Monday, March 30, 2009

Madonna Adoption Raises Questions

Internationally famous pop star and kabbalah devotee Madonna has stirred controversy in the wake of her next intended adoption of a Malawian child. The four year old child, Chifundo "Mercy" James lost her mother shortly after birth. Her father has not been a part of her life. Despite this, her grandmother, aunts and uncles maintain an active interest in her, and are legally contesting Madonna's plans to take her out of the country.

Malawian law requires a prospective adoptive parent to remain in the country for 18 months. Madonna, who is a single parent was set to whisk the child out of the country before the little girl's family stepped in.

Both Chifundo and Madonna's adoptive child David were students at an orphanage school founded by Madonna that is run according to the principles of her kabalistic beliefs. Both children had extended family that were unhappy at losing them.

Sometimes Hollywood fads are annoying to read about, particularly when they dabble into politics. Madonna has been involved in Kaballah for a few years, which is eons by Hollywood standards. I am skeptical of the organisation to which she belongs, which is described as cult like. The organisation does not seem to anchor its devotees to any firm Judaic moral framework.

But there is one trend that I find hopeful. Oprah Winfrey and Madonna have both started schools in Africa, a continent in which millions of children go without an education and in which virulent forms of AIDS blight the populace. The idea that children who might have lived without any hope are now getting a shot at a future is a hopeful sign. It should be noted that mainstream religious denominations have been doing such work for years. Wouldn't it be nice if film stars partnered up with existing denominations to expand an existing base of operations?

Madonna is taking heat for adopting a child with family that still wants them. I feel that it would be far better to keep Chifundo in Malawi, supporting her community and family in efforts to raise her well. Perhaps there are other children who are truly bereft of family. In the congo, Sierra Leone and other hot spots are many children who are the offspring of rape. Some mothers of such children might welcome the entry of adoptive parents into the picture.

Madonna has a way of veering from trashy to spiritual. She has great musical talent that she sometimes misuses. But she is using her wealth to try to make the world a better place. I am critical of some aspects of her adoptions. Despite this, I do not want to criticise her too harshly.

I have only a couple of suggestions. First, she should focus on supporting children in their home environments, through community development and mentoring. If she does adopt, it should be a child mostly bereft of extended family. The children she has adopted so far do not fit this description.

Secondly, Madonna should invite others to participate in her good works, either through monthly donations such as practiced by some Christian charities or through calling on her fans to give to the charities she has founded. If Madonna raises awareness of Africa's suffering and needs, it could well be a lasting legacy. Her good deeds are certainly flawed, but she is making a difference in one small part of a suffering continent. For this, she should be praised. In this, she should be emulated.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Endangered Christians and Mandaeans

There are hotly fought battles in Jewish History that have left their imprint on the Jewish people. At one time, the Samaritans were tens of thousands in number. Actual blood was shed in battles with them. Now they are about 700 strong, living in three towns in Israel and on the West Bank.

The destruction of our temple is commemorated every year on the Jewish calendar with a 24 hour fast. The Babylonians who destroyed the first temple left us with our second national language, Aramaic, the names of the months on our calendar as well as a form of writing our alphabet that differs markedly from the original.

It is not only archaeology that provides a glimpse into the distant past, but the living as well. There are people and communities alive today who are remnants and echoes of ancient history. The Middle East contains communities that are descended from the first converts to Christianity. The majority of them speak Arabic and pray in Aramaic, the language known to Christians as that of Jesus and to Jews as that of the Talmud and of the Kaddish prayer. There are however about two million people who use Aramaic as a spoken language. Some live in villages in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. I knew a rabbi who had an unusual classmate in yeshiva. The boy came from Iran and enrolled in Yeshiva. He did not need any translation of the Talmudic text. He had spent a great deal of time with his grandmother, who spoke Aramaic to him.

Across the Middle East are Maronite Christians, who are Chaldean rite Catholics whose priests may be married and pledge loyalty to the Pope in Rome. Then there are the Assyrian Christians who are have their own hierarchies separate from Rome. There is some difference in the historical narrative of each of these two groups on the history of their faiths.

The Mandaeans, who are also known as Sabeans are a monotheistic, gnostic faith that dates back 2000 years and is indigenous to Iraq and Iran. Their scriptures are written in Aramaic. Their central symbol is a cross, the bottom of which is covered with a piece of cloth. The cross of the Mandaeans has nothing to do with the Christian cross. To the contrary, they are critical in their scriptures of Jesus, instead venerating John the Baptist. From Abraham to Moses, they are critical of Jewish prophets.The Mandaeans are pacifist and prohibit circumcision. They permit no converts and no intermarriage.

Many Islamic scholars believe that Mandaeans were among the "people of the book" who were considered worthy of second class citizenship and protection from harm. Modern forms of Islam which have been mislabeled as fundamentalist have withdrawn protection from the Mandaeans and from the Christians living in Muslim countries. Mandaeans living in Iraq and Iran have been subject to murder, rape and forced conversion. Christians as well have fared poorly across the Islamic world.

All of the political and social upheavals that have endangered Mandaeans and Assyrian Christians has created the need for flight from persecution. There is a diaspora to America, Sweden Australia and other places that has endangered the survival of the Mandaean way of life as well as the linguistic and cultural continuity of Assyrian exiles. What is happening to the chain of knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation? What will be lost in this generation to posterity?

In some places such as Syria, there is encouragement given to the speakers of the language. In Iraq and under the Palestine Authority, the Assyrians are endangered. Some have fled abroad and others seek to do so.

Muslim countries in which non Muslims are persecuted need to feel pressure to treat their linguistic and religious minorities better. There have been tolerant forms of Islam which were once politically dominant. Indeed, it was the Turkish empire that became a place of refuge to Jews fleeing the Inquisition. The central Jewish religious figure Maimonides achieved a level of political prominence in Egypt comparable to Henry Kissinger in the United States. It is worth noting that as a child, Maimonides had to flee Spain when a local Muslim leader commenced harsh persecutions of Jews. There is a level of religious tolerance that has varied widely in Islamic history. More generous times and Islamic legal opinions should be invoked in defense of modern religious minorities in Muslim countries.

Until some form of stability returns to the Middle East, Mandaeans and Assyrians are endangered. Americans should make known to their government the concern that the physical, cultural and linguistic survival of these communities is of concern to us. Taking in refugees from these groups affirms America's place as a refuge from persecution. It also assures that two small groups with unique views of the world's past will not be lost to future generations. Taking in the Mandaeans and the Assyrian Christians would give them a reasonable shot at survival at this troubled stage of their history. It is the right thing to do.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Divine Forgiveness and Criminal Justice

I was watching a news segment on WABC TV about a small town in New Hampshire that was roiled in controversy. A murderer who had abducted and murdered a twelve year old boy was released from prison. A minister in the town invited the man to live in his basement and to take meals with his family. He quoted scripture and verse to support his belief that a hardened and evil man could be turned around through what he perceived to be the love of Jesus.

I credit the minister for putting his money where his mouth is. I think he is nuts to put his family at risk. I notice that his focus was on the value of the perpetrator as a human being and not on the family of the murdered boy. It was clear that the sister of the victim still shed tears for her murdered brother after decades.

There is a place for forgiveness and expiation. But the feelings of those who have been wronged can not be eclipsed by divine forgiveness. Jewish tradition and also common sense demand that the victim be placated. When capital punishment is inflicted, it is a chance for the soul of the perpetrator to be repaired. It is also a chance for the aggrieved family to achieve closure,to diminish the rage at losing a loved one. A life can not be paid for under Jewish law with blood money as is permitted in the Koran and in other legal systems. We are ultimately trustees of the life given us. We can not take money for a soul that belongs to G-d.

