Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending November 26, 2011

Here are the ten stories for this week:

Reading Fiction: In something that I long argued, reading fiction is good for you, in that it can help your understanding of the world around you. It can even help social connections and build better and stronger relationships with others."Psychologists once scoffed at fiction as a way of understanding people because—well—it’s made up. But in the past 25 years cognitive psychologists have developed a new appreciation for the significance of stories," Scientific American reports. [Scientific American]

Freedom Test:  The Occupy Wall Street Movement and how the government leaders respond to it will become an important test of one of democracy's fundamental principles—freedom of the press. "As police officers cleared protesters last week from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, they made sure most reporters were kept blocks away, supposedly for their own protection," The New York Times reports. [New York Times]

Russia Protects Syria:  Not unexpectedly, Russia continues to resist international pressure on Syria, a long-time allay in the Middle East. "Russian warships are due to arrive at Syrian territorial waters, a Syrian news agency said on Thursday, indicating that the move represented a clear message to the West that Moscow would resist any foreign intervention in the country's civil unrest," Haaretz notes. The United Nations has estimated that 3,500 people have died since the country erupted in unrest in the spring. [Haaretz]

On Trial
for War Crimes:  Decades later, the UN-backed trial of the three most senior surviving leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime, charged with crimes against humanity, has begun. "They include Nuon Chea, also known as Brother Number Two. He was the right-hand man of the Maoist regime's supreme leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998." Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people died from 1975-79 of torture, execution, disease, overwork or starvation—about one-third of the population. [BBC News]

On a Mission: Father Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest, is traveling village to village to bring to light an often-neglected chapter of Holocaust history—that of entire Jewish communities massacred where they lived. "The diminutive 56-year-old has spent the last eight years on what some have called a “holy mission,” traveling across Eastern Europe—mostly in Ukraine—to identify the unmarked and sometimes previously unknown graves of the more than 1.5 million Jews murdered there during World War II," Moment magazine reports. [Moment]

Life on Mars:  The aptly named Curiosity left the launch pad of Kennedy Space Center Saturday on two-year mission to determine whether life could have existed on Mars. Note that its mission is not whether life now exists on Mars, but whether conditions were such that it could have existed. That is what the unmanned rover vehicle, Curiosity, has been programmed to do. Curiosity is a six-wheeled, one-ton, car-sized vehicle crammed full of sophisticated scientific gadgets.  "With the roar of an Atlas 5 engine, NASA began its boldest venture yet to another planet, sending its Mars Science Laboratory on an eight-month journey that is expected to provide Earth with new and more detailed information about whether the red planet is -- or ever has been -- hospitable to life," the Los Angeles Times reports [LA Times]

Accepting Hosts: In what could be another step in the advancing treatment for such diseases as Parkinson's and stroke, scientists have transplanted human neurons, derived from embryonic stem cells, which have successfully interacted with mouse neurons in culture and in the mouse brain. "Jason Weick and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in Madison harnessed a technique known as optogenetic targeting. This involves genetically engineering neurons to produce an ion channel (a protein-lined pore that spans the cell membrane) that opens in response to light, allowing positive ions such as sodium and calcium to flow through it and activate the neuron. In this way the researchers can selectively activate human neurons in a mixture of human and mouse cells,"  the journal Nature says. [Nature

Woody Allen & The Movies:  If you are a film fan, you won't want to miss the two-part, three-and-a-half-hour-long “American Masters” portrait of Woody Allen that will be broadcast on PBS today and tomorrow (Sunday and Monday) evenings. It is, as Richard Brody says, "so engaging and enlightening that it seems too short. Allen was a willing subject, granting its director, Robert Weide, a wide range of on-camera interviews, at home and at work—and so were most of Allen’s key collaborators, going all the way back to his standup days." [The New Yorker]

Not So Fast:  An international group of scientists says that the speed of light has not been broken, rejecting a "faster than light" particle claim made in September by a group of scientists from the Gran Sasso laboratory south of Rome. For now, Albert Einstein's century-old ideas about relativity seems safe. [Reuters]

Hang Up the Pinstripes: It's getting harder for young graduates, even of elite business schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania, to find jobs on Wall Street. "Three years after the global financial crisis nearly brought Wall Street firms to the brink, the nation’s largest banks are again struggling. As profits wane, layoffs have claimed thousands of jobs and those still employed have watched their compensation shrink. These problems are set against the morale-crushing backdrop of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has made a villain of a once-lionized industry," The New York Times reports. [New York Times]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending November 19, 2011

Here are the ten stories for this week:

