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Pardes Yehuda: September 2008

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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