Wednesday, August 6, 2014


There’s so much going on in the world at this time that I find it particularly hard to write a blog post. Between Israel and Hamas, growing anti-Semitism in Europe, Russia and Ukraine, Ebola outbreak in Africa, droughts all over California, plane crashes and Syria and Iraq, how to elaborate on any of these stories without hurting someone?

My Facebook friends know where I stand on the issue of the war between Israel and Hamas, but in the name of fairness, something I do think I’m capable of, this is not a political post. This is a post about human nature, human characteristic, human failings.

What I’ve noticed most strikingly about the current hot issue, which is Israel vs Hamas, is that no one, no matter how convincing the other party is, has any intention of being swayed in their opinion. The more I see comments on Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, WhatsApp etc., the clearer it becomes to me that those who are voicing their opinion do so because they remain steadfast in that belief.

If I’m a Palestinian supporter, and show photographs of dying babies and bombed hospitals and schools, am I really reaching my opponent? Will he/she be moved by these pictures/videos and reconsider his/her position? I think not.

If I’m Jewish and I show photographs of Hamas’ men shielding themselves behind toddlers, or preventing mothers and children from leaving the danger zone despite warnings, will that sway Palestinian supporters to think otherwise of Israelis? Not a chance.

And now to the outsiders, meaning the rest of the world; those who know nothing about the daily struggles in that part of the world. Those who cannot begin to comprehend the depth of this conflict, the historical divide between two people. I mean the outsider who comfortably sits in his/her living room making up his/her mind, which side to support and, which side to vilify according to the sound bites given to them through various means and ways. I don’t consider an outsider anyone who has family in the affected region. For obvious reasons they can never be “outsiders.”

The fact is, the outsider seems to be fueling anger, loathing, misinformation, ignorance, fear, sensationalism, falsehoods, lies. He or she is not helping the situation, but rather making it worse. The so-called outsider is the person who has no connection one way or another to either side. The outsider isn’t Muslim and isn’t Jewish. He or she is the onlooker, the passive/aggressive party who thinks he/she knows…but in fact does not. The outsider shapes his or her opinion according to…well…feeling, proclivity and influence, none of which are based in reality or rational thought.

Under any other circumstances the outsider leaves room for error in his own assessment. For instance, if a television clip shows a policeman pummeling a person, anything but a tame clip, the outsider will form an opinion but have doubts. “Damn the police, but perhaps he was provoked,” the outsider will have an inner debate with him/herself. The point being there is some questioning on a subconscious level, an innate tendency to give both victim and perpetrator some thought; a healthy back and forth of what could have transpired beyond the clip. Not so with the Israel/Hamas conflict. In this instance, the outsider reacts in absolutes; never mind that a clip or sound bite can and most likely is taken out of context or has been altered; never mind that both sides are playing into their audience; never mind that newspapers and television formulate things according to their inclination. Simply put, there is no reasoning on the part of the outsider.

Of course voicing your opinion is healthy and natural. But how helpful is it for the outsider, in most cases the laymen with little to no knowledge in the matter, to be so consequent, so adamant in his/her view? Why does rational and plausibility fly out the window, and conviction of being right take its place? More than any other conflict, past or present, this one is ruled by emotions. Either you’re with us, or you’re against us. There doesn’t seem to be any reasoning, any inner debate possible, certainly no compassion for the other side. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the problem: the right to exist and thrive. In the meantime, while the outsider shouts his/her position, those caught up in this conflict are confronted with sorrow, grief and bloodshed. Should the fighting stop tomorrow, no one is a winner here. No one can claim victory in the face of so much tragedy.


Some thirty-five years ago, when organ transplants began to take root as a viable medical procedure that saves lives, the controversy also began. Before a regulated list came into being, donors and recipients were matched according to need, compatibility and availability. Thankfully, I was among the first to receive a liver thirty years ago, which brings me to the topic of this blog post.

Human beings are born with two kidneys, a right and a left one. They are located towards the back, on both sides of the spine, below the rib cage. Kidneys are a little larger than a fist. They perform all kinds of functions one of which is allowing us to urinate. A human can live very well with one kidney, I should know, I only have one…a transplanted one.

