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The Way We Are

Laugh Until You Cry

September 15th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

One of the best ways to evaluate a society is by examining the humor of that society.

Freud asserted that in every joke there is a kernel of truth. I would assert that there is much, much more than simply a kernel. There is profound expression in humor. Societies use humor as a way of calling out, of crying for help, of pleading for law and order, a way to save their victims from untenable situations. The twist is that the call, the cry, and the plea are accompanied not by tears, but by laughter.

In many circumstances the joke, humor, is the only way to actually raise essential societal questions while also allowing people to live through a situation that should be viewed as crazy and out of the ordinary, but that has become their everyday norm.

Jewish jokes have set the standard for gentle but honest self-deprecation. Jewish jokes were also the first to tackle indelicate situations in a digestible way. The jokes, written by Jews and about Jews are a window into the pain and pathos of the Jewish people during specific times in history. Originally intended for Jewish audiences, the genre has now become familiar to all ethnic groups and is a staple of many comedic performances.

It's okay to laugh at a Jewish joke, even if you're not Jewish. It's acceptable. In many cases, it's expected. That is not the case in all societies. Read more ..

Edge on Immigration

Comprehensive Solution Needed for Immigration

September 8th 2008

Social Topics - Construction Site Workers

The national immigration debate has generated tremendous, often emotional, discussion about the impact of the growing number of undocumented immigrants on our communities. Heated talk about the economic, social, and enforcement aspects of the issue predominates. We should understand, however, that above all, immigration is a humanitarian, and, ultimately, a moral issue.

Each day in parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools the human consequences of an inadequate immigration system are apparent. Families are separated; migrant workers are exploited by smugglers and unscrupulous employers; and human beings, desperate to survive, perish in the American desert. As our nation benefits from the hard work of undocumented workers, we fail to extend to them basic workplace and legal protections. Worse, some scapegoat immigrants for our social ills. The U.S. bishops’ statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship urges Catholics to study issues such as immigration before going to the polls. Read more ..

Election Edge

Crossing the Line with Hitler Comparisons--Madonna and McCain

September 1st 2008

Entertainment - Madonna strutting

Here we go again. The iconic face of evil, Adolf Hitler, is once again being used as shorthand to disparage with massive overkill things we don’t like – in this case, pop star Madonna doesn’t like Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. So while she sang a song titled “Get Stupid” during the launch of her latest world tour in Cardiff, Wales, a projected photo montage appeared that included pictures of destruction and global warming, followed by video images of  Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and Hitler, ending with John McCain. Apparently in Madonna’s mind, the last three comprise a rogue’s gallery of equivalent offenders to humanity. As she is a student of the Kabala who, on meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, declared herself an “ambassador for Judaism,” we might have hoped Madonna would know better.

It is inappropriate and offensive to make comparisons to the man ultimately responsible for the death of six million Jews and the death and suffering of countless others during the Holocaust. It trivializes the Holocaust and is an insult to the memories of the victims, their families and those who fought Nazism.

But such are not always the calculations of pop stars, media pundits, political officials, and political operatives with axes to grind. An image of Hitler is easy visual short hand – equivalent to the 10 words or less sound-bite – whose symbolic function is to declare a categorical position:  we recognize evil and we associate anyone whose positions with which we disagree with that worst of the worst, that world menace, the Nazi Fuhrer.

This rush to make easy moral comparisons out of one’s personal political or ethical biases has been going on for a long time, and as Jews, we are rightly affronted by the Arab media’s loose and self-justifying use of Nazi imagery – swastikas, Hitler’s mustache, storm trooper caricatures – to defame the state of Israel, its leaders, and the United States’ unswerving support for Israel’s continued existence as a modern democracy in the midst of authoritarian Arab states. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Zambia's Loss is Africa's Loss

August 25th 2008

Unknown - Mwananasa
Zambia President Levy Mwanawasa

His death has barely registered in the news, but the loss of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa days ago, two months after he suffered a stroke, is a bad blow to Africa. Much of what the West knows about Africa comes in a numbing train of reports on famine, genocide, hacked limbs and political crackdowns a la Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe or Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. But there's another Africa that's enjoying renewal, thanks to the responsible leadership of men like Mwanawasa.

When Mwanawasa first ran for presidential office, having served as vice president in the 1990s, his opponents derided him as a mindless "cabbage" following his narrow survival in a 1991 car accident that slurred his speech. The determined lawyer proved his critics wrong: in his seven years in office, the cabbage presided over renewed economic growth (now about 6 percent a year); became one of the first and most cutting critics of Robert Mugabe's dictatorship; and began an anti-corruption drive that included prosecuting his former boss and president, Frederick Chiluba. The latter two moves are particularly significant on continent which rarely holds its leaders accountable, especially if they are former freedom fighters against colonialism, as was Mugabe. Read more ..

Inside Europe

Europe Takes Another Look At Divorced Fathers

August 11th 2008

Europe Topics - Man With Ring

The stereotypical image of downtrodden mothers battling to make ends meet after "deadbeat dads" vanish from their children's lives is being trampled by a growing group of dads rallying for quality time with their youngsters in the age of divorce. Media attention on this group has been ample since the creation of the Society for Male and Paternal Dignity (SYGAPA) in 2005.

The society's existence has somewhat rehabilitated the image of divorced fathers, but little else has changed. In most divorce cases, custody typically goes to the mother. "No other European country gives 95 percent of custody to mothers," guesstimates SYGAPA member and divorced father Dimitris Pahoumas, speaking about Greece's custody laws. "Ideally, custody should be 50-50, with fathers able to have input in their children's lives."

Pahoumas believes that "social policies" are to blame for the bad relations between parents after divorce. "The government appears scared of women's organizations when chartering fathers' entitlements," he says, pointing to the fact that the general secretariat for equality has not yet met with SYGAPA. Read more ..

