Friday, November 7, 2014

4 Surprising Facts about the Berlin Wall


Nov. 9 marks the 25-th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the iconic barrier that completely enclosed East Berlin between 1961 and 1989 and symbolized the height of Cold War tensions.

Around the world, the international German community and others are marking the milestone with celebrations and shared memories. In Germany, artists have recreated the Wall with illuminated white balloons along the path that the structure once traced.

Here are several interesting facts related to the Berlin Wall:

1.       Exodus from East Germany

The Berlin Wall was erected more than 15 years into the Cold War. More than 2 million East Germans, most of them skilled laborers and professionals, fled to the West between 1949 and 1961. The Soviet Union had rejected East Germany’s original request to build the wall in 1953, but with defections through West Berlin reaching 1,000 people a day by the summer of 1961, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev finally relented. The residents of Berlin awoke on the morning of August 13, 1961, to find barbed wire fencing had been installed on the border between the city’s east and west sections. Days later, East Germany began to fortify the barrier with concrete.

2.       Berlin Wall Construction

Construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13 1961 as a way of separating the three zones controlled by France, Britain and America from the zone controlled by the Soviet Union. After World War II, Germany has been split into four zones, each occupied by one of the four Allied powers that defeated the Nazis. The zones controlled by France, Great Britain and America became West Germany, or Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany). The Soviet-controlled zone became East Germany, or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (Germany Democratic Republic). Germany's capital, Berlin, was situated in Soviet-controlled East Germany, but as this city was the administrative area for the Allied forces, it too was split into four. This meant that France, Great Britain and America controlled West Berlin, whereas the Soviet Union controlled the East. Relations between America and the Soviet Union soured considerably during much of the second half of the Twentieth Century. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of this hostility, a physical representation of what was called the Iron Curtain.

The wall construction had four phases, which included a wire fence, improved wire fence, concrete wall, and an improved concrete wall, which consisted of 45,000 sections 12 feet (3.6 meters) high and about 4 feet (1.2 meters) thick and more than 87 miles (140 kilometers) long.



3.       How People Escaped from East Germany

It is estimated that about 5,000 people escaped East Germany through the Berlin Wall. Several hundred more died trying. The wall’s anti-escape features were extensive. Along with barbed wire, the top of the fence was also lined with smooth pipe to make it harder to climb. In addition, the area surrounding the wall had dogs on long tethers, anti-vehicle trenches, and more than 116 watchtowers.

Official figures show that at least 136 people died trying to cross the border. People attempting to get from East to West were regarded as traitors and guards were instructed to shoot at them if they attempted to cross, although not to kill them.



So, here some of the most creative ways for people to escape from East Germany:

* On a tightrope
East German acrobat Horst Klein made one of the most daring escapes over the wall in early 1963. Thanks to his acrobatic skill, Klein was able to turn an unused high-tension cable that stretched over the wall into his route. He moved hand-over-hand while dangling from the cable 60 feet over the head of patrolling guards, then when his arms became fatigued, he swung his whole body up over the cable and inched his way along. Klein’s dismount was not particularly graceful – he fell off the cable – but he landed in West Berlin.

* Down a zip line
On March 31, 1983, friends Michael Becker and Holger Bethke took Klein’s idea one step further by letting gravity do the heavy lifting for them. The pair climbed to the attic of a five-story building on the eastern side of the wall and fired an arrow tied to a thin fishing line over a building in West Berlin. An accomplice grabbed the arrow and reeled in the line, which was connected to a slightly heavier fishing line, then to a quarter-inch steel cable. Once the steel cable was attached to a chimney on the western side of the wall, Becker and Bethke zipped across the quarter-inch cable using wooden pulleys.

* Without a windshield
When Austrian lathe operator Heinz Meixner pulled up to Checkpoint Charlie on May 5, 1963, something must have seemed odd about his red Austin Healey Sprite convertible. Namely, it was missing its windshield. (A closer inspection would also have revealed that his mother was hiding in the trunk.) When the East German guard directed Meixner to pull over to a customs shed, Meixner instead floored the accelerator and ducked. His tiny car slipped right under the three-foot-high barrier dividing the East from the West.

