On The Edge Of The Universe

Last June of 2017 I posed a question:

Does time exist?

I mean “exist” – like the keyboard I am typing on or the screen I am looking at?

Does it physically exist like things I can touch or perceive?  Or simply a mental construct.

Renaissance man that I am I have an interest in such things and absolutely no background or education in such things. So feel free to demolish any of my philosophical musings and errant conclusions.

You can read those posts if you’re so inclined here:



Today’s question is whether or not the universe has an “edge.”

I will not take it personally if you leave this page now.  Toritto  is waxing philosophical again!  What were the lines of that old song?  “If you go I’ll understand.”

Scientists now know the universe is expanding, at an ever-increasing rate. So if it’s ballooning, what is it growing into? In other words, what is beyond the known universe?

Defining this “beyond the universe” would imply that the universe has an edge. And that’s where things get tricky, because scientists aren’t certain if such a drop-off exists.

The answer depends on how one views the question.

One form of the question asks, “Could you go somewhere that you could look ‘beyond’ the universe,” the way one might peer beyond a cliff edge or look out a window to see the outside of a building? The answer to that query is “probably not.”

One reason involves the “cosmological principle,” said Robert McNees, an associate professor of physics at Loyola University Chicago. The cosmological principle states that the distribution of matter in any part of the universe looks roughly the same as in any other part, regardless what direction you look in; in scientists’ terms, the universe is isotropic.

The implication though, is that there is no “edge”; there is no place to go where the universe just ends and one could look in some direction and see what’s beyond it.

Tne analogy often used to describe this edgeless universe is the surface of a balloon. An ant on such a surface can walk in any direction and it would look like the surface was “unbounded” — that is, the ant might come back to where it started but there would be no end to the journey. So even though the surface of a balloon is a finite space, there’s no edge to it, no boundary (since you can go forever in any one direction). In addition, there’s no “center,” so there’s no preferred point on the balloon’s spherical surface.

The universe is a three-dimensional version of the balloon’s skin.

Using the balloon analogy again, if one were to add more air to the balloon, the ant would observe other things on the balloon’s surface getting farther away. And the greater the distance between the ant and some object, the faster that object would be receding. But no matter where the ant skittered, the speed at which those objects were receding would follow the same relations — if the ant came up with an equation describing how fast the farthest objects were receding, it would work the same way anywhere on the balloon’s surface.  Nowhere on the surface of the balloon would the ant observe anything coming toward him.

But, Toritto, the balloon is expanding into a three dimensional space.  Stephen Hawking said this doesn’t apply to the universe – the universe came from nothing at the big bang creating everything and therefore by definition, nothing can be outside of it.  Hawking said the question is like asking what is north of the north pole.

Dr. Katie Mack, a theoretical astrophysicist in Melbourne has stated that rather than using the term “expanding” it is more proper to use the words “less dense'”    The concnentration of matter in the universe gets less dense as the universe  expands.

That is not because the galaxies themselves are moving away from each other – it is space itself which is expanding while the galaxies are relatively stable, as on the surface of the balloon.  Any aliens in deep space would come to a similar observation – everything was moving away from them and they were at the center of it all.

“Because space is expanding, it’s possible for the galaxies to appear as if they are moving faster than light, without violating relativity — which says that nothing can go faster than light in a vacuum. The actual size of the observable universe is 46 billion light-years in any direction, even though the universe began only 13.8 billion years ago, Mack said. But that still sets a limit on the size of the universe humans can see, called the observable universe. Anything outside of that radius of 46 billion light-years is not visible to Earthlings, and it never will be. That’s because the distances between objects in the universe keep getting bigger at a rate that’s faster than the light beams can get to Earth.” It is space, not the material in it that is traveling faster than light.

You’re a sucker for punishment if you’re still reading this!

“And on top of that, the rate of expansion has not been uniform. For a brief fraction of a second after the Big Bang, there was a period of accelerated expansion called inflation, during which the universe grew at a much faster pace than it is growing now. Whole regions of space will never be observable from Earth for that reason. Mack noted that assuming inflation happened, the universe is actually 1023 times bigger than the 46 billion light-years humans can see. So if there is an edge to the universe, it’s so far away Earthlings can’t see it, and never will.”

Meanwhile, there’s the issue of whether the universe is infinite in space to begin with, which Mack said is still an open question. Or, the universe might wrap around itself in a higher dimension in the same way that the 2D surface of a sphere wraps around itself in three dimensions.

Mack said there are ongoing attempts to resolve the question of whether the universe is like a sphere, curving back on itself so that if you travel in one direction you eventually return to your starting point. Einstein posited that the universe is flat but today many in the field think that the universe is so large and the curvature so small that it is currently undetectable to us.

