The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, March 01, 2003
The Head Heeb is now a seven-continent blog

I got a visitor this morning from McMurdo Station. I'd also like to welcome my visitors from Brazil, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Spain and Sweden, all of which have checked in since the last count.

Found in passing

Via Iranian architect Babak Gholizadeh: the web site of the Teheran Metro, including a gallery of station art. A few pieces that caught my eye: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Compare them to my station on the Queens Boulevard line.

Sterilization campaign

The Center for Reproductive Rights charges that Slovak doctors are tricking Romani women into being sterilized:

The morning after Zita, a young Gypsy mother, gave birth to her second child at age 17, a nurse shoved a piece of paper in front of her. Zita, who is illiterate, says she marked three crosses on the paper, and thus unwittingly agreed to be sterilized.

"I don't know what was there," Zita said. "I can't read. I don't care what was on it, because I was in pain."


According to a team of foreign and Slovak investigators for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which published a report last month, doctors in eastern Slovakia have sterilized at least 110 young Gypsy women against their will since the fall of Communism in 1989.

The most recent case they documented in visiting only 40 of Slovakia's 600 Gypsy communities was last fall, and the investigators suggest that despite strenuous denials from doctors, the practice continues.

The Slovak deputy prime minister for minority rights, Pal Csaky, has requested that the charges be investigated - but also wants to investigate the Center for Reproductive Rights:

"If we confirm this information," said Mr. Csaky's spokesman, Peter Miklosi, "we will expand our charges to the report's authors, that they knew about a crime for a year and did not report it to a prosecutor. And if we prove it is not true, they will be charged with spreading false information and damaging the good name of Slovakia."

The Center, which has documented the charges in a detailed report, is fighting a government request to turn over all its client files, and has also charged Slovak authorities with retaliating against Romani women.

One of the accused doctors, Dr. Marian Kysely, denies the charges and says that he helps his patients deliver healthy babies "whether they are Roma or white."

There's a Jewish biker club

In Westchester.

Friday, February 28, 2003
Vote Fashami!

In Fasham, Iran, today's local elections aren't much different from anyplace else:

Here, as in small towns everywhere, it is not so much the politics that count as the ability to deliver the roads, the hospitals and the education the population needs.

"I will vote for a man who is influential and has the power to fulfill his promises," said Ali Mirzai, a 42-year-old local grocer who has enthusiastically turned his store into a campaign headquarters for Mr. Fashami, who in the storekeeper's view "has the brains, the power and the will to change this region."


The nearest hospital is in northern Tehran, some 21 miles to the south. There are no movie theaters or cultural centers here; one of the big selling points of Mr. Fashami the ex-military man has been his effort to bring in a branch of the semi-private Free University.

For Roya Abbassi, 31, who was picking through oranges at the grocery, that is a convincing point. "Society's patriarchal view towards women has to change somehow, and the best way is through education," she said. Her friend, Sara Jaffari, nodded enthusiastic agreement.

About 225,000 candidates are running in the municipal elections; unlike candidates for the Majlis, they don't have to be approved by the Council of Guardians. Vigorous campaigns are taking place throughout Iran's small towns, most of them centered on local issues.

In the major cities, there appears to be much less enthusiasm for the elections due to political disillusionment and discord within the councils. This impression is corroborated by Iranian Girl:

The election campaign of different political parties are still continuing but without any enthusiasm. And everyone seems not to even think about it. As I read somewhere, some opinion polls & some predictions shows that about 60% or more of the ones who can vote will not do it...Although streets are full of commercial papers & billboards & posters on the walls, but it seems that they are frozen & people don't even see these things...yeah, sometimes It's better not to see....

Iranian Girl, who lives in Teheran, thinks that "most of people have lost their interests & have no motivation to vote for a group like many others that came & went & did nothing for changing things."

Could it be?

The Zimbabwe Independent reports that Robert Mugabe may be looking for a safe exit.

Cyber-Islam: the next generation

Al-Ahram reports on a multi-million-dollar project at al-Azhar University in Cairo to create a comprehensive Islamic database:

The launch is next April, and the project slogan is, "Bringing Islamic Civilisation to the World". Ongoing preparations include a complete overhaul of the floor given over to the project and the installation of a world-class security system to ensure safety and proper management of the project. Not to mention the clutter of high-tech hardware. According to Ma'en Mekki, azharonline project manager, "Equipment like this is not to be found anywhere else in the Arab world. Of course, money needs to talk to make such a project work. To date, $5,000,000 of the overall budget -- an undisclosed sum -- has been spent on equipment and renovations.

The Web site will enable Islamic scholars from countries as far away as Indonesia to access information without having to make the long trip to Cairo to perform onsite research. As of April they will be able to access the information they need at the touch of a computer button.

