Monday, November 30, 2015

From Disorder To Order

Human Spirit

“Chronic boredom — compensated or uncompensated — constitutes one of the major psychopathological phenomena in contemporary technotronic society, although it is only recently that it has found some recognition.”
Erich Fromm, 
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)


When a machine is not working properly, it is viewed as being “out of order.” When a human being is not operating within expected and acceptable norms, he also is considered out of order. The psychiatric community says that he is likely suffering from one of a number of 250 mental disorders, all of which are enumerated in the American Psychiatric Association’s  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is currently in its fifth edition, referred to as DSM-5. When this manual was first published in 1952, it listed 14 mental disorders.

The latest edition lists something called “Major Depressive Disorder,” which can now include depression while an individual is going through the process of bereavement. Gary Greenberg, an American psychotherapist, notes in an article  (“‘Dozens of mental disorders don’t exist’ and DSM-5 is ‘a fiction’ of ideology, U.S. therapist claims;” October 13, 2013), in The National Post:
“The exemption clause was an embarrassment because it challenged the idea that depression is caused by biology and led critics to demand that other external factors, such as divorce and redundancy, be exempt too,” he says. “So they got rid of it, which means that if you are depressed while bereaved you can be classified as mentally ill.” Not that bereaved people who are depressed shouldn’t be helped, he adds. “But is it really a medical problem?”
No, many would argue this is a human spiritual problem, which is outside the boundaries of psychiatry and the drug industry. While some think that the human brain operates in similar fashion to a machine, something that I do not subscribe to, the corresponding point here is that the human being, in being treated for a disorder, needs to be returned to a functioning order. Yet, the question to ask is whether even a highly trained mental-health clinician can diagnose a human in the same way one diagnoses a machine? The simple answer is “obviously not.”

Even so, to take this argument further, one can say with some persuasion that one cannot diagnose mental disorders in the same way as physical illnesses, that the brain is a separate and particular part of the human being, Thus, it is easy then to understand why a good part of the criticism directed at the DSM in particular and psychiatry in general is that it wants to treat mental disorders in the same way as physical disorders, which invariably leads to the prescribing of pharmaceuticals or drugs. Therapy, if it takes place at all, is often secondary or non-existent.

As does prescribing psychotropic drugs (“those that affect a person's mental state”) without proper evaluation by mental-health professionals; this is often done by primary-care physicians, says Brendan L. Smith in an article (“Inappropriate prescriptions”; June 2012) for the American Psychological Association. This might do more harm than good. Moreover, another important consideration is that what for long has been considered normal behavious is today deemed some sort of disorder, which greatly benefits the pharmaceutical companies. They do have seen their profits increase from the selling of drugs to “control” moods, many of which are now prescribed to children under the age of six.

Smith provides some important numbers to the argument:
The use of psychotropic drugs by adult Americans increased 22 percent from 2001 to 2010, with one in five adults now taking at least one psychotropic medication, according to industry data. In 2010, Americans spent more than $16 billion on antipsychotics, $11 billion on antidepressants and $7 billion for drugs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The rapid growth of all three classes of drugs has alarmed some mental health professionals, who are concerned about the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs by elderly nursing home residents and the prescription of stimulants to children who may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD.
While it is not hard to see why pharmaceutical companies would like to encourage people to take their pills—they likely “believe” that they are effective and make nice profits in the process—it is up to the medical profession in general and psychiatrists in particular to act as gatekeepers. One has to wonder why, for example, one in 13 children in the U.S. are taking some psychiatric drug. This equates to more than 8 million children, including more than 2-million children on anti-depressants and more than 800-thousand on anti-psychotics. (For more, see CCHR, a U.S.-based mental health advocacy organization based in Los Angeles.)

Tom Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), argues in a blog post (“Director’s Blog: Are Children Overmedicated?; June 6, 2014) that if the numbers are increasing, then this describes a need that is being met;
The possibility that there is a real increase in the number of children suffering with severe emotional problems, just as there is a real increase in the number of children with diabetes and food allergies, is not even considered. Shouldn’t we be asking why so many children, at younger ages, are being seen for emotional and behavioral problems?
I agree; this fact requires further investigation; it might well be that something is not completely right with the current approach to mental health disorders. It would be easy to say that this might be some type of mental disorder! For now, let’s call it “Unnecessary Prescription Disorder.” But this is no laughing matter; seriously, I view a number of current factors are contributing in some way to an increase in the diagnosis of mental disorders, including poverty, loneliness, societal alienation, boredom, a lack of family permanence, a desire for immediate gratification, a superficial understanding of religion, a lack of general meaning or purpose, nihilism, and a loss of faith, whether in G-d or in the democratic process and governments.

Bettering one or more of these factors will decrease the number of persons who are diagnosed with a mental disorder. Of this you can be assured.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Weinberg’s Yemenite Rhapsody: Heḥalutz


Symphonic Entracte perform Jacob Weinberg’s “Yemenite Rhapsody,” which is from the opera, Hehalutz (“The Pioneers”) at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem, Israel, on February 7, 2013. This is an arrangement for a string quartet, clarinet and piano by J.Weinberg with Ilya Swartz (clarinet), Marina Swartz (violin), Dina Pinson (violin), Amos Boason (viola), Yana Donichev (cello), and Uri Brener (piano). Shirelle Dashevsky is the artistic director and David Ben-Gershon the producer.

Jacob Weinberg [1879-1956] was a Russian-Jewish composer who composed one of the earliest operas in Hebrew; Wikipedia writes:
With the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution, Weinberg spent two months in prison and then fled with his wife Theresa (née Bernstein) and his only child, a son, Walter, in 1922 to Palestine (now Israel). There he composed the first Hebrew opera, The Pioneers (Hechalutz). It won First Prize in an international composition contest, sponsored by the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial. There was a performance in Jerusalem in April, 1925. With the prize money of $1500, he took his family to New York.[4]
Weinberg produced concert versions of his opera The Pioneers at Carnegie Hall in 1941 and 1947, and at the Mecca Temple (now New York City Center) in the 1930s. In addition, there was a performance in Berlin, Germany in the 1930s, by the Kulturbund, the soprano Mascha Benya in one of the leading roles. It was performed in a synagogue since the Nazis, coming to power, banned Jewish works, even masterpieces, from being performed in a proper concert hall.[2]
Such a little gem I discovered and now I can share it with you.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nerve Drugs Might Prevent Migraines

Headaches


Headache of Headaches: Migraines affect 730 million individuals worldwide, where an episode can last between four and 72 hours. Scientists now say that the source of these headaches is found in the trigeminal nerve system, the human brain’s primary pain pathway; people who reported migraines had elevated levels of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a neurotransmitter. Such is the science supporting new drug therapies.

Although there are drugs to treat migraines (i,e, triptans) and reduce the symptoms after they start, there have been no drugs to prevent these debilitating and painful headaches. that is, until now, says an article (“New Nerve Drugs May Finally Prevent Migraine Headaches;” November 17, 2015,  by David Noonan in Scientific American. ”Now a new chapter in the long and often curious history of migraine is being written. Neurologists believe they have identified a hypersensitive nerve system that triggers the pain and are in the final stages of testing medicines that soothe its overly active cells. These are the first ever drugs specifically designed to prevent the crippling headaches before they start, and they could be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next year. If they deliver on the promise they have shown in studies conducted so far, which have involved around 1,300 patients, millions of headaches may never happen.”
Image Credit: Julia Yellow

Friday, November 27, 2015

Injectable Biogel Delivers Anti-Cancer Agents To Tumors

Cancer Research


Smart Treatment: Paddock writes: “The aim of the smart biogel is to act as a cellular reservoir of immune cells that can be injected into tumors to eliminate the cancer.”
Photo Credit & Source: Medical News Today

An article, by Catharine Paddock, in Medical News Today says that researchers at the e University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) in Montreal, Quebec, have developed an injectable biogel that allows targeting of anti-cancer agents directly to the tumors.

