Friday, February 27, 2009

Short takes on Swedish Terrorists, Ticketing the Dead, Missy Higgins and North Korea



President Obama wants to show the Islamic world how kind, gentle and multicultural America can be. Sweden is a role model in being kind, gentle and multicultural. The following story from the Bildzeitung of Germany shows just how rewarding this policy is for those who practice it.


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Bombs were detonated in four Swedish supermarkets with time delay fuses. According to the Swedish newspaper "Svenska Dagbladet"police are focusing on a group known as "Global Intifada".The thuderous fiery explosions were reported in four supermarkets in the city of Sodertalje west of Stockholm.

No one was injured. Three of the four supermarkets attacked were totally destroyed. Other grocery store owners reported receiving "warning letters" in the past two weeks signed by a group called "Global Intifada". The letters threatened that fires would be set to protest the war in Iraq. Sodertalje is known in Sweden as a town with a high percentage of Iraqi refugees.

This should be a lesson to Obama. All the countries that try to be kind, gentle and multicultural end up getting a kick in the teeth for it.


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John Waldo of Gainesville Florida sat dead for fifteen days in his car. Waldo, who had been missing since February 11 was found sitting on the passenger side of the vehicle, according to police spokesman Bennie Smith. He had his car key with him. A loaded pistol was found in the trunk.

It remains to be established why Mr. Waldo's death went unnoticed for so long. Policie did note that his illegally tinted windows made it harder to notice him sitting in the car.

"Even the person who reported this to us was not sure of what he saw." noted Keith Kameg, a police spokesman. A spokesman for the city noted that the police were not properly trained. Normally, a car is removed after it receives three tickets. Frequently this does not occur. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to update the computer system

How and why did Waldo die. The autopsy was inconclusive. There was no conclusive cause of death established. Further testing for drugs and poison are pending.

As a New Yorker I am concerned. Mayor Bloomberg has been looking to tax everything he can. Seven tickets to someone who is dead... Hmmm. I can imagine what must be going through Bloomberg's head when he reads this story. Up until now death has been a protection against being ticketed. I can just imagine the cops putting chalk around a crime scene and getting a ticket for graffiti.

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I was listening to the radio the other day and an Australian singer came on named Missy Higgins. It has been a long while since I have heard any music from Alanis Morrisette. The sad, introspective quality in Higgin's music reminds me a bit of Morrisette.

Higgins is now 25 years old and has been singing professionally since the age of 17. She has two albums out. The song below was featured on Grey's Anatomy. Her liberal politics include support of PETA. There is probably a lot she supports that I do not. If I only listened to the music of those who shared my political views, my collection of music would be very small.


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The following is a public service video reminding us of the terrible conditions endured by North Koreans. The video is done as a comedy skit. Unfortunately, it is probably pretty close to the actual truth. Watch it , enjoy it and do something. There are charities out there helping the North Koreans. Check them out.




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Weird News Cell Phone in Stomach of a Fish



English fisherman Andrew Cheatle had written his cell phone off as lost forever. A week later, he got it back in the strangest way. Fellow fisherman Glen Kerley from Sussex found the missing cell phone in the stomach of a fish!

The cell phone had slipped out of Cheatle's pocket and fell in the water. After a week, Cheatle's girlfriend received a call with her boyfriend Andrew's number on the caller ID. Glen Kerley had taken the SIM card out of the slimy cell phone, put it in his own telephone and called Cheatle's girlfriend


The caller explained that he had found the missing cell phone in the stomach of a fish. And he was telling the truth !!

Cheatle noted. "The phone smelled a little funny, but it worked, and I was real glad to have it back.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hillary Clinton Back to Her Old Ways



Back in the days when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she had a reputation to match her husband's as both ruthless and unprincipled. After her husband brought Arafat and Rabin to the White House lawn to sign a peace accord, it was Hillary who kissed Suha Arafat on the cheek. Hillary came to the New York State race for US senator with the baggage of her husband's record and reputation. She legitimately replied that she should be judged on her own record. New Yorkers gave her a chance. She proved to be capable at expressing the concerns and priorities of her constituency. She also became a vocal supporter of Israel.

Under Barack Obama, Clinton seems to be learning the new rules of the game very quickly. Despite Israel's extraordinary efforts to supply humanitarian aid to Gaza, Hillary has condemned Israel for slowing down the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza. According to American Headline News,"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Israel for placing obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

Ahead of Clinton's visit, special U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is expected to issue a statement on the matter, saying, "Israel is not making enough effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza...the U.S. expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter."

Hillary has been criticised by Jewish leaders for turning her back on her principles. I disagree. Hillary Clinton believes in Hillary Clinton. She believes in what pays her bills. She is impassioned about whatever advances her career. If her next step on the political tightrope required supporting fascism, she would shift gears with deftness. If she were offered enough money, she would support ceding New York to the Dutch royal family as a gift to the people of the Netherlands. Hillary Clinton can not be criticised for betraying her core principles. She has no core principles. Hillary Clinton is like a good computer. She will run whatever is downloaded and installed, and she will do it well.

Israel should do whatever it has to do to survive . And it should pray. Israel is being deserted by long standing allies, but not by G-d. The Jewish nation has faced daunting challenges before. It has survived until now, and it will with G-d's help survive yet again. Hillary has sold us down the river. Shady trees have withered, leaving us to trek in the hot sun. Life will go on. We must thank G-d for the strength he gives us to fight and survive. And we must use that strength.

There is a tradition in a monarchy when a king dies he is succeeded immediately, usually by his son. At such a time one says, "The king is dead. Long live the king !" So it is with friends. They come and they go. The G-d who sends them is eternal. Let's not forget that.