The site, which will be in Arabic and English, will include "a fatwa and e-mail system allowing Al-Azhar scholars throughout the world to interact and enabling Muslims from any part of the world to request fatwas." It will also include one of the largest on-line collections of manuscripts in the world; the staff of the project has already "digitalised 125,000 books and 42,000 priceless manuscripts." More than 9000 of these sources are unique, and currently require a trip to Cairo to consult - but in two months, they will be open to the entire world.

Fraud, kashruth and the First Amendment

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case of Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc. v. Weiss, driving the final nail into the coffin of New York's kosher fraud law. The 88-year-old law had been struck down last year by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but the court's order had been stayed pending the state's appeal to the Supreme Court. With the Supreme Court's decision not to take the case, the stay expired and the law can no longer be enforced.

New York's kosher fraud law was the first of its kind, enacted in 1915 in response to the concerns of the state's growing Orthodox Jewish community. New York State, with a Jewish population of almost 1.7 million, is the second-largest producer of kosher foods after Israel, and accounts for half of the $6 billion kosher food industry in the United States. The 1915 act, since codified as Sections 201-a to 201-j of the New York Agriculture and Markets Law, represented an attempt to bring order to this growing industry and protect consumers who might not be familiar with the rabbinical authority that certified a particular brand or store. As the Second Circuit stated:

the Hebrew National company, a well-known purveyor of kosher hot dogs and other kosher food, has long marketed its goods with the slogan, "[w]e answer to a higher authority." In New York, the principal authority to which it answers is the State's Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The law created labeling requirements and a system of inspections for kosher markets, set penalties for fraudulent sales of kosher products, and established an advisory board of Orthodox rabbis to assist the state in enforcing proper standards of kashruth. It would ultimately become the model for 19 other states.

At the same time, the act took its place on the fault line between American civil society and religion. In any modern society, it's impossible to separate the two entirely - kosher food in New York is an important state industry, and selling non-kosher food as kosher is not only a transgression of Jewish law but a fraud against the customer. Purchasers of kosher food are as entitled to protection from fraud as any other consumers - but, at the same time, the law placed the state in the uncomfortable position of enforcing religious standards. And, in the case of the New York kosher fraud law, the religious standards were explicit - food could only be sold as kosher if "prepared in accordance with the orthodox Hebrew religious requirements."

The first constitutional challenge to the statute took place less than a year after it was enacted. On April 5, 1916, a New York City weights and measures inspector, accompanied by a rabbi and the president of the Kosher Butchers' Association, raided a kosher meat market at 372 East Tenth Street in Manhattan, and discovered a kosher tag on a piece of meat that had been marked by the supplier as non-kosher. The owner of the shop, Isadore Atlas, was convicted of kosher fraud, and argued on appeal that "the statute is unconstitutional and void in that it purports to make the violation of the code of laws of the Jewish faith a crime." In People v. Atlas, decided in 1918, the appellate court disagreed:

The purpose of the statute, manifestly, is to prevent and punish fraud in the sale of meats or meat preparation, and it only operates on those who knowingly violate its provisions, for it is expressly provided that there must be both an intent to defraud and a false representation. Counsel for the appellant argues that the word 'kosher' is an adjective, the definition and meaning of which involves a consideration of the Jewish orthodox religious requirements, which are not precise and definite, and concerning which, according to one witness, thousands of volumes have been written. It needs no argument to show that it is competent for the Legislature within its general police power to enact legislation to prevent and punish fraud and imposition.

In 1925, in Hygrade Provision Co. v. Sherman, the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion:

The specific complaint is that the word 'kosher' and the phrase 'orthodox Hebrew religious requirements' are so indefinite and uncertain as to cause the statutes to be unconstitutional for want of any ascertainable standard of guilt. It is in support of this assumption that appellants allege they are unable to determine with any degree of certainty whether a particular meat product is kosher, and, when called upon, at their peril, to make a determination and label the product accordingly, they have decided and will continue to decide that all of the products sold by them are nonkosher. But obviously the statutes put no such burden upon them, since they expressly require that any representation that a product is kosher must not only be false but made with intent to defraud.

This decision, upholding the statute on the ground that it served a valid civil purpose, effectively closed the book on constitutional challenges to the kosher fraud law for the next half-century. In 1973, however, the Supreme Court decided Lemon v. Kurtzman. Under Lemon, it was no longer sufficient for a statute to have a non-religious goal. Instead, laws had to pass a three-part test under which they were only constitutional if they served a valid secular purpose, neither advanced nor inhibited religion and did not "foster excessive state entanglement in religion." As the courts began to look at the Establishment Clause in a different way, kosher fraud laws again came under attack - and, inevitably, began being struck down.

