Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Change Of Views In Iran

Iran-Israel Relations


Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī of Iran [1919-1980], U.S. President Kennedy, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.at the White House, Cabinet Room, April 13, 1962.
During his tenure as leader, Mohammad Reza established good relations with both Israel and the United States; he ruled as a monarch from 1941 until 1979, when he was forced to leave when the Islamic Revolution gained power. His rule was a modernizing influence, although he crushed dissent, notably from Islamists and Communists. His achievements included modernizing the nation by nationalizing certain industries and granting women suffrage. His legacy has undergone transformation in the last few years, notably among Iranian expatriates, who now view him as a needed moderating influence.
Photo Credit: JFK Library, 1962
Source: Wikipedia


AAP article, by Nasser Karim, published in The Huffington Post says that potential presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has stated that Iran is not at war with Israel, despite previous statements to the contrary made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Karim writes:
Iran’s influential former president says his country is not at war with archenemy Israel, the media reported Monday, in the latest departure by a high-profile politician from the strident anti-Israel line traditionally taken by many senior Iranian leaders. The remarks by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani follows calls from figures across the political spectrum to repair the damage to Iran’s international reputation they said had been caused by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a doomed state and questioned the extent of the Holocaust.
Several of them, including Rafsanjani, are considered possible contenders in June elections to replace Ahmadinejad as president. “We are not at war with Israel,” said the ex-president, quoted by several Iranian newspapers including the pro-reform Shargh daily. He said Iran would not initiate war against Israel, but “if Arab nations wage a war, then we would help.” Comments on Iran’s policies on Israel must tread a fine line. While it’s possible to question Ahmadinejad's remarks, it’s dangerous to be seen as contradicting Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has called Israel a “cancer” in the region.
The remarks are unable to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy, but may indicate the assessment of politicians that Ahmadinejad's particular brand of strident anti-Israel rhetoric may hurt him with many voters. Rafsanjani is considered a political centrist, attractive to some reformists but not a candidate who would challenge the dominance of the clerical establishment. He has not ruled out a run at the presidency himself, but is more likely to throw his considerable influence behind a center candidate and may be burnishing his moderate credentials.
Clerical conservatives, who once backed Ahmadinejad but turned on him after he challenged the authority Khamenei in 2011, also want to distance themselves from the president.
I disagree with this writer’s analysis that “the remarks are unable to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy.“ In a nation like Iran, airing such views does indeed send a signal to the international community that Iran wants to change its previous ill-advised course, and possibly establish some sort of (initially perhaps low-level) diplomatic relations with Israel. Such would be good news, both for the peoples of Iran and Israel, who I sense long for good diplomatic relations, increased trade with the west and better economic fortunes. There were diplomatic and trade relations between Israel and Iran from Israel's founding in 1948 until 1979, when Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī, the shah (or king) was ousted in the Iranian Revolution.

In addition, and it now sounds far-fetched, this might be a start of Iran eventually establishing some sort of relations with the United States, which broke off after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis. There have been no official diplomatic relations between the two nations since April 7, 1980, when President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order. That is recent history, leading to 33 years of hostility between the two nations; but what happened before the situation escalated to what it has become today:

In an article (“The Dilemma of U.S.–Iran Relations”; Fall 2012) in The University of Virginia Magazine,  R.K. Ramazani, an Iranian by birth, writes in a first-person account of the long and deep ties between the two nations:
To resist imperialist pressures, the Iranian government established diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1883, and the Iranian parliament hired an American financial expert, Morgan Shuster, in 1911, to reform the foreign-dominated finances of the country. British and Russian machinations, however, compelled him to leave Iran. He wrote about his bitter experience in his 1912 book, The Strangling of Persia.
The situation could be reversed, the situation could be normalized, if the political will is present and doubts and fears can be overcome, no easy task to be sure. Even so, stranger things have happened, leaving all the political experts caught without an explanation for the significant and important change in views (think the collapse of the Soviet Union a little more than 20 years ago). Truly, this might be a harbinger of things to come.

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You can read the rest of the article at [The Huffington Post]

Lessons From France

Political Philosophy


Four principles of democracy common to western nations have allowed nations like Canada, the U.S., and western Europe and the British Commonwealth to achieve social and economic prosperity, at least to some degree, Lorna Salesman writes: “Putting aside ecological integrity for now, I believe they boil down into four categories: universal human rights; respect for international law; an accessible equitable justice system; non-violence except in the case of self-defense. Few countries, if any, can be said to possess or observe these to a satisfactory degree, but there is little doubt that some countries come closer than others, especially with regard to the treatment of their own citizens (as opposed to foreign countries).”



by Lorna Salzman

Bernard-Henri Levy, known as BHL in France, a French philosopher and theorist, wrote his book Left in Dark Times, not as a farewell but as a bereavement over the condition of the French and European left, which is now repeating, with Islam, its earlier egregious error of ignoring or rationalizing the crimes of Stalin and the Soviet Union. French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has also written powerfully about this moral capitulation of the left in Europe. In this country, except for Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Michael Berube, we still have not seen their equal in the broad intellectual community. The timidity of progressives is reprehensible. Into the void created by the moral absence of the left, the right has stepped in.

Levy still regards himself as a truer leftist than those who embrace post-modern Political Correctness, cultural relativism and the mandatory revulsion at the United States. His closest political allies end up being those usually associated with the right, which alone in the USA has taken on the task of confronting what he calls “Fascislam.” It is depressing to acknowledge that the defense of Enlightenment values and human rights comes today only from the right.

Contrary to the leftist notion of cultural relativism, moral philosophers, ethicists and political theorists do not appear to dispute the existence of universal moral principles. Religions have always asserted these but only as a means of social domination and retention of power. What are these principles?

Putting aside ecological integrity for now, I believe they boil down into four categories: universal human rights; respect for international law; an accessible equitable justice system; non-violence except in the case of self-defense. Few countries, if any, can be said to possess or observe these to a satisfactory degree, but there is little doubt that some countries come closer than others, especially with regard to the treatment of their own citizens (as opposed to foreign countries).

In the case of the USA, most of western Europe, and the British Commonwealth, the existence of one or more of these characteristics makes possible the existence or potential existence of the others. The American Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the Enlightenment, the advance of scientific inquiry and rationalism, the separation of religion from public life, gender equity to a large degree, accompanied by a sturdy legal system, have allowed western Europe and the USA to achieve a level of social and economic development unknown in most of the world. Whatever imperfections and malfunctions exist, they have not yet substantially weakened society. In fact, the continued emigration of foreigners from Asia, Africa, the middle east and Latin America to this country belies the leftist propaganda today, which persists in its absurd accusation that we are now living in a fascist state. Like its blind support for that fanatic terrorist group called Hamas , the American left is Clueless in Gaza (and elsewhere).

