Thursday, December 03, 2009

In Memory: Irena Sendler

It has been brought to my attention that there are factual errors in the section about Irena Sendler. These were posted inadvertently, as the result of having received a 'viral' email from a well meaning friend. I have corrected those errors and encourage all readers to visit the link provided for Irena Sendler, as well as the link to the documentary film made about her, provided in the comments section (comment no. 1). CrazyComposer.

Seventy years after the beginning of the Second World War, the second ‘war to end all wars’, the rhetoric regarding historical facts seems to be something that becomes more and more ‘up for debate’ with the passage of each day. At the same time, if one takes the time to look around it is still possible to see living examples of the uncommon heroes that resisted the tyrannical fascist machine as it attempted to devour Europe and all those who did not fit into the paradigm of the master race. The truth, as horrific as it may be, should not be allowed to be silenced even when it contradicts the sensibilities of those who are incapable of believing that an act so inconceivably evil was carried out against not only the Jewish people of Europe, but against the other perceived enemies of the Third Reich. The list of untermenschen (sub-humans) that the Nazis deigned unworthy of living, aside from der Juden (the Jews) under their rule included homosexuals, individuals with various disabilities, including mental illnesses and mental retardation, Magyars, Communists and other political activists, ethnic Poles and Slavs, and numerous religious individuals who would not bow to the regime of the crooked cross. While the pursuit of the truth, particularly in areas where the truth has been difficult to perceive in the past, is never something that should be discouraged, the increasingly common trend amongst those claiming to be scholars seems to demonstrate that there is something of a variable nature when considering historical facts. Many of these contemporary scholars have not been conducting research into issues surrounding the Second World War at all, preferring to indulge in their own ‘search’ for the truth. This has not involved research insomuch as it has served as an opportunity for these ‘researchers’ to codify their own warped opinions regarding what really happened during the Holocaust, placing their unsupportable assumptions alongside other conspiracy theories that are not founded in truth but rather in poorly crafted propaganda aimed at supporting the racist agendas that lead them down the road of historical revisionism, where changing facts rather than displaying any interest in the discovery or preservation of the truth becomes the priority.

The active distortion of history has become the vocation – perhaps something of an obsession – for several organizations operating with the singular purpose of distorting the history of the past in order to suit the ideological slant of their personal agendas. These overtly racist agendas that deny the attempted genocide of several peoples, not only the Jews, during one of the darkest periods in the history of humanity, can be found in many publications and across many websites that proclaim to preach the ‘truth’ about the ‘history’ of what happened during the war, only to proclaim insidious lies, distortions, and perversions of the truth that cannot be substantiated except with manufactured evidence and the fanatical ravings of neo-fascist evangelists who imagine the possibility of an eventual emergence of a Fourth Reich. These distortions and lies could not make up for the fact that the overwhelming historical evidence could not be dismissed so easily. The evidence of things that had not only been documented by first-hand observers and by those who escaped the horrors of the holocaust, bringing with them the testimony of their own survival may not be convincing enough for some, but when you pair that with the records kept by the very perpetrators of the acts themselves who, in their manic pursuit of creating a purified race, kept concise records regarding the numbers of innocent lives exterminated in the name of ethnic cleansing. Having had an opportunity to examine a great deal of this evidence as it has been well documented and verified by witnesses (proud Nazis who unrepentantly told of their exploits as members of the Einsatzgruppen), and having had the honour to meet some of the individuals who survived the holocaust, there is nothing that could shake my view of the historical facts that many try so desperately to invalidate with their ‘revised’ versions of history.

I grew up learning about the Holocaust from my family and from survivors that I met when visiting relatives in New York. There was never any doubt in my mind as to the horrors that had been inflicted upon humanity by the unchallenged evil that had been allowed to ravage Europe in the hopes that the Nazis would destroy the Soviets and still be brought under control when it became necessary. With the political foot-dragging by the United States the Nazi war machine was able to develop into the nearly unstoppable beast that it was, which ultimately nearly defeated the combined allied forces allayed against it; alas, this allowed for the extermination of many more innocent lives than if there had been a concerted effort to stop the genocidal acts of the Nazis from the beginning of their aggression in 1939. After everything that I had thought that I'd known about the atrocities of the Holocaust, and the stories of heroism that had come out of the unspeakable horrors, it surprised me to discover the existence of a woman who, like Oskar Schindler, saved the lives of thousands of Jews (in the case of Sendler 2,500 Jewish children).

Over a week ago I received an email from a friend telling me about the death of this hero about whom I had never heard, and yet I was deeply saddened to hear of her death, even at the age of 98. I could not help feel a sense of loss at not having had an opportunity to find out something about this remarkable woman before she died. Who was Irena Sendler? How had she managed to find herself in a situation where she could save the lives of 2,500 infants and children, smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto in her plumbing toolbox? The story seems completely unbelievable ... and it is: that is what I received in an email, but it turns out that Irena was not a plumber at all, she worked as a senior administrator in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, which operated canteens throughout the city, before the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto. These canteens had provided meals as well as financial aid, clothing, medicine and money for the Jews who were registered under fictitious Christian names. In order to prevent inspections by the Nazis, Jewish families were reported as having highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and typhus.

Having read what little I have about Irena Sendler I feel deeply enriched for having discovered the story of her life, a story that I am now be able to share in some small part in order to battle those who attempt to perpetuate lies about the Holocaust which they maintain 'did not happen'.

The Warsaw Ghetto was established in 1942: a 16 block area in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were sealed behind walls, their dignity and hope stolen by the Nazis as everything they had was taken in exchange for the smallest advantage they could eek out in order to survive. When Irena Sendler saw the conditions of the Ghetto she decided to join the Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews, which was organized by the Polish underground resistance movement and which carried out numerous operations throughout the occupation of Poland by the Nazis. Sendler was one of their first recruits and directed the rescue of Jewish children.

In order to enter the Warsaw Ghetto legitimately, Irena was issued a pass from the Epidemic Control Department (what would be considered a branch of the Public Health Department), which allowed her to visit the Ghetto on a daily basis. It was during this time that Irena Sendler, with the help of many others, including the assistance of the Polish church, that almost 2,500 children were saved from the clutches of the Nazis. The children were given a chance at the one thing the did not have in the Ghetto: life.