New York's turn came in 1996. Commack Self-Service Meats, a Long Island butcher shop whose kosher meats were certified by a Conservative rabbi, challenged the citations it had received from the state on the ground that the law privileged Orthodox over Conservative Judaism. The case reached the Second Circuit in 2002. Like previous courts, the Second Circuit recognized that the kosher fraud law had a valid secular purpose - but this time, that was only the starting point. The court found that the law "require[d] the sponsorship, financial support and active involvement of New York State in the daily monitoring of the compliance of vendors of kosher products with a set of religious dietary laws." It ruled, therefore, that the law represented an excessive entanglement between state and religion because it "require[d] New York to adopt an official State position on a point of religious doctrine." Indeed, the court held that the New York law was unique in its deference to Orthodox Judaism:

[O]ne provision of the challenged laws, section 201-f(1)(b), represents an extraordinary entanglement of government and religion. Section 201-f requires that meat represented as "having been prepared in accordance with orthodox Hebrew religious requirements," but not immediately soaked and salted after slaughtering, must be properly washed "by a duly ordained orthodox rabbi or by a person authorized by him..." That provision, therefore, compels a kosher food vendor to employ a rabbi of a particular branch of Judaism in certain circumstances.

Thus, the court struck down the entire kosher fraud law, with the exception of the provisions that require kosher food merchants to disclose the rabbinical authority that certifies their products as kosher.

Is this enough to protect purchasers of kosher food? Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, thinks it is:

"People who are kosher are very careful about purchasing products and they will look to see who is the overseeing authority," Potasnik said. "They usually know whose credentials they trust ... "

On the other hand, Jewish travelers from outside New York might not be familiar with the local rabbinical authorities who certify kosher butchers and bakeries, and might lack the time and resources to research them. Moreover, as the Second Circuit mentioned in passing:

[The state's] interest in protecting against fraud in the kosher food market extends to the general public. Indeed, Jewish consumers reportedly now make up less than thirty percent of the consumers of kosher food. The remainder are Muslims and others with similar religious requirements, persons with special dietary restrictions, and those who simply prefer food bearing the kosher label as a symbol of purity.

Muslims, who often rely on kosher food in places where halal food is not available, are especially vulnerable to fraud; proper methods of slaughter and preparation are as much a concern to them as to Jews, and they are less likely to know which rabbinical authorities are reputable and which are not. Kosher food is not only a Jewish concern; the state has an interest in protecting religious Muslims and other purchasers from fraud.

As this is written, the New York State Assembly has created a task force to draft a new kosher fraud law. With the exception of a token representative from the kosher food industry, however, the great majority of this task force is Orthodox. Any law drafted by this body is thus likely to face the same problem that the Second Circuit found with the existing advisory board:

... the Board's purpose -- to advise the Department regarding the requirements of Orthodox Jewish dietary laws -- and the fact that, of the six rabbis on the Board, all are Orthodox, convince us that New York's delegation of authority to the Board was made on the basis of religion and not "on principles neutral to religion, to individuals whose religious identities are incidental to their receipt of civic authority."

By this logic, the Assembly task force is constitutionally tainted from the beginning. Even if the standards it proposes are cloaked in secular language such as "ordinary usage of the kosher food industry," a court is likely to find that they in fact reflect the standards of Orthodox Judaism.

Governor Pataki has also proposed a revised kosher fraud law, entitled the "Emergency Kosher Law Protection Act of 2003." This legislation, if passed, "would require products offered for sale as kosher to meet the reasonable expectations of consumers of kosher products and generally accepted standards in the trade." Again, while this language removes the explicit endorsement of Orthodox Judaism, it is a standard that could be interpreted subjectively as an enforcement of religious law. In fact, the state argued before the Second Circuit that the "orthodox Hebrew religious requirements" language of the 1915 law was simply another way of describing the commonly accepted standards of the trade - an argument that didn't fool the court.

In one important respect, though, the governor's bill is more likely to withstand constitutional scrutiny than the Assembly proposal:

The bill would also establish a new advisory board, consisting of kosher consumers, producers, distributors and other persons interested in maintaining the integrity of kosher trade standards." The nine-member board, appointed by the Commissioner, would advise the Department on matters relating to kosher trade standards and consumer expectations regarding products labeled as kosher.

This board - which could conceivably include Muslim or nonreligious consumers of kosher food - would reflect a more religiously neutral approach to the standards of the kosher food industry. Sometimes, as the Second Circuit noted, the constitutionality of a legal standard isn't so much in what it says as in who drafts and enforces it.

Another protection that the Governor and the task force might wish to consider is greater disclosure concerning certifying authorities. Kosher markets should be required to disclose, not only the name of the rabbinic authority that supervises them, but also the denomination or organization with which that authority is affiliated and the telephone numbers of local Jewish and business organizations that might certify its authenticity. This, like the disclosure requirement already upheld by the Second Circuit, would not require that kosher food vendors conform to a particular denomination of Judaism, but only that they provide information that their customers can use to check for themselves.

