Archive for December, 2012

Some Poems in Honor of my Mother posted 12/27/2012

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

> This December marks two year since my mom, Deena Baird, passed away. I think about her passing often , and I wonder why it happened when it did. Some things do not add up to me. My mom was quite a spirited woman although she was prone to depression. I miss her presence, her grace, her kindness, and her sensibility. She was dark but funny. I wanted to remember her on this occasion. Here are several poems I have chosen in her honor. Jon >
> Her Kind by Anne Sexton
> I have gone out, a possessed witch,
> haunting the black air, braver at night;
> dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
> over the plain houses, light by light:
> lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
> A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
> I have been her kind.
> I have found the warm caves in the woods,
> filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
> closets, silks, innumerable goods;
> fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
> whining, rearranging the disaligned.
> A woman like that is misunderstood.
> I have been her kind.
> I have ridden in your cart, driver,
> waved my nude arms at villages going by,
> learning the last bright routes, survivor
> where your flames still bite my thigh
> and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
> A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
> I have been her kind.
> As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden
> As I walked out one evening,
> Walking down Bristol Street,
> The crowds upon the pavement
> Were fields of harvest wheat.
> And down by the brimming river
> I heard a lover sing
> Under an arch of the railway:
> “Love has no ending.
> “I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
> Till China and Africa meet,
> And the river jumps over the mountain
> And the salmon sing in the street,
> “I’ll love you till the ocean
> Is folded and hung up to dry
> And the seven stars go squawking
> like geese about the sky.
> “The years shall run like rabbits,
> For in my arms I hold
> The Flower of the Ages,
> And the first love of the world.”
> But all the clocks in the city
> Began to whirr and chime:
> “O let not Time deceive you,
> You cannot conquer Time.
> “In the burrows of the Nightmare
> Where Justice naked is,
> Time watches from the shadow
> And coughs when you would kiss.
> “In headaches and in worry
> Vaguely life leaks away,
> And Time will have his fancy
> Tomorrow or today.
> “Into many a green valley
> Drifts the appalling snow;
> Time breaks the threaded dances
> And the diver’s brilliant bow.
> “O plunge your hands in water,
> Plunge them in up to the wrist;
> Stare, stare in the basin
> And wonder what you’ve missed.
> “The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
> The desert sighs in the bed,
> And the crack in the teacup opens
> a lane to the land of the dead.
> “Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
> And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
> And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
> And Jill goes down on her back.
> “O look, look in the mirror,
> O look in your distress;
> Life remains a blessing
> Although you cannot bless.
> “O stand, stand at the window
> As the tears scald and start;
> You shall love your crooked neighbour
> With your crooked heart.”
> It was late, late in the evening,
> The lovers they were gone;
> The clocks had ceased their chiming,
> And the deep river ran on.
> The Seventh by Attila Jozsef
> If you set out in this world,
> better be born seven times.
> Once, in a house on fire,
> once, in a freezing flood,
> once, in a wild madhouse,
> once, in a field of ripe wheat,
> once, in an empty cloister,
> and once among pigs in a sty.
> Six babes crying, not enough:
> you yourself must be the seventh.
> When you must fight to survive,
> let your enemy see seven.
> One, away from work on Sunday,
> one, starting his work on Monday,
> one, who teaches without payment,
> one, who learned to swim by drowning,
> one, who is the seed of a forest,
> and one, whom wild forefathers protect,
> but all their tricks are not enough:
> you yourself must be the seventh.
> If you want to find a woman,
> let seven men go for her.
> One, who gives his heart for words,
> one, who takes care of himself,
> one, who claims to be a dreamer,
> one, who through her skirt can feel her,
> one, who knows the hooks and snaps,
> one, who steps upon her scarf:
> let them buzz like flies around her.
> You yourself must be the seventh.
> If you write and can afford it,
> let seven men write your poem.
> One, who builds a marble village,
> one, who was born in his sleep,
> one who charts the sky and knows it,
> one, whom words call by his name,
> one, who perfected his soul,
> one, who dissects living rats.
> Two are brave and four are wise;
> you yourself must be the seventh.
> And if all went as was written,
> you will die for seven men.
> One, who is rocked and suckled,
> one, who grabs a hard young breast,
> one, who throws down empty dishes,
> one, who helps the poor to win,
> one, who works till he goes to pieces,
> one, who just stares at the moon.
> The world will be your tombstone:
> you yourself must be the seventh.
> Translated from the Hungarian by John Balki

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Poor People and the Mean Machine – published in the Concord Monitor 9/16/2012, posted 12/25/2012

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I was never previously able to post this piece I wrote for the Concord Monitor. It appeared on September 16, 2012. Jon

The subject of poverty is not part of our national conversation in 2012. The presidential and vice-presidential candidates barely ever talk about it. Nor do the Senate or congressional candidates. That is remarkable, since poverty has increased significantly over the past 12 years.

