Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

1st 2012 election post – know your capitals !

July 27, 2012

Summer is waning, the election is 102 days away, and I am back to (occasional) blogging !

Almost nothing from this administration surprises me, but even I was shocked by the latest mask slippage from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. He was asked by an unnamed reporter:

Reporter: What city does this Administration consider to be the capital of Israel? Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?

Jay Carney, White House press secretary: Um… I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not changed. Can we, uh…

He squirms for another minute or so, not answering the question:

Last I checked, Israel’s Parliament and President’s residence were still in Jerusalem.

But according to this administration, including the State Department spokesperson, either Jerusalem is in a separate country or something.


Berlin, take two – videos and pictures

December 23, 2011

What a great trip ! We sang some great concerts, spent time in a dynamic city with lots of history, and met lots of Jewish choral singers from around the world. There were no major snafus and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, a bunch of us even got to see the New England Patriots game on Sunday !

I will have more to say about the trip and Berlin, but for now here are some videos from our performances. First, Cantor Louise Treitman does her Marlene Dietrich imitation at the concert we gave at the Jewish museum, singing “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt,” or “I am made for love from head to toe.” Louise is a wonderful soprano who can sing just about anything very well.

Second is a photo montage of the trip with our performance of Lewandowski’s setting of Psalm 36 . My old friend, Cantor Joel Caplan from Caldwell, NJ sings the solo. Joel is a friend of Zamir Chorale of Boston and has toured with the chorus in Italy and Eastern Europe. What can I say, good tenors are always hard to find !

Some of you may also want to check out photo albums from the trip on Facebook:

My Facebook album

Judy Pike’s album

Lewandowski Festival albums

Zamir/Hinda Eisen’s albums

If anyone has other links to pictures from the trip that are accessible to the public, please send them and I’ll post them here.

Berlin, first take

December 17, 2011

I am having a great time on my Berlin trip, so far, for the  Louis Lewandowski Festival. Thursday night, we sang a concert at the Krankenhauskirche im Wuhlgarten. A substantial audience (in a small church) seemed to really enjoy the concert, and it was both fun and meaningful to sing. Here is a link to a song from that performance:

Saturday night, we gave our second concert at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Not a huge audience, since all 8 choirs participating in the festival gave concerts in different venues, but we enjoyed it and the audience did, as well.

On Friday, we had a very interesting tour of Jewish Berlin. More precisely, it was a tour of formerly Jewish Berlin. Before the war, 170,000 Jews lived in the city of over 4 million. Today, 11,000 (?) Jews live in a city of 3.4 million.

We spent about an hour in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin, which survived the war unscathed. A documentary made about the cemetery, “In Heaven, Underground,” is reviewed here. I am looking forward to watching it, since a DVD was included in the package for all festival participants.

Here is the gravestone of the subject of our festival. The inscription is “Liebe macht das Lied unsterblich!” (Love makes the melody immortal!):

Louis Lewandowski gravestone

The prewar Jewish population was quite prominent and prosperous. We were impressed by the size of this memorial.

Large mausoleum

We happened upon the memorial to one of Berlin’s financially successful Jewish families. The Kempinski family owned a successful hotel. During our bus tour, we learned it was confiscated by the Nazis. That was sort of a running theme – here was a business, built by Jews, confiscated by the Nazis.

Kempinski grave

After our visit to the cemetery, we learned that the round metal plaque is actually hinged. If you open it, you can see a picture of Berthold Kempinski at his tomb. While images are discouraged or forbidden in Jewish cemeteries, Kempinski found a way around the prohibition!

More about Berlin, a fascinating city, in future posts.

October 1939 – leaving Germany

December 13, 2011

After my recent post, My trip to Germany, a reader of the blog asked for details of my father’s exit from Germany. I don’t know if his story is any more than an interesting anecdote, but the story has some drama and gives a little insight into the world in 1939, so here it is.