UPDATE: In the 900th Haloscan comment to The Head Heeb, Ikram Saeed points out that New Jersey and Minnesota have passed laws prohibiting fraudulent sales of halal food. Similar bills, making it a misdemeanor to fraudulently label food as halal, were signed into law in California, Illinois and Michigan last year. The Illinois law has proved controversial among American Muslims because of its definition of halal food:

prepared under and maintained in strict compliance with the laws and customs of the Islamic religion including but not limited to those laws and customs of zabiha/zabeeha (slaughtered according to appropriate Islamic code), and as expressed by reliable recognized Islamic entities and scholars

As with the New York kosher fraud law, some Muslim groups have complained that this statute places the Illinois government in the position of favoring one particular interpretation of Islamic dietary laws, and it is likely to face a constitutional challenge.

The more things change...

I just ran across Bernard Avishai's critical review of Noam Chomsky's Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood, which appeared in the New York Review of Books on January 23, 1975. It's an excellent article, and many of the points Avishai makes about the philosophy of Zionism and the concept of a "Jewish-democratic state" are similar to what I've said here. The most remarkable thing about it, though, is how relevant it remains today - I got about a third of the way through it before I realized from internal clues that it was written in the 1970s. The same article could easily be written now, with a few changes in the names of political parties and national leaders.

It's worth remembering, in this time when Israel is demonized so frequently by the international left, that the 1970s were very similar. The close call of the Yom Kippur War, much like the second intifada and the retreat from Lebanon, triggered intense feelings of vulnerability and national self-examination. At the same time, a crescendo of condemnation was building in the international community, culminating in Resolution 3379 of November 10, 1975, which equated Zionism with "racism and racial discrimination." At the time of Avishai's article, this resolution had not yet been passed, but anti-Zionist resolutions were on the agenda of a number of international conferences, and it was clear which way the international trend was going. The Israeli-Arab conflict was increasingly regarded as intractable, and not only the policies but the raison d'etre of the Israeli state were coming under attack.

This isn't to say that nothing has changed since 1975. Arab Israelis are more politically active than they were at the time of Avishai's article, the Likud has become the dominant force in Israeli politics, and the West Bank and Gaza settlements have fueled resentments and blurred national borders. Conversely, Israelis and Palestinians both pay at least lip service to each other's national aspirations; there can be no return to the "Four No" resolution or to Golda Meir's famous statement that the Palestinian nation did not exist. But the obstacles to peace that Avishai cited - the rejectionists of the Arab world and the Israeli right - still exist, and a substantial segment of the international left is again questioning Israel's existence rather than only its policies. The dawn of the twenty-first century witnesses the same arguments about the nature of Zionism and the tensions between Israel's Jewish and democratic ideals that took place a quarter of a century ago, with both Avishai and Chomsky still among those doing the arguing.

It's good for the perspective to remember that Israel and the Palestinians have been through all this before. And it's also good to remember that two years after Resolution 3379, Anwar Sadat stepped onto the ground at Ben-Gurion Airport.

UPDATE: Russil Wvong points to a rebuttal written by Chomsky in July 1975, published together with Avishai's response. Again, it's amazing how familiar the zeitgeist was - even the bantustan analogy was already being debated (and this more than a year before Transkei became the first "independent" bantustan). I wonder, though, if Chomsky would still refer to the "far worse cases of Rhodesia, South Africa, and so on," or say that "[a] desirable approach is the federal model, for example, along Yugoslav lines."

Come on, you know you want to

Gil Shterzer links to the Mossad recruitment site, with application forms available in English.

Respite in France

Daniel Ben-Simon reports that anti-Semitism in France may be receding, although there are still conflicting signs.

Thursday, February 27, 2003
Pacific censorship

A common fact of Pacific island life is scarcity; Pacific nations are small and resource-poor, and often have to import goods that could be produced locally elsewhere. Among the imports of the South Pacific nation of Tonga was its only independent newspaper, the Tonga Times or Taimi 'o Tonga - at least until yesterday. According to this morning's New Zealand Herald, Tongan customs has declared the paper - which is published in Auckland - a "prohibited import into the Kingdom of Tonga."

No reason for the ban was given to the Herald, but a statement on the Tongan government web site accuses the paper of being a "foreign concern with a political agenda" whose "continuous standard of journalism is unacceptable." The Times is also accused of having "ruthlessly campaigned for the overthrow of Tonga's Constitutional Government," "inciting disaffection among the people of Tonga" with "strong cultural insensitivity," and violating "the rights of the people of Tonga to correct, unbiased, and balanced reporting."