When was the last time any major politician directly proposed to end or lessen poverty? We probably have to go back to President Lyndon Johnson. While President Obama’s stimulus did many positive things for poor people, he chose not to publicize that. It is almost as if poverty is taboo.

In New Hampshire, poor people are close to being an invisible constituency, even as they increase in number. I lived in Alaska for 15 months in 2010 and 2011, reading the Monitor online and watching from afar. I was astounded at the hostility directed against New Hampshire’s poor by our Legislature.

If there was a word I would use to describe our Legislature’s actions, it would be “mean-spirited.” The Legislature became a bludgeoning Mean Machine. Across the board, it savaged programs for the blind and disabled, youth, seniors, and the poor with an almost cavalier disregard for the damage inflicted.

There was no appreciation of the concept of the safety net. While the right-wing extremists in the Legislature appeared to care little, it must be pointed out that historically the safety net has been a bi-partisan, uniquely American achievement. It has taken 80 years to create the protections we have, although that was not appreciated by the legislative majority.

Surprising as it was to admit, later in 2011 when i returned east, Alaska, a politically conservative state, looked positively moderate next to New Hampshire. Our Legislature acted with the social vision of a Mississippi or Alabama.

How could the Legislature be so mean-spirited? I think part of the answer lies in a right-wing ideology that blames the poor for poverty and especially hates welfare. The stereotype that somewhere moochers, scammers, and lazy bums are getting something for nothing resonates with them and others. How else to explain the plethora of bills last session directed at limiting welfare or investigating it like it was a crime? Let’s see: There was the welfare time-limit bill, the no benefit increase if you have a baby on welfare bill, the drug-testing if you are on food stamps bill, the counting SSI if you are on welfare bill and the computer match welfare fraud bill. They set an agenda and I am not naming all of them.

The irony is that welfare in the form of cash-assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has drastically declined. Since the 1960’s, a much smaller percentage of poor families with children actually get these benefits. That is true in every state in the nation.

I do not think that debates about poverty have kept up with actual societal changes. Conservatives and liberals are stuck in old patterns of replaying the same unenlightening fights they have had for 20 years. Here are some points about how poverty is different now:

  • The Great Recession has created many more poor people.

Many formerly middle-income people have dropped into the ranks of the poor. Due to layoffs and job outsourcing, millions more Americans find themselves jobless and in need. While New Hampshire’s poverty rate remains below the national rate, the stimulus in the form of extended unemployment benefits played a critical role in preventing more poverty. Of particular note, an increasing number of the poor are in extreme poverty, living below half the poverty level. I am talking about people earning less than $9,000 a year for a family of three. In 2010, more than 20 million Americans lived in extreme poverty. That figure is up 8 million over 10 years. For many of these people, their only benefit or help is typically food stamps. We remain in a state of denial about the existence of this population, with no public policy response.

  • Good-paying, low-skill jobs have disappeared.

Job loss in the recession has been the most severe of any recession since World War II. Over the past 40 years, where jobs have been created, the big story is the increase in low-wage jobs. Instead of jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits, half the jobs in America now pay less than $34,000 a year and almost a quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of four ($22,000 per year). The trend applies in New Hampshire as in other states. Earning that kind of money makes our era a period of limited upward mobility. Simple financial survival is more the agenda than getting ahead.

  • The super-rich have become astronomically richer.

The other side of the poor getting poorer is the rich getting richer. We live in a second Gilded Age, with a new set of robber barons. Rich has a new meaning now. I do not think there is public awareness of how wealthy the 1 per cent are.

Between 1979 and 2007, the income of the top 1 per-cent went up 275%, while the income of the top 0.1 per-cent increased 390%. And those statistics do not include the past five years, where the trends I mention have accelerated. It is not class warfare to bring this up – it is simply factual.

