Thursday, April 30, 2009
It seems almost archaic to to describe a film today with the adjective "Yugoslav", since the country no longer exists. Even Montenegro with a population about a quarter of Brooklyn's has gone its own way.
Despite the discovery, affirmation and celebration of the vast differences within and between the six former Republics, the 35 years that Tito ruled Yugoslavia remain a common denominator and a legacy. If Yugoslavia is but a state of mind, Josip Broz Tito is a dominant figure in the dreams of its brief existence in the 20th century.
Americans had a picture of the former Yugoslavia that it was a mellow, gentle type of communism. The freedom to travel abroad tended to validate this impression. What was less frequently discussed was the widespread unemployment that made absorption of Yugoslav workers into Western Europe's work force a political and economic necessity. When I was in Zagreb in 1973, I was astounded to see works of Leon Trotsky in the display windows of bookstores. A Serbian friend with whom I was travelling reminded me that Stalin loyalists and Croatian nationalists were languishing in Yugoslav prisons. Although the codex of banned opinions differed vastly in Yugoslavia from the USSR, the consequences of crossing those boundaries could be every bit as dire as they would be in Czechoslovakia or Poland.
I am very interested in the perceptions created by mass media. When speaking with people from what was Yugoslavia, I like to recreate as much as I can of their daily lives. Little fragments of memory like the tin cutlery in cheap restaraunts and Opatija cigarettes that smell so differently from Italian cigarettes are crystals around which memories accumulate into something visible.
"Tito i Ja", (Tito and I) is a movie set in the fifties. It is about a boy who is hoping to win an essay contest for an essay praising Marshal Tito. The prize was to be a trip around Yugoslavia in the company of communist youth. The central character worships Tito. His family is however very cynical about Tito and about communism. The boy dreams of winning the contest. In one cute scene, he is watching Tito in a newsreel and studiously imitating his facial expressions and movements. The extensive documentary footage from the period portrayed creates a vivid picture of the Tito personality cult, of what people were bombarded with on a steady basis. It is only one of many facets of life in what was Yugoslavia, but one that was downplayed in the American media.
The movie also had subplots revolving around the protagonist's relationships with his peers. It is as much a coming of age film as it is an exploration of a critical chapter in the history of what was Yugoslavia.
I was fortunate enough to locate a copy of this movie in the Brooklyn Public Library. It can also be purchased on line. Given the chance, it is one of a handful of movies I would gladly watch again. Whether viewers from the former Yugoslavia agree or disagree with its underlying premises, this film jogs a lot of recollections. In some ways, it serves the same purpose as does "We didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel in jogging collective memory. The film moved me deeply. As an American I grew up with an airbrushed picture of Tito that assumed hues of realism as age and knowledge intruded upon my fantasy. I hope that this five minute clip will inspire some of my readers to check this classic film out for themselves.
A Swiss insurance company fired a worker who went home with a migraine and was later caught on Facebook. She had claimed that she could not work in front of a computer screen. Somehow the company discovered through a friend request that she had surfed at home.
The woman said she could not work in front of a computer as she needed to lie in the dark but was then seen to be active on Facebook, which insurer Nationale Suisse said in a statement had destroyed its trust in the employee. Reuters News reports as follows.
"The woman said she could not work in front of a computer as she needed to lie in the dark but was then seen to be active on Facebook, which insurer Nationale Suisse said in a statement had destroyed its trust in the employee.
"This abuse of trust, rather than the activity on Facebook, led to the ending of the work contract," it said."
We must be in worse shape than I thought. Why would anyone want to work for a company like that. They probably install ejection seats in their bathrooms that go off after five minutes.
Could this be the beginning of the revolution long awaited by PETA in which the animal kingdom rises in revolt? The video below with a song by Dana Lyons outlines the disturbing possibilities that await us.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
It is generally appreciated if one comments on articles that others have posted. It is expected that there be give and take in the rantrave community. Additionally, varying topics is a good idea. People like a mix of subject matter.
The level of civility is very high among the regulars. There are some people with whom I frequently disagree. We are forthright and forthcoming but unfailingly civil.
It is hard to find any real "party liners." Most of the regulars a mix of liberal and conservative.
One guy is very vocal about his vegetarian beliefs. I always associated this with a leftist orientation. He definately runs towards conservatism on many issues. Another guy is so far left that I almost never agree with him. Despite this, I found his comments on Columbine High school very insightful. He had actually attended Columbine and knew of its culture and social life.
I have written about Eritrea and Croatia and received comments voicing opinions seldom found in the news. I have exchanged comments with people that I would not be likely to meet otherwise. even when I agree to disagree, the facts that are brought to support an argument remain with me and contribute to my political and philosophical evolution.
Visualising an audience has always been a powerful creative stimulant for me. The Rantrave.com regulars add layers of nuance and variety to this process that I never would have thought to be possible. When you imagine who you are writing for, it can give your writing a completely different tone.
Aside from the added readership, writing with such a varied audience in mind has been a powerful creative stimulant. I hope the readers who come to my sites will also check out rantrave.com. The site has variety and a sense of community. when you find a writer who interests you, I strongly recommend clicking on his or her name and checking out other articles. Rantrave.com is an exciting interactive experience. Its founder, Alex Layton has achieved a rare blend of civility and spirited exchange of ideas on the site. I see well deserved success in the future for Rantrave.com. It is one of the best examples of what the internet can make possible.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Notes Concerning Assyrians In Iraq and Iran
Among the side effects of the war in Iraq is the deteriorating safety condition of the Christians in that country. The overthrow of Sadaam Husein unfortunately created a power vacuum has been filled by Muslims whose interpretation of Islam is dangerous to both political dissent and to religious minorities. The recent news coming out of Iraq is not encouraging. According to Associated Press, Iraq's Christian community is mourning the murder of three Christians killed in two separate incidents. The Associated Press reports as follows.
"An Iraqi Christian leader told mourners Monday that the slayings of three Christians a day earlier was an act of religious terrorism that raised fears of more sectarian violence in the northern city of Kirkuk.
