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Kids and Gun Violence: Can We Change?

Mar4

by: Frank Strier on March 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

A child holding a toy gun.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Frank Boston.

Sometimes the most important sound is the one you don’t hear. The sound that is conspicuous by its absence? A full-throated outrage over the rampant gun violence that plagues U.S. children. Consider:

A traditional indicator of a country’s tolerance for gun violence is its firearm fatality rate, which includes suicides and accidents. Ours is breathtaking. Among industrialized countries, the U.S. rate is more than twice that of the next highest country, and eight times higher than the average. Looking solely at gun homicides, an American is 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.

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Esther Was Vegan Too: On Purim, Let’s Renew Our Struggle to End Factory Farming

Mar3

by: Katie Cantrell on March 3rd, 2015 | No Comments »

On March 4, there will be much drinking, dancing, and revelry to commemorate Queen Esther’s heroic action that saved the Jews of Ancient Persia from extermination at the hands of the villainous Haman. Esther is celebrated primarily for her bravery, while another intriguing trait is often overlooked: her veganism.

hamantaschen

In honor of Esther's veganism, why not prepare vegan hamantaschen this Purim? Credit: theppk.com/IsaChandra.

According to legend, Esther maintained a vegan diet, while living in the palace of the King of Persia, to avoid violating the laws of Kashrut without revealing her Jewish identity. She dined primarily on a diet of seeds, nuts, and legumes and abstained from all animal products. Thus Esther could be regarded as the first Jewish vegan.

While she may have been the first, Esther was certainly not the last. The community of Jewish vegetarians and vegans is growing, both in the United States and around the world. Much like Esther, many Jews are choosing to subsist on a plant-based diet in order to observe their moral principles.

The history of Judaism and moral vegetarianism is a long one; in the 1400s, philosopher Rabbi Yosef Albo began a debate about whether G-d’s instructions to Adam implied that vegetarianism is a moral ideal:

Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food (Genesis 1:29).

The debate continues to this day, but increasingly Jews around the world are making dietary choices based more on modern reality than on biblical philosophy. The reality in the United States is that 99 percent of all animal products come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), often referred to as factory farms.

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Once White in America: Raising Black Sons in a White Country

Feb28

by: Jane Lazarre on February 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

A white mother and her biracially Black son waving on the beach.

Novelist and memoirist Jane Lazarre offers an intimate, lyrical, post-Ferguson look at what it’s meant to her to raise her two black sons in a world that isn't so black-and-white. Credit: CreativeCommons / Everett Harper.

For Adam and Khary

Black bodies
swingin’ in
the summer
breeze
strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

It was 1969 and 1973, both times in early fall, when I first saw your small bodies, rose and tan, and fell in love for the second and third time with a black body, as it is named, for my first love was for your father. Always a word lover, I loved his words, trustworthy, often not expansive, sometimes even sparse, but always reliable and clear. How I—a first-generation Russian-Jewish girl—loved clarity! Reliable words—true words, measured words, filled with fascinating new life stories, drawing

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War Porn: Hollywood and War from World War II to American Sniper

Feb27

by: Peter Van Buren on February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

A U.S. soldier aiming a very large sniper rifle.

The basic formula for American war movies hasn't changed much over the past half-century. The core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those today about the Islamic State. Credit: CreativeCommons / DVIDSHUB.

In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand). American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.

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Reasons for Departure

Feb26

by: Ben Kline on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A screenshot from the movie Salt of the Sea.

About a year ago, I watched the 2008 Palestinian film Salt of this Sea, about a Palestinian-American woman named Soraya and her quest to reclaim her family’s home in Jaffa. The film has quite a few agonizing moments: in one scene, Soraya and her Ramallah-born boyfriend Emad are squatting in what remains of his ancestral village, well west of the Green Line. The illusion that they might build a new life atop these ruins is interrupted by a stern Israeli tour guide, who becomes much friendlier when a panicked Soraya lies and tells him she is Jewish.

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Small Acts of Kindness for Purim

Feb26

by: Howard Cooper on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A girl in a mask and costume celebrates Purim.

Purim is often made into a Jewish Mardi Gras, but the story of Rabbah and Rabbi Zera invites us to look at a darker core of Purim. Credit: CreativeCommons / StateofIsrael.

There’s a curious Purim-related story in the Talmud about two scholars, Rabbah and Rabbi Zera. One year they got together to celebrate the festival and, as is the custom, they got completely drunk. So drunk that Rabbah attacked Rabbi Zera and killed him. On the next day, the Talmud goes on, Rabbah prayed on Rabbi Zera’s behalf and brought him back to life. The next year, Rabbah went to Rabbi Zera and said “Will my honoured teacher come, and we can again celebrate Purim together?” To which Rabbi Zera replied: “A miracle doesn’t take place on every occasion”(Megillah 7b). Once bitten, twice shy.

