Sunday, July 06, 2008
new blog address
Monday, October 22, 2007
the curse of chief wahoo
i grew up in cleveland. i suffered through the indians of the 80s, the drive, the fumble, the shot ... and if you don't count the cleveland crunch (indoor soccer...), the city of cleveland hasn't won a professional sports championship since 1964.
while some people blame the drought on the curse of rocky colavita ... or a more general cleveland sports curse, how about blaming things on our cute smiling little red racist friend?
while the cleveland jewish news isn't quite sure, i agree with rabbi jill that chief wahoo may be the real reason why cleveland sports teams thrive on disappointing us year after year.
in any case, i like my new old-school indians hat, without the wahoo logo...
Monday, August 27, 2007
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
if only every wednesday after the first tuesday after the first monday in november could be so wonderful.
now let's get to work. minimum wage. iraq. global warming. energy policies. health care. student loans. affordable housing. prescription drug benefits. corrupt republicans. corrupt contractors. afghanistan. every child left behind.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I began to believe.
I was impressed. It’s not his charisma. It’s not his good looks. It’s not his ethnic diversity. It’s that the man’s got some serious communication skills. He knows how to communicate with people. It’s his three years of working as a community organizer for Gamaliel in south-side Chicago. He knows how to communicate a vision. He knows how to share his public story in a way in which people can relate – in a way that people can understand. He knows how to listen to people. After listening to him talk, you learn something about him -- how he works and how he operates – how he’s come to the decisions that he’s made. Whether or not you ultimately agree or disagree with every political position that he takes, you leave respecting his judgement and his character. I want the opportunity to help elect this man into the white house.
As a rabbinical student, studying about community organizing, and the power that it has to transform congregational life, I’ve been especially drawn to Barack Obama. This makes sense, now that I’ve found out that he was a community organizer, in the Congregation Based Community Organizing model:
From his writings on community organizing theory, it’s clear that he understands the need for building broad-based movements, consistent with Crashing the Gate and Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy:For three years Barack Obama was the director of Developing Communities Project, an institutionally based community organization on Chicago's far south side. He has also been a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, an organizing institute working throughout the Midwest.
He frames his speeches in the classic language of Ed Chambers and Saul Alinsky – setting up the dichotomy between the "world as it is" and the "world as it could be". He gives us permission to hope, to dream, to imagine that if we join together as partners, the mess that our government is now, the mess that our country has become, is not set in stone. We have the power, and indeed the obligation to change things, to set the ship aright.In theory, community organizing provides a way to merge various strategies for neighborhood empowerment. Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and money around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership — and not one or two charismatic leaders — can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions.
This means bringing together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education campaigns, and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues — jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to community needs. Equally important, it enables people to break their crippling isolation from each other, to reshape their mutual values and expectations and rediscover the possibilities of acting collaboratively — the prerequisites of any successful self-help initiative.
His strategy is to first connect himself to others, addressing points of commonalities, and then only afterwards explaining the nuanced differences. Thereby, he leads the audience along with him on their journey to the next destination. For example, paraphrasing from his speech on Saturday:
Obama is not afraid of who he is and who he was – he seems to be very comfortable in his own skin."You know, I believe in capitalism, but you know, sometimes, the owners want to keep a little bit too much of the money … so that’s why we needed to have a minimum wage."
He’s a human being, an imperfect person who has grown and developed. His adolescence involved periods of flirting with black power, alcohol, and drugs --- trying to come to terms with his own identity as the son of a Kenyan exchange student father and white mother from Kansas, who were divorced when he was young, growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia.Obama does something no one else in politics does: He plumbs his own anxiety and doubt, and ties his life story to political problems that few elected officials dare to discuss so personally, including the disparities of race and class, drug abuse, poverty, and, of course, faith
He struggled with the connections of faith and social justice – and the appropriate role of religion in public life:
He eventually, though, found his own path to faith, about which he effectively communicates to others, in a way in which others can relate:As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, Obama had put together demonstrations and registered voters alongside Christian leaders who honored the civil-rights tradition of social change. His faith-grounded fellow activists, he explained, "saw that I knew their Book, that I shared their values, that I sang their songs." But, he said, they also "sensed that part of me that remained detached and removed, that I was an observer in their midst." He continued, "In time, I came to realize that something was missing for me as well, that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone."
Exchanges like these, show that he is the candidate that has the power to connect with voters from across the spectrum:And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You need to come to church precisely because you are of this world, not apart from it; you need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away -- because you are human and need an ally in your difficult journey.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.
The path I traveled has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans -- evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at a turning point in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives them.
So let me end with another interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:
"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."
The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of President Bush's foreign policy.
But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website that suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." He went on to write:
"I sense that you have a strong sense of justice … and I also sense that you are a fair-minded person with a high regard for reason … Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded. … You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others … I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."
I checked my website and found the offending words. My staff had written them to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.
Rereading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms -- those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.
I wrote back to the doctor and thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own -- a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.
It is a prayer I still say for America today -- a hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It's a prayer worth praying and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come. Thank you.
Monday, October 09, 2006
failure is a good thing...
Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and, as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying. What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure.
Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.
