|Your Brain is Green|
Monday, September 24, 2007
Report: Air pollution 100 times lower during Yom Kippur
By Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz Correspondent
Air pollution in
Jerusalem and the Dan region was 100 times less on Yom Kippur than on ordinary
days, when cars are on the roads, air pollution monitors from the Environmental
Protection Ministry found.
According to the figures released by the
ministry Sunday, levels of nitrogen oxide in the Dan region over Yom Kippur were
two to 12 parts per billion - but when the holiday was over, the figure rose to
205 parts per billion. In Jerusalem, the numbers declined from 250 parts per
billion in the afternoon before Yom Kippur to between two and 12 parts per
billion during the holiday.
Nitrogen oxide is the compound emitted by
vehicle exhaust pipes and is one of the prime urban pollution indicators. One
component of this kind of pollution, nitrogen monoxide, is considered
particularly dangerous to health, causing chronic and even fatal respiratory
Last week, the Environmental Protection Ministry
released figures for 2006, which indicated that some areas of the country
exceeded World Health Organization pollution standards for ozone in the lower
atmosphere. One of the causes of ozone pollution is the release of nitrogen
oxide into the atmosphere.
OK, folks, the solution to one of the world's major problems is clear: everyone become an Orthodox Jew, and one day a week, DON'T DRIVE ANYWHERE! That should reduce carbon emissions by almost 15%, even if everyone exhaled at the same time...
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Yom Kippur is, in Jerusalem, at least, a day eagerly awaited by children under bar mitzvah age. It's the one day of the year they can ride their bicycles or use their scooters or roller blades on the streets themselves without fear of being run down. (Actually, there are a few--very few--cars on the street, mainly ambulances or police vehicles, and these are often stoned if they inadvertently stray into any religious area, even when clearly marked as emergency vehicles)The yearly celebration of Non-Motorized Vehicular Traffic Day
is about to begin.
Yom Kippur is a phenomenon outside the normal time of the world. The Orthodox have a bit of this every Shabbat, but on Shabbat one does have clocks one can consult. Technically, we have them on the Day of Atonement, too, but they seem irrelevant. There's nowhere to go, nothing to do, but pray. You don't visit with friends, you don't sit down to eat. You go to shul. Or, for the irreligious, you sleep. You're in God's time, not human time.There's no radio or TV. For some, this is a worse deprivation
than food and drink. By 8:30 in the evening, when the services for Yom Kippur
Eve are over, people are eyeing one another anxiously, wondering how the heck
they will manage to last out the 25-hour period with no other diversion beyond
praying or talking to one another. I bet there are husbands and wives who
actually see each other for the first time in a year on the
The Middle Ages has been called the "Age of Belief". Science requires exactitude, and therefore one has to know exactly where one is in time and space. God's time, however, is more elastic. Its markers are not hours or minutes but events.It occurred to me, reading some of the extremely beautiful,
mystic, and complex piyyutim (liturgical poems), that were written mostly in the
Middle Ages, that this is what it must have been like for everyone, all the
time, back then. Of course, there were various methods, since antiquity, for
telling time and artificial ways of dividing the day into parts. But the average
man did not. He got up with the sun, and went to bed at dark. What wasn't
finished today would be finished tomorrow. Journeys took unknown amounts of
time; one could guess, based on previous trips about approximate arrivals, but
no one could keep to a schedule, or a deadline. It was all "in God's Hands" and
everything happened when it happened.
On the New Year will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will
be sealed how many will pass from the hear and how many will be created; who
will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before
his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by
famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and
who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in
haromony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will
suffer, who will be impoverished, and who will be enriched, who will be degraded
and who will be exalted.
Paul Johnson, in "History of the Jews" has written about the peculiar relationship of Jews to history. The best book about the Holocaust, Andre Schwarz-Bart's "The Last of the Just" makes just this point. He uses a hassidic legend about the "36 just (righteous; the word is the same in Hebrew) men" in each generation whose hidden suffering hastens the Coming of the Messiah, to create a story about a Jewish family, beginning in the massacre of the Jewish community in York in the 1100s, that is granted the "privilege" of having one of these hidden saints in each generation. The 36th generation member, Ernie Levy, ends up in Auschwitz:The interesting thing about this beautiful prayer, called the
"Utaneh Tokef", is that it was written, as so much else of the High
Holy Day liturgy, during the Middle Ages, specifically during the period of
intense and bloody persecution of the European communities during the Crusades.