* With a passport from HEF
A 1986 Los Angeles Times piece by Gordon E. Rowley described Meixner’s driving escape, but it also detailed a decidedly low-tech method of crossing the border. According to Rowley, some border crossers simply approached the guards and flashed their membership cards for Munich’s Playboy Club. The cards so closely resembled diplomatic passports that the guards often waved them through.

* On a speeding train
These clever escapes all worked, but in the wall’s early days, brute force was an option, too. In December 1961, a 27-year-old train engine driver named Harry Deterling piloted what he dubbed “the last train to freedom” across the border. Instead of slowing down his passenger train as it approached the fortifications, Deterling throttled it up to full speed and ripped through the wall. The train skidded to a stop in West Berlin’s Spandau borough, allowing Deterling, seven members of his family, and 16 other people aboard the train to remain in the West. The train’s engineer and six other passengers chose to return to East Germany.

* In a hot air balloon
The escape orchestrated by Hans Strelczyk and Gunter Wetzel in 1979 sounds like it came straight out of a comic book. Strelczyk, a mechanic, and Wetzel, a mason, used their mechanical expertise to build a hot air balloon engine out of old propane cylinders. Their wives then pieced together a makeshift balloon from scraps of canvas and old bed sheets, and on September 16, 1979, the two couples, along with their four children, floated up to 8,000 feet and drifted over the wall to freedom.

* In a well-aged tunnel
In May 1962, a dozen people escaped from the East by way of Der Seniorentunnel, otherwise known as “the Senior Citizens’ Tunnel.” Led by an 81-year-old man, a group of senior citizens had spent 16 days digging a 160-foot-long and 6-foot-tall tunnel from an East German chicken coop all the way to the other side of the wall. According to one of the diggers, the tunnel was so tall because the old men wanted “to walk to freedom with our wives, comfortably and unbowed.”



* In a uniform
Movies tend to portray East German border guards as soulless automatons who were dead-set on keeping everyone on their side of the wall, but many of the guards were just as desperate to escape as their fellow East Germans. One perk of being a border guard was that a soldier could simply wander over the border to freedom, and a lot of them did. Over 1,300 made the jump in the first two years of the wall’s existence. The most famous of these escapes was made by 19-year-old guard Conrad Schumann on August 15, 1961, just the third day of the wall’s construction. Since the “wall” was really just piles of barbed wire at that point, Schumann jumped over the wire in his uniform while toting his machine gun. A photographer caught Schumann’s flying leap, and the jump to freedom became an iconic Cold War image. Schumann eventually settled in the southwestern state of Bavaria and worked as a machine operator. He committed suicide in 1998.




4.       The fall of the Berlin Wall happened by mistake

At a press conference on the evening of November 9, 1989, East German politburo member Günter Schabowski prematurely announced that restrictions on travel visas would be lifted. When asked when the new policy would begin, he said, “Immediately, without delay.” In actuality, the policy was to be announced the following day and would still have required East Germans to go through a lengthy visa application process. Schabowski’s confused answers and erroneous media reports that border crossings had opened spurred thousands of East Berliners to the Berlin Wall. At the Bornholmer Street checkpoint, Harald Jäger, the chief officer on duty, faced a mob growing in size and frustration. Receiving insults, rather than instructions, from his superiors and nervously expecting results of his cancer diagnostic tests the next day, the overwhelmed Jäger opened the border crossing on his own, and the other gates soon followed.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

ISIS: Massive Sex Slavery Revived by Islamic Extremists




According to Islamic Law, captive female prisoners are also part and parcel of the booty. One fifth of the booty has to be first distributed to the needy, orphans, etc. The remaining four-fifths should then be distributed among the soldiers who participated in the war. The distribution can only take effect after the booty is brought into Islamic territory. The Ameerul-Mu'mineen (Head of the Islamic State) remains the guardian of the female prisoners until he allocates them to the soldiers. Only after a soldier has been allotted a slave girl, and made the owner of her, will she become his lawful possession. After she spends a period called 'Istibraa', which is the elapse of one menstrual period, It becomes permissible for her owner to have relations with her. After possession of the slave too there are a number of other laws that affect the master and slave.

Mufti Ebrahim Desai, Ask-Imam.com, Question 14421


Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please.

