suicide, or PAS. This news was immediately met with disapproval by front-line doctors working in palliative care, saying the law sends a “contradictory message.”

In “Doctors Mount Opposition As Quebec Prepares For New Assisted Death Law (September 3, 2015), Noël writes
This week, Quebec’s palliative care homes declared they would not be offering the service within their walls, a stance echoed by the palliative care unit at the Montreal University Health Centre (known as its French acronym, the CHUM), one of the province's largest hospitals. 
While the independent centers' position is unsurprising — they had successfully lobbied to be exempted from the new law — the CHUM's rejection proves more problematic. When the legislation comes into effect on Dec. 10, hospitals will be legally obligated to provide the treatment. 
The provincial health minister came out against CHUM's palliative unit's statement, calling it "totally ridiculous."
“If they go ahead with this, they could face sanctions,” Gaetan Barrette told La Presse. He also told reporters he wished palliative care homes would rethink their position. But the tug-of-war leaves medical professionals wondering where hospitals will house the new service, and how individual doctors' rejection of the practice will be handled. Palliative care physician Claude Baillargeon, who works at CHUM, told VICE News that while he is not against the option of medically assisted death, he doesn't think his department is the right host for the procedure.
“People in palliative care don’t ask us to die, they're usually very happy to live those final moments surrounded by their loved ones, free of physical suffering,” says Baillargeon. He explains that for palliative care professionals, the goal is to provide a peaceful environment for the patients and their families, and that adding medically-assisted death to the ward would change the atmosphere. “We find it unacceptable that this would be done in a bed within this care unit, it's such a contradictory message.”
I agree with Dr. Baillargeon and others like him in the know, including Dr. Balfour Mount, a Canadian physician and North American pioneer of palliative care, who remains vehemently opposed to euthanasia, which is another step in legalizing self-administered death. Dr. Mount is credited with coming up with the medical term, palliative care, which is derived from “to palliate,” which means to mitigate or improve the quality. The blog site, Living With Dignity, says the following, referring to Dr. Mount’s views:
He insists that palliative care can effectively manage all of a patient’s pain and suffering, while the legalization of euthanasia would seriously endanger the weak and vulnerable. The safety and protection of all citizens is paramount; it has always taken precedence over individual rights in public health.
Well said. The solution might found in increasing the number of palliative care beds, thus improving the quality of care for persons in the latter stages of life. As is the case with many thorny ethical questions, it depends on how one views the matter. One wonders whom the Quebec government consulted in drafting such a law and, equally important, why such a law is currently deemed necessary. To get to the heart of the matter, the most important human question, in my mind, is, Whom does it benefit?

For more, go to [ViceNews]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dire Straits: Walk Of Life (1992)

Dire Straits, the British rock band led by Mark Knopfler, perform “Walk of Life” in a 1992 performance taken from the CD, On the Night, released in 1993. Wikipedia writes that this song was first released as a single in November 1985:
It appeared on their best-selling album Brothers in Arms. It subsequently appeared on their live album On the Night. It was released as a single in November 1985 but had first been available as the B-side of "So Far Away" released in advance of Brothers in Arms.
The CD records concerts, in Europe, at Les Arenes in Nîmes, France, and at Feijenoord Stadion in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in May 1992, What is noticeable is how much the band enjoys themselves on stage.

The Band
Mark Knopfler: lead guitar, lead vocals
John Illsley: bass guitar, backing vocals
Alan Clark: keyboards
Guy Fletcher: keyboards, backing vocals
Chris White: saxophone, flute, percussion, backing vocals
Paul Franklin: pedal steel guitar
Phil Palmer: guitar, backing vocals
Danny Cummings: percussion, backing vocals
Chris Whitten: drums

Walk of Life
by Mark Knopfler

Here comes Johnny singing oldies, goldies
Be-Bop-A-Lula, Baby What I Say
Here comes Johnny singing I Gotta Woman
Down in the tunnels trying to make it pay
He got the action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play
Dedication devotion
Turning all the night time into the day

He do the song about the sweet loving woman
He do the song about the knife
He do the walk, he do the walk of life

Here comes Johnny and he'll tell you the story
Hand me down my walking shoes
Here comes Johnny with the power and glory
Backbeat the talkin' blues
He got the action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play
Dedication devotion
Turning all the night time into the day

He do the song about the sweet loving woman
He do the song about the knife
He do the walk, he do the walk of life

Here comes Johnny singing oldies, goldies
Be-Bop-A-Lula Baby What I Say
Here comes Johnny singing I Gotta Woman
Down in the tunnels, trying to make it pay
He got the action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play
Dedication devotion
Turning the night time into day
And after all the violence and double talk
There's just a song in all the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, you do the walk of life

Monday, September 14, 2015

Displaced Persons Camps, No. 2: The Middle East

Homeless Refugees

Last week, I posted a video about DP camps in Europe after the Second World War, this post is about a similarly large refugee crisis, or migrant crisis as the media calls it, this time in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The geographical locations might change over the span of decades, but the reasons always remain the same: wars.

