25 August 2016

Celebrating Sean Connery’s Film Career

Sean ConneryToday marks the 86th birthday of actor Sean Connery, who is best known for playing James Bond. First portraying the British spy in 1962’s Dr. No, Connery went on to reprise the role in a string of highly successful follow-ups, including From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever.

After turning in his Walther PPK and Aston Martin DB4, Connery went on to star in a number of blockbuster action films, including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and The Rock (1996).

To celebrate his big day, RealClearLife has put together a photo gallery of some of Connery’s greatest onscreen roles. (Don’t worry; there’s lots of Bond.) At the very bottom, watch a video of Connery’s 50 greatest James Bond quotes.

How to Stay Rich in Europe: Inherit Money for 700 Years

by  and

Lamberto Frescobaldi sets two wine glasses atop a wooden barrel in the spacious cellar of his company's winery in a 1,000-year-old castle not far from Florence. Uncorking a bottle of Nipozzano, he takes a sip and nods. The red that his family supplied to Michelangelo and Pope Leo X still tastes pretty darn good.
     To Frescobaldi, 53, directing the family business is something of a trust. It’s a way to preserve a dynasty that began with wool traders in about the year 1000 and made its money financing the English crown almost 200 years later.
     “You have to feel that what you have inherited, you actually do not own,” he said, seated on a wine cask. “You only have to run it properly, and to carry on to something else.”
     Maintaining inherited wealth has worked for generations of Frescobaldis over 700 years, and it has let the descendants of Jakob Fugger in Germany continue to run the social-housing complex the Emperor’s banker founded almost half a millennium ago. It’s less of a blessing for Europe as a whole, where family fortunes are more prevalent than in the U.S. or Asia. Their relatively high level is a sign of the continent’s low social mobility, keeping education, income and social connections from evolving over generations.
     The richest Florentine families today were already at the top of the socioeconomic ladder almost 600 years ago, according to a recent study by the Bank of Italy. And research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that in many European countries, not only wealth and income but even occupations tend to be “sticky,” passed on from generation to generation.
     More than one-third of Italy’s richest people inherited their fortunes, compared with just 29 percent in the U.S. and 2 percent in China, according to a 2014 study of the world’s billionaires by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Germany has the highest share of inheritor-billionaires among developed economies, 65 percent. Overall, heirs and heiresses make up about half of Western Europe’s billionaires.
     Europe’s income classes aren’t much more rigid than in the U.S. The lack of social mobility is more of a concern, though, because economic output and the number of available jobs are smaller. The U.S. has grown 9.9 percent in real terms since 2007; the comparable figure for the European Union over the same period, based on Eurostat data, is 2.8 percent. Gross domestic product per capita in the EU is almost one-third lower than in the U.S when adjusted for purchasing power; the unemployment rate is nearly twice that of the U.S.
     Because America’s economy is expanding, “they need more engineers, more chemists, more economists, more analysts, more bankers than in Europe,” said Antonio Schizzerotto, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Trento and scientific director of the Research Institute for the Evaluation of Public Policies in the same city. “The number of positions open is higher than the number of ‘sons and daughters of.”’
     At a time when some European economies are stalling, wealth and social inheritance must be closely watched because if inequality reaches a certain limit, it can further constrain countries' ability to revive growth, Schizzerotto said.
     For Frescobaldi, the family patrimony can be summed up in one word: wine. His first experience with red came at the age of six, when he got drunk and fainted at a summer party with vineyard workers.