Kidney trafficking has become widespread, especially in poorer countries, and newly autonomous countries still struggling to take shape. It’s illegal to sell your kidney for profit; and yet it is done pretty much everywhere. The law of supply and demand. Poor countries, like the Philippines for instance, have a thriving, willing and able kidney donor population. A family living off of $800donationm  a year will gladly give up a kidney they don’t need for the price of two years wages or more.

In the slums outside of Manila, predominantly men sign up with organ brokers to become kidney donors for the price of a laptop. The money they’ll earn, $1600.00 to $2500, will allow them to move to the country, buy a house or a piece of land and start a business. Of course plenty blow the money within a year, but others find a way of lifting their families out of the abject conditions of the slums to slightly less abject conditions in the countryside.
Meanwhile, here in the US, kidney donation by law must be altruistic. And thus, the waiting lists are anywhere from four to six years. Something is wrong with the entire picture. In fact, illegal donors as well as the regulated kidney donor list are both out of touch with reality and defeat the purpose entirely. On one hand, the legal avenue isn’t viable. Worldwide 118 people an hour die while waiting for a kidney. On the other side of the spectrum, the poor donors aren't getting fair compensation.

In Turkey, Dr. Yusuf Somnvez performed countless illegal kidney transplants from a hospital in Kosovo called Medicus. Aiding him in this extensive network undertaking were Moshe Harel, the surgery logistic man, and Dr. Zachi Shapira a prominent kidney transplant surgeon. In an interview with Dr. Shapira who lives in Israel, he continues to question the validity of a law that, as it stands, means a death sentence to so many.

Meanwhile, in Canada Mary-Jo’s mother, who’s been on dialysis for 18 years, sits in a wheelchair, her arms distorted from so many needles. She’s fifty-three and looks like she’s eighty. Her muscles have deteriorated, her energy level is non-existent and her skin is that of an old lady. Mary Jo herself is on a kidney transplant list in Ontario and has been waiting for over eight years!

Dialysis is a temporary solution, but not an alternative to kidney failure. The best option today is transplantation. The demand in Western counMedicustries far outweighs western supplies. As things stand 10 to 15% of kidney transplants are illegal. Raul Fain was in need of a kidney. He chose the illegal route with Dr. Yusuf Somnvez. The pre and post care at Medicus in Kosovo, according to him, was flawless. His donor, Anna from Moldova, spent some time at the hospital as well. She was compensated with $12,000.00. She was happy to help someone out and to get much needed cash. The entire experience was smooth and professional both donor and recipient said.

However Interpol views this transaction as an international crime and has been chasing Dr. Somnvez and his aids for years. Raul Fain paid $120,000.00 for his surgery, which included bribing local police to warn the doctors when detectives for Interpol would show up and check Medicus’ activities. According to Dr. Shapira, they would put casts on all the patients (sometimes 7 or 8 were transplanted in a day) and when detectives checked, they only saw people recovering from "broken" arms and legs.

Interpol is facing an uphill battle. Organ trafficking will continue as long as poor people will need money, and wealthier people are willing to pay for life. Illegal donor lists in the Philippines (apx.$1600 per kidney), Egypt ($2000), India ($1000), Moldova ($12,000), China ($2500) continue to grow, and with it, the potential for mishaps. Like the broker in the Philippines said, “When the guy comes back from the hospital to the slums and waves his hand flashing all that cash, the others get jealous and are even more eager to become donors.”

Interpol doesn’t stand a chance. The system is broken. For it to work, it needs to acknowledge the needs of all parties. The moral issue, “Selling your kidney for cash is wrong,” doesn’t hold up. It’s asking the wrong question. The moral issue should be, “How do we help as many people as possible”? As things stand, the moral issue is immoral. Patients die waiting, and poor people living in squalor get taken advantage of. No wonder Dr. Shapira is considered a hero in Israel. He has saved over 3600 lives, many of which illegally. Does that make his actions less honorable? I think not. Just ask those he has saved.


