The Disappearing Spoon

Cover of "The Disappearing Spoon: And Oth...
Cover via Amazon

Like many people who have taken a high school science class, I have seen the old, familiar periodic table of the elements hanging on a classroom wall on in the back of the chemistry textbook. I sometimes looked at that table, wondering about the strange letters and numbers on it. Obviously, H stood for hydrogen and O for oxygen, and C for carbon, but why Fe for iron, or Sn for tin and Au for gold? What was an atomic number and what was its relation to atomic weight? Little did I know that behind the periodic table were stories of mystery, adventure, and romance?


Sam Kean tells these stories in his wonderful book, The Disappearing Spoon. He takes the reader up and down the table with stories of elemental discoveries, their differing properties and their impact on the course of history. We learn of the invention of the table, usually attributed to Dmitri Mendeleev, though the story is a little more complicated. We learn of the hunt for elements to fill in the empty spaces and some of the deadly consequences of the discovery of the radioactive elements. How the elements changed the course of history and the results of wars. In the final chapter Kean goes above and beyond the familiar table to introduce the reader to newly discovered exotic forms of matter that might require a periodic table all their own.


Overall, Sam Kean does a marvelous job taking what might be considered a dry and dull table of symbols and numbers and bringing it to life.  The Disappearing Spoon was a joy to read.



The leader of Hungary’s nationalist,anti-Semitic party Jobbik, Csanad Szegedi, turns out to be a Jew. I found the story in the New York Times through the Drudge Report.


English: Csanád Szegedi, Hungarian politicians...
English: Csanád Szegedi, Hungarian politicians, member of the Jobbik. Candidate for list of Jobbik in the 2009 European Parliament election. Magyar: Szegedi Csanád, magyar politikus, a Jobbik tagja, a lista 3. helyezettje a 2009-es európai parlamenti választáson. Deutsch: Csanád Szegedi, ungarischer Politiker, Mitglied der Jobbik und Kandidat für Europawahl 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




As a rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.


Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.

Following weeks of Internet rumors, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn’t practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.

Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

At the root of the drama is an audio tape of a 2010 meeting between Szegedi and a convicted felon. Szegedi acknowledges that the meeting took place but contends the tape was altered in unspecified ways; Jobbik considers it real.

In the recording, the felon is heard confronting Szegedi with evidence of his Jewish roots. Szegedi sounds surprised, then offers money and favors in exchange for keeping quiet.

Under pressure, Szegedi resigned last month from all party positions and gave up his Jobbik membership. That wasn’t good enough for the party: Last week it asked him to give up his seat in the European Parliament as well. Jobbik says its issue is the suspected bribery, not his Jewish roots.

Szegedi came to prominence in 2007 as a founding member of the Hungarian Guard, a group whose black uniforms and striped flags recalled the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party which briefly governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews. In all, 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, most of them after being sent in trains to death camps like Auschwitz. The Hungarian Guard was banned by the courts in 2009.

By then, Szegedi had already joined the Jobbik Party, which was launched in 2003 to become the country’s biggest far-right political force. He soon became one of its most vocal and visible members, and a pillar of the party leadership. Since 2009, he has served in the European Parliament in Brussels as one of the party’s three EU lawmakers, a position he says he wants to keep.

The fallout of Szegedi’s ancestry saga has extended to his business interests. Jobbik executive director Gabor Szabo is pulling out of an Internet site selling nationalist Hungarian merchandise that he owns with Szegedi. Szabo said his sister has resigned as Szegedi’s personal assistant.

In the 2010 tape, former convict Zoltan Ambrus is heard telling Szegedi that he has documents proving Szegedi is Jewish. The right-wing politician seems genuinely surprised by the news — and offers EU funds and a possible EU job to Ambrus to hush it up.

Ambrus, who served time in prison on a weapons and explosives conviction, apparently rejected the bribes. He said he secretly taped the conversation as part of an internal Jobbik power struggle aimed at ousting Szegedi from a local party leadership post. The party’s reaction was swift.