Election Edge

Illegal Immigrants Are Voting in American Elections

August 4th 2008

Products - Voting

In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that up to 3 percent of the 30,000 individuals called for jury duty from voter registration rolls over a two-year period in just one U.S. district court were not U.S. citizens. While that may not seem like many, just 3 percent of registered voters would have been more than enough to provide the winning presiden­tial vote margin in Florida in 2000. Indeed, the Cen­sus Bureau estimates that there are over a million illegal aliens in Florida, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has prosecuted more non-citizen voting cases in Florida than in any other state.

Florida is not unique. Thousands of non-citizens are registered to vote in some states, and tens if not hundreds of thousands in total may be present on the voter rolls nationwide. These numbers are significant: Local elections are often decided by only a handful of votes, and even national elections have likely been within the margin of the number of non-citizens ille­gally registered to vote.

Yet there is no reliable method to determine the number of non-citizens registered or actually voting because most laws to ensure that only citizens vote are ignored, are inadequate, or are systematically undermined by government officials. Those who ignore the implications of non-citizen registration and voting either are willfully blind to the problem or may actually favor this form of illegal voting.

Americans may disagree on many areas of immi­gration policy, but not on the basic principle that only citizens—and not non-citizens, whether legally present or not—should be able to vote in elections. Unless and until immigrants become citizens, they must respect the laws that bar non-citizen voting. To keep non-citizens from diluting citizens' votes, immigration and election officials must cooperate far more effectively than they have to date, and state and federal officials must increase their efforts to enforce the laws against non-citizen voting that are already on the books.

An Enduring Problem

Costas Bakouris, head of the Greek chapter of Transparency International, says in an interview that ending corruption is easy: enforce the law. Illegal voting by immigrants in America is noth­ing new. Almost as long as there have been elec­tions, there have been Tammany Halls trying to game the ballot box. Well into the 20th century, the political machines asserted their ascendancy on Election Day, stealing elections in the boroughs of New York and the wards of Chicago. Quite regu­larly, Irish immigrants were lined up and counted in canvasses long before the term "citizen" ever applied to them—and today it is little different. Read more ..

China’s Embattled Olympics

China Bans Olympic Visits from Protests

July 28th 2008

Asia Topics - SF Olympic Protest

The Beijing Organizing Committee (BOCOG) recently announced that all foreigner visitors and non-resident Chinese attending the upcoming Olympic Games are banned from both watching and participating in any protests or public gatherings during the games. These rules apply even to protests authorized by the Chinese Government. Chinese citizens have a legal right to protest, but they must first apply for permission from their local Public Security Bureau. Such requests are rarely granted, and most demonstrations in China don't have official sanction.

BOCOG security director Liu Shaowu announced this week they have established three protest zones in Beijing parks. However, there are no zones near the Olympic venues. Instead, they are at the World Park in the southwest, 3 miles from the softball venue; the Purple Bamboo Park in the west, south of the volleyball arena; and Chaoyang Park in the east where beach volleyball will be played.

It was not clear how easy access would be to enter the zones. Liu and Beijing police would not say if special permission would be needed, but Beijing has already refused visa requests for known foreign activists.


After the Holocaust

Accused Nazi To Be Stripped Of US Citizenship

July 21st 2008

Contributors / Staff - Martin Barillas
Martin Barillas

The Department of Justice requested on July 15, 2008 that a federal court in Seattle, Washington revoke the U.S. citizenship of Peter Egner. The resident of Bellevue, Washington, faces loss of citizenship based on evidence of his role in a Nazi unit that participated in the mass murder of more than 17,000 Serbian civilians during World War II. Most of the victims of this mass murder were Jewish men, women and children.

A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington alleges that Peter Egner, 86, who was born in Yugoslavia, joined the Nazi-controlled Security Police and Security Service in German-occupied Belgrade, Serbia, in April 1941 and served through September 1943.

The complaint alleges that during the first nine months of Egner's service in this organization, it operated as an Einsatzgruppe, a Nazi mobile killing unit. Captured Nazi documents reflect that in the fall of 1941, Egner’s unit participated in executing 11,164 people, most of them Serbian Jewish men, as well as some communists, suspected communists, and Roma and Sinti (Gypsies).

In early 1942, the Nazi Security Police and Security Service Belgrade carried out the murder of 6,280 Serbian Jewish women and children. Prior to their deaths, these victims were confined in a concentration camp at Semlin, outside of Belgrade.

In a process that continued daily for a period of approximately two months, the women and children were taken from the camp and forced into a specially equipped van where they were asphyxiated with carbon monoxide gas while being transported to Avala, an execution and mass burial site near Belgrade. Read more ..

Great Museums

Newseum Highlights Mysteries of J. Edgar Hoover

July 21st 2008

World Citizens - J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover

After 9/11, security concerns shut down the FBI tour in Washington's Newseum, which was a popular destination for school groups and out-of-town visitors. The highlight was a deadeye shooting demonstration by a real live agent.

Now the Newseum, two blocks away in its new digs on Pennsylvania Avenue, has revived and updated the essence of the old tour with its new exhibit "G-Men and Journalists: Top News Stories of the FBI's First Century." And while there's no bang-bang, shoot 'em up, the thrills and chills are of a subtler nature.

On display in the 250,000-square-foot museum are the Unabomber's cabin, John Dillinger's death mask, and the electric chair in which convicted Lindbergh baby kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann was executed.

But because the mysteries surrounding former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover are endlessly fascinating, the exhibit's Hoover artifacts may prove to be the biggest draw. Read more ..