DP Camps: “Children play amid garbage at an informal Syrian refugee settlement near Zahle, Lebanon.”
Photo Credit: Sam Tarling for The Washington Post; July 16, 2015

There is yet another large refugee crisis underway, and the numbers are similar to what they were after the end of the Second World War, 70 years ago; then the displaced persons were from Europe. Today, the displaced persons are coming to Europe: Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Libyans—all nations that continue to suffer the effects of war.

Many others are feeling the effects of war, including Somalia, Sudan and Colombia. Today the numbers approach 60 million people worldwide—half of them children—and which includes a large number of what are called internally displaced people (IDPs), says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),

One-third of the world’s refugees come from two nations: Iraq and Syria, which is no surprise. In an opinion piece (“Europe’s multi-layered hypocrisy on refugees; September 4, 2015) in The Washington Post Anne Applebaum writes something so obvious that it is requires saying:
Even now, almost all of the slogans being bandied about as “solutions” are based on false assumptions. Nations should accept real refugees but not economic migrants? For one, it’s rarely easy to tell the difference. More to the point, the number of potentially “legitimate” refugees is staggeringly high. As of July, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had registered more than 4 million Syrian refugees, of whom well over a million are in Turkey and 1.5 million are in Lebanon, a country of only 4.8 million people. That’s not counting Iraqis, Libyans, Afghans and others who have equally suffered political or religious persecution, or even the millions of displaced Syrians still in Syria. Exactly how many of them will Europe take?
In effect, both Turkey and Lebanon have been “housing” large numbers of displaced persons in camps, which are supposed to be temporary places of refuge, Yet, as the photo above shows, such tent cities are terribly lacking in adequate conditions for human habitation. As for Europe’s reluctance or dithering on the matter of human lives, if history is any indication, many of the 28 nations of the European Union will not accept a significant number, nowhere near as much as required to ease the human suffering. It will find reasons for exclusion that prey on the fears of its citizens.

No doubt, reasons are always given, both economic and security, which seem to be the only words that count today for governments who want to “inform the electorate” of the threat mass immigration poses to economic security. But the solution cannot be found in national interests and in building barriers of separation, no matter how practical or political this idea seems. An international approach is required.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, gives similar sentiments; the Vatican, setting an example, has agreed to take in two families:
In front of a crowd of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, the Roman Catholic leader said it was not enough to simply encourage the refugees with calls for courage and patience. Instead, he suggested, tangible demonstrations of help were required.
“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family,” he said.
The comments came as thousands of refugees from Syria arrived in Austria and Germany after an exhausting journey form Hungary, amid an escalating debate within the EU about how to handle the crisis.
Not only European nations, but others, such as Canada, the United States, Australia and the oil-rich nations of the Middle East (like Saudi Arabia), should allow refugees to begin a new life elsewhere. Germany is setting the moral example with its plan to accept 800,000 refugees this year. Canada can do more than the current government’s pledge of resettling 10,000 Syrians by 2017; Rick Hillier, the former Canadian chief of the defence staff, says Canada’s military could bring in 50,000 refugees by Christmas.

The reasons are simple enough to understand; wealthy nations have an obligation to accept these refugees. I cannot emphasize how important this is from a humanitarian point of view, notably, if Canada wants to remain respected around the world for its generosity of spirit and values. The kind of decisions governments make on immigration and refugees go a long ways in defining a nation in the eyes of the international community. Decisions made today will be remembered in the future.

This story, this real-life event of personal tragedy, resonates with me. Seventy years ago, my father was in a DP camp, and only found a home in Canada, six years after the Second World War ended, in 1951. My father was a proud and grateful Canadian. I will share my personal thoughts and reflections on this matter next week in a post.

For more, go to [WashPost]

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dwelling On Forgiveness

Human Qualities

David and Absalom (1956), by Marc Chagall, who is known for his many paintings of biblical scenes: “I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it. Ever since early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me and still seems today the greatest source of poetry of all time,” Chagall told Franz Meyer in the early 1930s. Absalom's name in Hebrew is אַבְשָׁלוֹם (Avshalom), which means “my father is peace.”
Photo Credit & Source: WikiArt; the painting is held at Musée Marc Chagall, Nice, France.