We tend to think that our own failures regarding Wall St. and the corporations will destroy our society. By themselves they will not. But there are external factors that capitalism and secular democracy have not yet included in their prospectus of America's future. These are two in number: the ecological crisis (including global warming, loss of biodiversity, and food and energy policy), and the threat from political Islam, or Islamic Jihad. The accelerated ecological threats and the subtle insinuation of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offspring groups such as CAIR and the Muslim Students' Association on behalf of Hamas and Hezbollah must be confronted and halted, using all necessary tools and laws at our disposal.

Where has the left failed?
  • Universal human rights: it still turns a blind eye to the enslavement and oppression of women in the Muslim world, to honor killings, to forced child marriage, to the deprivation of women in education and health, to domestic abuse, to the persecution of Muslim gays and the absence of civil liberties.It has aligned itself with right-wing anti-Semites and neo-Nazis, and while it opposes "offensive speech" that might disturb Muslims it has nothing to say about the steady growth of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence against individuals and buildings all over the world or the anti-Semitic propaganda broadcast as a matter of course by Muslim governments, educational institutions, mosques and media throughout the middle east, or the murder of Christians and the burning of Christian churches in Egypt and elsewhere. 
  • International law: instead of supporting the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, the left has supported the Muslim-controlled UN Human Rights Council which has made the rooting out and punishment of all critics of Islam its top priority, with Richard Falk as its hatchet man. The left had nothing to say about the UN HRC's shift from guaranteeing universal freedom of speech to its new witchhunt against anyone speaking ill of Islam.
  • Justice system: instead of pressing for international and global action to stop the persecution and murder by Arab Muslims of black minorities in Darfur, the left has created the myth that Sudan's problems are due to Zionists. In the former Yugoslavia, at the behest of apologists like Noam Chomsky and Ramsey Clark, it defended the fascist assassin Slobodan Milosevic and attacked NATO for bombing Serbia, which was killing Croats and Bosnian Muslims without cease. It has had no comment on the appointment by Pres. Obama of Scott Motian as special envoy to Pres. Bashir, the criminally indicted president of Sudan (!!!!).
  • Non-violence: while the left attacks the USA for its invasive foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, it proudly defends the use of any and all means of resistance, armed and otherwise, on the part of the USA's adversaries, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. To underscore their support for Islamist terrorism, they wear shi'ite headscarves prominently at public rallies and propose (sometimes overtly, sometimes indirectly) the destruction of Israel and "Zionists", today's euphemism for Jews.
Until the left and its liberal allies acknowledge the overarching threats of the ecological crisis and Islamic Jihad to our society and the world at large, we will be focusing our attention on what are arguably the easiest parts of our society to change. As we hold our finger in the dike and hold our breath about the collapse of capitalism, the waters of eco-collapse and radical Islamism are rolling over the top.

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The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.


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Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at www.lornasalzman.com.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gun Violence In America: The Problem That Remains

Social Justice

Gun Deaths:  Garen Wintemute says in the article that America’s love affair with guns has changed little in the last 30 years: “Everything that was true of firearm violence in the early 1980s is still true today,” he says. “There is a fundamental injustice in violence. People don’t ask for it; it comes to them.”
Source: Nature News

An article, by Meredith Waldman, in Nature News says that despite the large number of deaths due to guns, there is little research done on the correlation between handguns and violence in America. One of the few researchers is Garen Wintemute, an emergency-room physician in san Francisco and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California (UC), Davis.

While gun-rights organizations like the NRA, and many others, have lots of money to advocate for their members, and lobby Congress, the federal government prohibits any agency from taking sides on the issue of gun control, even if the medical science supports tougher legislation. Waldman writes:
That has led to a striking imbalance in US medical research. Firearms accounted for more than 31,000 deaths in the United States in 2011 (see 'Gun deaths'). But fewer than 20 academics in the country study gun violence, and most of them are economists, criminologists or sociologists. Wintemute is one of just a few public-health experts devoted to this research, which he has funded through a mixture of grants and nearly US$1 million of personal money.
His undercover gun-show tactics have led him into situations where he feared for his safety, and they have also raised protests from some gun-rights advocates, who charge that Wintemute is more a biased campaigner than a researcher.
But even a few of his ideological opponents praise Wintemute's work. “Garen is one of the very best in terms of his research skills,” says David Kopel, the research director at the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado, a think tank that supports gun-owners' rights.
And Wintemute, who is 61, makes no apologies for his passion or his methods. “I believe just as strongly as I can articulate in the value of free inquiry,” he says, “especially when the stakes are so high — when so many people are dying through no fault of their own; when so much of the country simply turns its back on this problem.”
Ignoring issues never makes them go away, as is the case with gun violence in America; with so few serious scientific studies, it becomes difficult to look at correlations. Still, if you look at the numbers in a rational way, you would question why it is acceptable that each year 31,000 individuals die as a result of death by gun, the majority self-inflicted death by suicide. It would be both rational and reasonable to at least have required background checks, to ensure that individuals who are mentally ill or who have a criminal record ought not have easy access to guns. Really, it's that simple.

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You can read the rest of the article at [Nature]

The Cancer Blog: Week 14

My Health


This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. Today is Day 133  living with cancer.


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I thought it would be helpful to give what a day is like at a chemotherapy session; although this applies to Sunnybrook Health Science Centre’s Odette Cancer Centre, I suspect that all centres have similar protocols. This is what took place last Tuesday, April 23rd at my chemo session:

10:05 a.m.: I arrive at the reception desk to check in; the process takes a few minutes.

10:08 a.m: I go to get bloodworks, wait a few minutes and hear my name called.

10:12 a.m. Get my bloodworks done; the nurse removes the usual three vials from my left arm; she is exceptionally adept at it, and I feel very little pain when she inserts the needle. Of course, she does this all day.

10:14 a.m.: I walk across the hall and use another card to check in electronically at a kiosk to let the assessing nurse know that I have completed my bloodworks; it will take an hour for the tests to be ready and sent electronically to the nurse.

11:22 a.m: My number is called, and I see the nurse; she asks me the routine questions on how I am generally feeling, if I have lost weight; if I have an appetite; what my side effects are and whether these are manageable. I receive the go-ahead, and she gives me a pager to let me know when a bed or chair will be available for chemo treatment. The nurse then sends instructions to the on-site pharmacy dedicated to the cancer centre to prepare my chemo drugs. This process typically takes about one hour.

11:23 a.m. I take my anti-nausea medication (Ondansetronor Zofran®) in preparation for my chemo; I then go downstairs to the cafeteria to get some lunch. I order a delicious and healthy salad, filled with greens, fruit, olives, mushrooms, beets, sunflower seeds and a Asian sesame dressing. I sit down with a book I brought, in this case, Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and eat and read.

12:11 p.m.: I finish eating and reading, and go upstairs and go outside yo get a breath of fresh air, I call my wife and briefly speak to her about what is happening.

12:22 p.m.: I return inside in anticipation of being called inside to one of the many chemo-treatment suites. i don't have to wait long; the chemo nurse calls my name 15 minutes later.

12:37 p.m.: I am called inside and am situated on a comfortable chair, where I receive a pillow and a heated blanket. I am then given three steroid pills and a glass of orange juice in preparation of my chemo treatment. There are four of us in all in this treatment suite; this time two men and two women.

