March for Their Lives – The Times They Are a-Changin!

I was privileged to attend the March for Our Lives in DC yesterday.  My daughter was working and could not accompany me.  Much has been written about the event already but I wanted to relay a few personal observations.

Logistics: Only in America!

The event was extremely well organized from a logistics point of view.  Lots of volunteers were guiding participants from Metro stations to the site of the march.  Many streets around the Mall were blocked off.  T-shirt and other vendors had badges authorizing them to be there.  There were lots of portable toilets and water stations around.  Military trucks were blocking streets a few blocks North, I guess to protect against a Nice-style attack.  Small ambulances were there to reach into the crowd if needed.  Some Metro stations were closed to prevent overcrowding in escalators and tracks.  There were large screens and impressive sound systems to broadcast speeches and entertainment. Bottom line, the local governments, Metro and the event organizers worked together flawlessly to help crowds move smoothly and create a safe environment.  To me, this is an exceptional example of democracy at work, and of the commitment to freedom of expression.

Can you see me?

Amazing Program!

The program of speakers, singers and short videos also demonstrated a level of sophistication that is only found in the United States.  We know that celebrities contributed significant money to the organization of the event and it showed.  The program included about 20 speakers, all high-schoolers or younger.   Entertainers included  Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Common, Vic Mensa, Andra Day, Miley Cyrus, Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt.  I can’t say that I recognized them all but the younger crowd definitely did.  Many younger marchers knew the songs and were singing along.   I am sure there is a marketing angle to this, as there is to everything in this country.  Still, I enjoyed these talented artists and the live music.

The train is coming…

Some short “high production value” videos were presented between speeches and entertainment, all narrated by high-schoolers.  Cogent, smart, well made!   The speakers included young folks from Florida but also from Chicago and other cities affected by gun violence.  Smart!  Naomi Wadler, an eleven year old girl from Alexandria, Virginia spoke on behalf of  African-American women who were victims of gun violence whose stories aren’t told.  I am sure that professionals were behind the student but it did not take anything away from them, it channeled their energy and made it better and more effective.

In the end, everyone was waiting for Emma Gonzalez’ speech.  She was last and she did not disappoint.  All these kids (sounds pejorative to say kids, I know) are so articulate but Emma is in a class by herself.  I went through Twitter last night and folks were calling for her to run for President!  Her bold personality, poise, honesty, sincerity and authenticity gave me goose bumps.  After reading the names of the MSD victims, Emma paused and stood still.  The crowd went silent too.  I have never heard such silence while surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people.  Not a sneeze, not a cough, not a murmur.  One minute, two minutes… the silence became unbearable but also inescapable…  four minutes, five minutes.  Then she finished her speech.  Six minutes and twenty seconds was the length of the attack on her school in Florida.  It felt like an eternity.  If you can, click on the link and watch the speech for yourself.

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The 2nd Amendment makes as much sense today as the Steam Engine…

We all know how the United States is struggling with how much access should citizen be given to guns.  The underlying basis for granting citizens access to guns is that it will prevent Government tyranny.  My thesis here is that this notion is as outdated today as the steam engine is.  Government tyranny cannot be prevented by guns in the hands of anyone.

Most countries strongly regulate fire arm ownership.  The impact on the number of mass shootings is plain to see in the graph from Vox.com to the left where the US is clearly an outlier.  Are these guns a credible antidote against Government tyranny today, which is the stated purpose of the Second Amendment?

In my view, the notion that guns in the hands of a well-regulated Militia could guard against such possible tyranny makes as much sense as traveling from New York to San Francisco by steam train in the age of the Boeing 787…

You’ve Got Mail…

Owning guns may have made sense back then, but today the Government of the United States is vast and decentralized.  Perhaps too vast some would say but that is a topic for another post…  Would a Militia equipped with firearms be of any practical effect against a Government military that uses helicopter gunships, radar- and laser-guided missiles,  satellite photography, artificial intelligence?  (see how the US military destroyed a poorly equipped Russian militia in Syria a few days ago.)

Today’s Government is nothing like the Nation’s founding fathers could have imagined. It is far more complex and relies heavily on technology.  Government today is made of rules, regulations, procedures and automated systems as much as it is composed of people.