During the war Irena kept a record of the names of each of the children that she managed to smuggle out of the Warsaw Ghetto, hiding them in a glass jar under a tree in her backyard. At the end of the war it was her hope to reunite as many families as possible, but most of the parents had gone to the gas chambers and the majority of the children went into foster homes and were adopted.

For the acts of bravery that she committed, and for the danger that this put her in, Irena Sendler not only saved the lives of thousands, she paid a terrible price: she was captured by the Nazis and thrown into the Pawiak Prison where the Gestapo broke her feet and legs. If anyone deserved the honour, Irena Sandler was a woman who truly deserved to be ranked amongst the Righteous Among the Nations the Holocaust Memorial in Israel that includes Oskar Schindler and thousands of other non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save the lives of Jews from the Nazis.

In May of 2007 Irena Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her life saving actions during the Holocaust. The prize was awarded to former United States Vice-President Al Gore for his work on climate change. Irena Sendler passed away on May 12th, 2008. Her legacy lives on in the lives of each individual she saved and the families that they became.

(A documentary has been produced about Irena Sendler, 'In the Name of Their Mothers: The Story of Irena Sendler'. The url for this is in the first comment.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oprah Winfrey: False Prophetess for the New Age

The secret of eternal youth for women may have been discovered; it very well may be tied to daily injections of oestrogen into the vagina. Interested in trying? If you are a regular follower of the High Priestess of Daytime Television, the Prophetess of the New Age Oprah Winfrey, the likelihood is that you will have already encountered information such as this from many of the eclectic quests gracing the stage of the show that has become an institution. You may also have unwittingly been exposed to information that could kill you if you took it to heart too seriously, for this is a show that, in its ongoing attempts to entertain, presents points of views from seemingly every spectrum available, without bothering to check whether those views may or may not be potentially harmful to anyone attempting the advice being promoted on the show or in one of the many books recommended by the hostess.

It all begins and ends with Oprah, or so it would seem. As various guests parade across the stage of the show that has become the personal soap-box for whatever new philosophy happens to have intrigued Oprah Winfrey few people are aware of the real dangers that may be facing the audiences that willingly expose themselves to Oprah and the guru-du-jour who has come to peddle their wares, dangers that are as real as death itself. While Suzanne Somers and her vaginal oestrogen therapy may never become the ‘next big thing’ there are some things that should not be dismissed so quickly, particularly when they result in the loss of human life. That is exactly what happened when two people who had decided to pursue the vision of one of the ‘gurus’ appearing on Winfrey’s show died while participating in a ‘spiritual cleansing’ modeled after Native American ‘sweat lodge’.

The coverage of the tragic deaths, and their connection to Oprah Winfrey, has surprisingly gained very little coverage in the mains stream media. The article in the Ottawa Citizen was found in the third section, the ‘Arts & Life’ section, on page six (Oct. 20). Adding insult to injury, as it were, the Citizen, truncated the original article, as it had originally run in the Sunday London Times, leaving out more than two full paragraphs of the article. While it is important to point out that Oprah Winfrey had absolutely nothing to do with the retreat attended by the two men who died, it also seems significant that the man who organized the ‘spiritual warrior’ retreat, James Arthur Ray, had appeared on Winfrey’s show at least twice in order to promote his ‘spiritual cleansing’. The deaths are currently being investigated as possible homicides, but you can be sure that Oprah Winfrey will not be charged with contributory negligence for having promoted the means by which two men died and at least 19 others were taken to hospital as a result of their participation in the ‘cleansing’ in the ‘sweat lodge’. Being a billionaire, after all, does have its perks.

For Oprah Winfrey there is a different kind of justice apparently; a justice that need not be concerned with the veracity of that which is being promoted on your show. Why should the truth matter, people may ask; after all, Oprah is not in the news business, just as Fox Noise was released from the terrible constraints of telling the truth when faced with the moral dilemma of broadcasting a story about Bovine Growth Hormone in milk manufactured by Monsanto in Florida. News and truth do not go hand in hand, according to the courts, why should Oprah be concerned about what appears on her show? Perhaps because of the decency of morality, or because she might just care about the people that have made her obscenely wealthy through years of faithful watching; that element of naïveté may sound admirable, but it is hardly practical in a business that lives by the adage ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. Sensationalism sells, period. We all recognize this when we look at anything on that most watched piece of terrain in our possession. Television has, for the past several years, used sensationalism to greater extents, all to attract larger and larger audiences. But when people start to die as a result of the advice being peddled on television shows, that imaginary line that exists in the sand is crossed, and all bets are off.

For the faithful viewer of the Oprah Winfrey show there is the implied message of endorsement when a guest appears. When she presents the latest New Age guru who either has a new book or a spiritual ‘process’ that they have ‘discovered’ and which, when employed by those who need to ‘reconnect’ with their ‘unfulfilled’ lives, will work miracles, the message that is received is that ‘you need to do this’. If being on the Oprah Winfrey show is not an endorsement of one’s product or philosophy, it is difficult to imagine a show that has had a lesser influence on the careers of its guests after their appearances. The Oprah ‘Book Club’ is only one example of how Winfrey exerts her personal taste changes the fortunes of writers over night; of course, when some of the books she endorses turn out to be frauds it does not seem to bother Oprah Winfrey one iota. It makes for an excuse to have the writer on the show for another interview.

When the bestselling memoir by James Frey was shown to be a fake, Winfrey was embarrassed, but not enough to stop recommending books that had not been fully checked for facts. Further embarrassment came from her love for a fictional account of a holocaust survival story. Writers that incorrectly labeled their works as non-fiction is one thing, however, death is something altogether different. People do not usually die after reading a book (not even a bad book, though you may want to die). Giving someone an opportunity to spread their ideas when you have no idea as to whether or not they may be dangerous is, in a word, reckless. It demonstrates that Oprah does not care about her audience, only the bottom line; she is only concerned with what she can get from having those bodies in the seats and the advertisers filling the minutes when she isn’t spreading the idiocy being spouted by her guests.