If astronomers found two places on opposite sides of the sky that were exactly the same, that would be a strong indication that the universe is curved in that way. There are no guarantees, though. While some cosmological theories such as string theory posit higher dimensions, most of those would be “rolled up” and small, whereas a curved universe’s “extra” space dimension would have to be large.  

“All of this means that if there’s an end to the universe, humans might well never be able to see it, and there is the real possibility that the universe is shaped so that it can’t have a boundary to begin with.”

As a matter of full disclosure I should let you know I am highly qualified in the field of astrophysics, having earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at night attending the City University of New York while working at my day job in a bank.  I am also a card carrying member of the Flat Earth Society.

So you see I do know what I am talking about.  We are now open for questions.

What ever happened to Lindsay Lohan?





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L’Affair Khashoggi

Trump knows the Khashoggi – He bought Uncle Adnan’s super yacht, the Nabila back in the day.

And so our “ally” Saudi Arabia apparently murdered a Saudi journalist last week in their embassy in Istanbul.  A special team of 15 Saudis, including a forensics specialist flew into Istanbul the night before Jamal Khashoggi was scheduled for an appointment to visit the embassy and left the following evening.

He was filmed going in the front door and never seen again.

The Saudi’s first claimed he left the embassy.  When that story didn’t fly they switched to potentially a new one –  that he “accidently” died during “interrogation.”  The Saudis haven’t admitted it yet.  Waiting for the reaction to their new lie I guess.

How hard do you have to be interrogated to die “accidently?”  Tortured is more like it.  He didn’t die while answering questions over Turkish coffee.

Of course no one yet knows where his body is; undoubtedly flown out in a trunk with the special team back to Riyadh, probably never to be seen again.  No one will ever learn the cause of death.

Its getting to be a habit of authoritarian regimes to murder dissidents nowadays – North Korea, Russia and now Saudi Arabia.

So who was Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi is/was one of the most prominent Saudi and Arab journalists and political commentators of his generation, owing to a career that has spanned nearly 30 years.

Born in Medina in 1958, Khashoggi was once close to the inner circles of the Saudi royal family, where he earned his reputation as a reformist by pushing the boundaries of critically questioning Saudi’s regional and domestic policies.

The young Khashoggi studied journalism at University of Indiana – he was not from a poor family.  More about them later.

At the same time he was a journalist he was also a media adviser to Prince Turki bin Faisal, who was the former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate and served as the Saudi ambassador to the US from 2005 until the end of 2006.

Following the rapid rise through the ranks of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Khashoggi lent his voice to call out the crown prince’s policies at home, particularly after promises of reform were followed by a wave of arrests and repression.

Princes, prominent businessmen, activists, and Muslim leaders were not spared from the crackdown, which was orchestrated by MBS.   Due to his candor, Khashoggi’s presence in the kingdom was becoming more precarious by the day and eventually he moved to Washington, DC, after revealing that he was “ordered to shut up”.

In the same month, he published an article with The Washington Post under the title “Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable”.

Khashoggi shared it on Twitter and wrote, “I was not happy to publish this article on The Washington Post, but silence does not serve my country or those detained.”  The post earned the ire of Prince Khaled Al Saud, the governor of Mecca province, who criticized him on Twitter. “Our guided leadership does not need advice from you and your likes,” Saud shot back.

In his new role as opinions editor for The Washington Post, Khashoggi became more vocal about his criticism of MBS, likening him to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a May 21 column for The Washington Post, he wrote: “We are expected to vigorously applaud social reforms and heap praise on the crown prince while avoiding any reference to the pioneering Saudis who dared to address these issues decades ago.

“We are being asked to abandon any hope of political freedom, and to keep quiet about arrests and travel bans that impact not only the critics but also their families.

In a September 2018 article titled “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Must Restore Dignity to His Country – by Ending Yemen’s Cruel War” he urged the kingdom “to face the damage that resulted from more than three years of war in Yemen”.

He also wrote that Saudi Arabia “cannot afford to pick fights with Canada”, referring to a spat between the two countries over Canada’s criticism of human rights in the kingdom.

On October 2, Khashoggi flew to Istanbul and entered the Saudi consulate to obtain documents that would seal his marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz and was never heard from again.

Jamal Khashoggi was not just a wealthy and influential person in his own right; he was a member of a very prominent Saudi family.  He was the nephew of Adnan Khashoggi.

For those of you too young or too old to remember, Adnan Khashoggi was the world’s premier arms dealer in the 1970s and 80s, known for his lavish business deals and lifestyle.  He is estimated to have had a peak net worth of around US$4 billion in the early 1980s.

Adnan Khashoggi and his wife Lamia

Adnan was born in Mecca, the son of Mohammad Khashoggi, who was King Abdul Aziz Al Saud’s personal Court Physician.  His family is of Turkish origin.   Adnan Khashoggi’s sister was author Samira Khashoggi who married businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed and was the mother of Dodi Fayed, Princess Diana’s beau. Another sister, Soheir Khashoggi, is a is a well-known Arab writer (Mirage, Nadia’s Song, Mosaic).

