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Pardes Yehuda: 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Food Democracy Now!

Between my own busyness and the world's crises, it has been challenging to find positive things to post... until now!

Our food systems are broken and monopolized by special interests. Let's take them back. Let's hold Obama accountable to the change he promised us all, let's make him deliver.

Go to and tell him that you want to change the way our government does agriculture, sign the petition for change, and for a sustainable USDA and a healthy future for America.

Here's a sampling from the petition:

We believe that a new administration should address our nation’s growing health problems by promoting a children’s school lunch program that incorporates more healthy food choices, including the creation of opportunities for schools to purchase food from local sources that place a high emphasis on nutrition and sustainable farming practices. We recognize that our children’s health is our nation’s future and that currently schools are unable to meet these needs because they do not have the financial resources to invest in better food choices. We believe this reflects and is in line with your emphasis on childhood education as a child’s health and nutrition are fundamental to their academic success.

click here to sign and demand real change.
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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Change is in the air...and it's pretty funny

Yay for Stephen Colbert.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear President-elect Obama--a message from

Dear President-Elect Obama

It’s official. The U.S. has decided who its next president will be.

The inauguration of a new president promises to provide new opportunities to bring protection and peace to the people of Darfur. Even better, these promises are supported by strong statements of commitment from President-elect Obama:

“I will make ending the genocide in Darfur a priority from Day One. It is a collective stain in our national and human conscience that the genocide in Sudan, now starting its sixth year, has gone on for far too long.” (April 2008)

“We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again. As President of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon the people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” (April 2008)

President-elect Obama’s opportunity to turn his promises into action is coming soon. And our opportunity to hold him accountable has already begun.

Send a postcard urging President-elect Obama to make Darfur a day one priority. Together, our combined voices cannot be ignored. Together, we can help end a genocide.
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Votes have been tallied, results are in, the people have spoken and history was made. America wants change.

The enormousness of what we have just witnessed, the election of a black man as the President of these United States, cannot be underestimated. My fiance expressed something incredible last night as we watched President-elect Obama address the world; he was positive, he did not resort to fear-mongering--change has truly blessed our nation.

We have been stifled for years in the fear and the threats, in the warring and the unilateralism. Now we have the prospect for a different future. We have been worn down by militarism and exclusivism, and now we hope for a different future. All the fear, all the threats, all the extremism has numbed our populace, and we are now rubbing our eyes and awaking form the slumber that has entrenched us in apathy and complacency. But, as a nation, we joined together and said "enough is enough." We decided to vote for change.

The future only knows how history will judge George Bush's rule in office. But it is clear that now we have expressed that whatever mandate he believed he once had, and those who think governance in his form is a virtue, that mandate has been revoked. A new mandate has been issued by the American people, and even the world, a new mandate to seek understanding and dialogue. A new mandate to rely on hope, rather than fear. A new mandate to go into the world with pride, and not with hubris.

Individuals may disagree, politically, with Obama's election, but we all need to stand together and honor and recognize the greatness, and the importance, of the moment. History was made November 4, 2008. America stepped out of the closet of its past and into the wide-open field of its future.

In the Jewish tradition, the ability to repent, in Hebrew to make "t'shuva", is sacrosanct. It is believed that every person, no matter how wicked or misguided, has the ability to repent, to return to a more balanced and upright life. Our nation has made a major step towards collective repetence. When the United States acknowledged that freed slaves deserved compensation, they were promised forty acres and a mule. That compensation was never awarded. When descendents of slaves in America stood up to begin the conversation about reparations, few took those conversations seriously. Mr. Barack Obama has gotten his forty acres and mule, and in achieving the unthinkable, he has symbolically received forty acres and a mule for all of black America.

We all have reason to be proud, irrelevant of politics, at the shear enormousness of the historicity of the event. But the black community in America has all the more reason to elate right now. An office once thought reserved only for the powerful, rich and white is now going to be occupied by a black man, with diverse upbringing, who until four years ago was virtually unknown to anyone outside his immediate surroundings. Now, he is a household name worldwide.

The world will surely look upon our nation with new, bright eyes. Eyes filled with hope for the prospects of progress and togetherness. The world looks to America now and sees a nation that is possibly beginning to right its wrongs. The world looks to America now and sees a nation that stood up and has demanded change.

Let's deliver.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Election Day story from '04

While standing in line to vote in 2004 I was reminded what makes democracy special. In ‘04 I lived in in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. I went to the polls before work. At the time, I wore a white Breslover style kippah (the big, cranium sized ones). I was standing behind a middle-aged black man who I learned was named Jerome. He turned around, and upon seeing my skull-cap, he said, “Asalaam Aleikem.” I pulled back my trenchcoat, revealing my tzitzit, and responded “Aleikhem Shalom.” We proceded to have a wonderful, uplifting conversation about the Qu’ran and Torah, the democratic process and the first four Bush years.

Over the next six months, until I left Boston for LA, I would see Jerome around the neighborhood, and we’d stop and chat. Were it not for that election, a Jew and a Muslim would never have forged that friendship. In my mind, THIS is what democracy is all about, and why Election Day is such a special and meaningful time. It allows all of us the opportunity to see who lives in our neighborhood, and to forge bonds that might otherwise not be formed.

No matter who wins at the end of this election, let us all hope and/or pray that the true victor is the democratic process. After two questionable elections, our country deserves to see true democracy in action. Let’s all make that a reality and get out and vote! When you’re in line, talk to your neighbor for a minute–that is community, and THAT is what democracy is made of.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conservative Movement appoints woman to chair Rabbinical Assembly

cross-posted to Jewschool

Last Wednesday the Conservative Movement announced Rabbi Julie Schonfeld will succeed Rabbi Joel Meyers as Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly--she has previously been functioning as the Director of Rabbinic Development for the movement. Rabbi Schonfeld is the first woman to be appointed to the head of a rabbinic body--she said to the Forward, “I think that my rabbinate is really defined by the ideals that I share with all of my colleagues and with all Conservative Jews worldwide, regardless of my gender.”

This announcement, to me, is a welcome surprise. Some personal thoughts after the jump... (click below)

I did not grow up in the Conservative Movement (or any movement). I did not grow up in a synagogue; and when my family did join a synagogue it was a breakaway shul with 80 families and no synagogue--monthly Kabbalat Shabbat potlucks were held at the rabbi's home, which was also used for B'nei Mitvah lessons and ceremonies and perhaps a wedding or two; high-holiday services were at the JCC, and featured the aging male rabbi and a middle aged female part-time cantorial soloist, part-time Opera singer (in my imagination). My female Jewish role models were my mother, grandmothers, great-aunts, aunts... and I guess Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand...

Today I have many female Jewish role models in my biological and spiritual families, including many rabbis whom I am blessed to have as guides and teachers. I remember a discussion my first semester of rabbinical school in my halakhah class (taught by one of said rabbis who have been instrumental in shaping what will be my rabbinate). We were discussing the practice of including the imahot (the Matriarchs--Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah). We were maybe three weeks into school, and I built up the hutzpah to ask this rabbi why she did not include the imahot when she was the shlihat tzibur (prayer leader). Her response was unexpected and it has helped me understand the movement which I chose to affiliate with. She said, more or less, that it gave the appearance that something had changed and been fixed, when in fact it hadn't.

What I understood her to be saying was that adding the imahot may be enhancing to one's prayer and a beautiful act (albeit questionable in Jewish law, in my opinion) it does not help bridge a very wide gender gap which manifests itself in name (we have "rabbis" and "female rabbis," it is a bizarre and uncomfortable phenomenom which can only be remedied by having "male rabbis" and "female rabbis" or, preferably, "rabbis"), in pay, in appearance, opportunity and so many other ways.