  • The social safety net has been weakened

By any objective measure, we have withdrawn support from the social programs that comprise the safety net. There is less help at a time with more human need. The best example I can think of is what the New Hampshire Legislature did to New Hampshire Legal Assistance. Without any justification, the Legislature inflicted a devastating blow against Legal Assistance, cutting critically needed funding by $1 million. The funding cut meant closure of legal aid offices in Nashua and Littleton as well as many layoffs. A program that had 53 employees in 2008 was downsized to under 30 in 2012. The result was thousands fewer vulnerable citizens getting legal services. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to note that I used to be a legal aid lawyer. I know better than most the meaning of these cuts: more hunger, more homelessness, more human misery for the poor.

Nationally, proposals to block grant Medicaid, voucherize Medicare, and further cut all poor people’s programs wait in the wings. The major program still reaching masses of people is food stamps. You really need a black sense of humor to appreciate what has happened to welfare. Public debate focuses on a phony issue about work requirements while the overriding salient fact is how few people get these benefits. Nobody talks about that.

When people last talked about poverty as a public policy issue back in the 60’s, it was in the context of “the war on poverty”. I think that is a bad metaphor. It is not like there have been epic battles where two sides fought it out with one side victorious. The war on poverty typically involves incremental gains or losses in individual lives. A hungry mother and child get food stamps so they can eat; a family gets help from a legal aid lawyer so they can avoid eviction; a laid-off worker wins her unemployment appeal. These are the type of small stories that comprise the so-called war on poverty.

President Ronald Reagan once famously said, “We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” Reagan got it dead wrong. Contrary to the mythology that government did not help. efforts to tackle poverty have made an enormous difference.

I like the way Georgetown Law professor Peter Edelman responded to President Reagan’s line in his new book “So Rich, So Poor”. Edelman wrote:

“To suggest dismissively – as many conservatives do – that “we fought a war on poverty and poverty won” simply because there is still poverty is like saying the Clean Air and Clean Water Act failed because there is still pollution.”

Gains made by anti-poverty activists may be temporary and they do not guarantee a permanent result, but they are often a critical ingredient in averting potential disaster. Efforts to dismantle or gut the safety net deserve strict scrutiny, especially given the level of need out there. There is an extensive body of experience showing that the free market, left to its own devices, fails to address poverty.

A great country should have worthy, inspirational goals. Ending or lessening poverty would be a noble goal. We certainly have the wealth to accomplish it. I think it is bad for America that we do not talk about ending poverty. I think that idea should be put back on our collective agenda.

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Founders Were Passionate About Science – published in the Concord Monitor 4/19/09 – posted 12/21/2012

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment

I wrote this piece back in 2009. When I moved my blog site, I was not able to post it so I wanted to put it up now. Jon

When President Obama recently signed a memorandum designed to restore scientific integrity to federal government decision-making, I felt both pride and relief. Obama resurrected a fundamental American value: respect for science and intellectual integrity.

The Bush presidency featured an infamous war on science in which partisan policy goals played a key role in determining scientific results. Whether the issue was evolution, abstinence, embryonic stem cell research or global climate change, the value of deference to religious conservatives and Big Business allies trumped scientific integrity.

What has not been appreciated about the war on science is how antithetical it is to American tradition. Passion for science was part of the world view of the founding fathers. Some founders even were scientists.

Historically, the Bush presidency was an extreme aberration. While earlier presidents like Ronald Reagan had an anti-scientific bent, that science abuse did not rival George W. Bush’s.

Over the past eight years, the methods of science abuse included magnifying uncertainty of proven theories, creating contrary science, and presenting fundamentally religious beliefs as science.

The best example is evolution. There has been a continuing effort by creationists to thwart the teaching of evolution in public schools. As recently as last week, this fight was happening in Texas.

This is 84 years after the Scopes monkey trial, when a high school teacher was tried for teaching that humans evolved from a lower order of animals. Yet the Religious Right keeps coming back. They have been building biblical creation science museums to popularize intelligent design, the latest version of creationism.

Bush favored teaching intelligent design alongside evolution. In this, he was no different than many of his colleagues, including House Speaker John Boehner, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The creationists have framed the evolution argument as a free speech fight. There are two competing theories, evolution and creationism. Both can be taught in public school, and students can decide what to believe. They only want to teach the controversy.

What the creationists do not say is that among scientists, there is no controversy. Evolution is widely accepted as a fact. In 2002, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a resolution stating that intelligent design proponents failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their theory.

How do you test the theory that an unknown intelligent designer somehow did something somewhere to create life on earth?

In his new book “Why Evolution is True”, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne lays out the main lines of evidence for evolution. He explains how life evolved gradually, beginning with one primitive species that lived 3.5 billion years ago. He explores how species branched out, throwing off many new and diverse variations. He demonstrates that the mechanism for most evolutionary change has been natural selection.