The attackers shot the victims at point-blank range in the head and chest at their homes.
"Innocent people who have no relation with politics and never harmed anyone were killed by terrorists in their homes just because they were Christians," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako a day after gunmen attacked two Christian houses in separate attacks."
Two of the victims were reportedly Chaldean Christians and one was Assyrian. Chaldean Christians are loyal to the Pope in Rome. Assyrians are independent of the Pope in Rome. The two Chaldean Chistians were a mother and daughter. The Assyrian was a 27 year old man
No one has claimed responsibility for the killings, although some have pointed to Al Qaeda as a possible culprit in the anti Christian terrorism. Because nothing was taken in any of the killings, religious hatred is suspected as a motive.
Many Christians fear that a sudden and complete pullout by the Americans from Iraq would lead to wholesale slaughter of Christians. AINA News reports as follows of the widespread concern in Iraq's Christian community.
We know if America leaves they will come and kill us. They think we have something to do with them and they think we have money. The Iraqi government is happy if all Christians leave. They say they want us to stay, but they don't mean it. If they mean it, then they would protect us more," says Masoud Gallozi.
Many are distrustful of the promises of the Obama administration AINA reports as follows of the reaction in America's Chaldean community.
"Chaldeans in America are frustrated over President Obama's handling of the Middle East issues. "There were many Chaldeans fooled into believing the new administration would pressure the Iraqi government to get serious about properly protecting Chaldeans. These Chaldeans sent an e-mail of a letter by Obama and his people showing he was concerned. It was just another lie from this man. A lie that is leaving our people vulnerable. Those who supported him are partly to blame," a frustrated James Selmu declares."
The perceived wealth of Iraq's Christian community combined with their small numbers makes the Chaldeans an easy target. The community has a presence in Iraq predating the arrival of Islam by centuries. Their language and culture is a living link to the beginnings of Christianity. The demise of this ancient community would be not only a moral failure but a loss to the world as well.
The situation of Assyrian Christians in Iraq is also not encouraging. Since the 1979 revolution, the Assyrian Christian population of Iran has dropped from 100,000 to about 20,000. According to Iran Press Watch, persecution of Christians has recently been stepped up in Iran. Iran Press Watch reports as follows.
“Iranian officials have dramatically increased their persecution of Christians following the conversion of a large number of Muslims to Christianity. Last year alone, 50 Christians were arrested for practicing their faith, some of whom were tortured. There have also been reports that Christians died due to the torture they were forced to endure.”
International Christian Concern further reported as follows.
“… [O]n March 5, 2009, Iranian security forces detained two Christian women for practicing Christianity. Iranian officials allege that Marzieh Amairizadeh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustampoor are ‘anti-government activists.’
“According to the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), Iranian security officials searched the apartment shared by the two women and confiscated their personal belongings before they handcuffed and took the Christians to Police and Security Station 137 in Gaysha, west of Tehran. After appearing before the Revolutionary Court on March 18, the women were sent to the notorious Evin prison. Iranian officials told the Christian women to post bail at a staggering amount of $400,000 in order to be released from the prison.
“Both women are allowed just a one minute telephone call every day to their immediate families. Both are unwell and in need of urgent medical attention. During their last call on March 28, Marzieh said that she was suffering from an infection and high fever. She said, ‘I am dying,’ reported FCNN.”
The harsh government response has come in response to the conversion of some Iranian Muslims to Christianity. A bill before Iran's parliament would make conversion out of Islam a crime punishable by death.
In one of the few pieces of good news for the Assyrian community, Assyrian street signs, sponsored by Western donors are being put up in Northern Iraq according to AINA, the Assyrian International News Agency. This is the first time in Iraq that Assyrians have had street signs in their own language. It is hoped that the signs will be a common sight throughout the Nineveh Plain area where Assyrians commonly live.
The Guardian reported on the incident as follows.
"Security guards aboard an Italian cruise ship 500 miles off the coast of Somalia traded gunfire with pirates this weekend as almost 1,000 passengers waited anxiously in their cabins to know whether they would continue their journey as holidaymakers or hostages.
The pirates drew alongside the liner in a small speedboat on Saturday night and sprayed the bridge with automatic rifle fire. But as they attempted to board the vessel, Israeli security guards on board opened fire with pistols, forcing the pirates to retreat."Although the ship's owners praised the move, other sources in the shipping industry were quoted as being critical of the decision. Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarer's Assistance Programme actually said according to Reuters (I'm not making this up.)
" They should have used other means to shake off the pirates, like a loud acoustic device." Yeah right... Bang on a drum and blast rap music at them.
Anyone reading the short account on CNN News will be entirely unaware that an Israeli security team was involved in thwarting the hijacking. Associated Press did mention the Israeli participation as well as the criticism by some in the shipping industry of "escalating the violence".
Most news sources followed Al Jazeera in airbrushing Israeli participation out of the news accounts. The image of Israelis sharing their hard earned knowledge to spare others the pain of falling victim to terrorism is apparently an angle to the news story that is politically inconvenient to Al Jazeera, CNN and many other news sources.
The flawed conventional wisdom that has thus far been used has brought little peace to the coast of Somalia. The new fresh approach of shooting back deserves consideration. Let's hope that the timid voices of criticism do not overrule toughness and common sense.
Friday, April 24, 2009
There are many principles and core values at stake in dissecting the issues in Eritrea and the rest of Africa. The value of human life is primary. Too much suffering has occurred in other parts of Africa distant from Eritrea that seem to drag on. The Congo has seen the loss of six million lives in civil war that is into its second on again off again decade. Zimbabwe is a basket case with widespread famine and a worthless currency. I am frankly frustrated. I wonder if white people get more compassion than Black Africans. It really troubles me.
