Thursday, August 04, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (8/04/05)


Watch out, here they come! The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the right of municipalities to condemn private property so that it can be developed by for-profit developers was disappointing. Westchester could use an Ikea store--but this seems like a high price to pay for one.

What's a schnorrer? A schnorrer--the word is from Yiddish--is one who habitually takes advantage of others, a parasite or leech. "Someone who goes through a revolving door on your push," as one Borsht Belt comedian put it. (The Borsht Belt was the cluster of resort hotels in the Catskills that nurtured many Jewish comedians. A staple of each hotel dining room was borscht, beet soup served with a dollop of sour cream.)

Yiddish, largely a melding of German and Hebrew that originated in Eastern Europe, has contributed many words to the English language. Called Yiddishisms, they are described technically as "borrowings" by lexicographers. Here are some other familiar words that have migrated from Yiddish:

Chutzpah means utter nerve, brass or gall. The classic example is the fellow who murders his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

is trash, junk, inferior merchandise; in the clothing trade, any poorly made garment. Kitsch describes anything of poor quality, often pretentious and in bad taste, but of wide popularity. Example: the sentimental poetry of Edgar A. Guest. Schmaltz literally is melted fat, usually chicken fat, but the word is now applied to any excessively sentimental piece of art or music.

A klutz describes a clumsy or stupid person and derives directly from the German klotz, meaning a clod or blockhead. A nebbish is an ineffectual, weak, hapless unfortunate. The word is an Anglicized version of the Yiddish word nebech. Nebbish is related to another Yiddish word, schlemiel, a habitually unlucky bungler, a perennial patsy. The name comes from Shelumiel, in the Bible [Numbers 7:36] a leader of the tribe of Simeon, who lost every battle he engaged in. A nebbish has been defined as the person who picks up what the clumsy schlemiel knocks over. A schnook is a stupid or easily victimized person, a sucker or dupe.

To kvetch, not commonly recognized as a Yiddish word, is to nag or complain in an insistent manner. To schlep something means to move it clumsily from place to place, usually with difficulty. To schmooze is to talk casually, to chat.

One's shtick is one's characteristic attribute, talent, trait or trademark, like Groucho's painted-on moustache, Chico's Italian accent or Harpo's muteness.

Advice from Prince Otto. President Bush doesn't speak German, but he would be wise to heed the warning of Otto von Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor" who created the German empire, "Wehe dem Staatsmann, dessen Argumente am Ende des Krieges nicht so ├╝berzeugend sind wie zu Anfang." (Translation: "Woe to the statesman whose reasons for entering a war are not as convincing at the end as at the beginning.")

Sad state of the world. Every January the President delivers a State of the Union message to the American people. But what if someone undertook to deliver a State of the World message about the planet someone once likened to "a big blue marble" floating serenely in space? Would the text read something like this?

The world's population is increasing exponentially; the world's food supply and water are not. In fact, clean drinking water has become increasingly scarce for this growing world population. The same is true of arable land and water resources for crop irrigation. Living conditions and income have plummeted in Africa and Central and South America. Megacities now boast teeming populations well over 10 million, many in the Third World: Bombay, Karachi, Delhi, Jakarta, Cairo. In fact, today half the world's population now lives in cities. Third World countries are experiencing a demographic "youth bulge" resulting in severe unemployment and the potential for unrest. Pre-adolescent children have become the cannon-fodder pressed into service as combatants in some Third World Countries.

Population growth has accelerated in the 22 countries comprising the Arab League. Between 1980 and 2005, their combined populations grew from 167 million to 280 million, a jump of 68 percent. (In the same period, the U.S. population grew 30 percent.) In ten years, Arab League countries could have 50 million jobless youths, up from the present 15 million, frustrated and fuming over the indignities and restraints imposed upon Arabs in the past by colonial powers. Such disaffected populations are seedbeds for Islamist terrorism, fanned by Saudi petrodollars and fanatical Wahabi sectarianism.

Multinational corporations that prefer to do business with corrupt, nondemocratic regimes continue to grow in wealth and influence.

More than 37.2 million adults and 2.2 million children are now infected with HIV. This is more than 50 percent higher than the number predicted by the World Health Organization in 1991. The area of Africa south of the Sahara has 10 percent of the world's population but is home to more than 60 percent of all people living with HIV. In some countries in Africa, HIV/AIDS has reached epidemic proportions. Almost 40 percent of the population of Botswana and Swaziland are infected.

Thanks to increased air transportation, no part of the world is more than 24 hours away from any other part. This facilitates the spread of new strains of old diseases, such as influenza, making worldwide epidemics almost a certainty.

Drug traffic has exploded worldwide and money-rich cartels now have incomes and expenditures exceeding the budgets of many poor nations. In some areas drug trafficking cartels are the de facto government.

Nonrepresentative autocratic Third World governments are promoting religious and ethnic animosities to cover up their own corruption and mismanagement. Fanatical ethnic and religious groups are growing increasingly violent, attracting new adherents in countries in Asia, Africa and South America, especially in areas where effective government is lacking.

Sectarian violence is increasing between clashing evangelizing religions groups (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism) in rapidly growing Third World countries. The United States and Great Britain now occupy Iraq, a Muslim country in the Muslim Middle East, with a largely Christian military force whose presence is resented and exacerbates tensions and concerns throughout the Muslim world. Hostility is growing over the emergence of the United States as the world's only superpower.

Despite incontrovertible evidence that the planet is growing warmer as a result of increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, little is being done to curtail our profligate use of hydrocarbon fuels. Competition for the world's dwindling petroleum resources is increasing, spurred by the swelling appetites of new industrial giants like China and India.

Have a nice day.


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