Science and Race

There was an interesting conference, at the Jacques Loeb Centre for the history and philosophy of the life sciences at Ben Gurion University, entitled “Science, Race, Ethnicity and Identity.”  I was only able to attend the morning session  consisting of four presentations, but I found them very stimulating.

According to most popular beliefs, humans are made up of several races, such as white European, black African, yellow Asian and native Americans.  But, these are not really races at all, since each can co-habit with the other and produce offspring.  The definition of a race or species according to science is that they cannot reproduce.  Humans have been on the earth about 500,000 years at most, probably about 350,000 years.  That in scientific terms is simply not enough time for separate races to develop.

The racial ideas developed by the Nazis, that they needed to keep their “Aryan” race pure is nonsense, since there is no such thing genetically as a pure race.  All the major groups of humans in the world, that have been largely geographically separated, are genetically over-lapping.  There is diversity, but not along so-called racial lines.  The homogeneity is greater than the diversity.  This was the conclusion of Prof. Diethard Tautz, from the Max Planck Inst. for Evolutionary Biology, Germany.  According to genetic analysis, there is only one species of human being (Homo sapiens) and all others are now extinct, from genetic analysis the Neanderthals can be considered a sub-species.

Prof. Giovanni Destro-Bisol from Sapienza Univ., Italy, also said that the concept of “race’ is not useful for biologists and geneticists. But, whether we like it or not, the term “race” is useful and has entered the legal sphere.  For example, it is stated in law that one cannot discriminate on the basis of “race, religion, ethnic group, etc.”   There are organizations that seek to remove all mention of race from the law, yet the preponderance of opinion is that it is a useful concept that has meaning for most people.

Michael Gilead, a psychologist from Ben Gurion University, concluded from human experimentation, that the basis of so-called racial distinction comes from the human need to identify those who are of the same group or clan, and therefore safe,  from the others, who are not.  This is a very basic, deep inherited human response and in itself is not necessarily discriminatory.  It is only when it becomes political, that issues of rights, ownership and superiority enter into the issue.

Later presentations covered the issues of Jewish concepts of race and the genetic definitions of ethnic origins.



In the US and UK crooners occupied the world stage for a short period of time, from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and then were gone.  Since I grew up in their hey-day, during the 1950’s, I have always been fascinated and attracted to them.  Here is a paean to the crooners.

A crooner is a male singer who sings predominantly romantic ballads and slurs some notes and syllables to make them sound sexy.  So for example, Frank Sinatra had excellent enunciation, you could hear every word, not like rock n’roll, but when it came to certain words, he would slur them, such as “moon” in the song “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” the word is pronounced something like “moooon.”  When this style first became popular it was criticized by the establishment and the Church, but it represented the early economic power of youth culture, they bought tickets and records.  It was the invention of the microphone that enabled the crooners to develop their intimate style.

I first learnt about the crooners from an unlikely source, when I worked on Sat mornings in a men’s wear store down the Roman Road in Bethnal Green.  The manager of the store had a voice just like Bing Crosby.  He used to serenade the customers and induce them to buy.  He had been in showbiz for a while, but no-one wanted a copy of Bing Crosby.  But thru him I developed an appreciation for the older origins of crooning. The early Bing Crosby was great, when he really had a voice, not using style only as later on.  But, the origins of crooning preceded Bing.

Here is a  list of crooners, roughly in chronological order (this is not meant to be a comprehensive list):