The Coping Edge

Sunshine on My Shoulders

July 14th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Liz Black headshot
Elizabeth Black

After fearing the sun for decades, listening to the dire warnings of dermatologists, and slathering on sunscreen to protect against skin cancer, it turns out most people are probably getting too little sun. Apparently the majority of American women are deficient in vitamin D-3—the form that is derived from sunlight’s interaction with bare skin.

Two recent studies suggest that women who get lots of Vitamin D are less likely to develop breast cancer. This adds to the already strong mounting evidence that the “sunshine vitamin” helps prevent many types of cancer, as well as improve survival rates among those already afflicted. What’s more, Vitamin D may also lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

In one study, high levels of Vitamin D translated to a 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Even modestly higher levels resulted in 10 percent less risk. A second study, this one by Canadian researchers, found that women who spent time outdoors, especially in their teen years, were 25 to 45 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women with less of the vitamin. Only 24 percent of women in the Canadian study had sufficient blood levels of Vitamin D at the time their breast cancer was diagnosed. Those who were deficient were nearly twice as likely to have their cancer recur or spread over the next 10 years, and 73 percent more likely to die of the disease. Read more ..

Inside Central Asia

New Kazakhstan Draft Religion Rules Still Violate International Human Rights Laws

July 7th 2008

Islamic Topics - Kazak Mosque

A Kazakhstan parliamentary working group has proposed amendments to some of the more onerous sections of that country’s Religion Law. But the evolving draft law still contains numerous provisions that violate international human rights law, Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and United Nations standards, diplomatic critics say. The draft law still discriminates against minority religious groups, the critics say.

Kazakhstan’s religious fabric is rich and diverse. The country has a slight Islamic majority while serving as home to many other religious groups, including Pentecostals, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’i, and Jews. Religious pluralism has long been an aspiration of the nation. But the draft law is making that goal hard to realize.

Leaders of many religious communities in Kazakhstan have expressed serious concerns to international religious news services. Lutheran Bishop Yuri Novgorodov complained that “If adopted, this would be a Law on Non-Freedom of Conscience.”

 A report by Forum 18 News Service, which covers minority religious affairs, notes that religious communities and human rights activists are especially alarmed about:

  • restrictions on “missionary activity” by any individual;
  • the necessity of a state review of religious beliefs of registered communities;
  • a ban and increased penalties on unregistered activity;
  • compulsory re-registration of all communities;
  • the impossibility of registering communities that only work in some of the nation’s many regions, such as the Russian Orthodox and Catholic dioceses;
  • severe restrictions on smaller religious groups;
  • the requirement of state permission to build places of worship;
  • strictures requiring children show written permission before taking part in any religious youth event;
  • a requirement that sharing religious beliefs in public places will be illegal without the consent of all citizens present;
  • and compulsory censorship of all imported religious literature.

Significant Lives

Remembering Harriet McBryde Johnson—A Woman With All The Spine And Muscle Anyone Could Hope For

June 30th 2008

Obits - Harriet McBryde Johnson
Harriet McBryde Johnson

On June 4, 2008, we lost a great American civil rights leader, Harriet McBryde Johnson. Harriet died at the age of 50 and was a well-known disability and civil rights attorney who fought for the right for life over death for Americans with disabilities.

I could easily write an obituary of Harriet's life as her accomplishments are many. But instead I will do what she would have done—what she always did—and take this opportunity to educate and to further her cause.

Harriet McBryde Johnson, a brilliant attorney, was a woman with spinal muscular atrophy. Her power came from her words, spoken and written, for those who she felt were being denied the choice of living.

In February 2003, Harriet graced the cover of the New York Times Magazine. The article, Unspeakable Conversations, discussed her meeting with Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, who made the inflammatory statement, “It does not seem quite wise to increase any further draining of limited resources by increasing the number of children with disabilities.”

What Singer was advocating was what Harriet railed against. She said, “Singer believes that it should be lawful under some circumstances to kill, at any age, individuals with cognitive impairments [as he considers their condition] so severe that he doesn’t consider them persons.”

“He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine, and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child.”

Not one to miss an opportunity, Harriet went to meet with Singer in person to debate the issue of the choice of aborting children with significant disabilities. Read more ..

Inside Human Trafficking

800,000 Suffering in Human Trafficking Create Modern Day World of Sex Slaves and Labor Servitude

June 23rd 2008

Politics - Mark Lagon
Amb. Mark P. Lagon

Earlier this month Secretary Rice released the eighth annual Trafficking in Persons Report—the flagship publication of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons which I direct. 

In virtually every country around the world, including the United States, men, women and children are held in involuntary servitude, exploited for commercial sex, coerced into work in factories and sweatshops. In some, children are forcibly recruited as soldiers.  These are forms of human trafficking. They are, in fact, forms of modern-day slavery. Estimates of the number of victims vary widely. According to the U.S. intelligence community, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. About 80 percent of them are female. Up to half are minors. These figures do not include millions who are trafficked for purposes of labor and sexual exploitation within national borders as well.

As a function of the information collected in compiling this document, we know far more today than we did eight years ago with the first edition, or even three years ago, when, for example, we started taking a closer look at forced labor practices.  Some key trends emerged this year which are best exemplified by an individual tragedy because it is truly these personal stories of anguish that motivate modern day abolitionists.

Last summer, I met a young Burmese woman, Aye Aye Win. She had been recruited to work in a shrimp processing sector of a neighboring country to Burma, together with 800 other Burmese men, women and children. Desperate to leave her country, Aye Aye Win described her horror to me at finding herself locked in a factory compound in the middle of a jungle, prevented from leaving or calling family by phone, or even eating decently. She and her Burmese brethren weren’t even paid. Read more ..

