Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama's Mission of Mercy and My Thoughts About Intermarriage

During Barack Obama's recent visit to the Middle East, he attempted to help an American woman who had married a Muslim man. The Muslim agreed that the children would be raised as Baptists. When the relationship soured, he went back to his home under the jurisdiction of the Palestine Authority. Now he will not let his ex wife have any contact with the children they had together. They are now being raised as Muslims . see story here
It is very common for people of different backgrounds to minimise the importance of faith and tradition in their home. The questions raised by this story have implications for Jews and others who are reflecting on the issue of intermarriage. Different holidays, different customs and mutually exclusive religious beliefs can make problems in an interfaith home. When someone comes from a culture where women are subjugated and stripped of their rights, the problem is multiplied exponentially.
I knew a lot of people who said that religion had caused most of the worlds problems. They professed a belief in universal brotherhood. They tended to create a hybrid patchwork of religious practices. Usually, Christian traditions were more dominant laced with a respect for Jews as an ethnic group.
When I came to Orthodox Judaism, I maintained contact with old friends. One friend had a background in science. He was very outspoken in his belief that nationalism and religion were responsible for most of the world's ills. To him I was going back to the middle ages.
I explained to him my new found conviction that intermarriage went against my beliefs by using chemistry as a metaphor, since my friend made his living in a field involving chemistry.
Matter is made up of subatomic particles such as electrons, protons and neutrons. The next step up the ladder is atomic particles. Atoms in turn combine to form molecules. We try to limit and control chemical reactions that might not be beneficial. We do not want metal to rust, for example. But we try to create new chemical compounds for medicinal and industrial use. We try to make use of our knowledge of atoms and molecules to make positive changes in our world.
Humanity is made up of individuals. Individuals usually belong to families. Families belong in turn to communities that make up a nation. This is basic to human existence. We try to make marriage choices that are constructive and not explosive. A community can enrich or embitter the life of an individual in it. This is not like the weather that is beyond our control but an outgrowth of personal and collective choices. A person who says that nationalism or group allegiance is bad is like a person who will accept the existence of subatomic particles but won't work with atoms or molecules. There is destructive chemistry and destructive nationalism. Bad chemical reactions can be can be caused by neglect, ignorance or malevolence. The same can be said for nationalism. Membership in a family or group can breed indifference to outsiders or bea reference point that deepens empathy with others.
Chemistry will exist whether we choose to study and utilise it or not. Social organisation and groups will also exist whether we want them to or not. Patriotism can descend into madness and ignorance or it can unite people in search of a greater good.
When someone decides to set aside their family traditions to build a home, they run the strong risk of cutting themselves off from something that could be a source of strength. Very frequently, they find out later in their married life that their heritage means more to them than they had thought. Instead of entering the circle of life strengthened by a common tradition, they stand at best outside the circle of traditions. At worst, competing religious systems create discord.
In some homes, the preservation of a language is important. In other homes it is the preservation of a faith. When a body of tradition dies at the hand of a neglectful generation, the world loses a facet of itself.
Reading the story of a woman in search of her children born to a home divided by faith rather than united by it has a personal relevance to me . There is much discussion of intermarriage in my family. There is in my family good will towards all nationalities that is often cited as a reason for "marrying out". My opposition to inter faith marriage is likewise born of a deep fondness for the diversity of the world's peoples.I am deeply grateful to those who value their ethnic and religious heritage enough to preserve it through educational and marital choices. The best gift you can give the world is to be yourself.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Power To The People: Give Us Freedom We Can Use

The Democrats in America and their ideological compatriots in Europe are zealous in defending the "right" to abortion as well as gay rights. But when it comes to simple freedom of speech, they are quick to trample the rights of others to free expression.
The Soviets used Mongolians and others from the Soviet Far East as shock troops to enforce their version of the" new world order". After a few days of terror with soldiers raping and pillaging, the backbone of collective resistance is broken whether in Berlin or Budapest.
The Muslims immigrants in Europe are similarly bringing with them a wave of crime. The most vocal among them advocate a contempt for the core political and social values of their host countries.
There are obvious questions that beg to be asked. It is clear that Muslim immigrants are afraid of dating habits and social practices that conflict with their social conservatism. Conservative Christians and orthodox Jews have established traditions as well. They also want to live in peaceful enclaves where outsiders are gently kept at arms length. It would be logical for Muslims to make common cause with believers of other faiths on matters as diverse as as sex education and municipal amenities for large families such as parks and pools. Both orthodox Jews and Muslims swim with the genders separated. It would be logical to work together to facilitate such amenities for communities of believers.
There has been no alliance of believers in Europe or America that has achieved a great deal of public notice. Action against Israel and against "hate speech" is all that has come out of Muslim leaders flexing their political muscles.. In Great Britain, blogger Lionheart was actually arrested for inciting ethnic hatred in his blog. I have examined it and it contains no calls for violence whatsoever.
Why is it that we are being offered sexual freedoms whether we want them or not yet simple freedom of speech is under worldwide attack? From the prosecution of "Lionheart" in Britain to Nancy Pelosi's sinister advocacy of a "fairness" doctrine " governing the broadcast media, simple freedom of speech is under attack as never before. In true Orwellian fashion, the language is being twisted to make opposition to their agenda into an awkward proposition. "Fairness doctrine" sounds fairly benevolent but it mandates a quota for expression of opposing viewpoints on radio that turns programming into a logistical nightmare. Why does "choice" apply to abortion but not to choosing a private school for one's children?
Whenever a controversial change is brought about such as banning prayer in public schools, it is usually rammed down our throats by an unelected judiciary.
America's flagship battles are attacks on conservative talk radio. The shock troops of British political correctness are attacking bloggers, attempting to muzzle "Lionheart".
I have an uncomfortable feeling that the left in Europe and America regard radical Muslims as their own "useful idiots." I think the radical Muslims feel the same way about them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bolek and Lolek: Cultural Artifacts From Communist Poland

Bolek i Lolek Polish Cartoon

In the Communist bloc, Poland was advanced in their music and in some of their visual art as well . Polish jazz as well as rock music were as good as much of what was produced in the west. Like any communist country, art was subordinated to the needs of the state. That still left a vast apolitical domain in which artists and musicians could function with some sense of personal integrity.
Poland, like Hungary, had a notable private sector. Like most of the satellite countries in the eastern bloc, Poland made material and political concessions to make obedience to Moscow a less burdensome proposition for the common people. Subsequent history has shown that the concessions did not suffice to rescue communism from the proverbial dustbin of history.
Like Rubik's Cube from Hungary Lolek i Bolek captured the hearts of viewers far and wide outside of Poland. The series produced by Wladislaw Nehrebecki with the help of German Alfred Ledwig and Leszek Mech appeared on Nickolodeon under the names Jym and Jam as well as Bennie and Lennie. It was actually approved for viewing on Iranian TV at a time when most cartoons from the west did not pass muster with the censors.
There was a lot of positive creative activity under communist regimes. It is common knowledge that fiction authors would insert three page speeches praising socialism into a novel to ease it past the censors. The discerning reader was able to gloss over the speeches and read the story as the author intended. To get a sense of this style of critical reading under communism, it is best to imagine going to the bathroom during commercials on television.
Communist rule cast a shadow for forty years over Eastern Europe and seventy years in the former USSR. Looking at their art and entertainment helps to create a more vivid picture of the peoples who lived through this chapter in the world's history. I am grateful that so much has been preserved for posterity from Eastern Europe during the years under communism. I am grateful to YouTube and for enabling me to share these memories with my readers.