  • Al Jolson – deep voice, from Washington DC, father was a cantor, included African-American elements in his singing, first hit was Swanee, 1920, active 1904-1950
  • Eddie Cantor – singer and comedian, active 1907-62
  • Hoagy Carmichael – singer and famous song-writer, active 1918-82
  • Louis Armstrong, famous for his gravelly voice and jazzy style, active 1919-71
  • Rudy Vallee – musician with early crooning style, active 1924-74
  • Al Bowlly – famous British crooner, active 1927-41
  • Sammy Davis Jr. – popular singer and entertainer, active 1928-90
  • Mel Tormé – popular jazz singer, active 1929-96
  • Dick Powell – influential singer and actor, active 1930-63
  • Bing Crosby – Dean of the crooners, cultivated relaxed, intimate style, active 1931-54
  • Fred Astaire – classy dancer and singer, active 1932-81
  • Frankie Laine – versatile popular singer, active 1932-2005
  • Perry Como – popular Italian-American singer with relaxed style, active 1932-67
  • Nat “King” Cole – musician and singer, active 1934-65
  • Tex Beneke – popular singer, sang with Glenn Miller, active 1935-75
  • Frank Sinatra – most famous crooner, inimitable style, active 1935-95
  • Dick Haymes – Born in Argentina, sang with Tommy Dorsey, active 1935-56
  • Gene Kelly – famous dancer and singer, active 1938-942
  • Andy Williams – popular singer and entertainer, 1938-2012
  • Billy Eckstine – popular jazz singer, active 1939-90
  • Dean Martin – popular Italian-American entertainer, active 1940-91
  • Tony Bennett – versatile singer and entertainer, active 1945-2015
  • Vic Damone – popular singer, active 1947-2000
  • Eddie Fisher – singer actor, active 1948-2010
  • Johnnie Ray – precursor to rock n’roll, active 1951-89
  • Pat Boone – popular singer and entertainer, active 1954-pres.
  • Johnny Mathis – acclaimed popular singer, active 1956-pres.
  • Steve Lawrence – singer in duo with wife Eydie Gourme, active 1957-pres.
  • Tom Jones  – Welsh, popular singer 1963-pres.
  • Jim Morrison – influential 60’s singer, active 1963-71
  • Barry Manilow – pop music singer, songwriter, 1964-pres.
  • Julio Iglesias – Spanish singer and song-writer, active 1968-pres.
  • Harry Connick Jr.  – Sinatra sound-alike, active 1977-pres.
  • Michael Feinstein – singer-pianist, revived classic American music, active 1986-pres.

My favorite crooner, apart from Frankie, is Al Bowlly, perhaps because my father used to sound like him.  His life story is extraordinary.  His Lebanese Christian father and Dutch mother met on a boat going to Australia.  They were married on board, and left the ship in Mozambique, where Al was born.   Then they moved to S. Africa where Al grew up.  He started singing with a band and when they got a job aboard a cruise ship he joined them.  But, a disagreement resulted in him being left in Saigon, Vietnam, where to survive he became a dockworker.  Later the band toured Germany in the 1930’s and he received a telegram to join them.  He sang in Berlin and was heard by an English critic who arranged for him to go to London to record.  His recordings were very successful and so he moved to London.  He was the most popular British crooner of the 1930’s-40’s.  He was killed by a German bomb in his apartment London in 1941.

Another aspect of the crooners was their backing music.  In the 1920’s it was typical syncopated rhythm, with the usual cymbals at the end of a stanza.  But, then came the big bands of the 1940’s and the crooners sang with them, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorset, etc.  Finally when the crooners were established and successful, they commanded their own orchestras and arrangers, like Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle and Axel Stordahl.

It was a short but glorious entertainment epoch.

The Politics of Hate

A majority of the world is ruled by regimes that are based on hatred. Hatred of the other.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Islamic State, one might hope that the world would be on a path to a better future, but with the turn towards authoritarian rule in many countries, including Russia, Iran and Turkey, this prospect is dimmed.

A group of cyclists on a “kindness tour” were run down and then stabbed to death by a group of ISIS terrorists in Tajikistan.  Before embarking on their round the world tour one of them wrote: “Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own… By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”  So much for the naivete of the self-deluded, unfortunately evil is real, very real and deadly.