This is not only something limited to the spiritual pursuits of those who sought the cleansing in Sedona where the two deaths took place, earlier in October. Oprah Winfrey has made a habit of presenting questionable medical advice on her show, an issue that was investigated in a Newsweek magazine story this year. Does it matter that an organization with no less clout than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that there is no proximal connection between the MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) vaccine and autism. No, that doesn’t matter because Jenny McCarthy believes the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, therefore it must be true. After all, a former Playboy model turned actress must be smarter than a bunch of scientists who work for the government at the CDC, right? But, faithful fans of Oprah are now ‘well versed’ in the causes of autism; or not.

The fact that there has not been any peer-reviewed study to connect autism to the MMR vaccine has done nothing to convince Oprah Winfrey that one of the guests she holds in such high esteem may be wrong; perish the thought. Apparently infallibility is one of the things conferred to guests of the Oprah show; infallibility and book sales. Not to mention clients lining up to get into their quasi-Native American ‘Sweat Lodges’ so they can have their ‘spiritual cleansings’, all for the bargain basement price of $11,000. So, for $22,000 two people died; anyone for refunds?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review: Aviat A-1A Husky - What you Need to Know about this Aircraft

It is sometimes difficult to convey the ideal type of aircraft that X-Plane is suited for as every response is likely to inspire a debate unto itself regarding the virtues of various aircraft and the abilities of X-Plane to emulate certain aspects of each aircraft. No debate on this topic, however, can dismiss the fact that X-Plane is, perhaps better than anything else, ideally suited for the replication of 'bush flying' in that it provides excellent scenery, with even better available through third party add-ons such as the 'Inside Passage' and 'Final Frontier' for Western Canada and Alaska, which replicate much of the terrain that the bush pilots had to navigate in their rugged aircraft so long ago, and even today.

One such aircraft is the Aviat A-1A Husky, called the successor of the Piper Cub, it is faithfully replicated for the X-Plane community by Shade Tree Micro Aviation (STMA) with data taken from a Type Certificate Data Sheet, from an actual Husky Owner's Handbook, as well as from the invaluable experience of pilots who have flown the Husky in real life. Anyone who has sat in the cockpit of the PA18-150 Super Cub will not feel out of place in the Husky, in fact, they will find everything expected, as well as a few unexpected extras that make this an aircraft well worth investigating.

As far as bush planes go, the Husky lives up to its name quite admirably; with the tenacity of the dogs that dragged cargo across the north, the Husky — with its 180 hp Lycoming engine the Husky may be more akin to a sleigh being pulled by reindeer, but it more than manages to conquer the skies with the power that it has been given. With a cruising speed of 122 knots, or 140 mph, the Husky is by no means the fastest aircraft to fly, but it may be one of the most enjoyable.

Once you enter the flight model of STMA’s Husky you are immediately aware of a few things: this is not your ordinary X-Plane aircraft. The 3D cockpit is comprised of only one object which results in a seamless architecture that I have only encountered, thus far, in other aircraft created by STMA (their PA18-150 Super Cub and Dhc2 Beaver being two prime examples).

The second thing that you notice is that everything you expect to be in the cockpit, including a GPS unit that can be removed if you do not need it, is there; waiting for you in your office. This is not a cockpit so much as it is a pilot’s office: a place where a pilot will be spending many hours, working in a relatively small area, but as well organized as possible.

An exquisite 3D cockpit that seems perfect in almost every way is not enough of a reason, however, to purchase this plane: there must be more. Don’t worry, there is: STMA is not run by a bunch of stingy people, of that we can be certain. When you purchase the Husky you do not just get one aircraft, you get FIVE different models. The aircraft also comes with two plug-ins from STMA that are extraordinarily valuable on their own: Chase View Deluxe and HangerOps. Chase View Deluxe will change the way you use X-Plane; Period.

The five models of the Husky are: the bush model (with the thicker tundra tires); the regular tire version; a floats version (with wheels); a tire version with retractable skis, perfect for glacial exploration; and a gussied up version with ‘pants’ on the wheels, for ‘high fashion’ flights – or, perhaps – for racing. With the brilliant animations of the opening doors, the opening engine cowling and all the moving parts, it is almost as beautiful to watch this plane as it is to fly, but this plane was made for flying and that is what it does best.

Once you are inside the cockpit and you hear the sound of the Husky’s engine running there is one thing that you can be certain of: this Husky has a growl that will scare away any roving bear. The sound of the Husky’s Lycoming engine is extremely throaty, with rich, deep harmonic overtones that add to the overall sensation of aural authenticity to this acf. In a brief interview that I had regarding this particular issue with Jim ‘Papamac’ McNeill, one of the names behind STMA, Papamac indicated that a pilot who owned a Husky had remarked that this Husky’s sounds ‘were very impressive’. Well, if this is what ‘impressive’ sounds like, I would find ‘astounding’ or, ‘the real thing’ to be quite difficult to imagine, if not downright disturbing.

Slight adjustments to the Mixture caused the Husky’s Lycoming engine to not only change pitch, but the volume of the engine’s sound changed – as did the quality of the sound being produced by the simulated engine. The leaner the mixture became, the tighter the sound grew, as though you were choking off this splendid beast, preventing it from breathing. As soon as I pressed in the mixture to full the throaty growl of the engine returned with a roar (I am reminded of the fact that dogs don’t roar … but, so it doesn’t really matter). Similar adjustments could be made by altering the prop’s RPM, the lowering of which caused the engine to deepen in pitch while the addition of power, or RPMs caused the sound to ‘ramp up’ in pitch as the engine growled to its full potential.

