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Women’s Rights and the Decline of the Global Culture Wars


by: Jonathan Zimmerman on October 8th, 2015 | No Comments »

Last Sunday, at the United Nations, world leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing accord on women’s rights. They celebrated women’s progress—especially in education, health, and labor—and underscored ongoing gender inequalities.

But they also condemned the jailing of female political dissidents in China, which co-hosted Sunday’s summit. And, most importantly, they didn’t debate abortion, contraception, or forced marriage. That might signal a decline of the global culture wars about gender and sexuality, which have defined the Beijing legacy since 1995.

The Beijing agreement was the first international affirmation of women’s sexual autonomy, declaring that women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality.” And that was anathema to conservatives around the world, who saw it as a prescription for sexual license and an assault on traditional institutions. If all women were sexually independent, could parents no longer arrange their marriages? And would women also have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage, despite traditional religious prohibitions on the same?

Before the ink was dry on the Beijing accord, delegates from Muslim countries and the Vatican joined hands with American right-wing activists to condemn it. They also forged new organizations like the World Congress of Families, which galvanized conservatives around the globe–“the most orthodox of each group, people that are least likely to compromise,” as the WCF declared—to challenge the Beijing principles.

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End the Business of War – An Open Letter


by: Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine on October 7th, 2015 | No Comments »

The Jewish New Year arrived last month amidst an explosion of chaos in the UK and Europe. The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashana and the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur, is a time of deep reflection, repentance and renewal.

At the same time, the photograph of 4-year-old Alan, a Syrian refugee washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach, moved millions around the world. From that moment forward, #Refugeeswelcome was trending on twitter. Demonstrations sprung up in hundreds of cities in Europe demonstrating solidarity with refugees fleeing their countries.

Somehow, in these last few weeks, as the New Year arrived, the world changed. The media, once suffuse with racist propaganda about illegal immigrants, began launching appeals for the refugee crisis. The power of people’s emotions and grief over this topic has turned the tides. It has been devastating and inspiring. We, as descendants of refugees from Eastern Europe who were welcomed into Britain, know too well the importance of offering sanctuary for those fleeing war and persecution.

After endless statements purporting to ensure that Britain would deal with the refugee crisis, not by taking in more refugees but by “ensuring their regions are stable”, David Cameron scurried off to Lebanon in September to visit Syrian refugees living in camps.

But at the same time, Cameron’s UK government recently held the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London, which welcomed over 30,000 attendees, 1,683 global defence and security suppliers from 54 countries and hosting 42 international pavilions. The audience included top-level international military staff, major procurement officials, and the entire industry supply chain, from large prime contractors to supplying companies. This UK arms fair, supported and funded by the government, was pursuing the sale of UK arms and internal security equipment to countries strongly criticized for human rights abuses such as Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. (1)

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Stephen Colbert is America’s Holy Fool


by: Ed Simon on October 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

In the semiotician Umberto Eco’s unlikely 1980 best-seller The Name of the Rose a medieval Franciscan monk investigating a series of murders at an Italian monastery discovers that the victims have been targeted by the abbot for reading a forbidden book – the only copy of an apocryphal work on comedy by Aristotle. The abbot reasons that if such a distinguished thinker whose work is the very basis for scholasticism was known to have argued that comedy was the equal of drama, then the power of religious authorities such as himself would be questioned, for humor can be used as a tool for not just challenging hierarchy, but for enduring one’s own life without the teachings of hierarchy as well.

William of Baskerville, the fourteenth-century protagonist of Eco’s novel, does not agree with the abbot. He believes that simply because Christ is not depicted as laughing in the gospels does not mean that he didn’t in life. For Baskerville humor and spirituality are inseparable, it is precisely the radical, upending, disruptive nature of joyful comedy that allows for evil and sin to be resisted. It’s worth considering what exactly the relationship is between Christianity and comedy, especially since the popular stereotype (among the secular, but sometimes among the pious as well) sees these two categories as somehow being antithetical. And yet a great tradition exists within Christianity of being a “fool for Christ.”

Stephen Colbert in Iraq

Credit: Creative Commons

Stephen Colbert, formerly of the brilliant Colbert Report which satirically skewered right-wing blowhards like Bill O’Reilly and now David Letterman’s replacement on The Late Show is a devout Roman Catholic. He has made no secret of his faith (in fact the comedian once taught catechism class), but for some viewers confused about how to separate Colbert from his performance the intensity of the host’s religion can seem disorienting. And yet Colbert himself sees absolutely no conflict between his humor and his faith. In an interview with Colbert posted on September 9th, Father Thomas Rosica of the Canadian based and Vatican-affiliated Salt and Light Television asked what one question would be that he would ask Pope Francis. The performer replied “I would ask him about being a fool for Christ… to be a fool for Christ is to love, because we are made, we are here to dig our brief moment in time.” A “fool for Christ” – it’s a seemingly counter-intuitive concept, but one that is threaded throughout orthodoxy.