Bolek i Lolek in Wikipedia

Monday, July 28, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Cult of Personality in Pyongyang and Washington

Obama Spoof in Tones of King James Bible

Funny North Korean Commercial

Kim Il Sung Tribute

The National Black Republican Association has thankfully put me on their e-mail list. They sent me a you tube video in which footage of Barack Hussein Obama was narrated with a stilted tone of adulation that evoked memories of the King James New Testament. The video was produced in Britain, giving lie to the impression created that the Europeans unanimously worship Obama.
I juxtaposed a compilation of official North Korean propaganda extolling Kim Il Sung. The video paints a portrait of the mind numbing personality cult created in North Korea, the only communist dynasty in the entire world.
There are different approaches to democracy. One approach is to vote for ideology and party. The other approach is to focus on individuals. I have heard more than once the statement that "I vote for the man, not the party". A system can make or break an individual. It is a matter of record how collective farms lagged behind private agricultural enterprises. Tanzania, for instance found that under Julius Nyerere that a socialist approach did not blend well with Tanzanian traditions. In Russia today the overthrow of communism has unleashed a lot of creative energy. Unfortunately, the blessings of prosperity have been unevenly distributed. Those who were well connected under communism have a competitive advantage not shared by common folk.
I strongly believe that Barack Obama would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States and the world. The indifference of the mainstream media to the reservations of millions about an Obama presidency is driving millions to talk radio and into the blogosphere.
Despite this, McCain will need critics when he becomes president. Although he is unapologetic about America's role as a world power, he is far more equivocal about defending our borders. His support of "campaign reform" in cosponsoring the McCain Feingold legislation regulating campaign spending came back to haunt him when he found his own campaign shackled by the same rules he had pushed into the federal law books. McCain will need not only our support but our constructive criticism. Unfortunately, the role of the opposition in American politics has degenerated into naked obstructionism, of trying to undercut the chief executive at every turn.
McCain has been accused of being abrasive and insensitive. New York had an" abrasive" and" insensitive" mayor who presided over a two thirds drop in the murder rate. Giuliani's successor has seen a rise in crime and a drop in second hand smoke as well as trans fat. America is not electing a drinking buddy. It is electing a president. All of the countries that complain about America being the world's policeman are only angry that the sheriff's badge is pinned on the wrong chest.
When you are buying a used car, you kick the tires, lift the hood and check the body for rot.Voting for Obama without proper investigation is like buying a used car from a catalogue without even taking it for a drive. The mainstream media has insulated Obama from criticism. Now that he has sheltered himself from unrehearsed questions, they are starting to tire of him.(Read background story on 'Yid With Lid' It is good that the big networks are tired of being treated the same way they treat us. It's about time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lessons From The French of North America

One of the most interesting places I ever visited was the island of St. Pierre of St. Pierre and Miquelon. St. Pierre and Miquelon are tiny islands off the coast of Newfoundland. The houses are made of wood and are gathered in the hills like coffee in a cup. The narrow, steep streets are saturated with fast moving cars. It has the highest auto accident rate in North America. The language of the islands is French. It is a part of France and has a representative in the French National Assembly. They speak French with an accent that comes not from the Acadian French of North America but the French spoken in France. To preserve their identity as French people, they route phone calls to the Canadian mainland through France and from there back to Canada, making a 3000 mile connection instead of a ten mile circuit.
Both the Quebecois and the people of St Pierre and Miquelon put a great deal of stress on the survival of their French identity. In so doing they maintain a living link that sheds light on the history and evolution of the French language. During the Three Weeks, thoughts of exile and maintaining Jewish identity are very much on my mind. The importance of language in shaping ones thoughts and expressing the soul is also something that occupies my thoughts during this time. I admire the people of St. Pierre for taking impractical measures for the greater purpose of maintaining their own identity. I admire the people of Quebec for maintaining a pride in their identity that has enabled them to enjoy a cultural resurgence. North American nationalism has been relatively bloodless in comparison to that of the Balkans and other trouble spots. In daring and wanting to maintain a connection to their heritage, they have given a gift to the world. The manner in which they approach the importance of the survival of their language seems to be a valuable lesson to Jews and to Americans in the importance of maintaining one's identity and the role of language in furtherance of that objective. There are lessons to be learned in comparing one's self to one's neighbours. The French of North America have provided me with much food for thought. For this I thank them.

The video with this posting is a slide show of St Pierre and Miquelon. It has a beautiful soundtrack of a Celtic rock band from France. I am mentioning this so thosw who are refraining from listening too music during the three weeks can be forewarned and turn the volume down.

You Tube Video of St. Pierre and Miquelon

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lessons From The Pit Bulls Next Door

A couple of weeks ago , my neighbours had family coming in from Georgia. What was interesting to us was that they brought three well behaved dogs with them, including one who was very pregnant and gave birth to a litter of puppies in New York. The dogs were so well behaved, the lesson from their stay seemed to be not to judge a breed by its reputation. The contagious kindness of the dog's owners seemed to impart another moral to the story, that a person can through their kindness and decency transform the world around them.
Towards the end of their stay, the dogs have taught us some sadder lessons as well. About a week into their stay, the owners went traveling upstate. We had assumed that their pets were going with them. Instead, they stayed in a kennel. When they returned, the pit bulls were high strung and irritable. Everything they had learned about boundaries in the back yard seemed to be forgotten. There was a different sound to their barking, a sound of fear and defensiveness that could easily have fueled a fierceness. Instead of distinguishing as animals often do between the young and the adults of other species, the younger dogs got angry even when my children played in our half of the back yard. Seeing a change in the dog's behavior, I moved my children to the front yard and told them not to play in the back until the dogs went home. I still talk to the pit bulls in reassuring tones as I pull my motor cycle out of the garage, but the sound of my voice does not seem to resonate with them as it did before.
The behavior of the animals seems to point to some occurence at the kennel that upset them. Perhaps it was simply the fear of abandonment that shook their sense of security. It is all but impossible to know what triggered such a change in the pit bull's behavior . Although they are expressive in a general sense, they still can't talk like humans.
Telling my children to stay away from the dogs brought back sad memories, not of animals in my past, but of people. Sometimes a child in a loving home hits a difficult stretch in their life. A neighbour or family friend develops an angry edge, maybe even starts using drugs or alcohol. With the sad wisdom of experience, I try to redirect my children, hopefully meriting enough respect that they listen to me . Sometimes it's safe to have a kid come over and play Monopoly or computer games, even if you don't want your kids going out on the town with their questionable friend.
Seeing that personality change in the pit bulls reminded me a lot of kids who get knocked over by life's challenges. Family problems, difficulties at school or even serious issues like molestation and physical abuse can make a kid feel beaten and worthless. With children and adults, those most in need of love are sometimes the hardest to love.
What got me through some of my darkest hours? The warm glow of a kind word can melt a wall of ice years later. There are conversations that replay in my mind from decades ago. My father always used to say, "Buy a book even if you aren't going to read it right away, so it will be there when you are ready for it and need it." What you say to people becomes part of the library of their mind. I remember a neighbour years ago who knew I was going through rough times that I didn't want to talk about. An empathetic look at the end of a stretch of small talk was all I needed.
Seeing the dogs next door scarred by an experience that they are not equipped to describe has helped me to look at the human suffering around me with increased compassion. Going to my back yard, trying to be friendly to my canine neighbours while at the same time protecting my family and myself is much of what goes on in life. The pit bulls next door have held a mirror to my own struggles. They remind me in their simplicity of a reproduction of a Chinese ink drawing I once had. With two lines and an ink blot, it portrayed a panda bear as unmistakably as would a photograph. Human emotions are mirrored in the animal kingdom with the austere directness of a haiku poem and well placed lines in a drawing that evokes an inner image.
The pit bulls will be going home soon. The garage next door will soon be silent.I am quite relieved at that. The dogs have taught me their lesson like a book borrowed, read and soon to be returned.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Irish Famine and Its Lessons For Today