12:42 p.m.: The chemo nurse attaches the needle to my port-a-cath, a poke through the skin; the pain is minor.

12:55 p.m. The chemo drugs arrive and she attaches three bags, two if which are the powerful drugs  oxaliplatin and fluorouracil, and one a bag of dextrose. The bags are attached to a double-infusion pump set at 158 mL/min, which means that I will be sitting in the chair for approx. two hours-a typical treatment time.

12:55 p.m. to 2: 45 p.m.: I spend the next two hours talking to other patients and reading my book, and writing a few notes for upcoming blog posts.

2:55 p.m: This chemo session is over; the nurse removes the tubes from my port, does a heparin flush and then connects another bottle of chemo drugs ( 230 mL of fluorouracil), that provides a slow infusion over a period of 46 hours. I will have this bottle, the size of a baby bottle, with me for two days, until Thursday. I carry it in my left pants pocket.

3:05 p.m.: I go to the pharmacy to pick up my two take-home medications:  1) 4 pills of Ondansetronor Zofran®) and 2) 6 pills of Dexamethasone (or Decadron®); I have to take the first for two days, every 12 hours; and he second for three days, also every 12 hours, with meals. I hand over $4; now that my deductible has been reached, Ontario’s Trillium Program pays the rest.

3:15 p.m.: A little more than five hours after arriving at the cancer centre,  I step outside through the main doors to the parking lot to retrieve my car. I was feeling good until I stepped outside into the chilled wind (about 4°C). In my short walk to the parking lot, no more than a few hundred metres, my throat constricted and I had trouble breathing. I still have to pay for my parking ($23) at the parking kiosk, which I do.

For what Dr. Chan, my oncologist, had told me this was one of the side effects; cold air is bad for me. I make it to the car, turn on the heat, and within a few minutes I am feeling better, but exhausted. Now I know how asthma patients and others with respiratory diseases feel, gasping for air. It's unpleasing to say the least. I am OK, but tired.

3:45 p.m.: I arrive home, tired and but happy to see my bed to take a nap before supper; I don't yet have much of an appetite, but I eat to ensure my weight doesn’t dip. It is now ranges between 65 kg (143 lbs) and 67 kg (147 lbs); my baseline weight is 71 kg (156 lbs), I sense that I will not recover that lost four to six kilograms until after my chemo sessions are completed.

5:00 p.m.: I decide to wear a scarf when I go outside to cover my neck, along with leather gloves a leather jacket and sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun, the scarf and gloves a necessity at least until the temperature hits 20°C. I somehow feel like the great late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, but without the musical talent.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Hepatitis C Drug Nears Regulatory Approval

Advanced Drugs

Hepatitis C Infections in the U.S.: As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says: “With an estimated 3.2 million chronically infected persons nationwide, HCV infection is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States.”
Image Credit: CDC; 2009
Source: Wikipedia

An article, by Beth Mole, in Nature News says that a new drug to combat Hepatitis C is near regulatory approval, having sailed through initial Phase III clinical trials.

Mole writes:
Sofosbuvir, a new antiviral developed by Gilead Sciences of Foster City, California, is one of several drugs in the pipeline that could replace hepatitis C treatments that incorporate the immune-boosting drug interferon, which can cause harsh side effects including depression, anaemia and severe flu-like symptoms. Up to 170 million people worldwide are infected with blood-borne hepatitis C virus (HCV), including as many as 4 million people in the United States. Long-term exposure to the virus can cause chronic liver disease and cancer. Current therapies that combine the antiviral drug ribavirin and interferon cure up to 75% of those treated, but take as long as a year to do so.
Facing a lengthy drug regimen that can produce debilitating side effects, many patients — who may not develop liver damage for years — delay or refuse treatment. And with the promise of better drugs on the way, some doctors approve waiting.
The two papers published today suggest that the wait for improved hepatitis C treatment regimens may be coming to an end. Researchers led by Ira Jacobson of Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York report that a combination of sofosbuvir and ribavirin cured up to 78% of trial participants infected with two types of HCV — genotypes 2 and 3 — in as few as three months, without the need for interferon. That result is similar to outcomes from earlier phase II trials. Another team, led by Eric Lawitz of the Texas Liver Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, showed that a combination of sofosbuvir, ribavirin and interferon cured up to 90% of patients with HCV genotype 1, the most common variety.
The World Health Organization reports that although hepatitis C is found worldwide, “countries with high rates of chronic infection are Egypt (15%), Pakistan (4.8%) and China (3.2%). The main mode of transmission in these countries is attributed to unsafe injections using contaminated equipment.” About 350,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer..

A quicker cure is better than a longer one, notably if its side effects are kept to a minimal; and if this drug can reduce the time by one-third, to as little as a few months, so much better for patients and doctors alike. A long therapy regime, lasting a year, can deter patients from going ahead in the first place. If this drug proves as effective as the initial results show, it will should go a long way to both reducing and curing Hepatitis C.

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You can read the rest of the article at [NatureNews]

Criminal Bumblebees

Bee Behaviour

An article in The Economist says that there exist some bumblebees that act as criminals, stealing nectar from flowering plants without giving anything in return, namely, without pollinating the flower
Nectar robbery, in which a bumblebee carves a hole in the side of a flower as a bank robber might cut his way into a vault, was discovered by Charles Darwin. This technique lets bees get at the nectar of flowers whose shapes have evolved to encourage their pollination by insects with long tongues, which can reach down narrow tubes.
Some bumblebees do have such tongues. But some do not. Short-tongued bees are, however, unwilling to deny themselves the bounty of nectar inside these flowers. Hence the hole-cutting. By breaking in in this way, though, a bumblebee nullifies the 100m-year-old pact between flowering plants and insects: that the plant feeds the insect in exchange for the insect pollinating the plant.
The question about nectar robbery that has intrigued biologists from Darwin onwards is whether the behaviour is innate or learnt. Darwin, though he originated the idea that many behaviour patterns are products of evolution by natural selection, suspected that it is learnt. Insects, in other words, can copy what other insects get up to. Only now, though, has somebody proved that this is true.
The observations were made by David Goulson (then at the University of Stirling, now at the University of Sussex), and his colleagues. To test his ideas he had to go from Britain to Switzerland, for only there could he find a flower of the correct shape to conduct the study.
His crucial observation was that when the flowers of an alpine plant called the yellow rattle are robbed, the entry holes—because of the structure of the flower—tend to be unambiguously on either the right-hand side or the left-hand side. Moreover, preliminary observation suggested that the holes in flowers in a single meadow are often all made on the same side. This led him to speculate that bumblebees in a particular area do indeed learn the art of nectar robbery from one another, and then copy the technique with such fidelity that they always attack a flower from the same side.
This is an interesting finding in that it shows that such behaviour is passed on to other bees, who learn how to essentially get something for free. This type of thinking and action is, of course, common to many humans, who often show little hesitation or moral qualms in taking and not giving anything back in return, even though they gain the sweet nectar of the gods.