Adnan was educated at Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt and the American universities Cal State,  Ohio State, and Stanford. Khashoggi left his studies in order to seek his fortune in business.

Uncle Adnan’s private jet

He was famed as an arms dealer, brokering deals between US firms and the Saudi government, most actively in the 1960s and 1970s.  . Among his overseas clients were defense contractors Lockheed Corporation (now Lockheed Martin Corporation), Raytheon, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation and Northrop Corporation (the last two of which have now merged into Northrop Grumman).

Adnan Khashoggi and his wife at the wedding of Donald Trump and Marla Maples in 1993.

Khashoggi was implicated in the Iran–Contra affair as a key middleman in the arms-for-hostages exchange along with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and, in a complex series of events, was found to have borrowed money for these arms purchases from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI – since shut down by the Fed) with Saudi and United States backing.  His role in the affair created a related controversy when Khashoggi donated millions to the American University in Washington, DC to build a sports arena which would bear his name.   Khashoggi was a member of the university’s board of trustees from 1983 until his indictment on fraud and other charges in May 1989.

He was acquitted, along with Imelda Marcos of fraud charges but found guilty of obstruction of justice.

In the 1980s,  Adnan Khashoggi’s  family occupied one of the largest villa estates in Marbella, Spain, hosting lavish parties.  Guests at these parties included film stars, pop celebrities and politicians.  In 1985, celebrity reporter Robin Leach reported Khashoggi threw a five-day birthday party in Vienna for his eldest son, and in his heyday, Khashoggi spent $250,000 a day to maintain his lifestyle.

So you see, the Khashoggi are not nobodies – which makes the apparent murder of Jamal, undoubtedly at the order of the crown prince, even more startling.

The Saudi crown prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud (33), has cultivated an international reputation as a progressive reformer, claiming in particular to improve the lot of Saudi women.  . His March PR visit to the U.S. included a warm and fuzzy interview with Oprah, visits to Harvard and MIT, meetings with Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch, and of course his friend Jared Kushner.

What is this young man’s record? In March 2011 during the Arab Spring, when the prince was already a senior advisor to his father the king, Saudi Arabia headed an intervention of Gulf states in Bahrain, to quell protests against the absolute monarch. (The great majority of Bahrainis are Shiites, while the king of Bahrain is Sunni. Riyadh views any advancement of Shiite rights and power in the region, both as an expression of heresy—against Sunni Islam—and as an expansion of Iranian Shiite influence.)

In June 2017 (after Mohammad had been made crown prince) Riyadh led an ongoing blockade of Qatar, mainly to punish it for its relatively cordial relations with Iran. That November Riyadh detained the Lebanese prime minister during a visit and forced his resignation (later retracted); this was an effort to punish him for his acceptance of the Hizbollah party in the Lebanese cabinet.

Since 2015 the Saudis have been bombing Yemen in an effort to dislodge the (Shiite) Houthi regime in Sanaa, claiming it’s a tool of Iran. Over 10,000 civilians have been killed and over three million people displaced; the Saudi school bus bombing in August killed 51 kids.

Trump has made it clear to the Saudi royals that he doesn’t care about their human rights record. The strict application of Sharia law, which he condemns everywhere else—the stonings for adultery, the gay men tossed off buildings, the crucifixions—is not an issue. All that’s the Saudis’ business, a matter of national sovereignty. And the Pentagon has made it clear that it will back the Saudi military effort in Yemen despite many reports of Saudi atrocities. MBS may feel he can act with impunity in the world and the U.S. president will have his back.

So much for our “beacon of the light and freedom in the world” bullshit.



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The Mass Media and the Threat to Democracy

‘Free press.”

Once upon a time it was a common belief among Americans that a free press had a sacred responsibility; to hold the powerful accountable and to provide the public with enough information to make informed political decisions.

Unfortunately, a large segment of the “free press” appears to have abandoned that role under continuous attacks that all they publish is “fake news”.

During the last Presidential election, instead of informing Americans of the obvious – that Trump was an authoritarian waiting to happen – it gave him a pass and free publicity.   It remains verboten in the main stream media to call Trump and many Republicans Fascists, even though they exhibit repeatedly and enthusiastically all the necessary traits.

A professional liar of the grandest kind, it took the MSM a year before realizing he would not and was indeed incapable of “pivoting” and “growing into the job.”     To this day, many in media will not call him a liar – he spoke “inaccuracies,” “untruths” or was simply “mistaken.”

He can boldly lie to  our faces and we will not call him a liar.  He has shown himself to be a misogynist,  a racist and a nativist but we will not call him that for the media lacks the courage to call a spade a spade.

What is that old saying?  “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…..”