Irish Famine

Yesterday, a review of the New York Time's dismal history as a sleeping watch dog on my site focused on the "Holdomar " the man made famine in the former USSR in from 1932 to 1933. The generation that experienced this even as children is now dying out. It is important that this horrible chapter in the history of the former USSR be taught and passed to to new generations.
Where I grew up outside of Boston, there were many people of Irish descent. Massachusetts and America would be very different without the contribution of Irish immigrants. When I was a child, there were still older Irish people who were a living scrapbook of Irish memory. Stinging recollections of social exclusion and talk of the Irish famine were a part of their collective memory. Although none of my ancestors are Irish, the stories told to me in my youth by Irish American teachers and neighbours form a critical frame of reference for how I view history.
The Ukrainian famine was totally man made. It was not a begrudging sky or blighted earth that denied the Ukrainian people sustenance. It was people, stripped of human compassion in their allegiance to a godless ideology. The starvation was intended to batter the Ukrainian people into submission.
The mother of the Irish famine was the diseased soil in which its potato crop withered. But Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom. A rigid class structure formed a social framework in Ireland inwhich Irish people were held in contempt. Even before the birth of the Anglican Church under Henry the Eighth, the English looked down on the Irish. Irish were sold as slaves by the English. Even today, descendants of the deported Irish celebrate St. Patrick's day every year in the West Indian island republic of Montserrat.
Ireland continued to export food during the famine. Rather than declare a state of emergency, the English rulers and absentee landlords of Ireland continued to demand from Irish sharecroppers whatever the begrudging earth might yield. In England there was pious pontification over whether soup kitchens and relief drives might prove detrimental to Irish diligence and self reliance. According to one observer, six ships left Dublin with agricultural exports for every ship that came in with relief supplies. Over a million Irish died of starvation in Ireland. Death aboard ships in steerage was common among desperate emigrants who left Ireland with nothing but a desire to work and survive. Like the Ukraine in the following century, Ireland lost a quarter of its population. London under Queeen Victoria, like Moscow under Stalin considered the famine to be a net social and economic gain . To this day, the memory of British cruelty to the Irish is a part of the Irish historical narrative. It provided vivid proof that Irish well being would not be sought in London. The memory of Irish famine lent a visceral urgency to the struggle for Irish independence.It remains vivid for those who grew up among the Boston Irish.
Historical memory should not be a mental exercise. The study of the past should colour our vision of the present. It would be a monumental error to suppose that there is no man made component to famine today. Zimbabwe is a classic example of a country whose productive economy was destroyed for political reasons. The leftist rhetoric of Robert Mugabe deafens the world to the cries of the Zimbabwean people. His leftist enablers would far rather question the legitimacy of George Bush's electoral victory than to challenge the blatantly thuggish electoral triumph of Robert Mugabe. Khuzestan in Iran is another region where its Arab natives languish as oil revenues are shipped elsewhere. In Nigeria as well is heated debate as to how fairly oil revenues are distributed to benefit the local population.
History has been far kinder to Britain than it has been to Stalin and deservedly so. Yet countries such as Belgium and Portugal have left a legacy of strife and destruction in the wake of their parasitic rule of former colonies. We need to ask ourselves today how fairly the wealth produced today benefits workers and farmers that produce it. It is better for such questions to be asked by men of good will than by demagogues such as Lenin and Stalin who only seek to dress a new slavery in the rhetoric of their godless ideology.
History has much to teach us. The book of our mistakes can offer no wise counsel if it remains unopened.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is There a Pro Obama Bias in The Media?

McCain Campaign Video about media bias Ukrainian famine video
John McCain is understandably upset about the New York Times rejecting his rebuttal to a column written by Barack H. Obama and published in the New York Times earlier. McCain claimed that the objections of the editor went well beyond style and were an attempt to substantially alter statements of opinion.
Those who want to read the rebuttal had to go to
McCain has every right to be angry at the New York Times for their coverage of his campaign. Mr. McCain should know, however that he is in good company. During World War Two, the New York Times buried its Holocaust Coverage inside the paper, well away from page one . Of 24,000 front page stories between 1939 and 1945, only twenty six stories dealt with the Holocaust. Of those, only six stories mentioned the focus of liquidation efforts on Jews.
Its infamous coverage of the Ukrainian famine in the early thirties went well beyond downplaying or even neglecting the story. Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for himself and undeserved prestige for the New York Times for filing glowing reports of the success of forced collectivisation in the Ukraine. As the readers of the New York Times read about joy in socialist paradise, a man made famine was sweeping across the Ukraine. Unreported were instances of people eating dogs, cats and squirrels. Actual cannibalism, documented by those with no political agenda went unreported in the New York Times.
The damage inflicted upon doomed Jews and Ukrainians by the editors of the New York Times is incalculable. Newspapers around the country and around the world look to the New York Times for guidance in prioritising their international news. A decision to shine a spotlight on a government's atrocities can save lives . Countries concerned about their image abroad sometimes respond to negative publicity. The worst thing that can happen to a group targeted with genocide is to have a major news outlet lead a coverup. This is exactly what happened to the Ukrainians. George Bernard Shaw and Walter Duranty are a few of may who because of bribery or ideological blindness denied the existence of a famine in the Ukraine. Malcolm Muggeridge and a few other brave journalists kept the world informed at great risk to themselves. In 1932-1933, millions died. Estimates range from 2.5 million souls to as many as ten million. In a country where for years it was hard to even get a telephone book, it is difficult to reconstruct details from official records. The democratic government of Ukraine has no interest in covering up this dark chapter in its history. The millions killed are finally getting their belated recognition.
The market economy in America is inflicting serious blows upon periodicals and broadcast outlets that slant and falsify the news. The New York Times as seen its circulation plummet.
Biased papers such as the New York Times are going the way of collective farms and five year plans. The internet and talk radio are viewed with fear and contempt by the ditzerati of the liberal media . McCain should not worry about being denied space in the New York Times. Its once lofty platform sinks deeper by the day into the swamp of public indifference. Their bias against him has generated far more interest in his rejected article than if they would have printed it. The public is well aware that reporters frequently bring a personal bias to news reporting. Today, the public is more skeptical than ever before. And in the age of the internet , we have choices.
Don't worry, Senator McCain. Help is on the way.
Ukrainian Genocide video

Wikipedia article on Ukrainian Genocide

New York Times Profits Drop 82%

McCain article that was rejected by the New York Times and Drudge Report commentary

The DRUDGE REPORT presents the McCain editorial in its submitted form:

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation “hard” but not “hopeless.” Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, “Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.” Even more heartening has been progress that’s not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City—actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five “surge” brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his “plan for Iraq.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be “very dangerous.”

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we’ve had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner prematurely.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war—only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yet Another Bulldozer Attack In Jerusalem:My Thoughts

Jerusalem Post on Second Bulldozer Attack

For the second time, an Arab has taken a bulldozer from a construction site in Jerusalem and used it as an instrument of terrorism. The vigilance of an armed civilian and a border policeman put a quick end to the carnage. Since before the founding of the State of Israel, Arabs have been hired to do construction work. Many of the Arabs who live in Israel are descended from those who were attracted by jobs created by Jews resettling the land. In America, construction work has evolved into a solid skilled profession at which one may earn a very good living. Promoting the dignity of labour makes political, moral and economic good sense for those who want to maintain a Jewish presence in the Holy Land. As we now sadly see, it has implications for national security as well.
It is interesting to note that armed civilians as well as armed members of the military and border police were able to put a quick end to both bulldozer attacks. If not for their quick intervention, the casualties would have been much more extensive. Americans and European governments should be mindful of what Israel faces on a daily basis. Continued demands for "painful sacrifices" are nothing less than aiding and abetting Israel's sworn enemies.
The other lesson for Americans involves gun control, which should mean being able to hit one's target. Unfortunately, in many parts of America, law abiding citizens have to run a bureaucratic gauntlet to secure a legal firearm. The Virginia Tech Massacre as well as the Christian and Newsom murders are cases where armed civilians might well have put an end to tragic episodes in their early moments . In many American cities, gun control laws embolden criminals, who know that the government is protecting them from the law abiding population.
America also suffers from short sightedness in its immigration policies. Greedy employers set wages on decent and honourable labour so low that only those who are sending remittances abroad would find the remuneration to be reasonable. Even computer programming jobs are being outsourced abroad. Naturally, we are eroding our tax base as we pit American and foreign workers against each other. The thoughtful planning that could develop poorer countries and raise their standard of living without hurting American workers does not interest greedy capitalists who are only interested in a quick buck. With the exception of Mexican extremists and some Arab immigrants, most of America's illegal immigrants are here to make money, and have no political agenda.Israel is in a fight for its life . It is clear that some workers hate Israel so strongly that they will sacrifice a good job if such sacrifice will kill Jews.
It is time for Israel to respect the dignity of all honest labour. Create a job you would not be ashamed to give your best friend. America and Israel are very close friends. We have even made very similar mistakes. For the sake of peace, security and prosperity,we should correct our mistakes as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