In “‘Smart biogel’ that kills cancer tumors in development” (November 20, 2015), Paddock writes:
The researchers say the strength of their new biogel is that it is compatible with anti-cancer immune cells. It allows these cells or anti-cancer drugs to be injected directly into the cancer tumor instead of into the bloodstream. Coauthor Réjean Lapointe, an associate professor of medicine, says: “We hope that this targeted approach will improve current immunotherapies.”
Immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment method that enlists the immune system, or parts of it, to fight disease. One form of immunotherapy—called adoptive cell therapy - uses anti-cancer immune cells to treat cancer patients. The aim of adoptive cell therapy is to boost the presence of T lymphocytes, or T cells, in the body. These cells can kill cancer cells, but there are generally not enough of them to eradicate the cancer.
Thus, in adoptive cell therapy, extra T cells are grown in the lab from samples extracted from the patient and then re-injected back into their body to boost their own reserves. However, while the therapy has shown some promising results, it does not always produce enough T cells to kill the cancer completely. Also, it has to be administered with high doses of the hormone interleukin-2, which can be toxic.
Such is the current thinking and approach of cancer research and its therapies, most notably immunotherapy, which focuses on aiding the human body's T-cells to attack cancer. Chemotherapies are still being used as a way to treat cancer; immunotherapy will have to be proven as least as good as this long-standing traditional method before it becomes the method of choice. When this happens, it will be a breakthrough. Chemotherapy, although effective, results in a list of side effects, many unpleasant.

The article, “Chitosan thermogels for local expansion and delivery of tumor-specific T lymphocytes towards enhanced cancer immunotherapies,” is published in Biomaterials: Volume 75, January 2016, Pages 237–249.

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For more, go to [MedNewsToday

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Having Fun At Coney Island, New York

American Amusements

The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile: Taken at Coney Island by Harvey Stein (1982)
Photo Credit: Harvey Stein, 2011
Source: Brooklyn Museum

I have never been to Coney Island, and have never had a “Coney Island hot dog“ or ridden the historic “Cyclone,” a wooden roller coaster. I did however ride the “Cyclone” at Montreal’s Belmont Park in the 1960s and early ’70s, the sound of the cars rolling on wooden tracks a distant but accessible memory. Back to Coney Island: I seem to know the place visually, chiefly as a setting or a place mentioned in novels, films, and plays, including The Great Gatsby, Sophie’s Choice, and Brighton Beach Memoirs.

The Brooklyn Museum has an exhibition that started on November 20, 2015, which runs until March 13, 2016. It writes: “For 150 years, Coney Island has lured artists as a microcosm and icon of American culture. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 is the first major exhibition to explore the kaleidoscopic visual record they created, documenting the historic destination’s beginnings as a watering hole for the wealthy, its transformation into a popular beach resort and amusement mecca, its decades of urban decline culminating in the closing of Astroland, and its recent revival as a vibrant and growing community.”

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For more, go to [BrooklynMuseum]

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

London Philharmonic Orchestra: Górecki Symphony No. 3



The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Gilbert Levine conducting, performs the second movement of the Górecki Symphony No. 3, opus 36,  “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” (in PolishSymfonia pieśni żałosnych)a symphony in three movements The soprano is Zofia Kilanowicz.

The symphony was composed by Henryk Górecki  [1933–2010] in 1976; it was first performed at the Royan International Festival, in France, with Stefania Woytowicz as soprano and Ernest Bour as conductor, on April 4, 1977. The music and the performance is both sublime and transcendent.

In an article (“‘Auschwitz’ and Górecki: reflections on evil and hope;” November 19, 2005) in News Weekly, an Australian publicationPatrick J. Byrne writes:
Górecki (pronounced "Gor-etski") wrote the music to expiate his nightmares after visiting a death camp as a young schoolboy, soon after the war. The shingle on the camp pathways was the crushed bone of the murdered inmates. He said he felt he was walking on dead people.
The symphony was written in 1976, but not released until 1992. It sold two million copies in two years, something unprecedented for classical music.
It left commentators asking how it was that, in this secular world of religious indifference and instant material gratification, there was still a deep hunger for spiritual answers to fundamental human issues, such as the nature of good and evil.
The second movement is based on a message from 1944 found scrawled on the wall of a Nazi prison camp (Gestapo headquarters) in Zadopane, Poland, near the Tatra Mountains, not far from where the composer grew up. The message was by an 18 year old girl, Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, to the Queen of Heaven.

The lyics are as follows:
Mamo, nie płacz, nie.
Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
Zdrować Mario, Łaskiś Pełna.
[English translation]
No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Help me always.
Hail Mary.
I could not find any information on what happened to this young woman, if she had survived her imprisonment. If she did, it would be an answer to prayer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde (1972)



The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein conducting, perform Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”), a symphony for orchestra and two voices, which belong to Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; and René Kollo, tenor.

The work was completed in 1909, after a period of intense mourning for Mahler, who in the summer of 1907 had three misfortunes befalling him: 1) the loss of his position as Director of the Vienna Court Opera, due to anti-Semitism; the loss of his eldest daughter, Maria, aged five, due to scarlet fever and diphtheria; and the loss of his health, due to having a congenital heart defect.

Yet, he soon found meaning, Peter Gutmann says in a 2007 article posted in Classical Notes:
The vehicle through which Mahler found new meaning in life was a book he had been given at some point following his crash, and that resonated deeply within his troubled soul. Mahler had always been enamored of German folk poetry, and had based most of his songs and several symphonic movements on settings of their texts, especially Das Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Youth's Magic Horn”). The new book was Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte (“The Chinese Flute”). Alma claimed that he obtained it during that dreadful summer of 1907 as a gift from a friend of her father, but scholars have since pointed out that the volume was first published only that October. In any event, the book rekindled his creativity and by the next summer he plunged into a new work based on seven of its poems. Cooke notes that through the poems Mahler began a search for life on the threshold of death. He wrote Walter that he felt transformed, having found consolation in his music: “When I hear music I hear definite answers to all my questions and am wholly clear and sure.” Noted Walter: “As twilight dissolves in the glow of sunset, the gloom his illness had cast upon his spirit passed into the radiance of approaching departure.” Alma recalled that he slaved over his new work that summer without distraction; indeed the dates on the score indicate that the entire work was written within two months, and then orchestrated the following winter.
You can view the original Chinese poems, as well as their English translations, Bethge's German translation and Mahler's textural adaptation here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Living With Meaning

The Search

Rich Inner Life: When the present is dark, drawing from the past can be essential to surviving the suffering of denial. Viktor Frankl [1905–1997] writes in Man’s Search For Meaning (1946): “The intensification of his inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. when given free rein, his imagination played with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling things. His nostalgic memory glorified them and they assumed a strange character. Their world and their existence seemed very distant and the spirit reached out for them longingly” (37)
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2015 

After reading Man’s Search for Meaning*, Viktor Frankl’s 1946 account of his internment at four concentration camps, including at the notorious Auschwitz, I find myself agreeing with his views on what it is that provides the means to endure suffering. It is to have a hope in the future, to find a meaning or purpose of life, which can eventually lead to contentment and happiness. This first starts with meaning; it takes a certain faith in the future, to hope against hope, that some future (personal) redemption will arrive.