Inside the Military

Military Suicides Cause an Entire Battalion To Vanish

June 16th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Alarming statistics show suicides by active duty soldiers, National Guard, and Reserve troops rose to 115 in 2007, which is a nearly 13 percent increase over the 102 military suicides in 2006 and double the 2001 figure since the War on Terror began. Moreover, the number of troops with new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder almost doubled in 2007. Clearly, America’s men and women in military service are crying out for desperate help and counseling.

Though the conflict in Iraq has shown a remarkable reduction in casualties and injuries during the past year, the trauma of the conflict still imposes a lingering toll on our military forces at home and abroad. An unspeakable number of lives have already been lost with an equally distressing number of horrific injuries. Now it is clear that the problems of the war are not confined to the battlefield, but visit young veterans at home.

"Since the beginning of the global war on terror, the Army has lost over 580 soldiers to suicide, an equivalent of an entire infantry battalion task force," the Army said in a suicide prevention guide to installations and units that was recently posted on the army’s website. "This ranks as the fourth leading manner of death for soldiers, exceeded only by hostile fire, accidents and illnesses," it said. "Even more startling is that during this same period, 10 to 20 times as many soldiers have thought to harm themselves or attempted suicide." Read more ..

Edge of Justice

Mistrial Declared in Seattle Hate Shooting

June 9th 2008

Jewish Topics - Seattle Gunman Naveed Haq
Accused Gunman Naveed Haq
Photo: Joel Magalnick

A judge declared a mistrial in the case of the gunman who shot up the offices of this city's Jewish federation.

The King County prosecutor vowed to retry Naveed Haq, 32, who claimed he was not guilty by reason of insanity.

The jury said it could not agree on all but one of the 15 counts of murder and attempted murder against Haq, whose July 2006 shooting spree at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle left one woman dead and seriously injured five.

Jurors deliberated for eight days after a six-week trial that featured testimony from 32 prosecution witnesses and 16 for the defense.

“Substantial justice cannot be done,” Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas told a packed Seattle courtroom Wednesday. "There is no reasonable probability of the jury reaching an agreement. I declare a mistrial.”

Prosecutor Daniel Satterberg said he hopes to try the case again in six months. A hearing to select a new trial date is scheduled for June 12.



Clinton, Obama and McCain All Appear at AIPAC Conference

June 2nd 2008

World Leaders - Three 2008 Candidates

What rally will Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all attend? Answer: the annual AIPAC Policy Conference being held June 2 to June 4 in Washington, D.C.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Annual Policy Conference is the most important event of the year for America’s mainstream pro-Israel community, observers and Mideast media watchers. This year’s AIPAC
Policy Conference will be the largest ever, with more than 7,000 people participating and some 5,000 going
to Capitol Hill on the final day of the conference to lobby Congress in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship. The event is unparalleled in Washington policy circles.

Not only will all three remaining presidential candidates appear, so will all four leaders of Congress -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV),
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Rounding out the political headliners will be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The Policy Conference events will include major speeches, panels and forums covering a wide range of issues concerning the U.S.-Israel relationship, America’s support for Israel in her search for peace, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the future of the Middle East. Many of the events are off the record allowing experts to express themselves frankly. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Rescue of Christian Girls from Muslim Kidnappers Triggers Destructive Tempest in Nigeria

May 26th 2008

Islamic - Nigerian Christian Church Destroyed

Police in Nigeria on May 12 rescued two kidnapped Christian teenage girls – Mary Chikwodi Okoye, 15, and Uche Edward, 14. The girls were kidnapped in the Islamic enclave of Ningi three weeks ago in an attempt to force them to marry Muslim men. Police transported the two rescued girls to safety in southeastern Nigeria where their biological parents live.

Kidnapping of teenage Christian girls by Muslims has become a regular practice in Ningi. Muslims have kidnapped at least 13 Christian girls in the town, Christian sources said.

But after the two most recent girls were rescued, the Hisbah Command, a paramilitary arm of Kano state’s Sharia Commission, went on a rampage, attacking Christians and setting fire to churches. Damaged churches include the Deeper Life Bible Church, St Mary's Catholic Church, All Souls Anglican Church, Church of Christ in Nigeria, Redeemed Christian Church of God, and the Redeemed Peoples Mission.

Islamic stalwarts argue that forced marriages of young Christian girls to older Muslim men in Africa are a legitimate attempt to regain demographic growth of Islam in Africa. Islam is now waning on the continent. According to Sheikh Ahmad Al Katani, President of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya – an institution specializing in graduating imams and Islamic preachers, “There are now 1.5 million churches [in Africa] whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Ever year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

What We Love vs. What We 'Use'

May 19th 2008

Headshot - Liz Black headshot
Elizabeth Black

I usually hit delete even before reading sappy e-mail forwards. The older you get, the more of them come your way. They come from friends who’ve lost husbands through death or divorce, or newly retired women who sit at their computer early in the morning — as you get older you start waking up ridiculously early. As they sip their coffee, they begin reading and passing on the forwards that have come in from other friends who are also up way too early.

I wonder what women alone did in those early morning hours before computers? Men alone with too much time on their hands seem to pass on raunchy jokes. Well, actually, quite a few of my women friends also forward raunchy jokes. The butt of their jokes are usually men — the same kind of men passing on their brand of raunch. God bless them all.

Anyway, I was deleting a nice little sentimental forward from someone I’m very fond of, but happened to read the last two lines just before I hit delete.

“People are made to be loved, and things are made to be used — there is so much confusion in this world because people are being used and things are being loved.”

That line cut through my morning haze, and stayed with me throughout the day.