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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kuwaiti Professor Abdallah Nafisi Fantasizes about a Biological Attack at the White House

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Thank You to MEMRI.ORG

The first Gulf War in 1990 was presented to the American people as a struggle to liberate the captive nation of Kuwait. We were told in chilling detail how the tiny nation was being plundered and brutalised by Iraqi troops. Kuwait was indeed freed. Palestinians living there who cheered the Iraqi invasion were expelled without any right of appeal. The Bedoons (not to be confused with Bedouins resumed their lives as stateless people, living at the sufferance of the Kuwaiti government. Human Rights Watch summarises their situation as follows.

After decades of treating Bedoons as citizens and repeatedly promising to confer formal citizenship on them, the Kuwaiti government reversed its practice and declared them illegal residents of the only country they have ever known. Although the policy was adopted before the Iraqi invasion, it has intensified since the Kuwaiti government was restored to power following the victory of the Desert Storm military campaign. Kuwaiti authorities have justified their policy on the theory that Bedoons are illegal aliens and therefore are not entitled to live in Kuwait or enjoy the basic rights to which citizens and lawful residents are entitled.

The Human Rights Watch investigation summarized in this report lasted several years and included interviews with over 500 Bedoons in Kuwait and the diaspora. It also included interviews with Kuwaiti government officials, members of parliament, judges, lawyers and others with knowledge on this subject. We also examined Kuwaiti laws, court cases and relevant official documents. We found the following:

Bedoons today number about 300,000, one third of Kuwait's native population, an estimate based on Kuwaiti official documents. Nearly half of them still reside in Kuwait while the rest are languishing in exile, mainly in Iraq, because Kuwait blocked their return after the war.

Most Bedoons were born in Kuwait, have lived there all their lives-many Bedoon families have lived in Kuwait for generations-or have close family ties in the country. For decades, they were treated as lawful residents and effectively citizens in every aspect of their lives. They were repeatedly promised formal Kuwaiti citizenship. About 30,000 of them are spouses of Kuwaiti women or children of Kuwaiti mothers. Many others have siblings or other close relatives who are Kuwaiti citizen.

Americans were deeply moved by the reports coming out of Kuwait. Very few knew that Kuwait was really an apartheid state, in which an underclass in the country was denied any political rights. Most Americans imagined that Kuwait and Iraq would be like Germany and France where American troops were welcomed as liberators. Who could have imagined that American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia would be asked to conceal Christian religious symbols and that their presence would be regarded as a "defilement" of Saudi soil? Kuwaitis even joined in a boycott of American goods and franchises such as Starbucks and McDonalds.

What is said to us in English by our Arab allies often differs from what is said in Arabic and left untranslated. While it is true that a single word might defy accurate translation, a clear picture can be derived from a more lengthy speech. Professor Abdallah Al Nafisi spoke at length about America and Americans. Much of his speech was wishing out loud for an attack on America that would dwarf 9/11. It is interesting to note the audience reaction as he spoke, going into detail about how such an attack could be facilitated and carried out. His sarcasm and the degree to which he reveled in America's pain are clear to all.

America puts great effort into studying and understanding its enemies. After listening to Al Nafisi I am left with a nagging question. Do we know our friends?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bobby Jindal : A Man With a Plan

The tidal wave of Obamamania and the massive "stimulus bill" that inundated skepticism has left me with a sense of foreboding. I have long felt that government should facilitate solutions rather than initiate them. With proper oversight, our ailing economy has within itself the power to recover. There are ways to encourage investment in recovery.

Jindal expressed his respect for the president and his appreciation of the importance of his election as a milestone in the struggle for racial equality. After that, he laid out his differences in a clear and engaging way. The best one liner of his speech was "In my home state, there used to be saying: At any given time, half of Louisiana was said to be half under water, and the other half is under indictment."

Tonight, when watching Bobby Jindal's reply to President Obama's speech, I saw the possibility of the hope and change so often spoken of by Obama. Jindal seems to recognise that government is a big player in America's economy. He articulated a fundamental opposition to both the specifics and the philosophy of the Democratic plan. He had specific and positive proposals to lift the economy that involved freeing entrepreneurs to work in critical areas such as energy independence and home construction. His tone was positive and constructive. In a lifetime as the child of immigrants, his awe at America's strengths and potential has not diminished. The following exerpt from Jindal's speech shows the clear and principled differences in his approach

That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses, strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers, and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for home-buyers. These plans would cost less and create more jobs.

But Democratic leaders in Congress -- they rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a "magnetic levitation" line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It's irresponsible. And it's no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs, or build a prosperous future for our children.


Jindal had clear and reasoned approaches to a number of problems as well as an engaging way of driving home points. As governor of Louisiana he has clearly shown his ability to tackle a daunting array of problems. As a result, his approach has a practical ring to it as shown in the following paragraphs.


To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump and unless we act now, those prices will return. To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power, and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home. We believe that Americans can do anything and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.

To strengthen our economy, we also need to address the crisis in health care. Republicans believe in a simple principle: No American should have to worry about losing their health coverage -- period. We stand for universal access to affordable health care coverage. What we oppose is universal government-run health care. Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients, not by government bureaucrats. We believe Americans can do anything, and if we put aside partisan politics and work together, we can make our system of private medicine affordable and accessible for every one of our citizens.

To strengthen our economy, we also need to make sure every child in America gets the best possible education. After Katrina, we reinvented the New Orleans school system, opening dozens of new charter schools, and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice. We believe that, with the proper education, the children of America can do anything. And it shouldn't take a devastating storm to bring this kind of innovation to education in our country.


I was particularly pleased to note Jindal's support for school choice. Additionally, he shows a genuine recognition of problems so often mentioned by Democrats as the reason to elect them.