This is not at all the same as the pursuit of happiness or hedonism or some other narcissistic or ego-driven pursuit. Not at all. The end result of such a pursuit is an inner life that is bereft of depth and richness.

A rich inner life, notably if it contains sparks of spiritual ideas, can help a person find meaning in spite of any current suffering. It can harness hope and provide the means to overcome obstcales. It can also help find a vision for the future in which one can work towards fulfilling. The past can provide a necessary place of refuge, but its purpose is for the most part as a means of survival to counter the meaningless of the present. It is the future where hope can be found, and it is in this place where the individual can make the necessary changes to find meaning. It takes a personal responsibility, where one is actively involved in bettering oneself.

For Frankl, he determined that meaning was found in helping others find meaning. Frankl, a psychiatrist and neurologist from Vienna, is known for logotherapy, a therapy based on finding meaning in life. This method, following on the work of Freud and Adler, is considered the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. In a sense, it is the “Will to Meaning” and not the “Will For Pleasure” and not the “Will For Power.”

No normal person seeks suffering, but when it does occur, how a person bears his burden, even the greatest trials, will (eventually and hopefully) inform him on what matters. In this sense, suffering can allow an individual, as a minimum, to see the benefit of its lack, thus impelling and encouraging him to work toward a life of meaning and of doing good. A life of meaning and purpose can act as an antidote to existential nihilism, which is prevalent today among the youth— many of whom are drifting through life without any understanding or hope or any genuine religious belief. Such is a superficial, provisional existence often filled with despair and marked with escapism. [For an excellent philosophical insight, see André Glucksmann’s Dostoïevski à Manhattan (2002).

After human survival, Frankl discovered, while in the midst of such inhumanity, what was essential to man. Humans can live without many things, can survive many indignities, can be deprived of possessions, sleep and even a name, but without this deep connection to an another (or others), he is bereft of something essential. Not surprising, it is love, the kind of which poets write sonnets:
Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in the world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. (35)
Love is more than an emotion, and it more than a feeling; it is undoubtedly not merely a biochemical reaction occurring in the brain (neuroscience might have precision, but it lacks poetry). A lack of love often accompanies a loss of hope. It is true that, without hope, one flounders in a sea of apathy, going through the motions of living a “provisional existence” (68). Such is a suffering in itself, a denial of life. (I think it is important today to give the young (and the old) some measure of hope in the future. This is not only the job of parents, but of teachers, religious leaders, business leaders and political leaders.)

There were many dark days inside the concentration camps of Nazi Germany; some days were darker than others. In this passage, Frankl speaks about hope, even when hope is hard to find, during a speech he have his fellow prisoners:
I asked the poor creatures who listened to me attentively in the darkness of that hut to face up to the seriousness of our position. They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife. somebody alive or dead, or a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly—not miserably—knowing how to die. (78)
Suffering is never sought or desired, but when it does occur finding the courage to suffer with dignity seems like the right choice to make. Frankl in this passage gives it a spiritual meaning, calling it a “sacrifice,” one that appears “pointless in the normal world, the world of material success,” but easily understood by “those of us who had any religious faith” (78). Finding meaning in suffering, although it sounds absurd, can be beneficial in recovering a sense of self and of purpose.

Otherwise, the suffering will have victory over the individual, leading to bitterness and disillusionment, which occurred to a good number of prisoners after they were liberated from the camps: “There were some men who found that no one awaited him. Woe to  him who found that the person whose memory alone had given him courage in camp did not exist any more” (86).

In such cases, the individual often falls into a depression, as Frankl himself says he did after his liberation (by American troops) from the Türkheim camp, a subcamp of Dachau, on April 27 1945. After returning to Vienna, in August, he finds out that his wife, Tilly Grosser, aged 24, had died at Bergen-Belsen; his parents at other camps (his father, Gabriel, at Theresienstadt, his mother, Elsa, at Auschwitz) and his brother (Walter & his wife) at Auschwitz. (A full chronology can be found here.)

Frankl was utterly alone. “I am terribly tired, terribly sad, terribly lonely. I have nothing more to hope for and nothing more to fear. I have no pleasure in life, only duties, and I live out of conscience,” Frankl says in a letter to Wilhelm and Stepha Börner, September 14, 1945 (160). He, however finds a way to overcame his losses (153). The writing of this book was the beginning of the end of his period of depression.

Some people wake up in the morning and think, “What good can I do today?” Others the opposite. Both derive meaning from their actions, but I would argue that a meaning in doing good, while minimizing harm to others, is a meaning filled with greater satisfaction. And of course the greater good. This works, of course, only if the mind is well, and not ill and sickened with hate. If one has experienced kindness in the midst of suffering, this kindness is amplified, and given more weight than a person would give such a small gesture under normal circumstances.

Such is a sign of a grateful attitude, which marks a healthy mind. As does forgiveness, a not-so-human concept, it seems. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, Frankl did not ascribe to the idea of collective guilt. It was, as Frankl says, “a true experimentum crucis” (170). In a “Commemorative speech for the deceased colleagues of the Society of Doctors in Vienna” (and which is included in the appendix to the book), Frankl says:
And there is only personal guilt! The talk should never be of collective guilt! Certainly, there is also the personal guilt of a man who “did nothing” but who neglected to do such things out of fear for himself or out of trembling trepidation for his relatives. But whosoever would reproach such a man for being a “coward” should first provide proof that he himself, in the same situation, would have been a hero. (171)
This is a fair assessment of the situation. The book says that many persons who came out of the camps were not seeking revenge, but were seeking ways to normalize their lives. A good part has to do with a moral vision of goodness, a belief in the best of humanity, and not its worst. It is not ignoring the existence of evil, but, rather, seeking that which is good, when and where it can be found. This can be summed up in this idea:
Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. It is surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil. The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lower depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp (81).
Such is not surprising, Primo Levi voiced similar thoughts.

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*The book was originally written in German with the title Ein Psyholog Erlebt Das Konzentrationslager.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Evgeny Kissin & The IPO: Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1



Evgeny Kissin and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting, perform Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, opus 11 at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11 on December 24th 2011, as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations. Also part of this wonderful celebration was Julian Rachlin and Vadim Repin in a sparking program of Saint-Saens, Bach, Chopin, Chausson and Beethoven.

Play List

0:07 I. Allegro maestoso
20:52 II. Romance–Larghetto
30:36 III. Rondo–Vivace

A Jewish Lament

Cauchemar.

“If a man has his eyes bound, you can encourage him as much as you like to stare through the bandage, but he'll never see anything.”
Franz Kafka, The Castle (1926)

I might be losing my mind. When terrorists attack Paris and indiscriminately kill 130 persons (including a number of Muslims) and wound 368 others, the world shows support for the French nation. Even Hamas and the Islamic Jihad condemn the actions of the individuals who committed this heinous crime, as does Iran. No sane person would disagree. This is, after all is said and done, a sensible moral statement of defending the good.