Qur'an 2:223, Dawood






In the dark dungeons of the notorious Badush prison in Mosul in Northern Iraq, a thirteen year old Yazidi girl is chosen. Like many others, she is presented as a gift to one of the loyal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters, who just ransacked Sinjar. Her night that started with a kidnapping and incarceration was interrupted briefly by a beautician. The rape immediately followed. Her dark night started in June of this past summer and has not yet ended.

This scene is grim, but versions of it are being replayed across wide areas of Syria and Iraq. This same fate has befallen hundreds of others following ISIS’ takeover of their area. Yazidis in particular, a religious minority that is often viciously stereotyped and denigrated, and has been long persecuted, are vulnerable to ISIS’ confirmed practice of kidnapping Virgin girls and using them as sexual slaves and “rewards” for their fighters and allies. 

ISIS has kidnapped an estimated 4,000 Iraqi girls and women from Yazidi and other minority groups (mostly Christian) for the purpose of selling them to locals or donating them to loyal jihadists. The kidnapped women and girls are generally separated into small groups. Their price varies between $25 and $1000. Some are as young as 12 years old.  ISIS has beheaded 17 of them. There have been at least 11 reported cases of suicide, according to an email response from the Human Rights Department at Iraq’s Foreign Ministry to this writer. As described by Liz Sly of the Washington Post, only a conversion to Islam can “upgrade” the status of these captives from prison inmates to “comfort wives.” Those who make the choice are “promised a good life” with a house of their own and a Muslim husband. 

In most cases, it is still considered as temporary marriage. Under such conditions, woman may find herself passed from one Holy Warrior to the other with absolutely no say in the matter. Her “marriage” may last an hour or a day. It is well known that there are legal Islamic religious laws which enshrine just such practices.

Other groups of kidnapped women are forced into sexual slavery at brothels run by militants of ISIS. The Brothels, operated by the female “police force” called the al-Khanssaa Brigade, have been set up for the use of ISIS militant. It is reported that the brothels are operated by British female jihadists. These women are using barbaric interpretations of the Islamic faith to justify their actions. They believe the militants can use these women as they please as they are non-Muslims. It is the British women who have risen to the top of the Islamic State’s Sharia police, and now they are in charge of this operation.



Who are the Yazidis?

* They are a pre-Islamic Kurdish sect who live in northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
* They say they have often faced persecution in Iraq because the chief angel they venerate as a manifestation of God is often identified as the fallen angel Satan in biblical terminology.
* The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Islamic faiths.
* The Yazidi themselves are thought to be descended from supporters of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I.
* They believe that they were created separately from the rest of mankind, not even being descended from Adam, and they have kept themselves strictly segregated from the people among whom they live.



ISIS Sex Slave Market in Central London

In a controversial publicity stunt, Kurdish protesters took to the streets of London last week to draw attention to the slave-trade tactics of ISIS. The protest led a group of chained veiled women and encouraged passersby to bid for them in front of the Houses of Parliament, Leicester Square and Downing Street.



"This is what Shariah means," the speaker for the mock ISIS group belted from a megaphone at the first of three protests.

"This happens every day in Iraq and Syria. We are bringing it to you," he yelled while leading a group of four chained and veiled women in front of Westminster Square, followed by 20 protesters chanting “ISIS, ISIS, terrorists!”

Once the group reached the entrance to Westminster Hall the leader proceeded in encouraging passersby to bid on the captured women "to serve them, for their pleasure."

The speaker for the "ISIS" auctioneers boasted he had "Christian women, Muslim women, women from Kobane, from Raqqah, from Mosul," before beginning the bidding with 14-year-old Yasmin whom bidders were assured was "pure" and "a virgin."

Each of the women was "sold" for several hundred dollars before the protesters cleared and went home.



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Sunday, October 19, 2014

10 Interesting Facts about San Francisco you didn't Know


1. The Cable Car is the only moving National Historic Monument in the World. Built in 1873, the Cable Cars transport 9.7 million people around the city annually. 

Thinking about the related funny facts, we should mention that the most infamous cable car victim was Gloria Sykes, who claimed that a 1964 accident left her with a black eye, bruises, and an unquenchable sex drive. When a mechanical failure caused the car she was riding to slide backwards down a hill, Sykes – later dubbed the "cable car nymphomaniac" by the daily newspapers -- sued the City of San Francisco for a half million dollars. Her lawyers argued that the sexual abuse she suffered as a child combined with the stress of the accident caused her to seek the company of up to 50 sexual partners a week. After listening to 44 taped transcripts of an electrically hypnotized Sykes, the jury awarded the insatiable (ha) plaintiff $50,000 in damages. Sykes’ case is cited as one of the earliest court-recognized examples of post-traumatic stress disorder.