     “They couldn’t give me water, I was the son of the boss!” he said. Today, after getting a degree in viticulture at the University of California, Davis, he chairs a company, Marchesi Frescobaldi Group, that produces 11 million bottles a year, one of the biggest in Italy. He even named his dog Brunello, after the Brunello di Montalcino the company makes.
     Before entering winemaking in 1308, the Frescobaldis were wool traders and bankers, financing King Edward I’s wars in Wales and France. The family -- which also built Florence’s first-ever bridge, Santa Trinita -- also includes Girolamo Frescobaldi, one of the main composers of keyboard music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods, as well as poet Dino Frescobaldi. The latter collected and conserved the first seven Canti of the Divine Comedy for Dante Alighieri when he was sent to exile, allowing him to complete the work.
     The Frescobaldis’ long lineage is hardly unique in Florence, Tuscany’s capital. Bank of Italy researchers Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti compared tax records of Florentine taxpayers in 1427 and 2011 to track inter-generational mobility, and found that there was meaningful persistence of socioeconomic status across the centuries.
     “The huge political, demographic and economic upheavals that have occurred in the city across the centuries were not able to untie the Gordian knot of socioeconomic inheritance,” the authors wrote.
     Germany may be prone to even more concentrations of inherited wealth, research shows.
    “In hardly any other country does social origin influence one’s income as much as in Germany,” wrote Marcel Fratzscher, head of the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research, in a recent book. “The richest citizens are also those with the highest income. For to everyone who has, more shall be given.”
     Germany’s high share of family wealth is in part a consequence of a tax system that until this year allowed family-owned businesses -- including a large proportion of the medium-sized companies that are the backbone of its economy -- to pass on their financial assets while paying almost no estate tax.
Count Alexander Fugger-Babenhausen, a descendant of arguably Europe’s richest man in the 16th century, says maintaining the fortune’s integrity is a responsibility. The 34-year old returned to Germany to manage the family’s wealth and charitable activities after working in investment banking and private equity in London.
     “It’s not the fast-lived, dynamic sector that forces you to take high risks,” he said at the Fuggerei, the affordable-housing complex founded by Jakob Fugger in 1521. “In every decision we make for the Fuggerei, we try to consider that and be prudent. It would be disastrous if a mistake brought sustainability to an end after 19 generations.”
     Jakob Fugger ordered the construction of the Fuggerei to give back to his city, and try to save his soul in the meantime. Those living in the complex of cozy, two-story terrace houses pay a yearly rent of 0.88 euros, as per Fugger's decree that the cost be one Rhenish florin,  and must make three daily prayers for the founder’s soul and family.
     Similarly, the Frescobaldis, who since the Renaissance have commissioned works from artists such as Filippo Brunelleschi, have introduced a contemporary art award called “Artists for Frescobaldi.”  For this project, 999 special bottles are produced every year and some of the proceeds are reinvested to support contemporary art.
     The Fuggerei’s 140 apartments have survived innumerable wars and partial destruction during World War II. While they have been renovated, they still follow the original floor plans and feature some unique Renaissance decor, such as a lever-activated door-opening mechanism that in the past let tenants allow visitors in without leaving the apartment’s only heated room.
     “I almost feel a little bit more like a trustee,''  said Fugger-Babenhausen, head of one the three surviving family branches that still run the housing complex through a foundation. As for the family business, “I become very frugal in what I take for myself.”