To put it mildly, the government's explanation doesn't wash. The charge of "cultural insensitivity" is especially amazing given that the publisher is a Tongan expatriate and many of the reporters are based in Tonga. The government-affiliated papers such as the Tonga Chronicle and the Tonga Star also never seems to be taken to task for their failure to present "unbiased and balanced reporting." It is widely suspected that the actual reason for the ban is that the Times "recently campaigned against Government corruption and a recent decision by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV to build a cigarette factory." Tonga, a fitfully repressive monarchy in which the king and nobility hold the lion's share of power, has used the legal system to intimidate and prosecute opposition journalists. The same intimidation is likely to prevent the Times from finding a local printer.

(Thanks to New Zealand correspondent Errol Cavit for the alert.)

Jim Crow president

Charles Paul Freund reminds us that before there was Trent Lott or Strom Thurmond, there was Woodrow Wilson.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003
And you thought this wasn't a warblog

I recently ran across a web site for one of the world's more unusual military forces: the Bolivian Navy. For those unfamiliar with it, Bolivia is a landlocked country in the middle of South America, without a coastline in sight. Contrary to popular opinion, though, landlocked countries do sometimes need navies to patrol their rivers and lakes, and a baker's dozen of them have warships that proudly fly the national flag.

The Bolivian Navy is actually one of the more active landlocked naval forces, with a total strength of 4500 and several patrol boats plying Lake Titicaca. While its primary activities today are search-and-rescue operations and anti-smuggling patrols, it once had a much greater role; Bolivia had a Pacific coastline before losing it to Chile in the War of the Pacific. Bolivia may not have entirely given up its dreams of the sea; the Bolivian naval headquarters on the lakeshore bears a sign saying "the sea belongs to us; to get it back is our duty."

Paraguay, South America's other landlocked country, also has a proud naval tradition that extends to the War of the Triple Alliance. The Paraguayan navy also saw action during the Chaco War against Bolivia, although the naval forces served primarily as troop and supply carriers. The Paraguayan navy today has some 3600 sailors and is mainly oriented toward river patrol.

The Caspian Sea is another hotbed of naval activity, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union has thrown the mineral-rich sea into legal limbo. The Iranian navy, which maintains a 50-ship Caspian detachment, supports a plan under which the five nations bordering the sea will share its mineral rights equally, and has declared its willingness to use its navy to protect its economic interests. It is small wonder, then, that Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are planning to strengthen their small Caspian fleets, which currently have 5 to 15 ships each.

Africa is also a continent of lakes, and some of them have been flash points of civil or international conflict. On Lake Kivu, which lies between landlocked Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwandan patrol boats interdict interahamwe infiltrators and have attacked towns on the Congolese shore during that country's civil war. Rwanda's next-door neighbor Burundi also has a 50-man navy which has seen action against rebels on Lake Tanganyika.

Two other landlocked African countries, Malawi and Uganda, have naval forces. The Malawian navy, which patrols the lake of the same name, is a well-established force with 225 sailors and several modern patrol boats. Uganda, which is one of three countries bordering Lake Victoria, commissioned its navy only recently with the purchase of patrol boats in 2002. The boats will join their Tanzanian and Kenyan counterparts to police the lake in addition to combating illegal fishing in Ugandan waters.

No survey of landlocked navies would be complete without mentioning three more countries - Moldova, Laos and Mongolia. The Mongolian navy, which patrols Lake Hovsgol, may be the world's smallest, consisting of "a ship and seven sailors, only one of whom can swim." It may not even be the Mongolian Navy any more given that it was semi-privatized in 1997, but it remains the lake's unquestioned ruler.

UPDATE: Errol Cavit asked about the Swiss Navy. Well, it turns out that Switzerland has a small lake patrol - it's a branch of the army rather than an independent service, but it has its own naval ensign. There aren't any Swiss Navy knives, but the sailors apparently do get distinctive mittens.

UPDATE 2: Correspondent Rich Rostrom provides another Bolivian navy anecdote:

Have you ever heard of Tristan Jones? Spent nearly his whole adult life at sea, often sailing single-handed.

In the 1970s he decided to try to set the altitude record for sailing. That is, he would sail both the Dead Sea and Lake Titicaca - which he eventually did, as recounted in a marvelous book, The Incredible Voyage.

He got to Lake Titicaca through Peru; but to get through Peru he had to steal his sailboat from the customs yard at Callao. So he went over to Bolivia, where he was greeted by the massed brass band of the Bolivian Navy!

(His was the first salt-water vessel to reach Bolivia since the War of 1870.)

And here's the web site of a travel writer who sailed with the Mongolian Navy, along with a picture of its only ship.