Failure is how we learn. I have been told of an African phrase describing a good cook as "she who has broken many pots." If you've spent enough time in the kitchen to have broken a lot of pots, probably you know a fair amount about cooking. I once had a late dinner with a group of chefs, and they spent time comparing knife wounds and burn scars. They knew how much credibility their failures gave them.
I earn my living by writing a daily newspaper column. Each week I am aware that one column is going to be the worst column of the week. I don't set out to write it; I try my best every day. Still, every week, one column is inferior to the others, sometimes spectacularly so.
I have learned to cherish that column. A successful column usually means that I am treading on familiar ground, going with the tricks that work, preaching to the choir or dressing up popular sentiments in fancy words. Often in my inferior columns, I am trying to pull off something I've never done before, something I'm not even sure can be done.
My younger daughter is a trapeze artist. She spent three years putting together an act. She did it successfully for years with the Cirque du Soleil. There was no reason for her to change the act -- but she did anyway. She said she was no longer learning anything new and she was bored; and if she was bored, there was no point in subjecting her body to all that stress. So she changed the act. She risked failure and profound public embarrassment in order to feed her soul. And if she can do that 15 feet in the air, we all should be able to do it.
My granddaughter is a perfectionist, probably too much of one. She will feel her failures, and I will want to comfort her. But I will also, I hope, remind her of what she learned, and how she can do whatever it is better next time. I probably won't tell her that failure is a good thing, because that's not a lesson you can learn when you're five. I hope I can tell her, though, that it's not the end of the world. Indeed, with luck, it is the beginning.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
there's a whale on my tail! does forced repentance really count?
Why don’t I like Jonah? Every time I read the story, I have a negative gut reaction to his character. He shirks his responsibilities, he hides from God, he endangers the lives of those poor sailors, who were just trying to irk out a living on the high seas – the poor guy just doesn’t have that many redeeming qualities. And when Jonah eventually “changes his ways” and does the right thing, it’s only done at the end of the proverbial loaded gun - which in this case was a big hungry fish.
But, is my criticism of Jonah legitimate? Am I being adequately fair and balanced in my considerations?
Now, in both Jewish law, and in American law, if I forced you to sign a contract with a loaded gun pointed at your head, and you later proved it to the court that you had been under duress, the contract would be nullified. I’m not sure though, if Teshuvah works the same way.
Is it fair for me, to criticize Jonah, for only eventually deciding to do the right thing, because he legitimately feared, that an even bigger fish -- with a less-than-hospitable stomach environment -- might be coming after him next?
When Jonah eventually does decide to go to Ninevah -- and preach the doom and gloom that God had commanded -- he was grumpy, cranky and irritable. Without a doubt, he would have much rather been at home, asleep in his bed, talking on his cell phone, IMing with his friends, watching a South Park rerun on TV, but yet, he did eventually come, and perform his prophetic duty.
If, like Jonah, you do Teshuvah - if you make atonement and change your ways – if you eventually say that you’re sorry - because you have to - because you have no choice - because someone is pointing a gun at your head - because the implications of your not doing Teshuvah, and taking this kind of radical first step, are far worse, and far more horrific than if you didn’t - does your Teshuvah still count?
Is change under duress any less pure, and less worthy, than change done without ulterior motive?
In fact, I’m not even so sure that there even exists such a thing as pure Teshuvah - such as someone who repents just because they feel like repenting. I’m not sure if those people really exist.
Take a look at the Bible. Biblical theology, especially Deuteronomy, relies very heavily on both the carrot and the stick. If you follow God’s commandments – great - blessings, rain, produce – all together good times. If you don’t – you’ve got some problems - boils, inflammation, drought, fire, brimstone – the angry wrath of vengeful deity – definitely not things that you’d want to take lightly.
Surprisingly lacking in the Bible are phrases like, “follow my commandments, because, it’s the right thing to do.” Maybe that’s because we know, based on our own human experience, that a message like that wouldn’t sell very well.
Rabbi Hillel famously said …. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself what am I?” Our challenge remains to balance acting on behalf of our own self interests, versus acting in self sacrifice on behalf of others. Neither one exists in a vacuum; each needs the other.
Self interest is not necessarily the same thing as selfishness. Ed Chambers wrote that “… Self interest is the natural concern of a creature for its survival and well being. It’s the fundamental priority underlying the choices that we make. It’s based on nature’s mandate that we secure the basic needs and necessities of life, and develops further to include more complex desires and requirements. Healthy self interest is one of the marks of integrity or wholeness in a person. It is the source of the initiative, creativity and drive of human beings who are fully alive.”
Now, I still don’t know whether Jonah was selfish or not. But his behavior does become more understandable when looked at from his own particular point of view. He was scared, his prophetic reputation was at risk, God had sent him into the heart of Assyria, one of Israel’s mortal enemies. He may not have understood why his God would be caring about them?
Ultimately, as I struggle with Jonah each year, I contemplate whether what we do, is more important than why we do it.
Our intentionality, our kavanah, is definitely important - doing the right thing for the right reasons gets us an A+. But, if we end up doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, or for our own reasons, maybe Judaism gives us a C-, not as good as an A, but we still get to pass the class. And sometimes in life, that can be the most important thing.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Saturday, September 23, 2006
oy... that poor ram!
for your new year's pleasure - my musings on the akedah (the binding of isaac):
A familiar story is a gift, but also a burden. When we have to read the same cautionary tale each year, how do we keep it fresh?