The author of this prayer was himself martyred. The melody of "Kol
Nidre" dates from a little later, the period of the Spanish Inquisition;
when Spanish Jews, having been forcibly converted to Catholicism in 1391, could
only practice Judaism in secret. But life for Jews around 1100-1200 had also
been extremely perilous, since many Crusaders decided to deal with the local
"infidels" before going to the Holy Land to deal with the Moslem infidels.Jewish liturgy has very little input from the Holocaust,
possibly because it is so fresh. There is a paragraph in the Yizkor service--the
memorial prayers for the dead--but not much else. The death of ten celebrated
Sages at the hands of the Romans is related, but not those who died in the
concentration camps. But the rabbis of the Middle Ages were composing mystic
poetry contemporaneously with events because they could see in them the
historical perspective, not being limited by clocks delineating human
His eyes still closed, he felt the press of the last
parcels of flesh that the SS men were clubbing into the gas chamber now, and his
eyes still closed he knew that the lights had been extinguished on the living,
on the hundreds of Jewish women suddenly shrieking in terror, on the old men
whose prayers rose immediately and grew stronger, on the martyred children, who
were rediscovering in their last agonies the fresh innocence of yesteryear's
agonies in a chorus of identical exclamations: "Mama! But I was a good boy! It's
dark! It's dark!" And when the first waves of Cyclon B gas billowed among the
sweating bodies, Ernie...leaned out into the darkness toward the children
invisible even at his knees, and he shouted with all the gentleness and all the
strength of his soul, "Breathe deeply, my lambs, and quickly!"When the layers of gas had covered everything, there was
silence in the dark sky of the room for perhaps a minute, broken only by shrill,
racking coughs and the gasps of those too far gone in their agonies to offer a
devotion. And first a stream, then a cascade, an irrepressible, majestic
torrent, the poem that through the smoke of fires and above the funeral pyres of
history the Jews...had traced in letters of blood on the earth's hard
crust--that old love poem unfurled in the gas chamber, enveloped it, vanquished
its somber, abysmal snickering: "SHEMA YISRAEL ADONOI ELOHENU ADONOI
ECHAD...Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. O Lord, by your
grace you nourish the living, and by your great pity you ressurect the dead, and
you uphold the weak, cure the sick, break the chains of slaves. And faithfully
keep your promises to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like unto you, O
merciful Father, and who could be like unto you....?"And then Ernie knew he could do nothing more for anyone
in the world, and in the flash that preceded his own annihilation he remembered,
happily, the legend of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyion [recited on Yom Kippur]: "When the gentle rabbi,
wrapped in the scrolls of the Torah, was flung upon the pyre by the Romans for
having taught the Law, and when they lit the faggots, the branches still green
to make his torture last, his pupils said, 'Master, what do you see?' And Rabbi
Chaninia answered, 'I see the parchment burning, but the letters are taking
wing'"...."Ah yes, surely, the letters are taking wing" Ernie repeated as the
flame blazing in his chest rose suddenly to his head....And so it was for
millions, who turned from Luftmenschen into Luft. I shall not
translate. So this story will not finish with some tomb to be visited in
memoriam. For the smoke that rises from the crematoria obeys physical laws like
any other...the only pilgrimage, estimable reader, would be to look with sadness
at a stormy sky now and then.
And praised. Auschwitz. Be. Maidanek. The Lord. Treblinka. And praised. Buchenwald. Be.
Mauthausen. The Lord. Belzec. And praised. Sobibor. Be. Chelmno. The Lord. Ponary. And praised.
Theresienstadt. Be. Warsaw. The Lord. Vilna. Yitgadal. Skarzysko. v'yitkadash. Bergen-Belsen. shemay
rabbah. Janow. Yitgadal. Lodz. v'yitkadash. Neuengamme. shemay rabbah. Pustkow....v'imru "ameyn"....
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Sharks gotta swim, and bats gotta fly,
I gotta love one woman till I
To Ed or Dick or Bob,
She may be just a slob,
But to me,
She's my girl.
In winter, the bedroom is one large ice cube,
she squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the tube!
Her hairs in the
Have driven me to drink,
But she's my girl, she's my girl, she's my
And I love her.
The girl that I lament for,
The girl my money's
The girl my back is bent for,
The girl I owe the rent
The girl I gave up Lent for
Is the girl that heaven meant for
So though for breakfast she makes coffee that tastes like
I come home for dinner and get peanut butter stew,
Or, if I'm
It's broiled hockey puck,
But, oh well, what the hell,
And I love her.
I don't think there is a single Israeli that doesn't have a love-hate relationship with the country. But it's particularly strong among those who have chosen to come live here, and aren't here from necessity. The "olim by choice" often have very exaggerated notions of the hypothetical utopia they have come to. In other words, they expect the "Heavenly Jerusalem" and get the "earthly" one instead. And a very earthy one it is.