It is not without some skepticism that I listened to Jindal. Well paid workers are an asset to a vibrant economy. Real wages are going down. And jobs are leaving the country. As much as I distrust the Democrats, we need to keep the issue of a living wage in the public forum. The price of stock is only one economic "vital sign." What workers earn is at least as important.

It is critical that the Jindal approach to government and the economy be voiced.The needs of working families should be central in economic recovery. But business is the engine of prosperity. If a business fails, so do its workers. I am skeptical of the Republican commitment to the well being of workers. But there is a healthy strain of optimism tempered with realism in the "Jindal section" of the Republican party. I am relieved that America has one governor who seems to be on the right track. I hope to hear more from him in the days ahead

Monday, February 23, 2009

Czech and Russian Cartoons and Thoughts About Art Under Communism


A typical Socialist Realist Style Painting by

Karpo Trokhimenko




Painting by Karel Vysusil



One of my past times is watching cartoons with no words from other countries. I am particularly interested in Russian and Eastern European cartoons. The artistic value of some of these cartoons is very high. The music is by itself interesting. The Nu Pagodi cartoon series from Russia often draw from Russian traditional songs for their largely wordless sound track.

Nu Pagodi has two main characters. There is Volk (Wolf) and Zayits (Rabbit) It has generally four words that it employs, no matter what the plot is. In addition to Volk and Zayits is "Nu Pagodi" Which is usually shouted at the end of each episode by Volk and roughly translates as "I'll get you yet !!" The cartoon is high quality. Its graphics remind me of American cartoons.

The Czechs came out with a cartoon series called "Krtek". Krtek is "mole" in English. Each episode involves the mole in a different adventure. The graphics look like Czech folk art. I find myself as absorbed by the art as by the plot. I watch these cartoons with my children. They focus on Krtek's adventures. I focus on the art work as much as the plot.
When children and parents each experience the cartoon at their own level that is what makes a good cartoon.

There was a lot of good music art and film behind the iron curtain. It was a struggle to maintain one's integrity. Frequently in books, authours were forced to include in the text a speech extolling Marxism. Sometimes the speech seemed absurdly out of place. Readers developed the skill of flipping past the propaganda and reading without the propaganda inserts.

Under Nazi rule, a lot of artists went through what was called an "inner migration" in which they dwelled on "safe" topics or shrouded their social criticism in allegory. I wonder how much this phenomenon also characterised life under communism.

I hope that the films, music and art of the communist era are preserved. Most people tried to get by, to find and even create enough beauty to make life liveable. In the darkest days of Stalinism, a dreary style known as Socialist Realism became the official artistic ideal. Fortunately, this idiocy was abandoned with time.

I am including with this posting a Nu Pagodi video as well as a Krtek sample. I hope my readers enjoy them both.



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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Mortgage Default Crisis: Some Possible Solutions

A significant component of the financial crisis in America has been caused by mortgage defaults. The primary purpose of a home has for years been forgotten. A home should be a place to live. Millions of Americans have become serfs to the banks, becoming enslaved to the roofs over their heads. A house became an oversized credit card. The higher the paper value of a dwelling, the more can be borrowed against it. Many people were maxed out not against their credit cards but against their homes.

In some markets such as New York City, the number of individuals and families who despaired of home ownership continued to swell as homes once built for working people instead became investment instruments.

In the face of this dreary picture, it would seem dismissive to call this a "market correction." In a real sense, however, reality has to kick in. Homes are for people. When food and clothing is priced beyond the reach of the consumer, adjustments must be made. This is no less true for homes.

Millions of homes are going into foreclosure. Others are on the edge. People are afraid to sell their homes for fear of what they might lose. There are solutions. I propose the following.
1) If someone loses money selling their home, they should be able to pay a percentage of their tax bill to the Federal government with a credit given for the loss.

2) Banks should be given incentives to offer low interest mortgages that are based on real and verified income. These should be loans that are designed to fit into a modest budget and not turn the home owners into serfs.
3) Banks should be allowed to write their losses off on renegotiated mortgages over a period of years. The percentage should give them relief without shutting off the flow of tax revenues.
4) A greater break on taxes should be given for renegotiated mortgages than those that were foreclosed.
5) Homeowners who managed their mortgages responsibly should also get a tax credit for doing so.

Homes from which the occupants are evicted produce no revenue for the banks and none for the government. Anything that keeps the flow of money going is a step in the right direction. The taxes levied by the government are a significant facet of the investment climate. Whenever possible, the government should foster investment and reward positive behavior rather than extract money through taxation or printing the money outright.

It is an open secret that people lied to get mortgages. The banks that extended the mortgages were also party to the deceit. There are ways to verify financial information. Some lenders invited deception. I saw too many posters that advertised "NO INCOME VERIFICATION".

Bernard Madoff has become a poster boy for scam artists. There are a lot more out there. And there are millions of loans built on deception and made on the strength of embroidered truth as well as outright lies. We are in the midst of a national reckoning as we attempt to rebuild our economy on solid and truthful foundations.

We have an opportunity to extract much good from the current crisis. I do not see any movement in that direction. I am a small voice in the vast expanse of the internet with some simple ideas. I hope that truth is contagious

Crown Heights Rants

I have been trying to buy a copy of the Tanya with English translation. If there is any one publication that is associated with Lubavitch, it is the Tanya. I have no idea why so perennially popular a publication has been out of stock for several months at Kehot Publishing. They should really keep it available in translation.

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There are three different ways of gathering in exiles. One is to bring in people who are Jewish but not observant. The second is to welcome and bring in people who strayed from an observant upbringing. The third is to bring in "lost tribes and people who may have been Jewish generations ago, such as the conversos, the Abuyudaya and the Jews of India. We also need to work on the conditions that make people leave in the first place.