Some of you might be thinking ‘what’s the big deal, of course it effected the sound of the engine’, well, the truth of the matter is that many of the aircraft that I have listened to in X-Plane do not differentiate all that much when it comes to changing the pitch of the engines when the engines are changing (lower prop RPM, just as an example). There is often very little differentiation in the sound modulation of many engines when there are subtle changes that should have a direct bearing on the ‘tuning’ of that sound while in the Husky, after only a few flights, it would seem that breathing heavily near the throttle causes the engine to hum louder for a few seconds. Of course, I may be a bit overly sensitive to issues relating to acoustics and engine sounds considering my musical background. When listening to the engine of the Husky in flight it is easy to hear the engine as a musical device; it hums with delight as it pulls the fuselage aloft, barely complaining when you ask it to do things that it is unused to doing, such as rolls, loops and spins.

One of the things that STMA has done is develop the ability to move the stick of the aircraft with the mouse and then hold that position – it locks in place – so that you can attend to other things in the cockpit without having your Husky careen into a mountain (Personally, I don’t mind the hands-off approach, but my passengers tend to complain when we begin to go inverted). It is small things like this that only adds to the brilliance behind the model. Essentially, if you took away all of the animations, all of the plug-ins and things that are new to X-Plane, this would still be one of the best general aviation propeller aircraft you could hope to find. With everything added, it is simply in a class by itself.

Shade Tree Micro Aviation has proven that they are the masters of the bush plane. Once and for all, they are the best.

Now for the nitty-gritty of it all: the regular price of the Aviat A-1A Husky is $24.95, but the aircraft is currently being sold for the value price of $19.95. Bear in mind, this price includes the Chase View Deluxe, which was used to take all of the exterior screen shots that appear below, and the HangerOps plug-in, which allows you to open hanger doors and pull your aircraft around (remote control provided inside aircraft!). That price, again, is for all five aircraft, not just one.

The Husky can be purchased directly from the Shade Tree website or from the Org store from the download manager.

The following screenshots represent the Aviat A-1A Husky as it appears on my system. With half-filled fuel tanks the plane was nimble enough to perform full three-sixty loops, power dives and other thrilling aerobatic moves that, quite frankly, surprised me in many ways, not the least of which being the abrupt crash I experienced when I stalled at 40 ft after trying to do a rudder-roll … unsuccessfully … and nosed-over with the sudden loss of momentum. Fortunately, as speculated earlier when I wrote about the virtues of X-Plane, the one thing that X-Plane will always be perfect for, regardless of what aircraft you are flying, is the forgiveness of stupid mistakes.

A few words about Chase View Deluxe: CVD is a plug-in included with many of the new STMA aircraft, as well as individually for a nominal price from the website (see above link). What does Chase View Deluxe do? In a word, it blows your world apart; literally. Chase view is the most common way to ‘look’ at your aircraft, either as you are flying or during the replay of a flight – or portion of flight (either pressing ‘a’ or ‘,’ respectively, without the quotation marks). What you experience with Chase View Deluxe is an entirely different situation. Rather than merely ‘chasing’ your plane, CVD provides you with the point of view of a cinematic camera, a tool that can be used for making videos in X-Plane; with CVD you can move about the sky freely, like a disembodied eye that sees everything. The best part of Chase View Deluxe, depending on your point of view, is the discrete – and easily deactivated – heads-up display that appears on the screen when in CVD mode. This HUD provides you with the basic flight information to keep you flying while watching your aircraft from the comfort of the director’s seat, or you can turn off the HUD during the playback of a recorded flight and snap some screenshots while moving around your aircraft in ways you never imagined possible. In short, Chase View Deluxe is well worth the $3.99 that is asked for when purchased on its own; when it comes as a part of the Aviat A-1A Husky? Priceless. Enjoy the screenshots and, I hope, many hours exploring ‘low and (not that) slow’ in this wonderfully crafted Husky; a true gem from Shade Tree Micro Aviation.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hold onto the Dream

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the now infamous 'I have a dream' speech, delivered by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington. While I was not born until 1968, both of my parents - strangers to each other in 1963 - traveled to Washington to hear Dr King speak. [As an aside, my mother traveled on a bus with my grandmother and, when they arrived in Washington D.C., from New York, my grandmother broke her ankle when she stepped off of a curb and miscalculated its height ... but, she stayed for the event.]

This post came to being as a response to an article posted by DesertPeace, on his blog. He was at the rally as well and, yes, he is my father (though I have wondered on occasion if there could be a mistake, then I see my hairline and these thoughts are immediately dismissed ... not to mention the 'duck waddle' ... there is a predisposition in our family to 'walk like ducks' ... but I digress. Suffice it to say, I have not questioned issues of paternity for a long time).

As a result of his article I posted the following reply, but I decided to turn it into a post of its own, with some minor changes.

You may see a video of the speech here (it will open in a new window).

There are many people who are convinced that the dream espoused by Dr King is dead. As dead as King himself. There may be cause to believe this; at times the United States gives one the impression that it is going to implode upon itself, finally reaching a critical mass that cannot exist for one more minute and which must destroy itself lest it destroy everything in the surrounding area. The alternative is to allow this seemingly ever-increasing organism to continue to lash out at other nations as they try to get their way in political matters. This path has led the United States, over the past eight years, to travel down a path of war against a nation that had nothing to do with attacking them, torturing political prisoners for questionable information about potential attacks that could not be verified by other sources, and a litany of other offenses that make the term 'civil rights' appear to be an umbrella phrase for the types of things that the government is going to limit or take away, all in the name of 'security' and the 'protection of freedom'.

The protection of freedom, however, can only exist when all people share the freedom. There cannot be freedom for a portion of society when another portion languishes in any form of inequality. This is as true today as it was during the time of slavery, or back when the Catholics expelled the Jews from Portugal in 1492. Freedom cannot discriminate, it must be universal in order to exist. So long as there are people in the United States who are oppressed as a result of their economic standing or because they are perceived as being lesser than the rest of the group to which they are being compared, freedom will only be an ideal to which people aspire but which is not achieved. The simple reason that this is that the nation is unable to confer the same rights and freedoms to all when it knows that this involves something more basic than any legislation could deliver or any march could confer, it requires the education of the public.

Once the population of America learns that they are EACH afforded the same rights and opportunities, guaranteed by LAW (something that you can only learn if you stay in school, which the ultra right count on not happening to those who they want to keep down), what can stop people from actively pursuing a future that does not have anything to do with the perpetuation of the stereotypes that have kept them locked into poverty since the end of the Civil War?