I’m at that crossroads with “things” again as I’m packing up to move from one house to another. I just did this a year ago prior to my cross-country move from Washington, D.C., to Lawrence. I thought I had stripped my “things” down to the bare minimum but now am discovering I kept a lot of things I don’t need. But this time it’s easier. Anything I haven’t used or haven’t worn in the year since moving to Lawrence is going out — that is unless it carries sentimental/historical significance that outweighs the usefulness factor. Therein lies the rub. I’m pretty sentimental ... and obsessed with family history. Read more ..

What Society Has Come To

Austria’s Painful Soul-Searching: The Frizl Incest Scandal

May 12th 2008

Headshot - Ken Bobu headshot
Ken Bobu

In the wake of the Josef Frizl incest scandal that has rocked Austria, the public has been drawn into a veritable vortex of self-recrimination, denial, defensiveness, utter helplessness, and anger at way in which the spectacle has unfolded—shocking even the most callous observers of criminal endeavors.

To summarize the case: Mr. Frizl began raping his daughter, Elizabeth (now 42), when she was eleven. When she was 18 and had already attempted to run away, he incarcerated her in the basement, tied with a leash, and occasionally gave her the option of starvation or sex. He later built a windowless nuclear fallout shelter-like bunker in his back yard, and designed the interior so as to have a secret dungeon hidden behind heavy key-coded doors that were locked electrically. Into this dungeon he secreted his daughter, while telling his wife that she had run away to join a cult. For the first number of years she was kept in her new dungeon alone. Then, as a result of repeated rapes, she became pregnant with the first of what were to become seven children—born of criminal incest.

Of the seven children, one, which was a twin, died at birth and was swiftly discarded in the furnace. The other six children were split up over time, with the babies "showing up" at the Frizl doorstep with "a note from the daughter" indicating her inability to care for them and requesting the parents to take care of their grandchildren. Three of the six children were thus reared "normally" in the grandparents’ household with the state agreeing to the grandparents’ assumption of custody and care, while the other three remained in the dungeon with their mother. After 24 years in her cell, one of the children in the dungeon, Kerstin, 19, became extremely ill, and Elizabeth persuaded her father to release the child to be treated at a hospital.


American Rituals

Dragging Fire

May 5th 2008

Headshot - Liz Black headshot
Elizabeth Black

Each spring in the Flint Hills they burn off the grasslands. This is to mimic the lightning-ignited prairie fires of ancient times, which kept trees and underbrush off the plains and somehow reinvigorated the grasslands. But I don’t like it one bit. I don’t care if it is somehow ecologically beneficial—although I don’t see how, given all the carbon it’s throwing up into the atmosphere and into my lungs.

Yes, I love the tall grass prairie—and the short grass prairie too. Yes, I’m enthralled by the vistas of rolling hills with nothing but grass as far as the eye can see. No, I don’t like prairie burning season.

This morning, a gray haze hovers in the air. I can’t see across Wakarusa Valley. My throat burns, I woke up coughing. I called off my morning walk. Up the road to the mailbox to figure out where my paper had been tossed—always an adventure—was enough for me. This morning my mood matches the sodden air. I feel phlegmatic, unable to focus. The haze has invaded my mind. Why am I here, I ask myself. How did I end up here on the northern edge of the Flint Hills? Here, where the range fires stop and the trees begin. Here straddling the borderline between pragmatism and introspection. Or to focus my malcontent more clearly, what’s with the prairie fires, anyway?
Skip ahead two weeks. Given the above, why would I accept a neighbor’s invitation to participate in a prairie burning? Curiosity? To prove that I am able to rise above my prejudices? To fuel my secret desire to punish myself? All of the above. Read more ..

What Society Has Come To

Bullycide: The Only Escape for Some Brutalized Children with Disabilities

April 28th 2008

Joyce Bender
Joyce Bender

Suicide is a leading cause of death for teenagers 10 to 19 years old. The number one cause is still depression. Depression can be triggered by events in a child’s life – but one of the leading causes has now emerged as “bullying.”

Attempting suicide because of being bullied in school is a shocking and sometimes inexplicable choice that many young people are making today in middle schools and high schools across America. This tragic form of death, known as Bullycide, is triggered by relentless bullying and depression. Neil Marr and the late Tim Field first coined the term in their book, Bullycide: Death at Playtime.

Even more tragically, researchers have discovered that almost 40 percent of bullied students are students with disabilities. Psychologists and social concern groups here and in the UK have finally discovered this hidden epidemic. Children with disabilities are not just being harassed, and made the brunt of cruel jokes, they are physically assaulted. Sadly, not enough is being done in our society and in our school systems to prevent these atrocities.

Children with disabilities are often assaulted as a form of entertainment for other children. At town hall meetings, college students with disabilities have told personal stories of years of bullying when they attended high school. One young woman told the story of bullies in high school stealing the joy stick from her wheelchair and directing the chair over and over again into the wall. This young woman spoke about attempting suicide to avoid the bullies. She said she was treated so poorly for so many years of school that she assumed she was a person of no value. In one case, a boy with an intellectual disability was hit after school by other children nearly every day for an extended period of time. Read more ..

What Society Has Come To

Teens Charged as Adults in Video Beating--The Charged: April Cooper, Brittini Hardcastle, Kayla Hassell, Britney Mayes, Cara Murphy, Mercades Nichols, Zachary Ashley, and Stephen Schumaker

April 14th 2008

Cheerleader Beating Suspects

(Top row, from left) April Cooper, Brittini Hardcastle, Kayla Hassell,
Britney Mayes, (Borrom row, from left) Cara Murphy, Mercades Nichols,
Zachary Ashley and Stephen Schumaker

For many, there are still so many unanswered questions about the shocking video of violence broadcast by television networks and across the Internet.

Six teenage girls and two boys have been charged as adults in the March 30 beating in Lakeland, Fla. of a 16-year-old acquaintance.