One of my favorite cinematic scenes is from the movie, Dead Poets Society, when the teacher, Robin Williams, instructs each of his students to stand up on top of their desks, in a literal challenge to see the world from a different vantage point, from a new point of view. In a classroom, a few feet up in the air can make all the difference. With that intentionality, I share this poem by the Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai…
The real hero of the binding of Isaac was the ram,In a sense, this infamous ram is in the center of our Rosh Hashanah experience. Without him, there would be no shofar, and poor Isaac might have indeed fallen victim to a fundamentalist father and a bloodthirsty god. But then, even while we recognize his importance, the Biblical text is most definitely not told from the ram’s point of view.
who didn’t know about the collusion between the others.
He was volunteered to die instead of Isaac.
I want to sing a memorial song about him –
about his curly wool and his human eyes,
about the horns that were so silent on his living head,
and how they made those horns into shofars when he was slaughtered
to sound their battle cries
or to blare out their obscene joy.
I want to remember the last frame
like a photo in an elegant fashion magazine:
the young man tanned and pampered in his jazzy suit
and beside him the angel, dressed for a formal reception
in a long silk gown,
both of them looking with empty eyes
at two empty places,
and behind them, like a colored backdrop, the ram,
caught in the thicket before the slaughter,
the thicket his last friend.
The angel went home.
Isaac went home.
Abraham and God had gone long before.
But the real hero of the binding of Isaac
is the ram.
In fact, almost everything about this ram is a bit of a mystery. In the Hebrew verse:
וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אַיִל אַחַר נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו
“and Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw and right there was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns”
the word א - ח - ר pointed as either אַחַר or אַחֶר that follows the word for ram, has confounded scholars for generations, and is often just ignored and not translated at all. Some options for the phrase include “a ram behind caught the thicket” “afterwards, a ram, caught in the thicket” “another ram, caught in the thicket” “the ram – the other – caught in the thicket” or, by exchanging the resh for a dalet – forming the word echad - you get “one ram caught in the thicket.” Each potential translation, though, raises up just as many questions as answers.
When I’m in an especially contemplative mood, I like to read the phrase as - אַיִל אַחֶר – “the ram - the other” – the unknown, nameless, faceless other, who through the fate of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, falls victim.
But then, on the other hand, once Abraham saw the ram caught in the thicket, the ram possibly accepting his role and his fate, Abraham was then also able to discern the Divinity around him.
וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, יְהוָה יִרְאֶה, אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם, בְּהַר יְהוָה יֵרָאֶה.
“and then Abraham called that place – ‘Adonai will see’ as it is said today, ‘on the mountain, Adonai will be seen’”
When we truly see another person, we see God - the image of God facing us, gazing into our eyes. In so doing, God sees us as well, looking out through the eyes of the other person.
יְהוָה יֵרָאֶה - יְהוָה יִרְאֶה - Adonai will see – Adonai will be seen.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
shoftim: who are the prophets in our midst today?
In an era of hurricanes, wars, melting glaciers, explosive bottles of gatorade and slithering snakes on a plane, how do we distinguish fact from fiction – truth from static - the real threats from Hollywood’s imagination and pre-election manipulations? To whose voice do we listen - Samuel L. Jackson, Al Gore, Jon Stewart or Tony Snow? Who are the true prophets in our midst today?
Conveniently enough, in this week’s Torah portion (Chapter 18 of Deuteronomy), God actually explains the way that prophesy is ideally supposed to work. God spoke to Moses, saying …
18 I will raise up a prophet for them from among their own people, like [Moses]: I will put My words in [the prophet’s] mouth and he will speak to [the people] all that I command him; 19 and if anybody fails to heed the words that he speaks in My name, I Myself will call him to account…So now, basically, then if the prophet’s words do come true, he was a true prophet, and was recanting an oracle directly from God. But, if the prophet’s words don’t come true, he was, therefore, a false prophet, and was apparently speaking presumptuously.
21And should you ask yourselves, "How would we know if an oracle was not spoken by the Lord?" — 22 if the prophet claims to speak in the name of the Lord but then his oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the Lord; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously: do not stand in dread of him.”
If his words come true, he’s a prophet --- if they don’t, he’s a fraud.
Ok, I can sort of see that… but now then, wait a second, there’s at least one potential flaw in that logic. Can anyone think of it?
Well, if you can, then you’re in good company. Every Yom Kippur afternoon we read the story of Jonah, the prophet who was a little too smart for his own good, the famous thorn in the side of Adonai.
The Book of Jonah asks us to ponder the question of how long we have to wait, to find out if the prophet was indeed channeling the word of God. Because, what happens if the prophet accurately rants and raves, but then the people repent, and the doom and gloom never actually transpires. Aha – the famous prophetic loophole.
"The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go at once to Nineveh, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before Me.”This is presumably because Jonah fears that his prophetic reputation is now ruined; he’s like the boy who cried wolf. He’s afraid that no one will ever believe his prophetic wisdom ever again. Such is his prophetic paradox.