Image Copyright by Ben Heine

The Dream must not be allowed to die, it is far too important, far too vital, and far too essential to the future of America. The Dream must be revitalized, taken to its extreme, and it can be, if only people would stand up and demand from their elected officials the things that they asked for during the election campaign. A president will only do what they believe the people want, if the electorate seems to be turning away from the core message, what does that tell the administration? Many from the Civil Rights 'movement' voted for Barack Obama - seeing him as a direct result of the dream. Now is the time to continue with that vision; now that he is in office, continue to write to him and encourage him to maintain his focus, to not abandon his agenda and to fight for the rights of those that elected him. A silent majority is, quite frankly, useless.

Dreams can only die when the dreams are allowed to be forgotten. Just imagine what would have happened if everyone who was at that march went back home and became a genuine agent for change. Rather than just talking about 'having been there' and reminiscing about how wonderful it was they could have used the event as a rallying cry to galvanize their cause, to collectively join together - both black and white, Jew and Gentile, to create the America that was dying to be born.

After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. the dream didn't die, the man did; the dream, however, became something of a hallowed fantasy that was more spoken of in whispers of awe rather than in the tones of something that could actually be accomplished. Even with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after the assassination of JFK, a bill that was brought to fruition with the help of a junior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy, there was not as much support as there should have been for the simple reason that the 'movement' found it difficult to separate their hatred of Lyndon Johnston and his involvement in Vietnam.

Once Martin Luther King, Jr. was out of the way the civil rights movement was right where the south wanted it; instead of having a galvanizing force to keep the blacks, whites, Jews, and other colours of the rainbow working together for a single cause there was now a myriad of agendas competing to be heard. This allowed the southern states to react to the new laws without worrying about pesky 'leftists' from the north as they were seemingly less interested in risking their lives now that their guiding light had been removed from the picture.

Perhaps that sounded cynical; good, it was supposed to sound cynical. There is nothing worse than taking something like the messages delivered by Dr King and dismissing them, saying they have not been achieved, or will not be achieved, without asking the very serious question: why not. What is the cause of the failure? Where there not enough people invested in the cause that this should not have succeeded with flying colours? Of course, the answer is that it should have been an overwhelming success; there is no reason on earth for the cause of civil rights to have been stalled in the United States, unless there is an inherently racist nature in a certain part of the nation that is resistant to the entire prospect of civil rights and liberties. In fact, one might actually begin to believe that there is a portion of America that would be perfectly happy to re-institute the old lynching laws where it was legal to hang 'colored' folks from trees if'n there was a witness to the wrong doin', especially if one of them dared to look at a white girl askance, or was uppity enough not to step off of the sidewalk when white folk were approaching from the other direction.

God forbid these colored folk learned their letters. You know what they says about 'educated Negroes', don't you? Well, actually, I can't recall, but it can't be good, can it?

Give me a break. The end of the Jim Crow laws was the best thing to happen to America since the end of the Civil War, until the rise of the Civil Rights Movement - but when that movement did not, en masse, renew itself and turn out to support the initiatives that came out - the Civil Rights Act and the Voter Rights Act - they lost their vision, they lost their teeth, they lost their cause.

Certainly, there was great merit to the Civil Rights Movement morphing into the 'Peace' movement, and the 'Anti-War' movement - but, unfortunately, the organizers were very narrow minded in the focus and could not see the forest for the trees. They did not understand that there was a marked difference between the domestic policies of a government and their foreign policies. Was Johnson involved in an outrageous, unlawful war in Vietnam? Certainly - it was horrible and should not have been allowed to continue. However, what he was trying to do on the 'home front' was an entirely different matter and that, regardless of the war, deserved the support of those who had been fighting for the rights of others; those pieces of legislation proved to be fundamental for the future of the advancement of Civil Rights in America, regardless of whether or not 'the movement' was there to support those who created the legislative language. They simply missed the boat.

History is often a recounting of the stories telling us about lost opportunities or seemingly unique occurrences that led to a totally unlikely outcome. In the history of the Civil Rights Movement the name of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. will never be easily forgotten, but the acts of his many followers - after his death - will go down as one of the greatest losses of potential political power the United States has ever known.

It reminds me, very much, of what happened when a 'community organizer' rallied the support of grass-roots individuals, using the Internet and anything else at his disposal to create an irresistible atmosphere that countered anything his opponents could muster. People have been intent on trashing his presidency without giving him a chance to do his job, but it is always easier to judge than to allow someone the opportunity to do what they have promised. After all, before he was elected, did the previous president include the spending on the war in the numbers on the debt? No. Why? Because it looked bad; on the other hand, this guy has - but it looks bad - yes, it does, but it is truth. Now he gets blamed for it; how sad. Short memories make things like George W. Bush possible.

It also makes the passing of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. even sadder for we forget how often the dream is invoked, and then forgotten. Why forget? Pick it up and carry that dream; it encompasses all that America has not yet achieved, all that it can be, all that it should be, all the promise that has not yet been fulfilled by those words, 'We the people,' - a declaration that rings hollow if it does not represent all of America, not only a select part of the nation.

That is a tragedy from which there may be no recovery.

Edited: October 21, 2009.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

American Hysteria: Righting the Wrongs of Democracy

Intro: I came across a website this morning that inspired me to leave a comment on their site; having written the comment it occurred to me that this was worthy of being posted here as a post of its own, with a brief introduction. While I'd rather not promote the original website, it would hardly be fair to post my reaction to their material without presenting their point of view … so, if you want to see what ‘inspired’ me, click here – the link will open in a new window. In a nutshell (no pun intended – really) the site is called the ‘American Grand Jury’ and aims at the passing of legislation requiring future candidates seeking the office of president to be required to demonstrate their eligibility to seek said office through the presentation of a valid birth certificate proving that they meet the requirements of Section 1, Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

Illustration Copyright by Ben HeineIt is astounding to read the number of invocations calling for the ‘taking back of America’ and how the ‘impostor’ president must be removed. What I must question, however, is the number of others who disagreed with this view and, in November of 2008, decided that Barack Obama was their choice to be the 44th president of the United States.