The teens videotaped the assault and allegedly threatened to post the film on the Internet at MySpace and YouTube. The incident has received worldwide media attention and commentary.

According to reports published late last week in the Lakeland-area newspaper The Ledger, and to Polk County Sheriff's Office affidavits, Mulberry High School cheerleader and honor student Victoria Lindsay had fought with her mother and was temporarily staying with her friend Mercades Nichols, 17, at Nichols' grandmother's house. On the evening of March 30, Lindsay entered the house, and Nichols and 17-year-old Brittini Hardcastle began to threaten her. Fourteen-year-old April Cooper struck Lindsay in the face and slammed her head into a bedroom wall, knocking her unconscious. Lindsay awoke on the living room couch, surrounded by Nichols, Hardcastle, Cooper, and three other girls, 17-year-old Britney Mayes, 16-year-old Cara Murphy and 15-year-old Kayla Hassell. Lindsay's complaint also alleges that she was held down and prevented from escaping as the girls took turns beating her while they videotaped the incident, statements supported in the video obtained by law enforcement.

Two male neighbors of Nichols, 17-year-old Zachary Ashley and 18-year-old Stephen Schumaker, are accused of acting as lookouts during the 30-minute assault. Read more ..

Enabling the Disabled

Casting Off the Stigma of Epilepsy

April 7th 2008

Joyce Bender headshot
Joyce Bender

I have a great way to quiet a room – start talking about my epilepsy to a group of strangers. There is always a look of surprise and shock when they discover that I am a person with epilepsy. I can read the “balloon” above the heads of those who suddenly look like deer caught in headlights. In cartoons, the “balloons” above the characters tell us what they are really thinking. I know the words in their “balloons” include: “I thought you were fine” or “I never knew she had this terrible problem” or “Oh, no, epilepsy, I do not want to talk to you about it.”

Most people with hidden disabilities do not discuss their disabilities, due to the stigma attached. In the United States today, approximately three million Americans are people with epilepsy and many do not disclose it. The reason they do not is their fear of being treated differently. With epilepsy comes this automatic fear of reprisal and discrimination not only in the workplace, but also in the family and in relationships. People with other hidden disabilities such as depression, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis face the same trauma associated with stigma.  Read more ..

Staying Competitive

Avoiding Math and Science like The Plague

March 31st 2008

Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Take a minute to think about the following: When was the last time you made a mathematical calculation in your head or by hand (yes, which means not using a calculator)?  Surely, some of you avoid math like the plague – especially when your teenage child comes around looking for help on their math homework – but you must admit that even in this compalculator era it comes in handy to be able to tally your bills in your head or figure out the miles per gallon you’re getting while driving along in traffic.

It seems reasonable to expect that people with high school diplomas and college degrees shouldn’t be afraid of a little algebra. We all took math in school, and although most of us struggled with the subject, and many of us hated every second of it, we did it and we got by. We got by, and it has helped us in some way or another while at college, work, or home. But if you thought math was hard for you, consider how hard your kids have it.

It shouldn’t be hard to understand why most American teenagers struggle with math and other basic subjects like science and English. Schools are overcrowded and rundown, teachers are underpaid and overworked, kids are over-stimulated and cannot focus, and administrators are forced to push testing over learning. The fact is that kids are left behind, and sadly, even when they’re not, they don’t always grasp what we think they do. Read more ..

Genetic Edge

Genomes of the Rich and Famous

March 17th 2008

Jesse Reynolds
Jesse Reynolds

The prospect of biotechnology companies capitalizing on genetic information in order to develop profitable products without properly compensating the studied populations brings to mind biocolonialism, in which politically and economically vulnerable indigenous groups are exploited. But a growing convergence of genomics and information technology may lead, ironically, to the genetic "exploitation" of society's most elite.

A new brief by the ETC Group on the rapidly growing direct-to-consumer genetic testing industry asserts that the genomic data - which clients pay handsomely to have taken from them - will likely be correlated with health data in order to develop new products:

The information gleaned from most genetic tests has very limited use for patients, but it is extremely valuable to companies and researchers trying to establish links between medical conditions and genetic variations, enabling - they hope - the development of drugs targeted to people with specific genetic profiles. In the shorter term, drugs that have been taken off the market due to unexpected adverse reactions in a small percentage of the population could be re-marketed as personalized drugs, intended only for those with the appropriate genetic profile. Through clever (and often misleading) marketing, some companies are persuading consumers to pay for storage of genetic data and health information, which the companies intend to use (e.g., sell) for research and drug development.   Read more ..

Significant Lives

A Great Expert on Genocide Dies on the Job

March 12th 2008

Stephen Feinstein picture
Stephen Feinstein

Of one America’s most knowledge experts on genocide suddenly passed away a few days ago.

Historian Stephen Feinstein, 65, died on the job last week during a presentation at the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival. Feinstein lapsed mid-sentence during his remarks. His wife reportedly rushed to his side and summoned paramedics. But at the hospital nothing could be done to repair what was close to an aortic aneurism. The loss to his family, to his friends, to the community and to scholarship will be permanent.

As the founder and director the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Feinstein was a expert on the unlimited darkness surrounding humanity’s greatest atrocities—the effort to destroy an entire people by means of genocide. His collection of books and articles was on the finest. His cavernous knowledge of the small but important details was as encyclopedic. As smart as he was, he was never afraid to learn more, and raced toward new facts the way a thirsty man runs toward water.