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Anyone who's child does not fit into the educational mainstream is on their own. Tuition expenses are outrageous. Wouldn't it be amazing if there were regional Jewish school districts with financial backing systematised? What if people could pay taxes to their Jewish school district and place their child where most appropriate? Our current educational network needs to be reexamined and worked into a system in which our diversity can be accommodated.

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American Jews should consider this. Even if you are a "dove" and privately favour giving up land, Israel is under enough pressure to give up land already. If you come out for a "land for peace" proposal, you are undercutting Israel's diplomatic position. Additionally, you are getting a "land for war" agreement.

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The Lubavitcher Rebbe was prophetic in his predictions about the Holy Land. His teachings about not giving up land and "who is a Jew" are among any number of teachings that are more relevant than ever. Whoever disseminates the Rebbe's teachings is doing the world a public service. Honking your horn and putting up "The Rebbe Is Moshiach" signs adds nothing to public discussion other than to turn people off who might otherwise listen to the Rebbe's teachings. When Moshiach does come, everyone will agree from Williamsburg to Crown Heights, from Lakewood to Flatbush, From Meah Shaarim to Rosh Haayin. That all will agree on the identity of Moshiach will be the biggest miracle of all. This has not happened yet.

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Police in New York are really working hard to protect likely targets from terrorist attack. In tough times, this is a heavy expense. Terror organisations have not scored a hit in the US in a long time. But they should be made to pay for the time and expense of protecting ourselves against them.

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I have spoken to people who had a real hard time reporting crimes in Brooklyn. Reports were "lost". Offenses were given classified as less serious than they really were. Crime is up a lot more than is being admitted. It keeps property values up, it makes some police brass look good. But it's kind of like touching up x rays instead of treating the patient.

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I was discharging a passenger who was disabled from a van in Flatbush. While I was sitting in the van making sure the passenger got inside, a cop ticketed me for double parking.

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I spoke to someone in Pittsburgh who said that parking at an expired meter is an ELEVEN dollar ticket. New York hasn't had tickets that low in decades. New York City parking tickets are robbery with a government permit.

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When was the last time you had a real bagel? My idea of a bagel is the kind that is heavy. How heavy? I like my bagels so heavy you can wing them through a plate glass window. Most bagels I buy today are like Wonder Bread with too much crust.

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Religious dress codes have me baffled . I think denim skirts are modest and totally acceptable. Some people say it's "not chassidish". Why? It's a spin off from denim pants that were sold by a Jewish dry goods merchant during the gold rush named Levi Strauss. That's Jewish enough for me.

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A good week to all. May G-d protect us from our enemies and our government

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Die Prinzen: A Great German A Capella Group

A few years ago it was in the middle of the three weeks, when many observant jews do not even listen to recorded music. During that time a lot of Jewish groups sell a capella tapes, which are permitted since there is no musical instrumentation.

I developed the odd idea of looking for secular a capella music. I found some really good Beatles as well as some African groups. I even found some Yugoslav communist partisan songs that fit the bill as well as some traditional folk songs.

My search reached the level of absurdity when I found an a capella group from Germany called "Die Prinzen". Although their repertoire is completely secular and at times irreverent, they are all former choir members of the St. Thomas curch of Leipzig in the former East Germany. They compose their own songs, which often make light of problems in modern German society.

Two songs really amused me. One was "Millionaire (translation compliments of about.com) which is about a lazy guy who wants to be rich but has no motivation and just enough morals to prevent him from being totally ruthless. The other song is "Mein Hund ist Schwul" . (My Dog is Gay) in which the a dog's owner gives voice to his suspicions about his dog.

It didn't take too long for me to realise that not listening to music during the three weeks was actually meant to help a person focus emotionally and spiritually on spirit of the time, and on our sense of incompleteness since the destruction of the Temple. It eventually seemed that I was defeating the entire purpose of restrictions on music during the three weeks.

I observe restrictions on my diet that are intended to enhance my life and to prolong it. I do not refrain from eating sugar to punish myself but to function on a higher level.

When I realised this, I put away "Die Prinzen" for the duration of the Three Weeks. I did continue to listen to some a capella partisan songs that aided me in staying focused.

During the rest of the year, I try to view music as a vehicle and to ask myself where it is taking me.

In light of this anecdote, I am presenting below the two a capella songs that I found amusing, along with a translation of the "Millionaire " song.


Millionaire by Die Prinzen

Ich wär' so gerne Millionär
Dann wär mein Konto niemals leer
Ich wär' so gerne Millionär
Millionenschwer
Ich wär' so gerne Millionär

(Geld, Geld, Geld...)

Ich hab' kein Geld hab' keine Ahnung, doch ich hab 'n großes Maul
Bin weder Doktor noch Professor, aber ich bin stinkend faul
Ich habe keine reiche Freundin und keinen reichen Freund
Von viel Kohle hab' ich bisher leider nur geträumt

Was soll ich tun, was soll ich machen, bin vor Kummer schon halb krank
Hab' mir schon paar Mal überlegt: Vielleicht knackst du eine Bank
Doch das ist leider sehr gefährlich, bestimmt werd' ich gefasst
Und außerdem bin ich doch ehrlich und will nicht in den Knast

Ich wär' so gerne Millionär...

Es gibt so viele reiche Witwen, die begehr'n mich sehr
Sie sind scharf auf meinen Körper, doch den geb' ich nicht her
Ich glaub' das würd' ich nicht verkraften um keinen Preis der Welt
Deswegen werd' ich lieber Popstar und schwimm' in meinem Geld

Ich wär' so gerne Millionär...





I'd really like to be a millionaire
Then my account would never be empty
I'd really like to be a millionaire
Worth millions
I'd really like to be a millionaire

(Money, money, money...)

