Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is There Life in "The Death of Klinghoffer"

 “Here was a wanton murder of a helpless human being. Trying to portray both sides and show they’re not monsters, but human beings who did foul, awful things to advance their cause, shows that it was a horrific event. If by producing this those questions are raised again, is that a bad thing? Discussions need to be had.”

The above quote by Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor,  as cited in the recent issue of the Jewish Daily Forward, was his comment on whether the opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" is, in fact, anti-Semitic.  I guess he doesn't believe it is.  The opera has come under major criticism for its supposed anti-Semitic theme and this criticism has resulted in the cancellation of the Metropolitan Opera's world-wide HD transmissions of the live presentation of the work, scheduled for this November.

I have not seen it, nor do I plan to see it (I am not an opera-person) and have no idea whether the theme is anti-Semitic or not.  If the opera portrays all Jews, by virtue of their Jewishness, as a group that should be despised and perhaps even murdered, this is anti-Semitism.  If the opera justifies and praises the killing of Klinghoffer because he was Jewish - that is a clear form of anti-Semitism.   On the other hand, if it portrays the horrors of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the monstrous results that it may incur, is this really a form of anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitic, or not, the right to stage it should not be in question.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Is It a Disease or Is It a "Condition"

An article by Dr. Aaron E. Carroll in today's NY Times (The Trouble With Labeling a Health Problem a Disease, June 2) contains important information regarding the over-treatment of "conditions" that are often just variations of a normal physiology, but that have often been termed "diseases," and how the mere labeling of an individual with a "disease" often causes unnecessary life-style consequences.  What follows is the final conclusion, which I believe bears repeating:

"Allowing the medicalization of normal variations in physiology to be transformed into 'treatable conditions' is leading to unintended consequences.  We're spending billions of dollars on treatments that might not, or don't work.  We're making people worry when they don't have to.  And we may be causing actual health problems in the process.  Our job as doctors is to make sick patients healthy not to make healthy patients sick."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bloomberg, Democracy, and the Woolly Mammoth

In his recent commencement address to Harvard graduates, Michael Bloomberg emphasized how democracies function by empowering the propagation of all ideas, whether liberal or conservative, and followed by chastising universities for their apparent one-sidedness in promoting an  overwhelmingly liberal ideology.  He also emphasized the importance of the acceptance of evidence-based science and cited an interesting example of the lack-thereof using the following little-known fact.

An eight year old girl wrote a letter to her state representative in South Carolina, suggesting that the state adopt the woolly mammoth as the "official state fossil."  (Apparently many states have adopted such "state fossils.")  Though agreed to by both houses of the state legislature, an amendment to declare that this fossil was, in fact, created by God on the sixth day of creation, was seriously considered prior to adoption.  After some debate, the amendment was rejected and the bill subsequently was passed without amendments.

If a democratically elected legislature had, however, decided that evolution is not science, and that the state fossil was created by God on day six of creation,  what is one to do.  As Winston Churchill is said to have said (and I paraphrase, I think) "Democracy is the worst form of government....... except for all the others."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Visa Waivers and Anti-Semitism

In a recent article in The Times of Israel (Apr 25) Abraham Foxman, the outspoken National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized the policy of the United States for continuing to deny Israel admission to a list of countries for which the United States has waived tourist visa requirements.  "The current visa refusal rate for Israelis is at 9.7%.  To be admitted to the visa waiver program, a 3% rate or lower is required.  Data for Israelis aged 21 to 26 shows a rejection rate as high as 32%." (US Dept of State Spokesperson Julia Frifield, as quoted by the Times of Israel, Apr 25)

Foxman accuses the State Department of refusing to add Israel to the waiver list because of American concern for Israeli spying following the Jonathan Pollard affair.  The State Department explained that  reasons for visa refusals are primarily related to an increase in the number of young Israelis entering as "tourists" but then working illegally, and Israel's refusal to treat Palestinian-Americans wishing to enter Israel as it treats other Americans.  Other reasons are said to be the absence of US statutory requirements concerning certain data-sharing agreements and the issuance of e-passports.  (I am not, however, denying that espionage might be included as an additional reason.)

The U.S. State Department lists only 38 countries where tourist visas are not required. The only country in the Western Hemisphere (recently added, by the way) on the list is Chile - even Canada is not included.  No African country is included, and only five Asian countries make the list.

Foxman, however, asserting that these visa issues are primarily related to espionage, concludes that the State Department seems to "draw on false stereotypes that Jews are disloyal citizens and cannot be trusted."  Fear of Israeli spying, says Foxman "taps into prejudice."  In other words, the government of the United States, in its tourist visa-waiver policy, is anti-Semitic - strong words making strong allegations.

Anti-semitism should not be the first thought when evaluating an attitude, or a nation's policies towards Israel.  Even singling out Israel for criticism when there are other countries even more deserving of admonition, should not automatically be construed as anti-Semitism. (After all, even  Israelis themselves often attack their government's policies!) Such statements may be unfair, but are not necessarily anti-Semitic.  I am not contesting that some Israel-directed criticism may be anti-Semitic,  only that one should not attach this label without further scrutiny.  Criticizing a "wrong" is always "right" even if other "wrongs" are not included in that critique. However, refusal to include those other "wrongs" when challenged, indicates true prejudice.