Feinstein fearlessly devoted himself to the spectrum of the evil, from the Holocaust, to the decimation of the American Indian, to the Turkish genocide against Armenians, to the current systematic mass murders in Darfur. He was fearless because he stood up to the politics of genocide. Although pressured and threatened by Turkish elements, he refused to desist in publicizing and documenting the Ottoman genocide against Armenians. When the USHMM in Washington tried to dismiss the Nazi-allied pogrom against Iraqi Jews, known as “the Farhud,” Feinstein refused to back down. When it came time to shine a bright light on the Carnegie Institution’s financial and scientific support for Nazi eugenics, he worked vigorously. Read more ..

Equal Rights

The Waiting Game Must End for People with Disabilities

February 20th 2008

Joyce Bender headshot
Joyce Bender

A wonderful book is “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a classic in many ways, as it explores the civil rights movement that he was the father of. If you have never read this book, I would suggest you read it. It is always important to know your history and to understand what formed issues we deal with in America today.

In 2010, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1990, after years of work by former Congressman Tony Coelho, the great patriot Justin Dart Jr., and many, many other great leaders, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, in front of a joyful crowd spread across the south lawn of the White House. What a great day for all people of ability!  We all believed we would be free; of course, freedom means we would all have the treasure of employment.

We know that to be free in this country, we must be employed. You cannot buy a car, go on vacation, buy a home, or send your children to college without employment. No employment means no freedom. Read more ..

The Genetic Battlefield

Stem-Cell Science Outruns Political Debate

December 11th 2007

Marcy Darnovsky
Marcy Darnovsky

Research teams at two prestigious universities announced a major feat of biological alchemy this week: They've taken ordinary human cells and turned them into cells with all the characteristics and promise of embryonic stem cells.

This entirely new way to derive what the researchers are calling induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells uses neither eggs nor embryos. Instead, it reprograms body cells, reactivating genes that return them to the undifferentiated state characteristic of "conventional" embryonic stem cells.

If the new technique holds up, it will also reprogram the science and politics of stem-cell research. Read more ..

The Genetic Battlefield

Beyond the Embryo Fight

December 11th 2007

Richard Hayes

The debate over cloning embryos for stem cell research has been one of the most divisive and unpleasant public controversies of the last decade. Partisans on both sides have sought to polarize the issue for political advantage rather than look for middle-ground positions that a majority of Americans would welcome.

In general, Republicans have equated medical research using single-celled clonal embryos with murder, while Democrats have promoted state ballot initiatives enshrining human embryo cloning as a constitutional right and committing billions of taxpayer dollars to a procedure that could open the door to socially pernicious applications, threaten women's health and exacerbate healthcare inequities.

Now we have a chance to put the cloning debate behind us. Read more ..

Culinary Edge

Iron Chef meets IndeBleu

November 18th 2007

IndeBlue Chef
Chef Ricky Moore

Washington’s tres chic Indebleu Restaurant has just appointed Chef Ricky Moore as its new Executive Chef.  He replaces Chef Vikram Garg who oversaw the Indebleu kitchen for nearly three years and helped establish modern Indian cuisine in Washington, DC area. Chef Moore will oversee all operational aspects of the kitchen while continuing to develop Indebleu’s modern cuisine featuring Indian flavors.

Chef Moore previously worked at several noted Washington establishments, including Agraria at Washington’s Waterfront, as well as Equinox, Galileo, Vidalia, and Lespinasse restaurants. He also served as exec chef at Parrot Cage and South Water Kitchen, both in Chicago. 
Chef Moore is scheduled to compete on a special Thanksgiving themed "Iron Chef America" November 18th on The Food Network. The restaurant will host its best customers for a special viewing that night in its lounge with the Chef on hand to serve themed appetizers.

Getting Off Oil

Honda’s Decisive Clarity Steals LA Auto Show

November 14th 2007

Honda Clarity Fueling
Honda's new Clarity

American Honda Motor Company stole the Los Angeles Auto Show with decisive clarity today. Shortly after show doors opened, the company announced the summer 2008 initial rollout of its sleek, new and tantalizing four-passenger zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. The long-awaited, market-ready hydrogen car, called “Clarity,” will use zero oil and feature zero emissions.

No longer experimental, the Honda FCX Clarity is powered by a breakthrough, “V Flow” fuel cell stack that delivers vastly increased power and range over previous FCX hydrogen models. The FCX Clarity utilizes its V Flow stack in combination with a new compact and efficient lithium ion battery pack and a single hydrogen storage tank to power the vehicle's electric drive motor. Hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack, where chemical energy from the reaction is converted into electric power to propel the vehicle. Additional energy captured through regenerative braking and deceleration is stored in the lithium ion battery pack. It is used to supplement power from the fuel cell when needed. The vehicle's only emission is water. Indeed, the company invites drivers to drink the exhaust, and has even distributed novelty drinking glasses to drive home the point. Read more ..

Mortgage Crisis

An Overnight Fix to the Housing and Mortgage Crisis--Bring Back Assumable Mortgages

September 24th 2007

Edwin Black

No one needs to be reminded that a significant segment of our population has become geographically and financially immobilized by an infectious condition known generally as “the housing and mortgage crisis.” Make no mistake. The crisis involves not just the so-called “sub-prime” business, but ordinary creditworthy consumers battered by financial misconduct and over-speculation by developers.

People can’t move on because far fewer people can move in or move out. Too many houses exist for too few buyers. Prices have tumbled. Inventories of unsold parcels have skyrocketed. The whole concept of property as “a sure bet” in America has been threatened. For each person who cannot sell a house, buy a house or suffers a foreclosure, the pain and hurt is multiplied like a slow-moving epidemic throughout the domino-structured housing market. Our national housing crisis in turn is flattening or eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs and economic vitality.

Now to the overnight fix: Bring back “the assumable mortgage.” The financial world abolished this age-old method of home buying and selling during the financially turbulent seventies and eighties when President Jimmy Carter’s double-digit inflationary society inspired the rapacious mortgage lending industry to pressure the last one to five percent assumable loans out of existence and contractually prevent any new ones. Read more ..