I have been watching two series at the same time, “Fauda,” is very violent and deals with Palestinian terrorism and Israeli counter-terrorism, and as an antidote I have been watching the comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”  You might notice that these have one theme in common, namely they both have Jewish subjects.  In “Fauda” the Arab terrorists scheme to “kill the Jews,” they hardly mention Israel, in “Mrs Maisel” the theme is Jewish humor, how Jewish family life becomes a source of laughter that transcends boundaries.  It is indeed remarkable that so many American comedians were Jewish, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers,  Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Seinfeld, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal, well beyond the statistical proportion of Jews in the American population (similar to that of the Nobel Prizes).

I also happened to watch a 2011 movie entitled “Oranges and Sunshine” that deals with the exposure by a British social worker, Margaret Humphreys, of the forced deportation of British children to Australia between 1947-1970.  These children were either orphaned or born to single mothers and were taken away from them and shipped out without their consent or knowledge.  About 130,000 children were transported this way by a secret agreement between the British and Australian Governments, with the connivance of Orphanages, Hospitals and Church organizations that were entrusted with the welfare of these children.  In Australia, these children were exploited, many by Church organizations, particularly the Catholic Christian Brothers, as slave labor and many were sexually and physically abused.  It took 30 years and legal action before the British and Australian Governments apologized for this gross abuse of human rights.

There are of course many other examples of children being abused.  In the US, Canada and Australia there were schemes in the 19th century that justified taking indigenous (Indian and Aboriginal) children away from their parents and bringing them up as “white Christians” in order to destroy their own culture, language and religion. Many of these children were also abused and even murdered.  So evil does certainly exist, and if they do this to children they can do it to anyone who is in their clutches.  So sometimes humans can be generous and kind, but don’t take any chances.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Ireland

For our visit to Ireland we chose a tour with the Irish National Tour company CIE that circles all around the coast of Ireland.  When we arrived in Dublin we were driven to a hotel in the southern outskirts for the night.

If only I had known, nearby within walking distance, is the Martello Tower which opens the first scene of the great novel “Ulysses” by James Joyce.  These towers were built around the coast by the British to defend Ireland against invasion.  There is no space here to describe this novel, but everything in it is based on actual places in Dublin and events that occurred on one day, June 16, 1915, known as Bloomsday.

The next morning we were whisked away by coach, with a delightful character as driver and guide.  His accent was so strong you could cut it with a knife.  Instead of “thirty” he said “dirty.”  He was a lot of fun.  Our first stop was Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, which was a founding site for Irish Culture, where St. Kevin built one of the first Irish Christian monasteries in the 6th century (I emphasize Irish as opposed to Catholic, since the Catholic Church later banned and destroyed the indigenous Irish Church).  There was also one of the peculiar round towers, a tall, thin tower which gradually becomes narrower towards the top.  They are found throughout Ireland and their real purpose is unknown.

From there we drove to the south-east coast to the small port town of Wexford, where we had a break,and from there to the town of Waterford. We stayed the night there and visited the famous glass works the next morning. It was an amazing display of artistry, how the glassblowers made a jug, then fashioned a handle and in a jiffy attached it perfectly.  From there we drove on to Blarney Castle, which all visitors to Ireland must visit.  On the top of the tower is a stone that if you kiss you are supposed to be given the gift of the “blarney”, i.e the ability to talk persuasively on any subject.  The problem is that to kiss the stone you have to be held and lean out backwards over a precipitous drop.  I declined, anyway I already have that power.

We drove to the city of Cork and stayed there in an excellent hotel overnight.  The name itself is a complete fabrication by the English because they couldn’t understand or pronounce the Irish name (that means something like bubbling waters).  It has nothing to do with the substance known as cork.  That evening we attended a fun get together at a local pub, where everyone was expected to get up and dance their country’s national dance.  We didn’t know whether to do a knee’s-up-mother-brown from England, a jive from the USA, but in the end we chose a hora from Israel.  It went over very well.