There is also the principle of self determination. The idea of stepping in to solve a humanitarian crisis is a slippery slope. Atrocity stories have been historically used to rationalise aggression that might have avarice as its root. On the other hand are genuine human rights crises. A well intentioned yet ill advised international response to an internal crisis can have lasting and permanent repercussions. So can standing idly by. Rwanda back in 1994 is precisely such a case in point. The world community was worse than useless in that situation, agonising and deliberating while a million people were murdered. What is even worse is that no one sent the Tutsi weapons with which they could have defended themselves.
I am not making any comparison between Eritrea and Rwanda. They are very different conflicts. But there is the lingering anxiety that could be compared to the neighbours of a feuding couple. What are those thumps and screams? Is he beating her? Maybe she is beating him. Maybe they are just loud. What is the right thing to do? Do you call the cops? Or do you knock on the door and ask if every thing is OK? What if you call the child abuse hot line and an idiot social worker turns the home upside down? What if you do nothing and someone ends up in the morgue?
I am inclined towards knocking on the door and asking if everything is OK, not just once but maybe a second time. I lean towards puncturing the silence with friendly greetings, leaving an opening for dialogue. But at a certain point, you have to mind your own business. There are different styles of love, marriage and friendship. There are even divorces that have to unfold in the privacy of a home.
In this analogy,there is noise coming out of Eritrea. The neighbours are worried. There is genuine concern at a puzzling and disturbing situation. We care. And we also respect your independence and right to do things your own way.
I have known and worked with Eritreans over the years. I will be reading up on the situation, the culture and the history. I look forward to doing so. I take accuracy very seriously and welcome the help of my readers in doing so.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
A border war with neighbouring Ethiopia became the pretext for suppression of civil liberties and universal conscription. This tense state of affairs has morphed into a system of universal and indefinite conscription not only into the military but into labour units as well. The BBC reports as follows on the crisis that has turned Eritrea into a leading source of desperate refugees.
"HRW (Human Rights Watch) says every year thousands of Eritreans flee their country, where statutory national service, which used to last 18 months, has been made indefinite.
The advocacy group says most of Eritrea's adult population is currently conscripted.
Sixteen years after it won independence from Ethiopia following a three-decade war, Eritrea is one of the most closed and repressive states in the world, says the report.
It accuses President Isayas Afewerki of using an unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia to keep Eritrea on a permanent war-footing.
HRW says there is no independent civil society and all independent media outlets have been shut down."The measures undertaken by the Eritrean government to stem the tide of refugees are as harsh as anything ever done by the former USSR and its Eastern European allies. Those caught fleeing Eritrea are often shot at the border. Those who are returned by countries into which Eritreans have fled are subject to harsh and brutal imprisonment upon their return. The families of those who have fled are likewise hit with fines and imprisonment.
Human Rights Watch and other organisations monitoring Eritrea have uniformly advised against returning Eritreans to their homeland because of the harsh treatment that would undoubtedly await them.
It is not only political dissidents that are suffering under the Eritrean regime. Christians have been singled out for harsh and brutal persecution. There have been many accounts of Eritreans being tortured and imprisoned in a bid to induce them to recant their Christian faith. The BBC reports as follows about such widespread instances.
"Evangelical Christians who have been arrested face severe pressure to recant their faith. Some prisoners have been held in metal shipping containers.
Accounts of torture, lack of food and terrible conditions are commonplace.
Samuel (not his real name) is 24 and university-educated. Along with 19 others, he was arrested in 2005 when he attended the wedding of a friend.
"For the next 12 months, he was imprisoned and forced to do backbreaking manual labour. He was also regularly beaten.
On one occasion, Samuel said, he was suspended by his arms from a tree for three days in the form of a crucifixion. He was also constantly pressured to leave his faith.
"They asked me if I would like to leave it. They asked every night for four months," he said. Some of his friends did recant after endless beatings.
Samuel, as well as Paulus, were repeatedly asked about their links with the US. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are widely perceived by the Eritrean authorities as having originated in the States, even though many fund themselves."Even the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios has been under house arrest for two years. His health has been endangered by the refusal of the Eritrean authorities to allow him diabetic medication. For the last four months, the Patriarch has been held in an undisclosed location. Although no official reason has been given for the treatment meted out to Abune Antonios, his support for Medhane Alem, a movement within the Eritrean Orthodox church has been cited. With government support, a new Patriarch has been installed with official government approval. Such moves evoke comparisons with Communist China which created the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association." East Germany also created docile churches that were permitted to function legally.
There are too many similarities between the stories told by those escaping the prison that Eritrea has become. The persistence of a steady flow of refugees from that tormented country continues unabated despite the harsh efforts to stop it.
Even on the neglected continent that is Africa, Eritrea stands out as crying for attention from the West. The growing number of refugees from this tormented nation must not be sent back to Eritrea. Pressure must be put upon Eritrea to restore the civil liberties once enjoyed by its citizens. Amnesty International initiated the strategy of adopting prisoners and having small groups of activists advocate for them. Perhaps the troubled nations within Africa such as Sudan, Mauritania and the Congo could be similarly adopted by free citizens of the West who are troubled by their suffering. Africa has been badly neglected by the world since its colonies became independent during the middle of the 20th century. In the name of the equality that is a cornerstone of our political value system, we must not esteem lightly voiceless and silenced people such as the Eritreans. We must not forget the suffering of the Eritrean people. The freedom with which we are blessed must be used for their benefit. It is the right thing to do.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Bull By Nikola Kovacevic
Flood by Ivan Generalic
Self Portrait by Ivan Generalic
Years ago when I visited Zagreb, capitol of Croatia, I became acquainted with Croatian Naive art, which became famous in the 1930's as a local variant of folk painting. It frequently showed pastoral scenes, although the influence of the modern age can be seen in some paintings of this genre. The most famous Croatian naive painter is Ivan Generalic.
I was curious to know whether or not Croatia's neighbour, Serbia also had naive art that was comparable such art from Croatia. What I found on Google was remarkable. Serbian naive art is remarkably similar to that of Croatia, dealing with pastoral themes with an edge that at times seems to be from from another world. Anyone who is familiar with the Serbian and Croatian languages would not be surprised at this. Indeed, a mere twenty five years or so ago, they were referred to as Serbo-Croatian, one language with a hyphenated name and two alphabets.