Cancer Vaccine: In promising news in the battle against cancer, an Israel biotech company, Vaxil BioTherapeutics, has announced success in an innovative cancer vaccine that might be effective against 90% of cancers. The proposed vaccine, ImMucin, is currently undergoing final Phase III trials at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. If all goes well, the vaccine could be commercially available in six years, says the company "to administer on a regular basis not only to help treat cancer but in order to keep the disease from recurring." [Israel National News]

U.S. & China: "The United States President, Barack Obama, has taken aim at China over everything from human rights to regional security in a provocative speech to the Australian Parliament to underscore America's intention to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific region," said the Sydney Morning Herald.  The president announced that he will start by sending 250 marines next year and increase the number to 2,500 marines in Australia by 2016, thus beefing up the U.S.'s presence in the region. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Clean Up in Brazil:
In Brazil, security forces backed by armor and helicopters peacefully seized control of Rio's largest favela last Sunday in a major assault to expel narcotraffickers who had been ruling the area for 30 years. This is part of the government's plan to clean up the slums before the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Summer Olympics, two international sporting events in which Rio de Janiero is the host city. [Bloomberg]

One Good Deed Leads to Another:  "A motorist who had a heart attack but was kept alive by a stranger whom just minutes earlier he had stopped to help along a Wisconsin interstate has had a tearful reunion with that woman and the first responders who saved his life," reports The Washington Post. [Washington Post]

China in Ten Words: A look at the contradictions of life in China, then and now, including its inequalities. "The most powerful and vivid sections reach back to Yu Hua’s childhood during the Cultural Revolution, when Mao’s quotations were plastered everywhere, even on spittoons, and the slightest misstep — folding a picture of Mao so that a cross appeared on his face, for example — could have you labeled a counterrevolutionary." By Yu Hua. Trans. Allan H. Barr; 225 pp; Pantheon Books. [The New York Times]

America's First Bird: Are Turkeys better Americans than Eagles? In a Comment for The New Yorkers Food issue this week, Adam Gopnik writes about Thanksgiving and the history of the turkey. Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the national bird, rather than the bald eagle. As Americans gear up for Thanksgiving, it's food for thought. [The New Yorker]

A Powerful Cuppa: A physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been told to stop using hallucinogenic tea to help addicts. Dr. Gabor Maté, the enowned Vancouver physician who works with drug addicts in the Downtown Eastside, has received a letter from Health Canada warning him to stop using ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea from the Amazon, to treat addicts. [The Toronto Star] 

The New Progressives: "OCCUPY WALL STREET and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America," argues Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. [The New York Times]

Building a Better Internet: Palo Alto Research Center—the guys who invented the Ethernet, the computer mouse, and the laser printer—are working on a new Internet with a technology called  "content-centric networking" or CCN   [The Atlantic Monthly]

A Pox on Your House: A federal prosecutor is warning parents against trading chicken pox-laced lollipops by mail in what authorities describe as misguided attempts to expose their children to the virus to build immunity later in life.  [Reuters]

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ten Stories of the Week: Ending November 12, 2011

Here are ten stories of the week:

Woman in Iran Skiing:  Females in Iran can ski only if accompanied by a male guardian, say the morality police. It might be hard to enforce, though. [Washington Post]

Gay Penguins
: Gay-rights activists are upset that the Toronto Zoo plans to separate two gay African penguins, Buddy and Pedro, so that they could mate with females. The Toronto Zoo says the break-up is only temporary.  [Globe & Mail]

Steve Jobs:
After the hagiography, it's time to look at the human. Steve Jobs was a demanding if not difficult man who was used to getting his way. In short, he was a perfectionist, who had a designer's eye for esthetics. [The New Yorker]

Humanizing Hoover:  "J. Edgar,”a new film by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, puts a human face to the long-time and feared FBI chief, J Edgar Hoover, who ran the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. [New York Times]

Computers & Cancer: Computers will soon be helping physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. [The Economist]

Death & Occupation: Four deaths in the United States, including two by gunfire —in Burlington, Vermont; Salt Lake City, Utah; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Oakland, California— are putting pressure on the Occupy protest movements to disband. [msnbc]

Diane Arbus & The Extremes: Her photographs of society's marginalized still command attention many years after she committed suicide in New York City, in 1971, at age 48. [Prospect]

Iran & The Bomb: Although China and Russia have deep links to Iran, each for different reasons, they will have little choice than to agree with the U.S. and impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran. It's far better than the alternative. Otherwise, we might witness a horrible war in the Middle East, which might pull in other nations. [DailyMail]