As a result, they generally go to one of two extremes. Either they deny that there's anything wrong with the country, and all criticism of it is a libel verging on the criminal, or they can't stand anything at all about Israel. This leads to two further divisions: those who return to the home country they never really left (mentally and emotionally), or those who are determined to change Israel for "the better" (i.e. American way of doing things). Sometimes the latter even succeed: while our oven-ready chickens still have lots of feathers on them, we do have an anti-smoking law and we are supposed to use seat belts.
So, remember: Israel is a work in progress. For every downside, there is an upside, or nearly so. As the words of the Naomi Shemer song, "For All These Things" (Al kol eleh) goes (more a paraphrase than a translation, btw):
Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.
Keep, oh Lord, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the man who is returning from so far away.
Don't uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.
For the sake of all these things,
Lord,Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
(Please don't uproot that which is planted, Don't forget the hope [play on words of Israel's national anthem]
[God] cause me to return* and I will return to the Good Land.**)***
Save the houses that we live in
The small fences and the wall
From the sudden war-like thunder
May you save them all.
Guard what little I’ve been given
Guard the hill my child might climb
Let the fruit that’s yet to ripen
Not be plucked before its time.
As the wind makes rustling night sounds
And a star falls in its arc
All my dreams and my desires
Form crystal shapes out of the dark.
Guard for me, oh Lord, these treasures
All my friends keep safe and strong,
Guard the stillness, guard the weeping,
And above all, guard this song.
For the sake of all these things,
Lord,Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
Bless the sting and bless the
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
*The Hebrew word " hashiveni"is used in the morning prayers "cause us to be ingathered from the four corners of the earth" --an allusion all Jews know.
**" (The)Land" is a synonym for Israel
***The parentheses were not translated. This version is meant to be sung to the original tune, and has kept the meaning of the original.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Absorption Ministry survey finds immigrants suffer severe
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Jewish World Correspondent
A survey carried out by the Absorption Ministry shows
that the income of new immigrants is substantially lower than that of veteran
Israelis. The survey, prepared for the Immigration and Absorption conference
scheduled to take place in Ashdod next month, showed that 41 percent of new
immigrants earn no more than NIS 5,000 per month. The survey includes immigrants
who have been in Israel for as long as 17 years. Only 13 percent of veteran
Israelis have such low wages. According to the survey, 20 percent of new
immigrant families earn more than NIS 10,000 per month, compared to 45 percent
of the veterans.Other economic indicators surveyed in the study have shown
gaps that do not favor the new immigrants. As such, when it comes to housing, in
spite of government grants, only 62 percent of new immigrants live in a home
they own, compared to 77 percent of Israeli society in general. Also, among new
immigrants, unemployment stands at 13 percent compared to nine percent among the
general population. Notwithstanding the economic difficulties, 75 percent of the
immigrants participating in the survey, conducted by Dr. Sonia Michaeli, the
ministry's chief scientist, said that if they had to do it all over again, they
would still choose to immigrate to Israel. Only 10 percent of respondents said
they were unsure about whether they would choose to immigrate to Israel in view
of their experiences since coming here. However, dissatisfaction is much higher
among those aged 18-34: as many as 30 percent say they are not certain they
would like to stay here. [ http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/904786.html ]Not exactly the Goldeneh Medina...but then, I never expected it to be. But I do wish this article would be posted, in large print, on the wall of every Aliyah Center in the US.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Monday, September 03, 2007
From The Times
September 1, 2007
The rise of a combination of extreme scepticism towards established sources of
authority in science and medicine and anxiety about environmental threats to our
wellbeing has led many to put their faith in self-proclaimed mavericks and
alternative healers and charlatans. The recent outbreaks of measles, which
resulted last year in the first childhood death for 15 years, shows how
dangerous this credulity can be.
As doctors, we are grappling in our
surgeries with fear and confusion, exacerbated by an apparently endless series
of health scares and panics. A campaigner came to me convinced that a local
mobile phone mast was causing her breathing difficulties; later she admitted
that she smoked 30 cigarettes a day. A young man, committed to the “near-death”
experiences offered by inhaling the veterinary tranquilliser ketamine in the
course of weekend clubbing binges, inquired whether I would check his serum
cholesterol level to assess his long-term risk of coronary heart disease.
Patients who consume vitamins, antioxidants and herbs by the bucketful commonly
refuse to take medication recommended for high blood pressure or some other
condition because they “don’t want to get hooked on tablets”. Some patients even
refuse chemotherapy for cancer in favour of homoeopathy, acupuncture or
Once upon a time, the writers of science fiction liked to postulate a future in which science was discredited. Human beings, the usual tale went, could not ever travel to outer space, or something like that. Sometimes a worldwide nuclear catastrophe had occurred. In any case, civilization returned to a pre-Industrial Revolution standard, including a total rejection of science and a "rediscovery" of magic and superstition.