In Defense of Freedom of Speech : Michael Savage on Autism

article on autism
another article on autism

vos iz neias/new-york-city-remarks-on-autism-kids-by-radio-show-stirs-anger-and-protest/

Michael Savage, the famous right wing talk show host has ignited a firestorm of criticism with his comments on autistic children. On his radio program, he has reportedly dismissed 99% of children with an autism diagnosis as "brats" and "morons". Predictably, there has been a chorus of calls for his resignation, with a demonstration planned today in front of WOR radio in New York City.
In fairness to my readers, I am presenting the You Tube recordings of Michael Savage's statements. One video sounds fairly simplistic and the other recording makes a plausible case that there has been overdiagnosis of autism. Debates about the suitability and frequency of autism diagnoses have been going on in medical circles for a long time. A concrete physical complaint such as a broken arm of strep infection can be diagnosed beyond a reasonable doubt. In such cases a medical treatment is fairly straight forward.
In the case of a psychological or behavioral condition, debates about cause and cure are less conclusive. In the case of milder diagnoses such as attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, it can be argued that drugs are prescribed far too frequently. Certain types of students are less appreciated than others. Those who have listened to Savage are familiar with his opposition to Ritalin and support for alternative medicine. He is a strong advocate of exploring diet as a possible remedy to behavioral problems now treated with pills.
Michael Savage is an entertainer and a social critic. His adeptness at infuriating some of his audience is a part of his attraction. Bob Grant, who was also no stranger to controversy once said, "I don't care what people say about me as long as they say something."
Another attraction Savage holds for his audience is his willingness to focus on issues and fears that get banished to the sidelines of public discussion. Illegal immigration, outsourcing of American jobs and anti white racism are topics that are treated dismissively in the media mainstream and given serious attention on Savage Nation.
It would easily be possible to package a Savage Nation agenda in the style of National Public Radio. I am more interested in Savage's opinions and agenda than I am his style. I would love to see him do an NPR broadcast saying what he does in their format. But Savage is a showman and an entertainer. His attraction is his continued ability to shock in a time when we blush at little. He reminds me a great deal of Lenny Bruce, who was also hounded in his day by opponents of free speech.
The medical profession is still changing its mind on basic questions. Current wisdom says that a baby should sleep on its back. In my younger years, pediatricians told us to put a sleeping baby on its stomach. It is hard not to wonder how much medical advice is the product of fashion and trends. I am sure that new facts and hypotheses will come to light concerning autism and other disorders.
I have had contact with autistic individuals and their families on a regular basis. In light of what I have seen, Savage's comments seem simplistic. I think he would probably qualify some of his more offensive statements if he met some of the people I have who suffer with and those who live with people who are diagnosed with autism.
When Media Media Matters , a liberal "media watchdog" gets involved with Savage's latest difficulties, it should be viewed in the light of their long standing opposition to Michael Savage. Before Michael Savage made his controversial remarks, Media Matters was not involved in advocacy for autistic individuals.Their mission has been to marshal public opinion against what they see as conservative misinformation. Liberal distortions of fact are not on their agenda. In fashioning the families of autistic children into another aggrieved constituency, Media Matters and other free speech opponents hope to be able to add to their ground troops in the war on Savage's first amendment rights.
Savage will probably stimulate valuable discussion about autism and other disorders. Those whose children suffer from physical or psychological maladies often develop expertise in their child's area of difficulty. New and alternative approaches are often sought out and eventually make their way sometimes into mainstream medicine. As offensive and self promoting as Savage might be , he is an advocate for questioning conventional wisdom about conventional medicine.
Questioning scientific as well as political orthodoxy is what has drives the growth of human knowledge. It would be a pity for the voice of Michael Savage to be silenced in this election year or at any other time. Freedom of speech is not the sole province of the bland and conventional. It belongs as much to those we consider obnoxious and repugnant. Silencing Savage creates a precedent that is injurious to the families of the autistic and to all of us. It is a bad idea.
Savage on Autism

Savage on autism (at greater length)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tooter Turtle and Thoughts About The Three Weeks

I believe in the sun
even When it isn't shining

I believe in love,
even when I am alone

I believe in G-d
even when He is silent.

(These words were found written on the wall in a basement in Cologne where Jews were found hiding)

In a little more than an hour, the fast that starts the observance of the three weeks will begin. It is the seventeenth of Tammuz, when the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem. Three weeks later, the temple , the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed.
This period on the calendar has become for me something like Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Both temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. The edict of expulsion from Spain became effective on that day in 1492. The various tragedies that have marred Jewish history raise some of the same questions. I do not isolate the Shoah from the rest of our history. A single day does not do this theme proper justice.
We have two full fasts of 25 hours on the Jewish calendar. One is on the ninth of Av, in three weeks. The other fast is on Yom Kippur. For me, Yom Kippur is a time to ask G-d and people for forgiveness. On the ninth of Av I try to forgive G-d.
As a child on Saturday morning, I was not in synagogue. I was home watching cartoons. One of my favourites was Tooter Turtle . Each episode started off with Tooter Turtle wishing for some dream to come true. After some words of caution, the Wizard, his wise mentor and benefactor would wave his wand and thereby transport Tooter into his own land of wishes come true. Inevitably, the fantasy would take on a frightening life of its own. Each episode ended with Tooter Turtle crying "Help! Mr. Wizard!" At the end of each episode the dream ended with the wave of a magic wand and a wise lecture that made sense of Tooter's mishaps.
Perhaps more than I realised, Tooter Turtle shaped or at least resembles my expectations of G-d. Many times in the middle of a crisis I have called out" Ribono Shel Olam !" or G-d Almighty!" As my survival attests, I am satisfied with the results. There have been enough happy endings to carry me past the half century mark.
There are other endings that leave me unsatisfied. The killing fields in Cambodia, genocide in Darfur and Rwanda are all tragedies that have occurred in my life time. From these places rose many a cry for deliverance. Many cries went unanswered. Why are some born to lands of freedom and wealth and others born to countries where fear is king? Why are some born to loving parents and others to a litany of abuse?
It is tempting to believe in randomness and chaos. It is also terrifying.
What has a generation of disbelief produced? Those whose cries pierce the heart. Were they struck by G-d? Or were they struck by man? I ask of G-d in his own words "Why do you stand idly by the blood of your neighbour?" I ask myself the same question and I am ashamed.
What do people become when they believe that there is no G-d? What do they then inflict on the world?
I still ask G-d, "When do you decide enough is enough and decide to step in? You've done it before. If not now, the when?"
In past years, I went to 770, the main synagogue in Crown Heights on Tisha B'Av to listen to Rabbi Nissan Mangel. At the age of ten he was shipped to Auschwitz. Not only did he survive, but his faith did as well. He actually said that his faith was strengthened in Auschwitz. I can not do his words justice (You should click here to listen to him speak on this subject)
It is people like Rabbi Mangel who help me sort through this potentially confusing issue. If you know people who have found meaning in the suffering in their lives, perhaps they should be studied and listened to as well.
I still find myself looking for the Mr. Wizard of my childhood, for that kind voice that gently dissolves nightmares. There have been miracles in the past. There will be miracles in the future. G-d said it. I believe it. Whatever my doubts, the generations that believed only in themselves have forfeited my confidence. Most of my prayers have been answered through people who decided that G-d wanted them to be kind. I have met Mr Wizard and he is us.