I have no money, have no clue, but I do have a big mouth
I'm neither a doctor nor a professor, but I'm terribly lazy
I have no rich girl friend and no rich male friend
Unfortunately, up to now I've only dreamed of having dough

What should I do, what should I try? I'm half sick with worry
A few times before I thought: Perhaps you could rob a bank
But unfortunately that's very dangerous; I'd get caught for sure
And besides I'm actually honest and I don't want to go to jail

I'd really like to be a millionaire...

There are so many rich widows who want me badly
They're hot for my body, but I won't give it to them
I don't think I could handle that for any price in the world
That's why I'd rather become a pop star and swim in my money

I'd really like to be a millionaire...




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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Travis the Chimp, Sean Delonas and Al Sharpton the Ambulance Chaser

Nazi poster for an exhibition of
"degenerate art"


I always had a warm fuzzy picture of chimpanzees. The story that made the news recently was a shock to me. What would make a chimpanzee break down so completely? The injuries suffered by the woman who had known him for years took incredible physical strength. The friend who came to visit him actually had her jaw ripped off. Public interest would seem to favour an autopsy. What caused the chimp to snap?

This is not the first time I have heard stereotype busting animal stories. I once read about a seal biting a man's nose off. A duckbill platypus has a poison claw that inflicts a very painful sting. Even when a lion is domesticated, a playful slap of its paw that would be amusing from a house cat can prove lethal. My heart goes out not only to the victim of the crazed chimpanzee but also the owner. It is unimaginable that animal rights activists would be making harassing phone calls to her for having the crazed animal killed. WCBS reported threats against her by animal rights activists.

"She's getting phone calls from PETA, and people, you know [are making] threatening phone calls, saying she killed Travis, but it's not what she did," a relative is quoted as saying.

People are not going to stop owning animals. Some people are going to go for exotic species. It is a matter of pressing public interest to try to find out what made Travis the chimpanzee snap. If all it took was being approached by a long time friend who confused him with a new hair style, it raises serious questions about whether chimps or other primates are suitable as pets.

I was disappointed at Sean Delonas for his cartoon that seemed to tie Travis the chimp to Barack Obama. Delonas is a brilliant artist who frequently shreds good taste and political correctness. Although he treats political news in his cartoons, he usually does not make political points but his own brand of sometimes tasteless comedy. He has made several cartoons that make fum of Heather Mills having lost a leg.

The recent cartoon of Travis the chimp goes beyond the usual tastelessness that endears Delonas to his fans. For years cartoons that portray African Americans as monkeys have been a staple of racist caricature. Understandably, the cartoon touched a raw nerve. Predictably, it brought out Al Sharpton, who is no stranger to anti white racism. Fortunately, State Senator Eric Adams gave voice to the anger felt by many.

"It's clear that you are out of touch with this entire country. Americans went to the polls to elect a man of honor from its country, not a monkey not a chimpanzee. This is not funny, this is not a cartoon, this is disgusting," said State Senator Eric Adams.

Adams, a founder of One Hundred blacks in Law Enforcement is a representative of a racially diverse district in which he is seen as a bridge builder and champion of peace. Unlike Sharpton, his credentials as an advocate for civil rights are beyond reproach.

I am very sympathetic to the criticism of the Post cartoon. Racism is alive and well in America in both its white and African American varieties. The Delonas cartoon lends itself to suspicions of racism. The tone and intensity of condemnation is appropriate.

We are at the start of four years with an African American President. He will be the subject of much caricature. I hope that protests do not ensue every time that Obama's facial features are distorted in a cartoon. Irreverence is a staple of political caricature. The uncritical treatment of Obama in the national press makes the need for an iconoclastic approach that much more pressing.

Al Sharpton has made his career stereotyping and baiting whites, Jews and Koreans. It is fortunate that Eric Adams has lent his to this issue a stature that Al Sharpton so sorely lacks. The anti white bigotry of Sharpton and the free pass he has gotten from the press in purveying it is at least as much an issue as a tasteless cartoon. President Obama has called for a "national dialogue on race." Dialogue is by definition a two way street. In such an endeavour, Eric Adams is a worthy participant. Reverend Al Sharpton, however is not interested in a dialogue but a sermon. New York has enough one way streets already. We don't need one more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where Does Everyone Go When the (Communist) Party is Over?

Years ago when my wife and I were newlyweds, I wanted to buy my wife a greeting card for an important anniversary. I think it was the eighth month since our first date. Near my work was a drugstore with a greeting card section that was half Spanish and half English. The English greeting cards were riddled with double entendre. It was the type of humour that would have been mild on the loading dock where I worked but didn't express the tender feelings of a newlywed.

My Spanish is mostly a slow motion affair. If someone leaves El Diario on the train, I can break my teeth on a story and walk away with something. When I went into the Spanish section of the greeting cards, I found that they really expressed what I was feeling. The photography and drawing evoked romantic themes. The verses expressed a range of emotion far closer to what I was feeling. I ended up buying a Spanish card for my wife. I understood about two thirds of it. The rest I figured was probably OK.

When I went to visit my mother in Seattle once, the American music on the plane was awful. I was switching channels every five minutes. I switched to the Latin channel and stayed with it through three time zones. That was the plane ride that I discovered Ricardo Arjona. It is amazing how many different types of Spanish music there are, from bachata to Europop, from Andean music to the various forms of Cuban music. I once heard a British radio program that matched points in Africa with various types of music in the western hemisphere.

Maybe it's my Sephardic ancestry. Maybe it's someplace I've lived in this life or another. I always get a feeling from Spanish speaking people that their ancestors boarded a different boat from that boarded by my family. The Spanish speaking world is always on my mind. I feel that choices made years ago made me who I am today, and that I am looking at who I could have been.