There is a place for the desire for revenge. The legal system should not deny this natural human feeling but assign it through proper deliberation to its intended target. There is nothing wrong with society seeking to maintain symmetry between deeds and consequences. Our food and shelter do not come to us ready made. We are given laws that define justice. We are not always given justice. Sometimes we have to create it ourselves. That is the nature of human existence. There is the miracle of nature. There is also the occasional open or concealed miracle. But we must strive to create a perfect world through the blueprint we are given by the Architect.

My sympathies are with the family of the murdered boy. It is unfortunate that his killer walks the earth. If he has truly found G-d, he should recognise the magnitude of the suffering he has inflicted. A truly repentant murderer would not ask for a lessening of his judicial punishment. He would to the contrary want to preserve the sense of moral symmetry in society by accepting his punishment. If we must suffer the continued presence of cold blooded killers who claim to have found religion, let us create an island of banishment where they can work for pay and send restitution back to civilisation. If they have truly repented, their place of banishment would become a utopian commune.

It is unlikely that such a place of banishment will ever be created. I do not salute those who buy their freedom with cheap forgiveness from a god created in their own image. My heart is with the families of the bereaved, whose burning anger after years of loss creates a feeling of moral symmetry. The minister who is hosting the murderer of a child in his home does not elicit my admiration. At best, he is like a silly little boy who brings home a cute little rattlesnake to show his mommy. At worst, he is callous to the value of a life and the feelings of of the aggrieved and the bereaved. There is no reason to sing his praises. And I shall never do so.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Confession to Readers From an Anonymous Victim

Yet another country has reported a rash of "spiked drink incidents. Reuters News reports of a series of incidents in central Tokyo in which patrons of "hostess bars" in Tokyo found themselves saddled with huge credit card bills or relieved of their credit cards. Reuters reports as follows.

"The U.S. Embassy in Japan has advised Americans to avoid bars and clubs in central Tokyo's Roppongi nightlife area, saying on its website that there had been a sharp rise in cases of Americans being served spiked drinks.

"Typically, the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious for several hours, during which time large sums of money are charged to the victim's credit card or the card is stolen outright," the Embassy said."

In other countries, the motive was sexual, with dazed women reporting sexual abuse of which they had no recall. Some reports, which have been classified as "urban legends' involve dazed victims waking up without kidneys.

A friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous reported an incident that leaves him plagued with feelings of shame and guilt. His trip was not to a "hostess bar" but to a coffee house. He confided in me as follows.

"I was newly divorced. I was lonely. And I did something that goes against everything I believe in. All for love. But it was really lust. She was beautiful, in that sixties sort of way. She had a faded blue work shirt and love beads. She was wearing rose coloured granny glasses and reading "The Prophet" by Kahil Gibran. I found a silly excuse to talk with her. When I caught a whiff of her patchouli oil, I was putty in her hands.

"I just drank two bottles of Czech Pilsner. Everything she said brought back the sixties. Even though she wasn't even born then, its like she was there when it all started. Barry McGuire's song "Eve of Destruction" came on just as I was getting to the espresso. I tell you, there's nothing like an espresso rush on top of a beer buzz."

At this point my friend was trying hard not to cry.

" I should have known better. Beer always has me going to the can. I never should have left her alone with my drinks."

"What happened?" I asked, both afraid and anxious to find out what happened.

"I should have known better. It was early November when I'm normally depressed, but I was feeling happy instead. I wasn't in love, but I felt this hope that hadn't felt in ages. I felt for the first time since my divorce that things were going to change for me."

"But there is always a morning after. We talked until four in the morning. The last thing I remember was walking out with her. It almost hurts to say this, but the next morning, I woke up...."

His voice trailed off. He stared into the distance despondently.

" Never!! Never!! " He cursed himself. " I'll never leave my drink unattended as long as I live! She robbed me of something I can never have back ever!'

"What did she take from you?" I asked anxiously.

" I can't tell you" my friend answered gravely. "But when I woke up, I wasn't wearing the clothes I was wearing at the coffee house. I was wearing ...." At this point his lip started to quiver.

"I was wearing an Obama for President tee shirt... and there was a note on my kitchen table."

What did it say ? I asked.

"Thanks for going to the polls with me! WE WON!!!!

Love and Peace


Monday, March 23, 2009

Thoughts About the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Redemption

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been the subject of much discussion and speculation since their discovery in 1947. For decades after their discovery, access to them was tightly controlled by a group of scholars that was predominantly Christian. This has always puzzled me. I watched a BBC documentary on You Tube in which an Israeli scholar examined a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls with a fond and tender familiarity. When she examined and discussed a fragment from the scrolls, it is almost as though she were discussing her ancestors, which she really was..

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls was a book of Isaiah which was essentially identical those read today. Other archaeologists have discovered phylacteries that were the same as those used by Jewish men during weekday prayers today. The latest hypothesis to come from Jews studying the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the Essenes may have never existed. Israel National News reports as follows.

An Israeli scholar on Jewish mysticism, Rachel Elior, has challenged the long-accepted theory that the Essenes sect authored the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. She claims the supposed sect never existed and blames Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus for falsely recording the existence of the Essenes.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered approximately 60 years ago and include segments of the Bible as well as reports on communal living and a disastrous war. Scholars have described the Essenes as celibates who lived near the Qumran caves where a Bedouin shepherd found the scrolls. Elior, a scholar at Hebrew University, wrote in a book to be published next month that it is unreasonable to assume that observant Jews, as the Essenes are described, would not observe the Biblical commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.”

She maintained that if the Essenes indeed existed and drifted from accepted Jewish practice, they would have earned a place in other texts.

One theory is that the people who deposited the Dead Sea Scrolls were priestly members of the Sadducees, a Jewish sect that denied the Talmud and the oral law elucidating the Torah and that they had been banned from serving in the Temple.

Fortunately, microfilms have been made of the scrolls from Qumran. Now, Jewish scholars who had been shut out can employ study them, and contribute to the public's understanding of the time after the destruction of the Temple and the life of Jesus.

We are living in a time when Jewish classical commentaries are being translated into English as never before. Even though Christians differ with Jews on some passages relating to the messianic era, it is amazing how much Jewish biblical scholarship seems to be largely undiscovered in the Christian and non Jewish world.

I could complain about the vast realms of Jewish biblical scholarship that receives scant attention. I could complain about anti semitism, and I might be right. But I feel that a Greater Hand is at work here. When the world is ready, they will find that there are a lot of answers right in front of them.

When did people discover that the earth could be tenderly sifted to yield its secrets? I have always been fascinated by people who could make sense of a pottery shard or nails in a rotted beam. Years ago I saw the results of an archaeological dig in Norway. The people working on the dig painstakingly separated the layers of debris into different generations, each covering the one beneath it. There is something uniquely human about projecting human introspection onto the earth's crust.

I hope that there will be more discoveries like the one in Qumran. I fear that there are people who are so opposed to a Jewish presence in the Holy Land that they would destroy evidence that would come into their hands. this has already happened on the Temple Mount, where Muslim authorities doing constriction have pulverised artifacts with earth moving machinery. Something tells me that this disgraceful effort to make the earth itself bear false witness will come to naught.

Despite the dreadful mess we humans have made of our planet, we still have an amazing array of potentially redeeming qualities, from mercy to introspection, from wonder to regret. We dig not only for oil and gold. Many dig for truth as well.

Who would have imagined that the Berlin Wall would be torn down, that the mighty Soviet Union would crumble? There have been miracles before. I believe that more are to come. The main thing is not to be spectators. We must dig. We must build. We must have faith that the tomorrow that G-d has given us can be good.

Dead Sea Scrolls Documentary Part One

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Out of Print ... No Problem.!!

For the past week, I have been reading Interviews With History by Oriana Fallaci. she is very well informed. As a result, her interviews deepen the reader's understanding of the subjects she covers.