The hatred and bloody warfare between Croatia and Serbia has created a formidable rift that knocked the hyphen out of Serbo Croatian and redefined them as totally separate. Serbs nurse grudges of Croatian perfidy during World War Two. And Croats resent keenly the political dominance of Serbia during the Tito years from 1945 until his death in 1980. During the 1990's , the bloody civil war that ripped Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia leaves a collective psyche in the region that still bears ugly scars.
Being of Croatian and of Jewish ancestry, this history of conflict in the region touches me deeply. The closeness of the languages of the two countries seems to hint at a deeper link between the two countries. When I look at Croatian and Serbian naive art, this feeling is inescapable that the ancestors of those who have fought in recent years might have once been brothers.
As a child of intermarriage, the image of a table divided by faith is a personal one. I have sat at a table with ham on one end and kosher food on the other. It is from this experience that I try to imagine the first generation in which brothers embraced different faiths, when one brother would name his child Hasan and the other would name his child Ivan. As a Jew, it is hard for me to imagine Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics willing to kill each other over theological differences that to a Jew seem trifling.
Sometimes peace must come from abroad. In America, Serbs and Croats have lived together in areas where they live in close proximity. Gandhi developed his sense of an Indian identity that transcended caste and local nationality while working in South Africa in the early part of the twentieth century.
Cuisine too has a way of transcending borders. Turkish coffee is also called Greek coffee. I had always assumed that baklava is Greek. Others tell me that is in fact Arab. I would like to see a map of the world drawn according to how people make coffee or if they prefer tea over coffee.
I am very familiar with the passions that have driven Serbs and Croats apart and shredded the map of Bosnia Herzegovina. At the same time, the prism of linguistic and artistic similarities is captivating to me as well. I hope that some day that this vision of Balkan similarities be apparent to those who are gripped by the passions of the region.
The ravages of war in the region have left much to be forgiven. Perhaps some day the scars on the Balkan lanscape and psyche will fade from the beautiful face of that tormented region. I look back to the home of my mother's ancestors with sadness. As a Jew, as an American, I feel like I have stepped back from a beautiful painting and discerned its beauty from afar. Perhaps one day the descendants of the brothers who once broke bread together will sit together yet again.
There was a movie E Moj Druze Beogradski about a romance in which the boy was a Serb and the girl was a Croat. The video below is of a song from the movie. even if you, like me do not understand the literal meaning of the words, the images tell a compelling story
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
There are people who are willing to spray body parts and jet fuel across our cities in an effort to impose upon us their brave new world. These are people who sever hands as a part of their criminal code, who take women as "war booty" and consider all to be permitted in war against us.
The official position of the Obama administration is that we are not allowed to use "torture.". We are expected to blanche in horror at reports of slapping (!) locking suspects in with scary looking insects.(good heavens) and not letting terror suspects go beddy bye after a day of answering (hopefully polite) questions.
Whatever you can say about America's "excesses" in Iraq, we are light years ahead of our enemies. In Iraq, entire towns were wiped out. Men were forced to watch gang rape of their families. Doctors were forced to perform punitive amputations. Even when I read about Abu Ghraib, it seems truly trifling by the standards of the Middle East region.
The scenes of suicide bombings are truly horrific. From Israel to Pakistan, there are those who would usher in their twisted brave new world with suicide bombings and terror squads. These war people who thing that scraping body parts blasted into the walls of a house of worship are a small price to pay for a beautiful Islamic tomorrow.
There should be a possibility of judicial redress and compensation for the wrongly accused. But when I read about the things that the defeatist left is expecting us to recoil from in horror, I find myself shaking my head in utter astonishment. When I see our intelligence and counter terrorism units being forced into battle with wooden swords and gentleman's rules of engagement, I see defeat on the horizon. Moral indignation is being used as a weapon of war.
When I was in a communist youth group in the 1970's we were told by our leaders that participation in the anti war movement was part of our strategy to "tie the hands of US imperialism." Each week, I would see pictures in the Vietnam Courier, a North Vietnamese propaganda newspaper showing antiwar demonstrations across America and the world. I am not proud of this chapter in my life. Indeed, I am ashamed of it. But it was a valuable lesson in the mind set of America's adversaries.
I see evidence of the same strategies being employed today that were used during the Vietnam war by the communist left back when I was a teenager. To this day, I feel that a small portion of guilt is mine from the Cambodian genocide and other horrors inflicted by the communists on Indochina. Whether today's antiwar activists are "useful idiots" or something more sinister can only be guessed. But all of the signs are there. Humanitarian concerns are being used to tie the hands of our government. There has to be a limit. We have a right to defend ourselves. This is not always pretty. But we are not on a college baseball team. We are at war. Get used to it.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I was listening to Ahmadinejad's talk in Durban today about Zionism and the evils of its alleged racism. Many delegates walked out, which was praiseworthy. Unfortunately , Ahmadinejad was silent about racism in his own country.
Iran is not exclusively Iranian. Indeed, it is only 51% Iranian. Armenians, Kurds, Baluchis, Turkmens and Turks are among the many ethnic groups that comprise the other 49% of Iran's citizens. Four million Arabs also live in Iran. They are known as Awazis. Their language is suppressed. They live in poverty despite inhabiting an oil rich region in Iran. Unfortunately, the money that is made in their region is not invested in education or infrastructure. These Muslim citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran are persecuted for their ethnicity.
It should be noted that Iranian demographics are not like American demographics. Minorities are not dispersed across the country. Iran's minorities have ancestral ties to the regions in which they live. Unfortunately, they are governed by outsiders. Arabic and Kurdish, as well as the Turkic languages of Iran are distinct from Farsi. They are not dialects. They are separate languages. In a real sense, Iran is as much of an empire as was the former Soviet Union.