Finally, some in the Fourth Estate realized that Trump, his party and his supporters are an existential threat to American democracy.  It may be too little, too late.

Still the submission by the press in the face of the bullying tactics used against it goes on in the name of “fairness.”  Last week USA Today newspaper published an op-ed purported to be written by the President which probably set a new world’s record for the most lies by a sitting American President ever published in a American newspaper.

Joseph Goebbels would have been rightly proud of such a piece of propaganda.

Entitled “Democrats Medicare for All Plan Will Demolish Promises to Seniors” is filled with so many lies as to be absurd.   He stated that during the campaign he promised he would protect patients with pre-existing conditions and create new options which would lover the cost of insurance.  He did promise that.  It was the only truthful line in the article.

He then goes on – “And I have delivered on that promise.”   He threatens “The so-called Democrat Medicare for all plan would be Medicare for none.”  BTW, the Dems have not endorsed the “socialist” Medicare for all as a plank in the campaign.

“Under the Democrats’ plan, today’s Medicare would be forced to die. … Democrats will seek to slash budgets for seniors’ Medicare, Social Security and defense.

Republicans believe that a Medicare program that was created for seniors and paid for by seniors their entire lives should always be protected and preserved.”

Of course they do.  Do they think I fell of off the turnip truck yesterday?

Trump and the Republicans want to take away protections for pre-existing conditions and will gut social security and Medicare and other safety net programs  to pay for those tax cuts they gave to the 1% – after all they don’t need social security or Medicare.  His new insurance proposals don’t offer adequate protection for anyone and are simply a sop for insurance companies.

The “inaccuracies” in the op-ed made no difference to the Editors of USA Today.  The paper made the  irresponsible decision to publish such an egregiously false op-ed.  Yes, of course he is the President but USA Today should be held responsible by its readers and advertisers.  Small local papers are expected to limit the space they give to local crack pots and political hacks; a national paper read by millions should be held to a higher standard.

Here is the op-ed with the lies marked in yellow by Politifact -winners of the Pulitzer Prize.


Still, we hear the cry from the right about the”liberal media” and “liberal bias” while the major media is owned lock, stock and barrel by major corporations all of whom are extremely risk averse.  American news media has become overly responsive to the demands of big business and conservatives in general.

Right wing perspectives are over represented on the Sunday national news shows and Fox might as well be a state media outlet.  The assault on the press has bullied and intimidated the news media into a slavish devotion to “balance” and “fairness” even when it means publishing lies and not telling the public the truth.

“We are all entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts.”

Within the media the GOP war on language goes far beyond “liberal news bias” and “fake news.”  Reagan spoke of “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks.”  In 1996 Newt Gingrich wrote a memo on the use of language and code words to shape public opinion.

You can read it here:


Routinely now you will hear “makers and takers,” “job producers,” “hard working Americans,” “cultural Marxism.” “social justice warriors” all quoted verbatim in the media.  Words as noble and ideal as “liberal” and “progressive” have  been tainted and slurred.

“Today’s Democratic Party is for open-borders socialism. This radical agenda would destroy American prosperity. Under its vision, costs will spiral out of control. Taxes will skyrocket. And Democrats will seek to slash budgets for seniors’ Medicare, Social Security and defense.”.”

See that one?  “Open borders socialism.” – the new Republican battle cry.

A powerful phrase precisely because it has no meaning and can be filled in with bias and prejudices of right wing low information voters.  Locked into the echo chamber they are susceptible to such language in a way that Trump understands  – he knows his supporters  will comprehend  exactly what that meaningless phrase actually means for they will fill in a meaning.

Trump was at a campaign rally last week:

“If you allow the wrong people to get into office, things could change. They could change and they could change fast. You don’t hand matches to an arsonist and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob ― and that’s what they’ve become. The Democrats have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.”

As with other right wing talking points and lies there is an element of menace and violence to the use of phrases like “left wing mob” and “open borders socialism.”  When there is an increase in hate crimes the right claims ignorance and whines that it is being smeared by liberal bias.

Our democracy is in serious danger from Trump, Republicans, his supporters – and it is being enabled by an overly compliant corporate news media who refuse to call a spade a spade.


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How the Vatican Became a State – a Re-Post

A Re-Post on the Visit of Pope Francis

We all know that the Roman Catholic Church is a “church” and that it is headquartered in the Vatican, which is a “state” – all 110 acres with a current population of 842. You know that right?

It is the smallest internationally recognized state in the world both by area and population; an ecclesiastical “monarchial” state ruled by the Pope. It’s highest state functionaries are all Roman Catholic clergy of various ranks from around the world.

Vatican city is kind of separate from the “Holy See”, which stretches back to early Christianity – the “See” represents the leadership of the world’s Roman Catholic and Eastern adherents which recognize the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, as the spiritual leader of the faith.