Jonah, however, started out to flee to Tarshish from the LORD'S service. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to sail with the others to Tarshish, away from the service of the LORD
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go at once to Nineveh, and proclaim to it what I tell you.”
Jonah went at once to Nineveh in accordance with the LORD'S command … he made his way into the city … and proclaimed: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
The people of Nineveh then believed God. They proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And then he had the following proclaimed throughout Nineveh: “By decree of the king and his nobles: No man or beast shall taste anything! They shall not graze, and they shall not drink water! They shall be covered with sackcloth – both man and beast - and shall cry mightily to God. Let everyone turn back from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty. Who knows but that God may turn and relent? He may turn back from His wrath, so that we do not perish.”
God saw what they did, how they were turning back from their evil ways. And God renounced the punishment that He had planned to bring upon them, and did not carry it out. This displeased Jonah greatly, and he was grieved. He prayed to the LORD, saying, "O LORD! Isn't this just what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish …. Please, LORD, take my life, for I would rather die than live.”
Jonah reminds me of Cassandra from Greek mythology:
Cassandra had been the youngest daughter of the last King of Troy. Apollo fell in love with her. To win her affections, he made a proposal: If she agreed to love him, he would give her the gift of prophecy.And what about today? What prophetic wisdom have we recently seen? Who are the present-day Jonahs and Cassandras in our society?
Cassandra accepted, and she was given the ability to see the future. But she could not bring herself to love Apollo. Apollo was outraged. He begged her for a single kiss, and she consented. When their lips touched, Apollo breathed into Cassandra’s mouth in such a way that no one would ever believe her prophecies.
Cassandra was thus doomed to a life of despair. She could see the dangers threatening others, but she could not prevent them. Cassandra warned the Trojans that the Greeks were about to attack, and she cried out to warn them that soldiers were hidden inside the Trojan Horse. But her warnings went unheeded. Troy collapsed under the Greek onslaught …
We remember that on August 6, 2001, President Bush’s daily brief contained a two-page section entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” As we also prepare to remember the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday, I want to read a few passages from a series that the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper published in October 2002, entitled “Washing Away,” looking at the potential danger from a Hurricane hitting the Big Easy…
"A catastrophic hurricane represents 10 or 15 atomic bombs in terms of the energy it releases," said Joseph Suhayda, a Louisiana State University engineer who is studying ways to limit hurricane damage in the New Orleans area. "Think about it. New York lost two big buildings. Multiply that by 10 or 20 or 30 in the area impacted and the people lost, and we know what could happen."And that’s exactly what happened…. I got chills reading these eerily prophetic articles online. Was this wisdom carelessly ignored, or am I falling into the trap of typical Monday-morning quarterbacking? History will be our judge.
Hundreds of thousands would be left homeless, and it would take months to dry out the area and begin to make it livable. But there wouldn't be much for residents to come home to. The local economy would be in ruins.
"Evacuation is what’s necessary: evacuation, evacuation, evacuation," Jefferson Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Walter Maestri said. "We anticipate that (even) with refuges of last resort in place, some 5 to 10 percent of the individuals who remain in the face of catastrophic storms are going to lose their lives."
"Another scenario is that some part of the levee would fail," Suhayda said. "It's not something that's expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees broke, the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That's 25 feet high, so you'll see the water pile up on the river levee."
Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann, writes that one of the prophet’s tasks is
“…to bring to public expression those very fears and terrors that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we do not know they are there. . . The prophet must speak evocatively to bring to the community the fear and the pain that individual persons want so desperately to share and to own, but are not permitted to do so. . . .The prophet’s job is to announce that the Emperor has no clothes, regardless if the Emperor preemptively decides to get dressed. Davka, he should get dressed, that’s the whole point.
The prophet does not scold or reprimand … It is the task of the prophet to invite the king to experience what he must experience, what he most needs to experience and what he most fears to experience, namely, that the end of the royal fantasy is very near. The end of the royal fantasy will permit a glimpse of the True King who is no fantasy. But we cannot see the real king until the fantasy is shown to be a fragile and perishing deception.”
In an account described in the book of Numbers (chapter 11), Eldad and Meidad, two Israelite elders began to “act the prophet” in the camp, speaking in ecstasy, and doing other things that seemed upsetting to Joshua ben Nun, Moses’ attendant from his youth. Moses, though, instead of restraining them, as was Joshua’s request, exclaimed:
“Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!”Would that all of us were prophets, that God’s spirit be upon us…. May God’s spirit be upon us, as we continue to develop our individual and communal prophetic voice. May this spirit of Divine wisdom guide us to better discern the true prophets from everything else that fights for our attention, amid all of the clutter of our day to day lives. May this be Your will. Ken Y’hi Ratzon. Shabbat Shalom.
Monday, August 28, 2006
ha ha ... HUD is punk'd over Katrina incompetence
KENNER, Louisiana (CNN) -- A man who pulled a hoax on Louisiana officials and 1,000 contractors by presenting himself as a federal housing official said Monday he intended to focus attention on a lack of affordable housing.
"We basically go around impersonating bad institutes or institutes doing very bad things," said the man, who identified himself as Andy Bichlbaum, a 42-year-old former college teacher of video and media arts who lives in New York and Paris.
"That would be HUD. At this moment, they're doing some really bad things."