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You can read the rest of the article at [The Economist]

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Long Road To Recovery For Boston Terror Victims

Personal Trauma


Ryan McMahon: The 33-year-old, says the NYT, “fractured her back and broke both wrists
in the panicked moments after the Boston Marathon bombings.”
Photo Credit: Katherine Taylor; The New York Times
Source: NYT

Here is a good article, by Abby Goodnough and Jess Bidgood, in The New York Times on the state of mind and the road to recovery of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15th.

 Goodnough and Bidggod write:
Thirty-one victims remained hospitalized at the city’s trauma centers on Thursday, including some who lost legs or feet. Sixteen people had limbs blown off in the blasts or amputated afterward, ranging in age from 7 to 71. But in a way, their cases are the simpler ones, said Dr. David King, a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.
For some whose limbs were preserved, Dr. King said, the wounds were so littered with debris that five or six operations have been needed to decontaminate them. “The idea is to spread out the physiological stress over multiple operations,” he said.
Some of the wounded also still need surgery to repair bones, veins and nerves. Many will need physical therapy as well. About 10 patients have already arrived at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, said Timothy Sullivan, a spokesman, and that number could soon double. For many of the wounded, managing pain is a constant challenge. Dr. Alok Gupta, a trauma surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said the hospital was giving patients oral and intravenous narcotics and, where possible, regional nerve blocks using catheters.
Dr. King said that for those who lost limbs, so-called phantom pain — which feels as if it is coming from the body part that is no longer there — can be excruciating and particularly hard to treat. “You have to balance between taking the pain away,” he said, “and them being interactive and able to participate in their own rehabilitation.”
The ailments are not just physical. Some patients are upbeat, doctors said, but others are angry, anxious and depressed.
While there has been a lot of commentary and speculation of root causes, necessary to a degree to provide closure, it is now important to shift the media spotlight and offer encouragement to the victims. None of the victims of the terror attack deserve their fate; all are innocent individuals of a cruel and inhumane act. I wish them all a good and lasting recovery, and all the support, whether financial, mental or emotional.

As the NYT's article says about one of the victims, Ryan McMahon and her initial views almost two weeks ago: “I just saw everyone coming in, and that was really hard,” she said, adding that the sight of other patients arriving covered with blood and without limbs has been much more difficult to process than her own injuries. “Every once in a while, I just kind of break down and think about the whole big picture of it, just focusing on other people.”

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You can read the rest of the article at [NYT]

World Thinkers 2013: The Economist Speaks

Thinking Aloud



World's Public Intellectuals: (left to right): Ashraf Ghani, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker.
The Economist writes: “Most striking of all is the lack of women at the top of this year’s list, which
numbers 65. The highest-placed woman in this year’s poll, at number 15, is Arundhati Roy, who
has become a prominent left-wing critic of inequalities and injustice in modern India since the
publication of her novel The God of Small Things over a decade ago.”
Photo Credit: ©US Embassy, Kabul; © Rex Features
Source: The Economist


An article in The Economist has come up with a list of the top-ten thinkers of 2013, whose ideas on humanity, religion, poverty and public economic policy have become well-known; whether they are accepted, particularly by world governments and the masses of people within the global community, is another matter altogether.

Each of these public intellectauls, from Richard Dawkins, to Paul Krugman, to Steven Pinker to Daniel Kahnemann, have contributed ideas that often challenge conventional thinking, through thoughtful rational arguments that offer nsights in bettering the human condition.

Here are a few of the thinkers on The Economist's list of ten:
1. Richard DawkinsWhen Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist, coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene 37 years ago, he can’t have anticipated its current popularity as a word to describe internet fads. But this is only one of the ways in which he thrives as an intellectual in the internet age. He is also prolific on Twitter, with more than half a million followers—and his success in this poll attests to his popularity online. He uses this platform to attack his old foe, religion, and to promote science and rationalism. Uncompromising as his message may be, he’s not averse to poking fun at himself: in March he made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, lending his voice to a demon version of himself.
2. Ashraf GhaniFew academics get the chance to put their ideas into practice. But after decades of research into building states at Columbia, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, followed by a stint at the World Bank, Ashraf Ghani returned to his native Afghanistan to do just that. He served as the country’s finance minister and advised the UN on the transfer of power to the Afghans. He is now in charge of the Afghan Transition Coordination Commission and the Institute for State Effectiveness, applying his experience in Afghanistan elsewhere. He is already looking beyond the current crisis in Syria, raising important questions about what kind of state it will eventually become.
3. Steven PinkerLong admired for his work on language and cognition, the latest book by the Harvard professor Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, was a panoramic sweep through history. Marshalling a huge range of evidence, Pinker argued that humanity has become less violent over time. As with Pinker’s previous books, it sparked fierce debate. Whether writing about evolutionary psychology, linguistics or history, what unites Pinker’s work is a fascination with human nature and an enthusiasm for sharing new discoveries in accessible, elegant prose.
The top-three women on the list are Arundhati Roy, novelist, at 15; Martha Nussbaum, philosopher, at 19; and Anne Applebaum, journalist, at 24. I have read the writings of all three of these women, and their contribution to the world of ideas is outstanding.

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You can read the rest of the article at [The Economist]


Friday, April 26, 2013

Re-Energizing South Africa’s Slums

Energy & Poverty

IMG_1660[1]
Energy Needs: Khayelitsha, a community outside Cape Town, corrugated housing is the norm;
as is access to affordable energy.
Photo Credit: Saleem H. Ali
Source: NatGeo





An article, by Saleem Ali, in National Geographic says that South Africa’s slums have come up with innovative ways to provide affordable housing and provide cheap energy to its inhabitants, the majority residing in corrugated shacks with make-shift energy connections.
The sweeping slums of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town are a stark reminder of the endemic inequality that continues to haunt South Africa almost twenty years since the end of apartheid. Here we find around half a million people living in a sea of shacks that are often associated with urban blight across the developing world. Yet, the sight of these shelters made of corrugated steel and wood in an informal settlement should not necessarily evoke fatalism about this land. The typical South African shack is a versatile piece of simple engineering that only costs around $400 to buy and meets the basic needs of shelter for its residents. Nevertheless, the government recognizes the need for providing more stable housing through its Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) which has provided around 3 million homes to South Africans since the end of apartheid.
Those living in the shacks on less than an inflation-adjusted amount per month are entitled to apply for RDP housing, though the waiting period can be as much as 10 years. Unlike high-rise low-income housing in China, the demand in South Africa is to have a small tract of land and a hut as the residence. Human ingenuity and resilience beams through through many residents in these areas as they traverse their life journeys from shacks to RDP huts.
The energy landscape of Khayelitsha. Photograph by Saleem H. AliDuring a recent visit to Khayelitsha, while tutoring an advanced social management course (in collaboration with Cambridge University’s Sustainability Leadership Programme), I witnessed entrepreneurship in many forms that gives me renewed hope about South Africa’s development path in these settlements. At the heart of such a development trajectory is access to electricity which would allow for safe lighting; computing; and consequently opportunities for small businesses to flourish.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the informal settlements in South Africa’s urban periphery do have government control in terms of basic energy access infrastructure and some level of sanitation and waste management provisions. The power utility has provided small metered boxes for prepaid electricity credit to these shack-dwellers, and unlike most slum areas of India or Brazil, the power is largely paid for by the destitute customers as well. However, these utility connections are by no means adequate for the population density and people are forced to be creative in finding ways to serve their needs. The slum dwellers of Khayelitsha have come up with an informal market for electricity and share connections between homes which have a connection and those which do not. There are entrepreneurs who are selling small solar-powered lighting with battery packs through organizations such as the Micro Energy Alliance.
By western standards, such housing conditions might be considered primitive; and yet I remember driving around part of rural Alabama in the American south during the late 1990s and  was struck by seeing corrugated housing similar to what the photo above depicts of South Africa and the community of Khayelitsha. I am not sure if these Alabaman residents had running water and electrical connections.