Another writer who I enjoy is Farley Mowat. He is a Canadian writer who covers the Canadian people and wilderness. His book "A Whale For the Killing" weaves the story of a whale trapped in a cove with the story of the village near which he was trapped. Reading it was like reading two books at the same town.

Why do I mention two very different books in two opening paragraphs? Both books are out of print. And both should in my opinion have been reprinted many times more than they have been.

Unfortunately, we are now in a recession. No one wants to reprint a book, only to have it languish like Al Gore's discredited book on global warming. But there is a solution. Kindle2 from Amazon is out, enabling readers to carry a huge library in a purse or knapsack. The problem is that it is overpriced. I am hoping that Kindle2 knockoffs will hopefully drive the price down. The idea of a digital book is like a new vehicle on the information superhighway.

But in order for this technology to take off you need roads and destinations. My proposals are as follows.

1) All publishing houses should digitise their entire archives. I have taken digital books out of the library. I took a "Gitangeli" out of a site called and read it on a palm pilot.
2) There should be a network of kiosks and digital bookstores that are connected to retailers of new and used books. A person should be able to pay a monthly fee to get into a digital library. Fees could slide depending on how many books are downloaded a month. Digital libraries already have timers built into the books that give a reader two or three weeks to finish a book.
3) The big question in the new age of publishing is how to turn a profit. There could be ad free subscription based service and advertiser subsidised library service.
4) Unfortunately, the biggest experts in making a buck on selling reader and viewer content are the porn merchants. While rejecting their content, the technology through which they collect money could be worth studying for purveyors of non pornographic entertainment.
5) Quality and intellectual honesty still matter. You can now trade one pack of Marlboro for a bit more than two shares of New york Times common stock. Seventy fife years after Walter Duranty whitewashed the Ukrainian genocide , the pigeons are finally coming home to roost on the New York Times corporate headquarters, and they don't heven have enough money to clean up the mess. Great journalists like George Orwell and Malcolm Muggeridge had their opinions. But they marshaled facts to support their point of view. The New York Times, The Washington Post and others suppress information to make their point of view appealing. People want more information, not less. Eventually everyone wants to weigh the facts themselves. No one wants to be treated like children. Some products deserve to fail, such as polyester suits, pet rocks and the New York Times.

There will always be a place for books, magazines and newspapers. I like bookstores and newsstands. I like talking to merchants about merchandise in front of us. Technology has developed faster than our ability to realise its potential. When I shop locally, I always tell the manager what I want that he doesn't have. The places I go back to listen to what I say and occasionally follow my advice. I am just a small voice in the digital wilderness. I hope that someone out there is listening to what I want who has the technical knowledge to make it happen. Technology could play a great role in educating and entertaining us in ways that make us all better informed. A lot of us working together can make this happen. Let's do it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Friday Afternoon Rants

Today is one of those days. To be honest, I'm mad at everybody. I stopped talking to myself because I was getting into too many arguments. If you don't want to hear me complain, you might want to stop here.

I just dropped almost six bills on my motorcycle in preventable damage not covered by warranty. The a fan belt busted because the front brake had seized, putting too much strain on the belt. The brakes were supposed to be checked every 4000 miles. I found out that the authorised mechanic from Honda had probably not checked them from day one. When the new repair man got through, it was running like brand new. It was like a different motor cycle. Out of one piece of bad news I got three pieces of good news.
1) My Honda cycle is well built enough to survive three years of a bad mechanic.
2) I found a really good mechanic to replace him.
3) During the week I had to use the subway, I started reading Meam Loez Torah Anthology translation of the biblical book of Isaiah. It was originally written for Spanish Jews who escaped the Inquisition and had no Jewish knowledge. Getting back into reading the prophets and gaining some appreciation of the meaning and historical context was worth having a hefty repair bill.


The other pain in the neck this week is computer trojans and malaware. I was getting computer freezes, popups and all kinds of idiocy. Someone wanted to sell me something so they essentially installed garbage on my computer without permission. Viruses I understand. People who make them are just nasty lowlifes who like to torment total strangers. They may even be promoting anti virus programs. But if you want to sell me something, just spam me. If you want to send me junk e mails, I'll most likely delete it, but you have a right to try to sell me something. But malaware gets me real mad.


One thing that irked me on the subway was the preacher ladies. If you want to stand on the street and preach, that is OK. I can walk away. But on the train I have no choice. Hand me a leaflet. Panhandle. Play your guitar. But preaching on the subway is real rude.


The only people that shouldn't preach on the street are the Israelites. They dress up like they are in a high school play about Moses and spew racial hatred against whites and Jews. I thought religion was about doing good deeds. The only thing you can get these people on is noise ordinances. But if you try calling the cops, it does about as much good as writing them a letter.

Brooklyn has far too few general bookstores. Park Slope is well served in this regard. So is Borough Hall. But there are way too many nail salons and way too few bookstores in the rest of Brooklyn. Thres are a few guys who sell used books for a buck each. They make my day.

Did anybody catch this? Why was Obama busy promoting sports betting? The stock market is going to hell in a hand basket. Why can't he encourage people to invest again? The stock market is also gambling. But that is how money is raised for business. Sports betting doesn't create nearly as many jobs as investing in a business that is trying to fund a venture. The only Obama to talk any sense this week was Michelle. She was speaking about the role of proper English in getting ahead, that you can be Authentically African American without ghetto jargon. Before the election, Michelle was the one who made more of a fool of herself. Now Barack seems to be the champion at putting his foot in his mouth.


Shabbos is coming soon. I have to sign off, and will do so with a prayer. May G-d save us from our enemies and from our government. Have a good Shabbos

Short Takes on Overweight Cops, A Lousy President And Out Of Wedlock Births

The police department of Bellevue Nebraska fired officer Christopher D. Parent for failing to meet physical standards of fitness. As might be expected in our litigious age, he appealed the action of the police department. In a shocking decision he was reinstated by the Nebraska Court of Appeals.

The Nebraska Court of Appeals, in an opinion released Tuesday, reversed the Bellevue Civil Service Commission’s decision upholding the termination of Christopher D. Parent.

Parent, 52, had been a member of the Police Department for more than 25 years, mostly as a detective, but had been reassigned to road patrol. His firing stemmed from his performance during an Aug. 28 combat shooting exercise, which prompted fellow officers to report him to the command staff.

Parent was fired in 2007, after an internal investigation determined that he had not maintained a “high level of physical, mental and emotional conditioning.”

Bellevue Police Lt. Mark Elbert has said Parent, whose 2005-issued Nebraska driver’s license listed him at 5-foot-9 and 300 pounds, was fired under a policy that requires officers to be physically fit.

The court based its decision upon a definition of wellness which as since been tightened. It is sad that Mr. Parent has put his own desire to be a police officer above the well being of the public. Chort or reducing his weight to Department guidelines, there is a lot of detective work that involves evaluating evidence and other non physical tasks. Unfortunately, there is a wide range of activities in the course of regular police duties that would be difficult for Detective Parent in his current condition. I hope this decision is reversed on appeal. The needs of the public do matter.


In this picture, Jimmy Carter is seen leaving the White House after meeting with Barack Obama. In the picture, his finger seems to miss the mark, as did undoubtedly his political advice.


In this picture, Jimmy Carter is shown after advising Obama on cabinet picks.


Heaven help us all. Jimmy Carter is back in the White House. CBS News reports as follows.

Former President Jimmy Carter was seen at the White House this morning, where he spent about 90 minutes in the West Wing - most of it with National Security Adviser Jim Jones,* reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. Mr. Carter's press secretary said Carter received a "private briefing ... as he has had with past administrations." The White House added that President Obama briefly greeted Mr. Carter during the visit, reports Knoller.

