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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

From Ansel Adams to Calvin: The Surprising Inspiration for Landscape Art


by: Mark Stoll on August 9th, 2015 | Comments Off

picture of american landscape

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Ansel Adams

We Americans love grand, gorgeous landscapes of natural scenery. Landscape photographers and painters produce a never-ending stream of pictures of Edenic beauty. We buy images by Ansel Adams — such as this famous view of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River — by the hundreds of thousands, in coffee-table books, calendars, datebooks, posters, and framed reproductions. In magazines, calendars, and publicity materials, environmental organizations use photographs by him and many others.

Most of this art shows the timeless ethereal beauty of nature. It also lacks or minimizes the presence of people. Not everyone likes this sort of thing. New York critics had little positive to say about Adams’s art for most of his career. Landscape art of most cultures in fact include and even highlight humans and their works. Rarely do the credit lines for contemporary landscape art contain names from southern or eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, or Asia.


Hoovervilles for the Homeless? or Legalized Camping?: San Jose


by: on August 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Hooverville 1932 credit Tony Fischer

Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.

Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.

Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.

It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.


An Open Letter to Bill Cosby


by: on August 7th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

August 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Cosby,

I hope this letter finds you. I am counting on social media and the six degrees of separation between every human being on earth, that someone who reads this knows you or knows someone who knows someone who knows you and can forward it on to you. My purpose for writing is to make you aware of the principles of restorative justice, and I hope that you and your legal team will consider this approach within the context of the allegations of rape against you.

However, before I write about restorative justice, I want to thank you for the more than fifty years of comedy, creativity, education, and philanthropy that you have given to this world. I know you are familiar with Shakespeare’s line in the play Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” It seems that at this time, the public wants to bury the good that you have done while you still walk the earth. I have not forgotten.

Over the years, I have enjoyed all of your television shows. When I was a girl, I watched I Spy on television with my parents. We enjoyed the chemistry between you and Robert Culp. After reading Mark Whitaker’s biography of you – Cosby: His Life and Times – I have a new appreciation for the show. Black actors and singers such as Ivan Dixon, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kitt, and Nancy Wilson received national exposure thanks to their appearances on the show. My children and I watched The Cosby Show together. They watched The Electric Company and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It seemed that life had come full circle when as an adult I was again watching you on television – this time the show was Cosby – with parents who were then retired. You have been part of the family.


Whatever Happened to Student Power?


by: Raanan Geberer on July 30th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Picture of a high school classroom.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Schplook.

What will the high school of the future be like? Different. It will surely be freer; students will be more independent. High school students of today haven’t reached any peak of possible maturity. The students of tomorrow will be more mature than we are. Just as administrations have already become more liberal about dress codes, so tomorrow they will become more liberal about studies. And `formal education’ will become less formal.

These words from the anthology “Our Time Is Now,” circa 1970, edited by John Birmingham, call attention to a part of history that is all but forgotten: the student power movement in American high schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The stereotype is that all the action as far as demonstrations were concerned took place in the universities, and that if it did spread to high schools, those younger students were copying their elders. Another stereotype is that students were mainly protesting the “big” issues, like civil rights and the war in Vietnam.


My Last Day of Sunday School


by: Rachel Ida Buff on July 29th, 2015 | 28 Comments »

It was the last day of my career teaching religious school at Congregation Eretz Yisrael, but I didn’t know it yet.

Jewish schoolchildren with signs in Hebrew around their necks.

Credit: Creative Commons / surlygirl.

When I arrived at my classroom that morning, two Israeli teenagers, a young man and woman, were standing outside my room, looking uncertain. I recognized them as the shin-shinim: Israeli students who come to the United States after high school, delaying their entry into the Israel Defense Forces for a year. Under the aegis of the Jewish Agency for Israel, these young people act as cultural ambassadors, linking American Jewish communities to Israel.

I took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Are you coming to my class?” I asked.

The young man, strongly built with close cropped hair, nodded affirmatively. The young woman smiled hesitantly, flicking a hank of long, curly hair behind her. The shin-shinim come in pairs, invariably a young man and woman. I wondered for a second why this is, whether they are supposed to represent the possible procreation of the nation of Israel, before suppressing a sigh and inviting them in. I imagined my careful lesson plan flying out the window of our basement classroom.


60th Anniversary Of Russell-Einstein Manifesto Now Reinforced By Climate Change and Teilhard’s Warning


by: on July 27th, 2015 | Comments Off

"Notice to the World...renounce war or perish!...world peace or universal death". Sixty years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued their manifesto about the growing threat of world war, the globe continues to face the prospect of nuclear annihilation coupled with the looming threat of climate change as well as Teilhard’s ominous warning: Love one another or you will perish: Allen L Roland, PhD.

“We have reached a decisive point in human evolution, at which the only way forward is in the direction of a common passion- Either we must doubt the value of everything around us, or we must utterly believe in the possibility, and I would add, in the inevitable consequences of universal love.” Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy.


The Noncontroversial Essence, Part 2: Unpacking and Transcending Worldviews


by: on July 27th, 2015 | Comments Off

My new teacher desk

"My New Teacher Desk

Carla (not her real name) works in an organization that brings violence prevention programs to schools. She described her challenge in bringing the program to a particular school where she sees a clash of worldviews. This is an alternative school with values of inclusion, equality, and such, and yet many in the faculty tend towards a more authority-based worldview. She was wondering how it might be possible to get differing worldviews to move in the same direction together. Would a needs-based approach be sufficient?