The link between cheap affordable energy and reducing poverty is well known .Perhaps things have changed for such residents of the American south as they are slowly changing, through personal innovation and good will, in South Africa.

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You can read the rest of the article at [NatGeo]

A Cry For Help

Modern Living


Those who do not weep, do not see.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables 

If someone made a cry for help in a modern urban centre, would anyone hear it? Would anyone care? Would anyone act? I suggest that the answer is generally a disappointing “no,” respecting the individual’s personal space and giving him or her distance. Most individuals say they would, or might, but it is likely that most would fail to act, for various reasons. Thought in this case does not translate to action. The only exception is when large crowds amass at a public event or space, and see a need to respond to a terrible incident, as was the recent case of the Boston bombings on April 15th.

Yet, on the individual level, things are greatly different. A cry is a signal that something is wrong; a baby communicates by crying, signaling it has some unmet need. Parents rush to the baby, seeing what it needs; this is both natural and normal. When adults cry figuratively, which is the case I was laying out here, the response from other adults differs from that in response to an infant. Adults are supposed to be mature, responsible and take care of his own needs. It’s part of being independent, conventional thinking says.

Does that mean that adults should never ask (cry out) for help? You can but don’t expect any response. For the most part you are alone; you might get advice—it's freely offered—and criticism that your actions do not meet their expectations. After all, it's about meeting expectations. Sadly, the answer in today's modern society is indifference, a shift from the progressive ideas of empathy and social cohesion. The crude American expression, “Man Up” explains much. A favourite of conservatives, retrogrades and others who want to return to the good ’ol days of the 1950s. Life was simpler. Perhaps for some people—certainly not for many.

My own experience—a small sample, it’s true, bears this out. “If you are suffering, Man Up and do something about it.” What a beautiful world we live in.  The ’50s are back with a vengeance with the introduction of narrow and restrictive retrograde policies common to the thinking of both social and economic conservatives. It’s the willful and consistent destruction of The Social Contract—a processs that started thirty or so years ago, much to the detriment of social peace and social cohesion. Such policies will not last, but for now they continue to damage the very fundamentals of democracy in many, if not all, democracies, including the United States and my own nation of Canada.

So, this leads to a thought: what if it’s not an individual that is crying out, but an institution, a nation that has been good to its citizens for long. Short note: Democracy in America is crying out for help; it is a mature adult, almost 237 years old, but it is tired of defending itself against relentless attacks, mostly from within. What are you, we, going to do about it?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cancer Researchers & Doctors Ought To Use Personal Genomic Sequencing To Better Odds Of Success

Advances In Medicine


Gerald Batist, an oncologist at McGill University says that single-subject, or “n-of-1” cases are now more typical, and require further analysis: “If you talk to any oncologist, they’ll tell you about an unusual case or two like this. It’s time for us to stop just collecting anecdotes and dive deeper.”
Photo Credit: Claudio Calligris
Source: Nature News

An article, by Heidi Ledford, in Nature News says that medical oncologists might have more success with cancer therapies if they start relying on personal genomics; the thinking goes against prevailing ideas that one drug regime fits the needs of all cancer patients, or even of particular cancers such as colon or breast cancer. General clinical trials often don't tell the complete story, because they are general, statistical approach to predict viability.

Ledford writes about an exceptional case:

By all rights, Gerald Batist’s patient should have died nine years ago. Her pancreatic cancer failed to flinch in the face of the standard arsenal — surgery, radiation, chemotherapy — and Batist, an oncologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, estimated that she had one year to live. With treatment options dwindling, he enrolled her in a clinical trial of a hot new class of drugs called farnesyltransferase inhibitors. Animal tests had suggested that the drugs had the potential to defeat some of the deadliest cancers, and pharmaceutical firms were racing to be the first to bring such compounds to market.
But the drugs flopped in clinical trials. Companies abandoned the inhibitors — one of the biggest heartbreaks in cancer research over the past decade. For Batist’s patient, however, the drugs were anything but disappointing. Her tumours were resolved; now, a decade later, she remains cancer free. And Batist hopes that he may soon find out why.
The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, is recruiting stories, tissue samples and clinical data from up to 200 such ‘exceptional responders’ to learn why these patients benefited from drugs that failed most others. The effort is part of a larger push among cancer researchers to focus on single-subject, or ‘n-of-1’, studies that could offer new insights into the disease. The tactic initially met with resistance, says Charles Sawyers, a cancer researcher at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and an advocate of the approach. “It’s in vogue to talk about your n-of-1 study now,” he says. “But when I was in medical school this was called an anecdote — and it was a bad word.”
 Embracing outliers
Since then, however, cancer-genome sequencing has forced researchers to reckon with the profound complexity of the disease. No two tumours are alike. Each has a web of mutations — typically numbering well into the thousands — that is as unique as a snowflake. Within these gnarled networks could lurk molecular signatures that reveal ways to target tumours, hidden hints for avoiding drug resistance and markers that could indicate which patients would respond to a given therapy. “This is a real treasure trove of data that has just been ignored,” says James Doroshow, deputy director for clinical and translational research at the NCI.
This is indeed the future; and the very near future, to be precise, because it is both effective and prolongs lifespans. I can see why large pharmaceutical companies might not like this approach; they method is to conduct large clinical trails, with the aim of receiving regulatory approval, which means that the drug is both safe and generally effective for all classes of individuals, and not in particular cases only. It's a statistical approach, and a general regulatory approval is better for business.

And, yet I see a future where personal genome sequencing—not only a statistical approach— will become normative and large drug companies, unless they change, will become dispensers of general, everyday drugs such as pain killers and not become innovators. This might open a market for small, nimble biotech genomic companies that can quickly serve the immediate needs of both patients and doctors.