Yet, despite the evidence, polls consistently show Americans are suspicious about evolution. In a 2006 poll, when asked to respond to the statement “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals,” only 40% of Americans judged that statement true. More than 80% of French, Scandinavians, and Icelanders accepted the statement as true.

It is particularly ironic that antievolutionists have established such strong support here. As Enlightenment thinkers, the founding fathers would have been appalled by this development. There is much evidence that they believed science to be a supreme expression of human reason.

Among the founders, Benjamin Franklin was recognized as one of the foremost scientists of his day. While he was best known for his experiments with electricity, he had wide-ranging scientific interests including meteorology and oceanography.

Thomas Jefferson was also a man of science, an inventor, an architect, and a passionate botanist. When Jefferson was inaugurated as vice president in 1797, he brought with him a collection of fossils to illustrate a lecture on paleontology he was to give to a scientific society. Through his presidency, he maintained this interest, filling the East Room with a huge fossil collection.

It was no accident that our Constitution explicitly references science. There is a provision setting forth the power of Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts.”

Good public policy depends on rationality and clear thinking. Basing public policy on religious imperatives or covert subordination to business interests is a return to the Dark Ages. I suspect the founding fathers would have agreed.

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Way To Go , Wilt originally published in the Concord Monitor 6/24/2012 12/15/2012

December 16, 2012 2 comments

I will be posting a few articles I was not able to post previously when my blog was down earlier this year. This one I wrote last summer. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Chamberlain’s 100-point game. Jon

The NBA playoffs this year were exciting. Although I am a Philly sports fan, after the Sixers went down, I found myself rooting for the Celtics. It was a visceral, emotional thing. I liked the old guys playing together so well, pushing the Heat to the limit and almost winning. Except for that last fourth quarter, the Celts were the Heat’s equal. It was a noble effort.

Watching stirred up some basketball memories for me. When I think of players who played hard and gave all, I think of Wilt Chamberlain, who died in 1999. Wilt, known as “Wilt the Stilt” and “The Big Dipper” was a transformative player, a giant on the court and a fierce competitor. Wilt was 7-foot-1. There were not nearly as many big men playing then, back in the early 1960’s. When he started, Wilt was one of three 7-footers in the NBA.

It is impossible not to think of Wilt’s rivalry with the Celtics’ equally great Bill Russell. There has never been a better basketball match-up. Among Wilt’s accomplishments, he pretty much invented the dunk shot. It was his signature shot and it had its own name – Dipper Dunk. Wilt developed an array of shots. As a finely coordinated athlete, he crafted the finger roll, a hook shot and a fade away bank shot. He was also a great rebounder, and he was no slouch with assists. The NBA changed its rules around goaltending because of Wilt. It also widened the foul line from 6 to 12 feet to eliminate Wilt’s advantage in rebounding and scoring on missed shots.

This year is the 50th anniversary of when Wilt scored 100 points in a game. It is a record that still stands. I was listening to the game that night on my trusty transistor radio from my home in Lower Merion, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, where I grew up. It was March 2, 1962. The Wilt-led Philadelphia Warriors were playing the last place New York Knicks in Hershey, Pa.

Back in the day, the NBA scheduled occasional games in small towns like Hershey to try to drum up interest in basketball. Games were often not recorded or televised. There was no ESPN, no Sports Center and no instant electronic documentation of everything. There were no TV cameras at the game that night, and there is no video of Wilt’s feat. There were hardly any sports writers at Hershey Arena. Tickets cost $2.50. Attendance was 4,124 that night.

Bill Campbell, a well known Philly sportscaster of the era, called the game for WCAU-AM radio. I remember I used to snooker my parents who thought I was upstairs doing homework. I would close the door to my bedroom, plug in earphones and listen. Sometimes I would listen to away games late at night under the covers long after everyone in my family had gone to bed. Among other sports memories, I remember listening when the Phillies lost to the Dodgers in L.A. as they blew the National League pennant during their infamous 1964 slide.

On March 2, 1962, Wilt was coming off a game in which he had scored 61 points. He started with 23 points in the first quarter. He had 41 at half-time. It really wasn’t until the third quarter that people knew something special was up. Wilt had scored 69 after three quarters and 75 with eight and a half minutes left in the game. By that time, the crowd was screaming, “Give it to Wilt!” Dave Zinkoff, the Warriors public address guy, announced Wilt’s tally after each basket.