The discontent of Iran's subject peoples is a major current beneath the surface of Iranian political life. They are not being ruled by a benevolent dictatorship that provides them with material prosperity. The Arabs of Iran are being plundered and in some cases driven from their homes by a government that cares more for the oil in the ground than the human beings who walk upon it.
The status of women and of religious minorities such as the Bahais in Iran gets much well deserved publicity in Iran, but the status of its ethnic minorities cries out for scrutiny and remedial action. Ahmadinejad likes to be photographed in a keffiyeh, a scarf like garment worn by Arabs. Little known is the fact that Iranian Arabs may not wear this garment that their President wears on some occsions when he is abroad.
Ahmadinejad has committed tens of millions of dollars to support Hizbullah and other terrorist groups. In light of the poverty of non Iranian parts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, this money devoted to fomenting war is an obscenity.
I am presenting with this posting a video of Arabs whose homes were destroyed by the Iranian government. This was not done in wartime. It was done in peacetime against an unarmed populace for economic gain and without compensation.
An honest conference on racism and ethnic hatred should address many different areas of the world. Iran deserves its own conference. Ahmadinejad should stand in front of such a conference not as a plaintiff but as a defendant. Now that we have allowed ourselves to be entertained by him, it is time for him to start answering questions.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Now Israel is threatening to bomb the reactor being constructed by the Iranians, which is perceived as a threat by other Arab countries in the region. The reaction of the Obama administration is to strong arm Israel to give up the West Bank if it wants America's continued support. Rahm Emmanuel, whose appointment was supposed to be such good news for Israel's supporters is busy twisting arms and other body parts in an attempt to whip Israel into line with Obama administration policy.
Jason Koutsoukis, reporting in The Age , an Australian newspaper reports on Emmanuel, (whose last name translates into German as "Gott Mit Uns") as follows.
"No less a figure than White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel — whose father fought with the militant Zionist group the Irgun, and whose appointment had provided such reassurance to Israeli officials — was quoted this week laying down the law to Israel.
If Israel wants US help to defuse the Iranian threat, Mr Emanuel was reported to have told Jewish leaders in Washington, then get ready to start evacuating settlements in the West Bank."
Additionally, according to The Age the White House has been sending signals to Israeli leaders that are far less than welcoming, informing Bibi Betanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel that his visit to Washington had been called off. To further drive home his point, The Age reports the White House as having informed the Israelis as follows.
"Washington sources added that the Obama Administration would not be continuing the tradition that had developed during the Bush years of hosting Israeli prime ministers whenever they showed up in town, sometimes with just a phone call's notice."
To translate this into laymen's terms, this would be a bit like telling your mother in law who has flown three thousand miles to see your family that you would be happy to welcome her with a cup of coffee from McDonalds on your way to dropping her off at Motel Six. Unless your mother in law is Typhoid Mary, and hell bent on fixing formula for her grandchild this might be considered a highly inappropriate reaction to normal family tensions.
Now Israel is sitting in Obama's waiting room with England, France and other one time American allies who Obama is also too busy to see since he is busy making overtures to America's enemies like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. A political cartoonist would do well to portray Obama as a wannabee motorcycle gang member gunning the engine on his moped with his vinyl faux leather motorcycle jacket flapping in the wind over his shirt tails, leaving his faithful nerdy friends behind in a cloud of smoke.
The Israeli response to the latest disagreement might not be good for the military sector of America's economy. According to The Age ,"It might have been no more than coincidence, but yesterday Israeli defence officials told the liberal daily Haaretz that Israel's $US15 billion ($A21 billion) purchase of 75 US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets was now under review due to "the unexpected high cost and disagreements with the manufacturer"
So what does the score card look like? Obama is busy alienating America's allies while he kisses up to rogue states that have by no means given up on their aggressive designs. He seems hell bent on extracting territorial concessions that could put Israel's population of seven million people in mortal danger. Unfortunately for Obama, the Israelis elected a leader who has reacted to unceasing terrorist and rocket attacks with a hard line position against unrewarded territorial concessions.
A crucial difference between Israel and its Arab neighbours is that if an Arab country loses a war with Israel, it loses territory. If Israel were to lose such a war, it would cease to exist.
Israelis have not asked American soldiers to fight and die for their continued existence. They have paid with their own lives in war, and they have paid with their own civilian lives in times of peace as well. Whether it must defend itself on the battlefield yet again or clean up after more terrorist attacks, any decision made by Israel's Prime Minister will have a cost in blood. This is a choice that has been thrust upon the Jewish State, unlike the suicide bombers, terror squads and Arab armies that chose to wage war against Israel's continued presence on the map of the Middle East.
Against this the historical backdrop of repeated efforts to wipe Israel off the map, Obama's intervention sounds glib and naive at best. His arm twisting is a test Israel must withstand. It is a pity for Israel to have lost such a long standing friend. But the people that survived the ghettoes of Europe and the farhud in Baghdad will with G-d's help survive this. It is a far greater loss to the American people that its President is deserting his allies in Europe and elsewhere while he chases a mirage. What a pity.
The following are pictures from after an anti Jewish pogrom in Hebron in 1929, which was 19 years before the founding of the State of Israel. May G-d avenge their blood and may Jews forever live in the holy city of Hebron.The "peace" of 1929 will not be the "peace" of 2009!
Friday, April 17, 2009
A Dutch consumer rights group promoting a ban on Israeli goods is planning to take legal action against one of the Netherland's largest Jewish institutions for alleged "abuse" of the postal system. The Jewish group denies foul play.
Peace, which is advocating a boycott of Israeli goods from the West Bank, says the umbrella group for the Jewish Orthodox communities in the Netherlands, NIK, deliberately caused it losses of thousands of euros.
Peace argues that NIK did this by using its Web site to encourage people to send thousands of Peace's prepaid envelopes through a mailing service that allows anyone to send mail to certain organizations at no charge, since the organizations pay the postal fees after delivery.