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You can read the rest of the article in [Nature News]

Phyllis Chesler: American Feminist and Zionist Activist

Interviews That Matter

In this interview, which was originally published in 2008, five years ago, George Jochnowitz discusses with Phyllis Chesler, noted feminsist and supporter of Israel how Isreal became the lighting-rod of irrational hatred. We are now seeing the results of the slow erosion of liberal democratic values that has taken place in many university campuses in the United States starting in the 1960s. George Jochnowitz writes, quoting Chesler: "At that point the Stalinists, the Maoists, the revolutionary party-niks, the Socialists all got tenured in the universities. Some were feminists, many were not, but everyone called themselves feminists because it was politically correct. They really were concerned with imperialism, colonialism, and—they said—racism. They were staunchly anti-American, and they began rooting for whatever fascist tyrants, whether in Cuba or in China, could do their dirty work for them—work they were unable to do or that they didn’t want to lose their tenure for doing, so they weren’t about to bring down Wall Street by coming at it with machine guns."


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by George Jochnowitz

“Where there’s a will there’s a halakhic way,” says Phyllis Chesler in an answer below to a question on the rights of Orthodox Jewish women who can’t get a religious divorce. Halakha is the way, the path, that Orthodox Jews follow. Chesler has a will and is working to redirect that path as she has worked to change the way that women are viewed and view themselves in society. She has also been writing in defense of Israel, and her recent books, The New Anti-Semitism [reviewed in Midstream February/March 2004] and The Death of Feminism [reviewed in Midstream January/February 2007] have been concerned with that issue.

There are also Muslims who have the will to change the way that women are viewed and to open Islamic society to modernity and democracy. Chesler attended a conference held in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 4 and 5, 2007. She chaired the opening panel there. Thirteen of the speakers had been born and raised as Muslims; two were Arab Christians, and Chesler was Jewish. We can read her report, “Two Days Among Heroes,” on her website, www.phyllis-chesler.com.

Phyllis Chesler and I were both colleagues at the College of Staten Island, but we hardly knew each other. We were in different departments and our paths rarely crossed. Recently, we have been getting to know each other better, and the interview below is part of that process.

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GJ: You became famous as the author of Women and Madness. You are now writing about Israel. There is no contradiction, of course, but was the transition easy, or was there a moment of internal conflict?

PC: I became a Zionist in 1948, when I was 8 years old, and on my own in Boro Park, joined Hashomer Hatzair. My orthodox parents were horrified, and they brought a rabbi in to thunder at me that I had joined a Godless communist organization and they thundered enough to persuade me to join a group that was to the left of Hashomer Hatzair, which was called Ain Harod, which had a vision of Jews and Arabs living collectively on the land together. What a utopian, mystical vision! And I packed machine gun parts for Israel. As a child and as a Jewish woman Zionism seemed a vision of liberation, liberation from family life — the many curfews and demands — and perhaps spiritual liberation as well. I believe that even though I was very influenced by my Afghanistan experience [described in The Death of Feminism] and by my involvement in the 1960s civil-rights movement, my feminism was also influenced by my Zionism. I was a very radical feminist and always perceived as such, but I always identified myself as a Jew.

.....I knew Muslims, I knew Palestinians, I knew some of the issues which many ideologues did not know, so I was wrestling with issues of Jew-hatred on the Left, and on the lesbian feminist left, from the 1970s on. So what did this mean? It meant that I organized Jewish feminist conferences early on, when most of the feminists who have since forged careers based on their Jewish identities didn’t believe me that anti-Semitism or Judaism were issues and said then that they weren’t issues or weren’t important. In the 1970s, together with Aviva Cantor and Cheryl Moch, I organized the first Jewish Feminist conferences. I was also one of the founders of one of the first feminist Pesach seders, which got a lot of attention, and I was involved with creating and participating in feminist versions of Jewish life-cycle rituals. Again, it got a good deal of newsprint. So it’s not as if I was not fighting as a Jew while I was a radical feminist.

.....In 1979, I was working at the United Nations. I organized what I hoped would be a great conference, identifying leaders from around the world, 1979-80. I held the conference in Oslo, so that we could all travel easily to Copenhagen where the second world conference on women would take place. That conference, as you may recall, was a psychological pogrom against the Jewish state and I literally went without sleep. I worked with the Israeli imishlachat. Let me give you a poignant anecdote. Weeping in my arms in Copenhagen was a small woman, Mina ben Tsvi, who was the commander of Chen, the Israeli women’s armed forces, in 1948. She was the founder of an influential Haifa-based institute to train women in certain technical scientific career areas, mainly in Africa and Asia. Mina was saying, “What is it? I thought we were done with this. Is it back?” And indeed it was back because that was now the fruit of all the Soviet-choreographed and Arab-League-funded demonization and isolation of the Jewish state, and I saw it so clearly. There were goons interrupting each unofficial panel. They would come in — women — marching like a goon squad, like brown shirts. They didn’t have bayonets but they did have male cheerleaders and they would say “Israel kills Palestinian babies; Israel has to die.” They did various versions of Zionism equals racism.

.....I flew to Israel unexpectedly, right after this conference, and I had meetings with the foreign ministry, and I persuaded them to let me organize a real feminist conference and they agreed but then they annexed East Jerusalem, which made it too problematic for me to invite women from Muslim countries. They wouldn’t be allowed to come. I instead did a series of front-page interviews in Israel about anti-Semitism, which Israelis didn’t think was their problem. I came back here and ran into some feminist challenges: Why did I care so much about Israel? Was I paranoid about anti-Semitism?

.....I did an interview in Lilith magazine about Copenhagen under a pseudonym: Regina Schreiber. This was how Aviva Cantor chose to describe me. I said to several major Jewish organizations: The cultural war, or the curricular war, is very hot and it’s going to get a lot hotter. What’s needed is to work on combating the lies that have been coming our way. Nobody quite saw what I saw. Maybe if I were a man, maybe if I were wealthy. Maybe if I had lots of disposable time and could have used it to get to know organizational Jewish leaders, then in a few years people might have let me do a pet project. But they didn’t see what I saw. Also they hadn’t looked at the United Nations closely, and I had; I had encountered an enormous amount of hatred of Americans, women, feminism, Jews and Israel. Horrendous. So I went back to my intellectual, academic and feminist life, and I published a series of books.

.....I began writing a series of introductions to works by Jewish feminists. I was going to do a book on the resurgence of anti-Semitism—in 1981. I also presented the case to the National Women’s Studies Association. I put together a panel and I thought, I don’t want to say that feminists are anti-Semites, which is a form of racism, without giving my people, so to speak, a chance to consider this. I came out as a Zionist at this time. All hell broke loose. Some women of color didn’t like that the Jews, one more time, were stealing their thunder — about persecution and oppression. White women, both Jews and Christians, didn’t like pushy Jewish women who dared to present themselves as victims, when indeed they were seen as too pushy to begin with and maybe as too intellectually talented My agent at that time didn’t think a book about anti-Semitism was worth trying to sell. I did, because I visited the bombed-out synagogues in a number of European capitals, in Rome,Vienna, and Paris. And I stood there, and I thought: it’s coming back. Why else would we need to have police guards outside our places of worship?