Another Tooter Turtle Video From You Tube

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lebanese Comedy Skit: Truth Spoken In Jest

Back in the seventies, the leftists used to say "You can be against Israel without being anti-Jewish. Bolstering their point was a significant number of Jews in leftist organisations such as the Communist Party and the Socialist Worker's Party. Hatred of Israel has dropped its flimsy mask. Jews in France and other European countries know all too well that a Jew anywhere is a target. Jews in Buenos Aires, Argentina learned that lesson in 1994 when its Jewish Center was blown up in a terrorist bombing tied to Iran.
Any pretense that a distinction exists between Jews out of Israel and those in the Holy land has long ceased to exist. Yesterday was a national holiday in Lebanon. There was an outpouring of joy that a murderer of a four year old girl was now free. In a country with an elaborate division of power between Christian, Muslim, and Druse, all factions of the national leadership led the nation in rejoicing. Among Jews, saying amen to a blessing is the same as saying it one's self. The entire Lebanese nation has declared the vilest sort of murder to be their highest aspiration. Through their enthusiastic celebration of Samir Kuntar, they have said amen to his deeds and become one with them. They have stood together in the light of day and sealed their judgement in the eyes of G-d and man. Anyone who asks us to negotiate with such a nation deadens righteous revulsion and in so doing defiles the world. This wicked nation to Israel's north spent an entire day spitting in G-d's face.
The Lebanese themselves know how malignant their hatred is of Jews. I found a comedy skit that pokes fun at Hezbollah and its hatred of Israel. They openly admit that Sheba Farms is only the first step , that Jews elsewhere are fair game. The very fact that such a skit can be made shows that yesterday's orgy of sick rejoicing was voluntary.
If this sad episode wakes up and unites the Jewish people, it will have served a purpose. We can and must find togetherness in love that eclipses the unifying hatred of our enemies.
Whenever someone makes a joke, a part of me sits back and analyses the underlying assumptions of the joke and the reason for telling it. The video I am presenting in this posting provides telling insight into the minds of the Lebanese. I am grateful to You Tube and the person who uploaded it for providing me with such telling insight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy Holiday You Wretched Scum

America puts its filthiest dregs in maximum security prisons. We really don't have a death penalty. There is a greater likelihood of winning a hefty Lotto jackpot than being put to death by the government. Even in the worst prisons, there is a caste system. Bank robbers, murderers and drug dealers don't raise an eyebrow. But all across America, a child molester or a killer is considered the lowest of the low. Every day of their life on the inside is turned into a living hell. Usually, the guards turn a blind eye. And the public doesn't want to hear any sob stories about how the poor baby killers suffer.
Let's compare America, the Great Satan to Hezbollahstan, that country once known as Lebanon that has been turned into an Islamic paradise. Today is a holiday in Hezbollahstan. They are welcoming a brave hero, who just returned from Israeli prison, unrepentant and well fed. What was his brave, patriotic act? He bashed in the head of a four year old girl who had just witnessed the murder of her father. His "holy faith" liberated him from the strictures of the fifth commandment. He killed a Jew. So today is a holiday. I see you are dancing in the streets in circles, because your "hero" has come home. In America, the "Great Satan" they would break every bone in his body. He would be a walking dead man. But in Hezbollahstan , he is a saint.
No one should be punished for the sins of another person, but when you dance in the streets, when you shout and sing for joy, you have joined yourself to him who you celebrate and deserve his punishment. I have heard your "export quality" social critics talk about how western decadence undermines "Islamic virtue". We are so immodest and so promiscuous. And you are the very image of modesty as you parade in the streets with hijabs or burkas. Let us sinful westerners repent of our fornicating ways. You may kidnap Christian girls to forcibly convert them. You may rape them. But you're just "consummating a marriage". It's a good deed. You're showing them the sweet ways of Allah. In the holy "Islamic Republic of Iran", you don't have prostitution, you just get married for an hour . For that matter, you can marry off your daughter for an hour.
You are beneath contempt. The god you call allah is not my G-d.
To speak of killers without mentioning their enablers would not do justice to the travesty of the prisoner exchange. So while we are on the subject of false gods, let's talk about Ehud Olmert and his cash filled envelopes. Ehud old buddy, you've got a head for business. Would you buy a piece of real estate without checking it out, even if it was a disguised bribe? No, Your'e a smart boy. You'd scope it out first. So when you signed off on this trade, did you look to see if you'd be getting a live prisoner? No you didn't. It looks like you got real stupid. Maybe some statement from a Swiss bank account will prove that you aren't such a dolt after all. That's fine for you. I'm sure that you have an escape route planned. But what about the Israeli people who are worth as much for a bargaining chip dead as when they are alive. I can't even criticise the the Fourth Reich (I mean the European Union) or the US for putting pressure on you. You are so quick to give in, it must embarrass them.
You preside over a nation numb with mourning and jaded with the endless accounts of your corruption. You show no emotion. Your face is like a mask. The only feeling you seem to have is for the bloated wallet that stuffs your pocket. I would criticise your distorted values, but you have no values to distort.
I am weary of condemning terrorists, their cheerleaders and enablers. Anyone who could kill a four year old girl as you did is human only in the chromosomal sense of the word. The sweat from my angry fingers on my keyboard is worth more than your entire wretched life.
I can waste no more words on the sordid players in this sad affair. I can only make a simple suggestion. Only in our insane age would this suggestion even be necessary. One live prisoner for one live prisoner. One dead prisoner for one dead prisoner. And if we are short of corpses to trade, let's make them ourselves. Let's do it the way it is done in Iran, with a firing squad. And let's send their families a bill for the bullets.

Marc Chagall and Hendel Lieberman: A Comparison and a Lesson For Our Times

During my few attempts at home repair, I learned a golden rule . When you are reassembling an appliance after having replaced or fixed a component, there should be no pieces left over. If you have a plastic cup with screws and springs, you have undoubtedly made a mistake that will result in the appliance not working or having a lower range of function. A home repairman or even a licensed technician almost never improves on the wisdom of the original designer.
A human being , or indeed any living creature is a masterpiece of intelligent design. It has now been discovered that even the appendix, long regarded as a useless design flaw in the human body has its purpose.
Human beings are created with a range of talents that make specialisation a viable economic proposition. Those who have carpentry skills perform a function of which a lawyer or a medical doctor might be incapable. A person who studies and perfects his skills benefits himself and society at large.
The Torah has a prohibition against worshipping graven images. In some Jewish communities, this was given an extremely stringent interpretation. A rabbi I know in Crown Heights told me a story from his days as a boy in Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. He was sitting in class drawing as the rabbi spoke. His neighbour on the bench at which they sat looked over at my rabbi as he drew a picture of a bearded man in a black hat. The classmate snatched the drawing away from my rabbi and in a contrived tone of righteous indignation cried out, "Rebbe !! Leibel is making a "getshke"! (idol) The rebbe's face turned ashen and then crimson as he took the drawing from the hand of the young zealot. Wordlessly, he brought my rabbi to the menahel (principal). Despite the anguished pleas of my rabbi's parents, he was expelled from that yeshiva, much to the shame and consternation of his father, who had attended the same school as a boy. Subsequent events vindicated the piety of my rabbi. His accuser's attire in later years would mark him as a visiting stranger in the streets of Meah Shearim. It seemed that the pleasure of a disciplinary spectacle had been his real motive in turning in his classmate.
I mention this story to provide a social context in which Marc Chagall, a world famous Jewish artist can be properly appreciated. Although Chagall has brought Jewish themes to countless millions, the idea of making a living as an artist and loyalty to the Jewish faith were considered mutually exclusive. Many of his most famous works were centred on biblical themes. It is clear that his exclusion from religious life did not extinguish his Jewish feelings and loyalty. The orthodox Jewish community lost an incalculable treasure when Marc Chagall of Vitebsk left its ranks. Who knows what the impact would have been had he raised a school of Jewish artists?
Hendel Lieberman was an artist whose life took a different turn from that of Chagall. His long artistic career stretched from the early years of the Russian Revolution to the mid seventies, when he passed away. His life was marred by the murder of his wife and children by the Nazis and the imprisonment of his younger brother for fifteen years in Stalin's prison camps for the "crime" of helping Hendel and other family members to escape from the Soviet Union.
Lieberman maintained contact with the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Josef Yitzkhak and his successor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel. In addition to his considerable personal trials, Lieberman sought to reconcile his artistic pursuits with the practice of Judaism.
Soon after becoming Rebbe in the early fifties, the Rebbe began a correspondence and series of meetings with Lieberman in which he encouraged him in his work. Far from being a pariah for making his living in a questionable profession, the Rebbe, starting with a letter famous in Lubavitch encouraged Lieberman to use his abilities to the benefit of Judaism. In future years, Hendel Lieberman was to occupy an honoured place at chassidic farbrengens , seated near the Rebbe. The Rebbe was not making an exception for Lieberman, but making a statement to others with talent that could be used for a good purpose. Peter Himmelmann, The Piamenta Brothers and Michoel Muchnick are all individuals who enriched Judaism with art and enriched their art with Judaism.
The following excerpt from the Rebbe's letter to Lieberman guides many who strive to put their artistic talents in the service of their faith.