In the painting of “David and Absalom,” by Chagall, Absalom, the son of King David, seeks forgiveness from his father, who grants him a pardon. This absolves Absalom, who was wanted for murder, the penalty of which was death. The circumstances of the crime are as follows: Absalom told his servants to murder his half-brother, Amnon, as an act of retaliation for raping Tamar. his sister, and then further dishonoring her by refusing to marry her (thus defying convention).

Undoubtedly, Absalom thought himself morally right for the murder, considering it as retributive justice for the failure of King David to punish Amnon for his immoral act—despite pleas from Tamar and Absalom’s mother and from Absalom himself. It is important to note that Absalom waited two years to carry out this crime of vengeance.

Afterwards, he goes into hiding as a fugitive for a year, before being allowed to return under house arrest for another two years. Then, through some political manipulations of Joab, King David’s commanding officer and chief counselor, Absalom is granted an audience with King David, his father. This leads to the scene depicted by Chagall’s painting: “So Joab came to the king, and told him; and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom.” (2 Samuel 14:33)

Yet, despite being pardoned and forgiven for murder, Absalom, lacking the necessary gratitude, fails to be placated; his heart is full of vengeance, leading him to a desire for power, the Bible says: “But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying: ‘As soon as ye hear the sound of the horn, then ye shall say: Absalom is king in Hebron’ ” (2 Samuel 15:10). When Absalom plans and executes a revolt, attempting to gain his father’s throne, he is killed by Joab, David’s commanding officer and chief counselor, who plunges three javelins into his heart.

When told of his son’s death, Kind David weeps:
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)
Although this story is about an extreme case, involving both rape and murder, it is instructive on the level of human behaviours and human relations. It can also show how things can spin out of control and take a life of their own, with a destructive result.

The story is a tragic one, no doubt, and one thinks post-facto what would have happened if King David had, at least, forced Amnon to marry Tamar. Or if King David would have punished Amnon? Would the story have ended in a different way, without the death of both Amnon and Absalom, his sons? Probably, but this is not certain. Absalom did not want forgiveness, seeing this as a sign of weakness; he wanted justice as he understood it, and nothing else would suffice. Many lessons can be extracted from it, including on morality, on justice and on forgiveness. I will here focus on forgiveness. [For the standard view based on the teachings and rules of Maimonides, see here.]

Forgiveness is not easy; it is not easy to accept; it is often harder to offer. Yet, it is one of the necessary requirements of bettering human relations. It is an integral part of the religious teachings of the Abrahamic faiths (i.e., Judaism, Christianity and Islam ), and, perhaps, of all religions. It is also found in the secular and humanistic and philosophical teachings of the modern age. Forgiveness (incl. self-forgiveness) is written in the texts of psychological self-help books, so important is the idea. It is an act of acceptance; it is a act of restoration; it is an act of love. It might well be an act of ensuring sanity and of securing a healthy well-adjusted mind.

It is often reported that a forgiving person is often in better health, both mentally and physically, and, of course, spiritually. Knowing that this is indeed true can help a person take the necessary steps to offer forgiveness and to accept it from others. Forgiveness is not easy, and the reasons are complex and emotional, but it seems that one reason is that not forgiving or not accepting forgiveness often gives a person a sense of moral superiority. In the story of David and Absalom, it seems clear to me that the father was able to forgive, but the son was not.

When this takes place, which happens today in many instances and for many reasons, it does nothing to repair the relationship or to bring the hurt parties any closer to reconciliation. But there are some persons who “feed” their egos on the “food” of resentments, though it is not likely healthy in the long-term. Some carry their resentments further, seeking justice in other forms, either pecuniary or punitive. (Often people seek impersonal legal remedies or recompense in lieu of personal ones; these often act as substitutes for reconciliation.)

Is forgiveness harder to pursue with the persons with whom you were most intimate, with whom you shared secrets, with whom you had developed a long-term relationship, and for whom there was once affection and respect?  It would seem so; forgiveness becomes harder in proportion to the intimacy and importance of the relationship. The closer that the bond once was, the more harder it is to approach the idea of forgiveness. Vengeance and the ideas of justice will interfere, whatever these might be, with the idea and act of forgiveness. Yet, when it is offered or received, and there is repentance and acceptance, it is all the more poignant and powerful.

In the Jewish calendar, the first of Tishrei (Rosh HaShanah, a Jewish New Year) begins a period of reflection, repentance and atonement. This period is called the Ten Days of Repentance (Hebrew: עשרת ימי תשובה‎, Aseret Yemei Teshuva), which ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is common tradition that during this period one asks for forgiveness. Rosh HaShanah, and this period of reflection and repentance, begins tonight after sunset. Shanah Tovah Umetukah. May everyone have a good and sweet year.