Rabbi Schonfeld's appointment as Executive VP of the RA is a much more meaningful testament to working towards gender equality in the Jewish establishment. As I've been writing this article, I've been thinking about how gender has played into my rabbinical school experience as I enter my fourth year, and I am surprised to be feeling (maybe I'm candy coating it) that I don't feel like the school I attend has "female rabbinical students" and "rabbinical students." (Ladies, gentlemen, what do you think? Am I nuts?) I'm thinking this may be, in the likes of homosexual inclusion and minority inclusion, a generational issue. That progress towards this end is inevitable in the near future.

As Rabbi Elliot Dorff, of whom I'm proud to have as a teacher and role model, said in the Forward that "It’s 23 years after the first woman was ordained in the movement. That’s a generation, basically. We’re finally at the point at which woman could be appointed to a major administrative post within the movement.” Likewise, it was around as long ago that the issue of homosexual inclusion was first brought up and it took around as long to begin to make meaningful change.

As I think of those that I have met who, in the next 1-10 years, will make up the field of American rabbis across the movements (beyond the "three"), I think we are in for a lot of progress in American Judaism. We love to shower ourselves with a dismal outlook on the future of our people in its spiritual expression. We bemoan intermarriage as our death, and in the wake of tears, we forget that people desire to be moved and engaged. We go back and forth over "legal" minutae for months on end, as if the title "rabbi" gives us true jurisprudence to dictate people's lifestyles. Again, maybe I'm looking through rose-colored glasses, but I want to believe that as this current generation of new rabbis grows and evolves into leadership positions amongst the administrative wings of the movement there will be much progress in our spiritual expression towards melting some of these cultural barriers that tend to erode and divide community.

I don't know Rabbi Schonfeld, or anything about her, but I look forward to meeting her, which I suppose is inevitable either in her capacity as Director of Rabbinic Development or otherwise. I trust that she can guide the Rabbinical Assembly for the next 20 years as ably as Rabbi Meyers has done for the previous two decades. Obviously, having a woman functioning as the chair of the RA does not mean that gender issues in the Conservative Movement will disappear. Nonetheless, it is a powerful symbol of the advancement of women in the Jewish establishment. I think it is also representative of a sentiment rising for more substantial moves towards justice and equality issues (a la Hekhsher Tzedek and Uri L'Tzedek).

It's not that I expect Rabbi Schonfeld to wave a feminine wand and fix everything, but I hope her appointment holds true as an example of a shift towards more true egalitarianism, "beyond the bima," so to speak.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's like Facebook for Social Justice and Green Living

Hat tip to my mother on this one!

World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility, which is the spelled out version of

According to their website,
WiserEarth serves the people who are transforming the world. It is a community-editable international directory and networking forum that maps and connects the largest movement in the world – the hundreds of thousands of organizations and concerned individuals that address social justice, poverty, and the environment.

WiserEarth provides the tools and a platform for organizations, businesses funders, social entrepreneurs, students, organizers, academics, activists, scientists, and citizens to find each other, make connections, build alliances and share resources.

Signing up is quick and easy so you can join 18,000+ others who want to network and learn about all the great stuff people are going in the world to make it a more sustainable and just planet.
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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sustainable Housing Project Underway in Savannah, GA

It sure has been difficult to find positive news recently... But here's a great one!

According to construction has commenced on Savannah's first housing project, and why is that positive? Because it is sustainable and it's called Sustainable Fellwood.

The plans call for 220 home units, 40% public housing, 40% for low- to mid-income families and 20% at market rate. The community features an organic garden and large green common space.

Having grown up near Chicago, I have seen projects, their failure and their destruction. This provides an amazing alternative to the public and mixed income developments I've seen because it allows for a community to grow with a closeness to food, natural surroundings and decreased utility expenses. This provides amazing educational opportunities for children, and the chance for cross-cultural and cross-class encounters.

Taking a look at the Development Team of the housing project, one can see that this is different off the bat--the most important members of the team are local Savannah business and organizations. Over the years, in Chicago, both Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes were often administered by the Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because the Chicago HUD board was so inept at their job, but this didn't bring good tidings to the now demolished housing projects in Chicago.

Chicago's story should be a lesson that when embarking a public housing projects, the tenants must be provided with adequate and efficient housing. Just as importantly, they should be provided with a means to establish and grow a healthy and safe community.

Hopefully Sustainable Fellwood can be a model of a new variety of housing project that will have a different story and experience than Chicago.
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Friday, October 3, 2008

Synagogue to house Mosque

cross posted at

I just stumbled upon this lovely piece of news from a local Virginia newspaper (thanks to the wonders of Google):
Synagogue Lends Space to Mosque

By Julia O'Donoghue
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) has found a new home for its weekly prayer services in Reston in an unusual place, a Jewish synagogue.
The Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation has agreed to rent its multi-purpose room to the Sterling mosque, which has operated a Reston "branch" for several years, in the early afternoon on Fridays.

"Many people [in the congregation] don’t know yet because I just wrote the newsletter article about it," said synagogue president Hana Newcomb. She accepted an award from ADAMS on behalf of her congregation for its efforts in promoting interfaith dialogues and peace Sept. 27.

"The Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation has opened its doors to our prayers," said Rizwan Jaka, an ADAMS board member, during the ceremony.

The mosque also honored United Christian Parish, which has hosted its Friday prayer services in Reston for the past seven years. The parish sold one of its facilities and no longer has the extra space to share with ADAMS, said parish board moderator Kay Rodgers.

"We don’t have the space anymore but United Christian Parish is totally committed and dedicated to the interfaith experience we have," said Rodgers.

Wow. Just wow. This is a beautiful and amazing show of interfaith relations and co-existence. The shul is a Reform congregation of near 500 families, the ADAMS Center serves 5000 families in seven communities in the DC area. What an amazing opportunity not only to embark on some very real and concrete interfaith work, but to also set an example of using the synagogue in the 21st century for applications that have a unique place in our era--this gives a whole new meaning to beit k'nesset (house of gathering).

Plus, in my minimal experience with Muslim-Jewish dialogue it is difficult to get down to discuss the intricacies and structure of our respective traditions because politics (i.e. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) loom so large. This seems like an incredible opportunity to engage in joint worship and study in ways that have probably not happened much between our communities in, at the very least, the last half-century.

According to Jewish law, we can pray in mosques (not the case with churches, according to tradition) and as far as I understand, Muslims can eat kosher meat (while kosher Jews cannot indulge in halal meat). The Rambam's brother, David, would practice dhkir, an Islamic meditation on the Oneness of God with Muslims. If we could only put politics aside, we could connect deeply on a religious and spiritual level. The opportunities that have arisen between the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and the North Virginia Hebrew Congregation are endless and provide a great opportunity for the Jewish and Muslim communities of America (and perhaps beyond).

May 5769 continue to bring such blessings.
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The Divided Highway Merges Once Again

Wow, I actually have goose bumps.

After hoofing around the country to see one band at least 60 times, and swearing that I would never go to another show (at least three times), I am riveted with excitement to hear that Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman, Page McConnell and Trey Anastasio are jumping back in the game, for better or worse. Anyone that cares already knows, but thank the Good Lord, I just had to write about it.

Phish, simply put, is possibly the best quartet of its kind to ever ensemble. I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone who says otherwise is deaf, soulless or has not heard enough. Well, they're heading out to one of their favorite venues and one of the sources of some of the best shows in their 25 year history, at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, VA. They are playing a three show run in early March and will soon announce further tour dates.

I can remember the days of chasing FedEx trucks down the road hoping and praying that they were coming to my house with my mail-order tickets. I remember hoping that I would get assigned seats so I could trade them for lawn tickets--I never understood the people who liked the seats, but they sure seemed happy to get them!