"For two weeks now we have been receiving empty envelopes which we put out for people to support our campaign," said Peace chairman Joost Hardeman. "We of course had to pay for this traffic. This illegal manipulation by NIK of the Royal Mail service has forced us to cancel our mail arrangement, and we are preparing a lawsuit against them to cover our costs."
I was cracking up laughing when I read this news report. This group is out to inflict economic damage on companies that incidentally probably provide Arabs with employment. Then someone comes up with a way to drain them financially. So they start whining about lost money. That is kind of like saying "Please stand still so I can kick you in the !@#."
If you are going to dabble in controversial politics in a part of the world where there is a war going on and take sides, then you might expect some resistance from the other side. I have every legal right to send off for information from political opponents and to get on their mailing lists. If they send me post paid envelopes, there is no law in the land that will prevent me from sending them back empty or with a check for one cent, which will cost more to process than the one cent that I send them.
Because this stupid Dutch group is so whiny and arrogant in filing this lawsuit, I have decided to fight back in my own small way. I am going to get on the mailing lists of ten anti Israel groups as soon as I finish writing this article. Since I don't want to get sued, I won't be specific. I won't even say if I would include Peace Now on the list. Maybe they will send me post paid envelopes. If they do, I will be sure to thank them for the thoughtful gift.
I am simply relaying this information for educational purposes, but it is possible to send back news clippings, Chinese restaurant menus or anything else that might fit in a standard envelope without running afoul of postal regulations. This could bump up the bill for a past paid envelope to double what it would normally be. I have heard of people mailing bricks with a post paid envelope pasted on them, but that is probably an urban legend.
So when this dumb!@$$ peace group is finished bellyaching about empty envelopes, maybe they could do something constructive like helping out victims of suicide bombers, many of whom are working hard to wipe out the neighbour of the country they intend to create.
I hope this lawsuit is thrown out, but I am not optimistic. In light of the idiocy that has emanated from Europe's capitols lately, it is hard to know what to expect.
This inane lawsuit has exhausted my patience. There is nothing more to say about it. I have to go out and mail some Chinese menus to some commie friends of mine.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Japan has its own untouchable caste, the Buraku, a group of individuals who are racially indistinguishable from other Japanese but whose ancestors were involved in slaughter and tanning of animal hides.
According to the BBC, Nigeria has its own untouchable class, a tribe known as the Osu. Since time immemorial, this group in Nigeria has been barred from owning land or living among other Nigerians. Even today among city dwellers, loyalty to the tradition of shunning the Osu has destroyed marriage matches that would have otherwise been promising. The BBC article outlines some of the speculation concerning the Osu as follows.
People say the Osu are the descendants of people sacrificed to the gods, hundreds of years ago.
But an academic who has researched Igbo traditions says he believes the Osu were actually a kind of "living sacrifice" to the gods from the community.
"I remember when I was a child, seeing the Osu and running away," says Professor Ben Obumselu, former vice-president of the influential Igbo organisation Ohaneze Ndi Igbo.
"They were banned from all forms of civil society; they had no land, lived in the shrine of the gods, and if they could, would farm the land next to the road."
"It was believed that they had been dedicated to the gods, that they belonged to them, rather then the world of the human," he said.
The Osu of Nigeria are also embracing Christianity. This provides both a theology and a social milieu in which the sting of ostracism from neighbours is not a constant feature of their existence. Some also use Western university education as a way of entering modern occupations that are not blighted by the social divisions of traditional society.
What if Muslim women decided that their lives as 'lower caste" individuals was intolerable enough to seek relief in another faith ? The Islamic world has seen the rise of Bahaiism, as well as the Druse, both of whom offer to their women a far more respected role than some of the prominent Islamic sects identifying themselves as "fundamentalists".
There is a" golden rule" derived from Judaism and carried over into Christianity. Do not to your neighbour what is hateful to you." This is a powerful teaching, which could move faith communities to consider the needs of all their members.
Communist governments set up walls to stem the flow of people who did not want to live in its repressive grip. Eventually communism collapsed in country after country, despite the widespread doubts that it could ever be defeated.
Perhaps the harsh and repressive forms of Islam will meet a similar fate, where its oppressed adherents simply set out for communities in which the faith and its rules are kinder to all the people. Perhaps some will decide that oppression dehumanises the oppressor as well. Right now, this is just a dream. It is as implausible and unthinkable as the Berlin Wall being torn down was in 1989.
Does a dream have mass? Does a vision have gravity? Can hope lift a weary heart? A painter renders the vision of his mind's eye into a portrait or a landscape. The world is our canvas.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
American rock music is at the hub of world popular music. Even European groups who make it big do so not in their own language but in English. There are tens of millions around the globe who can sing along in flawless English to music in English yet do not understand what they are singing. They focus on the human voice not as a vehicle of literal meaning but as a conveyor of mood, as yet another musical instrument.
I always have wondered what local people listened to in their own language. Going abroad and only listening to music in my own language seemed like seeing the world and only eating at McDonalds. It is hard to look too long at the ocean horizon without wondering who is looking back.
Western music always had a strong following among Russian youth. News stories ran regularly during the Soviet era of bootleg Beatles albums fetching hefty sums on the black market in Moscow, Kiev and elsewhere. While this may be an ego boost to westerners, it leaves unnoted the wealth of popular music that is as rich as anything in the west.
There is Russian music which in style and tone is simply American musical styles dubbed into Russian. Some of this is high quality. A lot is not. My favourite Russian music is Russian in language and in style. Some of the best groups got their start during the Soviet era when they were of questionable legality, performing in private apartments and at unauthorised gatherings. Two such groups are Akvarium and DDT.
Akvarium was formed in 1972 by Boris Gribenshikov, a student of applied mathematics and Anatoly Gunitsky, who was a poet and playwright. The two performed in private apartments for years before bribing a technician from the government studio, Melodiya to record one of their albums under the table. Some of their best music is from this semilegal period in their career. Their music is influenced by musical forms from outside Russia, such as Jethro Tull, Reggae and Bollywood.
