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Haunting Voices from the Holocaust

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Most of my formative years were spent in a working class, Jewish neighborhood in Detroit. I went to a grade school that was overwhelmingly Jewish. I was immersed in the Jewish culture and knew it as my own. I’m a richer and better person for those experiences.

I vividly recall many discussions of the Holocaust. I can still close my eyes and see the number tattooed on the arm of Beverly Hearn’s mother that bore witness to her experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. I was aghast to see the pictures of the starving prisoners on their liberation day and of the trenches filled with the emaciated corpses that didn’t live to see the end of the war. We were told to never forget the horrors that had been perpetrated just a few years earlier. “It must be remembered so that it never happens again” we were instructed.

There was a very active group of Nazi war criminal hunters as I approached my adolescence. I still remember the publicity and excitement when, in 1960, Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann was captured in Argentina and taken to Israel to stand trial. He was hanged in 1962, but the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, continued to search for more war criminals. That search has continued well into this century.

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Maybe the Sky IS Falling!

Sky FallingThe advent of the internet is in a league with the development of nuclear weapons. Both changed the world. And hand-in-hand, they may shepherd humanity to its ultimate end. The threat of nuclear holocaust has hung over the human race since the Enola Gay laid waste to Hiroshima seventy years ago. As these weapons spread to ever more parts of the world, the threat only increases.

But the internet? How can it be the atom bomb’s bride and carry the bouquet of humanity’s doom?

As with any marriage, some things are best left unsaid or at least, not spoken until they have been thought through thoroughly. The internet has removed a set of checks-and-balances that has served humanity for eons. The instantaneous communication of the internet acts as the midwife of our doom.

When I was a child, a postage stamp (there was no such thing as email) cost three cents. A letter took about a week to go from Michigan to my cousins in Tennessee. However, for an extra penny, you could buy an “Air Mail” stamp. Your letter actually got to fly on an airplane to get to its destination. It cut delivery time down to about three days, a modern miracle of efficiency.

Today, with the internet and programs like Skype, I can converse with voice and video in real time with friends in Australia for free. Through social networks of all types from Facebook to Twitter, I can share thoughts with literally tens of thousands of people all over the world in an instant. In some respects, that is nothing short of fabulous. But so are a few other things that would quickly bring an end to civilized society, for example, unrestricted sex, free euphoria inducing drugs and x-ray goggles. Too much of a good thing can be quite bad. Unrestricted, instantaneous communication is one of those things. Continue reading

Tis the Season

Yard-SignsWith the elections nearly upon us, some neighbors have decorated their yards with political signs showing their support for one candidate or another. One neighbor has nearly a dozen different signs encircling her yard. Some people consider them ugly distractions. Others don’t notice they exist. But in my mind, it raises the question: “What is the purpose of putting political signs in your yard?

How many citizens select their candidates on Election Day on the basis of the number of yard signs they’ve seen in the neighborhood? My knee jerk answer is “zero”. If this is how democracy works, maybe there’s a better system.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to believe they do have an impact.

In some arenas, it is said that any publicity is good publicity. When I went to work for Chevron forty years ago, I was told that if I wanted to move up, I needed to get my name in front of the big guns. They’d soon forget how they got to know my name, but they’d remember my name. I discovered there was more than an element of truth to the saying. I have to wonder how many people are ready to mark their ballots and amidst the flood of names and issues rolling over in their minds, they’re confused about which candidate has most earned their favor. The subconscious mind takes over, remembers the yard sign and inadvertently checks that box. Mission accomplished. Continue reading

Corruption – It Couldn’t Happen Here

San Miguel de Allende (73 of 1220)“There’s too much corruption” said the cab driver. “It’s everywhere. People like me don’t stand a chance.”

We conversed in Spanish as Lalo wound his way through the narrow streets of San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of Central Mexico. Between heavy traffic and an excess of tourist for the holiday weekend, it was apparent we’d have plenty of time for our discussion of the life of a small business person in this beautiful city.

A cab driver in this and other cities in the area rents the cab. He has to put his own gas in the car, wash it and do the minor maintenance. The company takes care of any major repairs. Depending upon the demand for cabs on any given day, Lalo might or might not clear enough to pay the company. It’s in his last hours of work that he gets enough business to feed himself and his family. Lalo works twelve hours per day, six days per week.

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A Source of (American) Embarrassment

San Miguel SunsetWell, here I sit, embarrassed and ashamed. As I pen this missive, I’m enjoying a beautiful day in San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. My countrymen (from the United States) make me hang my head in shame.

Before you go getting all pissy, let me clarify that not all of my fellow Americans cause me to hang my head. But a big percentage of them wear their arrogance like Easter bonnets, haughty and proud. If only they had earned the right to such arrogance, I could at least understand it, but they haven’t.

Admittedly, I have a slight edge on many of them. Although I’m a native of Michigan, I am fairly fluent in Spanish. I haven’t attained the level of eloquence of an Octavio Paz, but I’m more than comfortable speaking with the locals in their home tongue. My wife, Liz, understands a great deal of the language and can piece together statements when her survival depends upon it, but she still finds herself falling back to English more often than not.

When we walk the streets of San Miguel, we obviously come face-to-face with a great many people. In a crowd, only the deranged attempt to greet everyone on the street. But when more or less alone, when coming face-to-face with someone, even my less than polished Michigan upbringing taught me it is only common courtesy to say “Hello”.

San Miguel de Allende has more gringos than many towns in the American southwest. Like us, many of them wander the streets taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Mexico. The noticeable difference with many of them is that when coming face-to-face with a local, they refuse to speak, even if spoken to. Their stone cold countenances, betray their arrogance. They look away as if eye contact will give them an incurable disease. Somehow, it’s as if their hosts are far below them.

My curiosity began to get the best of me. When I saw what appeared to be an American coming my way, I would load up my smile and say, “Hello. How are you?” Three quarters of them would refuse to respond. They’d do their best to look away and pretend I wasn’t there. After all, I could have been one of those dreaded Mexicans. I have been playing a lot of golf and have a pretty dark color in my cheeks.

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Election Time

With that season of insanity upon us, with Rick Santorum flitting about uttering some of the most diabolical and divisive rhetoric imaginable, with Romney floundering about trying to  guess what his listeners want to hear (without much success), with Gingrich doing his politcal immitation of Don Rickles, with Ron Paul wandering about like the Mad Hatter, with Super Pacs undermining the strength of a once great nation, maybe it’s time just to look at a pretty picture. After all, there was a dance band on the Titanic.

Six Weeks of Communists, Libertarians, Capitalists and Socialists

I’ll avoid the conclusions; they are for you to reach. I’ll just present the observations. Over a period of six weeks, I spent my time in roughly equal parts in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Cuba proudly proclaims itself a communist state. For fifty years, it has delighted in being the booger on the lapel of Uncle Sam’s fine and festive coat. Billboards all across the island remind Cubans of their communist and socialist heritage and strength.

The Dominican Republic appears to be as libertarian as any state in our hemisphere. Government regulation is minimal. The regulation that does exist doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced unless it serves to protect the individual rights of those in power. The common man in the D.R. has individual freedom whether he likes it or not.

Puerto Rico is a “possession” of the United States and shares our capitalistic ethos, system of government and economic structure (whether the people want it or not). It is exactly as it is in any other part of the United States except that the climate and geography are completely different, the history and heritage bear little similarity the rest of the U.S., its culture, music, dance, food, etc. are Latin, it is more racially homogenous and the people speak a different language. Other than that, it’s Ames, Iowa all over again.

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