There are several reasons for which there were hearings regarding the status of John McCain and not Obama - not the least of which being that the powers that be (REPUBLICANS at the time) decided that there was no compelling reason to question the status of Obama’s birth while McCain’s birth in the region of Panama was questionable as Panama was a protectorate, not a state.

This is a situation of pure and simple racism masquerading as political action: people who cannot accept that someone named Barack Hussein Obama can, in fact, be a Christian rather than a Muslim - despite the fact that he attended a school that was Islamic. There is also resistance to the idea that a black man can be qualified to sit in the White House. How dare they pretend to be qualified when there are so many deserving white folk ready to slip into that seat in the Oval Office. Bunk, pure and simple bunk.

The idea of passing legislation to enforce something that is already accounted for in the Constitution is, quite frankly, a waste of the time of the House and Senate - it is a waste of taxpayer’s money to even consider such nonsense. Obama’s BC is on record and was accepted by a right-wing publication before the election - of course, that obviously wasn’t enough for the most ardently right-wing racists who cannot accept that democracy sometimes means the votes of others mean that your opinion is not the prevailing opinion for the next four (or eight) years.

Perhaps you should be looking inward rather than outward to discover why your views have become so anachronistic and ‘out of date’ with the rest of America. How can change come when minds are closed? when spirits are locked in opposition to anything that looks different to what you are familiar with or used to seeing?

Remember, taking care of your fellow man and for the weaker amongst you does not have to be related to communism or socialism, nor does the ’sharing of wealth’ have to be similarly associated: it can be more appropriately related to something called Christianity where we minister to the weak and the sick and the community shares its resources, ensuring that no one goes without anything (Acts).

Obama is not some foreigner trying to make the United States a socialist nation - he is an American Christian who is walking the walk, trying to make the nation move back towards the true vision of Christianity that could be possible if only the people of the nation would wake up, shake of the greed, consumerism, and lust for personal ‘everything’ and be willing to re-evaluate their lives so that all Americans could share in the true American dream: a nation where everyone is guaranteed the opportunity to live without having to mortgage their lives in the event they require health care, an America that does not allow people to die if they have a ‘pre-existing condition’.

Unfortunately, the right-wing would rather eat their young and squabble about meaningless things like birth certificates rather than making the country a better place. No wonder politicians have to keep asking God to bless America - it certainly isn’t something He would do of His own accord.

The above paragraph is where my comment ended: I would add, however, that it seems incongruous to have so many people proclaiming that the United States is a nation founded upon Christian principles, yet it seems completely opposed to living up to the high calling of that label. People do not seem to have any idea as to what it means to be a true Christian, or what Jesus asked His followers to do after He left them, charging them to continue with His ministry. The first Christians did not consider profit to be more important than the life of one of their fellow brothers or sisters in the Lord; they made sacrifices for the ‘body of Christ’ – otherwise known as ‘the Church’. Remember, in the Book of Acts (the ‘Acts of the Apostles’) believers brought wealth to the ‘Church’ and shared their wealth. This was not socialism – it IS Christianity.

2:44 ‘And all that believed were together, and had all things common; (45) and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need. (46) And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart, (47) Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:44-47, emphasis added)

For the first time in recent history the people of the United States have elected a man to the office of president who actually seems to believe what the founding fathers promised with their fancy words so long ago. Of course, when the Constitution was written, this same man would have likely been consigned to the roll of a slave, not permitted to even learn to read; a true expression of the Christian ethic that the founding fathers embraced. It is time to allow the president to do his job; criticize him for not acting fast enough or for not fulfilling all of his campaign promises, but when it comes to hysterical claims that are as fallacious as the Nigerian e-mail scams, it’s time to put them to rest.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


The recent announcement by Governor Sarah Palin that she is going to step down from office in a few weeks has come as a complete surprise to everyone, especially those in the Republican party who were likely looking for an impending resignation from a governor from a state a bit more to the south and to the east of Alaska. While the trials and tribulations of Gov. Sanford were only pushed from the headlines by the sudden deaths of Farrah Fawcet and Michael Jackson (remember Farrah?), he still managed to galvanize the political pundits with his antics and talk of ‘soul mates’ … and then there’s Sarah.

That seems to be the entire summation of Sarah Palin’s political career: and then, there’s Sarah. One begins to wonder why someone would decide to even enter the political scene in the United States, knowing that it means every aspect of your life becomes fodder for the media, when you want to be a ‘private’ individual. The fact that Governor Palin wrote e-mails that vehemently defended her husband’s non-membership in a political party that advocates secession from the Union, for example, demonstrates the lack of connection that she has with that precious thing we call reality. Todd Palin is actually on record as being a member of the AIP for seven years – that is something quite a bit different from accidentally checking the ‘independent’ box on their voter registration forms. Fine, I can understand missing mixing up ‘Independent’ for ‘Alaskan Independent’, but, as this article shows, the registration forms actually say ‘Alaskan Independence Party’, not ‘Alaska Independent’. One must wonder about the level of literacy if this is the excuse that the candidate for VP really wanted people to accept (yes, my husband is an idiot, but I love him).

From the moment Sarah Palin was picked by Senator John McCain to be his running mate for the 2008 presidential election I watched very carefully. While I am not an American citizen it is of great interest to me as a Canadian how the American political system plays out for the simple reason that the American system has a massive influence on our Canadian system, as demonstrated by the recent economic moves made as a coordinated effort by both of our governments. In that light I have taken more than a small interest in the political races, particularly the presidential races, and watch with no small amount of concern as candidates try to convince the most amount of people that they should be entrusted with the running of the nation.

From the first time I heard her speak I was convinced that there was a serious problem with Sarah Palin: it was as though I was listening to someone who had read the dust jacket of a book but had not bothered reading the actual book itself. Her comments were a combination of slogans and platitudes, cheers spoken slowly – hardly anything with any sort of well reasoned political insight. Not to mention the fact that there was hardly ever an issue that was broached – both she and McCain preferred to attack their opposition rather than propose any substantive alternative platform to that offered by Obama – they only wanted to attack, offer connections to ‘terrorists’ and pray that they could cause enough ‘level headed’ people to fear the ramifications of voting in a Democrat after eight years of the ‘safety’ provided by the Republican … well, seven years – there was that unfortunate incident on 9/11 after all. But, fear mongering failed and the people of America saw through the lies of the Republicans, and Sarah Palin.