"I must therefore confine myself to a general comment with which I hope to illuminate your particular situation. My comment is based on the saying by the Baal Shem Tov--which my father-in-law, the Rebbe, would often repeat--that a person can derive a lesson in the service of G-d from everything he sees or hears about.

As you are surely aware, the primary talent of an artist is his ability to step away from the externalities of the thing and, disregarding its outer form, gaze into its innerness and perceive its essence, and to be able to convey this in his painting. Thus the object is revealed as it has never before been seen, since its inner content was obscured by secondary things. The artist exposes the essence of the thing he portrays, causing the one who looks at the painting to perceive it in another, truer light, and to realize that his prior perception was deficient."

The Rebbe himself lost immediate and close family members to the Nazis. One who has lost a part of a treasure bemoans its loss and treasures what remains. He also guards his remaining treasure with a zeal that stems in part from his knowledge of loss. The Rebbe referred to his Chassidim as diamonds. When asked how he had the energy to pass out dollars for hours on end he answered, "One does not tire when counting diamonds".

It is easy to see that the Rebbe did not want to lose those whose special talents would have been unappreciated in earlier generations. This is an attitude we should have as well. A nation that lost a third of its people in six years must be loathe to estrange even a single soul. Every person has a talent that can strengthen their people and bring honour to their faith.

Business as well as art is a chance to build a Dirah B' Tachtonim , a dwelling place in the physical world. , A businessman in Malden Massachusetts, Aaron Feuermann received attention around the world when a devastating fire destroyed his textile mill . It was commonly assumed that he would take the money from the insurance settlement and walk off into the sunset. Not only did he keep his promise to start over, he also kept a pledge to pay his workers full salary during the time that the factory was being rebuilt. His stellar standards of corporate decency are a case study in the potential for using business not only as a cash cow for one's personal pursuits but also as a domain in which one's personal principles can operate.

Whether it is business, science,politics or art, our personal abilities offer us our unique opportunity to perfect the world according to Torah principles. Marc Chagall deserved an honoured place in the world of Orthodox Judaism. The idea of Tikun Olam , of perfecting the world should not be left to those who would denigrate Torah observance. Business and politics are not just dog eat dog domains. They have a potential for being an area in which an ideal society can be created

There is a question that is often discussed whether ideology should conform to existing reality or whether existing reality should conform to principle. The Rebbe and people like Aaron Feuermann in Malden Massachusetts have provided interesting answers to this recurring question.

People from different stations in life often view each other with distrust or misunderstanding. The worker does not always enjoy the empathy of his employer. The politician is reflexively denigrated by those he represents. Society can be compared to a machine which is often repaired and reassembled with parts left out and put to the side. For the good of the machine in our metaphor, a place for every piece must be found. And in our society, a place must be found for every individual.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Never Again" by Wu Tang Clan

Wu Tang Clan "Never Again"

A few years ago, my son wanted to challenge my dislike for hip hop music and rap. Although I was hard pressed to think of any music in that genre that pushed a positive social message, I conceded the theoretical possibility. One day he asked me to listen to a rap song about the holocaust. I told him not to make such tasteless jokes. He insisted that he was not joking. I agreed to listen to it. The song joined my list of songs not to listen to when driving. The emotional pull of the lyrics was too strong to be compatible with safe operation of a motor vehicle.
Since then, I my children turned me on to some songs by Eminem, who dealt in an emotionally touching way with the effects on him of growing up in a broken home. My children succeeded in changing my opinion of that type of music. I have heard rap music in French, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, German and Albanian among other languages. My only misgiving is my conviction that musical traffic should be a two way street. I'd like to see more Afro pop from Africa make it to America.
I have heard religious fundamentalists condemn popular music. Billy Joel did a song years ago called "Only The Good Die Young" that understandably offended Roman Catholics. I have come to the conclusion that songs should be treated like deeds. Some are good and others not. I would not boycott a singer if he made one offensive song, if he were otherwise passably O.K.
Hip hop is a major stylistic break from the music of my youth. My reaction to it gives me some insight into my parent's feelings about my music. A lot of rap is hateful and misogynistic. Plenty is not. Music of any genre can be and often is used for good things.
I am presenting in this posting the song "Never Again" by Wu Tang Clan. It is stylistically distant from Jewish music but addresses Jewish concerns in an emotionally gripping way. It broadened my musical horizons and I am therefore presenting it to my readership.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Note To My Readers on Editorial Policy

I had a sad experience when viewing my blog responses yesterday. Someone sent a link to a Muslim website that looked harmless. Because there was no comments, I was fearful that there was a virus on the site and rejected the letter for the protection of my readers. The link may well have been benign. Because there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are peaceful, I feel badly that the tens of millions who are warlike cast unfair suspicion on the quiet majority. At the same time, I realise that silent majorities such as those in Germany and Poland during World War Two function as enablers. It is for this reason that my contrition is shallow.
I will be open about my editorial bias so you can weigh my words. I believe that Torah Judaism comes from G-d. All other faiths are man made. When someone does evil in the name of his or her religion, I judge his actions and not his stated faith. If he is Muslim, I compare him to Muslims who acted decently and ask him why he chose not to do likewise. I judge Christians the same way. There are some strains of religious observance that purport to be Judaism that I believe are also man made religions. I will try to uncover the historical truth about religious figures, but I will not engage in name calling. I will describe and criticise the believers of any faith who behave destructively. I will not seek multicultural excuses for them either.
We live in a world of blindness where G-d hides Himself. Other people claim that their faith is made by G-d and mine is false. We have to be able to live together with our mutually exclusive beliefs. If G-d does not compel belief, neither should we. I like to reflect on the difference in English between the verbs impel and compel. Proper faith should impel. Those whose only strength is societal compulsion tend to implode spiritually.
A Baptist friend of mine was convinced that I would be lost without Jesus. Someone asked him, "Don't you respect my right to my opinion?" He said with a serene smile, "Sure. You have the right to be wrong."
I respected his candour, and we developed a cordial conversational ceasefire in certain areas that served our friendship well. He obeyed my cardinal rule of religious faith. "It's all right if you think I'm going to hell, as long as you don't plan to send me there ahead of schedule.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Let's Give Em Something To Talk About" Thoughts About Bad Neighbours