Recently I watched a Frontline episode called United States of Secrets Part I, about the NSA’s surveillance program. As I watched, I became more and more incensed and embarrassed. Incensed because basically we are being spied on with impunity. Embarrassed, because I was a staunch opponent of Edward Snowden. I branded him a self-involved, megalomaniac who had the nerve to take it upon himself to jeopardize the security of our country. Boy…was I wrong.

The powers given to the NSA (National Security Agency) have reached such an extent that we are currently living in a state rivaling communist Russia. Am I exaggerating? Maybe…maybe not. We, the people have become the pawns in a well- played scheme, which began during the Bush administration, and was perpetuated by the Obama administration. As we quietly go about our lives, somewhere, someone is listening to our phone conversations, monitoring our emails, and checking our Internet searches. Under the guise of keeping the country safe, the United States has become a police state.

After 9/11 the country was vulnerable. The Bush administration exploited this vulnerability and put a surveillance program into place far greater than was permitted by law. A program, which originally was meant to target known and/or suspected terrorist entities, was now transformed into a whole other beast. The NSA went from searching for the needle in the haystack to searching every needle in the haystack. Basically, my private life isn’t private anymore because Big Brother or rather the NSA is in my business. Such activity violates everything this country stands for, certainly the first and fourth amendments to say the least. However this didn’t faze anyone in the Bush administration who was in the loop about the NSA’s new powers.

Questioning the NSA’s actions is deemed unpatriotic. The ultimate guilt trip from the Bush administration was that opponents are “putting the country at risk.” How were they going to stop an attack if they didn’t have the tools to do so? Blah, blah, blah. These false pretenses became the basis for blatant illegal action and lies. Bush lied. He assured the American public that all surveillance was conducted according to the letter of the law, meaning only with a warrant. President Obama lied. He promised transparency when he would become president and instead secretly expanded the program. Both presidents are liars. The cynic in me says, “Duh…I’d have to be born yesterday to think otherwise.” Still, it was never made more obvious than with this business.

Our presidents lied, Senators and Congress people lied, our intelligence community lied, our courts broke the law, the FISA Court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) bent the law so far it’s unrecognizable. As if that weren’t bad enough it gets worse. Those working at the NSA who realized the illegality of the surveillance program were shut up. Although the whistleblowers followed protocol and went through the proper channels, they were repudiated and told to be quiet and do their job. Finally, after, not days or months, but years of trying to bring attention to the unlawful information gathering of the NSA, the whistleblowers turned to the only option left. This most dangerous move was a last resort. They took their findings to the public.

However, the New York Times, caved under pressure from the Bush administration. Suddenly, one of the most influential and respected journals in the country let the government control the narrative. They didn’t publish the story. Washington subdued the free press…for a time. Eventually the NY Times would publish. By then, newspapers far from Washington and the administration’s reach had their own sources on the topic.

Edward Snowden certainly studied the cases of his predecessor, notably Thomas Drake. An employee at the NSA, he was one of the first to call out the illegal spying on Americans. He waited years before finally offering the press unclassified documents. Despite President Obama’s promise to welcome and protect whistleblowers, Thomas Drake’s home was raided, his computer and other electronics seized and he was prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Eventually the case would be dropped for lack of evidence. He couldn’t be prosecuted for going public with information that was…public.

Edward Snowden understood there would be no justice for him should he blow the whistle. His actions would make him the most wanted man in the world, at least as far as the Americans are concerned. Our allies, the Europeans, embrace Snowden as a hero. I’m beginning to sympathize with him myself.

We, the public, keep doing what we do; we go about our business believing we live in the land of the free. We’re complacent, lethargic, asleep even though we now know. Meanwhile, the NSA spends tens of billions of our taxpayer dollars spying on yours truly. We live in a subtle police state and seem to be fine with it. These freedoms we think we have, the way things stand, they can be taken away just as easily as criminal activity by the NSA became law.