*There has been a lot of criticism leveled at Obama for his poor choice of advisers, some of whom withdrew from consideration after negative scrutiny. For this reason it should be pointed out that the Jim Jones with whom Jimmy Carter met is no relation to the Jim Jones who in 1979 committed mass suicide with 900 followers in Guyana. (MJ)


According to Reuters News, the percentage of out of wedlock births in America has grown to 40%. Reuters reports as follows.

A record 39.7 percent of babies in 2007 were born to unmarried women, including 71.6 percent of black babies and 51.3 percent of Hispanic babies, the report found.

The birth rate for teenage girls rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2007, according to the report.

One of the most important factors in preventing delinquency and drug abuse is a two parent family in which the couple is married. It should be common sense, but parents who raise their own biological children have traits which tend to be biologically matched. This works strongly in favour of bonding in familial relationships. With all the talk of gay marriage, is anyone doing anything to promote and save traditional marriage? Personal choices to have children out of wedlock have societal repercussions. What can be done to reverse this disturbing trend?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hybrid Car Sales Drop Through the Floor

It's a great idea. Making a car that generates a part of its own power as well as running on gasoline is a dream come true to millions of motorists. Imagine motorcycle milage in a family car. The Los Angeles Times reports in the following paragraphs that the of transforming the American highway has hit a speed bump

Americans have cut back on buying vehicles of all types as the economy continues its slide. But the slowdown has been particularly brutal for hybrids, which use electricity and gasoline as power sources. They were the industry's darling just last summer, but sales have collapsed as consumers refuse to pay a premium for a fuel-efficient vehicle now that the average price of a gallon of gasoline nationally has slipped below $2.

"When gas prices came down, the priority of buying a hybrid fell off quite quickly," said Wes Brown, a partner at Los Angeles-based market research firm Iceology. "Yet even as consumer interest declined, the manufacturers have continued to pump them out."

Last month, only 15,144 hybrids sold nationwide, down almost two-thirds from April, when the segment's sales peaked and gas averaged $3.57 a gallon. That's far larger than the drop in industry sales for the period and scarcely a better showing than January, when hybrid sales were at their lowest since early 2005.

Although the LA Times describes the problem very well, I believe that they are mistaken about the causes.

I rented hybrids on a few occasions. It is so seldom that I need a car that a motorcycle takes care of about 90% of my family's transportation needs. A car is a major expense. I crunch numbers before I buy a car. There are four components of car expenses.

1) How much does it cost?
2) How much is gasoline?
3) How much is insurance?
4) How much are repairs and how easy is it to find parts?

The hybrid car cuts down a lot on gas expenses . Unfortunately, the high price cancels out the gain. I calculated that it would take over ten years to recoup my savings fro buying a hybrid. That estimate does not take repairs into account. If the government is in the business of handing out money, they might to well to subsidise large rebates on hybrid cars to lessen the differential between regular cars and the fuel efficient variety. Most people are trying to save money. Only a small minority are willing to pay more for "going green". Eventually, the automobile manufacturers will have to adapt to people's budgets.

I heard about a car that was designed to be legally classified as a motorcycle. It has two wheels in front and one in back. It seats four people and doesn't tip easily. Because of its legal classification, it is insured as a motorcycle. If I could find a hybrid version of this at a reasonable price, it would fit my economic equations perfectly.

Unfortunately, the auto industry seems very unresponsive to the needs of the public. So much energy is focused on creating desire through advertising that existing needs are being ignored. If the automotive industry would listen to the public, they might find that there is money to be made.

I would like to see some creative thinking in Detroit. Unfortunately, the government is throwing money at problems rather than facilitating and subsidising solutions.

Anyone who has driven for more than ten years knows that gas prices are volatile. Whether gas is two dollars or five dollars, everyone wants to pay less for gas. But no thinking person will spend an extra dollar to save a quarter. The socially minded consumer is not in the majority. Most of us are also driven by self interest. We are more interested in saving money than saving the planet. A little creativity could harmonise these considerations and turn hybrids into a mainstream market trend.

The auto industry could save itself and the nation a lot of pain by listening as well as talking. Creating needs through advertising has its place. But it must be combined with finding the needs and desires of the public.

We should not wait for the next spike in fuel prices to drive automotive innovation. I looked at my family budget. I crunched the numbers and made choices, just like millions of other American families. This is what the auto manufacturers should do as well. Hopefully they will do it soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pope's Visit To Western Wall Stirs Controversy

Pope Benedict is planning to visit the Western Wall in May. The details of his visit are already sparking controversy. Vos Iz Neias reports as follows.

Jerusalem - Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's May visit to Israel, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, has said that it is not proper to come to the site wearing a cross.

The pope wears a cross in all public appearances and is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the Dome of the Rock.

After the visit, which will include a meeting with Rabinovitch, the pope is slated to meet with Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.

"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," said Rabinovitch in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church."

What is most profoundly disturbing about the plans for the Pope's visit is the proposal to cut off access to the public for the duration of the Pope's visit. Rabbi Rabinovich, noted as follows of the self abasing plans to seal off the Kotel area as follows.

"For the past 42 years, no one has ever been prevented from praying at the Western Wall and, God willing, no one ever will. A solution needs to be reached that provides adequate security for the pope without infringing on the right of everyone to pray. The Western Wall belongs to everyone."

The major concern to me about the Pope's planned visit is that Jewish self respect and respect for G-d be maintained. The Western Wall and the Temple remnants connected to it are our holiest site. It should not be a backdrop for a managed photo op. It should certainly not become a site for a sermon or ceremony being conducted by a representative of another faith. The Western Wall is a Jewish site. If the head of another faith comes to pray there, there should be no cameras and no microphones. There should certainly be no ceremonial garb worn there that is customarily worn during church services. Christian visitors to the Western Wall are not patted down to see if they are wearing crucifixes as a part of their street garb. But it would be gross disrespect to come to the Western Wall dressed in ceremonial garb and conducting a religious service.

I do not doubt that the Pope needs a security detail. If he needs such protection at the Western Wall, he should have it, but not at the expense of Jewish worshippers. For centuries, the Western Wall was treated with contempt by Christians and Muslims alike. The church was silent when the Jordanians built outhouses and shanty towns there. The British used to arrest those who sounded the shofar there. Finally, the Kotel is in Jewish control. It has been cleaned finally of the filth heaped upon it over the centuries of Christian and Muslim silence. The position of the church remains that it should return like an abused wife to "international control" along with the rest of Jerusalem. No thank you. G-d gave us a miracle in 1967. Let us not scorn it.

Banning Jewish worshippers during the Pope's visit is an obscenity. It would be far better to ban cameras and filming. The same policy should be a permanent feature at Yad Vashem. Too many world leaders come and solemnly condemn the Holocaust. They then go and condemn Israel's legitimate efforts to defend its citizens from extermination. Such juxtapositions are permeated with the stench of hypocrisy.

I have little doubt that many gentiles feel a spiritual spark when visiting the Western Wall. Such visitors should be warmly received. But those who come with the pomp of their fame and high position, those who come for a sound bite and a photo op should be firmly rebuffed. If they want majestic backdrops for their pious pronouncements, let them design and build the stage sets for them back home in Rome, Vatican City or Westminster. Jerusalem is not for sale.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Common Sense About the Right Resurgence in Europe

Europe is facing a problem with immigration that is aggravated exponentially by the failure of Europeans to reproduce. To many Europeans, this statement puts me at the disreputable outskirts of European political discourse. In countries such as Sweden and Denmark, a Muslim immigrant tidal wave of crime cannot even be discussed.