Discriminatory Insurance

Stop Life Insurance Discrimination Against Travelers

September 23rd 2007

Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham H. Foxman

The U.S. House of Representatives finally has passed a bill to protect consumers from unfair life insurance discrimination on the basis of past or future foreign travel. This is a much needed and welcome development. For far too long, insurance companies have routinely denied coverage to individuals because of their travel plans.

This unfair practice has adversely impacted everyone from tourists to corporate executives to students studying abroad. Insurance companies typically ask questions on life insurance applications about past or future travel destinations. Those travelers listing countries appearing on the U.S. State Department’s advisory list – including Israel - have too often found themselves rejected for coverage.

We understand that the insurance industry relies on risk assessment to determine whether to provide coverage, but denials should only occur when bona fide statistical differences in risk or exposure have been substantiated. Read more ..

Online Banking

BBT Apologizes for Broken Online Banking Site

September 12th 2007

BBT Online Service Unavailable
BBT'S broken website notice

BBT is still struggling to bring its online service back to full functionality and cope with outraged consumer backlash. Shortly after the bank "improved" its online software on August 3, 2007 to make it “safer, faster, and more convenient for you,” the website slowed to a crawl, lost and duplicated transactions, clobbered integrated customer financial management software such as Quicken, and in many cases became completely inaccessible. The problems were first reported exclusively by The Cutting Edge. Online function problems heightened during late August and by Labor Day the BBT site became completely inaccessible for many customers during most business hours. In early September, patches and fixes were installed, but problems have persisted so the company has been forced to post a prominent apology on its logon page.

“Recently, you may have experienced slow response times while accessing BB&T OnLine banking.” The statement reads, adding, “Over the past several days, you may also have been unable to log on to BB&T OnLine at different times. We understand this may have made it difficult for you to access your accounts and schedule your bill payments. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. Please know that our technicians are working diligently to expedite a solution. Our goal at BB&T OnLine is to provide you with the Perfect Client Experience for every online interaction. We know we have fallen short of this promise and want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to correct this problem. Thank you for your patience as we work to resolve our performance issues and restore your confidence in BB&T OnLine.”


Consumer Bank News

Impersonal HSBC Doesn't Want Customers to Call their Branch

September 3rd 2007

HSBC Local But Not

A recent call responding to an exquisite HSBC bank brochure inviting new local customers revealed a startling and noisome policy. HSBC does not permit its customers to call their local branch with questions or to receive information. Phone numbers are not listed on the bank's massive website and even the phone company won't provide the number--they are unlisted. In order to reach their local bank branch, consumers must first call an offshore call center in the Philippines and then after evaluation, that offshore call center will decide whether consumers need to be connected. HSBC, which claims to be a global network of "local banks," stands by its policy, insisting it is for the customer's protection and to enhance customer service. One phone bank representative argued, "How can our tellers get anything done if they are answering the phone?" The HSBC phone bank representative went on to explain that all major banks refuse to divulge their branch phone numbers. Not so. Read more ..

Online Banking

BBT Online Banking Groans and Help Elusive as E-Banking Expands

September 2nd 2007

BBT Online Service Unavailable

BBT customers have been groaning recently over BBT's overtaxed and sometimes dysfunctional online banking website. The website was inaccessible for several days at the end of August, and the first days of September after the Labor Day weekend, especially in the morning when more people tend to log on. System burps and stutters caused some linked Quicken money management programs to record false double payments created by the overtaxed BBT online site. Attempts to reach the company’s much touted “24x7” online banking help line to correct problems were fruitless. Not a few customers gave up after multiple 30-minute and 45-minute hold sessions hearing the same tedious on-hold messages. Worse, BBT’s online Quicken assistance does not even operate on the weekends when most people often need such help managing their personal finances. Anxious branch officers trying to help their customers straighten out glitches were subjected to the same frustration since they were calling the same BBT toll-free number. At press time, the website was back to normal with some of the glitches resolvable by manually deleting false Quicken entries, and re-entering the needed BBT information. But the web meltdown was a warning sign that with the explosion in online banking, driven both by personal convenience and the banking industry’s growing insistence on paperless relationships, more meltdowns can be expected from BBT and others.

Genetically Modified Food

Unmasking the FDA's Policy on Cloned Food

August 12th 2007

Science - Mouse in Beaker

The FDA is still considering whether to allow meat and milk from cloned animals into America’s food chain, without so much as a warning label. Polls show that Americans oppose cloned foods 3 to 1, and the livestock and dairy industries have repeatedly said that cloned hotdogs and milkshakes make little business sense. Neverthless, the push for cloned livestock has been insistent for years.

In 2003, approval was said to be six months away; that didn’t happen, presumably because of fears of public outrage, but the public relations campaign continued. At the very end of 2006, a long-awaited draft “Risk Assessment” was published, inspiring a flurry of ill-informed puff pieces intended to legitimize the technology. That failed: the FDA received over 100,000 public comments, overwhelmingly opposed to food from cloned animals.

Officials then paused to consider their final decision. Some reports say that FDA approval will come later this year. Others suggest that it may take two years. The mainstream media seems to accept that it’s only a matter of time, no matter what the public wants – and no matter what the real scientific evidence is.

A scathing report by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) exposed embarrassing if not crippling inadequacies in the data the FDA used to suggest that cloned food is safe. The CFS report showed there are no peer-reviewed safety studies on meat from cloned cows, pigs or goats, and only three inconclusive ones on milk; this suggests further study, not immediate approval. Even before that, the National Academies of Science – the government’s science advisors – articulated concerns that the processes for assessing cloned food safety are currently not up to par. Read more ..

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