UPDATE 3: Dragan Antulov points out that the Soviet Union wasn't the only federation to break up and create new landlocked countries in the 1990s. He guesses that Macedonia (I refuse to call it "FYROM") might have a small navy to patrol Lake Ohrid, which lies along the border with Albania, and he's right - according to this diplomatic memoir (scroll to page 2), the Macedonian Navy consists of three boats. That may not be a great deal, but it's one more than the Royal Yugoslav Navy had on the lake in 1941.

My country, 'tis of thee

Solonor has an incredible thing going on his blog, inspired by this challenge:

What is so great about America, anyhow? What makes it such a wonderful place? What would you tell a foreigner about your home state? Pick a state, provide links. Leave it in the comments and I'll add your contribution to the list as I go along. And then I'm going to send it to every single foreign newspaper that had some idiotic article detailing how little there is to like about America.

And people did. Hundreds of them. So many, in fact, that Solonor had to organize a separate page for them - and all without the hyperpatriotism and chauvinism that often takes over these discussions.

I'm going to do the same thing here, in reverse. America isn't the only target of unfair prejudice these days - there are plenty of harsh words floating around about Europe, the Muslim world and especially Israel. So, once Haloscan gets its act back together, I'm inviting my readers - both international and American - to comment early and often about your favorite countries.

There's no requirement that comments be about one's native country - readers are permitted, and indeed encouraged, to talk about how they fell in love with another country while visiting or living there. Keep in mind, also, that the United States is a country like any other, and favorable comments about America are welcome whether or not they come from Americans. As comments accumulate, I'll add them to the main article and, if I get enough of them, I'll put together a separate page like Solonor's. Add links, and speak from the heart.

I'll start it off: my own two favorite cities outside the United States are Helsinki and Québec. I visited Finland in 1997, on my first trip outside North America and my first venture outside the States as an adult. The Finns like to stereotype themselves as dour, unfriendly people, but what I encountered was the exact opposite. On my first night in Helsinki, at the Erottajanpuisto hostel downtown, I was awakened at 3:30 a.m. by the sound of singing outside. Since I was still on New York time and wasn't going to get any sleep anyway, I shaved, got dressed, went downstairs and told the singers that if they weren't going to let me sleep, they'd better let me sing. They were members of a band who'd come down from Oulu to play a gig. They taught me some Finnish Christmas carols and I reciprocated with some English ones; they shared their bottle of cheap Argentine wine with me and we caroled our drunken way through the city until dawn.

That set the tone for the entire trip - I had many similar encounters during the next three weeks, in Turku and Rovaniemi as well as Helsinki. The other cities have also stayed with me - the castle at Turku and the forests north of the Arctic Circle, but my best memories are of Helsinki. It's an excellent walking city full of beautiful nineteenth-century buildings, fresh fish at the market square, a world-class art museum and Suomenlinna fortress. It was at Suomenlinna that the first Jews in Finland served their 25-year terms in the Czarist army before being allowed to settle in the city; as I walked the ramparts, I could imagine that I was standing guard duty 150 years ago and counting the days until I was free. By the time I left, I was ready to become a Finnish citizen.

I found Québec under somewhat different circumstances. In 1999, the year before Naomi and I were married, we visited Montréal, and decided on a whim one day to visit Québec City. We left in the morning and drove up Route 138, taking our time and stopping at Trois-Riviéres and Cap-de-la-Madeleine. We got to Québec at about six and wandered through the upper city, amusing the storekeepers with our bad French and finding a nice Breton place for dinner. It took us exactly four hours to fall in love with the place. A year later, when we were married, we went back to Québec City, spending a week at the Concorde with its revolving restaurant on the top floor. Just like I'd become a Finn, I'd become a Canadian in a minute.

FIRST SUBMISSION: Nick Barlow comments on the UK: Britain is a place where you can find thousands of years of history around every corner without even looking for it. For instance in Colchester, where I live, the 21st century rubs shoulder with 2500 years of continuous history, stretching back to before the arrival of the Romans, and even an anonymous town like Redditch has the 1000 year old ruins of Bordesley Abbey within it.

Gert weighs in on the land of the pyramids: I've recently come back from Egypt, a country of warm, funny, laid back people, with a real get-up-and-go-mentality. While I was there, although not especially religious, I was moved by the simple spirituality of many Egyptians, Christian and Moslem, that we met. A country with almost the oldest manmade structures in the world; a country where technology is king.

From Lisa: I'm an American who has lived in Italy and the UK for the last 9 years. One of the greatest things about Europe is the diversity. Every country is hugely individual with unique customs, politics and ways of life. The Swedes are completely different from the French and the Italians are in no way like the Germans (and of course the Dutch are absolutely unique). While there's plenty of the obligatory xenophobia, it's mostly good-natured bickering that usually gets worked out in the end.