“We have no alternative but to ask him to return his EU mandate,” said Jobbik president Gabor Vona. “Jobbik does not investigate the heritage of its members or leadership, but instead takes into consideration what they have done for the nation.”


Evidently, he had no idea that his grandmother was Jewish. It seems that Holocaust survivors in Hungary, under the Communist government, did not say very much about their suffering. Szegedi was raised as a Presbyterian, but because his maternal grandmother is a Jew, he is considered to be a Jew.






“It was then that it dawned on me that my grandmother really is Jewish,” Szegedi told Hir TV. “I asked her how the deportations happened. She was in Auschwitz and Dachau and she was the only survivor in the extended family.”

Judaism is traced from mother to child, meaning that under Jewish law Szegedi is Jewish. Szegedi said he defines himself as someone with “ancestry of Jewish origin — because I declare myself 100 percent Hungarian.”


Since his political career with Jobbik is over, he’ll have to find some cause other than virulent anti-Semitism to support. He has met with a leading Rabbi and apologized for his offensive remarks.






Szegedi met in early August with Rabbi Slomo Koves, of Hungary’s Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community, whose own parents were in their teens when they discovered they were Jewish.

“As a rabbi … it is my duty to receive every person who is in a situation of crisis and especially a Jew who has just now faced his heritage,” Koves said.

During the meeting, Szegedi apologized for any statements which may have offended the Jewish community, and vowed to visit Auschwitz to pay his respects.

Koves described the conversation as “difficult and spiritually stressful,” but said he is hopeful for a successful outcome.

“Csanad Szegedi is in the middle of a difficult process of reparation, self-knowledge, re-evaluation and learning, which according to our hopes and interests, should conclude in a positive manner,” Koves said. “Whether this will occur or not is first and foremost up to him.”


One thing though, why are these people referred to as “far right”? The Nazis, being socialists, really belonged on the left side of the political spectrum. I don’t know anything about Jobbik’s party platform, but I have a feeling that it does not include a support for free market capitalism and individual liberty.
















The Grownup


Here is a clip of that dangerous Tea Party extremist Paul Ryan explaining to Barack Obama that given the fact that we can’t afford our current entitlements, adding a huge new entitlement program like Obamacare might not be a good idea.


Obama clearly doesn’t like what he is hearing. It is a strange world we live in if asserting that 2 plus 2 does always equal 4 gets you labeled as an extremist.

On that note, the latest edition of the Truth Team deals with the lies that Paul Ryan has been saying.

#1 Ending Medicare as we know it
Romney and Ryan are committed to a plan that would end Medicare as we know it. They would create a voucher system that would increase seniors’ health costs. Ryan even proposed a plan, which Romney endorsed, that would increase costs for seniors by $6,350 a year. To cover for their own plan, they have been distorting the President’s record. They have labeled the $700 billion that Obamacare saved from trimming excessive payments to corporate insurance companies as “Medicare cuts.” That’s false, as Paul Ryan should know — he includes these savings in his own budget. Check out this video of Florida voters responding to the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it to pay for a tax break for millionaires and billionaires, and share it with others:

Medicare is going to have to be ended as we know it or it won’t be there at all. Right now the program is unsustainable in the long term and even in the medium term. If action is not taken soon the money to fund it just won’t be there. The Chinese have problems of their own and won’t be willing or able to lend us money we can’t pay back forever. If the Democrats don’t like Paul Ryan’s plan, then where is their plan? At least he has a plan. The Democrat controlled Senate hasn’t even passed a budget in three years. There are few Republicans willing to face the fact that we are headed toward the abyss. So far, I haven’t seen any Democrats at all who are willing to acknowledge the problem and act like adults to solve it. Instead, they just make commercials showing Paul Ryan throwing an old woman off a cliff.

It would be nice to have two parties trying to solve our problems.


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