There's a famous country song by Bonnie Raitt called ""Something to Talk About" . that revolves around a man and a woman who are not involved with each other but are nevertheless the subject of gossip and speculation. The gossip gives them ideas which form the central theme of the song. The title reminds me of a most unromantic story told to me by a friend.
My friend David is a great grandfather now. Years ago when he was single, he moved to New York and rented an apartment. The rent was very low and it was in a good neighbourhood. What could be wrong? When he moved in he found out why it was such a "bargain"
The day he moved in, his downstairs neighbour, an older woman pleaded with him to keep the noise down. Tipping the movers extra to show consideration, they tried hard to move furniture quietly . As a gesture of good will, he exchanged phone numbers with her so they could stay in touch on matters of common concern. The next day, he came home from work. As soon as he sat down, he turned on the television. The phone rang.
"Please!!" the woman shouted. Your BLASTING your television I'm trying to REST!!"
Dave turned down his television to a bare minimum.
The next day, he got a complaint that he was slamming doors. He trained himself to close doors silently, even the refrigerator.
The next day, he got a phone call pleading with him to stop "stomping all over the floor".
With humble apologies, he switched to stocking feet as soon as he came home.
David expected his first apartment after his naval service to be a place where he could kick back and be himself. Instead, he nervously awaited the next angry phone call. Once, the landlord even called and asked him to "try to make the old lady happy." He was starting to wonder if that was even possible.
One night, he got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. When he came back to his room, the phone rang again. "For HEAVEN'S SAKE" she pleaded, It's eleven o'clock!" Can't you wait until morning to flush the toilet?"
At that moment, David had a flash of insight. He knew exactly what he was up against. He smiled and apologised yet again. The next day, he took all of the accumulated noise precautions of two months with extra diligence. He called as many friends as he could reach to come over on Saturday night He bought six cases of beer and two aluminum trash cans that he filled with ice. He bought potato chips, corn chips and filled empty plastic ice cream containers with onion dip , guacamole dip and taco sauce. He replaced his stereo speakers with ones that were twice as big.
On Saturday night, his friends came up the stairs, loud in their speech and with heavy feet. There was no need to knock, although they did so loudly. Predictably, the phone rang.
Hi Mrs. Sullivan!" he answered "The party starts at eight. Come join us."
At eight oclock, the window panes started vibrating from the stereo. Dancing and laughter filled the apartment as beer cans piled in the trash can. Around eleven thirty, David picked up a broom and pounded on the floor with the handle.
"Hey Mrs Sullivan! he shouted drunkenly. " Is that loud enough for you? Should we take our shoes off? At around twelve thirty, out of respect to the other neighbours, he turned down the stereo and scaled down the volume of conversation. The next day, the noise was coming from Mrs. Sullivan's apartment. She was moving. When he came down the stairs, she eyed him nervously and turned away without a word.
When I heard that story, it reminded me of Israel, taking one measure after another to appease neighbours who will never be satisfied. My friend David at least had the silent understanding of other neighbours that Mrs. Sullivan was a loony tune, but Israel is surrounded by a chorus of nut jobs finding a litany of faults in her behavior.
Israel's tormentors are lethal, which Mrs. Sullivan was not. I find myself praying for the day that Israel's leaders will come to the same realisation that my friend David did and do what is needed to assure public safety. Unfortunately, Israel's leaders still tiptoe in stocking feet and wait until morning to flush the toilet. But the people know what's up, and they want to have a party.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some Turkish Music By Baris Manco and Some thoughts of Jewish Gratitude to the Turkish People

One of my favourite Turkish singers is Baris Manco. Born in 1943 in Istanbul, Manco composed over 200 songs, many of which were translated into other languages. He had a wide range of styles. Until his death in 1999 he was very influential on the Turkish music scene as a producer, composer and singer. In addition to going solo, he established bands such as Kurtalan Expres and and Harmoniler, among others. His songs and Turkish music in general enjoy a worldwide following.
I have always felt a sense of gratitude to the people of Turkey for taking in Jews who were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. It is worth noting that it was an Islamic government that welcomed us at a time when Christian intolerance resembled the mutant forms of Islam afflicting the world today. The leaders that gave refuge to the Jews at that time at least read their Korans and offered us a subordinated form of civil rights in which we were able to thrive. To this day, when Jews study the weekly portion in the Torah classic "Meam Loez", they are studying a work that was composed in Turkey by the rabbis to educate Jews who were returning to Judaism from forced conversions by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Monarchy.
Our comfortable stay in that country long predated the secular regime of Kemal Ataturk. In looking at the long history of the Jewish exile, it seems that no religious movement or political ideology provided us a guarantee of security. The biggest disruption to our good relations with the Turks was the Sabbatean debacle in the 17th century and the superficial conversion to Islam of Shabtai Zvi's diehard followers followers that later ensued. To this day, Islamic fundamentalists talk about the role of the "Donmeh" or Sabbatean false converts in the secular revolution early in the last century .
It is important to remember our past history, when our help came from unlikely places. It is important to remember that in trading Judaism for a secular substitute, we are depriving the world of something irreplaceable . The best gift you can give the world is to be yourself.
I feel gratitude to G-d when I remind myself of those among the nations who helped us in our hours of need The kindness of the Turkish people in our time of need should be forever remembered.
Baris Manco entry in Wikipedia

Baris Manco Music Video Filmed In Bremen Germany

Baris Manco "Nerede"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Random Thoughts From A Day In the City

My neighbours have family visiting from Georgia until the end of the month. both the neighbours and their kin are well spoken and considerate. They came with three pit bulls. One of them was pregnant and now five little Pit Bulls are native New Yorkers. The dogs do their share of barking but it's nothing threatening. They are respectful little creatures who seem a bit bewildered by their new urban surroundings. They are very nice to the cats who lived back there before they arrived. My children always enjoy seeing the dogs back there and even pet them on occasion when their owner permits it. I've heard a lot about Pit Bulls. There are plenty of horror stories about them. They wouldn't be my first choice of breed. I see these dogs and look at their owner I see how well behaved they are it leads me to one conclusion. There are very very few bad dogs. There are bad dog owners. I'm sure that there are dogs with a bad temperament wired into their genes. A lot of that is probably from poorly managed breeding. I'd rather get a mixed breed. I'm not impressed by royalty, whether its canine or human.
There is something moving in observing the emotional live of animals. One afternoon, I was with my children in a park. There were groups of mother geese who were watching their young together. The goslings looked like fuzzy, lively little toddlers. At one point, we startled the mothers by inadvertently coming too close to their young. One of the mother geese cocked her head and made a hissing sound that was undoubtedly a warning. I called to my children to put some distance between us and the birds. Even though my first instincts and actions were to protect my own children, I felt a flash of parental empathy with the mother geese. I was later told that geese protecting their young can inflict considerable injury. It seems that animals can feel when they are dealing with the young of another species. I wonder what the sounds of our conversation seemed like to them.
I never assume that animals are as cuddly as they look. I heard a story about a cute looking seal biting off a fisherman's nose. The world is really numerous kingdoms superimposed upon each other. Some of these kingdoms exist in a state of aloofness. Others are curious. Some are predatory. In my neighbourhood are canine "communities" as well as feline ones. Some of my friends feed them and know a bit about their lives. To me they are just a backdrop to my world. Except for one cat that has adopted us, I pay them little mind. How does a cat choose a human? This four coloured cat that has chosen us can not really be considered wild. When she drops out of sight for a few days , we start to worry. It's almost like the daily passers by whose absence one day troubles you.
It awes me to see the force of life created by G-d in different species. It is a living reminder of our smallness in this vast universe.
What is notable about humans is our capacity for introspection. A dog can not agonise over his visceral antipathy to the mailman or cats. He can observe that the alpha human in his life welcomes the mailman or the cat. On the one hand, a dog may chase a cat up a tree, but he won't load them into a freight car and ship them far away. I've been bitten by four different dogs in my life, and scratched by a couple of cats. The record for humans is much worse. It's a divine promise that one day will be peace on earth, but until then, things don't always look so good.At night in the city, I often hear dogs barking in the street at night. The dogs do not disturb my sleep. It's the gun shots that scare me

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Inspiration From Woody Allen