Before it was too late, one of my father’s uncles realized it was time to leave Germany. In 1937, the family applied to immigrate to the United States. Just after the Depression, the US was not nearly as welcoming to immigrants as in previous years and there was a small quota of visas permitted. In March of 1939, my grandfather’s number came up and he got a visa to the US, but could not bring the entire family. After arriving, he was directed by the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish organization, to possible opportunities. He landed a job in Herrin, Illinois, a coal mining town in the southern part of the state. Members of the small Jewish community signed an affidavit pledging that his family would not become “wards of the state” and visas came through for the rest of the family.

So in October, 1939, after Poland had fallen, my father, 10, and his younger sister, 9, set out with their mother to sail from Holland to the US (an older sister was already attending high school in England, where she stayed for the duration of the war). The trio traveled from Stuttgart, in the south, to Düsseldorf, in northern Germany, where they stayed with relatives.

A week before their ship was due to sail, my grandmother and her two young children left for Holland. The Dutch would not let them enter, saying it was too soon before their voyage. The German border guard would not let them back into Germany, leaving them in no man’s land between the two countries. At this point, my grandmother, a customarily deferential woman who I never saw assert herself, told me that “she lost it,” not knowing what would happen to her and her children.

She berated the guard in a way that struck home. “This is how you treat the wife of a man who fought and was twice wounded for the Fatherland.” My grandfather had fought for the Kaiser in World War I and was left with a short leg and special boot resulting from one of his bullet wounds.

It was as if a switch was flipped inside the guard. His behavior went from mean to obsequious in an instant. He welcomed my grandmother and her children into the guard shack and said, “Here, Mutti [mother], sit down. Can I get you something to eat?” My grandmother answered him, “I wouldn’t touch your food if it was the last thing left on earth.”

The confrontation over, my father, his sister, and mother started back to Düsseldorf to wait out the week before leaving. But there was more drama. Returning late at night by train to Düsseldorf, they finally found a taxicab. A German officer said he was commandeering the taxicab and that they had to leave it. A Dutchman who arrived on the same train came to their aid. “So this is the vaunted chivalry of the German army?” He shamed the officer into letting the mother and her two young children take the taxi.

A week later, the trio traveled to Rotterdam, this time successfully. On Friday night, they ate Shabbat dinner in a boarding house with 100 or so other German Jewish refugees before they were all due to sail in the morning. Someone said they should say the Birkat Hamazon or Grace after Meals. As he knew it by heart, having attended a Jewish day school after Jews could no longer attend German schools, my grandmother volunteered my father and he led the group, their last Shabbat dinner before emigrating.

Some of my father’s relatives also made it to the US before or soon after the war broke out. Others secured visas to Chile, where some still live but most have emigrated to the US or to Israel. But not all were so fortunate. His hosts in Düsseldorf, Uncle Felix, Aunt Herta, and cousin Lutz, along with other relatives, perished in the Holocaust.

After arriving in the US, the trio stayed a few days with relatives in New York before reuniting with my grandfather in Herrin. In 1944, the family moved to Chicago, where my father grew up, raised a family, and still lives (in the suburbs). He has been back to Germany, once. In 2001, he returned to Stuttgart, the city of his birth, as a guest of the region, Württemberg, where he was born.

My trip to Germany

December 9, 2011

I am about to return to Germany for my 2nd visit this month. The first was a business trip, nothing special about the location other than the right facility for doing some testing happened to be in Essen, near Düsseldorf. The second is more exciting. I am traveling with the Zamir Chorale of Boston to participate in the Louis Lewandowski Festival commemorating a German Jewish composer of synagogue music from the 1800s. Amazingly, some of his melodies are the “traditional” ones used in Ashkenazi synagogues worldwide.

The choir I sing with is one of several from around the world coming to participate in the festival. We will give concerts in a church, the Krankenhauskirche im Wuhlgarten, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and in the large Rykestrasse synagogue.

Germany makes many Jews uncomfortable. Germany was one of the first places where Jews could participate fully  and excel in the culture of a Western nation state. Before World War II, there were many prominent Jewish musicians, philosophers, scientists and other professionals. Then came the Nazis and the Holocaust, something with personal resonance.

My father was born in Germany and left in October, 1939. For years, he spurned everything German and would not think of supporting their economy by buying anything German made. His only exception was when he picked up his childhood instrument again in his 40s. His instrument was the bassoon, and the only good bassons were German.