Masquerading as Rene Oswin, an official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Bichlbaum followed Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to the lectern Monday morning at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.
In a speech to attendees of the Gulf Coast Reconstruction and Hurricane Preparedness Summit, he laid out grandiose plans for HUD to reverse course.
After the speaker read from a text he said had been prepared by his boss, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, a HUD spokeswoman said the department knew nothing about the man.
"Everything is going to change about the way we work, and the change is going to start here today in New Orleans," the man said during his speech.
Jackson, he said, had had to cancel his appearance at the meeting of 1,000 builders and contractors at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner because he had to stay in Washington to meet with President Bush.
William Loiry, president of meeting sponsor Equity International, said he was duped.
"We were contacted about a week ago or so by someone who we believed to be [public relations firm] Hill & Knowlton [saying] that they were representing the HUD secretary and that he wanted to make a major announcement at this summit."
Loiry said he was told a few minutes before he had planned to introduce Jackson that the secretary would be replaced by Oswin.
"We've done 75 national conferences, 25,000 people participated, and we certainly never encountered anything like this before," he said.
The man left a flier bearing a HUD emblem that said attendees could go to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a public housing project. A free lunch and transportation aboard buses were promised.
"They never materialized," Loiry said.
Loiry was not impressed with the stunt. "There are many people still in need," he said in a written statement. "To perpetuate a hoax on them is cruel and disgusting."
Impostor: 'We have failed'
In his speech, Bichlbaum said the department's mission was to ensure affordable housing is available for those who need it.
"This year, in New Orleans, I'm ashamed to say we have failed," he said.
To change that, HUD would reverse its plans to demolish 5,000 units "of perfectly good public housing," with housing in the city in tight supply, he said.
Former occupants have been "begging to move back in," he said. "We're going to help them to do that."
The government's practice had been to tear down public housing where it could, because such projects were thought to cause crime and unemployment, he said.
But crime rates in the city are at a record high and there is no evidence that people in the projects are more likely to be unemployed, he said.
The man added that it also would be essential to create conditions for prosperity.
Toward that end, he said, Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from near low-income housing and "help nurture local businesses to replace them."
Wal-Mart was unmoved. "As evidenced by the fact that we recently reopened two stores in the New Orleans metropolitan area, there is absolutely no truth to these statements," said spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone.
In a comment that elicited applause from the contractors and builders, Bichlbaum said, "With your help, the prospects of New Orleanians will no longer depend on their birthplace, and the cycle of poverty will come to an end."
Finally, to ensure another hurricane does not inundate the city, Exxon and Shell have promised to spend $8.6 billion "to finance wetlands rebuilding from $60 billion in profits this year," he said.
HUD: 'Who the heck is that?'
Late Monday afternoon, in a telephone call with CNN, Bichlbaum said the gist of his comments about housing was truthful, even if he had to use subterfuge to deliver it.
"The only not-true part is, unfortunately, the part about them changing their minds. They are still going to tear down 5,000 units of affordable housing," he said.
The New Orleans projects are sturdily constructed brick buildings that, nevertheless, are slated for demolition, he said.
"Basically, the real reason, of course, is they want to develop New Orleans into something pleasing to tourists -- even more pleasing."
Bichlbaum said Monday's prank was the latest in a series pulled off by The Yes Men, whose members have recently masqueraded as representatives of McDonald's, Halliburton and Dow Chemical.
"Fortunately, the law protects freedom of speech," he said. "What we're doing is not actually lying. It's actually exposing the lies. There's nothing morally wrong with what we're doing."
Bichlbaum said The Yes Men plan to release a movie about their exploits next year, but that commercial gain is not their goal.
"The real reason we do it is what we're doing right now," he told a reporter. "You're paying attention to this issue of affordable housing and the absurd policies of HUD."
In Washington, HUD spokeswoman Donna White called the hoax "sick."
"This announcement is totally false; it's totally bogus," said Donna White in Washington.
No one named Rene Oswin works for the department, she said. "I'm like, who the heck is that?"
Jackson, White said, had never planned to address the meeting. "I don't even want to refer to it as a joke," White said. "At this point, it's not funny."
Annie Chen, media coordinator for Survivors Village, a tent-city protest for the reopening of public housing in New Orleans, applauded Bichlbaum's theatrics.
"Right now, a lie is better than the truth," she said.
Friday, August 25, 2006
i guess it doesn't matter any more. poor pluto, i hardly knew you...
pretty please, what's now going to happen to my dear aunt sally? will she ever again enjoy king henry's cookies? (we all have to admit that, king henry does make a delicious cookie mix...) roy g biv, where are you? Does every good boy still do fine? king phillip, come out for goodness sake!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
new orleans: a city without old people..
Rescued, now trapped: Thousands of older New Orleanians fled
By Natalie Pompilio, Inquirer Staff Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas - Dot McLeod's post-Katrina world is defined by the bare, white walls of a one-bedroom apartment in a city where she is a stranger.
McLeod, in her late 70s, is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk since September, when the helicopter rescuing her from the hurricane's floodwaters sputtered and knocked her against a roof. Her New Orleans home destroyed, she was taken to Texas - and left here.