The Vatican as a state came into being in 1929 via the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy; it was signed at the Lateran Palace and it spoke of a new creation – a new “nation”.  It was signed by a representative of Pius XI and the King, represented by Benito Mussolini.

So how did all of this come about?

Well prior to 1870 central Italy was ruled by the Pope, his temporal power wielded in the “Papal States” – at is zenith the states included most of the modern regions of Lazio (including Rome), Marche, Romagna, Umbria and portions of Emilia.

The temporal power of the Pope over territory began in the 700s A.D. The church, through the Pope was the largest landowner on the peninsula and with the weakening of Byzantine power began to exercise temporal power in the political vacuum. In 781, Charlemagne codified the regions over which the pope would be temporal sovereign: Rome was key, but the territory was expanded to include Ravenna, the Duchy of the Pentapolis, Benevento, Tuscany, Corsica, Lombardy and a number of Italian cities.

The cooperation between the papacy and the Carolingian dynasty climaxed in 800, when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor.

The Papal States stretched from coast to coast, dividing the Italian peninsula.

With the coming of the unification of Italy in 1861 the Papacy’s temporal power was restricted to Rome itself. The French were guarding Rome and Garibaldi’s troops could not take the city.  A unified Kingdom of Italy was declared and in March 1861, the first Italian parliament, which met in Turin, the old capital of Piedmont, declared Rome the capital of the new Kingdom. However, the Italian government could not take possession of the city while a French garrison in Rome protected Pope Pius IX.

The opportunity for the Kingdom of Italy to eliminate the Papal States came in 1870; the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July prompted Napoleon III to recall his garrison from Rome and the collapse of the Second French Empire at the Battle of Sedan deprived Rome of its French protector.

Italian troops took the city and the Pope declared himself  a “prisoner of the Vatican” as none of the traditional Catholic powers came to his aid. He confined himself to the Apostolic Palace and adjacent buildings in the loop of the ancient fortifications known as the Leonine City, on Vatican Hill.

In 1871 Italy was finally unified by absorbing the Papal States. The Pope, now deposed as King of Rome, confined behind the walls of the Vatican, continued to fight the Italian state with every means at his disposal.

He refused to set foot on Italian territory.

He refused to leave his enclave, as “the prisoner of the Vatican”. From his new home he excommunicated all who had been involved in the capture of Rome, forbade Catholics to vote in Italian elections and refused the subsidy offered by the Italian government in reparations.  Pius resorted to “vittimismo”, playing the victim and blaming others for preying on the Church, which “had the effect of raising the devotion to the Pope.”

He excommunicated the King of Italy. He had long railed against the secular values of the Italian kingdom. In his 1864 Syllabus of Errors he had already condemned more than eighty “errors and perverse doctrines” including separation of church and state, a free press and secular education. Most Italians understood such “errors” to be a none too oblique condemnation of the Italian Kingdom.  Pope Pius IX also directly forbade Catholics to participate by way of voting or any political involvement in the workings of the “godless” Italian state.

So it stayed until Mussolini came to power. For sixty years, relations between the Papacy and the Italian government were hostile and the status of the Pope became known as the “Roman Question”

By the 1920s the Pope Pius XI was nervous. The Bolsheviks were in Russia; more “godless” Communists.  In Italy the “red years” of socialist radicals brought strikes, occupation of factories and land seizures.  In the mid 1920s the Fascists came to power, supported by industrialists, land owners middle classes, the military and the King.  Fascist  strength lay in it’s  strident nationalism and implacable opposition to socialism.  It didn’t operate through the voting box; the black shirts bashed heads in the streets.

Pope Pio XI receives Mussolini at the Vatican Rome – Date: 11 February 1932

In 1929 the long wait finally paid off when Mussolini proved willing to enter an alliance with the Vatican. A precondition of the negotiations was destruction of the parliamentary center-right Catholic Italian Popular Party.  Pius XI disliked political Catholicism because he could not control it.  Like his predecessors, he believed that Catholic party politics brought democracy into the church by the back door.  The demise of the Popular Party caused a wholesale shift of Catholics into the Fascist Party, the destruction of socialism and the collapse of democracy in Italy.

A few years later the Pope would follow the same strategy with Hitler to disband the democratic Catholic party there.  Eliminating the Catholic Center-right party helped give Hitler the majority he needed in the last free election before he shut down German democracy.

The Lateran Pacts signed by Mussolini on 11 February 1929, had three parts: a political treaty (giving the Vatican its own micro-state), a financial convention (giving the Vatican reparations) and a concordat (giving privileges within Italy, for instance by letting the Church influence public education). In return for all of this Mussolini received Vatican recognition of the Kingdom of Italy — of which he happened to be the dictator. Through the Lateran Pacts, as a contemporary account noted, “Mussolini has achieved a great diplomatic success, perhaps the greatest of his career.” Four years later the Vatican would legitimize another dictator, Hitler, also for the price of a legal pact.