Frank talk about the problem of Muslim crime and militancy is being addressed openly by parties on the political right. In Belgium, the Flemish Block and in the Netherlands the Party For Freedom have tackled these issues head on. Despite being besmirched with political slurs linking them to Neo Nazis these two parties are attracting significant Jewish support. The icy silence in the left of centre political mainstream in response to Arab Jew hatred has Jews and many others feeling alienated from the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic parties that seem to have lost their voices.

Are you looking to the "antifas"( antifascists) to stop the tide of Jew hatred? Wake up to the new political reality. According to them, Israel is a racist abomination. They are a strong presence at anti Israel demonstrations. According to them, Israel should throw down its weapons and become dhimmis in a new Palestinian state. Additionally, they are violent enemies of all who seek to speak openly of Muslim immigrant criminal elements.

The political right in Europe is also riddled with Jew hatred. The Daily Mail in Great Britain reports as follows about a leader of one such group, Herbert Schweiger.

Herbert Schweiger makes no attempt to hide his Nazi views. At his home in the Austrian mountains, the former SS officer gazes out of a window to a view of a misty alpine valley. Described to me as the ‘Puppet Master’ of the far right, Schweiger, 85, is a legendary figure for neo-Nazis across the world.

‘Our time is coming again and soon we will have another leader like Hitler,’ he says.

Still remarkably sharp-minded, Schweiger was a lieutenant in the infamous Waffen SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, an elite unit originally formed before WWII to act as the F├╝hrer’s personal bodyguards.

This is his first interview for four years and the first he has ever given to a journalist from outside Austria. It happens a few weeks before he is due to appear in court charged with promoting neo-Nazi ideology.

It will be the fifth time he has stood trial for breaking a law, the Verbotsgesetz, enacted in 1947 to halt the spread of fascist ideology. He has been found guilty twice and acquitted twice. It quickly becomes apparent that little has changed in Schweiger’s mindset since his Third Reich days.

‘The Jew on Wall Street is responsible for the world’s current economic crisis. It is the same now as in 1929 when 90 per cent of money was in the hands of the Jew. Hitler had the right solutions then,’ he says, invoking the language of Goebbels.

The room is filled with mementos from his past and indicators of his sickening beliefs. His bookshelf is a library of loathing. I spot a book by controversial British Holocaust denier David Irving and one on the ‘myth of Auschwitz’. On a shelf hangs a pennant from the SS Death’s Head unit that ran Hitler’s concentration camps. Such memorabilia is banned in Austria but Schweiger defiantly displays his Nazi possessions.

If Schweiger was an old Nazi living out his final days in this remote spot, it might be possible to shrug him off as a now harmless man living in his past. But Schweiger has no intention of keeping quiet.

‘My job is to educate the fundamentals of Nazism. I travel regularly in Austria and Germany speaking to young members of our different groups,’ he says.

The article gives lengthy coverage to groups that tap freely into a sinister stream of nostalgia for the Third Reich. Millions of Germans and Austrians were Nazi Party members. Although many evolved politically and embraced democratic, non racist ideals, many did not. The talk that was banished from newspapers and broadcast media never faded from tens of thousands of dinner tables. Many seek to extinguish guilt by revising the position of Nazism in collective memory. The truth is caught in a vise as neo-Nazis lie about the past and the modern left lies about the present.

The truth walks a sinister maze in the modern political landscape in which the political pale of settlement for Jews has narrowed considerably. Where does one turn?

Any group that blinds itself to present day realities or falsifies the past has sinister designs for the future. Muslim extremism as well as Nazi and "antifa"extremism must be rejected. Those who seek to inject ethnic violence and hatred into society do not belong in society.

Democracies have laws by which human conduct is judged. These laws must apply equally to citizens of all races, ethnicities and creeds without apologies. No distinction should be made between the bigotry of the "oppressed" and the"oppressor". This is what it means to be a nation of laws. We have drifted far from that. And that is a pity.


This is a video posted on You Tube by the "antifas' themselves about their activities in Sweden when protesting Israel's attempts to defend itself. Decide for yourself if they differ from Nazi street thugs.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Random Thoughts About 61727-054 Madoff

This is Bernie's Manhattan apartment. He always liked the hyphenated names favoured by European royalty. So now he has a new ritzy name with a hyphen in it, 61727-054. He's getting one a lot like it upstate someplace. And if he doesn't cooperate with the feds, they can downgrade his accommodations. If they really want to knock the smirk off his face, they can always send him to Florence, Colorado, which is designed to wear down even the toughest prisoners.

Wikipedia describes Florence as follows.

ADX Florence is a federal prison, comprising a 37-acre (150,000 m2), 490-bed complex at 5880 Highway 67, Florence, Colorado. It is one of three correctional facilities of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex (FFCC), each with a different overall security level.[2]

ADX Florence generally houses around 430 male prisoners, each assigned to one of six security levels.[3] ADX Florence was designed jointly by DLR Group and LKA Partners of Colorado Springs.[3]

About 22% of inmates have killed fellow prisoners in other correctional facilities; 35% have attempted to attack other prisoners or officers. As a result, most individuals are kept for at least 23 hours each day in solitary confinement. They are housed in a 7 ft (2.13 m) by 12 ft (3.66 m) room, built behind a steel door and grate. Their free hour is spent exercising alone in a separate concrete chamber. Prisoners seldom see one another, and the inmates' only direct human interaction is with correctional officers or other prison staff. Visiting from outside the prison is conducted through glass, with each prisoner in a separate chamber. Religious services are broadcast from a small chapel.

Part of the prison is a "stepdown" program, designed to encourage less antisocial behavior and eventually transfer prisoners out of the ADX and back to the Maximum Security population. The program is three years in length each year allowing more freedom and social contact with other inmates. Any violation during the program means participants revert to year one.

Most cells' furniture is made almost entirely out of poured concrete, including the desk, stool, and bed. Each chamber contains a toilet that shuts off if plugged, a shower that runs on a timer to prevent flooding, and a sink missing a potentially dangerous tap. Rooms may also be fitted with polished steel mirrors bolted to the wall, an electric light, a radio, and a television set that shows recreational, educational and religious programming.[4] These privileges can be taken away as punishment. The 4 in (0.10 m) by 4 ft (1.22 m) windows are designed to prevent the prisoner from knowing his specific location within the complex because he can see only the sky and roof through them. Telecommunication with the outside world is forbidden, and food is hand-delivered by correctional officers.

The prison as a whole contains a multitude of motion detectors and cameras, 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors, and 12 ft (3.66 m) high razor wire fences. Laser beams, pressure pads, and attack dogs guard the area between the prison walls and razor wire.

Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber, lamented in a series of 2006 letters to a Colorado Springs newspaper that the ADX is meant to "inflict misery and pain."[5]

Even though Madoff hasn't killed with his hands, there have been suicides attributed to him. Maybe they could bend the admission requirements to Florence. Here are some pictures of Florence ADX. It is one facility that might reflect adequately the magnitude of public disgustwith Madoff.


Bernard Madoff was sent off to Manhattan Correctional Facility (MCF) today. Some of my well traveled friends tell me it's not such an awful place. It certainly beats Riker's Island. People charged with federal crimes tend to be less violent. This makes the kind of satisfaction sought by his victims considerably less likely.

Bernie seems to be taking the fall for other people. It's kind of hard to believe that he pulled this scam off alone. His entire immediate family worked with him. Not only did his wife have a fancy office in his complex. Some of the Madoff victims recall her visits to her parents in the nursing home. She was busy pitching he hubby's financial expertise to some of the other nursing home residents. There is no way I can think of that this woman has clean hands. When you lie down with the dogs, you're bound to smell like one.

One thing that is highly suspect is the recurring assertion that the money the Madoffs can get their hands on now is has no fraud involved in its acquisition. I have a feeling that even the "honest" companies were tainted or somehow involved in Madoff's elaborate schemes.