DDT was founded in 1971 by Yuri Shevchuk, who remains its lead vocalist to this day. It went through a phase similar to that experienced by Akvarium of producing underground music. It is stylistically more mainstream than Akvarium.
DDT's big break came in 1982 when they won a competition sponsored by Komsomolskaya Pravda to perform at officially sanctioned gatherings. Throughout the 1980's and beyond, their music continued to increase in popularity as they performed in legal venues and even went on tour.
Although they have been joined by many new groups since the fall of communism, both DDT and Akvarium have many devoted followers of their music.
I am presenting two music videos with this posting "Veter" by DDT (wind) is a soulful song. The video is done in black and white.
The Akvarium video has footage interspersed of documentaries from the Stalin era. Some of the clips show a famous church being demolished during a time in which Christian and Jewish houses of worship were being shut down and their clergy deported to Siberia. I do not speak Russian, but it is hard for me to imagine that the video is approving of the subsequent Soviet religion and its accompanying communist icons.
I present this music with the image that has remained with me for years of looking out to sea and wondering who is looking back. I hope my readers enjoy it
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
" ....a 16-year-old girl in Maryland learned that one of her Facebook friends, a boy in Oxford, England, was in distress. Late on Wednesday night, he wrote: "I'm going away to do something I've been thinking about for a while then everyone will find out."
The girl didn't know the boy's address. But she immediately felt this was a serious situation and told her parents.
They contacted the British Embassy, who in turn got in touch with Scotland Yard and the local police in Oxford.
All they had was a name. But they worked quickly to narrow the possibilities down to eight addresses.The British police went down the list of eight possible senders and found the boy, who had already overdosed on drugs. They were able to rush him to a hospital and save his life.
What was so nice about this story was how so many people were in the right place at the right time and did the right thing. This is not to be taken for granted. If one person had dropped the ball or delayed acting, the outcome could have been tragic.
This story brings me back to when I was the boy's age. I was socially inept and out of step. After lonely years in middle school and then high school, I was finally starting to run with a nice group of kids who accepted me. Life seemed to be beautiful. Then my father got transferred overseas. My social life was back at ground zero. Most people told me that I was lucky to have a learning opportunity that most people only dreamed of. That only made me feel worse. My parents sent me away to work in a resort hotel in a small Alpine town. I was a social misfit and barely hung in there. Amid some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, I was mired in depression. At night I prayed not to awaken and in the morning I cursed my fate for having done so. It is only in retrospect that I realise how bad off I was.
Had my prayers been answered, I would never have married and raised a family. I would never have welcomed a grandchild to the world. I would not have lived to see mountain sunsets that magnified my sense of unity and purpose instead of mocking my inner darkness.
I still have days and moments. Changes of season still trigger inexplicable sadness. A smell can bring back vivid bittersweet memories. I still relate to a foggy day like an old drinking buddy who doesn't waste his breath telling me to cheer up.
But life is a wheel. The emotional roller coaster of my youth gave me a measure of empathy that would not have been imparted by a tranquil adolescence. I have internalised a lot of the advice of those to whom I have turned for counsel. In retrospect, I gained a lot of insight from the troubles I had in life. It was an irreplaceable education that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Why do some people weather unspeakable tragedies and sorrows while other people trip over cracks in life's sidewalk? I don't know. My life definitely wasn't a walk in the park, but it certainly wasn't a four hanky tearjerker either. I was from a securely middle class family. My parents weren't divorced although they certainly had their high decibel moments.
In retrospect, the strangest thing about depression is how it is free floating. You can be sad as hell and not know why. Sometimes with counseling, or advice, you can match up what in your life might trigger such dark moods. Once you do that, depression seems a lot less mysterious. Sometimes you can actually do something about areas of your life that are less than satisfactory. That is better than any medication.
I am still thinking about the kid in Oxford, England. I hope he is getting a lot of support from family and friends. I hope he is getting some counseling to understand how he got so depressed and how to cope. The way life is, there are probably hundreds of thousands out there who are feeling as lonely and desperate as he did before a caring girl in Maryland reached out and plucked him from the abyss.
I am normally reticent when I am posting to my blogs. I don't like the confessional mentality of spilling one's guts on Oprah Winfrey or G-d forbid Jerry Springer. The only reason I am mentioning my personal difficulties is in hope of offering some encouragement to those out there in the fog of depression and despair.
There are a few fragments of personal advice I will offer in no particular order to anyone out there who may be suffering from depression.
1) It's normal to respond to a breakup or unemployment with feeling sad and upset. But if you feel like that for more than a couple of weeks, you might want to seek advice from someone. A therapist, a clergyman or someone with concern and detachment from your life and relationships might be able to offer insight and understanding.
2) Don't be afraid to shop around. If someone's approach is grating to you or doesn't resonate, you may want to consider going to someone else for advice.
3) Once you have made a commitment to yourself to talk out your problems, you might also want to work on improvements in your life. Painting your apartment, learning how to drive or taking a college course might yield improvements in your life that you weren't even looking for.
4) Happiness is something that happens when you are working on something else.
5) Train yourself to judge others kindly. When you get in the habit of thinking well of others, it is easy to imagine that they are thinking well of you.
6) If someone tells you that you have no reason to be so sad, be polite to them but don't listen to them. You feel the way you do and there's no reason to apologise for it.
7) You don't need to have a terminal illness or be in a train wreck to have troubles worthy of consideration. Depression is real, and it has a powerful pull. Anyone who has been there knows that.
8) Stay away from drugs. Smoking up or getting wasted isn't going to make your depression go away. It is far more likely to make you feel worse. And while your at it, try to go light on the cigarettes and caffeine. Notice that I didn't say to quit. When and if you decide that you want to quit or scale down those habits, you'll do it. Right now you have enough on your plate. But trust me. You do not want to get pickled or wasted.