The last time they took a break and came back, the results weren't so much to my liking--they downright sucked. But I have very, very high hopes for the prospects of what some growth and maturity could bring to this group of gentleman. I know that traveling up and down, back and forth across the country put a wear on me and my friends, I can only imagine what it did to the four of them. That being said, I can only imagine they're a bit more chilled out, a lot more experienced, and the only reason they would do this is because they love each other, they love making music together, and they love making music for their fans--I can remember a time when that was true in the past, when it was about the love of the music and the fans, and it poured out to create some amazing grooves and incredible and memorable moments.

I'll tell you this much, I will do everything in my ability to travel far and wide to hit a show if they throw down a summer tour. You can find me dancing my tail off (which I just may have to bust out for the occasion. Yeah, that's right, I wore a tail on Phish tour, you got a problem with that? I wore a skirt, too!) in the best spot in the place, UPS (Upper Page Side).
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Because it's hysterical

"The Great Schlep" is now infamous and Sarah Silverman's video is satirical political comedy at its finest--offensive as can be and completely on point. Have a look, even if you have.

The fact is that people, for whatever reason, are afraid of things they do not know. Sarah Silverman's video brings to light so many things that are wrong with how people think. "You don't have to use facts, use threats." The plain truth is that in order to overcome the hurdles to break into a positive way of thinking and a positive way of life we must laugh. The video says nothing of any political value whatsoever. Its not supposed to, it's comedy, so while its points are irrelevant in a political sense, its comedy reveals ridiculous things that clog and muddy our political reality. Its mission is comical in itself, albeit relatively important. I think she's right, I think that I could convince my grandparents to change their minds if I had to (I'm pretty sure I don't have to...) I think that it could be possible that this could put the Jewish vote behind Obama in Florida. But let's really put this into perspective.

Overall Jews make up around 2% of the population and 4% of the electorate. In Florida there are around 650,000 Jews who vote out of a total population 18 million. If polls are accurate, this race is close enough that such a small percentage would matter significantly.

But that's not what is positive about this video. This is a farce to the finest degree. It uncovers reasonless barriers which we construct by fantasizing stories about the unknown. Voting is not a joking matter, and is quite serious in fact, but the charades and drama that revolves around elections is a shonde (shameful) and is, frankly, and impediment to the democratic process and, in my opinion, intentionally so. In order to see more clearly the ridiculousness of the whole ordeal, we need to laugh. And for that, I thank you, Sarah Silverman.
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

New (old) fridge design prevents environmental damage

Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard invented a fridge in 1930, that has been rebuilt by scientists at Oxford University, which runs without electricity.

Refrigerators waste incredible amounts of energy contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere which is one of the main culprits of climate change.

Einstein's design uses ammonia, butane and water and takes advantage of the fact that liquids boil at lower temperatures when the air pressure around them is lower.

Check out the full report at the Guardian
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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vote Green (energy)!

I just got an email about, a non-partisan grass roots effort to support green energy candidates and initiatives in the upcoming election cycle. Join over 100,000 (and growing) Americans who want to see country, and our world, make the necessary turn.

The platform is six simple pillars:

The Platform


Invest in millions of new green jobs, strengthen the American middle class and create new pathways out of poverty for millions more. By retooling our factories, revamping our schools, and rebuilding our communities, we can create a sustainable, just, and prosperous future for all.


Unleash American ingenuity and launch a new wave of affordable clean energy technology. We need more federal and private investments in public transit, ultra-efficient vehicles, and renewable energy like wind and solar.


To ensure our health, prosperity, and security, scientists tell us we must rapidly drive US global warming pollution towards zero. We can and must accomplish this transition to a clean energy future in an equitable and just manner.


Enact an immediate moratorium on new coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear plant construction and infrastructure, while phasing out existing plants and fossil fuel extraction and ensuring a just transition for the workforce and communities


Global warming requires a global solution. We must shift the focus of American foreign policy from military intervention to international cooperation and join the world in pursuing peace and international development, thereby offering assistance to vulnerable and impacted communities.


It's time to make government accountable to "We the People." Put voters first and refuse campaign contributions from dirty energy interests.

This election is important for so many reasons. Top amongst them is the prospect to significantly impact the manner in which we embark, collectively as a nation, in this new chapter of American history. There is a phrase often employed by both Palestinians and Israelis to describe the other, in that they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." The same can be said about the American voter. How blind can a nation be until we wake up and simply establish our democratic right to say, "Enough!"

The waste and grandeur which goes into the election process is sad. In an era where people cannot afford healthcare, education or basic necessities, is it prudent for a candidate to amass over $60 million of the electorate's money? In an era plagued by media distortion and shameful lack of transparency, is it honorable to employ outright lies and baseless rhetoric in the pursuit of supposed leadership? And moreso, is it in the spirit of freedom and liberty that we abide by it and stand idly? There's a reason Thomas Jefferson believed regular revolutions were necessary to keep this nation healthy.

Well, the least we can do, I suppose, is vote green. And how refreshing that we actually may have something to come together as a nation, not because we want to but because we need to. This chance for a non-partisan effort not in the name of parties but in the name of people.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big boost for third-party politics

I can remember my first protest like it was yesterday. One moment in particular stands out in my memory and has shaped my understanding of the American electoral process in very concrete ways. It was October 3, 2000--Boston, MA at UMass. It was the first presidential debate of the 2000 election. Despite having collected all the necessary signatures and so on and so forth, Ralph Nader was not able to debate. That's not so surprising, but at the time it was something important--the end of the Clinton era provided an opportunity for the US to expand its political horizons and incorporate multiple views, especially considering the staggering similarity between the candidates in the 2000 election. I'll spare you the recollections of grotesque police brutality, as this is a positive place. But the moment I mentioned that is seared into my mind is when the audience began to arrive. We gained word that Ralph Nader had been gifted a ticket by a student from Northeastern University to be in the audience at the debate. His bus came up, and we showed him our support. The police then stopped the bus, and asked a brought a few people off the bus, amongst them Mr. Nader. We then watched in disbelief as they confiscated his ticket to be a spectator and turned his bus around. As we chanted, "This is what democracy looks like," I asked myself, are we telling them democracy is dissent, or are we asking them if democracy is arbitrary policing... I still haven't made up my mind.

Ron Paul, the former Republican candidate for his party's nomination, has endorsed not John McCain, nor Barack Obama. Mr. Paul announced today that he would not endorse Mr. McCain despite requests from his campaign. Mr. Paul stated, "I don't like the idea of getting 2 or 3 million people angry at me."

The candidates who received Mr. Paul's endorsements are: independent candidate Ralph Nader, Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney and Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin, according to the LA Times.

What gets me is Mr. Paul's statement that 2-3 million Americans don't want to vote for either party's major candidates--I know I am amongst them, you might be too.

We have relented to the notion that we only have two choices, and it is a false notion. Democracy endows us with the ability to determine what parties are elected to represent us. The reason so many Americans call themselves "independents" these days is because neither party represents Americans any more. It is time that we demand an end to the two-party electoral system. It was designed to bar others from politics and legislature--to assure a plutocracy and ignore the visions of the federalist republic, that the elected officials are not of the professional variety, but an infrastructure of civil servants.

Ron Paul garnered quite a little movement in the early stages of the 2008 election, and electoral politics will not forget it. His little burst of fame after 30 years of representing his district in Congress illuminated to much of the country that their feelings of discontent with the "same old, same old" were not misplaced and were not alone.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but when we enter the voting booth in two months time, at least ponder what this (or any other) election might look like with an option on the ballot reading "NOTA"
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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Four tips to help you change the world

Ode Magazine (which is my favorite publication) has a great spot this month on helping us avoid "burning out" while we tirelessly work to make the world a better place. Here is the whole article from this month's Ode:
Leonard Felder | September 2008 issue

Burn bright, don't burn out

When you think of someone standing up to battle the status quo, you probably envision a lonely individual facing insurmountable odds. After all, in films like Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich and To Kill a Mockingbird, the passionate change-maker is usually teetering on the edge of burnout.