But when Jews in Israeli are stabbed, shot at, hit with rocks, and rammed with vehicles with the intent to murder—a regular occurrence—hardly a word of condemnation from the international community, even when an American is killed. On Thursday, an Uzi-wielding Palestinian murdered three persons (and wounding five others), including Ezra Schwartz, an 18-year-old student from Sharon, Mass., volunteering in Israel for a year before starting university. “The White House, President Barack Obama, and Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro did not release specific statements about Schwartz's murder as of Friday morning, more than 12 hours after Schwartz was identified as the victim,” reports Arutz Sheva, Israel national news.  A deafening silence.

Yet, there are words of condemnation, from the U.S., the E.U., and the U.N. regularly and predictably directed against Israel for using “excessive force” when the police, the I.D.F. and the various security forces protect its citizens from the actions of individuals intent on murder. No such voices of censure against other nations which act similarly. Or worse.

The foreign minister of Sweden has even made the remarkable claim that the Paris attacks were the fault of the Israelis in that they have failed to make peace with the Palestinians. Even if we see the fiction and narishkayt of this particular statement, it is made within a larger narrative of victimhood. Does this woman actually believe that the Palestinians today want to make peace with the Israelis? Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, sadly, I think she does. She has the freedom to say such things, because she is not alone in her thinking.

This minister has company. The leaders of western Europe in particular, but also at times the United States (Canada has been an exception of late), have at one time or another condemned Israel for what it has been doing to survive since the Jewish state’s declaration of independence in May 1948. Although dozens of other states have made similar declarations after 1948, some with dubious human-rights records, the world assents to these statements of nationhood without any protest. Not so for the only Jewish state in the world.

The Jews, for some reason, are not permitted a state of their own, are not permitted the kind of self-determination that others take for granted, and are not permitted the right to safety & peace that others have long enjoyed. Moreover, according to the internal logic of the international community, best represented by the U.N., Israel can’t do anything right; it seems that at the very minimum it has no right to defend itself, as other nations do. On the face of it, this is more than a double standard; it is an absurd scenario straight out of one of Kafka’s novels, most notably, The Castle (1926).

So, it must be that I am losing my mind. It can’t be that all these wonderful good decent educated people think it is morally wrong to kill French citizens, or British citizens or Spanish citizens or American citizens on their soil, but it is morally acceptable to kill Israeli Jews in Israel, on the very soil where Jews have been walking and settling for thousands of years.

No, this can’t be; civilized people do not think and act like this. So, the only possible conclusion is that it must be me that is losing my marbles, losing my mind. This is 2015; it is not 70 CE or 1096 or 1290 or 1492 or 1648 or 1938. It is true that I can easily and randomly pick from a list dating from 250 CE dozens of other years when Jews residing in European lands were tortured, slaughtered, burned at the stake, expelled from lands, forced to pay special taxes, forced to wear identifying badges, and forced to convert— either by mobs or by state decree—without any opportunity to defend themselves.

Today, when Jews in Israel have the military might and the moral right to defend themselves, the world is outraged. Do they want blood, perhaps of the sort that the term “blood libels”conjures up?

Wake me up when this nightmare is over. Wake me up when the international community starts to remove the bandages covering its eyes. Wake up; wake up. Awaken from your slumbers.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The World’s Largest Volcano: Tami Massif

Land Masses

Tami Massif rises more than four kilometers from the seafloor. In this 3D image you will note various peaks that have formed about 145 million years ago during the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous period; it has a surface area about the size of New Mexico (i.e., 260,000 sq. km or 100,000 sq mi ), and a height of 4,460 metres (14,620 feet). Alexandra Witze for Scientific American writes: “New magnetic data suggest that the gigantic underwater mountain known as Tamu Massif, 1,600 kilometers east of Japan, is a kind of volcanic hybrid—a mash-up of long chains of volcanoes and one enormous eruption. ‘We’re looking at something that’s in between a mid-ocean ridge and a simple conical volcano,’ says William Sager, a marine geophysicist at the University of Houston. Mid-ocean ridges are where fresh lava wells up from deep inside Earth to create newborn ocean crust; they run for thousands of kilometers along the centers of most ocean basins.”
Image Credit: John Greene; Schmidt Ocean Institute
Source: Scientific American

Friday, November 20, 2015

Migration Of Animals Aided By Biocompass

Animal Flight

Migrating Arctic Terns at Carate Beach, Costa Rica. Scientific American writes: “The biocompass—whose constituent proteins exist in related forms in other species, including humans — could explain a long-standing puzzle: how animals such as birds and insects sense magnetism.”
Photo Credit & Source: Playalapa.com

An article, by David Cyranoski, in Scientific American, first reported in Nature, says that researchers at Peking University in Beijing, China, might have found the piece of the puzzle on how animals navigate the earth’s weak magnetic field: a rod-shaped complex of proteins, CG8198, which have been named MagR, for magnetic receptor. This protein forms a part of the animal’s biocompass, or internal biological navigation device.

In “Long Sought Biological Compass Discovered” (November 17, 2015), Cyranoski writes:
The biocompass—whose constituent proteins exist in related forms in other species, including humans—could explain a long-standing puzzle: how animals such as birds and insects sense magnetism. It might also become an invaluable tool for using magnetic fields to control cells, report researchers led by biophysicist Xie Can at Peking University in Beijing, in a paper published on November 16 in Nature Materials (S. Qin et al. Nature Mater .http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nmat4484; 2015).
“It’s an extraordinary paper,” says Peter Hore, a biochemist at the University of Oxford, UK. But Xie’s team has not shown that the complex actually behaves as a biocompass inside living cells, nor explained exactly how it senses magnetism. “It’s either a very important paper or totally wrong. I strongly suspect the latter,” says David Keays, a neuroscientist who studies magnetoreception at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna.
Many organisms—ranging from whales to butterflies, and termites to pigeons—use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate or orient themselves in space. But the molecular mechanism behind this ability, termed magneto-reception, is unclear.
Some researchers have pointed to magnetically sensitive proteins called ‘cryptochromes’, or ‘Cry’. Fruit flies lacking the proteins lose their sensitivity to magnetic fields, for example. But the Cry proteins alone cannot act as a compass, says Xie, because they cannot sense the polarity (north–south orientation) of magnetic fields. Others have suggested that iron-based minerals might be responsible. Magnetite, a form of iron oxide, has been found in the beak cells of homing pigeons. Yet studies suggest that magnetite plays no part in pigeon magnetoreception.
Xie says that he has found a protein in fruit flies that both binds to iron and interacts with Cry. Known as CG8198, it binds iron and sulfur atoms and is involved in fruit-fly circadian rhythms. Together with Cry, it forms a nanoscale ‘needle’: a rod-like core of CG8198 polymers with an outer layer of Cry proteins that twists around the core (see 'Protein biocompass'). Using an electron microscope, Xie’s team saw assemblies of these rods orienting themselves in a weak magnetic field in the same way as compass needles. Xie gave CG8198 the new name of MagR, for magnetic receptor.
It would seem that this means that animal navigation is due, at least in part, to biology or, more precisely, to biochemistry and its determination that a rod-shaped complex protein aids in the long treks that so many species make before the onset of winter. I am not sure if the science behind this theory is valid (it sounds overly mechanistic), but animal migration in itself is an important question worthy of scientific research. That this happens regularly and predictably is comforting; it is also a sight to behold. So many species migrate during the winter, from birds to butterflies. You can almost set your seasonal calendar by their migratory patterns.