While he actually missed 27 out of 63 shots from the floor that night, Wilt was in a zone. He went 9 for 9 from the free-throw line in the first quarter and 28 of 32 from the free-throw line during the whole game. That was highly unusual. Wilt was a notoriously bad free-throw shooter, usually shooting around 50 percent.

When the Knicks realized Wilt might reach 100, they did everything they could to stop him. They waited until the 24-second shot clock was about to expire before they shot. They fouled all the Warriors except Wilt. At the same time, the Warriors kept feeding Wilt the ball.

In the fourth quarter, Bill Campbell told listeners, “If you know anybody not listening, call them up. A little history you are sitting in on tonight.” When Wilt scored his last basket with a minute left in the game, the crowd went wild. Spectators mobbed the floor and the game was stopped for some time. There was a picture taken with Wilt holding the number 100.

Wilt was a larger than life character. My dad knew Eddie Gottlieb, the Warriors owner, and he arranged for me to meet Wilt after a game. I remember shaking Wilt’s hand and looking up. I came up to his waist. It was a great moment for a kid.

Kobe Bryant, who is also from Lower Merion, tells a story of meeting Wilt when he was a little boy. Kobe’s father Joe said “Kobe, I want to introduce you to somebody. He’s one of the greatest players of all time”. Kobe looked at Wilt and said “Bombaata”. Bombaata was a character from Conan the Destroyer. Apparently Wilt took no offense.

Supposedly the night before the 100-point game, Wilt was in New York City visiting a lady friend. At 6am, he dropped her off at home. He later said that he had not slept a wink and he had a hangover. He boarded the 8am train to Philadelphia. He was worried he was not going to make it on time to catch the team bus to Hershey. He made it. Back in those days, teams did not necessarily go to a hotel before a game if they were travelling.

The Warriors got to Hershey hours early. Because he had time to kill, Wilt went to the Hershey Arcade. He claimed he set pinball records that afternoon. He won a lot of prizes. He was hot.

In writing about Wilt, I did want to put to rest one off-the-court myth. In his autobiography, Wilt floated the ridiculous assertion he slept with 20,000 women. Wilt no doubt pushed that myth to sell books. Without getting into mathematical calculations, I would assert that Wilt was indulging the male bravado game. A former L.A. reporter Doug Krikorian, who covered the Lakers during Wilt’s time there and who was a close personal friend of Wilt’s, wrote the following:

“Complete hyperbole. Trust me. I spent many a Saturday night where Wilt would call me and say “Let’s go out and have dinner together”. He was the worst guy I’ve ever seen trying to hustle women, I’m serious. That thing should be debunked. Trust me. I saw first hand. Yes, he might have had his share of women, but as a slick hustler, please. No. I saw too many nights where he was alone. I was with him.”

Krikorian, a credible source, said Wilt felt regret for his stupid boast. He felt it took attention away from what he accomplished on the court.

A few years ago, I was at a Border’s outside Philadelphia and I ran into Wilt’s former coach from Overbrook High School, Cecil Mortensen. He was at a table selling his book about Wilt. I chatted him up, and he did have some good Wilt stories. In his book “It All Began With Wilt”, he wrote, “People have always asked me what kind of a person was Wilt. My answer is always the same. He had real character. There was a lot of delinquency around Overbrook at that time, but he was always above it. He came from a really good home life and it showed. He was a good student also. Most of his grades were B’s and what he got, he earned.”

Mortensen told one other story I liked: Overbrook was getting ready to play Frankfort High. Warm-ups were going on and Mortensen was talking to the opposing coach. He looked over at his bench. Wilt was adorned with a golf cap. a shimmering white silk scarf and dark sunglasses. Mortensen said he looked like a character from Mad Magazine. Wilt was an original.

Book Review: “A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture” by Marguerite Feitlowitz 12/9/2012

December 9, 2012 2 comments

We are all so inundated by the constant flow of allegedly shocking news that maybe we have become immune to what is genuinely shocking. “A Lexicon of Terror” is genuinely shocking – and so much more. It tells the story of Argentina’s Dirty War, an episode from 1976 to 1983 when, in the aftermath of a military coup, the military junta and their hired killers disappeared at least 10,000 people. Some estimates put the number at 30,000.

It is shocking we in the United States are so unaware of the Dirty War. It was grossly under-reported here. It was also rationalized by apologists in the U.S.. Considering the depravity, that is hard to understand. The author describes an utterly surreal society where in the name of the fight against subversion, the Argentine military kidnapped, tortured, and executed thousands. As Feitlowitz says,

“The Dirty War regime eviscerated the best-educated generation in the history of Argentina…intellectual professions became categories of guilt.” (p.11)

Students, artists, intellectuals, leftists, labor activists, Jews, and young people generally were singled out as enemies of the regime. Anyone considered suspicious could be put on a list and taken away. No proof of anything was required. This only happened 36 years ago.