.....The real heroes, who understood feminism, Zionism and Judaism of the l970’s, were quickly forgotten. Aviva Cantor Zuckoff was one—a major hero. Her book, Jewish Men, Jewish Women—is the best of the lot.

.....So now we can fast-forward to 2000. I had just published Letters to a Young Feminist. When the two reservists were lynched in Ramallah that fall, and they were shown over and over on television, the demented barbarians’ bloodstained hands, crazy grins, the media talking heads displayed no affect—nobody drew back in horror. Nobody called it barbarism. Then I knew that the bloody beast was back. I didn’t think of it as a potential second Holocaust as yet. And I knew that I’d have to start doing something. The first thing I wrote was a very simple piece which was published in Haaretz, translated by a friend of mine, the poet Raquel Chalfi. She’s a major Israeli poet. She interviewed me on anti-Semitism, in Yediot Achronot. All I did in this piece was say, “Could we, the good people, we progressives, could we have as much compassion for Jewish victims of terrorism as we have for Palestinians who are, quote, occupied?” I got some vicious email, and some amazingly negative phone calls from Israeli left feminists. They said, “How could you betray us?” And all I was asking for was rachmones — even-handed rachmones.

.....I published two books in 2002. I had been working on them both for many years. Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman and Women of the Wall. Nevertheless, I also started reading everything, on the subject of anti-Semitism. I became somewhat – I was going to say obsessed, but I wasn’t obsessed, I was passionate. I decided that I had to do a book. I didn’t focus on the feminist betrayal of the truth, I focused ultimately on the betrayal of the truth and of the Jews by intellectuals, some of whom were Jews, some of whom were feminists. It was the first of my books that did not get a review or lead to an interview in the New York Times. And also, by the way, once this 2000 Intifada started, I did not do any publicity for the Women of the Wall anthology, which is a very important anthology, which I co-edited with Rivka Haut. We didn’t promote it. We didn’t want to criticize the state of Israel at this time. The only places that reviewed The New Anti-Semitism, and very favorably, were conservative places, venues that I’d never read before, but which I’ve been reading ever since. I was among the first who said that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism, and among the first to say that it’s coming to us from the Islamic world. And it’s an indigenous Islamic racism, against the infidel other. It’s not something that’s transposed from Christianity or Nazism.

GJ: How do you explain the fact that there aren’t more feminists who speak against the repression of women in Islamic countries?

PC: Oy! At some level, I would have to say that I was not a good enough teacher. At another level, it’s very simple, because of the theory of victimization über alles, which we in the beginning subscribed to, I think for good reasons, because the theory that victims require liberation could take you a good way. Then Edward Said came into the picture, and the academic world was swept off its feet by ideas that said we could forget about women. It’s really brown-skinned men of Arab origin mainly who call themselves Palestinians who are the real victims, (they’re not criminal terrorists and thugs — they’re oppressed freedom fighters) and the Orientalists are the real villains. His work was one Big Lie. My friend and colleague Ibn Warraq has a magnificent work coming out on this subject: Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’.

.....At that point the Stalinists, the Maoists, the revolutionary party-niks, the Socialists all got tenured in the universities. Some were feminists, many were not, but everyone called themselves feminists because it was politically correct. They really were concerned with imperialism, colonialism, and—they said—racism. They were staunchly anti-American, and they began rooting for whatever fascist tyrants, whether in Cuba or in China, could do their dirty work for them—work they were unable to do or that they didn’t want to lose their tenure for doing, so they weren’t about to bring down Wall Street by coming at it with machine guns. They were happy to say let’s wear T-shirts of Che Guevara. The professoriat became increasingly mesmerized by the image of the nobility and holiness of the victim. They decided that Israel is the racist Nazi state, that the Palestinian terrorists are not really terrorists, that their grievances are just, that it is our fault, especially the fault of Israel, that they have been cooped up, penned up, made to be so humiliated. It was this jinxed combination of both Stalinization and Palestinianization grafted onto a grass-roots feminist vision that became pandemic.

.....Most feminists are multicultural relativists. They no longer have a vision of a single standard of universal human rights. They don’t want to judge one culture over another, so they ultimately favor equal rights for cannibals. We’re talking about honor murders, the stoning of Muslim women, the veiling of women so that they can’t breathe or see, they can’t drive, they can’t go out of doors, they can’t vote. They’re forced to marry their first cousins or whoever is chosen for them. Many are not allowed to go to school, although there are many exceptions—caste, class, and country exceptions. Many are genitally mutilated. When I say that multicultural relativism is anathema to feminist human rights, they call me a racist. I understand that people who are not courageous don’t want to stick out, they don’t want to step out of line. If they’ve heard it’s “Islamophobic” to tell the truth, then they’re not going to do it, even if it is the truth.

.....There’s a British feminist journal that is publishing a piece that attacks The New Anti-Semitism and attacks me as a white supremacist. The author also attacks two other American feminists, and guess what: we’re all Jews. This got my attention and so I took it on, and I worked with the editorial board. It was a huge undertaking. This August, for the first time ever in an academic feminist journal, my ideas about Islamic gender apartheid and Muslim-on-Muslim violence will appear. It’s a rebuttal to my being attacked by someone who didn’t, in the draft they showed me, talk about women’s plight or intellectuals’ plights under Islamist tyrannies. The feminists right now are in a very strange place. They would rather desert the cause of women than be seen as racists. They would rather obscure the truth of jihad than be called racists, because now racism has trumped gender among feminists.

.....In October of 2005, in a lecture, I said that the occupation of Palestine, a country that doesn’t exist, is far more important to most feminists than the occupation of women’s bodies world wide. And WBAI taped me and tried to challenge me and then did a one-hour program which made me very sad because these were mainly young women of color who were being given a platform to display their utter ignorance. To them multicultural relativity is the same as multicultural diversity. That means that if one opposes the relativism that justifies barbarism then one is a racist. The forces of darkness—various left feminists—who claimed that McCarthyism was a force against them—worked very hard to wreck my reputation.

.....Nonie Darwish came to visit me after she spoke at Lincoln Square Synagogue. She’s a Palestinian woman who has a book out, Now They Call Me Infidel, and she said that after she spoke on campus the first person who came up to her to complain about her lecture was an American feminist who said, “Why don’t you talk about the oppression of American women? We’re oppressed. Why are you only critical of Islam?” I think there’s a long history of both pacifism and xenophobia among American intellectuals—isolationism: we don’t want to get involved, it’s not our place, we’re against crusades, we do not want to spend out time and money on them. And so isolationists are predictably without compassion for those who suffer in other regions, and so we could say that they are quintessentially racist. I’m not saying that we can send the Marines everywhere, but intellectuals should say “This is what’s clear; this is what’s ideal; and this is what exists.” They’re not saying it.

GJ: Was it unusual for someone of your background to go to Bard College?

PC: Oh yes, yes, yes. I wanted to go to a college where there were no required courses because I was desperate to read. Plus, they gave me a full scholarship. And together with a Regents scholarship and together with working as a waitress, I was able to go. My family was working class and religious and did not want me to live away from home until I was properly married.