McLeod is lost - sad, lonely and homesick. She has no one to take her out, nor anywhere to go in this foreign place. In the last year, she has felt the sun on her face only about five times. She cannot give visitors directions to her building because she does not know where it is. She assumes the facility caters to senior citizens because she sees so many of them from her window.
"I've never seen anything but this room," McLeod said during a recent interview. "I would like to go home, but everybody says there's nothing to go home to."
McLeod is one of thousands of elderly evacuees whisked away from their southeast Louisiana homes in Katrina's wake and dumped in cities hundreds of miles away. Like so many others, McLeod owned her home but had no flood insurance, meaning she lost everything she knew and owned, and received a pittance in return.
In New Orleans, although she had no husband or children, she had a close-knit network of neighbors, a grocery store she could walk to, a paid-off property with low taxes. Now she has just one friend - a fellow New Orleanian who shares her tiny apartment - and she relies on Meals on Wheels, waiting nervously for the daily knock because the delivery man will take the food and leave if no one answers the door immediately. Her $650 monthly Social Security check, once more than enough to live on, is no longer sufficient.
"I didn't need anything else in New Orleans," she said. "It costs three times as much here."
More than anything, McLeod wants to go home to New Orleans. But she can't.
"How can I go back by myself?" she asked, her voice quaking. "There's no buses, no people. Ferrara's, where I shopped for 50 years, is gone."
Post-Katrina, the New Orleans area has few elderly care facilities or nursing homes. Rents for undamaged or rehabilitated housing are rising, moving out of the reach of those on fixed incomes.
It is unclear exactly how many elderly residents Katrina displaced. But anecdotally, it seems everybody knows somebody who can't get back.
In the Lower Ninth Ward, an octogenarian who is rebuilding his own house pointed to a hole in a neighbor's roof. That's where the neighbor - "my partner," the octogenarian called him - hacked his way to safety as the waters rose. That man, also elderly, is not returning, nor are the older folks who lived across the street or others who lived down the block.
In Lakeview, a sign in front of one house features a photo of a white-haired woman and reads, "Bring Mrs. Mary Home," listing a bank-account number where donations can be sent. That's for Mary Espiau, 88, who now lives with her daughter in Garland, Texas.
Like so many others, Espiau had no flood insurance and she lives on a pension. Many of her neighbors have gone, and she ticks off a list without pausing: "Irene isn't coming back. She's with her daughter in Houston. And Mr. Mintz is in Metairie, waiting to see what the storm season does before redoing his home. Barbara and John across the street have their house for sale."
But Espiau is determined to go back to the city where she raised her children and where her husband is buried. She has poured her entire savings - about $50,000 - into rebuilding her home. Other money and appliances have come from donors.
"There's nothing like your own home, and I'm homesick," Espiau said. "I'm going to try it out, see how I make out. I know it's going to be bad. But I think I'm going to be all right."
McLeod spent time in an Army hospital after being injured during the evacuation. From there, she went to an assisted-living facility. She left a few months later, unable to pay the bills.
The building where she now lives is sterile and strict: No pictures can be hung on the walls. Wet shoes must be removed before entering apartments. No toilets can be flushed after 11 p.m. The downstairs neighbor will bang a broom on the ceiling if she thinks McLeod - who uses her wheelchair on a thick rug - is making too much noise.
McLeod has been unable, physically and financially, to get back to New Orleans. When her beloved cat, Poupon, was found alive five weeks after the storm, she had no way to return to her pet or to bring the animal - who has since died - to Texas. When her brother passed away in December, she could not attend the services.
When she heard that the city was requiring people to gut their homes or face demolition, she asked members of a religious organization if they would do the work for her. They did, and sent her the few treasures that survived: her grandfather's pocket watch, still half-filled with water; the crucifix that adorned her mother's coffin; a set of deer antlers she purchased when she lived in Germany.
"It's all gone," she said. "Sometimes you feel like going to jump off the balcony, you don't even know where you are. There's so much on your mind when you're fighting FEMA, the insurance company, the post office, all at once."
In recent weeks, McLeod has found something that cheers her: She ends her day by watching the purple martins, thousands of them, as they fly outside her window to settle for the night. She had never seen such a sight in New Orleans, and her face lights up when she describes the birds, the way they flitter and play and tease one another.
She can't exactly explain what she likes about the birds or why they bring her such joy. But the reason seems clear: The martins, unlike McLeod, are free.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
but at least they're not FEMA....
"... from what I hear, [Hezbollah] is very keen to take on their next project... the reconstruction of New Orleans. As the residents of this war-torn country point out, Jon, Hezbollah may be a rag-tag group of under-educated Islamic extremist militiamen, but, at least they're not FEMA"click below on the arrow to play
hezbollah vs fema
Thursday, August 03, 2006
tisha b'av and new orleans
there are lot of websites, blogs and news articles that are and will be sharing people's experiences - those who were forced into exile and those who were there for the aftermath and recovery. not to mention the hbo spike lee documentary on katrina that's beginning to get some buzz...
i went to college in new orleans, and was there volunteering for a week in april, gutting houses with acorn.
some websites that i've found recently:
"If I Forget You O New Orleans" - from the Forward
"By the Waters of Babylon" - by Anya Kamenetz - in the village voice - written last year
an article from the washington post, describing the funeral/tahorah-like experience of gutting a moldy new orleans house
the Katrina blog project on Daily Kos
from the blog project - a powerful first-hand account
Sunday, July 16, 2006
controversial new orleans landfill to close
first the hopeful:
but then again, this is louisiana. the rules are different there.
here's a topic: the louisiana department of environmental quality most often doesn't actually care about the quality of the environment in louisiana. discuss:
stay tuned, folks, for the outcome. in the meanwhile, brad pitt's in town to rebuild new orleans in all shades of green. never fear, louisiana, brangelina's on the case!
