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Friday, 27 September 2013

History repeats: The Republicans are saying the same thing Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake."

This is a column by Jack Neworth.  He's comparing today's politicians to Marie Antoinette, when she said: "Let them eat cake." Now the Republicans want shamelessly pass a bill to cut the food-stamp program. it's a very well thought out column.  
I’ve tried to stay clear of politics lately to avoid running the risk of receiving a reader e-mail that begins with, “Dear Idiot.” But, to quote Al Pacino from “Godfather III,” “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Last week, while I was blithely writing about pizza, House Republicans were blithely passing a bill cutting food stamps by $40 billion and kicking 3.8 million people out of the program by 2014. “Why of course,” I muttered to myself, “socking it to the poor is the solution. How else can we pay for all our wars, like Iraq?”
The cuts are supposed to save $40 billion over 10 years. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the Bush administration admitted losing $17 billion in a few weeks. Just lost. Gone. Disappeared. And they weren’t even ashamed. Imagine how many kids in America who go to bed hungry at night that $17 billion could have fed. Shameful.
Keep in mind, every time a bridge in the U.S. collapses (which is almost daily) we’re completely rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure. Only in America. (Actually, only in Iraq.)
Currently, income inequality in America has never been greater. The middle class is essentially disappearing and the top 1 percent own 40 percent of the country’s wealth. Mystifying as it might seem, the answer for many is to cut benefits to the poor in a bizarre “reverse Robin Hood.”
Among those in favor of these cuts are folks who call themselves Christians. It’s ironic because one of the themes Jesus stressed over and over was helping the poor. I’m reminded of the Woody Allen joke, “If Jesus ever returned to Earth and saw what was being done in his name he’d never stop throwing up.”
As I sit back and watch this attack on the poor, I recall someone in history who was famous for her cavalier attitude toward the hungry — Marie Antoinette. For those unfamiliar, Marie was queen of France from 1770 to 1792. (Before that she had a series of odd jobs like duchess and dauphine, etc.) While at first she was admired by the populous for her charm and beauty, she soon became hated because of her lavish spending during times of famine.
Actually, it was worse. France was badly in debt because of the Seven Years’ War. (What will history call our conflict in Afghanistan, the “13 Years War?”) When told the poor were rioting because they had no bread to eat, Marie was reported to have said casually, “Let them eat cake.” For some reason this didn’t go over very well with the masses.
In retrospect, it’s safe to say that, given a chance, Marie might have chosen her words a little more carefully as she helped cause the French Revolution. Hubby Louis XVI was deposed and the monarchy was abolished entirely on Sept. 21, 1792. And, eight months after her husband’s execution, Marie was tried, convicted and, on Oct. 16, 1793, was executed by guillotine. (Giving rise to the expression, “Don’t stick your neck out.”)
But Marie packed a lot of laughs into her 37 years. She was married at 14, played the harpsichord, spinet, clavichord and harp, sang French songs and Italian arias and was an accomplished dancer. (If she were around today she’d be ideal for “Dancing with the Stars” or “Real Housewives Without Heads.”)
So maybe Marie was rather careless with her words, what with the infamous “let them eat cake” crack. But maybe not. Many historians speculate that the quote might have originated with angry French peasants and spread throughout the realm via the TMZ of that era. (Imagine Harvey Levin in the late 18th century. No thanks.)
Given Marie’s lack of “simpatico” with the masses, here are some tips she might offer today’s poor about the challenge of getting along without food:
• Call it “fasting.” (So much nicer than “starving.”)
• Think of “minuscule portions” as the latest diet craze.
• Share a lentil with a friend.
• Less food, less dishes to clean.
• Think of “dumpster diving” as exercise. We could call it, “pilates for the poor.”
• No embarrassing moments with food stamps at the checkout stand.
• Skinny people live longer.
• Forget lugging groceries from the car. (Assuming you have a car.)
• Enjoy all the extra hours you’ll have without meal time.
• And feel good; you’re not losing a dinner, you’re paying for a foreign war.
To see Al Pacino’s rant in “Godfather III,” go to YouTube and type, “Just when I thought I was out.” He practically eats the scenery, which, now that I think of it, might be the Tea Party’s advice to the poor.
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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A Great Humanitarian Story from WWII - LEICA FREEDOM TRAIN

Great humanitarian story from WW II  -   -
The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product - precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient.

Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during the Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany's most famous photographic product, saved its Jews.
And Ernst Leitz II, the steely-eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, "the photography industry's Schindler."
As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for his help in getting them and their families out of the country. As Christians, Leitz and his family were immune to Nazi Germany's Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited their professional activities.
To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "the Leica Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.
Employees, retailers, family members, even friends of family members were "assigned" to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States, Leitz's activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November 1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned across Germany ..
Before long, German "employees" were disembarking from the ocean liner Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of Leitz Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic industry.
Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom - a new Leica camera.
The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers and writers for the photographic press.
Keeping the story quiet The "Leica Freedom Train" was at its height in 1938 and early 1939, delivering groups of refugees to New York every few weeks. Then, with the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany closed its borders.
By that time, hundreds of endangered Jews had escaped to America, thanks to the Leitz’s efforts. How did Ernst Leitz II and his staff get away with it?
Leitz, Inc. was an internationally recognized brand that reflected credit on the newly resurgent Reich. The company produced cameras, range-finders and other optical systems for the German military. Also, the Nazi government desperately needed hard currency from abroad, and Leitz's single biggest market for optical goods was the United States.
Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews and freed only after the payment of a large bribe.
Leitz's daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland. She eventually was freed but endured rough treatment in the course of questioning. She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of 700 to 800 Ukrainian slave labourers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940’s.
(After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian efforts, among them the Officier d'honneur Des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970’s.)
Why has no one told this story until now? According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz family was dead did the "Leica Freedom Train" finally come to light.
It is now the subject of a book, "The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train," by Frank Dabba Smith, a California-born Rabbi currently living in England.
Memories of the righteous should live on.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Stroll in Yerevan on Independence Day... Last Year