There are moments when I think it's happening now. Or at least, to a subculture. But why just now? The strides obstetric and gynecologic medicine has made--just one scientific discipline--since I finished nursing school have been immense. The minimum limit for viability, when I was a new graduate, for a premature baby was somewhere between 28 and 30 weeks; now it is about 23 (although outcomes at this stage are not very good) Forceps deliveries were routine. There was no fetal monitoring or ultrasound. Fertility treatment was crude and not very successful. The first IVF baby had yet to be conceived.
But medicine has also had some notable failures. Nearly all my life I've heard that the "cure for cancer" is right around the corner; AIDS, unknown when I was at the beginning of my career, looms large over us all and has changed sexual behavior. The prospect of Alzeheimer's frightens every person who is approaching an age his grandparents never dreamed of achieving. And medicine has increasingly become complex to the point of unintelligibility to the average person, and no one doctor can encompass ALL the medical knowledge there is. "Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy", said fast enough, sounds a lot like "abracadabra", and "Exubera!" reminds one of a spell in Harry Potter rather than the name of a inhalable form of insulin.
And thereby lies the point. The average guy has lots of jargon thrown at him which he doesn't understand, and is ashamed to admit he doesn't understand. So when someone says something which isn't scientific at all but is really just rubbish, he doesn't see any difference. Add to this that any esoteric or exotic "knowledge" which is supposed to come from a mythic past, some Golden Age (so much better than our own degenerate cultures) or some Far Eastern source (Shangri La, remember, was in the Himalayas) is ipso facto held to be "better" than some modern laboratory concoction, and, as P.T. Barnum said, "there's a sucker born every minute".
A form of massage which claims to massage an organ which cannot be palpated, and is based on the "insights" of a South American "shaman" is one of these totally imaginary "treatments". Like many other panaceas, this "Mayan Massage" can cure numerous different ailments with a single type of manipulation (and is painless and non-invasive--good news for the needlephobic): infertility, prostate trouble, digestive upsets, emotional problems (interestingly, the website refers to the "redirection of blood" to make the chi flow better. Chi is a totally unprovable kind of energy invoked in certain Chinese philosophies. Didn't know the Mayans and the Chinese knew each other) The "shaman" who claimed to be the master of this knowledge died at an extremely advanced age, we are told. I bet he didn't really know how old he really was, just as this folk medicine is completely without any scientific background. But it does sound so nice. And it will cure just about everything, by "readjusting" an organ which cannot be felt externally.
Daniel Ben-Ami, in Spiked, writes:
Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local, the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion is guaranteed. Sound idyllic?
But hold on… Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation; there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical work which may end up yielding little.
There is – or at least was – such a place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary, there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.
From the 1790s onwards, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the prospect of a world without scarcity seemed like a realistic possibility. Humans strove for a day when they could have a guaranteed food supply at all times. It should be remembered that the famous clause in Christianity’s Lord’s Prayer – ‘give us this day our daily bread’ – was meant literally. Our ancestors struggled for a world where we could take abundant food, clean water and adequate shelter for granted. Not only have we achieved these goals, at least in the developed world, but modern technology and economic organisation have improved our lives hugely.
What a shame all these rejectionists of modern technology and science couldn't be transported back just one or two hundred years and see just how awful life really was, when it was all "organic" and pre-sanitation (a bath at birth and a bath at death were quite enough for most, and there was no such thing as clean water or fresh vegetables in cities; indeed the inability of a city to provide services limited their very growth) and pre-antibiotic, when Rh sensitization (oh yes, it happened back then) meant the death of every child a sensitized woman bore (and no way to avoid repeated pregnancies), and diabetes was a death sentence. Or maybe we don't have to build a time machine; just go to the Third World where the maternal and fetal death rates are still astronomical and life expectancy is short, especially for a woman. Where women literally walk for days for the privilege of delivering in a hospital instead of in their own homes, where the Caesarean rate is "admirably" low because it is simply unavailable. Where there are entire hospitals of women with recto-vaginal fistulas constantly leaking urine and feces because of botched births. (In forty years of midwifery, I have never seen a woman so injured)
I get so ticked off at this foolishness. At least be consistent--if you want to espouse primitive knowledge, then espouse the primitive lifestyle. Get rid of electricity and running water, squat over a latrine which is a hole in the ground, don't use refrigeration, no analgesia and antibiotics, and when your labor goes sour, hitch up the horse and buggy, but don't go to a hospital--that's a modern invention--find a "wise woman" somewhere, and pray to some deity that you and the baby survive--and if you do, expect to repeat the experience every couple of years until it does kill you.
I'll stay in the 21st century, thanks very much.