GJ: Is there any word or category to describe your affiliation with Judaism today?

PC: I study Torah regularly, and I would say that I’m meta-denominational, and I’m religious. I keep a kosher home. I observe Shabbat. I have come now to understand that you can’t get everything you want in one place. Some feminist oriented synagogues are very ambivalent or even hostile to Israel. I can’t pray there at this moment in history. A half a block away from where I live is a beautiful, small Orthodox shul whose rabbi is a prince of Torah and Talmud. He, his wife and the community are very warm and welcoming. There’s a balcony. The women don’t have access to the Torah and don’t participate in the ritual. The community, however, is so stable and so upright and so very dear, and this gives me great consolation. Now I study with the rabbi in a group of men and women. I would say I’m a committed and passionate Zionist despite the fact that my second marriage to an Israeli did not go well. I have often jested that my Zionism is therefore a miracle. I also want to say that I feel a family-like connection to people from the Middle East and from Muslim countries so I don’t automatically feel, “Oh, the enemy has just entered the room.” On the contrary, I have a very easy flowing relationship interpersonally.

GJ: I have always thought that a reason that Jews are open to so very many ideas is that they are privileged, that being privileged as a child leads one to be an original thinker and a daring thinker.

PC: I think you’re right about education, but I’m thinking about all the intellectuals who are so fuzzy-headed now about jihad. They are living in free societies that support their right to this tomfoolery. Meanwhile, heroes are arising in the midst of the most profound tyrannies. We can say anything; we’re lucky if someone notices it, let alone publishes it. They say the smallest thing and they can be beheaded.

GJ: You have spoken about the plight of agunot [women whose husbands will not grant them a religious divorce]. Is there any possibility that Orthodox Judaism will be able to deal with this question?

PC: Where there’s a will, there’s a halakhic way. The sin is on all of our heads collectively. Women’s groups can’t change this. Women’s groups can try to console or not shun or can choose to remain connected to agunot, but it is male Orthodox rabbis who are allowing criminal misogynists to get away with soul murder and to keep martyrs of the faith imprisoned, because if they were Conservative or Reform they wouldn’t need this kind of get [religious divorce]. Here are women who are being faithful to a system that is tricking them and chaining them. Evil merely requires that good people do nothing. There are issues of gender injustice within Judaism that I have certainly not forgotten about. There are many halakhic ways to solve this, but there doesn’t seem to be a will to do so.

GJ: Conservative Judaism has accepted the possibility of gay marriage and gay rabbis. Do you think this will ultimately effect a major change?

PC: I think it’s wise when Judaism finds a way to be connected with not just strangers and foreigners but with our own who have been marginalized or stigmatized. Everybody’s different from everybody else. If the rabbis, whether they’re gay or straight, are rabbis first and their identity politics are checked at the door, then I think it’s a great good thing. If I became a rabbi and I basically used the pulpit to preach feminism, if I brought in a secular agenda and called it Judaism, there would be something wrong with that.

.....I think some Orthodox people are changing. Many modern Orthodox are sometimes gay-friendly, on an individual basis. Serious works on the subject exist. One has been written by an openly gay Orthodox man. But these are very deep questions. Think of the Hebrew language, how gendered it is, how maniacally gendered. To then be confronted with a male who’s male but who also is with another man, not with a woman, brings back the resistance, the terror, the fear, the connection between homosexuality and avodah zara [idol worship]. Whatever sexual rites were practiced openly and publicly in pagan settings is what Jews opposed, despised, and forbade. For that reason alone re-encountering it even at a different time and in a different way can be terrifying.

.....Even though the Conservative and Reform and Reconstructionist movements allowed women to be ordained, women rabbis still can’t get congregations as easily, they don’t the same salaries, they don’t get the most prestigious congregations except in assistant roles and only temporarily. Now the Conservative movement says it’s going to ordain gays and lesbians. I think it’s a good thing, but what will it mean? If the cultural prejudice and bias remains anyway, what’s going to happen? It’s a good thing to take a principled stand, but you can’t always bring people along with you.

GJ: Do you remember the National Conference for the New Politics in 1967? Bella Abzug spoke, and there were statements made that were quite strikingly anti-Semitic. Do you remember the teachers’ strike in New York City in 1968 over Ocean-Hill Brownsville? That was not anti-Zionist at all; it was simply anti-Semitic.

PC: Yes, and I remember the Crown Heights riots, much later, in 1991, which was a pogrom, out and out. But the Democratic Party and the Left were parties to covering it up.
.....I’m a psychologist. How can I possibly explain Norman Finkelstein, or Noam Chomsky, or Tony Kushner, or Blanche Wiesen Cook, or Alisa Solomon, who coauthored the book Wrestling with Zion together with Tony Kushner, or Jacqueline Rose, who’s Jewish and a psychoanalyst in London and who defends Edward Said’s deeply flawed work? And now there’s a new group of Jews in Britain who reserve the right to criticize Israel and they refuse to be silenced or treated as anti-Semites by other Jews in England.


GJ: On February 12, I read in the Jerusalem Post online that a member of the Egyptian parliament, Mohamed al-Katatny, had called for the nuclear destruction of Israel on the grounds that Israel was trying to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. I haven’t seen the story elsewhere. Is the mainstream press justified in not bothering to report these statements since they are simply repetitions of what we know already?

PC: No. They’re remiss in that field. The information is actually in from Islam: They want to kill us (non-Muslims) and many of them have been saying so for quite some time. But the mainstream media denies and minimizes this threat and scape-goats Israel for trying to defend herself.

GJ: Which issue is more important to you, women’s rights or Israel’s security?

PC: Both. Israel’s security is the symbol of the democratic, pluralist and tolerant West, which has led to the rise of movements which espouse women’s rights. So if Israel is under attack, then women’s freedom shortly thereafter will be under major attack, so I don’t see it as having to choose between one or the other. It just so happens that Islamic gender and religious apartheid is the real problem, and since I am an anti-racist, it works for me in theoretical terms. Every group has the right to self-determination and to self-defense. The Jews also have a Right of Return.

GJ: Are there any other public feminists as supportive of Israel as you are?

PC: There are, but they don’t go on record about it.

GJ: Do you have any comments about the feminist Muslims Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Irshad Manji?

PC: The left-wing media have attacked Hirsi Ali as a racist herself, and Irshad Manji as a trouble maker. I think it’s good that they and Nonie Darwish are recognized. Most Muslim feminist scholars are like their western anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist counterparts.

GJ: Do they get attention and nothing more than attention?

PC: Well, Irshad is working on a film and she’s based at Yale, in residence in some way. Hirsi Ali is based at the American Enterprise Institute. They are getting more than attention. A handful are getting some support.

As we can see from her words and actions, Phyllis Chesler has the will and knows the way. She is a Jewish feminist with Muslim friends who has lived in Afghanistan. If anyone can be a link between these worlds, she can.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This essay originally appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Midstream. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the permission of the author.