9) Try to avoid blaming other people. You can't change them. It's hard enough to change yourself, but it's the only thing you stand a fair shot at. If something is your fault, you can change it. Depression involves feelings of powerlessness, that nothing you do matters. Look to see what you can do better than you are doing now. It will give you the feeling that you make a difference. Because you can and you do.
10) Because there are so many different faith traditions, I am reluctant to comment on such a personal area. But even if you are not addicted to anything, reading books from Alcoholics Anonymous about the Twelve Steps might spur some positive and constructive thinking. Additionally, try to find ways within your power to brighten up your corner of the world. Literature from faith traditions that focuses on human relationships might be a good place to start.
I really believe that a time will come when you will find that your troubles have given you insight and compassion. Until then, it can be pretty rough. I wish I could have met the person I became at fifty when I was sixteen. Just meeting someone who survived and made it another twenty five years would have been profoundly reassuring. I sincerely believe that you will meet the person you will become. Have faith. Hang in there. Keep on keepin on.
P.S. To the girl who saved the boy's life three thousand miles away. Every day that you live, you can know that someone is alive because you cared. Thank you. You have changed the world.
Monday, April 6, 2009
A dog who is really a misfit usually owes its foul disposition to hanging out around bad people. Even if it's a genetic problem, it usually comes from people breeding dogs the wrong way.
But people aren't all bad. How far would a dog get in an anger management class? Could you imagine a canine twelve step program?
"My name is Lassie D. It's been six months since I chased a cat up a tree. I take one day at a time. My owner got me a really neat squeaky toy that doesn't scratch me when I sink my teeth into it. That helps me cope. It really does."
"My name is Princess. I've had litters from three different fathers. I know its wrong, but it happens every spring."
People have the potential to want something and measure it against a moral yardstick. Sometimes I have a burning desire to gossip to my wife about some obnoxious jerk I stopped talking to. There are social and religious reasons not to gossip. There is a whole book of Jewish laws on the subject written by a guy named Yisroel Meir Kagan, who is more widely known as the Chofetz Chaim. Out of respect to those laws and a rational realisation that gossip is socially corrosive, I rechannel the desire to gossip into harmless pursuits, like following Albanian elections and snickering about Yasir Arafat's assorted sexual preferences.
I know a lot of people who take stock of their character and try to improve on areas of weakness. That is a distinctly human characteristic.
I heard a woman from PETA say that she would be unable to decide if a child and a puppy were drowning who should be saved first. That is taking love for animals way too far. I heard a story about a rabbi who scolded his son for tearing a leaf off a tree without good reason. His reasoning went further that we are given mastery over creation to take it a step higher and not to use it scornfully. Food on one's plate is relying on a human to take it to a higher level and not to waste the strength it provides.
I have no faith in human logic to suffice as a moral compass. Everyone has a tendency to devise a moral system that puts them on the highest rung. An athlete will stress fitness. A professor will stress intellect. We need a standard outside our own logic as a guide. The human intellect is a powerful anaesthetic for the conscience. There are times when vegetarianism has a rational appeal. There are times when I put my own logic aside to defer to Torah teachings. The issue of vegetarianism is one such area. When I look at the bloody sectarian wars in India and the willingness of vegetarians to shed human blood, I feel vindicated in my decision.
I once worked with a girl who was vegetarian. She sat down at my table when I was eating a roast beef sandwich. "I'm a vegetarian." she said smugly.
"I'm a carnivore." I replied.
"What's a carnivore?" she asked.
"It's someone who eats only meat" I answered.
She was properly mortified and told me so.
"Have you ever looked into the beautiful brown eyes of a cow or a sheep?" she asked
I was ready for that question.
"Have you seen a carrot skinned alive? Have you ever seen potatoes cut into pieces and tossed into a pot of boiling water? How about cabbage being shredded and thrown into a bowl full of other vegetables that have been dismembered?"
When I paused in my impassioned defense of vegetable rights, she was finally able to get a word in.
"What about the poor innocent cow? " she asked indignantly.
"It serves it right for tearing up all that poor innocent grass." I replied.
I finished off the debate with a diatribe against "rootism", which is the belief that life forms with roots have no rights and feelings. According to this philosophy, PETA members are oppressors of life forms with roots. People who eat animals are simply implementing a measure of justice by eating the animals that oppress rooted life forms.
The problem with advancing such an argument as I did with my vegetarian friend is that it starts to make sense. After talking like that for about ten minutes, I need a good tossed salad to clear my head. Sometimes it is a good idea to be familiar with the timeworn traditional ideas for doing things before you go and question them.
I heard a story about Barbra Streisand giving a free concert to a tribe of cannibals. I wish I could have been there.
People who eat people
Are the luckiest people in the world......
Human logic can make anything sound sensible. It's scary. I'm going out for some Chinese food. It'll clear my head for sure. Vegetarian...carnivore.... I'll have beef with broccoli.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
In a physical and spiritual sense, the Satmar Rebbe provided sustenance to Jews who had no family and no Rebbe. Many chassidim were Jews who came to the Satmar Rebbe at the end of the war with neither physical nor spiritual home. The large communities in Williamsburg, Jerusalem and Argentina, among others are a living legacy of the Satmar Rebbe's loving efforts to gather the broken remnants of the Nazi inferno.
At the end of the war, the Satmar Rebbe visited the Holy Land. He was greeted with joy and excitement. He supervised the establishment of communal and educational institutions. After a while, the financial needs of the burgeoning chassidic community in the Holy Land necessitated the departure of the Satmar Rebbe for the United States, where he ended up settling permanently.
To whom will I bring a kvittel ? ( A letter to a Rebbe with family names and concerns over which the Rebbe prays for a positive outcome.)
The Rebbe looked earnestly at the chossid and replied as follows.
"Look for a Jew with camp numbers tattooed on his arm who is praying with tefillin (phylacteries) on. When you see such a person, you can give your kvittel to him. Anyone who has seen so much and remains loyal to the Torah is fit to receive a kvittel and function as a meilitz yoshar. (advocate to Heaven)