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Pardes Yehuda: August 2008

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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