Sadly, we have now seen first hand what attacking a Government is like in the information age.  Hacking government information systems and leveraging social media, in fact, are proving far more effective than firearms could ever be, including:

  • Stealing government official email account passwords
  • Access via compromised Government employee or contractor
  • Embed spyware deep inside computers, gaining almost total control of those computers to eavesdrop on most of the world’s computers, even in the face of reboots, operating system re-installs, and commercial anti-virus products,
  • Concealing spyware in hard drives,
  • Leveraging social media to spread lies and bend public opinion,
  • Etc…  (see NSA’s ANT Division Catalog of Exploits for Nearly Every Major Software/Hardware/Firmware for more info)

The Second Amendment is an empty promise that is being perpetuated by the National Rifle Association in order to sell guns. 

Let me know what you think…

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The Joys of Genealogy

I have always wondered about my family. About their lives back in Poland in the 1700’s and the 1800’s, about their large families, the economic and religious challenges.  I started getting interested in genealogy about 17 or 18 years ago when personal computers started to be connected to the internet.  Since then, the digital revolution enabled people to access thousands of historical data sources online, thanks to the help of dozens of non-profit and volunteer groups.

New Friends

Many genealogy sites allow you to connect to folks interested in the same names as you are.  Eventually you find people who may be part of your extended family, or sometimes not.   My kids and I had a great time spending an afternoon with a new part of our family in Philadelphia a year ago.  Ten years ago, we spent a wonderful evening with a newly found part of our family in Brazil and stayed in touch with them since through Facebook.

Amazing Finds

A few years ago, I had trouble finding information about the Krywin-side of my family, but many more records were made available since.  A few weeks ago, I found out that my uncle David, whom I knew well when I was young, was hidden during WWII by a Belgian priest and was actually baptized then. Wow! He is on the right in the photo, I recognized him right-away.

Here is another amazing story:  One branch of my Brazilian family are the children of my grandmother’s brother Mihal who moved there in 1940.  Timing is everything!  One of his daughters  shared old documents with me such as this telegram shown on the left.  The telegram was sent from Belgium by my mother to Mihal in August 1945.  She was 16 years old at the time!  The telegram says (words in parentheses are mine):

Bella (my grandma), Adele (my mom) and Leon (a cousin) are doing very well.  No news from Cecilia and her husband (they were deported and died in Auschwitz).  Poland: Wool clothing and foodstuff needed.  Letter will follow.

This, sadly, gives you a glimpse of the emotional roller coasters that WWI survivors and their families around the World went through and what it took to start a normal life again.

An Expanding Tree

As the record of my family tree has expanded, my views on family too have expanded.  Ultimately, we are all linked, all connected.  A family expands beyond the close-knit core that we talk to every day.  We are a mix of our parents and their parents and their sisters and brothers and their uncles and cousins.  We end up in all corners of the World, in Latin America, in Australia, in Belgium and France and the Netherlands, in South Africa, the U.S. and Canada.  We all do our best to live and raise our families.  My family’s immigration records, marriage records, birth records and others tell a universal story.

 Those Not to Be Forgotten

Our Jewish people has been afflicted by the Holocaust, the unthinkable murder of million of innocent victims.  My family is no exception.  Seeing members of my family in the records of the U.S. Holocaust Museum or the Caserne Dossin in Belgium (where many of my family members were gathered then deported from) always brings me heartaches.  Entire families were sent to their deaths to no fault of their own. Children were robbed of their future.  Placing their name in my family tree and learning about them and their fate helps me commemorate their names and bring a small tangible proof of their short passage on Earth.

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Four Minutes of Perfection…

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Response: We Are All Refugees

Guest Author: Svetlana Markowicz

statLibertyEtched on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus’ words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed,” resonate with most Americans. We are, after all, an immigrant nation. A majority of Americans only have to look back two or three generations to find a loved one that left their livelihoods behind to escape persecution or pursue greater opportunities, or as the forefathers so eloquently put it: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

For many years I firmly believed that this was what made the United States great.

I was wrong. With each day passing, we show the world we are a hypocritical nation that can talk the talk, but isn’t willing to walk the walk. People are crossing our borders and staying illegally instead of apply for citizenship and refugees fleeing war-torn countries are facing endless application ceilings to prove they are not a threat to the United States. Why? Are the simply not patient enough? Should we be afraid of the people applying? Or, are these just excuses meant to retain the Anglo-Saxon/Christian majority of the past? Do we project the image of acceptance while use the law to enforce our true intentions?