--With assistance from Flavia Rotondi and Giovanni Salzano in Rome

24 August 2016

Reuters: Gunmen attack American university in Kabul, students trapped

    Gunmen attacked the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Wednesday, with explosions and gunfire reported inside the campus where foreign staff and hundreds of students were trapped, an interior ministry official and a student said.
    The senior interior ministry official said elite Afghan forces had surrounded the university compound and gunfire was continuing. Early reports were that several gunmen, some wearing suicide vests, were involved, he said.
    "Several gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul and there are reports of gunfire and explosions," the official said. "They are inside the compound and there are foreign professors along with hundreds of students."
     Ahmad Shaheer, a student at the university, told Reuters by telephone that he was trapped inside the university.
    "We are stuck inside our classroom and there are bursts of gunfire," he said.
     It is the second time this month that the university or its staff have been targeted.
     Two teachers, an American and an Australian, remain missing after being abducted at gunpoint from a road nearby on Aug. 7.
(Writing by Tommy Wilkes and Alex Richardson; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Living in Jerusalem

Rabbi Raymond Apple, Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney.

In Jerusalem every day - and any day - is both yesterday and today. The street names recall ages as disparate as King David and King George. The buildings are a jumble of the Bible, the Koran, the nineteenth-century European Christian missionaries, and the Champs-Elysees.
     The people are both mystics and moderns, sometimes rolled into one. There are believers who move sedately, lost in meditation; pietists who constantly scurry in search of a chance to study or to pray; old women who lug their heavy shopping trolleys on the buses; students with back-packs on the way to a lecture; youngsters in skimpy dress who meet their friends in an underground disco or bar.
      All believe that Jerusalem belongs to them.
     Jerusalem is an elevated site, where life is always on a high. There are high-rise apartments - and lowly caves. There are stairs too, and walls.
     Parts of the city have the feel of Wall Street - but the wall par excellence is the Kotel Ma'aravi, the Temple's Western Wall that has survived the depredations of generations of the city's conquerors.
     What happens at the Wall depends on who you are. To some there is sheer holiness in the air; to some it is where you excitedly encounter tour groups from all over the world; to others it is a bothersome gathering of mendicants.
     The attempts to clear the beggars away have not entirely succeeded: one hardy suppliant has been seeking donations toward his daughter's wedding for so long that you recall Gilbert and Sullivan's verse, "She could very well pass for forty-five in the dark with the light behind her."
    Countless visitors bring their own private prayers and requests to the ancient stones. Not all are certain what the word "God" means to them. But everyone, whether they have gadlut or katnut emunah, greatness or littleness of faith, senses the Divine Presence in this place.
     It is customary to place a folded scrap of paper in the Wall's crevices. Popes and presidents, politicians, priests and poets; athletes, actors and artists; people of all creeds, colours and cultures - all leave their prayers here. Ordinary Jerusalemites flock here on high days, holy days, week days or whenever, never leaving the Wall unattended even in the depths of the night. There are debates about egalitarian prayer, but those who seem to live at the Wall take no notice.
     The little scraps of paper that people leave in the Wall's cracks are called in Yiddish k'vitlach or tzettlach, in Hebrew pitka'ot. They are not so much written with ink as with tears. God reads them all. If Superman has X-ray vision, all the more does the Almighty. It doesn't matter if once in a while the notes are collected and given reverent burial. The message has already been heeded; whatever the answer, the person whose heart was poured into the petition already feels better. What the messages are about is health, happiness, serenity, success, good marriages, good children and family stability. World peace certainly figures.
     If we ask how the k'vitlach custom arose, nobody is certain. In the eighteenth century Rabbi Hayyim ibn Attar of Morocco, author of the Or HaHayyim, learnt that a disciple, Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, was planning to live in Israel, and he asked him to put a letter in the stones of the Wall. Azulai agreed, but it slipped his memory. When eventually he remembered, he went to the Wall and left the note there. Someone extricated the note and read it. It was a plea to God to grant success to Azulai, whom it called a great scholar. This alerted the sages of Jerusalem to the qualities of Azulai and they appointed him as their head. There are many other tales about the life of Azulai. Who knows which are embroidery and which are embellishments?
     Another version - recorded in Sha'ul Schaffer's Israel's Temple Mount - says that when Attar gave a note to a poor man who needed help, the recipient meant to place it in a crack of the wall but the wind blew it away and someone read it and was able to arrange support for him. So three centuries ago it was already considered efficacious to put notes in the wall. The notes in the wall express the outpourings of innumerable hearts and acknowledge the tradition that the Divine Presence never left the sacred site of the Holy Temple.
     The prayers in the crevices all ask for Divine support and intervention. But these prayers have a theological problem with such prayers. What do they want - a miracle? The Jewish prayer book says, "Our Father in Heaven, we know we can rely on no-one but You." Yet the inspirational Rav Kook says, "A person should train himself not to rely on God other than for things which humans cannot do themselves." Asking God to do what we can do for ourselves actually diminishes the Almighty, who gave us so many energies to use before seeking miracles.
     There was a man who was drowning and implored God to save him. A row-boat arrived but the man still drowned and complained to God that He had abandoned him. God asked, "Who do you think sent the row-boat?"
     Personally, I don't usually place notes in the Wall. I seek a quiet corner where I can think about my life and priorities: what I could only achieve if I used the abilities God gave me! Someone told my wife I was famous. Whether it's true or not, I place no store on vanity. I prefer to do ze'er sham ze'er sham - "a little here, a little there" (Isaiah 28:10).
     What you pray for is a reflection of who you are. If you want to put a note in the Wall, fine. But don't leave everything to God. To ask Him to do all the work is to abdicate. As Rav Kook says, it also diminishes the One who created so much talent in each of His creatures. At the same time, don't try to do it all yourself and leave nothing to Him. That's just arrogance. Ask for His help.
     More importantly, imprint your dreams not so much in but on the walls of wherever you are. We can all affect our microcosms, starting at home. Let's try civility, cleanliness, decency, ecology, generosity, helpfulness, honesty, hospitality, justice, literacy, safety, thrift, and human tolerance above all.

Tribute to Stan by Bob Costas

The Cards

The Cards

Boston Avenue Methodist Church

Boston Avenue Methodist Church