A national holiday was proclaimed to celebrate this propaganda coup.  With the Lateran Pacts the divided allegiance of many Italians between church and state became a thing of the past.

This is a souvenir of the creation of the Vatican State by the Lateran Pacts. Its “trinity” of King Victor Emanuel III,  Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini celebrates the new unity of temporal and spiritual authority. This accomodation between church and state was called the “peace of Laetitia” (pax Laetitia) after the Roman Goddess of Joy. However, it helped legitimize a police state regime that by 1929 had already spread terror through military tribunals, political assassination and raids by Blackshirts.

Henceforth the two powers would present a united front, at least in public. Although Pius XII had moral doubts about Mussolini’s attack on Ethiopia, he didn’t voice them, even to the dictator.  Instead, the Vatican fostered this valuable alliance and on the “Day of Faith” in 1935, the Italian Church actively supported the war effort by helping Mussolini in his nation-wide drive to collect gold wedding rings.

In an audience with professors and students from the Catholic University in Milan shortly after the signing of the accords, Pius praised both Mussolini and the settlement in words widely quoted in Italy and abroad: “The times called for a man such as he whom Providence has ordained that We should meet…. It is with profound satisfaction that We express the belief that We have given God to Italy and Italy to God.”

Mussolini received a kind of moral recognition that the Pope’s predecessors had always denied to democratic Italian governments.

Today the effects of the Lateran Pacts extend far beyond Italy. In the end, the Popes’ strategy of staying stubbornly within the walls of the Vatican for 59 years has paid off handsomely. It is thanks to the Lateran Pacts that the Pope can now travel round the world as a head of state and even speak at the United Nations.

Mussolini believed he had buried the temporal power of the Pope.  He was wrong.  But then again, he was wrong about lots of things.

Although there have been revisions, the Lateran Pacts remain in effect today. Italians are still bound by them, as an Italian comedienne discovered in 2008 after she made a joke about the Pope for his anti-gay stance. She found that she had unwittingly contravened Article 8 of the 1929 Treaty,  an offence which can bring five years in prison for public insults against the Pope “whether by means of speeches, acts, or writings”.

Eventually she was exonerated in a way which avoided challenging the Treaty. The Italian Minister of Justice decided not to proceed with the prosecution, “knowing the depth of the Pope’s capacity for forgiveness”. This managed to defuse the situation while, at the same time, retaining the threat. After all, intimidation is the real aim of charging people with offences such as “blasphemy”, “religious defamation” and “offending the honor of the sacred and inviolable person” of the Pope


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Remembering One Girl From Minsk – October 26,1941

An annual Re-Post.  We cannot remember them all; but each year we can remember one.

The Minsk Ghetto – 1941

“For God’s sake child! Flee Minsk before it’s too late!” the wounded Red Army Major she tended urged her.

“Be still!” Anya said. “I’m taking your picture.” .

Minsk was her city. She was born here, a Jewish girl whose real name was Mariya (Mascha) Borisovna Bruskina; she went to high school here and dreamed of being an actress, before the Germans came. “I cannot leave. We will stay and fight and wait for the army to return. We must all do what we can.”

She was an avid Communist, a member of Young Pioneers and a student member of Komonsol, the All Union Leninist Young Communist League.

On June 22, 1941 the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union, and in six days they were in Minsk. The girl now called Anya lost her dream at 17 years old.

Within days of the arrival of the Germans the knock had come at the door. “Raus Jews! You are moving!” She and her parents along with 100,000 Minsk Jews were marched to a ghetto and walled inside.

Her mother spoke quietly with her those first few evenings. “You must leave! Find a way out of here and disappear into the Aryan side of Minsk. Dye your hair lighter and apply some make-up…you must escape this place! They will kill us all. We are old; you are young and pretty and can pass as an ordinary Russian girl…”

Anya didn’t want to leave but took her mother’s advice and found a way to the outside, lightened her hair to a safe, Teutonic dark blond, bought some forged identity papers and took her new Russian name. She was no longer Mariya (Mascha) Borisovna Bruskina; she was now the Russian girl Anya.

Anya immediately joined the resistance. She was asked to volunteer at the Polytechnic Institute Hospital (which had been set up for wounded Red Army prisoners)  as a nurse and, being young and pretty, she was able to come and go without much attention other than the leers of German guards. She smiled on cue as if she spoke no German and did not have to worry about engaging in any extensive conversations.  She was glad she didn’t understand all the comments passed back and forth when she walked by.

In the hospital Anya found that some 15 wounded Red Army prisoners were being held. She spoke with her comrades in the resistance and a plan was hatched to free the Russian soldiers so they could join the resistance.  In order to make an escape they would need civilian clothes, money and identity papers.