When I was counselling a gifted change agent who was using art to raise awareness on important issues, I noticed she assumed that feeling burned out-after having difficulty raising money for her non-profit organization-was a natural consequence of being slightly ahead of her time.

I believe burning out as an isolated martyr is old school. I was thinking about that when I was driving my son to school. He loves to watch the engine/battery diagram on the screen of our Prius to see when we’re burning petroleum and when we’re recharging the energy supply without a drain on the fuel. I realized recharging ­constantly like a hybrid vehicle is the way to avoid burnout.

Here are a few key steps I’ve found effective for any change-maker who doesn’t want to become another burnout statistic:

Step 1: Ask yourself if you’re breathing.

If you tighten up or forget to breathe fully during stressful moments, your brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs, and your shoulders, neck and back muscles will conspire to shut down all your valuable efforts at changing the world. So just keep breathing; your body needs it.

Step 2: Make sure your humour, purpose and sense of decency keep you healthy.

During World War II, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and his relatives were captured by the Nazis and taken to concentration camps, where Frankl lost his wife, brother, mother and father. After the war, he taught that the best way to stay sane and committed to repairing the world is to search for moments of integrity even when others around you are giving up on their humanity. In the concentration camps, Frankl made sure to find purpose, kindness, humour and inner mindfulness, which gave him strength, endurance and creative problem-solving ideas each day. He always looked for ways to be of service to at least one person every day. Whenever I’m in a tough situation, I bring Frankl to mind and I explore how I can be of service.

Step 3: Turn each setback into wisdom.

Those who burn out tend to see each setback as an indication that they or their ideas are bound to fail. Yet if you think of each setback as a prized gift of wisdom—as one more mysterious clue that needs to be opened and explored to reach the next ­triumphant moment—your body and emotional resiliency won’t be depleted as often. You’ll be able to say to yourself, “This setback is an important missing piece of information about what I now need to include in my vision for change. I’m very fortunate for this chance to learn something so valuable.”

Step 4: Find allies in places you never imagined.

Often, change-makers only talk to people who agree with them, and feel frustrated or impatient with anyone who has a different point of view. Yet the most effective agents of change are those who can build alliances with people who see things otherwise. In my work, I’ve witnessed a ­coalition of pro-choice and anti-abortion groups built to help improve the birth-control decisions used by sexually active teens; Muslims and Jews working together to find solutions to water shortages in the Middle East; and edgy artists and conservative business owners collaborating on solutions to the pervasiveness of urban graffiti.

Like a hybrid car that knows when to sit quietly at a traffic light using no fuel and when to speed up to 65 miles an hour in a few seconds, we change-makers need to learn how to conserve and recharge our energy moment to moment, day after day. Otherwise we’re likely to burn out, and what needs to be changed and improved will be ignored or perpetuated.

© Ode Magazine USA, Inc. and Ode Luxembourg 2008 (further information in Privacy & Copyright)
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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pimp my Browser--Need some Chrome for your ride?

I love Google.  I can't say it enough.  I really, really love Google.  If I could have my dream job, it would be as Google's rabbi.  As much as I dislike advertising and consumer tracking, I can forgive them for that, thanks to all their wonderful, free stuff.  I can thank Google for free email and searching and I can thank Google for nearly everything I've found on the internet.  I can thank Google for free word processing, database, spreadsheet and slideshow software.  And most importantly, I can thank Google for hosting this blog for free.  I love Google.  Now I can check my Google Mail, write my Google Docs, and search Google's infamous search engine in Google's new browser, Chrome.

The browser is still in beta, but it is nice (and I bet will be even nicer soon).  It is flashy and minimalist at the same time.  It is fast and easy to install, and fast and easy to use.  It makes searching easier by stream-lining your most common searches and uses an algorithm to determine what searches you have not made that you may want to and didn't even know you did.  So, for example, when you type a 'G' into your URL bar, whether you've been to or not, it will, for example, show you that website (and many others that may be of interest to you based on your web traffic).

There's no menu bar, which takes time getting used to.  The basic premise of the browser software is that, according to Google's blog,  "the Web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser."

Keeping with their image of being young, hip, innovative and fresh, Google has written up this comic bookto help adjust you to Chrome.  So give it a download and pimp your browser with some Chrome!  
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Monday, September 1, 2008

A hopeful sort of positive...

I'm not quite sure how to frame it... My thoughts are scattered. The last week seems to have been a sort of breakthrough period in American history. History happens as we remember it; and in a world of instant media gratification, memory becomes an interesting thing. But I imagine that "history" will look back on the late summer of 2008 as a cultural turning point in the American narrative.

In the last week, we have witnessed gender and race barriers broken on an international scene. Today I learned, according to the "blogosphere" that VP candidate Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy, and 4 month-old son, Trig, was actually birthed by her 17 year-old daughter. This, of course, was preposterous. (not worth the link, although I have to admit--I couldn't put it past the GOP to cover that one up, if it were to be true.) And almost as if it was timed to squash the rumor, it was announced that the 17 year-old daughter, Bristol is in fact 5 months pergnant herself. Thankfully, the family, and it seems the general populace of the country, is supportive of the family. Which it ought to be.

So what's positive about all of this... I suppose it is the knowledge that America has breached a sort of "squeamishness" hurdle. Our candidates are real people. We've known that they've been cheats and liars and scoundrels. We know they've been statesmen and diplomats and blah, blah blah. But they're real people, and they're the matriarch of a family of five from Alaska. They're a black man with a white mother from middle America with a diverse background, who grew to be a law student and professor, and father of two daughters.

The "positive" aspect of this, though, has more to do with the "historicity" of the events rather than the events themselves. In college I had the opportunity to study the Russian Revolution from solely documentary evidence; it seemed as if it were a play-by-play report, almost of a sporting event--and in the end, the world changed. I don't know if the world has changed, but America certainly has, at least in my opinion.

Politically, it's all still the same--protest and demonstration repressed in brutal manners in Denver and St. Paul. Two of the candidates are still "rich, boring white men," although Joe's gotta flashy smile.

All the same, culturally, there was a shift. We all could laugh at Juno because we all knew it happens every day. Now it's heading towards the White House, and it's in every newspaper, radio and television communique in the world.

I don't know if that's necessarily a positive thing, but I know that change is usually progress, progress always has the potential to be positive, and only our memories will know the difference.
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Friday, August 29, 2008

45 years later, are we entering the "autumn of freedom"?

I can't say I've jumped on the Obama bandwagon, not to say he hasn't always had my vote, but yesterday was a historic day. For the first time in our nation's tumultuous race-related history, a major milestone was breached. A black man received a major party nomination for the presidency--I really was never sure if I would live to see the day.

To hear the man announce, "to all my fellow citizens of this great nation, with profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for presidency of the United States," I shed tears, and goose-bumps cover my body as I type this.

If you haven't already, and even if you have, have a look for yourself.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

45th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

45 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this speech. Let us make his memory a blessing and seek to realize his vision in our generation.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls going Digital

The New York Times reports that Israel is digitally photographing the Dead Sea Scrolls to make them available to the public on the internet. According to the report, the project will take two years and will, for the first time, make all of the scrolls publically available.

Unfortunately, the heat and light from the photographs expedite the deterioration of the scrolls. The scrolls, however, are deteriorating anyways, and researchers hope to find this is a means to track the rate of deterioration--seemingly this would help them understand better how to preserve ancient scrolls.