The Governor that had the highest approval rating suddenly saw things going terribly wrong: she was found guilty of abusing her power, her daughter’s ‘beau’ dumped her – and there were drug charges filed against the mother of said beau … and, on top of that, Governor Palin could not resist the temptation of continuing to talk to the press … something that had never really worked out all that well for her during the campaign (unless it was an ‘interview’ on Fixed News or Fox Noise – one of the ‘friendly’ channels).

Perhaps, then, it is true that Governor Palin has decided to leave the office of Governor simply because she feels there is more that she can do to effect change outside of the constraints of the political office to which she is currently tied. With 18 months remaining in her term, however, it seems odd that she would leave her office and expect to land as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election. After all, the last election campaign was about as long as one could imagine – and as a sitting president it is not likely that President Obama is going to begin his re-election in 2010, the job is simply too demanding (though, as I understand it, the process for re-election never really ends once elected – but the candidate himself doesn’t exactly get too invested in the process while in office).

What Palin’s plans are is anyone’s guess: there were even whisperings to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that this announcement from Governor Palin marked her permanent departure from politics. If that is the case perhaps there is probably much more to this story than we have been given, more that will be revealed over the next few days, weeks and even months. Investigations, after all, continue whether or not that individual remains in office. If there have been any wrong doings by the Governor that need to be addressed, perhaps this resignation came as a ‘pre-emptive’ act in the hopes of mitigating any potential future acts.

We will have to await the results of the autopsy.

Happy Independence Day … and a belated Happy Canada Day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Proper Criticism vs Anti-Semitism

During the first day of an anti-racism summit at the United Nations a number of nations walked out during the speech of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because he called the State of Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime” to a conference on race. Now, before we get carried away by the rants of the Iranian President, who may need a medication adjustment, take one moment to consider this: the United States decided to not attend this conference when some nations proposed that “Zionism” be considered as a form of racism. Canada joined several other nations who were too cowardly to consider this truth, including Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands ... oh, and Israel.

The important thing here is that Ahmadinejad made his comments, prompting about forty of the delegates – mostly from western European nations – to leave their seats in protest, but his message was still heard by many and reported to the world. Unfortunately, the reporting of this event is coloured by President Ahmadinejad's past comments in which he has denied facts about the holocaust. The walkout was prompted by Ahmadinejad's description of the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people, “They resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering.”

Another thing that was said seemed to be just about as concise an observation of the situation taking place in the State of Israel as anything else that has been said in the past sixty years: “... [I]n compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.” Not unexpectedly, the United States condemned the comments as being “vile and hateful” while the Vatican, an organization with 2,000 of human rights atrocities as their gift to humanity called the speech “extremist and unacceptable.”

But is that all there is to this? Should we dismiss the comments of Ahmadinejad simply because we want to think of him as some crazy Islamic fanatic? No, that is not how it ends; it cannot end here. The problem is, Ahmadinejad is right. No, the Holocaust happened, of that let there be no doubt, but the idea that the State of Israel is supposed to be the representation of God's promised land to His people, that is a myth that must be dispelled, along with the idea that the Zionist agenda is anything less than a form of racism with the genocide of the Palestinian people as the ultimate goal in order for the Zionists to ultimately cleanse their “Holy Land” of all non-Jews.

Before going any further into this discussion and allowing any confusion to set in, lets establish something of a foundation as to the difference between being critical and voicing that opinion and being hateful towards something or someone. Ask yourself this question: can you be critical of something or someone without hating them? Be honest, now, can you look at someone you love and tell them that you disagree with them and then explain why? What if one of your friends, or a relative, committed some heinous crime, would you encourage them to turn themselves in – to do 'the right thing', even if it felt like a difficult thing to do? These are difficult things to ask, but they go to the moral core of who we are as people. As moral beings we learn from the mistakes we make through life and from the critiques and criticisms that we receive from the teachers and others around us who care enough to point out what we can do to improve ourselves, to make us better members of society and better citizens.

Could you imagine for one second that when your mother or father corrected you, dare I say criticized you, as a child, did that diminish their love for you? Of course not – in fact, people usually only take the time of criticizing things that they really care about, otherwise they wouldn't bother taking the time to do so. If you were critical of the United States during the Bush administration (or any presidency) does that make you an anti-American or are you merely in opposition to certain policies of the government of the nation? Personally, I am a Canadian and I have been in disagreement with the policies of the Canadian government on many issues over the past several decades, but that does not change my love for this country, nor would I want to live anyplace else; it merely means that I want this country to be better than it currently is, I want Canada to live up to the promise that could be, if only the politicians would stop their partisan bickering and started putting the people first rather than the special interests that put them into power.

If you are honest and are able to say that you are at odds with a particular government and not the people then you are well equipped to judge between authentic anti-Semitism and the vile rhetoric used by many to protect inherently evil positions. It is important to understand that this is the true foundation of democracy; knowing that you are allowed the right to voice your ideas and opinions about the laws, leaders and the operation of the government without fear of reprisal for having an opinion that may be contrary to the official beliefs of the government, and that you, as an individual citizen, have a voice in the choosing of that government through your vote. Any nation that cannot suffer the indignity of facing criticism or being examined for its domestic policy, a policy that includes apartheid-like activities, active military oppression of a civilian population living within their borders, and multiple incidences of civilian “collateral damage” taking place during “defensive” operations, should seriously consider the century in which they live and the actions which they have been taking for the past several decades. There is no place in this wired world in which we live for the type of secrecy that allowed tyrants like Hitler and Stalin to carry out their malicious acts under a curtain of silence. It is no longer possible to control the flow of information as was done during the time of the Second World War and the cold war when people transmit news to websites and blogs at the speed of “twitter”, virtually as quickly as it happens. Propaganda has become something that once was called “spin”, often pathetic attempts by “official spokespeople” to put the “cat back in the bag” after the world has already seen the live images from several sources. It does not work.