There is a scene in the film "Annie Hall" in which Allen and his girlfriend in the movie are waiting in line to buy movie tickets. The man in back of them is talking loudly about his opinions . Allen is getting steadily more annoyed, even though in his own remarks in line he burdens the other theatre patrons with details of his intimate life. Finally, Allen blurts out his exasperation at the grating quality of the man's voice and remarks When the man starts expounding on the work of Marshall McCluhan, Allen challenges him and in a feat of theatrical magic calls McCluhan in from the sidelines. McCluhan tells the man that he has no understanding of his work and no fitness to teach in university.
I enjoyed the plush upholstery in the theatre far more than I did Annie Hall, and slept through long stretches of the movie. Despite this, that one scene justified the inflated price of admission to the film. During present day debates within the observant Jewish community, it almost serves as a moshel or parable about the leadership difficulties of our troubled times .
A specific body of text deemed sacred anchors a religious group to a textual framework. When disputes arise, it is helpful to have a living arbiter of what constitutes a correct interpretation. When a leader passes away, there is a vacuum as disputes arise over how his teachings should be interpreted. When I hear people argue about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman or Shimshon Rafael Hirsch (all of whom inspire me greatly) I find myself longing for a scene like that in Annie Hall, where a Rebbe steps in from the sidelines and says "You don't know what on earth you're talking about. I never said that!"
Back in the 1980's, the Lubavitcher Rebbe started a campaign of "Aseh l'cha rav." or "make someone a rav over you." In plain English this means to have a learned person guide you in applying Jewish teachings to your daily life on a practical level. It is very tempting for a person who has no such guide to apply the teachings they espouse in a manner that is not intellectually honest. It seems that Jews today need the same advice collectively that the Rebbe gave us as individuals back in the 1980's. There is a Jewish legal concept known as nogeah b'davar. In English it would roughly translate as "having a vested interest". A person who has a personal stake in deciding a question can not be expected to decide the matter dispassionately or wisely.
In any religious group, you will find people who only want religious leaders who will rubber stamp their insanity. In Islam, that translates into high body counts and religious warfare. In Judaism, we have fist fights and messy arguments that spill over into civil court. We also have wife beaters and child molesters who can hop from community to community and men who refuse to issue a Jewish divorce. It would seem to be common sense that instances in which human life is in danger would be met with united rabbinical front, but we live in chaotic times.
It does us no good to compare our sad state to that of Islam. We can and should do better. We need religious leaders who can grab us by the collar and tell us we're acting like idiots. We need plain talk in Israel and in America ,in Satmar and Lubavitch ,in Lakewood and Flatbush. Cheer leaders who tell us how wonderful things are in paradise remind me of the old communist party hacks who would talk about the latest triumphs of scientific socialism. In the formative centuries of our faith, we had social critics whose writings were enshrined in our biblical canon. The Jewish prophets read like protest literature. Those who had soothing messages that we were all doing wonderful turned out to have been false prophets. The Three Weeks will soon be upon us. The focus during that time is often upon the eradication of baseless hatred. There are fragments of beauty and truth scattered among the various communities comprising Torah Judaism. In uniting ourselves as a people, we unite the truths we possess as well. The future in which mourning will be turned to rejoicing is something for which we must strive, not something we await.

Marshall McCluhan scene in "Annie Hall " excerpt shown in Ipod commercial

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Justice For Iran's Arabs: Free Khuzestan !

National Liberation Movement of Ahwaz

There is a country in which four million Arabs live. Their language is suppressed. Their national dress is banned. The vast oil wealth in their land is taken out and spent elsewhere. Basic amenities such as roads and clean water are desperately needed, but the profits go elsewhere.
While malnutrition is rampant, hundreds of millions are spent to fund military campaigns abroad.
What country so oppresses its Arab minority? It is The Islamic Republic of Iran that chains its Arab national minority to a life of poverty and national degradation. Iran is only 51% Iranian. The other 49% are Baluchis, Azeris and numerous other groups that each constitute distinct national groups. Iran is not unique among nations in its ethnic diversity. Switzerland ,South Africa and India are all multi-ethnic republics with varying levels of internal friction. It is possible for such a state to work. India has been a republic within its present borders ince 1947. Switzerland has functioned smoothly as a multi ethnic confederation since 1803. It is not impossible for Iran to strive for the same thing.
Taking oil from Iran's Arab lands, polluting its land and leaving its people in poverty is theft on a systematic national level. It is colonialism as much as was the brutal kleptocracy of Belgium in the Congo that started in the nineteenth century. If the court of pan Arabist opinion is deaf to their pleas, then those who buy Iran's oil should start asking serious questions. They should start being concerned not only with extracting oil from the ground but also with the people in the region. The Arabs of Iran have not pressed their case with terrorist activities. They have appealed to the world's sense of decency. If we are silent, it will send a chilling message to aggrieved national minorities worldwide about what must be done to call attention to their grievances. OPEC and the Arab League have done nothing. The United Nations has been useless as usual. Decent people must take up the cause of the Ahwazis. Silence is complicity.

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copyright 2008 by on text only Videos are from You Tube Please click on the top video for information about Arabs in Iran. The bottom video is about pollution in their part of Iran.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fashion, Trends And Their Mixed Blessings

There are economic reasons for fashion. If You can persuade ten million people to wear an outfit, read a book or buy a CD at the same time, the per unit cost of manufacture goes down. It is easier to advertise, and transport whatever you want people to buy. Promoting shifts in tastes keeps people working. It also provides the consuming masses with changes of pace. The only time fashion is a problem is when it promotes ideas, entertainment or clothing that cause harm. I actually read an article that advocated "starter marriages" where you get married for a few years with no intention of it being a lifetime commitment. ( trendoid article on "starter marriages)
Back in the 70's the big thing was "open marriage" in which the concept of fidelity ceased to exist. Adultery was judged to be a "victimless crime". Psychiatrists willing to lie to the highest bidder rendered their "professional" opinions that children are not hurt by divorce. I have heard from too many people how divorce in their home scarred them later in life. I have observed behavioral traits that are genetically transmitted in my own children. As the biological source of some of these traits, I am better genetically inclined to relate with empathy to my children than would be a step father. The books and body of literature that destabilise family life are a growth industry. Millions of books , movies and CDs are sold that promote such destructive ideas.
I don't like to be the first to get a new computer , buy new music or new videos. The guy with the new computer has to iron out all of the defects in design. He is paying a premium price to be a guinea pig.
A book is not like a head of lettuce. It will not spoil if it is left on the shelf too long. Some technical books might be a notable exception to this. A book on Windows 95 is an ancient relic. But a novel or language book has a much longer shelf life. I am in no hurry to have the latest book. If it does not become a classic, I saved myself some money.
Some women's clothes are actually injurious to their wearers. Orthopedic surgeons honed their ankle repair skills on thousands of serious injuries caused by platform shoes. Some skirts make running physically impossible Tight pants are detrimental to circulation. Ridiculous is in the eyes of the beholder, but there is not much argument about what is bad for the health.
Back in the seventies, there was a fad of smoking clove cigarettes. It turned out that they caused serious and permanent lung damage in a short period of time.
I am grateful for those who crave novelty in appliances and entertainment. Their toys of today will be my breathless discoveries in five years. I pride myself in a reckless indifference to fashion. It gives me practice in greeting new political ideas and faces with the skepticism they so richly deserve. New York is a great place for those those aesthetic sense is not dulled by an addiction to fashion. I have seen African and Middle Eastern Fabrics that have a long lineage overseas. I have bought fruits that had names I could not read or pronounce. I have gone into a Chinese record store and hummed a song I heard on Chinese cable TV. The couple who owned the store looked at me in wide eyed astonishment and found the song in about ninety seconds. Somewhere in China, I added to someone's royalty check.
We should certainly continue to use fashion to drive our economy. Even those like me who are aloof to the latest trends enjoy a trickle down benefit from those who are first to buy a book or appliance. The only harm is when the medically or socially injurious is given the imprimatur of popular fashion.
In the early part of this century opium addiction was a pressing public concern. At one point, a synthetic substitute was lauded as the wave of the future. Some people switched over, and were less than thrilled with the long term results of their change. What was the miracle opium substitute? It was heroin. In more recent years, the party drug ecsasty was also mistakenly believed to be harmless.
Popular culture deserves the same skeptical eye as pharmaceuticals. We should be skeptical of the ideas and trends that shape our lives . As we used to say back in the seventies, "Take it slow".