In thinking about Carla’s school, I told her I would not be focusing on worldviews, because to do so separates and polarizes. I would, instead, be looking for what’s really important to all, regardless of what paradigm they live in. I call this the “noncontroversial essence.” In my last post I wrote about how I facilitated opponents to reach a solution to a decade-long acrimonious legislative dispute by first establishing what they held to be the noncontroversial principles on which they could agree.


Uri Avnery and Jeffrey Sachs on the Iranian Nuclear Deal


by: on July 23rd, 2015 | 9 Comments »

Editor’s note:

Avnery is sage in his analysis, but too much into big-power-politics thinking for comfort. As a result he underplays the role of ideology, and understates the evil deeds of the Iranian mullahs against their own people. Some people respond to the balance of power argument, then, by saying that Iran is more serious about ideology and hence might be willing to do a first strike on Israel even if that did lead to their own destruction. But here we agree more with Avnery–it is precisely because of their ideology that makes them want to remain the society that brings Islam to the world. To be the advocate for a growing Islam, rather than its grave-digger, a Muslim Iran has to avoid being wiped out by a second retaliatory strike by Israel should the Iranians use the nuclear weapons they will likely eventually acquire in ten or twenty years. It is only as a second retaliatory strike that the Iranians would need an atom bomb to use against Israel or the U.S., GOD FORBID, and that is not an unreasonable desire on their part, though we hope they never get such a weapon and we hope that neither Israel nor the U.S. ever engage in a first nuclear strike against Iran or any other country.

Best scenario is for a worldwide disarmament of all nuclear weapons with the same kind of strict guidelines this deal imposes on Iran (including disarming the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, etc.). Short of achieving global nuclear disarmament, the most likely outcome in the next few decades is Mutual Assured Destruction, the strategy that kept the crazies who ran the U.S. and Communist Russia from using nuclear war against each other. In postponing the development of a nuclear weapon, the treaty now going before Congress deserves our support, because it might postpone an American/Israeli attack on Iran that would be even more disastrous than the Iraq war proved to be hopefully it will be the prelude to a new era in which the people of Iran can non-violently replace the mullahs with a more human-rights respecting regime that might even make peace with Israel once Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and acts in a spirit of generosity toward the Palestinian people. But since Israel is unlikely in the coming years to do that, the best we can hope for is a balance of power, and this agreement is a hopeful move toward that end.

That will mean, sometime in the next twenty to thirty years, Iran will have a nuclear weapon that will keep Israel or the US from attacking it–a sad prospect, but probably the likely outcome whether or not there was a nuclear deal with Iran unless the US was really ready to invade Iran and fight a ground war that would be far less easy to win than the war with Iraq, and far more likely to spur global wars and domestic terrorism far more dangerous than the balance of power between Iran and Israel that Iran’s eventual nuclearization would produce. What a MAD world–yet this is what will likely happen unless the West really takes a whole new path toward generosity, peace, and nuclear disarmament.

- Rabbi Michael Lerner


Sweet Blossoms out the Crater: A Review of Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha


by: on July 20th, 2015 | Comments Off

bodymap book

With all the celebrations of gay same-ness after the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize gay marriage, I am grateful for Leah Laskhmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s filthy gorgeous poems, which remind us how queer desires still have the power to fuck shit up. The poems in her collection Bodymap demonstrate how queer desires–for each other, for ourselves, for something different – can provide a roadmap for moving toward freedom.

Reading so many poems about raw, dirty, queer crip sex made me think about Yasmin Nair’s recent argument that radical sex does not always translate into radical politics. While I agree that we can’t assume that any particular kind of sex is necessarily revolutionary (don’t we all know kinky people with regressive politics?), the poems in Bodymap serve as an argument that queer desire can–and should – fuel us to challenge the social order and reclaim the full humanity of those whom capitalism discards – including queers, people of color, working class folks, poor people, immigrants, undocumented people, and disabled folks.

What shines through every single poem is how hard Piepzna-Samarasinha has had to fight to love her queer, femme, disabled, brown working class self in a world that doesn’t always love her back. Her determination to love is generous; it starts with herself and then spreads its shimmering wings out to encompass all of us who have been marginalized and fucked over by systems of oppression.


The Confederate Flag: Heritage or Hate


by: on July 20th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Silent Sam, the Confederate Soldier's memorial at the University of North Carolina.

Silent Sam, the Confederate Soldier's memorial at the University of North Carolina. Credit: CreativeCommons / Don McCullough.

Last year for the first time I visited Martha’s Vineyard, a vacation island off the New England coast beloved by many African Americans and others. President Obama and numerous black dignitaries were visiting and a series of Harvard-sponsored lectures highlighted the progress and plight of Black America. Drifting off by myself I noticed a discordant note: sitting near one ferry dock is a statue of a Confederate soldier. The work was put up a generation after the Civil War as a sign of white American reconciliation. Few black people I talked to noticed it.

What a difference a year makes. Several weeks ago, the nation was forced to confront the undead ghost of the Confederacy. A deranged, Confederate flag-loving, twenty-one year old slaughtered nine people as they prayed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The young killer raved about blacks raping white women and wanting to take over the country. In the wake of the murders, calls mounted for the lowering of the Confederate battle-flag in South Carolina public places. On Friday, July 10, many state residents came together to see the symbol officially taken down in the state capital.