I have always been fascinated with how people cope with totalitarian government. My father since he was Jewish did not experience the regimentation and thought control of Naziism. He saw the Hitler Youth marching. My aunt used to see Der Sturmer posted with its lurid headlines. But my aunt and father were outsiders. They observed the Nazification of Germany. It was a different experience than feeling it quicken their pulse or melting into a cheering throng. I had German teachers explain it to me later with varying degrees of candour.

My father always used to stress that life goes on, that much of life is the same here as it is there. I like to take a nation's pulse by sampling its entertainment. I have watched propaganda videos from Poland and North Korea. I have seen Iranian movies made for domestic consumption and for foreign film festivals. I like movies that show how ordinary people live. I like to sample as many variations of ordinary as possible. Watching movies is my way of traveling. I get claustrophobic if I watch three American shows in a row, unless it concerns Acadian French, Melungeons or some other ethnic group that interests me.

Today I was daydreaming of Cuba. For some reason its communist system just keeps on. Will it fade away or implode? What new challenges will the next revolution bring?

I brought up some Cuban pop music. There is a great group called Boni and Kelly, that sings the type of Italian music I used to listen to in high school. They are popular in Cuba, having been trained in Cuban schools. Additionally they have an international following. Some of their music is more Euro, some more African in its influences. Here is a link to their website. I am really happy to discover them. Their lyrics are not political. Some groups give you the feeling that there is a hidden message in their lyrics. Boni & Kelly do not seem that way. Their music would fit nicely into any Latin Top 40 playlist I wish them and their country well. With Cuban music and Cuban baseball*, a free Cuba has some great days ahead. I hope those days start soon.


* Cubans are avid baseball players and fans. Baseball distinguishes Cuban identity from Spanish identity in a way that bullfighting does not.


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I included the two videos below from Boni & Kelly





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Monday, February 16, 2009

Thoughts on President's Day

Ever since Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday were lumped into "President's Day" I lost respect for the new holiday. Millard Fillmore in the 19th century and Jimmy Carter in the 20th bear living witness to the inequality in stature of of former presidents.

There is a Jewish saying that "The heart of a leader is in the hand of "G-d". This principle becomes apparent in Exodus in 14:4: And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them"
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It has happened that more than once in recent history that Presidents who harboured strong personal prejudices against Jews were instrumental in helping Israel at a critical time. Richard Nixon gave critical help to Israel in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. It is reported that Nixon ordered an airlift of thirty plane loads of badly needed weapons to Israel.

In the tape recordings made in the White House that proved to be Nixon's undoing, he war heard on numerous occasions giving vent to crude anti Jewish remarks. Despite this, Nixon is remembered with gratitude by Jews who recall his extension of critical assistance to Israel in its time of peril.

Harry Truman is lauded by supporters of Israel for extending American recognition to Israel within minutes of its founding. What was not widely reported is that Truman's private attitudes towards Jews were quite checkered.

David Susskind, well known producer and talk show host worked on a television documentary about Truman, traveling to the former President's home in Missouri to do so. In his book Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter, James Humes reported the following about a conversation with Susskind concerning his collaboration with Truman.

Susskind said that each morning he would arrive at Truman's house at Independence [Missouri]. He would wait on the porch on a cold February day while Mrs. Truman went to inform her husband of his arrival. After about the fourth morning, he asked the president in his walk why he was never asked inside.

"You're a Jew, David, and no Jew has ever been in the house."

A nonplussed Susskind replied, "I am amazed that you who recognized Israel and championed the integration of the army would say such a thing!"

"David," he explained, "this is not the White House – it's the Wallace [Bess Truman's maiden name] house. Bess runs it, and there's never been a Jew inside the house in her or her mother's lifetime.


I wish there were more "Jew haters" like Truman and Nixon.

Herbert Hoover is unfairly pegged with responsibility for the Great Depression. While a President may have a lot of influence, economic policies tend to be like acorns which take a long time to become trees and give meaningful shade. A lot of the problems that gave rise to the depression were systemic shortcomings that were only discovered after the fact.

One achievement of Hoover that is little noted by historians is his work in hunger relief during the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921 as reported on answers.com.

As World War I ended, the United States helped many countries around the world recover from the effects of war through the American Relief Administration (ARA). Herbert Hoover headed the ARA and had opened numerous missions in Europe by 1919. The primary goal of the ARA was to provide food relief, but it also provided medical aid, relocation services, and much else. The ARA attempted to open a mission in Russia in 1919 and 1920, but they were unsuccessful because the Bolsheviks suspected that the Americans had intervened in the Russian Civil War. However, after the horrible famine of the winter of 1920 and 1921, and after writer Maxim Gorky petitioned Vladimir Lenin to provide relief, the new Soviet government recognized the need for the ARA in Russia.


It takes a long time for history to properly assess a president. Reagan, although scoffed at during his presidency is widely credited with being instrumental in the fall of communism. The jury might still be out on his economic policies. If the current economic crisis is properly studied and learned from, its roots will need to be traced back through several presidential administrations. What caused our current slump? Was it extending countless bad mortgages? Was it deregulation of financial institutions? Honest history is a prerequisite for any effective economic remedy.

Who was the worst President of the twentieth century? I would nominate Jimmy Carter. It was under his administration that Iran was transformed from an American ally into a sworn enemy due to refusal to support the Shah against those seeking to overthrow him. Predictably, the human rights so championed by Carter suffered dramatic setbacks in Iran after the Shah was overthrown.

The advantage of President's Day over over a focus on Washington and Lincoln is that it moves one to focus on leadership in different circumstances. Some of the mediocre men who preceded Lincoln in the presidency laid the foundations for crises that spun out of control during the Civil War and the Lincoln administration. Study of some of the lesser known presidents sheds some light on issues related to the Civil War that are less discussed such as the relationship between agriculture in the south and industry in the north.