Israel is a state, not a people.  Criticism of a state is limited to its policy and is not a criticism of its people.  Criticizing Vatican policy should not be thought anti-Catholic, criticizing Russian policy should not be considered anti-Russian, criticizing North Korean policy should not be be considered "anti-Korean."

Israel is the "Jewish State," but it is not the Jewish Nation and it is not the Jewish People.  All Jews - in Israel and elsewhere - comprise its peoplehood and its nationhood.  Unsubstantiated and stereotypical criticism of Jews, prejudicial restrictions or untoward treatment of Jews, or just plain prejudicial hatred of Jews - that's anti-Semitism.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Who's a Boy and Who's a Girl, or None of the Above

A Brazilian cave insect has done a most unusual sex-role reversal, a new study finds: Females have penises, and males have vaginas.  All four known species of the genus Neotrogla in Brazil have this anatomy, which has not been seen in any other animal, said Rodrigo Ferreira, a cave biologist at the Federal University of Lavras in Brazil and an author of the study, in the journal Current Biology.

This fascinating phenomenon was reported in the Science Section of the Apr 22 issue of the New York Times.  Please note the phrase "Females have penises and males have vaginas."  It's this phrase that piqued my interest.  So if a human male develops a vagina (naturally or artificially) is he still a male?  The same question, of course, holds for the female.

The New York Times referred to those insects with new vaginas as males and to those with new penises as females.  So what makes an insect (or a human) male or female?  Scientifically speaking, determination of sex has been dependent on chromosomal analysis. Yet we are now permitting people to choose to be whatever gender (sex) they wish to be with total disregard to external appearances or chromosomal analysis.  It is now apparently difficult, if not impossible, to determine human gender by outward appearance, whether clothed or unclothed.

Let's assume you encounter a hypothetical person who is found dead or totally unresponsive.  How should you sexually identify him/her?  What sex should be assigned?  If the person has a penis should this hypothetical person be termed a male?  If that person has breasts and a vagina should that person be designated female?  Should such individuals be subjected to chromosomal analysis?

Society now allows a citizen to assign whatever sex he/she wishes to him/herself, and that's OK with me. But this cannot alter an individual's biologic and genetic determination.  So - here's my idea for  gender identity disclosure, should anyone be interested:


A.  Carl Steeg (Gender identification)
      1.  Gender preference - male
      2.  External sexual characteristics - male
      3.  Chromosomal designation - XY(male)

B.  Person Unknown (Gender identification)
      1.  Gender preference - unknown
      2.  External sexual characteristics - male/female
      3.  Chromosomal designation XX (female)

And so on.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Controversies Regarding Pre-K Programs

Pre-K programs (or Head-Start programs) are the headlines todays - they are important subjects for discussion. Most significant is the question as to whether the outcome of these programs justifies their significant expense.

Pre-K (Heard Start ) programs designed to improve the education and future success of participants remain controversial in outcome studies.  Though a number of studies have shown true gains in   reading, math, etc over a number of years, a recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services (Dec 2012) found overblown expectations. The study showed gains with Head Start in experiencing success in kindergarten, but no advantages over the non-Head Start students by the third grade.

It's remarkable that answers to the success, or lack thereof, of these programs are still in question after having been in effect in one form or other since the days of President Lyndon Johnson - some 50 years ago!  Admittedly there can be a number of explanations for differences in studies, primarily in the methodology, e.g. the number of children involved in each study, how rigorous the methodology, and the statistical tools used to evaluate the data.  I admit to being unaware of the various techniques employed in all the studies, but do know that the Department of Health and Human Services evaluated some 5,000 children across 23 states, and that this study involved a random assignment of children to a Head Start group or a control group.  Such "random assignments" are the only way to evaluate such data when comparing two groups.  The groups should be identical in every other way.

If we allow parents to decide whether or not to enroll their students in a pre-K (Head Start) program, one cannot compare the pre-K group whose parents selected the program with an otherwise similar group of children whose parents chose not to enroll them.  These groups are selectively different - biased groups, not random groups.  No conclusive data can result from such a comparison.

New York's mayor Bill DeBlasio has promised to institute "universal pre-K", whatever that denotes.  Does that imply universal availability or universal compulsion?  If the former, one can rightly assume that there will be parents who do not enroll their children in such a program.  Given a significant number of non-participants,  the true success of a pre-K program may remain unanswered.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hate Speech

Much has been written about Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, the French performer who has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism as well as Holocaust denial, both of which are in violation of French anti-hate laws.  The French government has forced cancellation of some of his performances.  As reported in the NY Times (Mar 11), these actions have actually "fueled support" for him.

No surprise.  Attempts at suppression of speech actually may tend to promote it!  Censorship at any level tends to promote the "offensive" item, whether it be a speech, a film, or whatever.  Yes, we can try to restrict the sale or viewing or private access to "offensive" materials to certain age groups, but total elimination is unworkable.

However, hate speech (or any form of speech) with an intention to promote violence is (and should be) illegal!

Anti-Semitism (and other forms of extreme hatred and prejudice) has been extant throughout all of Western history - and can take hold in countries where there are few, if any, Jews!  But trying to eliminate such hate speech with anti-hate speech laws has been unsuccessful, merely driving such speech underground or into cyberspace.

Fight fire with fire.  Fight hate speech with anti-hate speech!