If the State of Israel, and those who profess to be Zionists (or their supporters), had their way in regards to the flow of information at the U.N. conference in Geneva, Ahmadinejad would have been stopped in his tracks: the uttering of anything that could even be remotely interpreted as being “anti-Israel” would automatically be classified as being racist and, as such, would not permitted in a U.N. conference, let alone a conference on the elimination of racism. However, the glaring truth of the matter is that Zionism IS, in fact, a form of racism in several ways and, particularly in light of the recent events in Gaza, it has been demonstrated as an ideology devoid of anything but self-interest in their agenda coupled with a near manic defense of their “right” to protect their homeland from the people from whom they stole that land.

There is a serious problem when you begin to examine the Zionist position of “defense” of their land as a justification to use violence against the Palestinian people. It seems difficult to argue against the desire to retaliate when someone has launched a rocket into your settlement and it lands in your backyard or crashes into a school. These are terrible, tragic events that must be stopped; innocent lives lost are never things that seem justified, and they can never be compensated, nor can any act repay the loss that the survivors may be feeling. While some may desire revenge that can only lead to more acts of aggression and that, in the end, only leaves more innocent lives ruined, more people mourning, and more people seeking some sort of retaliation. Ultimately, if you follow the saying “an eye for an eye,” the entire world is left blind. It is time to restore the sight to the blind.

The idea that Israel is carrying out the violence against Palestinians to defend their land is laughable on several levels, especially if you have seen any of the photos or videos that were taken from the most recent Gaza conflict. What weaponry did the Palestinians have to threaten the Israeli Army and Air Force with? With what could they have hoped to shoot down an IAF F-16 or F-15, planes that can fly faster than the speed of sound, drop laser guided munitions (stand-off weapons – the plane does not even have to be near the target to drop the bomb), and other “smart” weapons that land within a few metres of their targets? An AK-47? Even if there were thousands armed with the ubiquitous AK, they could not scratch the air force; unlike the movies, it is not possible to shoot down a jet with a machine gun (unless the bird is flying about 500 feet off the ground and you are the luckiest shot in the world).

Let's face it, if you are critical of the ACTS of the Israeli government that does not make you someone that hates Jews. An anti-Semite is, by definition, someone that hates Semites. Semites are people of Semitic descent: Arabs and Jews. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a Semite is defined as 1a “a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs b: a descendant of these peoples 2: a member of a modern people speaking a Semitic language.” [Aramaic, Arabic, Amharic, and Hebrew] Now, if you hate Arabs for whatever reason, you are an anti-Semite (don't say, “but, I have an Arab friend ...”). You cannot hate some and like one as a token. Hatred is hatred, it is insidious, entering our being until it controls our every thought and action, guiding our lives until we our its slave. This is the root of Zionism: hatred of the Palestinian people.

The lessons of the Holocaust came at such a terrible price, the highest that could be paid, but what value are those lessons if they are squandered by those who have inherited that which came out of the ashes? The idea of creating a place – a safe place – for those Jews who wanted to leave Europe after the Holocaust seems now like an idea that may not have been the best conceived idea. One must ask, why would people who had just escaped extermination merely for being who they were not want to live in peace with their new neighbours? Why would they choose to adopt national policies that seemed more related to what they had just escaped rather than aiming at developing a true democracy in which every person living in the State was granted equal rights under the law, all the rights granted to a Jew: anything less is something called institutional racism and, quite frankly, is disgusting as it mirrors what was done in Nazi Germany after the Purification Laws were passed. Jews were denied all basic rights as German citizens, even if their families had been living in Germany for generations and had served in the military during the First World War. With the stroke of a pen, and a crooked cross, they were all disenfranchised. They became un-people.

This is the case, today, in the State of Israel. As a result of the placement of the settlements throughout the land that was promised to the Palestinians it is virtually impossible for these un-people to travel freely without being harassed by the countless Israeli checkpoints. They cannot travel to their jobs, to school, and there have been several cases where patients have died because they were denied access to essential medical care. Does this sound like the actions of a modern democratic nation or like some monstrous, “cruel and repressive racist regime.”

Image 'copyleft' by Carlos Latuff
Ultimately, the criticisms of Israel must not be dismissed under the flag of racism by labeling them anti-Semitic. There happen to be many Jews out there who do not agree with the actions of the State of Israel, we are not being anti-Semites ... I do not hate myself. As for President Ahmadinejad and his remarks, we must be careful; he was correct in what he said, but he is also someone who plays to the extremist movement in his country and is running for re-election in June and has been receiving criticism for the floundering Iranian economy. All of the anti-Western and anti-Israel rhetoric is fine for the press coverage, but it hasn't done a thing for the global isolation of Iran, resulting in high inflation and unemployment. For Ahmadinejad to earn the votes of the most radical voters in Iran he must continue to spew his invective and racist brand of anti-Semitism, if only to show that he is a leader that should not be underestimated. Unfortunately it only turns him into a caricature.

More than that, because a world leader mixes legitimate criticism of Israel with such highly charged language and denial of such historical things as the holocaust it makes the job of criticizing Israel all the more difficult for the rest of the world. We must show that our criticism is based on facts, not emotional reactions to things. Calling people names does not accomplish anything, save for demonstrating the level of maturity that is not present at the time.

Now we must find a way to clearly communicate to the world that the message is not about the Jews, nor is it about Israel, the message is about the way the government of the State of Israel is handling (or mishandling) the situation with the Palestinian people. Why are Palestinians not allowed the right of return when they have lived there for generations? Why are their homes seized and destroyed, without appeal, to make room for illegal settlements? Why to so many questions ... and so few answers. Ultimately, the answer is: things must change. They must. Not, “yes, we can”, but, “we must change, we must”.

Ultimately, there comes a point in time where something either change its ways and adapts to a new way of life which allows it to move on and survive, or it fails to adapt to change and it subsequently dies. We must change, we must.