More than that, it makes the scrolls accessible to scholars of all degree, students of all age and interest, and the public at large. According to the report, the technology being employed will even make previously illegible sections legible for the first time.

For "text heads" out there who would like a preview of what this project might look like should check out the Aleppo Codex online, where you can see digital images of the most accurate transcript of the Bible according to the Masoretic tradition.

I can't tell you how long I've been waiting to see the Copper Scroll!

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bill Nye the Science Guy is coming back to TV

While I no longer own a television, a deplorable percentage of my childhood was spent in front of the television despite my mother's best efforts. One show which kept me engrossed well into my high school years was Bill Nye the Science Guy, recently profiled here. He taught us about simple science by doing fun, wacky experiments in a bow tie and a lab boat.

Well, he's back. Discovery Communications has brought a new network on the air, Planet Green, which touts itself as "the first and only 24-hour eco-lifestyle television network with a robust online presence and community." According to (great site!), Bill Nye will host "Stuff Happens," a new show premiering in early September that examines the origins of our consumer products.

Bill Nye is going to examine, in his bow tie and lab coat, the chemical and scientific elements of our household consumer items. I think we can imagine what he might find...

According to the network's site, the premiere show will be on "Breakfast," however, according to, the sister site of the Planet Green network (I think it's there "robust online presence"), the premiere episode is about the bathroom. [despite the report on the network's website, the network's schedule agrees with editor's note: A preview airs tonight, August 26, at 9pm Eastern on Planet Green, which focuses on breakfast.]

While I think that the nature of television continues the thoughtless consumer culture that has evolved in our society, the fact that Discovery Communications feels it is in their economic interest to create a television network dedicated to programming about sustainability and ecologically sensitive development shows the consumer demand is rising. Ultimately, the consumer is responsible in a market economy to accept or reject products--for better or worse, corporations can only be expected to produce what we demand. As the demand for ecological sustainability increases, the corporate structure will need to refine and reform accordingly in order to survive. Take, for example, T. Boone Pickens, who is investing the two-thirds of his $3 billion dollar energy empire in wind (which he clearly sits to profit from handsomely, since he owns the largest wind farm in America--an oilman can change to a "windman," but a profiteer is a profiteer).

Traditionally, business has been about growth and consumption. This has ultimately led to a depletion of resources and environmental abuse that is amounting in worldwide catastrophic effect. Yet, even by assuring the good ratings of this network and this program, we can make an inevitable impact.

I can't believe I'm writing this, but, watch your TV and turn your channel to Planet Green!
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Urban Garden Sprouting in Queens

The New York Times reports about an art exhibit gone green on Long Island:
P.S. 1, in Long Island City, Queens, has been hosting its weekly summer dance-party series, Warm Up Saturdays, for 10 years. This year, instead of the usual urban beach-themed d├ęcor, the courtyard has been transformed into an urban farm: 260 cardboard cylinders, from waist-height to towering, that sprout 51 plant varieties, like Swiss chard, dill, strawberries and tomatoes.

The project was conceived of by two architects, Amale Andrao and Dan Wood, partners at Work Architecture Company. One observer of their installation remarked, “It’s a kind of oasis,” he said, looking down from the second floor of the museum and out over the courtyard and neighborhood. “It’s surrounded by broken-down buildings and in the center there’s this green exhibit and all these young people.”
This is a great statement. What would our cities look like, if instead of rows of brick and steel, they were transformed into something living and green?

But that's not the best part... The farm is tended by people from the Green Team, a team of former inmates at Rikers Island, the high security prison in upstate New York, who have been trained in gardening by the New York Horticulture Society during their incarceration. The other best part...
"The bounty is distributed to project and museum employees, and some of the tomatoes and eggs also make it into the museum cafe’s sandwiches and salads. But visitors are also welcome to pick and graze for themselves."

The article is a good read. The art exhibit/urban garden sounds really neat. If you're in New York, hop on the train or carpool over to P.S.1 in Queens, hop in the kiddie pool, eat some fresh veggies, and take some pictures for me!
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Monday, August 18, 2008

The Peace Team--Joint Israeli-Palestinian team to debut at Australian Football tourney

cross-posted at

Ha'aretz reports that a new team will debut next week at the Australian Football League's International Cup, a joint Palestinian-Israeli team dubbed, the "Peace Team".

16 nations will compete for the prize, but only one team will be made of two nations. According to the article:
"The Peace Team is funded by the Peres Center for Peace and the East Jerusalem-based Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue. The idea for the team originated when James Demetriou, brother of AFL Chief Executive Andrew Demetriou, was introduced to the Peres Center during a visit to Israel. Soon afterwards the AFL approved the project..."
According to the AFL's official site, "The combined Israeli-Palestinian Peace Team will make its International Cup debut against Great Britain in the second group of matches played from 1pm. Sweden, China, Finland and India will also compete for the first time."

In my opinion, real peace, not diplomatic peace, but real peace, peace between people, starts with cross-cultural projects like this one. Even something less public, like the online endeavor, is a positive thing. Palestinians and Israelis need to cooperate, and work together, to be able to live together. Even if peace is signed on paper, peace is not real until it is in the hearts of the inhabitants of the countries.

The Ha'aretz report implies as much, and adds this bit regarding the political difficulties:
With half the squad coming from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, there have been some difficulties. Training sessions, held mostly at Kibbutz Netivah Lamed Hey, near Ben Shemen, have been cancelled a couple of times due to closures of the West Bank.

One player from Hebron even pulled out of the team after receiving threats from fellow Palestinians who suspected him of collaborating with Israel.

But as Barassi said, the project's success is best measured by its effect on ordinary members of the community. And judging by the friendly interaction amongst team members, this has been the case.

The team has stuck to a tight schedule, given only a few months to learn the game and train before they leave for Australia on August 19.
But the important part is that the team is getting along; the team can serve as models for their home communities on the possibilities of coexistence and cooperation in the future.

For more information on the team from the Peres Center, look here.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is medical botany the answer to 'Silent Spring'?

In the book that is credited with triggering the American environmentalist movement in the 1970s, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) claimed that the widespread use of chemical pesticides and herbicides were having an irreparable effect on our natural environment and our health. The New York Times reports on Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a research scientist studying medical biochemistry and botany at the University of Ottawa school of medicine.

The article opens:
Diana Beresford-Kroeger pointed to a towering wafer ash tree near her home.

The tree is a chemical factory, she explained, and its products are part of a sophisticated survival strategy. The flowers contain terpene oils, which repel mammals that might feed on them. But the ash needs to attract pollinators, and so it has a powerful lactone fragrance that appeals to large butterflies and honeybees. The chemicals in the wafer ash, in turn, she said, provide chemical protection for the butterflies from birds, making them taste bitter.

Many similar unseen chemical relationships are going on in the world around us. “These are at the heart of connectivity in nature,” she said.

The main focus of the report is on the many uses of trees and the many effects they have on our health and environment. Ms. Beresford-Kroeger has a somewhat radical idea in how we can incorporate medical botany into our urban planning and sustainable development. Again, from the NYT:
She favors what she terms a bioplan, reforesting cities and rural areas with trees according to the medicinal, environmental, nutritional, pesticidal and herbicidal properties she claims for them, which she calls ecofunctions.

Wafer ash, for example, could be used in organic farming, she said, planted in hedgerows to attract butterflies away from crops. Black walnut and honey locusts could be planted along roads to absorb pollutants, she said.

This theory, if researched and implemented correctly could spell the end of the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides, if the same result could be achieved by creative foresting.