With the on slot of criticism directed towards Donald Sterling, I figured someone must address the varying opinions and points of view regarding the conversation with his (ex) girlfriend. While no one can deny that what he said was at the very least despicable, I was astonished when my older sister presented a different approach than what has been dominating the mainstream.
“So, what do you think about the Donald Sterling conversation?” I asked my sister on the phone recently. Her reply, “Personally I don’t see what the big deal is. I mean, of course it’s wrong…but I don’t even think he’s a racist.” To my shock, “Why? How?” I asked. And this is where I had to open my mind and realize…she might have a point.
Back in the thirties and forties, being Jewish was almost (not quite, but almost) as restricted as being black. You weren’t admitted into many places; the good jobs went to white Anglo-Saxons Protestants or WASPs not Jews. Sterling belongs to a very specific type of hardened, Jewish men who built their fortune from scratch through struggle after struggle, beating down closed doors and if not, finding other ways to achieve their goal. Despite prejudice and constant setbacks because they were Jewish, they forged on. Of course you cannot draw a comparison to the African-American experience for obvious reasons, including skin color and slavery. The point is that men like Donald Sterling didn’t let anything stop them from moving forward. They failed and restarted over and over again and finally made it, however, in the process they became pitiless, unyielding, callous. It’s no wonder they’re critical of any type of lack of incentive or failure, both of which often define some black communities.
For any of you completely incensed at this point…hold your horses. I’m fully aware that African Americans (which I am) have far too often gotten a raw deal, and continuously run into a brick wall when it comes to moving up or forward. I also believe we have too many broken values in broken communities preventing many from imagining a better life than the one surrounding them. Their neighborhood becomes their prison. While Jewish families have always, for hundreds of years, advocated education, something that is even built into our religion (I’m also Jewish), black families have fought for survival. There are a lot of reasons why the African American experience has had and continues to have a much harder time than any other race, but this is a conversation for another day. For Sterling and company, all they see is a people that lack incentive and continuously fail, and therefore not worthy of equality.
Donald Sterling and friends, the ones who told him about the picture on Instagram in the first place, and indeed plenty of others like them, are a stagnant, rigid, stuck in the past group of wealthy old fogies unable to conceive of an African-American man being on their level. Of all people, Sterling directed his rant towards Magic Johnson, a man breathing the rare air of the multi-millionaires’ club, yes, that same air Sterling and his cronies breathe. A man that did what Sterling did: became insanely wealthy from nothing; a businessman just like Sterling. Despite Magic’s success, Sterling can’t get passed his preconceived notion of what black people are. He views Magic the same way he views the men he sees in the slums and projects when planning his low-income real estate developments, the men that in his eyes, lack incentive and represent failure. And yet…
He was dating a woman who is Latina and African-American. When it came to his pretty (ex) girlfriend, denial is a powerful tool. She’s black, but she’s beautiful. She’s Latina but she’s special. She’s not really either of those. She’s just a little tanned. Denial allows you to poke holes in your own dogged, staunch, rigid beliefs when it suits you. In fact this attitude ruled the conversation as he repeatedly denied being a racist while criticizing his girlfriend for posting a photograph with Magic. Basically…Sterling made no sense.
In my sister’s experience, a racist is someone like George Wallace. She was in her twenties in the sixties and seventies when racism was all too casually part of the norm. Sterling, according to her, is a product of his upbringing, his environment and his experience. A real racist won’t help a handicapped person of color cross the street, for instance; or even address them other than in a demeaning way. A racist certainly doesn’t date out of his race.
Do I agree with my sister? Let’s just say, I get her point. However, in my eyes, there’s no denying and no denial. Sterling is a racist and the worst kind. He’s a closet racist, the type that plays off being inclusive to the world, but behind closed doors, or among his cronies it’s a different story all together. It just goes to show you…nothing about us humans stays secret. Somehow, somewhere someone knows… and at some point in time, whether you like it or not, you get found out.