I was with him for a couple days on his only return trip, so far. The state of Württemberg and city of Stuttgart flew in and hosted a group Jews originally from that region, along with some family members. They were euphemistically called ehemalige Bewohner, or former residents. The group was received by the mayor of Stuttgart in city hall and welcomed with dignity and with formal speeches. I saw this act of bringing back the Jews who were forced to leave as a way for Germans to do Teshuvah, or repentance. In a strange quirk, the musical entertainment for the ceremony was a classical piece for Fagott-Trio, a bassoon trio !

I am inclined to consider modern Germany and its inhabitants as having a clean slate. After the war, modern Germany has been a better friend and support to the state of Israel than many other European nations. I do not have negative associations with present-day Germany due to the Holocaust, so I am looking forward to this trip. In fact, this trip gives me a chance to continue some family legacy. Until 1939, my grandfather sang in and conducted a synagogue choir. In Germany.

Women’s studies will disappear in 50 years

July 28, 2011

Even in this period of occasional blogging, I like to cover issues other than politics. Like most of my posts, this was inspired by an online article I read claiming When ‘science’ looks for sexism, it finds it. It touches on two topics I find compelling: how unbiased science really is and the absurdity of some politically correct ideas that fly in the face of biology.

I plan on writing about my own experience as a scientist and how it informs me about objective and scientific truth. For now, I’ll merely say that this article makes the case that you often find what you are looking for. The other aspect about it that intrigued me is the focus on women. The article discusses a study published in a “feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal,” so the sexism at issue is directed against women.

I am familiar with numerous examples from the generation preceding mine (I am 52) where women were pigeonholed, not valued as productive members of society outside the home, and generally held back. Men were favored, encouraged to pursue challenging careers, and women were not. It is much harder to make that claim for my generation and I think it is impossible to make for my childrens’ generation. But with the time lag we often see in social engineering, the fixes are being applied after they are really needed, and swing the pendulum to the other side, at least for a while. That’s OK – some amount of overshoot is always going to happen when you react to a problem or injustice.

When I went on a college tour with my son, we visited a place known as Diversity University. Four of the five tour guides available were women, and three of them were majoring in Women and Gender Studies. These bright, engaged, socially conscious women decided to focus their college studies on their half of the population.

It occurred to me that unlike some of the other politically correct university departments, like African American Studies, Women and Gender Studies is a totally artificial subject. Sure there are differences between the sexes, but studying (and celebrating) them is like glorifying Anatomy and Physiology. When the pendulum comes to rest at its new equilibrium, which I predict will be in about 50 years, I think that department will have disappeared. I predict it will go the way of other fads that similarly occupied the minds of some of our most socially engaged thinkers, like eugenics, which once boasted hundreds of courses in leading universities.

If you read one opinion piece this week…

November 19, 2010

Make it Conrad Black’s The Path to Economic Disaster. One of my new favorite columnists, he does not disappoint. The column is on Bernanke’s flawed approach to restimulate the economy by having the Fed buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds. Black eviscerates it:

what is in contemplation is an immediate 30 percent increase in the money supply (as more conventionally defined), thrust in cash into the hands of largely foreign bondholders, designed to incite spending by those whose bonds are redeemed and to reduce the value of the U.S. dollar (despite official disclaimers), facilitating U.S. exports and discouraging imports. No international reserve currency has survived such a harum-scarum move intact.

In two paragraphs, he summarizes the policy reaction to the Great Depression more clearly than any book on the subject, including this snippet:

Roosevelt got most of the equation right, as he guaranteed bank deposits and reorganized the banking system, which quickly reopened; put many millions of people to work in workfare infrastructure and conservation programs; brought in Social Security and unemployment insurance; partly abandoned the gold standard; devalued the dollar; refinanced home mortgages; and had farmers vote by category to limit production, raising prices.