Italian Opera for Teens: Italian pop-opera trio Il Volo have taken America by storm. The three teenagers, Gianluca Ginoble, 16, Piero Barone, 18, and Ignazio Boschetto, 17, can sing opera.  The group's name, Il Volvo, means flight, and they are now flying high in popularity.  Detroit Public Television recently filmed Il Volo's live show at Detroit's famed Opera House. The concert will premier on Detroit Public TV on December 7th at 8pm ,with its national PBS airing beginning March 3, 2012. After a successful 17-city tour of America, the teenagers are now back in Europe, on tour. [The Telegraph]

The Cost of Black Magic: A court in Perm, Russia, has fined a businesswoman 8,000 rubles ($260) for trying to use "black magic" to put a curse on an assistant prosecutor handling a case against her son. [The Moscow Times]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Democracy In The Middle East

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
Joseph Goebbels,
German minister of propaganda in Nazi government

Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself.
The masses have to be won by propaganda.

Hannah Arendt

Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?
Bertrand Russell

Western Wall in Jerusalem after the city was captured by Israel  soldiers during the Six Day War (June 5-June 10, 1967), where IDF paratroopers Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, look for a hopeful and peaceful future. The Western Wall, dating to the Second Temple period of the first century, has great historical significance for the Jewish People,
Photo Credit: David Rubinger, 1967
Source: Israel Government

Many persons wonder why much of the world's media focuses on Israel, a country no larger in size than Vancouver Island, and 1/19th the size of California. There are many, including strategic and economic. Another is that Israel is a long-standing democratic state in a region, the Middle East, that has historically had little evidence of democracy, human rights and individual liberty. What happens to Israel is an accurate barometer of the political weather, so to speak, and more to the point the climate of democracy in the world. If Israel fails, it's bad news for democracy everywhere. Those that cheer the possible destruction of Israel, as a solution to the Middle East Problem, are not thinking clearly of the consequences of such sentiments.

States that fear democracy and the rights of individual liberty and freedom— totalitarian states, whether in name or action — always work assiduously to undermine democracy with the aim to delegitimize it, mainly because they don't understand it, and what they don't understand they fear. And what better way than to delegitimize the people that have undergone the greatest and longest period of unbroken persecution in recorded history—the Jewish People. If you take away such people's legitimate rights, then you can piece by piece dismantle democracy and the democratic institutions in other nations that have taken centuries to build.

So, we can now understand why the attack on Israel is so persistent, if not pernicious. Its roots are also easy to understood. Much of the efforts and language to delegitmize Israel in particular and Western democracy in general lies at an event that happened more than forty years ago— to the doorstep of the former Soviet Union, which stepped-up its campaign after Israel's victory in the Six Day War in June 1967. The victory by Israel was a surprise and embarrassment to not only the defeated Arab nations but also to the Soviet Union.

After all, the Soviet Union was for long fighting a proxy war against the United States, and the Arab states in the region were its allies, or in its service, so to speak. A loss for the Arab nations was a loss to the Soviet Union and its ideology. Thus, the Soviet Union began its campaign of discredit and delegitimization, with the intent of weakening the institutions of democracy, individual liberty and freedom. The aim was to discredit by all means possible, including the use of deceptive language. Such describes, of course, propaganda, and the Soviet Union were the masters of the Big Lie. "Propaganda was a sort of machine to mould your thought according to one style, one mould, one idea," notes Joe Adamov, a former Radio Moscow journalist.

There is no shortage of evidence to support this assertion. Many fine books by political historians have written about this period, including Robert Conquest's The Great Terror (1968) and Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History (2003); as well as novels such as Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon (1940); George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949); and Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate (1980), which dissidents smuggled out in microfilm and which was published more than fifteen year's after the author's death. It was eventually published in the Soviet Union in 1988 during a period of glasnost (i.e., openness) under President Mikhail Gorbachev.

By then the deed had been done, and its consequences severe. That Israel eventually became the target of the Soviet ideologues, steeped in Marxist theory and thinking, is no surprise. The same techniques that were so easily used on its own Soviet citizens "for the state" to the people's misery were then used to undermine Israel and western democracy. This is borne out in a fascinating article, which I just discovered. In "The Cold-War Origins of Contemporary Anti-Semitic Terminology", published in Jerusalem Viewpoints (May 2004), Joel S. Fishman, a historian and a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. writes:
The ultimate danger of this systematic verbal aggression with its anti-Semitic intent lies in blurring the distinction between right and wrong and deconstructing the foundations of Judeo-Christian morality. After nearly three decades, the cumulative effects of the Soviet campaign to defame Zionism and the more recent attempts to turn the clock back at Durban have created an environment of moral confusion which has made terror and violence acceptable and justifiable. The resulting condition, known as anomie (literally, lawlessness, in Greek), signifies "a social condition in which the hierarchy of values disintegrates and 'all regulation is lacking.'"
Much of what we see today in anti-Israel language seems as if a type of hysteria has taken hold of much of the world. Which to a neutral and rational observer would be the case. No nation on earth is more vilified or demonized than Israel. Valid criticism of a nation's policies is normal and acceptable, but what we are now witnessing is beyond normal and acceptable and can only be considered hatred, and hatred of the Jewish People and, this ought to concern all, a hatred of democracy and its institutions.