Our next stop was the pleasant small city of Killarney, and from there we went on a tour of the lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, which was a circular trip around of one of the Irish peninsulas that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean.  It was very wild and desolate place.  WE continued up the west coast, passing thru many small picturesque towns.  Our driver pointed out along the way where there were mass graves of the million or so Irish who died in the potato famine of 1845-8, that resulted in over a million also leaving for America. We passed thru Limerick and over the Shannon estuary and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher.  They are indeed impressive, rising dramatically sheer about 200 m (650 ft) straight up from the Atlantic.  The wind is indeed very strong there and there is precious little security and it seemed likely one could be swept away.

Further north we stayed overnight in Galway and saw the statue of St. Patrick who is supposed to have landed nearby, before converting most of the Irish.   We continued north to Sligo where we visited the Churchyard of Drumcliff where W.B. Yeats, the famous Irish poet is buried.

From there we headed east, skirting Northern Ireland, only entering it briefly thru Inniskillen, where we noted the difference in the style of the houses, they could have been in England, and the police stations with 20 foot high wire netting around them.  But, the driver said that things had quieted down a lot and currently there was no violence.    We drive then back to the east coast and to the most famous battle site in Ireland at the Boyne Valley.  In 1690 a significant battle took place between the deposed Catholic English King James II, supported by the Irish, and the Protestant King William of Orange, supported by the English, the Dutch and the Scots.  The Protestants won and Ireland has been suffering from the result of that victory for the past 300 years.

Nearby we also visited the reconstructed ancient site of Newgrange, that is a subterranean burial complex, although the significance of much of it is unknown.  From there we returned to Dublin.  Only a few remarks about Dublin.  Enjoyed drinking in some pubs, Guinness of course.  Went to a show of Irish music and dancing.  Visited the National Library at Trinity College.  Did the James Joyce walking tour, an excellent highlight with which to end the visit to Ireland.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Holland

When I was a scientist working for the US Government I had the opportunity almost every year to take a trip abroad and visit some well-known and also some not so well-known places.  Because of the limited time I had on these trips I could not spend too much time as a tourist.  After some years I thought of writing a travel book with the above title.  But, since I never got around to actually writing this, I thought I would describe some of the less-visited, more interesting places I have visited.  This was partly a result of a discussion I had with some Dutch people I met, when I reminisced about visiting their country.

Everyone who visits Holland goes to Amsterdam, and it is a wonderful city to visit, especially taking the boat tours around the canals (can you say Keisersgracht in Dutch?)  But, relatively few people visit central Holland, a chance I had when I drove with my wife from a conference in Copenhagen to another in Amsterdam via Hamburg.  After crossing the Dutch border we stayed a few nights in a beautiful little city called Appeldorn.  The reason for staying there are the local treasures, the Palace of Het Loo and the Kroller-Muller Gallery that sits in the middle of a forest and has the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world (the largest collection is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam).

The Palace of Het Loo (that roughly means “in the woods”) was built in 1686 in the French Baroque style by King William II of Orange.  But, after his death the ownership passed to King Frederick of Prussia, since all the Royal Houses of Europe were related in some way.  Eventually it was returned to the ownership of the Dutch Royal Family, until it was finally bequeathed to the Dutch Nation.   It is an impressive Palace well worth the visit.  Its gardens are magnificent, in the French style, outclassed only by those at Versaille.  The gardens had fallen into ruin, but were reconstructed in the 1970-80’s to their original design from contemporary drawings.

The Kroller-Muller Gallery was established in 1938 from the collection of Helene Kroller-Muller and her husband Anton.  She was principally responsible for amassing this fabulous collection and was one of the first to recognise the genius of Van Gogh.   The gallery itself is a modern glass-fronted building that is in the center of a large forest.  This forest,. the Hoge Vuluwe, is unique in Holland, being the last wild forest left.  During WWII it was refuge for many hiding from the Nazis, which included youths of Jewish and Scottish ancestry.  (Prof. McLean of the Free University of Amsterdam was one of them and he told me his story; there is a community of Scottish Protestants in Holland, who escaped Catholic persecution in the mid-1700’s).  They were fed by the local farmers and were never captured.