The first immigration procedure enacted in the United States, the Naturalization Act of 1790, placed no restrictions on immigration. However, the openness wasn’t without one glaringly restrictive measure, that non-whites were not permitted to gain citizenship. Essentially, the very first immigration laws in the United States showed an obvious desire to keep certain individuals out of the American dream. Future legislations only acted to make more blatant this goal. The Page Act of 1875 prohibited entry of immigrants deemed “undesirable,” the National Origins Formula of 1924 classified immigrants coming from “quota” and “non-quota” nations (non-quota being nations contiguous to the United States), and the INA Amendments of 1965 set a quota for Western/Eastern Hemisphere immigration. Lastly, the 2002 Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act and 2005 REAL ID Act increased border control, curtailed habeas corpus relief, created more restrictions on political asylum, and require that foreign nationals carry ID’s.

In essence, we are creating a legal, judicial, and physical wall that prevents certain immigrants from coming in and suffocates those already here, out. A nation of immigrants with policies meant to hinder the immigration of those most in need. Ironic. Sad. Not the American dream- but a nightmare with icing on top.

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We are all refugees

Over five million Syrians refugees are now registered with the United Nations which works with countries to resettle them.  To date, 1.8 million ended up in Turkey, over one million in tiny Lebanon and over 600,000 in Jordan.  What about the U.S.?  It takes an average of 18 to 24 months for refugees to be fully vetted for resettlement in the U.S., and that is after the UN has done its own vetting.  The families of refugees have to wait all this time in camps overseas before being allowed in the country.  Since 1990, the U.S. has taken in about 73,000 refugees a year but has taken in about 2,500 Syrian refugees since 2011.  Our country will take only 10,000 refugees from Syria this year.  In the meantime,  Germany has taken 100,000 refugees, Sweden 65,000, and Hungary 55,000.  26,000 Syrian refugees have landed in Canada since November 2015.

151120_VFC_Syrian-Refugees.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Bombings in Paris and Brussels have been used as excuses for denying Syrian refugees asylum in the U.S., or making it increasingly long and difficult to get in.  The House of Representatives passed the “American Security against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015” on November 19 2015. The Act would would require the secretary of Homeland Security, the head of the FBI and the director of national intelligence to sign off on every individual refugee from Iraq and Syria, affirming he or she is not a threat.  This is despite the fact that many safeguards already exist.  According to an analysis by the Cato Institute, the risk of a suspected terrorist slipping through this vetting process is virtually nil, making the threat from Syrian refugees “hyperbolically over exaggerated”. According to Jonathan Hafetz, it is far more likely that a future terrorist would either be born in the U.S. or attempt to enter the country on a student or tourist visa.

Fear is the main reason the United States lags far behind many other countries. But fear of what?  It only takes a drive in the ethnic neighborhoods of our American cities to understand the economic and cultural vitality that immigrants bring to the U.S.  I am one myself.  Is this fear a psychological phenomenon like the fear of flying, or the fear of melting nuclear plants, or is there something else at play?  The fear of being pushed aside in a country long dominated by a white anglo-saxon majority?  If so, will reassurances from our President, longer waits and tougher criteria ever make a difference?

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Can’t get this song out of my head…

That’s right, I can’t get this song out of my head, and I can’t stop playing the video.  It is not really surprising. There are so many great things about the song and the video.  This is a great song composed and sung by Laura Mvula,  I love the lyrics, the message and the melody. You can check other versions on YouTube.

More reasons to love this song and video: The arrangement by Snarky Puppy is absolutely amazing. It enlarges the song without choking it, it brings in the various artists and musicians in a beautiful and naturally architected way.  This is the genius of Michael League, the man behind Snarky Puppy.  My man Cory Henry shines at the organ as usual.  The live recording took place at the Esplanade Studios in New Orleans in February 2015 and the record came out a year later. The film is also beautifully done and edited.

Snarky Puppy was created in 2004 in Denton, TX by Michael League who composes many of the tunes. I have always been a fan of fusion jazz, in part because I am a big fan of Chick Corea. But Snarky Puppy’s collective of outstanding musicians brings fusion to another level.  I am not sure what the rules of the game are, but the musicians seamlessly merge into one another’s musical space to create a deep, rich, and colorful musical tapestry.

Another good thing: Snarky Puppy came out of the One O’Clock Lab Band – the top tier of jazz students at the Jazz Studies Division at the University of North Texas College of Music in Denton TX. Jazz education is well and alive in the U.S. and the results are wonderful.

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A U.S. President who speaks Yiddish?

There is evidence that, no matter what, the future President of the Younited (as in Yuuuge) States may be fluent in basic Yiddish.  Oy!