For example, the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) have already left here, have already made their migratory flight southward (as far in some cases as the southern U.S.). This continues to be a wonder to see, especially their V formations with the leader giving honking orders, or so it seems down here. They will return in the spring, and their honking sounds is a beautiful noise for tired Canadians weary of winter.

The gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) migration is currently underway, from the Arctic to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, a journey of 8,000 km (5,000 miles)—it holding the record for the longest migratory journey by a mammal. Mexico is also the primary destination of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), which travel the 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from Canada and the northeastern U.S. to their “ancestral wintering grounds in the volcanic mountains of central Mexico.”

Then there is the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea), a small seabird that holds the record for the longest winter flight southward—from Greenland to Weddell Sea on the shores of Antarctica—and then returns northward in summer for a total round-trip of  almost 71,000 km (44,000 miles). That is some dedication and perseverance for a bird that has a body mass of around 100 grams.

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For more, go to [ScientAmer]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Jews Of Azerbaijan

Muslim-Jewish Relations


The Summer Synagogue in Quba, Azerbaijan. 
Photo Credit: Michael Silberstein
Source: JNS.org

An article, by Peter Rothholz, in JNS.org reports on the Jews in Azerbaijan, a majority Muslim nation. In “Jewish life in Azerbaijan embodies Muslim-majority nation’s culture of tolerance” (November 13, 2015), Rothholz writes that peaceful co-existence is possible, notably when there is a history of tolerance:
Located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and bordered by Iran, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia, Azerbaijan has a Jewish community that traces its roots back some 2,000 years. Throughout that period—and even during the years from 1920 to 1991, when it was a part of the Soviet Union—Azerbaijan has prided itself on its tradition of tolerance and acceptance of minorities. Among the country’s population of 9 million, 95 percent are Muslim and about 12,000 residents are Jews.

As part of a recent delegation to Azerbaijan from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, I visited six synagogues there, as well as a Jewish day school and Jewish Community Center. There were no police, private guards, or noticeable security measures at those sites, unlike a city such as Los Angeles and many European cities. Azeri Jews can also walk the streets wearing yarmulkes without fear of being harassed.
Azeri Jews participate fully in the social and economic life of the country without reference to their religion or ethnicity. Education is free from grade school through university, so individuals are limited only by ability and ambition. When our delegation asked the Hon. Tatiana Goldman, a Jewish member of the Azeri Supreme Court, about the effect of her Jewishness on her career and life, she replied, “I don’t even think about it. I think about my work.”
This speaks volumes, particularly when it is different in so many other places around the world, where Jews are reminded that they are not only Jewish but also foreign. Having a majority culture within a nation, notably one informed by religion, need not mean that other religions can’t live peacefully within its borders. How much special privileges, or accommodations as some call it, the minorities receive is all dependent on the goodwill of the majority and its governing authority. I see no reason to change such an arrangement, particularly if it maintains peace, goodwill and order,

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For more, go to [JNS]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

André Glucksmann: The Anti-Nihilist

Philosophy of Life

André Glucksmann [1937–2015]Anne-Sylvaine Chassany writes for the Financial Times that his mother’s response during the Second World War, during the German occupation of France and its roundup of Jews, influenced his views as an adult: “As they were rounded up to be deported, she began yelling to the other Jews that death camps were their true destination. A communist militant who had fled Nazi Germany only a few years earlier, she was better informed than most. Fearing a wave of panic, the officers released the family. ‘The first lesson of my existence was that insolence and telling the truth paid off,’ he said in 2006 when he published his autobiography, Une rage d’enfant (A Child’s Rage).”
Photo Credit:Marion Kalter; AKG

An article, by Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker looks at the life and thoughts of André Glucksmann, a French philosopher, who passed away on November 10th after a long struggle with cancer; he was 78. Once a Marxist, he left the Left and its radical politics after reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (1973), which soon turned him against the Soviet Union and its totalitarian ideology.

In “The Coruscating Moral Vision of  André Glucksmann” (November 11, 2015), Gopnik writes:
André Glucksmann, who died on Monday night, in Paris, was one of the great figures, and master thinkers, of contemporary French life, with the irony that much of his greatness depended on his passionate dismantling of the idea of “great men” and “master thinkers,” which he thought had disfigured European life for far too long. His death, at age seventy-eight, is more than painful; it is disconcerting and disorienting. If you were lucky enough to know him, it was always still possible to imagine taking one more Métro trip to his large, book-filled bohemian apartment in the north of Paris, and, with his brilliant wife, Fanfan, engaged alongside—in an atmosphere always somehow more Chekhovian than French—taking tea and talking about the world.
Glucksmann, whose silver bangs and hooded, eagle eyes became a familiar icon of French intellect—in the seventies, when he first emerged as one of the “New Philosophers,” his telegenic qualities had been an undeniable part of the package—was not the kind of philosopher who liked argument for its own sake. He preferred truth, if you could find it, for other people’s sake. He would take all the time in the world seeking that, however remote the case: the struggles of the Chechens and Ukrainians and Rwandans were as alive for him as the local worries of France. His globalism was a reminder of the best side of French universalism in a time of contracting horizons.
Glucksmann is the opposite of the existential nihilist; his life was dedicated to a search for truth and meaning, both ideas that weigh heavy on my soul and which today, for reasons that are well known, seem quaint— although they ought not to be. When people are not thinking clearly, they fail to understand the problems that today beset society.

Alienation, particularly among the youth, is one such problem that needs addressing; the need to encourage youth and direct their energies and intellect in a proper direction cannot be over-emphasized. Declining job prospects, contributing to loss of hope in the future, only increase the sense of alienation. The young desire, crave meaning; work forms a great part of personal meaning and satisfaction. The youth, it is true, are our future, but only if they believe that they are a part of a future in which they can contribute to the greater good.

In the case of Glucksmann, his thinking was to a large degree influenced by his experiences as a boy in occupied France during the Second World War. It was later influenced by what he read, including his close reading of such books as Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and its indictment against nihilism (“without G-d, everything is permitted”); and Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, and its indictment against inaction and complacency (“nobody cares at all about what might happen, even when they already hear the trees falling;” Glucksmann interview in Open Democracy, 2011). 

Both happen to be among my favourite works. For those who have read and appreciated Doestoevsky and Chekhov, the implications for today are clear. One evil can be worse than another evil; one truth more true than another. There are times when such choices become all the more clearer. And necessary.

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For more, go to [NewYorker]

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Disappearing Motels Of Wildwood, New Jersey

Summer Vacations

Untitled (Toledo & Atlantic)
Photo Credit: Mark Havens, 2005
Source: Aesthetica
I was one of the many Montrealers who used to take a week or two summer vacation in Wildwood, N.J., and at the very motels this photo essay shows are no longer prevalent: the first time being in 1976, the last time being in 1986. I have the memories and the photos to remind me.

Betsy Horan writes for New York Times Magazine: “If any single location can perfectly epitomize the nostalgic lazy, hazy days of summer — complete with the Mr. Softee jingle in the background — it might just be the Wildwoods, the three kitschy southern New Jersey shore towns that are home to the largest concentration of mid-century motels in the nation. In the Wildwoods’ 1950s and ’60s heyday, over 300 ‘Doo Wop motels’ were built there in that unmistakable style: flashy neon lights, kidney-shaped pools, asymmetrical design elements and a plethora of plastic palm trees (now designated the official tree of Wildwood).