It is painful for me to read Jewish names attached to such evil deeds as those perpetrated by Madoff and possibly his family. When a Jew does wrong, I feel personal shame, just as I feel pride in the achievement and contributions of Jews to the world. It's a feeling I can't shake. Because the Madoff's tended to play on friendship and ethnic affinity, a disproportionate percentage of the victims were Jewish. In a way this softens the stinging shame every time I see his face in the paper.

I hope this crime is studied by securities investigators in order that other crimes like it can be prevented and discovered. I hope that the Madoffs can be prevailed upon to assist in the recovery of the billions defrauded from their victims.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Young Mother Murdered in Brooklyn

I did not know Nicky Perry. Perhaps she was one of many to whom I nodded in passing. Did we ever notice each other? Nicky lived close to me. I once lived a few houses away. Today she is dead, shot in front of her five year old child in their apartment. No motive has been established. No suspects have been named.

So far, Nicky's death has not been selected for the media spotlight. There are murders every hour. Some pass with little note Others are investigated, dissected and examined. The murders of the wealthy, the influential and the famous are put on the express track. They are given higher priority. Sometimes you have to lobby to get a murder taken seriously. I have seen it before. I was in a demonstration 18 years ago. A woman in our community was murdered. We marched every day for a week. They found the killer. He's sitting today.

Nicky Perry was not famous. There are no flags flying at half mast. The one story that I was able to find did not even show her picture. She was a mother, shot in front of her own child in his and her own home. The numbness of this poor child's grief is almost impossible to imagine. Perhaps he will stay with an aunt or with grandparents. Who knows? To Nicky Perry's child, the sun of his world has just died. Who could do such a thing? Who could leave such scars on the psyche of a little boy? Somewhere the murderer is alive. Is there any remorse? Is he at all shaken by the magnitude of what he has inflicted?

I don't want Nicky Perry's murder to be forgotten. We are all diminished by the freedom of her killer to walk the streets. Her orphaned son's neighbours and playmates walk the streets in fear of the same thing happening to them. Behind the murder statistics are tears.. Behind the numbers is heartache and loneliness. For even one child to bear such anguish as the murder of his mother should be more than we can stant.

For the sake of all of us, Nicky Perry's murder should not be forgotten. May G-d console her parents and orphaned son. And may G-d avenge her blood.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Short Takes :Family Attacked By Demented Kangaroo Church Comes Out in Favour of World Hunger

A family sleeping peacefully in its house in Canberra, Australia was set upon by a demented kangaroo. Breitbart News reports as follows.

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian couple thought they were being attacked by an intruder when a kangaroo crashed through their bedroom window and started jumping on them.

"My initial thought, when I was half awake, was it's a lunatic ninja coming through the window. It seems about as likely as a kangaroo breaking in," Beat Ettlin told local media Monday.

The three-meter (9 feet) kangaroo smashed through the window in Ettlin's Canberra home Sunday night.

While Ettlin and his wife and young daughter took refuge under the blankets, the injured kangaroo jumped on top of them, gouging holes in the furniture and smearing blood all over the walls, said the Australian Associated Press.

The next thing Ettlin heard was his 10-year-old son Leighton screaming from his bed: "There's a 'roo in my room!'"

Ettlin, a 42-year-old chef, wrestled the bleeding kangaroo, got it into a headlock and dragged it out the front door. The kangaroo disappeared into bushes.

I always thought that kangaroos were so cute and cuddly. The more I learn about the animal kingdom, the more I like to stay at a distance from them. First there was the story about the monkey that disfigured and almost killed a woman he had known for years. That totally demolished my image of monkeys as friends. I like the idea of keeping wild animals at a respectful distance. At least the demented kangaroo didn't maim anyone.

There is a lot more hidden nastiness out there in the animal kingdom. The male duckbill platypus actually has poison claws in its hind legs.

Despite all the scary animals running around, I still worry more about humans. I am a lot more nervous about an AK 47 or Bernard Madoff than I am afraid of a duckbill platypus. Speaking of Bernard Madoff, wouldn't it be a great idea to put a psychotic chimpanzee under house arrest in his apartment?

Pope Benedict is planning a visit to Cameroon Breitbart News reports as follows.

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Cameroonian security forces have smashed up the street stalls, where thousands of people earn a living, to give the capital Yaounde a face-lift for a visit by Pope Benedict next week.

The papal visit has taken on the dimensions of a national disaster for countless small shopkeepers whose livelihood was destroyed so the Papal visit would look good on camera. Breitbart News continues as follows.

"My 10 years of investments have been ruined. I don't know now what to do to survive," wailed Mariane Ngoupendji on Monday when she found her typing and printing shop reduced to rubble.

"Will the Pope's visit replace what I've lost?" she said.

Ngoupendji, 43, collapsed weeping to the ground as youths pulled pieces of corrugated iron, girders and planks from the ruins, hoping to sell them or use them to build elsewhere.

Many people make their living through informal stalls or boutiques, selling everything from imported electrical goods to local produce in a country where millions of people live in poverty even though it boasts one of Africa's biggest economies.

But authorities say the stalls, ranging from simple wooden shelves to secure lock-ups built with steel and concrete, are an eye-sore and began to tear them down last week. No compensation will be offered, the government said.

What it all boils down to is the idea that poor people are eye sores. It's fine to have well picked healthy faces for scripted photo ops.

A standard papal speech calls for eliminating hunger and promoting economic justice. These words ring rather hollow in light of the preparations for Pope Benedict's visit. It would be less injurious to Cameroonian shop keepers if Pope Midas XIV were to issue an encyclical in support of world hunger and oppression.

What is worse for a Cameroonian shop keeper? Would he prefer a tropical storm named Benedict cutting a swath of destruction? Or would he prefer a whirwind papal visit? In practical terms, what's the difference?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Purim Short Takes (With a Touch of A.D.D)

What better time than Purim to run this video with Alonzo Garbanzo and Karl O'Sandt. It is a takeoff on Eric Clapton's song "Cocaine" and is titled "Propane". Like Weird Al Yankovic, the song not only has good lyrics but also works musically as well. Drug songs never did much for me, with the possible exception of "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd, which I like to listen to with a beer at the end of a long work day.


Here I am in America, a Jew of Croatian background. Who is one of my favourite musicians? Weird Al Yankovic, who is of Serbian ancestry. In Europe, Serbs and Croats were killing each other. My attitude towards Serbs is best exemplified by the remark a friend of mine made. "What the hell.. They both have a 'vich' at the end of their names. Here, we get along. A couple years ago I was in the emergency room waiting for stitches.The doctor who was checking me out was Serbian. Her parents honeymooned in my grandparent's home town. We were both sad that the war had broken up Yugoslavia. We were talking about great Yugoslav rock before the country split up. That is how I get a lot of my good music leads, by talking about music with Taxi drivers, doctors and store keepers. New York is great for that. The video below is "White and Nerdy" by Weird Al.

One of my favourite African singers is Ismail Lo of Senegal. There are two things I will credit the French for. One is their contribution to the English language. The other is their popularisation of African music. It is a lot easier to get Afropop in France than it is in America. The American music scene has only taken a few drops from the rich ocean of Africa's musical diversity. It's a pity. Many African Americans who don't know where in Africa their ancestors came from would find a resonance in a lot of music that gets nowher near enough coverage on American top 40. I may be a tiny voice in cyberspace, but one of my pet causes is to get America to listen to African and South American music.