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Justice for Mohammad Akhlaq


by: Sunita Viswanath on October 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

On this auspicious day – Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) and International Day of Non-Violence – my colleagues and I at Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus are heartbroken to read the news that a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched and murdered by a Hindu mob in Northern India because it was rumored that he killed and cow and consumed the meat. News reports claim that a mob of Hindus wielding bricks, batons, and swords came to the man’s house to hunt him down, beat him to death and severely injure his son and mother.

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Who Makes the Tough Calls in a Collaborative Organization?


by: on October 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

“Do we have to involve everyone in every decision for it to be collaborative? … Because if we do, I’m quitting my job.” I hear different versions of this question all the time. In the final weeks leading up to the launch of the Center for Efficient Collaboration, it showed up again – this time in a compelling story from a former-CEO-turned philanthropist. I’ll call him Brian.

We’d been introduced by a mutual friend who asked me to tell Brian about the breakthroughs I’d seen during my work on collaborative lawmaking in Minnesota. I sensed that Brian wasn’t deeply engaged. Indeed, he soon stopped me to express his doubts about the power of collaboration.

Brian told me about taking over a company when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. He had an idea about how to turn things around, and he ran it by others. No one liked it. He went ahead with it, and some months later, everyone saw the benefits. This happened a number of times throughout his tenure as CEO, he told me, with what I saw as a mixture of pride and a sense of mystery and humility. The company went on to become a major success story. Had he listened to the others, Brian concluded, the company would have folded.

Brian’s point: in the end, someone needs to make the tough decisions, and that can only be one person. No matter how much collaboration there may be, how much listening to others, engaging with them, asking questions, or discussing options, the buck ultimately stops at some leader’s desk. And that leader’s unpopular decisions may have better results than anyone else expected.

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Settle into fall with these crisp online features from Tikkun!


by: Tikkun on October 2nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Tikkun is not only a print quarterly with a thirty-year history of publishing the best critical thought in spirituality, social justice, politics, and culture—it’s also a web magazine that publishes dozens of online exclusives each month.

Below, find online-access features from the print magazine, like Peter Gabel’s plan for transforming the justice system, as well as web-only exclusives from Marc Gopin, Candace Mittel, and Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis—plus poetry by Philip Terman and Admiel Kosman, and book reviews by Matthew Fox and Michael LaPointe.

Don’t miss a beat—make it a habit to visit us online at tikkun.org!


The Spiritual Dimension of Social Justice: Transforming the Legal Arena
by Peter Gabel

We need a new legal paradigm that affirms the spiritual dimension of our common existence. Join our efforts to place empathy at the center of the law.

Read More»

Plus—scholars and experts respond to Gabel’s call to transform the justice system.


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A Rightwingers’ Guide to Political Correctness


by: Ron Hirschbein on October 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

Donald Trump gives a speech

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fellow rightwingers expect you to be politically correct. Here’s how. Overuse the putdown “you’re just being politically correct” against all enemies foreign and domestic. Use the argument-stopping, dismissive putdown against those questioning your ideology or correcting your racist and sexist slurs. For example, when someone reminds you that the 1% gets the lion’s share of the wealth, there’s no need for discussion; they’re just being politically correct, right? If you’re criticized for calling Arabs ragheads or women chicks you know what to say: Don’t take responsibility for insults deeply offensive to fellow human beings.

It’s not enough, of course, to put opponents down by calling them politically correct. You must be politically correct lest you offend your cohort by calling things by their right name.  Let’s look at examples from business and the military: You’re probably in one of these communities, or that’s where your sympathies lie. Here’s what’s politically correct if you’re a true, patriotic American in the rightwing echo chamber:

  • There’s no such thing as a greedy capitalist; there are only job-creators. (Any criticism of inequality is class warfare—smacks of Marxism.)
  • Playing the stock market isn’t gambling; it’s investing. The market never crashes; it undergoes needed corrections. [Careful! Don’t call it a bull market a mistake.]
  • That used car with a sordid history is a pre-owned vehicle.
  • That cramped, almost unusable house, is a cozy dollhouse or starter home. It’s not dilapidated; it simply needs TCL.
  • You don’t buy death insurance—it’s life insurance.
  • There are no estate taxes—just death taxes. (Who would want to victimize those inheriting sums over $5,000,000 by taxing their proceeds? Next thing you know, hedge fund managers will be taxed at the same rate as wage earners. Speaking of wage earners, liberals want to subject earnings exceeding $118,500 to Social Security Taxes: Surely this would quash incentive to make more money.)

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Alison OK Frost Captures the Strange Absurdities of War and Discrimination


by: Oona Taper on October 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

Alison OK Frost creates delicate and disturbing watercolors. Her figures seem to be part of a post apocalyptic world even though they are all drawn from news articles. Stripped of context and background information they float eerily on the white page.