Saturday September 21, is Armenian Independence Day, which I’d say holds a special place in the hearts of all Armenians. It certainly does for me. The day signifies an important milestone, the realization of a dream held for generations that suddenly and unexpectedly happened 22 years ago after the fall of Soviet Union.

This year I’m going to celebrate Armenian Independence Day here in Glendale, but last year I had the great opportunity to be in the beautiful city of Yerevan. It was a crisp Friday morning, around 77F.  What I had always heard is definitely true: the best time to visit Yerevan is at the end of September.  Indeed, it was so enjoyable to walk along the wide sidewalks. The city absolutely sparkled with newly refurbished sidewalks and streets. Everything looked so fresh.

I had guests who were visiting Armenia. It was a perfect day to stroll along the streets of Yerevan and show them all the sites. The mature sycamore trees lining the main streets were shining in the sunlight and everything looked so clean and effervescent. The tricolor flags had been hoisted all over the city and along the streets just a few days earlier. The sight of them made my blood boil. 

We started from Freedom Square, where the Opera is.  We took a few pictures of the tricolor flags set in the center of the square and waving gracefully in the wind. Then we proceeded to the Opera, where I wanted to check at the box office about upcoming cultural events.

From the Opera, we passed by a few cafés and then came to Swan’s Lake. We took photos of the lake and the swans swimming there. Then we took a few more photos of the abstract statue of Arno Babajanian playing piano.  I was full of pride – as if I owned the city.

From Swan Lake, we made our way through the newly-constructed pedestrian Northern Avenue to Republic Square where last-minute preparations were underway for the evening celebration. A light show and a concert were expected to bring thousands to the square.

Walking along Northern Avenue, we encountered a full throttle of Independence Day spirit.  There we met groups of young people, marching with flags wrapped around their shoulders or hoisted in their hands.  They were chanting upbeat patriotic slogans, and the sound carried across the street.

It was so heartwarming to see those kids, our next generation of leaders, keeping the spirit of the Day alive. I had imagined they had no idea how dear Independence Day was to us. For centuries, under different rulers, we had strived to regain our independence, and now we have it.

Most people were wearing either tricolor or orange shirts. Young women were wearing fashionable tricolor headbands. Most carried small flags in their hands. It seemed everyone in the city had come outside for the celebration.  I met some friends that had travelled long distances to be there for the occasion.

We sat at a café to have a bite. My eyes traveled to all corners of the street, soaking in the spirit of the day. Young artists were painting tricolor tattoos on young peoples’ arms or faces.  The charge was 200 dram (50 cents).  I regretted that I didn’t purchase one.

More than not having a tattoo, I regretted that we had missed standing outside on Northern Avenue during early morning hours when the state philharmonic orchestra and state academic choir had put together a “flash-mob” concert. But, thanks to YouTube, we can still have the pleasure of listening to it.

That’s how the laid-back city of Yerevan, last year, celebrated Independence Day.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Inside of the Kowloon Walled City – the most densely populated place on earth. A phenomenal way of living.

Once thought to be the most densely populated place on Earth, with 50,000 people crammed into only a few blocks, these fascinating pictures give a rare insight into the lives of those who lived Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.

Taken by Canadian photographer Greg Girard in collaboration with Ian Lamboth the pair spent five years familiarising themselves with the notorious Chinese city before it was demolished in 1992.

The city was a phenomenon with 33,000 families and businesses living in more than 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, all constructed without contributions from a single architect.

The city, lit up during the night, was the scene of the 1993 movie Crime Story starring Jackie Chan and includes real scenes of buildings exploding

By the early 1980s it was notorious for brothels, casinos, cocaine parlours and opium dens. It was also famous for food courts which would serve up dog meat and had a number of unscrupulous dentists who could escape prosecution if anything went wrong with their patients.  

The city eventually became the focus of a diplomatic crisis with both Britain and China refusing to take responsibility. 
Despite it being a hotbed of crime many of its inhabitants went about their lives in relative peace with children playing on the rooftops and those living in the upper levels seeking refuge high above the city.

The rooftops were the one place they could breathe fresh air and escape the claustrophobia of their windowless flats below.

Eventually, over time both the British and Chinese authorities found the city to be increasingly intolerable, despite lower crime rates in later years.

The quality of life and sanitary conditions were far behind the rest of Hong Kong and eventually plans were made to demolish the buildings.

Many of the residents protested and said they were happy living in the squalid conditions but the government spent $2.7billion Hong Kong dollars in compensation and evacuations started in 1991. They were completed in 1992.

Read more and watch more pictures
 History on Youtube:"