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The Next Time You See The Red Sea Part…


by: Rabbi Jack Bemporad on March 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. Demille's "The Ten Commandments."

Few scenes in film are more memorable than the famous parting of the Red Sea, a young Charlton Heston at the helm, in the 1956 Academy Award-winning film “The Ten Commandments.” About this time each year, this magical celluloid moment annually depicts the ability of water to save lives, and to take lives, courtesy of the great Cecil B. DeMille.

The magic of special effects aside, I wonder, if the daily destruction and struggles caused by water were illustrated so graphically in real life as they are in film, would more of us pay attention to the deadly role water plays in millions of lives? More children die from illness and disease caused by the lack of safe water and sanitation than war, or TB, AIDS and malaria combined. The Angel of Death doesn’t pass over 8000 children every day – that’s the number under age 14 who die from water-related disease, every day. Almost a billion people don’t have access to safe water and 2.5 billion don’t have the dignity and safety of sanitation.


Materialism and the Logic of Capitalism


by: on March 5th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Yesterday, Victoria over at Short White Coat, Inc. wrote a penetrating post about the intersection of poverty and health problems in the US, reflecting on her work with AIDS patients who were exiting the criminal justice system, she lamented the reality: despite her training and intentions, these people faced such a host of social, legal, and medical problems that their futures seemed bleak, their challenges intractable:

My patients felt they had paid their debt to society, but society would not give them a chance. Most had limited education and job training, and during the recession, it was difficult enough to find a new job without a conviction. Prior to incarceration, many had suffered mental illness, including substance addiction and depression. All of them now faced complicated HIV medication regimens and doctors’ appointments despite frequently unstable housing, transportation, and employment status. After release, many met criteria for devastating post-traumatic stress disorder, some resulting from horrifying events occurring while under the “care” of the State. Almost all were from poor backgrounds and the majority were people of color. During the interviews, many expressed themes of detachment, a sense of alienation from society starting in childhood. Some intimated a sense that outcomes many Americans view as basic rights or inevitabilities were never options for them, like freedom from an abuser, a safe home and school environment, or deciding what to be when they grew up.


Gimme Shelter: (un)affordable housing


by: on February 6th, 2013 | Comments Off

I just came back from a superb meeting on affordable housing at Sacred Heart Community Services, an agency known for practical, street-level work. Then I started talking about the issue with friends. Here are a few jolts that stuck with me:

photo by Darafsh Kaviyani

  • In Silicon Valley, the greater San Jose area, the list for subsidized housing is around 40,000 names long; it would be longer, but they aren’t taking names any more, so we can’t know the true extent of need.

  • Even veterans have been bounced from one agency to another with no one making help a priority. One of them, an articulate person not immediately recognizable as homeless, attended the meeting. He said he had been homeless “only a couple years.”


More Good News: Crime and Lead


by: on January 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

You may not have caught this news: “L.A. had fewer crimes last year than it did in 1957 – the mayor calls the numbers ‘mind-boggling’.”

But we all know that: “Los Angeles – like other big cities around the country – is in the midst of a crime drop so steep and profound, it has experts scratching their heads.”

And you’ve heard the usual (speculative) reasons. The LA Times sums them up as: “…better policing and more community involvement; fewer drugs and fuller prisons; an explosion in new technology; and the fading profile of violent gangs.”

And in particular you’ve heard about the “broken windows theory” which made Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, his police chief, famous in the 1990s, and “stop and frisk” which is much hated today :

In New York this policy, under which police stop 700,000 residents per year without probable cause, is opposed by a majority of New Yorkers, including 75 percent of African American residents.

… which is highly relevant to Oakland, CA, (near where I live), because Oakland’s crime rate, unlike most cities, has been soaring and the city is now bringing in Bill Bratton to try to fix it.

But did you catch Kevin Drum’s article in Mother Jones on what may be the biggest reason for the rise and fall of crime in our time? Lead. And why is that good news?


Time for a Real Debate on Health Care Reform


by: Rick Staggenborg on January 15th, 2013 | Comments Off

Medical insurers around the country are announcing a new round of double-digit premium increases, belying the promise that Obamacare would reduce costs of health care. Although the “Affordable” Health Care Act is not yet fully implemented, it is reasonable to assume that the further expansion of benefits will dwarf the promised savings as detailed in the error-filled CBO report Democrats use to justify the claim. The fact is that the ACA was never meant to be real health care reform, which can only be achieved through truly universal health care in the form of a single payer, Medicare-for-All model or something similar. What it amounts to is a taxpayer bailout of a failing medical insurance industry.


Reasons To Be Cheerful, part 4


by: on January 15th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Coming across some good news I wanted to share it and that made me think of reason number one, which you may have missed when it happened long ago:

1. Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt 3, by Ian Dury. Great back-up band. Hone your cockney by catching the words. Here are some of them:

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome, we can spare it – yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on 40 – no electric shocks

The juice of the carrot, the smile of the parrot
A little drop of claret – anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, days when I ain’t spotty,
Sitting on the potty – curing smallpox

2. Along the lines of curing smallpox, did anyone catch the results of the The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 which came out last month?

“The study underscores significant achievements, such as the dramatic drop in child mortality, which has fallen so quickly that it has beaten every published prediction.”

I went hunting for more statistics and found this chart, above, from the WHO, labeled “Global under-five mortality dropped 41% since 1990.”


A Public Outcry Against Fracking In New York


by: on January 13th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

On Wednesday, January 9, nearly 2,000 people rallied against fracking outside of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address, in Albany, New York.