I don't need to hate someone to know who I am. I love my family. I love the Jewish people and land. That deepens my appreciation for the feelings of other people. When I read the Megilla and then read about Iran cooking up nukes to hit Israel, it makes me feel like the Megilla is talking about modern day events. Everything that is going on seems almost supernatural, from the disproportionate attention focused on Israel to the repeated miracles in which G-d saves us not only from our enemies but from ourselves. There is a lot of hate and violence in the world. As long as it has been with us, it still seems unnatural. The nations of the world are meant to function in harmony, like limbs of one body. Our present state is like that of a stroke victim, whose limbs can not follow the command of the body. I truly believe that as Peter Himmelman says in his song of the same name "This too will pass." A joyous Purim to all.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Short Takes: Obama Eyes Charitable Deductions and A Light Hearted Diss

What is Obama's latest bright idea? He wants to limit the amount wealthy people can claim as a tax deduction for charitable donations. The Forward reports as follows.

In the short time that Barack Obama has served as America’s president, the organized Jewish community has been one of the young administration’s most solid bases of support for its liberal political agenda. But now, many of the major Jewish organizations are taking issue with a proposal that they fear will strike at their very lifeblood — charitable donations.

As part of a recent set of proposed revisions to the tax code, the Obama administration has suggested lowering the rate at which taxpayers in higher income brackets can deduct such things as mortgage payments, state and local taxes, and charitable donations.(emphasis mine,mj) The proposal, which would go into effect in 2011, is expected to generate an additional $317 billion in revenue over 10 years, and is a key part of the administration’s plan to set aside $634 billion to cover health care costs. The plan has left many Jewish groups walking a fine line between supporting the administration’s overall budget proposal and attempting to push back on the charity provision.

It is mind boggling that such a proposal would make it past the brainstorming stage. Private charities are the safety net that picks up after the mistakes of government and big business. From soup kitchens to summer camp, from the elderly to drug addicts, private individuals can come up with far more innovative, ad hoc solutions than government. As the Obama administration tinkers with the economy like an amateur mechanic, it should take care not to shred the safety net that has proven so crucial to so many Americans.

I am sure that Obama will find some witty quote or stirring anecdote to justify his proposals. But there are glaring deficiencies that need to be addressed.

A fundamental difference in economic philosophy is shaping up between the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats are proponents of fiscal transfusions, in which taxpayers are bled to sustain ailing corporations. The Republicans also envision a role for government, but one in which the government facilitates solutions to the nation's woes, encouraging the economy to heal itself through sensible tax codes.

This difference is starting to resonate deeply with the American people. Millions have invested in stocks for their children's future and for retirement purposes. They see themselves as having a place on Wall Street and a vested interest its success. The millions to whom demagogic appeals are made could be investors of billions of dollars if confidence were created and sustained. It is far better to appeal to the citizenry to invest in the nation's future than to ask them to wait by their mail box for the next stimulus check.

It is hard to imagine what Obama's strategy might be. His professed concern for the poor is belied by his tax code proposals which are frankly incoherent. A good President does not presume to be an expert in all or any field at all. The best chief executives are known for assembling a team of experts in the critical fields and listening to their advice. For the sake of the country, Obama should do this immediately.

We have endured less than two months of an Obama presidency. People like to talk about the honeymoon, that first hundred days when everyone is very kind in judging the new President. Obama, first two months are starting to look like the first marriage of Brittany Spears, which at 55 hours in 2004 lasted only a bit longer than the hangover that undoubtedly preceded it. There are two things that remind me of the American public's infatuation with Barack Obama. One is a country music song, the title of which is self explanatory. "There Ain't Enough Beer in Texas to Drink the Ugly Out of You." The other is the following video.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Another Jerusalem Bulldozer Attack: Some Thoughts and Lessons

Yet again there was a bulldozer attack in Jerusalem. It was resolute and purposeful. It was not a glancing blow but a path that was optimally calculated to maximise civilian casualties. The world wants to believe that it was an accident. They want us to overlook the open Koran in the glove compartment. What surah was it opened to? That's a very interesting question. It is also an unanswered question that would provide interesting insights into the mind of the man at the wheel.

Stories abound of Arab workers abusing their trust. From pouring cement in finished drains to urinating in food, this is the thanks Jews get for providing work that pays far better than jobs in neighbouring Arab countries. It is a well concealed and cunningly executed hatred. When the world asks us to ignore it,when they ask us to placate our tormentors, they are far more insidious than those who told us we would be going to agricultural training schools for resettlement in rural areas in Nazi Europe. Chaim Rumkowski and Rudolf Kastner have nothing on our modern day betrayers who would sell a piece of the Western Wall to have their picture taken with Obama.

Any sane person would expect us to take normal measures to protect ourselves. Are we living in insane times? I do not believe so. We are living in wicked times. But our enemies are sane, very sane. The cunning proponents of negotiation and territorial concession are well aware that their proposals are suicidal. They are keenly aware that in their own countries, public patience would have long ago been exhausted.

We are held to an absurd standard by which a social snub or a bigoted remark is given the same weight as a murderous attack. We are condemned in withering terms as rivers of blood flow in sub Saharan Africa, from Sudan to the Congo, from Mauritania to Sierra Leone. The United Nations serves as a useless watchdog that bites the baby and licks the hands of plundering marauders. Their troops have a record of rape that touches every refugee camp they have ever opened and run. They are worse than useless.

Any sane person is not surprised by what I say. I am recounting the painfully obvious so the unceasing drumbeat of slander and duplicity will not sound normal to me . I am attempting to remind myself and my readers of the painfully obvious so that the lies of our generation will not become the history of tomorrow.

There is a Judaeo Christian ideal that should be the cornerstone of any patriotism, whether it is Jewish, American or any thing else. This concept is the dignity of labour. Any person who is doing an honourable job should be honoured by others. From cleaning a toilet to sitting as a corporate chief executive, from mending a clogged heart to rebuilding a transmission, we are all part of a magnificent social machine that should be oiled with just remuneration.

There is a sickness shared by Americans and Israelis. It is the idea that some work is too lowly for natives to consider. There are entire sectors of the job pool in both countries that are roped off and red lined. I have worked along side of South American immigrants who worked long hours with hazardous chemicals for hours on end. They were paid a pittance. They remained unschooled in English and therefore vulnerable. Who assigned value to their wages? Who assigned them their conditions of employment ? They operated expensive industrial equipment and maintained it as well. Who says that their jobs are lowly?

It is indeed profoundly bigoted to say that Americans or Israelis are too smart for certain jobs. Construction jobs in America pay very good wages. They should pay well in Israel too. We are putting bread on the table of people who spit in ours. Let those who despise Jewish children despise Jewish money as well. Let them pay with their own presumably untainted money for the candies they pass out in the street to celebrate suicide bombers.

We pay a lot of attention to suicide bombers. We pay no attention to the daily national suicide in which work in the Holy Land is given to those who defile the Temple Mount daily with prayers calling for Israel's destruction. We are doing this to save a few miserable shekels, leaving out of the equation the cost in blood and tears when we scorn our brothers and sisters.

This insanity of sustaining our enemies predates the foundation of the State of Israel. Descendants of migrant workers jangle rusty keys and swear by their bloodstained Quran that their ancestors were sent by Muhammad to live in Jerusalem, that Yiddish speaking Jews pitched them out of their ancient homes. When they don't lie for gain, they lie to stay in practice. And now, the great grandchildren of the original migrant Arab workers, nursed on hatred continue in their ancestral path. They do so because we let them.

Every bulldozer in our Holy Land should have a Jew sitting on top of it. Operating earth moving machinery is a skilled job. Those who curse the Israel by night should not make a single shekel for building it by day. If this slows construction, then so be it. No nation should commit suicide.

As we mourn the latest attack, we should not be surprised at it. Should we pay armed security guards to stop the next attack? I do not believe so. The next person to climb into a bulldozer should be trusted to operate it in a normal and safe manner. The next bulldozer operator to be hired in Jerusalem should be a Jew

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Marmoulak: An Iranian Film With a Universal Message

I never buy the latest electronics. The first purchasers can help the manufacturer iron out the glitches. I want something that works the first time. Marmoulak (The Lizard) came out in 2004. It was one of the top Iranian films of all time. It was pulled from circulation because it was reputed to have shown disrespect to the Islamic clergy. I feel that it made profound and universal points that would resonate in any society.