Ultimately, the article leaves the reader with the notion that we really know very little. "Dr. Wilson, at Harvard, said that more research into the role of trees in the ecosystem was imperative and that it was alarming how little was known. 'We need more research of this kind to use the things we have, such as trees, to their fullest,' he said." "We," of course, are urban westerners. Indigenous peoples, have incredible knowledge of their native botany and its medical uses.

This knowledge is not lost and we can learn it from others. The important research that Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger is incredibly important for the future of our food production and could be key in producing urban farming as a reality.

Millions of pounds of synthetic chemicals are dropped on our food supply, and therefore into our soil and water, to protect crops from bugs. These chemicals are not harmless. 'Bioplanning' provides an alternative to the wasteful and harmful practice that utilizes our natural ecosystems instead; cycles and processes 'built in' so that our planet functions in balance and order.

Check out the article, it's a good read!
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Monday, August 11, 2008

"To go beyond recycling"

CNN reports about an international community called "The Compact" that has three simple goals (according to their blog):
1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc; 2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er); 3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

As the article would have it, The Compact is about saving money. This is no small reason to reduce our consumption, but it is not the most significant message of the group's ideology. That would be, "simplify."

The group has a very active Yahoo group and their blog is a regular roll of great ways to contribute, as an individual, to bettering our world, our environment and our lives.

Their mission, in my own words, appears to be this. Reuse as much as possible. Buy local. Acquire less. Eliminate unnecessary consumer spending. How are these related? We all know how ridiculous our consumer culture has become. On my walk to the market to buy local, organic vegetables last week, I encountered a line of people outside the Apple Store (they weren't there to buy local, organic apples). They were there to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a new toy that most people were sure to be disappointed with, meanwhile making rich people even richer (and poor people poorer, by effect--that's capitalism, baby!). The Compact seeks to end the phenomenon of lines for Apples, and any other product, and would much rather you buy a local, organic apple (than an Apple iPhone.)

What we forget is that when we buy unnecessary consumer goods we enter into a cycle, and a chain of production. If you haven't seen it, The Story of Stuff will tell you a little bit about the cycle of consumerism. The Compact reminds us that it is simple to avoid being party to this destructive trend. To quote a woman referred to in the article, "You don't just go out and needlessly shop as a hobby."

By opting out of the capitalist, consumer "grid" we create a paradigm and a model for a society that is not blind to the affect of its foreign policy, which serves primarily to sustain the corporate consumerism that has grown in our country. Buying local is a way to support the US economy, and support real people. No stimulus package or tax-refund can do for our pocketbooks what localized economic habits can.

Next time you need to fill the fridge, skip the grocery store and go to the farmers' market, there's even meat sold at most markets today! Simply google "farmers' market" and the name of your town or city. The next time you need to replace some clothes, try going to a resale shop--there are high end grabs in many (if you look hard) and you're not directly supporting child and sweatshop labor. Instead of throwing away old furniture, see if you can reuse it for other things; or donate it instead of throwing it away.

For many, many more ways to step away from consumer culture check out The Compact's blog and look for the link to your community on their webpage!
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgian and Russian Olympiads embrace

While Russia belligerently furthers its invasion of Georgia, and while the Olympics get used to as a stage for abusive politics, Georgian and Russian sharpshooters put that aside for a congratulatory embrace.

CNN reports.
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United States to revise policy towards foreign visitors infected with AIDS

Many have been unaware that since the AIDS epidemic broke out in the 1980s, the United States has had a policy banning visitors infected with the virus.

That is set to change. George Bush signed into law a bill that accords $48 billion to fight AIDS worldwide, and will also change the ban on infected visitors into the US.

While the law effectively ends the ban on visitors with AIDS and HIV, it does not altogether reverse it, as the diseases are still included on the Departments of Health and Human Services list of "communicable diseases." A "communicable" disease is an infectious illness that is easily spread in public. AIDS, of course, is NOT a communicable disease.

Yet, Bush's bill creates the groundwork to remove AIDS from this list. Removing the immune disorder from the list of communicable diseases will bring further truth to the struggle of AIDS patients and will also endow the public to better understand the nature of AIDS.

While the new federal law does not remove the HHS restrictions, it does finally provide free entrance into the United States. In the words of an AIDS advocate responding to the new bill:
"Today everyone knows that you can't get AIDS from sitting next to someone on an airplane or sharing a bathroom -- American policy should reflect this,"

This new funding bill allows that for that policy change to be implemented across the board.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Planet of the apes! Well... valley of the apes, maybe?

The last time there was a worldwide gorilla census was the 1980s, and at that time the world population was thought to be around 100,000. The World Conservation Society and the Republic of Congo are reporting that an estimated 125,000 gorillas are living in an 18,000 square mile area in the lowlands of central Africa.

Researches say that they have estimated the population in the area based on the number of "nests" they found. According to reports, gorillas sleep one to a nest. The large population find is leading researchers to believe the gorilla population is, in fact, not dwindling as had been the thought amongst environmentalists and scientists for years.

Just by association, this also means the general "adorable" factor of the world increased, as did the population of vegetarians... Just had to throw those in.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Saving the World one wrapper at a time...

There are a number of people who I have been blessed with meeting who have been a significant and concrete positive impact on my life. One of those people is Scot Quaranda.
"Every time we purchase something, we are
voting with our dollars and my vote is for a
healthy planet and for a world future generations
can love and enjoy."
Aside from being an all around great guy, and pretty damn smart, Scot has taught me an incredible amount about the role we play as a consumer in today's world. Our purchasing matters, and it has direct impact on our environment. One way that this is clear is in the amount of paper we use in our society. As we all know, paper comes from trees, and trees, well, let's simply say trees are pretty darn important.

Scot is dedicating his professional life to saving our forests. He works as a campaign director for the Dogwood Alliance, a non-profit based in Asheville, NC that focuses on saving US forests in the South by reducing non-sustainable forestry, lumbering and milling.

"recycling is the third R after reduce and reuse
which are better alternatives whenever possible"

The primary message of the group today is to use less paper, and when we do use, choose 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) products. Dogwood Alliance celebrated a major victory in 1999 by urging a study to be conducted by the US Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
the study showed that the Southern United States produces more timber than any other country in the world and paper is the number one wood commodity produced in the region. It also confirmed that Southern forests are some of the most biologically diverse and endangered in North America.
According to the Dogwood Alliance website, 90% of the forests in the Southern US are privately owned. This "private property" (as if such a thing could actually exist...) happens to be home to some of the most diverse forests in the country, and even the world, and, in addition to other aspects which you can read about when you go to their website), the highest concentration of wetlands in the US--which serve as an integral part of the eco-system for purification and water storage,

"the safest type of packaging for our
forests is 100% post-consumer recycled
packaging which ensures no new trees
were cut down in the production of that

and also are home to countless species of birds, aquatic life and mammals. In 2002, the Dogwood Alliance, in coordination with ForestEthics was able to get Staples (yes, the office store Staples) to commit to phase out paper sourced from endangered forests and invest in PCR products.

The campaigns that the Dogwood Alliance are focusing on today include continuing their work with the office supply industry and packaging reform. The amount of waste we produce because of unnecessary and wasteful packaging (think grocery bags, plastic bags, take-out packaging, online shopping) is unfathomable and "symbolizes the disposable society we have become," as the group's website so aptly puts it. The group, along with Campaign to Protect the Southern Forests, is targeting fast-food, and has a great website at
"If we work together to solve the packaging problem,
more of our forests will remain standing, meaning more
wildlife habitat, healthier communities and more valuable
land to sequester carbon thus helping to mitigate the climate crisis.
Be sure to check it out and play Packaging Man! I asked Scot some questions about packaging, and what we can do as individuals to make a positive impact.

Click below to read what he has to say. Before you do head over to the Dogwood Alliance (click here!) and say, Thank you!

Justin: what packaging is the safest for our forests?