Folks danced, chanted, shouted, drummed, and waved signs. Pete Seeger sang, the Reverend Billy Talen shook and shouted halleluyah, Sandra Steingraber, Debra Winger, and Natalie Merchant spoke. Voices of the thousands rang out loudly for hours.

Activists called (and call) for a permanent ban on fracking in the state of New York.

Geologists, chemists, biologists, and medical doctors argue that fracking is a threat to public health, will produce hazardous air and water pollution, and will endanger the state’s food supply. It contributes negatively to climate change as well, according to Phil Aroneanu, campaign director of 350.org. Of additional concern to many, as reported by Treehugger and the New York Times, among others, is the release of dangerous radiaoactive materials into the ecosystem through the fracking process. As of now, the gas industry has no means or plan to contain such radioactive waste.


Adam Lanza and All of Us


by: on December 21st, 2012 | 3 Comments »

Adam Lanza in sixth grade

I am a Jew from Israel, where the Holocaust is a core formative story we all imbibed. One of the most astonishing experiences of my life was the moment in which I felt compassion for 7-year old Adolf Hitler. So astonishing, in fact, that I am a little afraid to expose this in public. I was reading Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, and I felt my inside shifting and changing as I was reading. Almost every word fell into a clear place, my heart and mind opened and stretched and realigned, and then, without knowing it was coming, there it was. The monster became human, so painfully human. I no longer hated him. It was a milestone on my path. Over time, I lost my ability to hate altogether.

From Alice Miller, and from many other sources, I have come to accept without any doubt that no one does violence to others without violence having been done to them earlier. From James Gilligan, whose work I have mentioned here before (e.g. here and here), I have come to understand the mechanism that translates violence received into violence enacted on others. From Marshall Rosenberg and my years of working with Nonviolent Communication, I now have a clear frame for making sense of the work of Miller, Gilligan and others. The language of human needs helps me understand violence with an open heart, without collapsing, without blaming, without shaming.

By far not everyone who experiences violence passes it on to others. I am no expert, I have done no research, and I cannot claim to know anything. My humanity is strained when I hear of what happened in Newtown last Friday. I am aware, mostly, of helplessness, of profound, unspeakable grief, of a fundamental inability to change the violence I know about, or to even grasp the violence that remains hidden. And, yet, my heart aches to say something, to summon my strained humanity, in all its limitations, to the task of bringing love and understanding to what I have learned about violence and how it may apply to Adam Lanza and our thinking about what he has done.


A Call for A Politics of Love


by: on November 14th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Dear President Obama and Democratic Members of Congress,

I invite you to embrace the radical notion that there are fundamental truths and values that the vast majority of US citizens believe in and support. They have chosen you to be the messenger and implementer of those ideas in the form of legislation and actions on a federal level. Now is the time for you to step out of a politics based on fear and limiting beliefs and into the very real possibility and actuality that when you choose to stand in a politics of love, your actions will be celebrated.

This is what a politics of love looks like:

1. Genuine care for the well-being of all, both in the US and abroad.

2. A commitment to the repair of our planet, food and water resources.

3. A belief in the sacred nature of every being.

The vast majority of citizens as evidenced by the occupy movement, votes at the polls, and public discourse, are tired by the politics of hate, fear and money that dominated the 2012 election and our public discourse for years. Instead of a politics of fear, hatred and money, they are yearning for a politics based on love – where the well-being of all overrides the desire of a few.


Thoughts on Hospitals and Healing


by: on November 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

For many hours every day for more than two of the last three weeks, I was in a hospital setting, supporting my beloved sister’s recovery from a major surgery. I have a lot of very personal experiences – of sorrow, helplessness, and moments of grace – that are now part of who I will forever be. This piece is about what I learned from all of this about why so many of us hate being in hospitals and what it would take to create hospitals that are truly designed to support healing.

Despite everything that I am about to say, I am confident that all of us who were with my sister during this time would rate the care we received as excellent. We were in a hospital ranked in the top 5% in the US. Nonetheless, my overall conclusion is that hospitals, as currently conceived and designed, are not conducive to healing. I have no research to cite for any of what I am saying, only my own deep intuitive humanity that speaks to me, my soul’s mourning about what I saw. This mourning is made especially poignant given that I have absolutely no doubt about the dedication, care, and commitment to the well-being of patients on the part of everyone we encountered while at the hospitals. I am not talking here about the rare individual whose spirit has been so damaged that they end up taking their suffering out on other people (commonly known as sadistic). I am talking about a system and a setup in which people whose hearts shine are unable to create a healing environment.

To clear up any confusion there may be, in talking about healing I am making a distinction between healing and curing. A quote from the book Choices in Healing, by Michael Lerner from Commonweal, an organization dedicated to individual and global health, might help make this distinction clearer: “A cure is a medical procedure that reliably helps you recover from an illness. Healing is an inner process through which the human organism seeks its own recovery–physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.” There is no question whatsoever that hospitals are places where people’s lives are routinely saved, where multiple diseases and conditions are treated with stunning success, and where everyone is committed to supporting such processes in happening.

This remarkable success, however, is not relying on our innate, organismic capacity to heal. While everyone is aware of this almost miraculous biological and spiritual process, it is assumed and taken for granted, not nourished, not actively mobilized, and it is often interfered with in order to allow for the efficiency, reliability, and technical accuracy of the procedures that take place at the hospital. To whatever extent healing happens, it’s because life is so glorious and powerful, that healing happens despite the hospital environment, not because of it.