Its main character, a man named Reza was convicted one two many times and sentenced to a long stretch in prison. A sadistic warden who couched his torment of Reza in terms of rehabilitation made his life constant misery. Eventually, Reza attempted suicide. In the hospital, he had a room mate who was an imam who encouraged him with the statement that "There are as many paths to G-d as there are people." Reza escaped by stealing the imam's clothes, hiding out in a small town and becoming their imam. The deference shown Reza the criminal when he dressed up as an imam brought out the better side of his nature. Reza in turn had an uplifting effect on his congregation.

I was expecting a film that would trash the clergy and make fun of the respect shown to clothing and to social status. It was nothing of the sort. I have read chassidic stories that made the same point in a Jewish context, that adhering to external forms had the potential of tapping into inner goodness. The film was set in modern day Iran. Even though it portrayed the clergy and society's attitudes towards it, there was nothing in the film that was subversive. The story of how the film was received by the Iranian government is one of great insecurity. There are plenty of abuses of authority by the government and clergy, from dealing in confiscated property to "temporary marriages." None of these matters got anything more that fleeting mention in "Marmoulak." Despite this, the film was of lasting importance, making points that would be valid in many different religious societies.

My only disappointment in watching the movie (on DVD) was its low technical quality. The subtitles,( which were white lettering) were illegible when they appeared against white or pastel backdrop. Despite this, it was possible to figure out much of what was going on during these (for non Iranians) clouded moments.The film had relaxed standards for profanity and strict standards of modesty. Apparently, words that are quite vulgar in one society are considered mild in another.

Because Marmoulak was banned, it was not distributed abroad through official channels. The DVD circulating in the west is based upon one of a number of bootleg copies. I would definitely give this film a five star rating and a PG 13 (only for language) I hope my readers will find a way to watch this great film.

The clip below is one of my favourite scenes in the movie, in which Reza goes back to visit the prison as an imam rather than a prisoner.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Some Thoughts About Yemenite Jews Coming Home

I was reading an article today about a group of Yemenite Jews who just recently arrived in Israel. They were offered the alternatives of conversion or death. From recent events in that country, death was a real possibility. If the haters of Israel wanted to prove that there is no need for a Jewish state, the most logical thing to do would be to allow Jews to live in their countries undisturbed. We are not dealing with any logical phenomenon. The pretense of a generation ago to liking Jews and disliking the state of Israel is wearing very thin. Even the limited dhimmi protection is not being honoured today.

As happy as I was to know about the recent arrival of Yemenite Jews in Israel, I was very upset that the rescue was publicised. There are still Jews in Yemen. Who is helping them in and who is trying to hurt them? Did they escape or were they assisted by friends in the government of Yemen? I do not want to know the answers. I do not want any harm to come to Muslims who may have assisted the Yemenite Jews, whether they did it out of altruism or out of a mercenary motive. I do not feel I have a right to know the answers to these questions. It is more important that Jews living under threat of harm be effectively assisted. When every last Jew is out of Yemen or out of danger, then we can listen to stories. until then, it is far better that rescues be effective than that they be well publicised.

The Yemenite Jews have beautiful traditions and knowledge of Torah. When they arrive, they should be treated with deference not only for their Torah knowledge but for their stubborn adherence to our faith. This has not always been the case in the history of the State of Israel. The treatment of immigrants from Arab countries has in the past been disgraceful. Jews from Arab countries are irreplaceable tiles in the Mosaic mosaic.

The Jewish claim to the Holy Land is like a bank note torn in half. When Jews from Europe and Jews from the East stand together in loving unity, it is like taping the bill and bringing it to the bank to be redeemed. Ashkenazim can not claim the Holy Land alone. Jews from Arab countries can not claim it alone. We need to claim it together.
We once camped in the desert together. We stood together at Sinai together. We were scattered all around the world . And we still recognise each other as brothers and sisters. That is amazing. Love is contagious. When you see a loving couple or a loving family, you want to recreate their happiness in your own family or in your own relationships. Imagine the power of a nation in harmony.

It is wonderful that such a diverse people as the Jews comes to the rescue of its own. There are secular Jews, Zionist Jews and Hasidim along with Jews from around the globe who rejoice in the rescue of long lost relatives quite unlike them. After thousands of years, a nation known for its diverse opinions remains connected.

I am very grateful for the rescue of my Yemenite brothers and sisters. But I would like to know as little as possible until all are out of danger. Please . Please understand this. Thank you. And may G-d strengthen and protect all who are engaged in rescue activities.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wild Pigs in Berlin and Thoughts of the Animal Kingdom

Just the other day I got snookered on story of the the fish that ate a cell phone. This one is for real. I promise. Wild boars are multiplying and making life difficult for people living in Berlin. I read this story in the Wall Street Journal over a year ago. Today I found a video which included footage of the wild pigs, who are rapidly becoming an urban nuisance.

When I was a kid, we had raccoons. They knew how to open our garbage can, which was recessed into the ground and had a lid that opened with a pedal. We had to put a large rock on the garbage pail and encircle it with an old automobile tire. My nephews and neices used to think it was great having deer nibbling grass in their front yard until they found out that the cute little creatures carried ticks with Lyme disease.

A friend of our family went to Singapore for a family reunion. The boys were delighted at the wild life. Instead of squirrels, there were monkeys in the trees. They were making noise and pointing at the boys. Everything was calm and pleasant until one of the kids stuck his tongue out at the monkeys. The monkey attacked the boy, throwing a rock at him. The wound required several stitches to close. Local children knew how to coexist with the local wildlife. Sometimes outsiders get a painful education in animal etiquette.

I used to live in a building when I was single that had heavy mice infestation. We used to have a cute little mouse that had a route that it used to patrol in the front of the apartment. The guy I rented from did not want to kill the mouse. He claimed that if we killed it that our mouse problem would get much worse. Sure enough, the mouse fell victim to a well placed sticky trap. As soon as he was gone, we had multiple mice who replaced him. There seems to be some territorial behavior among rodents. That little mouse probably had his own territory. When he died, it went up for grabs, We see an apartment building with ten or fifteen dwellings. To rodents, there is a network that transcends our property boundaries. The space we live in is a small part of the world of a rodent.

I have owned rats, mice and gerbils. I am very fond of domesticated rodents. Wild mice repulse me. Wild rats frighten me. I used to have a pet rat that had the disdainful air of a house cat. It would spend three or four minutes washing itself off after I picked it up to play with it. Rats are much smarter than mice, and there are noticeable differences in intelligence between one rat and another. I had two rats in a cage once. One was a master escape artist. The other couldn't chew her way out of a paper bag.

My favourite animal to have as a pet is a dog. We once had a dog who was very smart. My father was washing his car and left the hose lying on the ground. It was a hot day, and the dog wanted to drink from the hose. Unfortunately, it was running too fast. So the dog dug a hole in front of the hose and started drinking from the hole.

Seeing intelligence refracted through the abilities of different species gives me a perception of oneness in the world. When I go to the park and observe the maternal feelings of ducks, I feel a sense of parental solidarity that transcends the boundaries of species. It deepens my appreciation of humanity. It accentuates a feeling that the space that I walk through every day is really a multitude of worlds superimposed upon each other.

My father was a skilled photographer. I have little doubt that he would have found the wild boars of Berlin to be a fascinating study in photography. His photographs were his way of taking a piece of the world and yet leaving it undisturbed.

I do not have the photographic gifts of my father. But the news of wild life from the city of his birth is an odd reminder to me of the many worlds that adjoin and occasionally overlap our own.