I was interested in how Argentine lawyers and judges responded to the Dirty War. I think the truth is that the society was so terrorized it made it impossible for a legal system to function. Fear overwhelmed daily life. Unmarked Ford Falcons cruised the streets and squads of goons would jump out and corner targeted people and take them away from their homes to be tortured, murdered and disappeared. Bystanders and observers would typically not make a peep. The Argentine military had a long list.

It was a rational and self-interested calculation for Argentine lawyers and judges to lie low during the Dirty War. The risk of going out on any limb was very great. Anyone thought critical of the process could be placed on a hit list. The rule of law was not strong enough to protect practically anyone from being disappeared.

While beyond the scope of this book review, cases addressing crimes committed by the Argentine military are only now being prosecuted. There has been a long, torturous road just to get to the point where crimes could possibly be prosecuted. The history of the pursuit of justice for Dirty War victims is a worthy topic for another day.

The horror was extreme. Feitlowitz describes the many death flights where members of the Argentine military would drug captives, load them onto helicopters, strip them, and toss them out of the helicopters far out in the ocean. Argentine naval officers rotated death flight duty. We know this because of public confessions made in 1995 by Naval Captain Adolfo Scilingo. Following Scilingo, a half dozen other naval officers also confessed.

To give a sense of the mindset, Scilingo said that officers considered the flights “a form of communion”, “a supreme act we did for the country”. Scilingo himself shoved 30 individuals to their deaths on two flights. His victims included a 65 year old man, a 16 year old boy and 2 pregnant women in their early 20’s.

Feitlowitz performs a very valuable service by telling many untold stories of those tortured and disappeared. These lost stories need to be told. Witnessing and telling the stories is a first step toward accountability.

During the Dirty War, secret concentration camps dotted the country. Part of the surrealism described by Feitlowitz was the co-existence of torture very close to the domain of normal life. To give an example: the Argentine military ran torture cells in the basement of the renovated mall, Galerias Pacifico, which was located in the heart of Buenos Aires. Acoustics blotted out sound apparently. They had shopping next to torture.

A major focus of the book is the bizarre use of language by the junta (which explains the title). The junta twisted language to create a world of self-justification. Every torture, murder, and disappearance could be legitimated since it was part of the war on subversion. It was beyond Orwellian. Vile acts could be clothed in the regime’s language of honor and duty to the nation.

In their secret concentration camps, the torturers talked compulsively to their victims:

” “You don’t exist..You’re no one..We are God.” How can one torture a person who doesn’t exist? Be God in a realm of no ones? How can a human being not exist? Be no one in a realm of gods? Through language. Through the reality created by and reflected in words. In the clandestine camps there developed an extensive argot in which benign domestic nouns, medical terms, saints, and fairy-tale characters were appropriated as terms pertaining to physical torture. Comforting past associations were translated into pain, degradation and sometimes death.” (p.57)

Language enabled behavior that was otherwise way out of bounds. Also, the junta’s language had only the remotest relationship to factual accuracy. They would report “subversives died in a firefight” when the truth was more like the capture of unarmed civilians by regime thugs who were armed to the teeth. The “subversives” were then “disappeared”.

The concept of people being disappeared goes back to the Nazis as part of their doctrine of Night and Fog. Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel , who had been Chief of the German High Command and who was hanged at Nuremberg for war crimes described Hitler’s doctrine this way: “The prisoners will disappear without a trace. It will be impossible to glean any information as to where they are or what will be their fate.” (p.59)

The Nazi influence was very much a part of this story. Pictures of Hitler hung in torture chambers and the torturers sometimes played Hitler speeches while torturing. While Argentina had the largest concentration of Jews in Latin America, Argentine society , particularly the Church and the military, were bastions of anti-semitism. After World War II, Argentina accepted Nazi refugees including Martin Bormann, Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. Former Nazis integrated into the Argentine security service.

In this connection, I do want to mention another important book, Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number, by Jacobo Timerman. Timerman, who was Jewish and who had been the publisher of a leading Argentine newspaper, La Opinion, was disappeared, tortured, and as almost never happened, was released. The junta stripped Timerman of citizenship and expelled him from the country. Timerman wrote about the weird anti-semitism in Argentina and he analyzes it too. The book is also very much worth a read.