Since I’m forced to be less active than usual due to my recent hip replacement, I thought I’d touch on a subject near and dear to my heart: languages. I consider myself a bit of an expert on the topic since I speak, read and write eight of them. I admit, I cannot take credit for four (French, German, English, Spanish); they came with my upbringing, and therefore went from my subconscious to my conscious with very little effort on my part. The other four (Italian, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese) I actually had to sit down and study, and therefore have found certain “unalienable truths” about learning that hopefully will benefit anyone who’d like to master a new language. Lately the idea of writing a “How To” book on learning languages has been brewing in my mind. Surely my obsession with Chinese these past few years has driven this desire.
Languages are magical on so many levels. They transform your persona; they propel you into another culture thanks to pronunciation and word sequence; they stimulate your mouth as well as your brain; they automatically expands your horizons. The euphoria and satisfaction of being understood in a tongue other than your own is immense.
If any of these feelings ring a bell when contemplating learning another language, perhaps it’s time. But before you start, before you delve into a love affair that must last a lifetime, make sure you have the most important feeling of all: passion.
Surely this is true for just about anything in life. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll be good at it. But let's stick to languages. Once I’ve made up my mind to dedicate time and effort to a new language, I get butterflies in my stomach, my heart pumps fast, my mind races, I’m utterly excited. Now, I’m ready.
If I’m taking a class, I’m “in love” with the teacher because he/she’s my gateway to my goal. A new language book becomes my bible…or better. I’ll actually study every word in it (which is more than I can say for a bible). Both the teacher and the book are motivating tools; both will challenge my ability. It’s all about how much I can take in, how much I can retain. Intonation, pronunciation, tongue-twisting words turn me on (not only in Chinese but any language. Each has their own musicality) retention becomes an association game.
I’ve never learned a language through translation. I have, however, retained a great deal through association. In Chinese, the word for “president is “zongtong” (总统) When the meaning was first explained to me (in Chinese), the teacher said that zongtong means president of a country, guo jia (国家), not a company, gon si (公司). So in the explanation of the word zongtong, I leaned two more words key to understanding that one word. I’ve just increased my vocabulary by three (zongtong, guojia, gonsi) instead of one thanks to association.
As soon as I’ve become familiar with a minimal amount of vocabulary, I’ll repeat it at nauseum in my head. I’ll create as many constructions as I can find, whether they’re correct or not. The point is to have them stick through repetition, improve my pronunciation and awaken my curiosity how to expand on the constructions. My next move is to surround myself with people who speak that language. I’ve never shied away from making mistakes or saying words incorrectly. In fact, I’m a big fan of speaking poorly. Why? Apart from languages, it has been scientifically proven that our brain is more likely to retain moments that deviate from your routine. We all remember stories that make us cringe, or laugh, or cry. This is because a chemical process, which enhances our memory, takes place during that moment. On a smaller scale, being corrected is such a highlighted moment in your brain. It becomes a retainable language lesson.
Although I spoke Hebrew at the time I was married to my Israeli husband (now ex), I wasn’t entirely fluent. He pointed at the lampshade and asked me what it was called in Hebrew. Why would I know how to say a word I don’t think I’ve ever used in any language? I had no idea. Then he said, “ahil” (אהיל). Although I’ve never used the word since (besides this very moment), it has stuck with me for no other reason than the association of that moment with him.
Retention, association and the other important factor is connectivity. I’m anything but mathematical. I’m amazed I’m able to calculate a tip…actually I’m not…I just double the tax. However, when it comes to languages, they all have “mathematical formulas” to create sentences. No matter what you speak there will always be the use of verbs. While vocabulary is obviously number one, verbs come next. They are the connecting element, the “one plus one equals two” of language. As soon as you’ve acquired your new foreign friends, always ask how to say verbs and tenses before you ask to translate vocabulary. This will give you more to work with in your mind when you’re making all kinds of constructions using the few words you know.
Not everybody learns languages the same way. Whether you’re visual and need the new words written down, or verbal and learn through repetition, I’ve tried to give you a taste of fundamentals useful to either learning methods. Languages are fun if you let them be. Never take them too seriously, at least in the beginning. Enjoy tongue-twisting words and impossible expressions. Eventually you’ll want to delve further into that language and in doing so will emerge a different person.