Times of crisis demand greatness of those in power. Peaceful times demand quiet and unheralded wisdom. Everyone remembers September 11. Every day of peace, every "slow news day" is by grace of G-d the product of thankless self sacrifice on the part of America's defenders. We should be as thankful for each day of peace as we are for each great victory.

The Fourth of July and Memorial Day have obvious meaning and value. One is the birthday of the country. The other honours those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country. Thanksgiving affirms our dependence on a higher power. With the outsourcing of jobs and attacks on the earning power of American workers, perhaps a renewed commitment to the ideals of Labor Day might be in order.

I almost always work on civil holidays. It is the nature of my profession. But I do reflect on the message of each holiday. President's Day is a fitting time to pray for the welfare, wisdom and courage of our President. It is also a good time to think about the challenges faced in each administration as well as each generation. As Israel chooses its next leader, I find myself extending the same prayers and fond thoughts to the leadership and people of Israel. To both nations, each dear to my heart I wish a happy President's Day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Right of Return


Pope Benedict as a Young Man


Since its founding in 1948, Israel has had a Right of Return. Jewishness involves the land, the law and the people of Israel. All are inextricably intertwined. Many commandments are communal. Torah teaches us how to relate to the land and the people of Israel and the world.

Jewish education is critical to Jewish continuity. An appreciation of Jewish traditions, land and people can not be inculcated without schools. Even the socialisation that accompanied school attendance especially increases the likelihood of marriage within the Jewish faith and people.

We urgently need a Law of Return that applies to synagogues and Jewish schools. There must be a seat for every man woman and child in a synagogue and a day school for those of school age. Adult education is essential as well. We need to identify underserved areas and target development. Whether a child is a talmudic genius or profoundly retarded, whether a child is docile or rebellious, there must be a place for him or her.

I am outraged when I hear that Israeli government wants to give away the Golan, Jerusalem or any part of the Holy Land. To give away Jewish land is to spit in G-d's face.

The Holy Land was allocated to the tribes upon basis of population. Each tribe wanted to be fully counted so they would get a just allocation of land. When we are with G-d's help gathered in from exile, how many Jews will have been sent away. How many Jews will be lost to us and go uncounted? We pray for the ingathering of exiles. Are we doing it ourselves ? When Jews were lost in exile thousands of years ago, was there no look of distraction, no whiff of alienation before they disappeared? What are we doing to discern and address that sense of emptiness that disperses so many?

I could never compare the Jewish faith to any other. The church of Martin Luther who cursed Jews and that of Rome which included the likes of Hungarian Nazi Andras Kun, Slovak Nazi Josef Tiso and American Jew hater Charles Coughlin should not be mentioned in the same breath as the Jewish faith.

Despite that, I experienced in a Catholic upbringing one thing worthy of emulation. My brother, my sister and I all attended Catholic schools. We were without exception discipline problems. My brother and I openly repudiated core Catholic teachings as well. As hard as I tried, they never expelled me from school. Neither were my brother or sister kicked out.

I can not understand how a faith that has had a third of its number murdered in one generation, that loses souls daily to cults, intermarriage and ignorance can countenance the loss of one Jewish child. It saddens me. It is only the deepest love for the Jewish people that motivates me to make such a rankling comparison. I ask forgiveness of anyone who saw "Gott Mit Uns" on a German belt buckle for making a comparison that must be painful to hear.

I only write these words so that Shleimus haaretz, (completeness of the land) should be complemented and enhanced by "shleimus ha am" (completeness of the people)

Millions of Jewish dollars go to secular education. I do not propose stopping that flow. But the preservation of Jewish teachings is not only a gift to G-d and ourselves but a gift to the world. If we do not preserve our own heritage, it is the world that is poorer for it. Feeling and showing love for each other will lend resonance to our love for the world.

Every miracle extended by G-d to the Jewish people involved an action by a person. Even though G-d did all the work, there were times when Moshe had to raise his staff or raise his hands. G-d does not want us to be spectators. He does not want us to watch miracles but to participate in them. We must not only pray for the ingathering of exiles. We must make it happen ourselves.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Patriotic Thoughts From the Western Hemisphere

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People are chauvinistic about a lot of things. I am a Western hemisphere chauvinist. Anyone who made it to North and South America was being creative about their survival. It is hard to imagine how hard it must have been for the early pioneers. My father took a week to come to America by boat. He spent three quarters of the trip spewin grits, calling for earl, whatever you want to call it. One of my uncles was buried at sea on the way over. My wife's family lost some people on the way over. That was just an introduction.

Coming to a new country takes guts. Being bombarded with a strange language day in and day out is exhausting. Trying to think in a language you have not yet mastered is like stuffing yourself into a shirt that is too small. Some people never completely adapt. My maternal grandmother completely withdrew into an ethnic enclave where she could speak only Croatian. She knew how to make change and say good morning. She also made bathtub gin and picked mushrooms, two hobbies that almost put her down to room temperature.

Europeans get uppity about their variants of languages. They think their English, French and Spanish are the gold standard. I feel gratitude to Europe for giving us our languages, but I'm plenty proud of what we have done with the language and culture in a new environment. It's interesting how massive waves of immigration shaped American spoken English. Trough movies and music, we have even influenced their speech.

I feel gratitude to the French for making English what it is today. For about two hundred years, England was occupied by France. French and Latin each had their domains. English was for the common people. It looked a lot more like Dutch and German in the year 1200 than it does today. Defeating the French gave rise to a new stage in the development of English. It is a fascinating story.

I take a perverse pleasure in English spelling. Some words are spelled like they were once pronounced. Light was once pronounced like the Yiddish and German "Licht". Final "e" was once pronounced. The word starve comes from the Middle English "sterven" and is related to the German "sterben", both of which mean "to die". When I examine English words, it is like walking through a museum.

In German and Yiddish, you have 'the fingers of the feet." the first time I heard that I burst out laughing. English has "toes'.