Anya volunteered to smuggle in clothes and money as well as a camera to take pictures of the individual soldiers in order to forge I.D.s.   Over a period of weeks, she carried everything that was necessary and during the night shifts was able to take the required pictures.

The escape went perfectly. Within hours the Germans were hunting for the prisoners.

It didn’t take long to find them. Within two days they were all rounded up and shot…..except for one  who lived a bit longer when he betrayed those who had helped free him.  In the end, the Germans shot him as well; a traitor twice-over, in their minds.

Anya was arrested by Lithuanian collaborators and turned over to the Gestapo along with Kiril Trus (a World War I veteran) and a 16 year old boy named Volodia Shcherbatsevich.  They were brutally beaten and tortured for information but none talked.

Anya knew she was going to die (she had quipped to her fellow prisoners that at least “I don’t have to worry about dying of starvation.”). She was very worried about her parents in the ghetto instead and passed a message to the resistance asking if they would deliver a letter to her mother.

She wrote:

“I am tormented by the thought that I have caused you great worry. Don’t worry. Nothing bad has happened to me. I swear to you that you will have no further unpleasantness because of me. If you can, please send me my dress, my green blouse, and white socks. I want to be dressed decently when I leave here.”

Before being executed, Anya, along with Kyril and 16 year old Volodia, were paraded through the streets of Minsk by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators.

“Before noon, I saw the armed German and Lithuanian soldiers appear on the street. From over the bridge they escorted three people with their arms tied behind their backs. In the middle there was a girl with a sign-board on her chest. They were led up to the yeast factory gate. I noticed how calmly these people walked. The girl did not look around.”

Anya, who was Mariya once again, wore a placard around her neck in both German and Russian – “We are partisans and have shot at German troops” – though she had not.

She and her fellow comrades were hanged one at a time in public on Sunday, October 26, 1941 in front of the yeast brewery and distillery plant Minsk Kristall. She was the first to die.  There was no gallows to drop her and end her suffering quickly.  She was simply stood on a stool, the rope around her neck, hands bound behind her, but not her feet.

The Germans stood her up facing the audience.   They wanted all those watching to see her die.  She turned around.  The Germans faced her forward.  She turned around again.  She would not face forward.

Pyotr Pavlovich Borisenko witnessed the execution:

“When they put her on the stool, the girl turned her face toward the fence. The executioners wanted her to stand with her face to the crowd, but she turned away and that was that. No matter how much they pushed her and tried to turn her, she remained standing with her back to the crowd. Only then did they kick away the stool from under her.”

The Germans let the bodies hang for three full days before allowing them to be cut down. Volodia’s mother was hanged as well from the crossbar of the gates outside of the Minsk Academy of Science.

While ritually washing her body before burial, the hair dye washed  away revealing the dark haired girl beneath.

Anya’s mother lost her sanity and died in the Holocaust. Her father escaped the ghetto, joined the Red Army and survived the war – but he died a lonely and broken man, unable to honor his daughter.

Although the pictures of her death, taken by the Lithuanians, were well publicized after the war, Soviet and later Belarus officials claimed not to know the identity of the pretty young girl. On a memorial plaque at the MinskKristall where they died she was listed as “unknown girl”.

It was always suspected that the authorities knew full well who she was; they knew the names of the two men.

But Mariya Borisovna Bruskina was a Jew – and the authorities may have had difficulty in admitting that a Jewish girl was a resistance hero. Maybe it was just bureaucratic incompetence.

Finally, on July 1, 2009 the Municipality of Minsk replaced the memorial plaque, removing “unknown girl” and inserting her name “M. B. Bruskina”. 

The Russian inscription now reads “Here on October 26, 1941 the Fascists executed the Soviet patriots K. I. Truss, Vi. I  Sherbateyvich and M. B.  Bruskina.”

Her father did not live to see it.

Do you have a teen-age daughter?  Does she have dreams?

Look at her picture and see her in your dreams.



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Hurricane Michael






Yesterday Hurricane Michael slammed into the northern Florida gulf coast at Panama City with sustained winds of 153 mph and heavy rains.  It passed me by as it headed north, gathering strength over the warm gulf waters.

Today – the aftermath.


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Banker To The Resistance – Walraven van Hall


One doesn’t normally think of bankers or financiers as resistance leaders.  Usually we picture them on the other side, always siding with power.  Certainly not on the side of people and liberty.  Wealthy and privileged, they usually work to hold on to their perks.

Today we will meet an exception.

Our future banker to the resistance was born into a prominent Dutch family of bankers and directors in 1906.  Wally however wished to go to sea and studied to become an officer in the merchant marine.   After serving three years as a 3rd mate he was ultimately unable to do so.  Young Wally’s vision was quite poor, particularly without his glasses and he was unable to stare for long periods at the horizon.

Having been rejected by the merchant marine, he moved to New York in 1929 where his brother Gijs, a future Mayor of Amsterdam, worked in a bank.  A few strings were pulled and young Wally, a bankers son,  was able to get a job with a Wall Street banking house.