The Smilansky Street Festival

Now that I live in Beer Sheva, I am beginning to participate in local activities.  Every year at this time  they have a Smilansky Street Festival.  I went this evening with my daughter.  It was great!

First a word about Moshe Smilansky, he was a pioneer Zionist leader who moved to  Ottoman occupied Israel in 1890, he advocated peaceful coexistence with the Arabs in British occupied Mandatory Palestine, and he was a farmer and a prolific author.  In almost every city in Israel there is a street named after him.

The one in Beer Sheva is in the Old City.  Most people are not aware that Beer Sheva has an Old City.  It is not nearly as old as the famous one in Jerusalem, it dates mainly from the 19th century, when the Turks decided to develop Beer Sheva as  local capital of the Negev desert region.  It was their intention, as happened during WWI, to use it as a military base from which to attack the British in Egypt.  So they built a railroad to Beer Sheva at the beginning of the 20th century.  The Old City is a mixture of trendy art studios and old family-owned businesses.

We went to see an exhibit of paintings of two friends of mine Roy Rubinstein and Lena Zilberberg that was on for the festival.  Very exciting paintings.  Then we toured the festival, covering several blocks.  The weirdest thing (see Facebook) was a performer who blew up a huge balloon and then actually went inside it!  There were many stalls selling jewelry and crafts and lots of food stalls.  Finally we saw a band playing oriental (Mizrachi) Jewish music, with an instrument that looked like a zither, and the music sounds like Arabic music.  I looked up and saw that they were playing on the corner of Mordechai Anielewicz Street.  Only in Israel!


I went to a lecture on “Dream Interpretation” at our Thursday Senior’s Discussion Group given by Celia Livermore, a psychologist with an interesting background.  She is an Israeli who moved to Australia and was very successful there, but after retiring she moved back to Beer Sheva where she grew up.

She is an expert on dreams and gave an interesting talk on the subject.  She pointed out that modern interpretation of dreams does not rely on simple allegories as in the Bible nor on the largely sexual analysis of Sigmund Freud.  Dreams tend to include some form of conflict, which is now often interpreted as the attempt by the brain to bring issues that bother the individual from the subconscious mind (the id representing the child and the super-ego representing the adult) into communication with the conscious mind (the ego or self).

Dreams are known to occur during the last stages of sleep (after 5 or so hours) during  REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Some people (like myself) who never or rarely dream may be because they never have continuous sleep for up to 8 hours, and if sleep is interrupted never get to the REM stage.  Alternatively they may not “remember” their dreams.  In order to help remember dreams Celia recommended having a note pad and pen next to the bed and writing in it whatever comes to mind immediately you wake up.  Sometimes in this way dreams are remembered that would otherwise be forgotten.  Once people start to record dreams their dreams often become more easily remembered.

The interpretation of dreams is quite complex and often includes recent happenings in one’s life, that the brain is trying to deal with and interpret.  Complexity comes about partly because the sub-conscious mind uses symbols to represent people or things in the real world.  Celia related that there is a specific kind of dream that is particularly vivid and often involves two people talking about a serious subject.  These are known as “lucid” dreams and often are an attempt by the conscious mind to resolve some specific personal problem.  For example, Celia had dreamt that she was talking to someone who had jumped out of a plane.  After analyzing the dream she realized that both people were versions of herself, her conscious self and her sub-conscious self (or id) and that the plane represented a relationship she had recently terminated.  Jumping out of the plane was her sub-conscious mind’s way of dealing with the ending of this relationship.

I mentioned the famous short story of 1938 by Delmore Schwartz, the American Jewish intellectual and writer, entitled “In dreams begin responsibilities,” in which he dreams that he is watching a movie of his father and mother meeting, and he tries to stop the film.  In this he intimates that dreams are a way of dealing with the sometimes difficult reality of life.