A sad aspect of this sordid story is the response of mainstream Jewish organizations to the Dirty War. With some notable exceptions (Rabbi Marshall Meyer and Rabbi Morton Rosenthal) the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), the major Jewish community organization, was largely silent and acquiescent. Considering the number of Jews swept up by the regime, the performance was abysmal.

There are many tangential themes that deserve more attention. The role of the U.S., the baby trafficking, the brave role of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, to name a few.

Not too many books deserve the word heroic. This is a book that does.The Dirty War was a worst case scenario of what can happen when civil liberties are sacrificed in the name of security, combating subversion etc. Feitlowitz deserves credit for unearthing so many stories and for trying to get to the bottom of this atrocity. One is left wondering how a literate, relatively well-educated people could have gone down such a self-destructive, cruel road.

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A View From the Israeli Peace Movement of the UN Recognition of Palestine – ‘The Strong and the Sweet” by Uri Avnery 12/7/2012

December 7, 2012 Leave a comment

IT WAS a day of joy. November 29, 2012. *

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*Joy for the Palestinian people.*

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*Joy for all those who hope for peace between Israel and the Arab world.*

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*And, in a modest way, for me personally.*

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*The General Assembly of the United Nations, the highest world forum, has voted overwhelmingly for the recognition of the State of Palestine, though in a limited way.*

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*The resolution adopted by the same forum 65 years ago to the day, to partition historical Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state, has at long last been reaffirmed.*

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*I HOPE I may be excused a few moments of personal celebration.*

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*During the war of 1948, which followed the first resolution, I came to the conclusion that there exists a Palestinian people and that the establishment of a Palestinian state, next to the new State of Israel, is the prerequisite for peace.*

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*As a simple soldier, I fought in dozens of engagements against the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. I saw how dozens of Arab towns and villages were destroyed and left deserted. Long before I saw the first Egyptian soldier, I saw the people of Palestine (who had started the war) fight for what was their homeland. *

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*Before the war, I hoped that the unity of the country, so dear to both peoples, could be preserved. The war convinced me that reality had smashed this dream forever.*

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*I was still in uniform when, in early 1949, I tried to set up an initiative for what is now called the Two-State Solution. I met with two young Arabs in Haifa for this purpose. One was a Muslim Arab, the other a Druze sheik. (Both became members of the Knesset before me.)*

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*At the time, it looked like mission impossible. “Palestine” had been wiped off the map. 78% of the country had become Israel, the other 22% divided between Jordan and Egypt. The very existence of a Palestinian people was vehemently denied by the Israeli establishment, indeed, the denial became an article of faith. Much later, Golda Meir famously declared that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people”. Respected charlatans wrote popular books “proving” that the Arabs in Palestine were pretenders who had only recently arrived. The Israeli leadership was convinced that the “Palestinian problem” had disappeared, once and forever.*

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*In 1949, there were not a hundred persons in the entire world who believed in this solution. Not a single country supported it. The Arab countries still believed that Israel would just disappear. Britain supported its client state, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The US had its own local strongmen. Stalin’s Soviet Union supported Israel.*

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*Mine was a lonely fight. For the next 40 years, as the editor of a news magazine, I brought the subject up almost every week. When I was elected to the Knesset, I did the same there. *

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*In 1968 I went to Washington DC, in order to propagate the idea there. I was politely received by the relevant officials in the State Department (Joseph Sisco), the White House (Harold Saunders), the US mission to the UN (Charles Yost), leading Senators and Congressmen, as well as the British father of Resolution 242 (Lord Caradon). The uniform answer from all of them, without exception: a Palestinian state was out of question.*

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*When I published a book devoted to this solution, the PLO in Beirut attacked me in 1970 in a book entitled “Uri Avnery and Neo-Zionism”.*

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*Today, there is a world consensus that a solution of the conflict without a Palestinian state is quite out of the question.*

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*So why not celebrate now?*

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*WHY NOW? WHY didn’t it happen before or later?*

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*Because of the Pillar of Cloud, the historic masterpiece from Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Avigdor Lieberman.*

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*The Bible tells us about Samson the hero, who rent a lion with his bare hands. When he returned to the scene, a swarm of bees had made the carcase of the lion its home and produced honey. So Samson posed a riddle to the Philistines: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”. This is now a Hebrew proverb.*

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*Well, out of the “strong” Israeli operation against Gaza, sweetness has indeed come forth. It is another confirmation of the rule that when you start a war or a revolution, you never know what will come out of it.*