‘The hotels were the backdrop of my summer,’ recalls Mark Havens, a Philadelphia-based photographer and assistant professor of industrial design at Philadelphia University. ‘We would always pile in the car and drive around and look at all the hotels in the same way families drive around and look at Christmas lights at holiday season,’ Havens says of his family’s yearly sojourn to Wildwood, which the artist has visited without fail for 44 years running. ‘Once they started to disappear, I realized just how much I took them for granted.’ ”

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Thinking Man’s Comedy

Not Tragedy

“I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel — a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.”
—Horace Walpole
“Letter to Sir Horace Mann”; December 31, 1769


Jewish Unity; October 29, 2015 
Image Credit & Source: Yaakov Kirschen; DryBonesBlog.com

That the Jewish People like to laugh and tell jokes, even in the midst of serious situations, is well documented. Equally telling is that Judaism, the religion of the Jews, is optimistic; one can argue that its very survival implies that it must be, that the history of Jews is one of overcoming persecution and evil intentions. Nowhere is this best exemplified than in the grim yet optimistic humour found in dark times, such as in this popular example:
Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you're reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?”
“On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know—it makes me feel a whole lot better!”
It’s funny for the very reasons it ought to be: it is an absurd statement to match an absurd situation. Abnormal situations call for abnormal responses. Or, as Mel Brooks says: “Humor is just another defense against the universe. Look at Jewish history: Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable.” Small wonder, then, that humour is found in the darkest corners of our collective history.

In Man’s Search For Meaning (1946), Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, recounts his experiences during the Second World War, during which he was a prisoner at four concentration camps, including at Auschwitz. In this short paragraph, Frankl describes what takes place shortly after arriving, shortly after he was stripped of all his possessions, including his clothing:
Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly, most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays! (15)
Thank G-d for small mercies; that instead of gas, water came out of the shower heads. That nervous energy, a result of expectations of death, led to “a grim sense humour.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, perhaps sacrilegious, but many in similar situations have responded accordingly. This is not suggesting the serious situations are amusing or funny—they are not— but rather the opposite. Laughing or self-deprecating humour, notably during serious situations can make it more bearable; suffering can never have a higher or noble purpose. Humour or comedy can take the edge off things, can blunt the seriousness of the situation. It is similar to the reason some people whistle a tune in dark and dangerous places.

Even in situations deemed less serious or dangerous, comedy has had a long history and purpose, such as in the everyday realities of hardships, of deprivation and of sickness. That is, eking out a living and surviving with some kind of dignity. Not surprisingly, Jews and comedy have had a long relationship. Does this suggest, in accordance to Walpole’s dictum, that Jews prefer thinking to feeling? I am not sure, but laughing is preferable to crying. And the tears of laughter and the howls of delights might reveal more about our human condition than the serious and somber tragedies of previous ages. Or, perhaps, of any age, including ours.

Yet, the Jewish People persevere, keeping at what is important, focusing on doing the good deeds that our religious books tell us are important and essential to making the world a better place. This includes not ignoring the bad and the evil, but not giving these a prominent place in our lives. Comedy and humour is a part of an effective strategy in lessening the power of immorality, against the actions that diminish humanity. (This might explain why Jews gravitate more to comedy than to tragedy.)

More to the point, serious comedy is all about taking the everyday realities and goings-on of life and making a story out of them; it is easier to draw people in with laughter than with tears. This is what serious masters like Anton Chekhov and Neil Simon did with their works. Or Charlie Chaplin did with his works; and more, recently, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Jerry Seinfeld with theirs. While tragedy looks at the foibles of the high-born, comedy looks at the actions of the rest of us. This is one reason that comedy speaks to us more than tragedy; the persons on stage or on film represent us, and in doing so tell us about ourselves.

Such is the argument of Terry Teachout, an author, in an article (“Why Comedy is Truer To Life Than Tragedy;”April 30, 2012) published in The Wall Street Journal.
Of all the great tragedies, Shakespeare's "King Lear" seems to me to be the very greatest. I went to a very fine production of "Lear" the other day, and was impressed all over again ]by the play's incomparable richness and beauty. Yet all things being equal, I'd almost always choose to see a comedy like "Twelfth Night" or "Much Ado About Nothing" instead. It's not that I don't love “Lear.” I do, passionately. But as I grow older, I grow more firmly convinced that comedy is truer to life than tragedy, not just onstage but in all the narrative art forms.
This isn’t to say that the tragic vision of life is false. I’ve sat through more than enough funerals to have figured that out. “Shaksbeer is passimist because is de life passimist also!” So said Hyman Kaplan, the first-generation immigrant whose struggles with the English language were wittily portrayed by Leo Rosten in “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N.” But I’ve spent enough time chuckling at the unintended absurdities of those very same funerals to know that in most human lives, absurdity and sorrow are woven together too tightly to be teased apart—and it is comedy, not tragedy, that illustrates that fact most fully. Life is too complex to be painted solely in shades of black. Even Shakespeare made room in "Lear" for the Fool, who makes us all laugh by saying out loud what poor old King Lear fears in his heart of hearts—that he, too, has been a fool, and will shortly pay the ultimate price for his foolishness.
Now, this is an opinion; and as opinions go it has some merit. I have seen productions of King Lear, Macbeth (showing aspects of existential nihilism) and so on, and although they have left an impression on me, notably if the acting was first-rate, these works, although revealing, cast a dark shadow on humanity. The idea entertained is that life is often without meaning, or that the high born are fools and full of hubris. In many ways, this is not comforting and continued exposure to tragedy can be self-defeating and lead to a loss of individual meaning; does exposing this person and his “fall from grace” to mockery or ridicule evoke catharsis, the feelings of pity and fear?

But a good modern comedy, well, this is another matter: we see ourselves in the play, and often identify with its themes, and with what the actors are struggling. It is more than “a little laughter is good for the soul,” it is that comedy not only (might) reveal more than tragedy, but that it can also make you part of a large group: it in inclusive. French philosopher Henri Bergson notes in Laughter (1900) that comedy is a group affair, replete with social meaning and camaraderie. People that can laugh at themselves tend to be both humane and honest.

Can you really trust someone who can’t laugh?

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For more, see Henri Bergson’s three essays in [Laughter]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Leo Fuchs: I Want To Be A Boarder (1937)


This short clip showcases the comic talents of Leo Fuchs in this 1937 Yiddish film, Ikh Vil Zayn a Boarder (15 minutes), which is produced & directed by Joseph Seiden. Here he sings the song, “Trouble.”