2. Marilyn Monroe married baseball star Joe Di Maggio in City Hall in 1954. The intended small, secret ceremony was leaked to the press hours before the wedding, turning it into quite a public skeptical. After their marriage, they lived in the Marina at 2150 Beach Street.

Their marriage had problems from the start. DiMaggio was looking to settle down and wanted a stay-at-home wife; Monroe wanted to continue with her career, which took her all over the world. “He wants to cut me off completely from my whole world of motion pictures, friends, and creative people that I know,” Monroe wrote to a friend. Furthermore, DiMaggio didn’t approve of Monroe’s public sexuality. During a famous scene in the “The Seven Year Itch” in which Monroe stood over New York subway grate with her dress billowing up, DiMaggio “was reported to have said angrily: ‘What the hell’s going on here?’” according to Time. Monroe filed for divorce in October 1954, citing “mental cruelty.” Though their marriage lasted only nine months, the two remained friends until Monroe’s tragic death in 1962. DiMaggio organized her funeral and reportedly knelt down at her grave and said, “I love you. I love you. DiMaggio had roses sent to Monroe’s crypt three times a week for the next 20 years. He died in 1999 having never remarried.



3. Makoto Hagiwara a Japanese immigrant and designer of Golden Gate Park’s famous Japanese Tea Garden, created the first fortune cookie in 1914. There was a dispute in the 1980’s that a restaurant owner in Los Angeles invented the cookie and the case even went to court, but alas the evidence ruled in favor of San Francisco. Today there are over 3 billion fortune cookies made each year around the world.

4. When the stock market crashed in 1929, not one San Francisco bank failed. Of the more than 25,000 banks in business in 1929, by 1933, only 11,000 survived. Actually, it was not so bad in the area, if the city was able to construct both the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge during the Depression.



5. San Francisco was originally named Yerba Buena – In 1835 SF was called Yerba Buena, Spanish for “Good Herb”, a fragrant mint plant that grew along the shoreline of the bay. In 1847 the name was changed to San Francisco after Saint Francis.

6. The notorious gangster and mob boss was among the first prisoners to occupy the new Alcatraz federal prison in August 1934. Capone had bribed guards to receive preferential treatment while serving his tax-evasion sentence in Atlanta, but that changed after his transfer to the island prison. The conditions broke Capone. “It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked,” he reportedly told his warden. In fact, Convict No. 85 became so cooperative that he was permitted to play banjo in the Alcatraz prison band, the Rock Islanders, which gave regular Sunday concerts for other inmates.



7. Although they made an unannounced live appearance in January 1969 on the rooftop of the Apple building, The Beatles' final live concert took place on 29 August 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The Park's capacity was 42,500, but only 25,000 tickets were sold, leaving large sections of unsold seats.



8. Although few history books mention his name, in the In September 1859 a San Francisco’s favorite eccentric resident Joshua Abraham Norton proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. And for almost a quarter of a century he ruled his vast domain with exemplary benevolence and kindly common sense.

When Norton died suddenly of apoplexy on January 8th, 1880, the whole city mourned its loss. "San Francisco without Emperor Norton," a newspaper announced, "will be like a throne without a king," and the city knew it. San Franciscans had grown to love Norton, eccentric or not, and they let it be known. Flags hung at half-mast. Businesses closed out of respect. Funeral and burial arrangements for the Emperor were the most elaborate the city had seen, with an impressive 30,000 people paying their last respects. With wealthier citizens bearing the expenses, Norton was laid to rest in the Masonic Cemetery with all the ceremony that a real emperor would have received.

9. Behind New York, Moscow and London, San Francisco is 4th in the world in terms of numbers of billionaires living within its city limits, while having less than 10% the population of the other three cities.

10. An important tourist spot in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. Established in 1937, it is the world’s second longest single span. It links San Francisco with Marin County and the Redwood Empire. The Golden Gate Bridge is continuously painted and repainted all the time, because the bridge is so long that by the time the paint crew gets from one end to the other, it’s time to start over again.


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