Scot: The first question you should ask yourself is, “is this packaging really necessary?” If it is, the second question is, “have a utilized a design that produces the strongest packaging using the least amount of material?” After you have answered those questions, the safest type of packaging for our forests is 100% post-consumer recycled packaging which ensures no new trees were cut down in the production of that packaging.

are there any large companies that have made real and meaningful change, have any completely committed to sustainable packaging?
While no company is perfect, a number of companies have taken meaningful steps to reduce their packaging footprint. Companies like Patagonia, Keen Shoes and Timberland have reduced excessive packaging. Companies like Kellogs and Celestial Seasons have committed to 100% pcr packaging. And even corporate giants like Wal-Mart have worked with its suppliers to reduce the overall use of packaging in products they sell at their stores.

for people who try to "reduce their carbon footprint," what can they do to stop using paper goods?
I believe that all efforts small and large make a difference on this front. The first question you should ask yourself is do I really need to use this paper? If the answer is yes, then take steps to be more conscious about it. Always buy 100% recycled copy paper and toilet paper. Buy in bulk whenever possible. Bring Tupperware and reusable mugs with you whenever you go to restaurants or coffee shops. Print on the backside of your paper or double-side your printing whenever possible and increase the margins in order to print on less pages. For more great tips, visit:

can't we just recycle it anyways, why does it matter if it's already been recycled or not?
First thing to remember here is that recycling is the third R after reduce and reuse which are better alternatives whenever possible. Recycling is a great step, but by purchasing recycled products you are stimulating the market for the paper you recycle and helping to dramatically reduce the number of acres of forests destroyed, reduce the tons of pollution spewed into rivers and the air, and reducing your overall climate footprint.

Are we better off using recycled paper goods or more, durable goods--even if those goods are plastic or other petro-chemical based product?
Paper versus plastic is a false dichotomy. Each material brings with it destruction associated with resource extraction, industrial processing and environmental degradation associated with our rampant consumption habits in North America. When you need to consume, your best choice is to buy less and buy smart. Every time we purchase something, we are voting with our dollars and my vote is for a healthy planet and for a world future generations can love and enjoy.

Is there such a thing as sustainable forestry?
Though all forestry has an impact on soil, water quality, wildlife habitat, and local communities, some forestry is better than others. Our organization supports Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of forests, which limits the size of clear-cuts, use of toxic chemicals in forest management, and creates no go zones for the world’s endangered forests. It is currently the only credible forest certification out there.

sustainable packaging?
Again here, the best option is the smallest amount of packaging with the highest amount of environmental attributes. Reduce and reuse first, and if necessary make sure the packaging used is high post-consumer content recycled or FSC-certified.

What kind of packaging should I look for?
When you do need to buy something that is packaged rather than in bulk, look for the packaging that uses the least amount of material possible, that is high post-consumer recycled fiber and where this is unavailable, that is FSC-certified.

If real change is made, what will the difference look like in our forests, in our landfills, in our lives?
If we work together to solve the packaging problem, more of our forests will remain standing, meaning more wildlife habitat, healthier communities and more valuable land to sequester carbon thus helping to mitigate the climate crisis. 40-50% of landfill space is taken up by paper and wood products, so by decreasing this load and increasing the amount that is reused and recycled we decrease the amount of land that must be used for landfills, we stop a large percentage of the methane gas released from the decomposition of paper which is a major greenhouse gas emitter and we keep our local communities, usually in the most marginalized regions of our country, healthy and vibrant. Our lives will become simpler and less cluttered and the air we breathe, water we drink and environment we enjoy will be much cleaner and enjoyable. Additionally, research shows that paper mill communities are the most toxic and economically depressed, when we move away from this destructive industry, we open the door for more sustainable economies based on local forest-based tourism and lower-impact factories and industries.

What are three things people can do to make a difference in this regard?
There are so many small steps an individual can take to make a difference. Three easy steps are to buy less over-packaged products, carry with you Tupperware, canvas bags, and refillable mugs, and when you have to buy packaged good, show your preference for high post-consumer recycled packaging or packaging that carries the FSC label. Of course, you should also support your local environmental initiatives and groups including Dogwood Alliance. And while you are at it, visit so you can play our environmentally-themed video game, Packaging Man and take a moment to send the CEOs at the big fast food companies an email ask them to support the work to solve the packaging problem.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

House of Representative set to apologize for slavery, Jim Crow laws

In a stunning, and downright shocking, news item CNN reports that the House is set to pass a non-binding resolution officially apologizing the for governments role in slavery and legally based racial oppression.

While this does not change the current state of racial affairs in America, nor does it present any sort of compensation package, by reparations or any other way, it does, however, present the positive possibility for our government to repent for its wrongdoings.

The resolution was authored by Congressman Steve Cohen, who represents Memphis, TN, a predominantly black district. Mr. Cohen is the first Jewish representative of the state of Tennessee.

Earlier this year, in April, Representative Sam Brownback of Kansas, offered an apology to Indian Americans for "the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect." In 1993, the Senate passed a resolution offering an apology to the island chain of Hawaii for the "illegal overthrow" of its indigenous monarchy in 1893. Also, in 1988, the Congress passed a resolution apologizing to Japanese-Americans who were interned by the United States on our own soil during World War II; in that resolution, $20,000 was awarded to the survivors of the internment camps.

This is the first apology offered to the black community for their experience in the United States, and a positive development towards meaningful acknowledgment of the crimes of our past and present.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

'Texas to Tel Aviv'

Thomas L. Friedman has a great Op-Ed in the New York Times, where he imagines:

What would happen if you cross-bred J. R. Ewing of “Dallas” and Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club? You’d get T. Boone Pickens. What would happen if you cross-bred Henry Ford and Yitzhak Rabin? You’d get Shai Agassi. And what would happen if you put together T. Boone Pickens, the green billionaire Texas oilman now obsessed with wind power, and Shai Agassi, the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world’s leader in electric cars?

You'd have the start of an energy revolution.
You can read about T. Boone Pickens here, Shai Agassi is the founder of Better Place Project which seeks to make Israel fully equipped with an electric car "system" in the not too distant future.

Agassi's concept, backed by the Israeli government, is this--the electric car system will work similar to pay-by-minute cell phone subscription. Subscribers to the program would get a car and a battery. The roadways will be scattered with charging stations and garages where batteries can be replaced. The first cars, built by Renault, will be on Israeli roads next year.

Israel, because of its small size but large percentage of undeveloped land is an ideal place to develop the infrastructure for a countrywide electric car makeover. It will also serve as a great model for other nations to follow suit.

And I believe Mr. Friedman to be correct, combining the efforts of Shai Agassi and T. Boone Pickens together would make for amazing possibilities.

In days of hardship and strife, it is always nice to see positive news coming out of Israel.

Thank you, Shai Agassi, for striving to bring electric cars to the Jewish State.
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Israel to dismantle and move part of the separation barrier

Five years ago the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for the Jewish State to build its separation barrier on Palestinian land. Now, Ha'aretz reports that in at least the village of Qalqilyah (the village's portion of the wall can be seen, to left, being defaced by village residents), 2.4 kilometers of the barrier will be removed, and 2,600 dunams of agricultural land will be returned to their Palestinian owners.

The new route will follow the actual border between the West Bank and Israel, as opposed to encroaching onto large amounts of non-Israeli land.

Many had accused the army of using the barrier to meet the needs of the settler's movement and enact a land grab. In repeated rulings, the highest court in Israel demanded the barrier in this area be moved to reflect the border and the security needs, not the desire of a minority.

The new Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has called on the government to determine the route of the fence and any future border with an independent Palestine, and not the armed forces.