What do we make of this story? Obviously it’s a fable—not quite a parable, but a piece of imaginative playfulness: we know that (pace the New Testament) once they are dead, people don’t come back to life. So what is the story getting at? Is it a critique of the dangers of drunkenness? Is it an implicit acknowledgement—a millennium and a half before psychoanalysis and Melanie Klein – that aggression, murderousness, is just below the surface of even the most educated or pious of human hearts? And that it doesn’t take much, just a few drinks, to loosen up inhibitions and for this innate and powerful energy in us to burst out in violent and destructive fashion?

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Globalizing Black History Month: Recalling the Professor and the Punjabi Lion

Feb25

by: Murali Balaji on February 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

As February winds down, one of the most overlooked aspects of Black History Month is how African Americans influenced and were influenced by global movements, particularly before the start of the civil rights era.

A long-forgotten part of the global exchange is during the periods between the World Wars, when African-American activists and intellectuals had frequent interactions with counterparts in other parts of the world. In this spirit, it should be noted that long before Mahatma Gandhi’s activism inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights leaders, another trans-Atlantic relationship would play a significant role in shaping African-American thought: the close friendship between W.E.B. Du Bois and Indian freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai, known by many as the Lion of Punjab.

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Generosity Versus Violence

Feb25

by: Jack Gilroy on February 25th, 2015 | 8 Comments »

In May of 1955, I was one of thirty United States Infantrymen facing a like number of Russian Infantrymen divided only by a manhole cover, on the cobblestone plaza of Schoenbrun Palace, Vienna, Austria. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, Avery Dulles, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sat on the sidelines. At a signal, the American and Russian Colonels saluted, that was the official end of the occupation of Austria. The withdrawal of all foreign troops would begin and Austria would start a new age away from a war economy.

There was much to do. Although the Marshall Plan, the economic assistance plan to assist European nations devastated by World War II, had obvious political and even self-serving strategies by the giver nation, the USA, it was evident that it was working. The rubble of war was being cleaned up except across the Danube where buildings remained torn and tattered from intensive bombing ten and more years before.

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The Second Exodus

Feb20

by: Dvora Lederman Daniely on February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

A painting of Adam and Eve.

The role of women and matriarchs as leaders is evidenced throughout the Bible (and Torah). Credit: Creative Commons / Tilemahos Efthimiadis

The story of salvation from Egypt is the founding story of Israel’s faith and religion. Every year, the Jewish people convenes and celebrates the Passover Seder – a ritual feast involving a retelling of the biblical story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Rachel Adler argues in her book “Engendering Judaism” that the biblical story gives the deity a body, and indeed, the hegemonic text emphasizes the story that gave divinity and the leader of salvation a male body. But beyond the hegemonic display, serving a patriarchal culture, a different presentation of events dwells in the text of salvation, one that gives divinity a female body, and characterizes the forces of salvation as female corporeal-spiritual ones.

The beginning of the story is in fact a testosterone-filled competition between two belligerent fathers – the God of Israel and Pharaoh; the two men are playing a game just “to spite”. In the book of Exodus chapter 1, the king is depicted as calling to his sons, the Egyptian people: “Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous” (Exodus 1:10). Pharaoh fears the fighting capabilities of the Israeli males, and therefore tortures the people of Israel. The other father, God, as depicted by the male hegemonic text, declares

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War is the New Normal: Seven Deadly Reasons Why America’s Wars Persist

Feb18

by: William J. Astore on February 18th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Crossposted from TomsDispatch.com:

It was launched immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when I was still in the military, and almost immediately became known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT. Pentagon insiders called it “the long war,” an open-ended, perhaps unending, conflict against nations and terror networks mainly of a radical Islamist bent. It saw the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine, buried in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, and a reinterpretation of that disaster as well. Over the years, its chief characteristic became ever clearer: a “Groundhog Day” kind of repetition. Just when you thought it was over (Iraq, Afghanistan), just after victory (of a sort) was declared, it began again.

A U.S. army soldier aiming an assault rifle.

Inflated threats, privatization, and an embrace of the national security state have all contributed to a perpetual state of war for America. Credit: Creative Commons / The U.S. Army

Now, as we find ourselves enmeshed in Iraq War 3.0, what better way to memorialize the post-9/11 American way of war than through repetition. Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for Tom’s Dispatch on the seven reasons why America can’t stop making war. More than four years later, with the war on terror still ongoing, with the mission eternally unaccomplished, here’s a fresh take on the top seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America. In this sequel, I make only one promise: no declarations of victory (and mark it on your calendars, I’m planning to be back with seven new reasons in 2019).

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