Her images use the delicate style of watercolors to express the brutal elements of modern society. She wants to illustrate this dynamic in her work: “A few years ago I took part in the occupy Oakland protest and one thing that was really striking was how beautiful tear gas is, especially at night. I want to use these clouds in a way that uses the visual language of beautiful landscape watercolors.”


She came to this series through an obsession with the images themselves. She explains that her earlier work was quite different. She made oil paintings influenced by scenes from religious paintings. She says she took “scenes from particle paintings that featured the virgin mary and then juxtaposed them with my own life. ” Once she finished this series she didn’t know what to do with her art. She says she floundered for a few years. In this time she collected images without a specific project in mind. She collected images that she describes as ” a little uneasy, almost humorous. Taken out of context you could look at them and say, ‘oh this is a science fiction movie about a post apocalyptic future;’ but the weren’t, they were just news stories from today.” When she began painting these images in watercolor she says “something clicked.” She instantaneously knew that was the direction in which she wanted to take her art.

Collecting images remained integral to the process. She sees herself as a “visual data organizer,” and her sketchbook as a “visual database.” Her sketchbook has few sketches; instead she makes collections of images to prepare for paintings. The sketchbook consists of pages of related images in which she is interested- she has pages dedicated to sinkholes, for instance. Other pages combine images from distinct sources; she has a page with refuges and marching bands. She says, “I have been working on combining different kinds of parades. I am figuring out how to combine those visually and what that means in terms of masses of people and how they congregate.”

In her newest work she is interested in dissecting what it means to juxtapose images that are visually similar but quite different thematically. “I have been collecting images of tidal waves and kids playing in hydrants and with images from the civil rights movement – a big way that black protesters in the 60s were dehumanized was by spraying them with fire hoses. But all of those images, when you break those down to basic visual information, are nearly identical. At a glance you wouldn’t know, are these people playing? Are these people running from nature? Are they running from other people who don’t see them as human?”

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The New Extreme of the American Left


by: Jason Espada on October 1st, 2015 | 5 Comments »

As American soldiers returned from Vietnam in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, they were met with scorn, spat on in airports, and called “baby killers”. The anger directed towards them came from an enraged and educated opposition that had gradually become aware of the injustice and sheer criminality of the wars being waged.

In their passion, progressives in those times went too far in blaming the soldiers, yet were entirely right in insisting that the men and women who pulled the triggers, who opened the bay doors of the planes and dropped the napalm, were also responsible. Carnage doesn’t just happen by itself, and the criticisms and accusations back then were calls to awaken the conscience of the soldier and the nation- they were cries for justice, for humanity, and for an end to the cruelty and abomination of wars of aggression.

Many veterans themselves, aware that they had been deceived, turned into activists against the war. The picture that emerged over time was then one of a public, reunited with the foot soldiers, against the American empire that had used our resources and men and women’s lives for geopolitical ends, in immoral and unjustified wars. There was a period of grief and remorse for blaming the soldiers, for criticizing them so harshly when they too were among the manipulated. The administration didn’t care about their lives either. Looking back, we can say that those in the armed forces during that time were victims as well. These military men and women, however, were not held up then as heroes, or exalted for their sacrifice.

Fast forward to 2015. Since the end of the Vietnam War, the United States government has continued its role as the aggressor in one war after another, and there is now a new extreme in what remains of the American Left. Whereas before we had soldiers vilified for their actions – today there is no criticism of them at all. Instead, many of the leading voices of the public Left are either silent, or have nothing but reverence for the modern soldier. They praise their courage and sacrifice, as if these were virtues all by themselves. In the American Left, there is now a vast gulf between opposing modern wars and any sense that the military men and women are responsible for heinous, criminal acts. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction –from condemnation of deceived victim-soldier all the way to praise and honor and deference being given them for their dedication, as separate from the particular wars we are now engaged in in the Middle East.

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My Collective Cultural Imagination Road Trip


by: on September 30th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

My husband is driving this noisy 16-foot truck filled with his studio materials and tools to our new home in New Mexico. A month ago, we caravanned southeast along this same route: part one of the move, our worldly goods. If I’ve been MIA (and I surely have), that’s why – packing up, moving, unpacking, all the arrangements attendant thereto, and fulfilling my work obligations have consumed months. For the first time in ages, sitting in the passenger seat, I have the mental space to ponder instead of only to plan and execute.

I’m writing from that stretch of I-5 heading south dotted with a legion of wind turbines. They’re completely still today, ranks of stately sentries marching into the distance. They fool you. Varying in size from gigantic to merely large, they make it impossible to know whether they signal distance – perspective – or stature.

Which goes to the heart of what matters most.What kind of society do we want? One in which bigshots control the frame, or a society of equals who happen to be standing in different places?

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