The National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., writes:
A small classic of Yiddish absurdism (made from outtakes from the Joseph Seiden feature I Want to Be a Mother) showcases Leo Fuchs' comic virtuosity. Fuchs and Yetta Zwerling play a husband and wife who seek to reignite their marriage by pretending to be landlady and tenant in a flurry of comic role-reversals.
[…]

Restoration was completed with funding from the American Film Institute, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities.
Fuchs, a Polish-born Jewish actor, was born into a Yiddish theatrical family; he had a talent to make people laugh—as this short clip shows. In an obituary in The Independent, Bernard Mendelovitch writes the following about this actor-comedian:
Fuchs was rubber-faced and practically double-jointed. He could make his body do the most incredible contortions while playing the violin behind his back and screwing up his face until it was quite unrecognisable; but he always pulled himself up to his full height to make a handsome, smiling exit. He enjoyed equal success when playing a season of classical drama with the Maurice Schwartz Arts Theatre in New York, and featured in many Yiddish films, notably I Want to be a Mother, The American Matchmaker and a number of comedy two-reelers.
Leo Fuchs was born in 1911 in Warsaw; he died in Los Angeles in 1994.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Chromatic Pluto: A Colourful Perspective

Our Solar System


A Colourized Version: This is not the way Pluto actually looks—it is chiefly grey—but the colours rendered in this photo are to differentiate the regions of the dwarf planet. NASA writes: “New Horizons scientists made this false color image of Pluto using a technique called principal component analysis to highlight the many subtle color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions. The image data were collected by the spacecraft’s Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14 at 11:11 AM UTC, from a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers). This image was presented by Will Grundy of the New Horizons’ surface composition team on Nov. 9 at the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland.”
Image Credit & Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Friday, November 13, 2015

Canadian Surgical Team Bypasses Blood-Brain Barrier

Non-Invasive Surgery

Brain Waves: Wency Leung writes: “Dr. Todd Mainprize (RIGHT) performs brain surgery on Bonny Hall, 56, at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre on Nov 6 2015.”
Photo Credit & Source: Fred Lum; The Globe and Mail
An article, by Wency Leung, in The Globe & Mail says that Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto has developed a non-invasive surgical technique that uses ultrasound to allow drugs to bypass the blood-brain barrier; this method was used on a patient to treat brain tumors, but it might also be used for other illnesses, including depression, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In “Sunnybrook doctor first to perform blood-brain barrier procedure using focused ultrasound waves” (November 8, 2015), Leung writes:
Dr. Todd Mainprize leaned over and peered through his wire-rim glasses at a computer screen showing the brain scan of his brain cancer patient, Bonny Hall, who lay in a magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI) in the adjacent room.
“This has gone exactly the way we hoped,” the neurosurgeon said, crossing his arms.
He smiled and nodded. His experimental procedure had been a success.
Here in the S-wing of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, Mainprize and his research team accomplished on Thursday what no one in the world has ever done before: Using focused ultrasound waves, they have opened the human blood-brain barrier, paving the way for future treatment of an array of currently impossible or hard-to cure-illnesses – from brain cancer to certain forms of depression, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
The blood-brain barrier is an extremely selective filter that Mainprize likens to cling film, which coats the blood vessels in the brain, preventing harmful substances in the bloodstream from passing through. Though its function is to protect the brain, this barrier has limited doctors’ ability to treat diseases, such as tumours, using drugs like chemotherapy to target specific areas of the brain.
By successfully opening the blood-brain barrier, “that will allow us to use many, many more medications in the brain than we can currently use,” said Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of physical sciences at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, who developed the technology used in the experimental procedure.
Hynynen said about 98 per cent of molecules that could potentially be used for brain treatments cannot currently be used because they cannot get through the blood-brain barrier. This includes antibodies, which in animal studies have been shown to remove brain plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease, or stem cells, which could be used to treat stroke patients. Thus, he says, the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier will “revolutionize” brain medicine.
Although we have heard this before, over-use of the word “revolutionize,” this procedure sounds as if it will improve the outcomes of some patients who suffer diseases of the brain. What has to also be studied is whether there are any long-term side effects to this procedure, since all procedures have some kind of effect on the human body. The best treatments have little deleterious effects and great positive ones, which improve health and wellness.

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For more, go to [G&M]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Salutations

Belief & Sports

In this poem, Simcha Wasserman does a masterful job of bringing together baseball and faith in the heavens, as revealed in the exploits of Babe Ruth, one of the most storied and talented athletes in professional sports. Many sports writers consider Ruth the greatest baseball player of all time; he had a presence on and off the field, a larger-than-life figure of the Roaring Twenties, who is credited with rescuing professional baseball from scandal, “the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.” Ruth was a man who excelled in “the launch of a small white missile.” A heavenly gift, no doubt.

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by Simcha Wasserman



Babe Ruth [1895–1948] at Yankee Stadium. George Herman Ruth Jr played for the New York Yankees, a professional baseball team, between 1920 and 1934. During a career that spanned 22 seasons (1914–1935), Ruth hit 714 home runs, a record that stood until 1974, when Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves surpassed him.
Photo Credit & Source: Getty ImagesTranscendental Graphics


Salutations
Simcha Wasserman

Babe Ruth in baggy pants
and compression stockings
at the plate, post mammoth blast,
looking skyward, along with the
catcher and the umpire,
admiring the launch
of a small white missile
into outer space;
his bat, still pointing to
the heavens, a lightning rod

drawing down thunder;

And in his lumbering victory
trot, he touches the tip of his cap,
salutations to the crowd,
in the house Ruth built,
salutations above, to the source

and strength of all living flesh,

salutations, all the way to the
grave, for there is spring
in the dust that blows across
the empty fields, and is swept
away, sparkling, in the eternal sun.

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Simcha Wasserman is a Lubavitcher chossid living with his family in Toronto.

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Copyright ©2015. Simcha Wasserman. All Rights Reserved. The poem is published here with the author’s permission.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Palestinians Defeat Themselves

The Jewish State

The Palestinian Arabs who have taken to the streets and stabbed Israeli Jews, including the elderly, suffer from Islamic supersessionism, which prevents them from accepting the idea of the existence of Israel as a majority Jewish state—the only such place in the world. The two-state and the binational state option has been made impossible by the very people who would benefit from either political plan. A lack of concession and compromise leads to continuing failure, to a loss of achieving anything good. Prof. George Jochnowitz writes: “The young Palestinian Arabs who are stabbing Israelis are fighting against the creation of an independent Palestinian state. They are saying that they are unwilling to live in peace with Israel and will fight against it with their lives. At the same time, they are fighting against the creation of a binational state. They are showing Israel that such a state would be a place where Jewish citizens would be threatened by murder.”

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by George Jochnowitz

The young Palestinian Arabs who are stabbing Israelis are fighting against the creation of an independent Palestinian state. They are saying that they are unwilling to live in peace with Israel and will fight against it with their lives. At the same time, they are fighting against the creation of a binational state. They are showing Israel that such a state would be a place where Jewish citizens would be threatened by murder.

Israel’s reaction has been as moderate as possible, considering the danger it faces. Countries at war routinely mistreat minorities ethnically related to their enemies. During World War II, the United States relocated its citizens of Japanese descent to internment camps for the duration of the war. In Israel, on the other hand, citizens who are openly disloyal may have government positions.

Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), has kept her seat even though she rode on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship headed for Gaza that was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Israel and Egypt maintained a blockade of Gaza for reasons of security. Haneen Zoabi chose to ride on a ship to break Israel’s right of self-defense. Despite this act of open disloyalty, she retained her membership in the Knesset. No country but Israel would allow that.

In 2005, Israel announced it would withdraw from Gaza. Israel was willing to create an independent Palestinian mini-state. What happened? On July 9, 2005, 171 non-governmental organizations voted to boycott, divest from, and impose sanctions against Israel. That was the beginning of the BDS Movement. After the withdrawal was complete, Gaza elected Hamas, a party whose charter rejects the possibility of peace.

Nevertheless, Israel remains open to negotiations and allows its Arab citizens and its West Bank residents to live in peace. Never before in human history has a state threatened by those who wish to destroy it responded so moderately.