From Jane Finch: I love France. The food is sublime, and they have a ritual politeness that would serve us well to emulate. You always say hello and goodbye to clerks and train people and waiters and the like. You don't have to figure out a's in the bill.

The French have such a fine sense of historical value....for example, they removed every pane of glass from the Chartres Cathedral and hid them during the wars so that they would be preserved...and they were...and they are a thing of beauty and knowledge. On the other hand, they left St. Eustache in Paris with the plain glass of the Revolution-era agricultural institute it was turned into. They don't get all bent out of shape like we things modernize, they add and subtract and USE their monuments and their buildings. And in France, women's shoes are wider because they you get these fabulous fashionable things with heels and they're COMFORTABLE. For that alone, the French should be canonized.

And the French don't mind waiting in when it's your turn at the wicket, or with the cashier, you can take the time you need to do what you have to do and no one is clucking or tapping or yelling behind you.

And the best? The french are small...the women are like size 4, but they have fabulous lingerie in every size imaginable. What's not to like about that!

Kinneret: I love Israel. I lived there for several years - the country is magnificently beautiful, but beyond that, the people are beyond amazing. Stop for a felafel at your nearest stand with a political button in your lapel and within 3 minutes you'll have 10 Israelis all arguing politics. Tell someone you're from abroad and you'll find yourself invited into 6 different homes for "nescafe" and expect a slew of cakes, sweets and nuts. And pictures, Israelis love to show pictures.

I remember being on a small army base in the West Bank long ago (early 80s), long before the press got ahold of "Intifadah I", watching the news as they related a horrific event about a bus of bar-mitvah age kids whose bus got caught on train-tracks just as a train came - a whole class of kids died. I remember the look on the face of the CO. Of everyone. I remember being in Tel Aviv the next day and everyone was in mourning. People were crying openly in the street ... something I never saw in Canada or the USA until Sept 11th. Israelis are no strangers to emotion and they embrace it, they make it theirs, they aren't afraid to feel. They make a beautiful country into something even more special than you can imagine.

Gavin Weaire: What I like ( I love my wife; I'm loyal to countries, but I wouldn't call it love) about America (where I live now): selfishly, I like the academic salaries. I also like the diversity of different kinds of academic institutions, and the fact that the idea of a general education is still quite strong here. America also has a fantastic tradition of support for artistic and cultural institutions (something that Americans often don't seem to realize about themselves), not just in large cities, but in quite small towns.

What I like about Ireland (where I grew up): the general tolerance for different points of view and the willingness to discuss things and argue about things rather than avoid topics where there might be disagreement. Widespread intellectual interests in people in all walks of life.

Who, me?

Carnival of the Vanities is up at Kesher Talk. Lots of good links, including a recent Head Heeb post that I'm, well, vain about.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Patients' stories

The government of Botswana plans to release three 15-minute educational videos about living with AIDS. The videos, which will be released this week, are unique for southern Africa in that they portray HIV-positive Tswana defying social stigma by coming forward and telling their stories. The government hopes that the tapes, which will be shown in hospital waiting rooms and educational programs, will convince more HIV patients to seek treatment:

The Botswana government has undertaken a campaign to provide ARVs to all of its HIV-positive citizens who need them. Since its inception in January 2002, only four percent of the estimated 110,000 people currently eligible for ARVs have enrolled in "Masa" - the national ARV therapy programme. Stigma and denial have prevented many from participating in the treatment campaign.

HIV infection rates have recently begun to stabilize in Botswana, but still remain above 35 percent. Public health educators hope that the videos will "complement the oral tradition of communicating and educating" and bring other patients forward.

Gulf of expectations

The New York Times has an interesting article on the future of Indian labor in the Gulf states.

Monday, February 24, 2003
Yiddish argot

Kesher Talk links to an interesting article about Yiddish loanwords in Polish. The author points out that a great many, although not all, of these words concern crime and criminals:

The answer, I think, is that, until the 20th century, social contact in Poland between Christians and Jews was probably most intensive among criminals. This is not really so surprising. Jews and Christians in Poland traditionally led separate lives, even if they met in the streets, shops, and marketplaces. Upper-class Poles did not socialize with rich Jews; middle-class Poles did not socialize with middle-class Jews, and lower-class Poles certainly did not socialize with poor Jews. The taboos on Christian-Jewish socialization broke down most in those circles where numerous others taboos were ignored, too — that is, in the world of crime. Jewish and Polish thieves, burglars, pickpockets, fences, pimps, prostitutes, bootleggers and swindlers had no compunction about working closely with each other because they had no compunction about disobeying social norms in general. And since law-breakers in all societies tend to develop thieves' argots, that is, private languages that help hide their activities from the outside world, it was entirely natural for Polish criminals to borrow Hebrew/Yiddish vocabulary from Jews that other Poles would not understand.