This decision, albeit five years too late, is one positive step towards reclaiming Israeli democracy.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Turkey and Greece to Hold Cyprus Peace Talks

For those not in the know, the way this whole thing in Cyprus started, as I understand it, is that in 1974 there was a half-baked Greek coup to try and claim Cyprus as sovereign Greek land, so the Turkish army jumped in and claimed a chunk of the Mediterranean island. Since then, the international community has more or less shunned Turkish Cyprus, and the conflict has been the final sticking point in Turkey's acceptance into the EU--which in my opinion would be a positive development in world affairs (more on why, below). It also comes amidst a not-so-publicized, in the US, French diplomatic concept called the Union for the Mediterranean (they originally called it the Mediterranean Union, and later changed the name). The Union was supposed to incorporate North African, Middle Eastern and Northern and Western Mediterranean nations. Libya declined to participate. At some point the whole EU got thrown into the mix, and that I suppose is why they changed the name.

The New York Times reports on the Cyprus talks. My thoughts after the jump. (click below)
All in all, I find the Union concept in the Mediterranean rather distasteful when it is packaged as a means for World Bank (i.e., American) and EU funders to grease their wheels. Most of all, until EVERY nation that would participate recognize EVERY OTHER NATION that is participating, it means nothing.

Ultimately, if each Arab nation involved does not recognize the Jewish State of Israel, there is no actual Union. If the Jewish State does not recognize the right to self-determination and statehood of the Palestinian people on their historic land, there is no actual Union.

Yet, the prospect of Turkey in the EU helps make the Union for the Mediterranean more "real," in that it provides the opportunity for Turkey to be a more substantial mediator between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean nations. This is key in regard to finally getting a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Turkey has been playing a key role in getting Israel and Syria to the negotiating table. As of yet, Turkey has been the messenger pigeon for the two nations, because politics are stupid and the two grown men who "lead" each nation will not even shake hands or speak on the phone. Turkey, recently, said it would no longer play that role, and wanted to two to start contacting each other directly.

At the Paris conference in July to celebrate and inaugurate the Union for the Mediterranean, French President Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to posture himself as a potential peacemaker in the Middle East. Track records in peace negotiations show that the US is the only nation who has had substantial success in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Israel simply does not trust Europe. Perhaps it was the whole letting millions of people be killed, get deported and flee for their lives...

The Palestinians, it seems, do not trust anybody. And they shouldn't--the whole world has treated them terribly. (see, we Jews and Palestinians have so much in common!)

Yet, humor me here. Let's just say that come September, Cyprus does unify by a joint national referendum. This would begin the process, presumably, of Turkey entering the EU. Amidst the fanfare and excitement, Turkey would gain a larger international stature. Some point between now and September (probably sooner rather than later) there will be a new Prime Minister in Israel. Chances are, God forbid, it will be Bibi Netanyahu (who may have hired Carl Rove, eek!). Other people who have been spoken of in the media as possible candidates are Ehud Barak (makes me shiver just thinking about it) and Tzipi Livni.

For those who do not know of Tzipi Livni, she is worth knowing about. I do not have good feelings about any of these candidates (or any Israeli politician; they're as shady as they come, the lot of them, according to polls Israelis think so too). Yet, the prospects of having a woman in the peace process is a positive thing. Livni is a Likudnik through and through, meaning she is hardlined on security and a member of the only party to have made successful progress in peace negotiations, ironically enough.

With Turkey in the EU, and a female Prime Minister in Israel, a real Syrian peace treaty is possible. If Israel and Syria can sign a formal peace treaty and begin to normalize relations it will make it much easier to make peace in Lebanon. I have a firm belief, at this point, that Israel and Palestine will live side by side only after Israel and each of its neighbors make peace, only then will the Palestinians and Israelis be able to successfully sign an agreement, I believe. With a new US president taking office in 2009 a new aspect is thrown in the mix.

If Obama does succeed in becoming president, it provides a unique opportunity for an international approach to peacemaking. The European people are absolutely in love with him (and this is ONLY because he's not George Bush, not a Republican, and not drumming war). Now(ish) might be an opportune time to make an international drive for a few rounds of negotiations, mediated by Turkey, the United States and France. These three provide a unique chance that other nations do not have. Turkey, having begun its process in joining the EU means a few things to Israel. 1) It is a western friendly nation in its neighborhood, a rare thing. 2) Israelis go to Cyprus on a near-daily basis to avoid an oppressive religious monopoly of marriage rites; so seeing a unified Cyprus may have an effect on them and can serve as a model. 3) A stronger Turkey can provide more leverage on Syria, and this would be very reassuring to Israel.

Israelis need US presence in the negotiation as a 'security blanket,' like the kind that babies use. It makes them feel better to have a 'friend' around, and that makes sense. American and Israeli interests are not actually the same, but they at least pretend they are for better posturing. But the ties do run deep.

France is also unique because, although a conservative, Sarkozy has displayed a desire for international cooperation while France is at the temporary helm of the EU. France will hold that responsibility until December--through the Cyprus talks in September and the US election in November. The Israeli election process will likely begin before the end of the summer. This means that Sarkozy will be the European rep during some tumultuous times in global politics. Sarkozy provides a unique opportunity to be a mediator for peace, France is home to very large Arab and Jewish populations. Sarkozy is, himself, part Jewish (on his father's side); and for whatever reason that might even matter. France is a powerful and historic figure in the Middle East as former colonizer and current money-lender and nuclear plant builder. I would have high hopes in removing the Quartet (UN, EU, Russia and US) and creating the Trio (Turkey, France, US) and have the UN, EU, Egypt and Jordan play advisory roles.

Needless to say, things feel like they are reaching a boiling point again in Israel. Cyprus, were they to successfully create a unified nation, may serve as a positive model for the region to sit down and hammer out painful agreements.

Dreaming? Perhaps. Positivity takes optimism.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Will LA City Council ban plastic bags?

Shoppers of Whole Foods Markets are already used to this trend, but now the city of Los Angeles is taking action--and good thing. When people refer to 'plastic bags,' we are talking about polyethylene bags, a petroleum product. These plastics are made from the same oil as our gasoline and add substantially to worldwide pollution and waste.

The LA Times reports that the City Council of Los Angeles voted today to ban plastic carryout bags in the city's supermarkets and stores by July 2010, if the State of California fails to impose legislation requiring a $.25 fee on each bag requested from a store or market. The city hopes to reduce the number of plastic bags in LA by 30% by 2010.

Estimates say that almost 400 billion plastic mags are manufactured for use in the United States each year, 100 billion are thrown away. The fact of the matter is that plastic bags, while a nuisance and a danger to birds and sea life, are incredibly useful and practical. They are lightweight, compact and reusable--in other words, shipping and producing them is relatively easy. However we all need to be more responsible with how we use our plastic bags.

The simplest way to more responsibly use plastic bags is to use them as sparingly as possible. The most successful and sustainable form of recycling is reusing. By reusing we reduce waste and keep harmful product out of landfills. Plastic bags are great to take to the market to bring home your local fruits, veggies and flowers; they are handy trash bags for small bins and can even be used to dump organic kitchen waste to your backyard compost bin or heap, and then wash the bag and use it again. I just used a number of plastic bags to bundle clothes to donate. There uses are endless, and with so many billions of them being made all the time, isn't it time to stop using and producing new ones? The other way to help get rid of some of these bags is to buy reusable bags that are more durable and made of recycled plastic and/or glass or use baskets.

The LA City Council is taking a positive step to create a serious reduction in the amount of plastic bags in just two years. Regulating citywide business, in this regard, is not a solution. However, the statement to actively reduce the use of plastic bags by a substantial amount in a relatively short amount of time is a good model and sends a positive message.

Thank you, people of Los Angeles, for beginning to reduce plastic bags in our city.
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