G.I. Yossi vs. the Israeli left
I think we can all agree on one point: THIS SUCKS.and while i'm trying to figure out where i stand on this big complicated mess, i guess i'm most angry about my powerlessness to do much of anything to affect the situation and quicken the end of the violence, outside of prayer. as well as curiousity about why the israeli left has been largely silent, and whether that means that as a progressive american jew i should be silent as well?
obviously, my first questions is whether i can separate this latest series of unfortunate events from the broader history of the arab-israeli-palestinian conflict? should i even bother to try?
the wall, the economic strangling of gaza via closures, the road blocks, the refugee camps, the terrorist bombings, the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the partition plan, the role of arab countries in fomenting the camps, etc... all directly or indirectly play a role in the current crisis. but it doesn't answer my question.
israel is a small country. in jewish-israeli society everyone is connected to everyone else (think 2 degrees of separation). everyone does a stint in the military after high school, before college. when a young israeli soldier is kidnapped, the average israeli instantly either imagines him/herself in the same circumstance or its happening to their son or daughter.
israeli "unilaterally" pulled out of southern lebanon in 2000 (and gaza in 2005). in the israeli mindset, the lebanese pullout was supposed to appease hezbollah and the other millitants who had been firing rockets into israel. so now, with hezbollah firing more rockets into israel, the thinking is "see, we tried to do the right thing and play nice, but obviously, you people only understand violence, so alright, you asked for it, no more mr. nice guy."
also, with the katyusha rockets having a longer range, areas that had seemed "safe" from low-level rocket attacks, are suddenly targets. haifa, which by being 20 miles south of the lebanese border, had been out of range, is now in the same category as kiryat shemona and other towns closer to the border. 10 miles had made the difference here. only 10 miles. israel is very small geographically. about the size of new jersey.
this feeling of being under siege, fed by echoes of the holocaust (i.e., "we will not be lambs led to the slaughter, damn it!") creates what a friend of mine has dubbed the "g.i. yossi" phenomena. all american jews know it -- the mythic israeli macho soldier wearing sunglasses, cigarette hanging from his lips, black machine gun around his soldiers.
the perfect antithesis to the woody allen nebbish that we all know as the impotent jewish male. (16 year-old billy jacobson from secaucus, new jersey on his nfty trip to israel never had a chance... rachel millerberg always went for 18 year-old uri from the army instead).
white jews may not be able to jump, but if you mess with us, we'll sic the mossad on your ass. ever try messing with an el-al security officer as you're waiting in line to board your plane? bad idea....
i admit it, even as a crazy lefty, that persona has appeal. what jewish boy doesn't grow up idolizing sandy koufax and hank greenberg? or want to become adam goldberg in the "hebrew hammer"?
in any case, i read today in yedidot achranot's website that there was a rally of 1000+ people in Tel Aviv last night:
i don't know what the answer is. i doubt that this rally will accomplish anything. i feel for the israelis, the palestinians and the lebanese. i'm eternally optimistic for nations to finally beat their rockets into ploughshares and their uzis into pruninghooks.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
we're now "this close" to raising the minimum wage ...
Well, the long struggle is over and Pennsylvania will now join much of the rest of the nation with a long overdue raise in the minimum wage. So many organizations and public officials deserve a tremendous amount of credit for your efforts in keeping this issue before the public and the legislature.here's some more details on the bill:
The overwhelming numbers for final passage of SB 1090 (161-37 in the House and 38-12 in the Senate) make it clear how the opposition hid behind thier leader's refusals to allow a vote on a fair minimum wage. The Raise the Minimum Wage Coalition's strategy to target leaders in radio ads, direct organizing and political pressure to demand a vote made a real contribution to the final victory. The many organizations involved should feel proud. The combination of labor, religious, social service, community groups and political leaders that worked so hard on this issue made a difference in many ways. Our rotunda-packing rallies in Harrisburg kept the pressure on and everyone's work on individual members made a real contribution. In the end our opposition could no longer defend holding up a raise for Pennsylvania's poorest workers and families across the state will get a much needed pay raise.
Thanks again to all who stood tall for justice and fair wages.
ok whose state is next?
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
first came the walmart, then came the jews...
especially interesting is that one of my classmates who was just ordained as a rabbi is going to be serving as rabbi at nearby fayetteville. will arkansas become the next brooklyn? only time will tell...
Thursday, June 15, 2006
next week i'm off to dc to teach high school students all about judaism and housing as they build a ramp for the home of someone with a disability.
then i'm off to california to a week-long industrial areas foundation (iaf) sponsored community organizing training. They're one of the groups that brings us the powerful mechanism of faith based community organizing (fbco):
hopefully some exciting, inspiring blogging can't help but surely follow ...