TrumpDonald Trump’s comment in Grand Rapids, Mich., that Hillary Clinton — former first lady, former U.S. senator, former secretary of state, woman — “got schlonged” in her 2008 primary run is prima facie evidence of his command of the Yiddish language.   “Many goyim, he said, are confused by the large number of Yiddish terms beginning with ‘schl’ or ‘schm’ (schlemiel, schlemazzle, schmeggegge, schlub, schlock, schlep, schmutz, schnook), and use them incorrectly or interchangeably.”  Further evidence…

2016 Bernie Sanders for President in Hebrew ButtonBernie Sanders, a Jew,  grew up in Brooklyn. What else needs to be said?  Sanders’ friend Richard Sugarman, an Orthodox Jew who teaches religious studies at the University of Vermont confirmed that Bernie’s Jewish identity is strong, but certainly more ethnic and cultural than religious.   Stay tuned for Bernie’s victory speech in Yiddish!

HillaryWhat about Hillary?  According to C-Span, Hillary “once took a Yiddish lesson” as part of her 2000 senatorial campaign.  Yes, she was running for Senator of the great State of New York and Yiddish is the second language there, at least in NYC.  In a 1994 article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Hillary described herself as a “mensch”,  shloomping upstairs in the White House in her jogging suit…

A broch!

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Hillary, Trump: A Visionless America

“No Future is the New Future” (poster designed by Hannes Beer of 306/365, November 24th, 2011)

Eight years ago, Barack Obama surged in the polls against Hillary Clinton, and then Mitt Romney because of his positive vision of hope and change.

Today’s leading presidential candidates, Hillary and Trump, offer no such vision, no future in which to believe in, no call to action.  Trump has focused his message on angry and discontent elements of the middle class which, oddly, stands to lose the most from his 1% presidency.   These folks want it now!  Hillary has decided not to offend anyone by providing insipid, half-baked promises. Her book, “Hard Choices” doesn’t really tell us which way Hillary leans (Gene Robinson.)  Neither Hillary nor Trump have put forth clear visions of where they want to take our country.

What happened?

All that remains of hope is a distant memory, says Ross Wolfe.  The World has become more unstable: intractable wars, religious extremism, famine, disease, global warming, unpredictable weather, volatile stock markets, no permanent jobs, are just a sample of what is ailing us.  Back in the “good old days”, modernity was supposed to deliver happiness and wealth for all.

The idea of  American Exceptionalism was founded in part on the notion that social mobility and immigrant assimilation would lead to material prosperity for all.  (The Republicans still believe that.)  Instead, and as Bernie Sanders points out, America now has more wealth and income inequality than any major developed country on earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the 1920s. As Ian Tyrrell says, the United States has turned out to be instead exceptionally bad, racist and violent.

A Complex and Visionless World

How did we get here?   Unlike Obama eight years ago, Hillary and Trump (Except for “I will make America great again”…) have yet to present the American People with their own inspirational (and aspirational) visions.  Where are they?

We (and our leaders) are bombarded daily with torrents of conflicting information on how to solve some of our basic societal issues: Are guns helping fight crime?  Are low wages helping the economy?  Does more sophisticated healthcare bring better results?  Then what about the rest of the World? The Middle East, North Korea, Boko Haram, to name just a few…

My take is that the World has become too complex, with too many moving and unpredictable parts to enable society to answer these questions with complete or near-complete certainty.

The notion that any vision of the future holds the possibility that conditions can be radically transformed for the better becomes increasingly tenuous. (after Franco “Bifo” Berardi, After the Future.)  Simple solutions (“build a wall”) are no longer viable in a complex World. Today, the U.S. depends on undocumented low wage workers to sustain its economy.  Articulating an attainable vision that can lead to a better and more prosperous future may well be a thing of the past…

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Born to be a Transportation Engineer

00059_p_9acjk9gu20543Once in a while, I used to wonder if I was meant to be a transportation/logistics engineer, or whether it was just an accident of history.  I have this habit of always trying to find the most efficient way of grouping errands, or moving things around the house. I combine trips, sometimes leaving things half way from one room to another, to be picked up later to their destination.  I always wonder how much time waiters could save by plotting their way in the restaurant the way I do at home!  Was I born with the gift of space/time optimization?

Then, one day not too long ago, it came back to me!  I was planning to carry my laundry to the washing machine when I remembered how my mother used to tell me

“don’t go empty-handed, don’t go empty-handed…”

when I was young.  I then realized that these simple words likely shaped my interest in moving things around efficiently…  Of course!  Thank you, mom 🙂       

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