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*One of the results of the operation was that the prestige and popularity of Hamas shot sky-high, while the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas sank to new depths. That was a result the West could not possibly tolerate. A defeat of the “moderates” and a victory for the Islamic “extremists” were a disaster for President Barack Obama and the entire Western camp. Something had to found – with all urgency – to provide Abbas with a resounding achievement.*

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*Fortunately, Abbas was already on the way to obtain UN approval for the recognition of Palestine as a “state” (though not yet as a full member of the world organization). For Abbas, it was a move of despair. Suddenly, it became a beacon of victory. *

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*THE COMPETITION between the Hamas and Fatah movements is viewed as a disaster for the Palestinian cause. But there is also another way to look at it.*

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*Let’s go back to our own history. During the 30s and 40s, our Struggle for Liberation (as we called it) split between two camps, who hated each other with growing intensity.*

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*On the one side was the “official” leadership, led by David Ben-Gurion, represented by the “Jewish Agency” which cooperated with the British administration. Its military arm was the Haganah, a very large, semi-official militia, mostly tolerated by the British. *

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*On the other side was the Irgun (“National Military Organization”), the far more radical armed wing of the nationalist “revisionist” party of Vladimir Jabotinsky. It split and yet another, even more radical, organization was born. The British called it “the Stern Gang”, after its leader, Avraham Stern”.*

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*The enmity between these organizations was intense. For a time, Haganah members kidnapped Irgun fighters and turned them over to the British police, who tortured them and sent them to camps in Africa. A bloody fratricidal war was avoided only because the Irgun leader, Menachem Begin, forbade all actions of revenge. By contrast, the Stern people bluntly told the Haganah that they would shoot anyone trying to attack their members.*

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*In retrospect, the two sides can be seen as acting as the two arms of the same body. The “terrorism” of the Irgun and Stern complemented the diplomacy of the Zionist leadership. The diplomats exploited the achievements of the fighters. In order to counterbalance the growing popularity of the “terrorists”, the British made concessions to Ben-Gurion. A friend of mine called the Irgun “the shooting agency of the Jewish Agency”. *

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*In a way, this is now the situation in the Palestinian camp.*

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*FOR YEARS, the Israeli government has threatened Abbas with the most dire consequences if he dared to go to the UN. Abolishing the Oslo agreement and destroying the Palestinian authority was the bare minimum. Lieberman called the move “diplomatic terrorism”. *

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*And now? Nothing. Not a bang and barely a whimper. Even Netanyahu understands that the Pillar of Cloud has created a situation where world support for Abbas has become inevitable.*

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*What to do? Nothing! Pretend the whole thing is a joke. Who cares? What is this UNO anyway? What difference does it make?*

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*Netanyahu is more concerned about another thing that happened to him this week. In the Likud primary elections, all the “moderates” in his party were unceremoniously kicked out. No liberal, democratic alibi was left. The Likud-Beitenu faction in the next Knesset will be composed entirely of right-wing extremists, among them several outright fascists, people who want to destroy the independence of the Supreme Court, cover the West Bank densely with settlements and prevent peace and a Palestinian state by all possible means.*

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*While Netanyahu is sure to win the coming elections and continue to serve as Prime Minister, he is too clever not to realize where he is now: a hostage to extremists, liable to be thrown out by his own Knesset faction if he so much as mentions peace, to be displaced at any time by Lieberman or worse.*

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*ON FIRST sight, nothing much has changed. But only on first sight.*

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*What has happened is that the foundation of the State of Palestine has now been officially acknowledged as the aim of the world community. The “Two-State solution” is now the only solution on the table. The “One-State solution”, if it ever lived, is as dead as the dodo.*

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*Of course, the apartheid one-state is reality. If nothing changes on the ground, it will become deeper and stronger. Almost every day brings news of it becoming more and more entrenched. (The bus monopoly has just announced that from now on there will be separate buses for West Bank Palestinians in Israel.)*

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*But the quest for peace based on the co-existence between Israel and Palestine has taken a big step forwards. Unity between the Palestinians should be the next. US support for the actual creation of the State of Palestine should come soon after. *

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*The strong must lead to the sweet. *


Rabbi Lerner’s book Embracing Israel/Palestine is a perfect Chanukah or Christmas gift and deals with these issues in a balanced way that supports the peace voices in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities. Order it now from or call 510 644 1200 between 9 a.m. and noon M-F, Pacific Standard Time to pay with a credit card. Or gift it as a gift to yourself!

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