On to our fearless leader:

President Obama had a good trip to India and Indonesia, and is moving steadily to strengthen relations with those powers and Russia and Japan, which will be the real bulwark against the increasingly irritating shenanigans of the Chinese and their naughty North Korean puppet. If he could steel himself to take out the incubating Iranian nuclear military capacity, and not waste more time on sanctions, he might still rank as a force for stability in the world, and not just as he has been, an agent for disintegration of the Western Alliance, and the facilitator of an immense rush for deterrent nuclear weapons, while he mouths delusional exhortations to disarmament, as if in a Monty Python farce.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Two candidates for Congress I like

October 20, 2010

I was tickled to learn that my former across-the-street neighbor, Rick Woldenberg, is chairman of Joel Pollak’s campaign finance committee. Rick runs a toy company that is suffering because of the draconian toy safety legislation implemented by the Democratic Congress in response to the Chinese toy lead paint issue. Getting the cold shoulder from his legislators in his quest to amend this well-intentioned but overbearing regulation, he changed from being a lifelong Democratic supporter to Republican fundraiser.

I first heard of Joel Pollak when he asked Barney Frank if he bore any responsibility for the housing crash as a supporter of Fannie and Freddie’s mortgages-for-all-regardless-of-creditworthiness policy. Joel became a Youtube sensation with his reasonableness contrasting with Barney’s arrogance.

Joel is running against Jan Schakowsky, a big J Street supporter, major water-carrier for Obama, and career politician. Schakowsky famously admitted that Obamacare is designed to lead to a single-payer government-run healthcare system. Schakowsky said Mr. Woldenberg’s success as a fundraiser, is proof that “very cynical … special interests are highly engaged in the campaign.”

Joel Pollak is strong on Israel and is endorsed by To Protect Our Heritage PAC. He is right on the economic issues confronting us and I am supporting him. Please consider doing the same:

Oh, and if you want to help me retire another career politician, Barney Frank, please check this out:

I am supporting his opponent, Sean Bielat, an ex-Marine and iRobot executive who is also right on the economic issues and a strong supporter of Israel.

Election milestone ! [UPDATED]

October 8, 2010

According to Intrade’s prediction market, the GOP is now predicted to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats next month. Real people are betting real money that the Senate will change hands, with the contract for the Dems to retain control dipping below 50 for the first time (price is equivalent to percentage probability the event happens).

It is old news that the House will change hands – that contract has been in the GOP’s favor since the end of June.

For those of you new to prediction markets like Intrade and the Iowa Electronic Markets, studies have shown that they are very good predictors of elections, with an error that is comparable to or a little better than good polls, about 1.2% for Presidential elections.

UPDATE: The Senate contract shifted nearly 3 points during the day in the GOP’s favor. Dems are currently at 47% probability to retain control.

UPDATE 2: Down to 45% probability Dems retain the Senate.

Conrad Black on the fall election

October 7, 2010

Conrad Black is a fascinating figure, born into wealth, newspaper empire builder, biographer, convicted felon, who has recently been writing in the National Review, one of my favorite journals.

His take on the upcoming election is the most interesting I have read. His view of Democratic leaders is trenchant and unsparing (he also skewers Harry Reid):

[Nancy Pelosi] will be remembered as a stylish and elegant woman who always got the votes for her president, but was identified almost unerringly with dumb causes.

[Obama] thought he could improve the conduct of the world’s evil and mischievous regimes by pointing out that the U.S. was no longer governed by a white and traditional Judeo-Christian. He apparently thought he could create a self-sustaining economic revival by borrowing a trillion dollars and hurling it like spaghetti at the hobby horses of the Democratic leaders in the Congress. Neither initiative has succeeded, and all indications are that the administration lacks the intellectual originality to produce a solution to the economic impasse, or to cobble together a workable foreign policy.

Black believes Republicans will regain control of both the House and Senate, but fears that no one is addressing the critical issue of the day, America’s leadership in the world. He is very concerned that Obama will wreak foreign policy havoc and 2012 may not bring about the change that is needed:

The presidential selection process has not elevated appropriate people since 1992, the presidency having been capably or even brilliantly occupied for the previous 60 years, except for the Carter interlude. This sequence is becoming extremely dangerous.

Read the whole thing.