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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 george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2015. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article appeared originally in the algemeiner (Nov. 4, 2015). It is published here with the author’s permission.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Yahrzeit Candle Of Remembrance

On Memory

Yahrzeit Candle: Today, the 28th of Cheshvan in the Jewish calendar, marks the anniversary of my father’s death, his Yahrzeit (Yiddish, ליכט‎ יאָרצײַט, yortsayt likht), which is a personal and family matter. Each year, on this date, we light a candle (it has to burn for at least 24 hours) in remembrance of his life. In Judaism, this is also referred to as a soul candle (Hebrew, נר נשמה‎, ner neshama). That is, there is a relationship between candle flames and souls that find its meaning in the Book of Proverbs (20:27): “The soul of man is the candle of G-d.” My father, Ephraim ben Yaacov, Z"L, died 35 years ago, aged 69. May peace be upon him. עליו השלום. (alav ha-shalom).
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

To Poland To Remember

Jewish Continuity

Today, the 28th of Cheshvan in the Jewish calendar, marks the anniversary of my father’s death, his Yahrzeit, which is a personal and family matter. Yet, we Jews are a people that also remember collectively, and remember the dead by saying the Yizkor prayer four times a year (i.e., the three pilgrim festivals and Yom Kippur). The same prayer is said in shuls around the world. My father came from Poland, and in this article, the writer speaks about Poland. This is a fitting way to remember my father. Prof. George Jochnowitz writes: “Our festivals are also the time when we remember our departed relatives. We would have no festivals if Jews had not remembered. Our holidays are not only matters of Jewish law but also of memory—memories of Jewish customs, local customs, family customs. That is why it is appropriate to say the memorial prayer, Yizkor, at our three pilgrim festivals. When we remember the departed, we also remember life, as our ancestors lived it and as we do ourselves.”

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by George Jochnowitz

To be Jewish is to remember. We remember that we were slaves in Egypt, a defining moment in our history. Historians in ancient Egypt did not write about the Exodus from their own point of view. Maybe they found the story embarrassing; maybe it was of no importance to them. Our memories, in the Torah and repeated at our festivals, are the only record of the Exodus.

Our festivals are also the time when we remember our departed relatives. We would have no festivals if Jews had not remembered. Our holidays are not only matters of Jewish law but also of memory—memories of Jewish customs, local customs, family customs. That is why it is appropriate to say the memorial prayer, Yizkor, at our three pilgrim festivals. When we remember the departed, we also remember life, as our ancestors lived it and as we do ourselves.

In 1990 and again in 1995 1 went on a trip to Poland. The first time, Carol and I went; the second time we were accompanied by our daughter Eve. It was a way for me to say Yizkor. Many people thought we were doing something strange. “Poland is a graveyard,” they said. But we do visit graveyards; we consider it a mitzvah. “Poland was a killing field,” some people said. It was, and there are those who go there because they feel an obligation to visit Auschwitz. But Poland, and all of Eastern Europe, was something else as well: it was the place where my ancestors not only died but lived.

It was the place where Yiddish developed into the language we know today. It was the place where blintzes and borsht and rye bread became part of Jewish cuisine, where Rabbi Moses Isserles wrote, where the Hasidim and their opponents, the Misnagdim, came from. It was also the place where most Zionist movements developed and where many of Israel's founders learned to believe in the idea of a Jewish state.

Carol and I arrived in Cracow on a Friday. We heard the sounds of a Jewish service coming from a private dining room, and we joined the worshippers, a group of United Synagogue Youth, to greet the Sabbath. They invited us to walk with them to shul the next morning, the Remu shul, named after Rabbi Moses Isserles. On the way to shul we walked down Dietla Street, where my father had lived. We found the street before we looked for it. It was a wide street with a green strip in the middle, just as my father had described it. It looked very familiar.

It suggested Eastern Parkway, Ocean Parkway, the Grand Concourse— all the wide residential streets that are so typical of Jewish neighborhoods in America. Seeing Kazimierz, the former Jewish section of Cracow, made me realize something. The Jews who lived there were not like Tevye, simple and rural—not like Wanda Landowska, cultured but not recognizably Jewish—but like me. Kazimierz is not a slum; it is not the Lower East Side. The Remu shul felt like a shtibl I had attended with my grandfather in Borough Park, Brooklyn, in the 1940s. There were no songs in the service, and the variety of Hebrew used in the service was quite local: The pronunciation of "amen" was not ah men, as in Israel, nor aw main, as it is in many American synagogues, but oo mine.

Five years later, my daughter Eve went to study at Jagiellonian University as part of an NYU summer program in Jewish studies. I had not thought I would visit Poland again, but I felt that I wanted to show Eve my father's house, even though I knew she could find it as easily as I had. As it turned out, it was Eve who showed me the location of my mother's house. We were driving to a town, a shtetl, Ropshits in Yiddish, Ropczyce in Polish, where my mother came from. Our driver could speak English.

In 1990, we had tried to follow the landmarks my mother had given us, but we couldn't find them. In 1995, having questioned my mother and my uncle about details, and with an English-speaking driver, we tried again. It was Eve who spotted the roadside shrines to St. Florian and to the Virgin Mary that my mother had told us to look for. The house had been demolished ten years earlier to make way for a suburban style home, but local people said it had belonged to a family called Niwo. My grandparents had sold it to the Niwo family in 1930.

We spoke to a woman who looked about 100 years old. She didn't recognize my mother's name, and the translator asked me what my grandfather's name had been. I said “Shimshon,” and the translator said there was no such Polish name. The old woman shouted out “Szymszowa,” meaning “Shimshon’s woman,” which is what my grandmother had been called in Polish. She said that Eve looked like Szymszowa, which she does.

There is still a place called cmentarz żydowski, meaning Jewish cemetery. A mausoleum was under construction for the Ropshitser Rebbe, Naftali Tsvi. The reconstruction is being financed by Jakob Muller, who is restoring Jewish cemeteries. Other than that, the cemetery was simply a green field with one stone in it. There was a Star of David and an inscription in Polish, saying that the Nazis had destroyed all the stones in the cemetery. I had brought a prayer book with me and said El Mole Rakhamim, a prayer often recited at cemeteries.

Cultures are very complex. Jewish and Polish societies were partly in contact and partly quite separate. Poland has drunks who stagger and collapse on the sidewalk—certainly not a part of my image of Jews. On the other hand, there is a style of speaking, a combination of taking life very seriously and still being humorous, that looked very familiar. It turned out I knew a number of Polish words: kaczka (duck), indyk (turkey). My mother’s cucumber salad, which I had thought of as her own invention, was served everywhere. Blintzes (naleśniki) and pirogen (pierogi) are not served in ordinary restaurants but only in milk bars, called bar mleczny. Can this be a survival of contact with a society that kept kosher? I must add, however, that meat may be used to stuff the pierogi in a bar mleczny.

We Jews remember. But if our ancestors came from Eastern Europe, we often don’t remember what town they came from, or even what country. We say that the town isn’t there any more. True, the Jewish residents of these places are gone. But the towns still are there. Jews lived there for centuries and were shaped by them. Not only that, the towns were shaped by Jews.

Memory is personal. My memorial visit to a Poland I had never seen will strike many as inappropriate. But for my family and me, the trip added depth and understanding to our experience.

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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 george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2015. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in And Then (Volume 9; 1999) and in The Queens College Journal of Jewish Studies (Volume 4; 2002). It is published here with the author’s permission.