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
we are a part of the rhythm nation
With music by our side
To break the color lines -
Let's work together
To improve our way of life.
Join voices in protest
To social injustice.
A generation full of courage,
Come forth with me.
People of the world today
Are looking for a better way of life.
We are a part of the rhythm nation,
People of the world unite.
Strength in numbers, we can get it right.
Lend a hand to help.
Things are getting worse;
We have to make them better.
It's time to give a damn.
Let's work together.
- Janet Jackson
Monday, June 12, 2006
kerry won ohio !
could this mean that the rfk, jr. story in rolling stone is finally getting some legs? will people finally believe that kenneth blackwell is a dirty criminal who needs to be prosecuted for election fraud? that registered voters were actually disenfranchised? one can only hope...
for a relatively concise summary of robert kennedy's points, see this excellent diary from the daily kos archive.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
save big bird!
the heads-up comes from our good friends at MoveOn.org:
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
$7.15/hr, ready or not, here we come!
from the trusty email inbox:
woo hoo! gotta love those pictures on the rotunda steps...
Monday, June 05, 2006
Ned Lamont LinksNed Lamont - Official Campaign Website
Ned Lamont - Official Ned Lamont Resource Page
Ned Lamont - "Ned Lamont Forces Bush's Boy Into Primary" (Alternet)
Ned Lamont - Unofficial Ned Lamont Resource
Ned Lamont - Unofficial Lamont Blog
Ned Lamont - NOW PAC Endorses Ned Lamont for Senate
Ned Lamont - "Ned Lamont vs. Joe Lieberman" (The Nation)
Ned Lamont - NedHeads YouTube Group
Ned Lamont - "Democrats for Ned Lamont" (Taylor Marsh)
Ned Lamont - "Lamont Fires Up Naples" (New Haven Independent)
Joe Lieberman LinksJoe Lieberman - "Seasonal Memory Lapses" by Paul Bass (Hartford Courant)
Joe Lieberman - "Lieberman Wins Republican Friends, Democratic Enemies... (WaPo)
Joe Lieberman - "Joe Lieberman's Very Bad Year" (The Nation)
Joe Lieberman - "Joe Lieberman Disappoints Democrats" (Talk Left)
Joe Lieberman - "Joe Lieberman is a Big Oil Republican" (LamontBlog)
Joe Lieberman - "Joe Lieberman and the Hostile Takeover of Centrism" (Working Assets)
Joe Lieberman - "Joe Lieberman, an Embarassment to His Party & His Country"
Joe Lieberman - "Joe for President Parody -- A New Kind of Democrat, the Republican Kind"
Joe Lieberman - "Paul Krugman on Talk-Show Joe" (Brad DeLong)
Joe Lieberman - "How Joe Lieberman Tried to Kill Rock 'N Roll (Huffington Post)"
harry shearer and laurie david
laurie david, for those who don't know her, has been a one-woman campaign against global warming. married to larry david of seinfeld fame, her becoming an environmentalist was a gradual affair. her activism has grown from encouraging her friends in hollywood to buy priuses, to now single-handedly convincing al gore to turn his global warming traveling slide show into a documentary, and then producing the film.
just imagine this sales pitch: Babe, it's a movie about global warming. Starring Al Gore. Doing a slide show. With charts. About "soil evaporation."if she can make that sound exciting to the american public, she's got my vote. once i finish my papers, it's definitely on top of the to-do list.
i love it when celebrities use their powers for good and not for evil...
Thursday, June 01, 2006
without further ado, here's the list:
These fish can be eaten once a week by adults, according to an assessment of contaminant levels by Environmental Defense. Those marked with an asterisk can be eaten more than once a week.
ARCTIC CHAR, color added
*BLACK COD (Sable, Butterfish on West Coast)
*BLACK SEA BASS Younger children no more than four times a month
*HAKE (white, silver and red)
HAKE (Chilean, Cape and Argentine)
*HALIBUT (Pacific only) Older children 3 times a month, younger children twice
*MACKEREL (Atlantic or Boston only)
MAHI-MAHI Younger children 3 times a month
*PACIFIC SAND DAB (yellowtail flounder)
*SOLE (gray, petrale, rex, yellowfin)
SOLE (Dover; English or lemon, older children 3 times a month, younger children twice)
CATFISH (domestic) (not Kosher)
STRIPED BASS (rockfish)
*TROUT (rainbow); TROUT (steelhead)
SHELLFISH (not Kosher)
*CLAMS (northern quahogs)
CLAMS (Atlantic surf, butter, Manila, ocean quahog, Pacific geoduck, Pacific littleneck and soft-shell)
*CRAB (Dungeness, snow) Dungeness: younger children once a week
CRAB (Florida stone, Jonah, king)
*CRAYFISH (United States)
*LOBSTER (American) Children 2 to 4 times a month
*MUSSELS (farmed blue; wild blue, children 2 to 3 times a month)
MUSSELS (New Zealand green, Mediterranean)
OYSTERS (farmed Eastern and Pacific)
*SCALLOPS (bay; Northeast, Canadian sea)
*SHRIMP (wild American pink, white, brown)
SHRIMP (spot prawns and northern shrimp)
*SPINY LOBSTER (Caribbean, United States, and Australia)
power to the people!