I think that there is a willingness to take risks and an ability to see and grasp opportunities that characterises an immigrant. It can manifest itself positively as an entrepreneurial spirit. Or it can express itself in criminal behavior. I think that this is the grain of truth that feeds positive and negative stereotypes about immigrants.

My rabbi, Rabbi Zuber had a saying. "Ancestors are like zeroes. You can have a mile long string of zeroes but they aren't worth anything until you put a one in front of them. I watch the people who are doing things in life. Some day they will be someone's ancestors.

I like people who are a bit conceited. Because if someone is conceited they will talk. And if they talk I can learn from them. When this conceit becomes haughtiness, that is when I stop showing respect. That is when I talk about my aunt who quit school in third grade to take care of her siblings or my grandfather who mixed cement for railroad trestles. I don't come from a list of famous people and I wouldn't say if I did. When I speak with my cousin about the first generation in this country, I get off the phone thinking about the nameless people who make life what it is. When I walk by a school or office building and look at the brickwork around the cornerstone, I imagine how many days of work went into building the walls. when did the workers break for lunch. Was this brick or that laid on a spring day or in the summer? Which bricks were laid on Friday? On a certain level, all of the buildings in a city, all of the power cables and telephone cables are like fossils from millions of hours of labour, another museum of my daydreams.

When I hear Spanish and French, I hear echoes of the past. In the eighteenth century, no one knew if the English, the Spanish the French or the Dutch would end up politically dominant in the Western Hemisphere. Even as late as the mid 1800's, President Martin Van Buren and his wife spoke Dutch in the White House. The French of Louisiana and Quebec is descended from dialects that did not achieve political dominance. To this day, even the mark of Russia is seen in Alaska, where the Inuit were converted to Christianity by Russian Orthodox missionaries.

The Spanish mixed with different local Indian tribes, creating a rainbow of ethnic mixes.In a lot of countries, particularly Mexico and Peru, there is a caste system, in which those with the highest percentage of Spanish blood come out on top. There is a level of ethnic chauvinism and prejudice that is hard to imagine in the United States. The Spanish were deeply enmeshed in the slave trade. One reason that Argentina has so few Afro Argentinians is because of official policy which reduced Blacks to a minuscule percentage of the Argentinian population. Whether it was outright genocide, ethnic cleansing, neglect or dilution through selective immigration is a matter of contention among historians. There is a growing movement towards recognition of an Afro Argentinian presence in Argentina, along with some expressions of alienation from the mainstream historical narrative similar to that frequently expressed by African Americans.

The American melting pot produces some amazing mixes. I have known Irish-Polish, Scottish Italian and people with ethnicity that crossed racial lines. I barely give it a thought. What is beautiful is how people come to America and give up the prejudices which blighted the homes of their ancestors. Hindus and Muslims for instance have fought bloody wars in India and Pakistan. I used to go to a news stand which a Hindu and Muslim managed together. The owner was a devout Hindu, who even paid to build a temple in his home town in India. He and his Muslim manager used to cover each other during prayer times. More than once I came in when one or the other was deep in prayer with his partner manning the register.

When I lived in northern Italy, there was strong prejudice against Sicilians, Neapolitans and other southern Italians among my classmates. Southern Italy is both beautiful and poor. As an American, I saw the contributions and achievements of Italian Americans in the U.S. It is a success story repeated many times over. The British regarded the Irish as less than human. Irish men were conscripted into slavery. Even before the English break from Catholicism, English Catholics were not allowed to receive sacraments from Irish priests. During the potato famine, crops were taken as rent from starving sharecroppers. The Irish who came to America did so largely out of desperation. England's loss was our gain. The Irish so disdained by the British contributed a great deal to building America into a great country.

What is greatest about America is its ability to feel shame. The Japanese conscripted women in occupied countries into forced prostitution. Sixty five years later, they still have yet to admit their wrongdoing. America has by contrast gone through national introspection about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two.

America has because of its ethnic diversity a multitude of different viewpoints that contribute to a more honest rendering of history. America started out as a country in which chattel slavery was the law of the land, with only white male property owners permitted to vote. Since our founding, the circle of inclusion in America has widened. America has shown its ability to balance self criticism and correction with belief in itself.

America has founded its prosperity on those who were broken and downtrodden in their home and sought new opportunities here. Anyone who looks at the history of America's immigrants finds special resonance in the words of Emma Lazarus.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These words make me think of my grandparents burying their first born son at sea. They remind of my uncle who worked in mines carrying up body parts from underground explosions and my aunt who as a child dropped out of school to care for younger siblings These words have personal resonance for me.

The western hemisphere speaks variants of French, Spanish and English that are haughtily disdained as "declasse'" It took in immigrants who were regarded with scorn at home. And from these scorned fragments it built a mosaic.

I am proud of our diversity. I am proud of the new opportunities we extend to new citizens as well as our concept of equality under law. Our aristocracy is that of achievement. Most of all, I am proud of our ability to feel shame, of our ability to change course. America is almost always first in line to come to the rescue in a national disaster anywhere in the world.

I have heard people speak disdainfully of the new world variants of languages brought over from Europe too many times. American English has served us quite well I'll take popular music from Quebec over French pop any day.My favourite Spanish music is from South America. It is seasoned with wide variety of influences and ranges from "Euro" to "Indio" and "Africano". Next time someone tells me "You don't speak English, you speak American, I will smile and say "Thanks buddy. You made my day. "


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The song at the top of this posting is from Vilain Pingouin, a great Quebec rock gtoup that sings in Quebec French. The video at the bottom is from Ricardo Arjona, a Guatamalan basketball star and teacher who became a very popular singer. Both are selections I like to listen to when I am in a "western hemisphere chauvinist" mood



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