. Having thus been introduced to banking, van Hall returned to the Netherlands and became a banker and stockbroker.

On returning to the Netherlands he married Tilly den Tex, the love of his life.  They had three children and in March 1940 he became a partner and Director in the banking house Wed  J te Veltrup & Zoon.  When war broke out the young family was living in Zaadam.

Each Day Wally would visit the Amsterdam Stock Exchange on business making the contacts, unaware of this benefit to his future work.

After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, the Dutch resistance decided  a fund should be established to help families of merchant-sailors who were stranded abroad when war broke out. Van Hall was asked to help set up the Amsterdam chapter together with his brother Gijs.

Because of his banking experience, van Hall was able to provide funding with the help of guarantees by the Dutch government in London. Soon thereafter, the Germans began taking anti-Jewish and forced labor measures, and resistance against these measures increased.

Van Hall expanded his fund-raising activities for all kinds of resistance groups, and he became known as the banker to the resistance.

Through illegal loans and a fraud involving millions at the central bank, the fund was able to distribute  some 83 million guilders to victims of the occupation and countless resistance groups.  It is the modern equivalent of over three quarters of a billion Euros.  The organization, the National Steunfonds, (the NSF) was unique in Europe during WW II and Wally was its undisputed leader in the Netherlands.

As more and more people and resistance groups needed financial help, Wally decided to expand the assistance provided by the NSF.   Hardly anyone knew where all that money came from.  Income and expenditure were strictly separated, so that if one was discovered the other would not be endangered.  Only Wally van Hall knew everything about both sides of the bank and he concentrated his efforts on the income side – raising the money.

Throughout the country there were 23 NSF districts, with district heads, cashiers, administrators and collecting clerks.  They were mainly concerned with expenditure – where the money was going.  Some 2,000 workers transported suitcases full of money, brought wage packets to homes, helped resistance groups and did all of the bookkeeping.

One of the ways in which van Hall raised funds for the resistance was the “robbing” of De Nederlandsche Bank (Dutch National Bank). With the approval of the Dutch government-in-exile, the van Halls managed to obtain as much as 50 million Dutch guilders.

Together with his brother, van Hall counterfeited bank bonds and exchanged them surreptitiously for the real bonds in the vault of the central bank. With these real bonds paper money was collected. This was done behind the back of Rost van Tonningen, President of the bank and a notorious member of the Dutch Nazi party National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB).

Another way of collecting money was borrowing from wealthy Dutch people. As a proof of their investments, they received a worthless old stock certificate, but after the war they could get their money back in exchange, with the guarantee of the Dutch government in exile.

To keep the money flowing, Wally van Hall argued that only large amounts of at least 25,000 Guilders should be loaned.  He hoped that this would reduce the risk of being caught.  For this reason, he and his brother devised a system for the intricate web of illegal loans, all administered in code.

On 27 January 1945, the weekly meeting place of the group  was given away by a member of the resistance who had been arrested the day before and who wrongly believed the members of the meeting would know he had been arrested and wouldn’t attend the meeting.

Although the Germans had a vague idea there had to be somebody who coordinated the finances for the resistance, they never found out it was van Hall. In January 1945, Teus van Vliet, a founding member of the Dutch resistance, was betrayed by the Dutch collaborator Johan van Lom. Van Vliet broke under torture and, as a result, the Germans were led to several leading members of the resistance, including van Hall.

Wally Van Hall was subsequently executed in Haarlem on February 12, 1945 as revenge for the death of a high-ranking police officer. In two and a half months the war would be over.  After the war, he was buried in Overveen in the Erebegraafplaats Bloemendaal, an honorary cemetery.

In March 1945 the resistance newspaper .Vrije Gedachten published an In Memoriam which described him as “one of the leaders of the resistance whose authority was unchallenged.”

Immediately after the war the process of clearing up all the wartime financial transactions began.  Loans to the NSF were repaid by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the fraud with the fake treasury bonds was set right.  After the war the NSF still had 22 million guilders in cash and the money was used toward building the national monument in Amsterdam and for the founding of the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation.  In 1954 the NSF was finally dissolved.

Wally van Hall was posthumously awarded by the Dutch government with the Dutch Cross of Resistance.  The United States awarded him with the Medal of Freedom with Gold Palm.  . Israel recognized him as “Righteous Among The Nations” in 1978 for supporting and funding for between 800 and 900 Jews in hiding during the war.

In honor of his deeds in the resistance, a monument was erected in the fall of 2010 near the Nederlandsche Bank in Amsterdam – a bronze tree lies like a fallen giant opposite the Dutch central bank.  He was the bridge builder between the resistance groups and those in need; a leading figure in the resistance.

So you see, it is possible.  Even a banker can be a hero to his countrymen.



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