The author adds that criminal slang in Holland and Germany, both countries with substantial Jewish populations during the prewar period, also contains Yiddish words.

I made a similar point a while ago about Israeli and Palestinian criminals, who have often done business together despite the unfriendly relations prevailing between their respective national groups. It would make sense that their cooperation, like that between Jewish and Polish criminals, would be reflected in their slang, especially since Mizrahim who immigrated from Arab countries are disproportionately represented among criminals in Israel. I would expect that Israeli criminal slang contains a great many Arabic loanwords, and that Hebrew has filtered into the argot of criminals on the other side of the Green Line. Further information from knowledgeable parties would be appreciated.

Diamonds and nomads

The non-governmental organization Survival International has charged that Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve is being parceled out to diamond mining companies:

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is part of the World Bank, recently financed Kalahari Diamonds Limited to the tune of US $2 million.

Kalahari Diamonds Limited has a licence to explore for diamonds in Botswana, including the CKGR.


Survival International alleges that "most of the reserve has since been parcelled out in diamond exploration concessions" and links these to the government's eviction of the indigenous people in the CKGR.

The future of the game reserve is of particular concern because of the remnant population of Basarwa living there. "Basarwa" - a Setswana word meaning "people of the south" - is the common local term for the San people, who have lived in what is now Botswana for at least 20,000 years. Since 1985, the Botswana government has undertaken a concerted effort to relocate the Basarwa living in the game reserve, but has always denied that diamonds were involved or that any Basarwa were being forced to leave. The government claims that relocation was necessary because the Basarwa were establishing agricultural settlements in the reserve that were incompatible with wildlife conservation, and that the transfer is being accomplished through incentives to settle in development towns that provide a standard of living similar to that in urban Botswana. In fact, the government has allocated millions of dollars to public health and infrastructure programs in the Basarwa development towns, and appears to be sincere in its desire to improve the Basarwa living standard. The recent revelations about diamond exploration concessions in the game reserve, though, place the program under a cloud, especially in light of growing allegations of forcible removal by local NGOs.

At present, about 100 Basarwa remain on the reserve and have vowed to fight eviction. They are not without resources; the Basarwa have one representative in Botswana's House of Chiefs, and a court challenge advanced last month with a favorable procedural ruling in the High Court. It remains to be seen whether these efforts will succeed and what part, if any, the diamond companies will play in opposing them.

No happy ending

Via Imshin: Avirama Golan reports on Dutch Jewish children who were hidden during the Second World War and not returned to their parents afterward:

Even during the war itself, there were people in the resistance who proposed denying the right of parenthood to parents who had given their children over to be hidden. They agreed that children would be returned only to people who were declared `fit,' after they had passed suitable tests. And thus, a short time after the war had ended, the law was passed very quickly with only slight changes."

Verheij displays posters and advertisements that were publicly distributed and called upon adoptive parents not to report the addresses and original names of the children (many of whose names had been changed to Christian ones), not to allow parents to visit their children, and even not to bring them together with other children who were relatives of theirs, in order not to harm their Christian education.

"It must be noted," she stresses, "that most of the adoptive parents did not obey these instructions and returned the children to parents who returned from the camps." But the law, which backed those who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity - especially childless couples who had adopted babies - and the fact that some of the children were indeed orphans, created what Verheij calls "the tragic and dramatic struggle that went on from 1945 to 1949."

Many members of this Dutch stolen generation - which may number in the thousands - are only now learning the truth of their identity.

Coalition deal

Israel has a government, at least for the time being, as Likud signed a coalition agreement with Shinui to add to its earlier deal with Mafdal. Shinui reportedly received a commitment from Sharon to follow the Bush "road map" to a Palestinian state, along with five ministries: Justice, Interior, National Infrastructure, Environment, and Science. With Shinui and Mafdal on board, Sharon has a bare 61-seat majority in the next Knesset.

Sharon's commitment to the "road map" is likely to be put to the test soon, however, given Mafdal's traditional support for the West Bank settlements. Mafdal's leader, Effi Eitam, has reportedly been promised the housing portfolio, which is likely to give him at least some authority to approve settlement construction. Some analysts have suggested that Sharon is using Mafdal for cover and plans to switch it for Avoda if a peace deal looks imminent, although Yossi Verter disagrees.

Sunday, February 23, 2003
Featured blog

If you haven't done so already, check out Balagan for scenes of life in Israel from a Brazilian immigrant's point of view.

Nigeria's future

Professor Jibril Muhammad Aminu, Nigeria's ambassador to the United States and a Senate candidate in the upcoming election, is interviewed about democracy and Christian-Muslim tensions in Nigeria, terrorism in Africa and Africa's relationship with the United States.