Although it is the Islamic nations that are now leading the charge against Israel, often as a means to cover up their own political mistakes and immoral actions against their own people, they have learned their lessons all too well (e,g., see Assad and Syria here, here, here, and here). I sense that one can draw a straight line to the Soviet Union and its party ideologues, who have done a masterful job in the last three decades of its existence to make the world a morally confusing place.

Totalitarian regimes always act in such a manner, to divide and conquer, to confuse and obfuscate, to cause dissension and distort the facts. In short, the Soviet Union was both the architects and builders of much of the edifice of hate that is the common currency in the Middle East. Now, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and for ten years after it crumbled, until 2001, Russia was trying to find its place in the world. It seems that Russia has found its role, an adversarial one. To no one's surprise, Russia still maintains close ties in the middle east region, and is once again playing its old role as a thorn in the side of American policy. Its aims are to establish itself as a major player, both in the region and on the world stage. Old habits die hard. And the Russian bear is awake. (see here, here and here.)

But it doesn't have to end there. Gaining a sense of right and wrong is achievable, and although many would say I am being overly optimistic, I have no choice. Remember: blame, accusation and hatred has never made the world a better place. Nations achieve greatness, as has been the case historically with France, Britain, the United States and Canada, through science, knowledge, achievement and the assiduous and rightful application of morality.

In other words, there is a right and wrong. Such can be measured and judged by the actions and public speeches of a nation's leaders, and the decisions they makes to preserve the traditions of Western democracy, human rights, and a free press. In the end, what is at stake is the honest and transparent use of language delivered with clear intentions.

Now is not the time for the lovers of democracy to give up on Israel, to say they are tired of Israel, the Middle East and the complicated mess. It's actually not so complicated. Quite the contrary, as history has clearly shown us. It might eventually come down to showing yourself a friend of democracy and its institutions of free speech, freedom from want, individual liberty and human dignity.

Friendship takes on many forms, including speaking out when a democratic nation is under sustained attack,  as Israel has been for far too long.  This is what Evgeny Kissin, the great classical pianist, who is Jewish and was born in Moscow, said in an interview with Maxim Reider of The Jerusalem Post (January 7, 2011) before the beginning of his world tour, kicked off by a concert in Jerusalem:
But about a little over a year ago, I felt that I had to do it in order to counter the raging anti-Israel hysteria in much of the world. Since I was well known and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world were coming to my concerts and buying my recordings, I felt that I had to tell them: “If you like my art, this is who I am, who I represent and what I stand for.”
You can read more here.

This post was published originally at Perry J Greenbaum.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ending The Occupation of Wall Street

I wrote in an earlier post that the protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street had an important message to tell, namely, the need to reform Wall Street and its banking practices. In keeping with that message, I suggested that Reform Wall Street would be a better name.

As often happens, the protest movement has taken a life of its own, with protests and occupations in many cities around the world, including my own, Montreal. It has also drawn both professional protesters and agitators, as well as anarchists and anti-Semitics (see here, here and here), who view all the world's problems, financial and otherwise, a result of a world Jewish cabal. The anti-capitalists and Marxists have jumped in, seeing this as an opportunity. In addition, there are also homeless individuals who drift in and out of these makeshift shelters, or camps, temporary villages within cities. This is the expected outcome when you decide to set up camp.

There has also been an unfortunate death. In Vancouver, Ashlie Gough, a 23-year-old woman from Victoria, British Columbia, died from an apparent drug overdose (see here, here and here). It's true that she might have died elsewhere, regardless of where she was situated. Yet, it's not the message that Occupy Wall Street and its copycat spinoffs want to send to the powers and government leaders.

The protest movement's message has been heard  (see here). It's time to now work within the system to reform it through the democratic institutions that are now in place. A occupation is not the same as a protest. A long-term stay will likely dilute the message and actually hurt the cause of banking and economic reform. So, it's time to break camp and end Occupy Wall Street.


This was originally posted on Perry J Greenbaum.