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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Some Spiritual Lessons from the Rescue of the Soccer Boys from the Thai Cave

Jul16

by: Matthew Fox on July 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

U.S. Airmen advising the Thai military in the operation to save the trapped Thai soccer team. Photo courtesy of US Department of Defense.

The world breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that the first four—and weakest—of the Thai boys were rescued from the cave where they have been trapped for 14 days. Today four more boys have been rescued; tomorrow the rescue is slated for the last four and their coach who, we are told, is himself very weak having shared his meager rations with the kids before himself.

There are deep and perhaps even archetypal lessons in this powerful story which has captured the attention of so many people around the world and brought many people together in the midst of so much chaos and disturbance in the world. Amidst the disunity, unity. I wish to offer a few reflections on these lessons in this essay.

The power of the feminine.
A cave is an archetype of the womb of the Earth (Francis of Assisi loved to pray in caves). A cave is alluring and fascinating—but also dangerous and even deadly. Mother Earth’s beauty is intoxicating but it can also be dangerous; she has her own laws and must be respected—consider Pele now asserting herself in the wild volcanoes exploding in Hawaii, and the monsoons and floods faced by the boys and their coach.


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Goodbye to Time

Jul16

by: Adam Fagin on July 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

As a result of President Trump's "zero-tolerance policy," thousands of immigrant children have been detained and separated from their parents for indefinite periods.

Detention centers for the children of immigrants have again raised the specter of the Holocaust in mainstream civic discourse. As a Jewish-American with a strong sense of cultural identity and an even stronger belief that what’s past is prologue, I have frequently wondered what my relationship and responsibility to the reemergence of these images should be, whether it’s tiki-torched white nationalists shouting “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville or swastikas raised at rallies in criticism of the current administration.

In response to this question, I’m reminded of a recent reading of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the graphic novel about his father Vladek’s survival from the outbreak of the war through his time at Auschwitz. The work brings together a past of unimaginable physical and psychological torment and present-day New York where an elderly Vladek bears witness to his son.

In one scene, Art and his wife, Francoise, wait in the car as Vladek enters a supermarket to return several opened but unfinished boxes of food. The two are mortified by this attempt. But they know it’s useless to intervene. On the way to the store, Art and Francoise had listened as the old man continued his story of the camps. His survival was a miracle, says Francoise as they watch Vladek arguing with the manager through the store window, to which Art responds: “But in some ways he didn’t survive.”

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The Uses of Appropriation

Jul9

by: on July 9th, 2018 | No Comments »

Audre Lorde famously said it, “[T]he master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She went on: “They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The essay was based on a 1979 panel presentation responding to a feminist movement dominated by those who opposed sexism but benefited in other ways from the existing social order. She warns a liberationist movement against reproducing the racial, economic, and other privilege-based operating assumptions of the dominant society, lest it fall far short of its potential to catalyze a more loving, just, equitable, and vibrant society.

Sometimes I like to adopt an alien view, to pretend I’m watching from outer space as we humans scurry across the face of the earth, billions of intelligent two-legged ants. What is getting them so excited now? What tools are being wielded with what intentions? And are they shoring up the master’s house or dismantling it?

In our little corner of the planet, my alien self picks up a loud buzz about appropriation. What’s that? In ordinary English the verb can mean many things: to set aside or authorize funds, to seize or steal something. In art worlds, the word has a fairly flat meaning and a heightened one. The flatter version covers things like Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades,” in which ordinary objects are renamed, repositioned, and exhibited as art. His most famous example was the 1917 Fountain, a porcelain urinal set on a pedestal and signed R. Mutt. Ever since, a huge amount of modern and contemporary visual art has included appropriated elements.

Appropriation is so common in popular music that a new word was chosen to represent it: sampling. There’s a nicely detailed account of Biz Markie’s losing a suit over a sample of “Alone Again,” one of many such cases in the early 90s challenging musicians’ right to use snippets of others’ copyrighted songs without prior permission. Rick James sued MC Hammer for sampling “Superfreak” on his hit, “U Can’t Touch This,” to cite one example among hundreds. The most recent cases turn on uses of as little as two words. But mostly, these are financial transactions having less to do with moral rights and more with getting paid. Reaching a financial settlement is almost always the endgame.

The heightened meaning of “appropriation” is cultural theft. The accusation is frequently made against artists—but also entrepreneurs and corporations—adopting and profiting by something emblematic of a culture not their own. “Cultural appropriation” is the full moniker, but mostly it gets shortened by omitting the first word.


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Healing the Heart of this Country

Jul5

by: Dr. John Goldthwait on July 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

Those who disagree politically often demean, blame, and criticize those who differ from them and the result is the climate of divisiveness we see in this country today. Each political party believes they are the “good guys” while those in other party are the “bad guys” who must be defeated. Members of both parties believe this is a logical and desirable way to proceed and act accordingly. However, to do this is to accept and act on the “us versus them” understanding of how the world works.

This approach has absolutely no hope of succeeding because it is based on an invalid premise. This premise is that there are good people (us) and bad people (them). If the “good” people fight against and defeat the “bad” people, then everything will be just fine. So how well is this working out? Are we a loving and peaceful country?

The history of our country and the world confirms that trying to attack and defeat those we perceive as “bad” has never worked. Yes, there may be times when the “good” guys succeed in defeating the “bad”guys and things may seem better for a time until, once again, there are more “bad” guys we must attack and defeat. They perceive things in the same way, of course, and set about defeating us. What ensues is mutual blaming, criticizing, demonizing, and attacking that only results in more suffering for everyone involved.

Despite the failure of us-versus-them thinking to solve our difficulties, this does not stop people from thinking it will work. It is so tempting to blame someone else for one’s difficulties in life. A convincing case can always be made that “they” are responsible for our suffering. “They” may be people with the wrong political and/or religious beliefs, the wrong skin color, the wrong national origin or who have other unacceptable characteristics or behaviors that differentiate them from us. The delusion is that once we defeat those we blame for our problems and suffering, everything will be just fine.


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Review of Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind

Jun28

by: Anthony Minetola on June 28th, 2018 | No Comments »

Michael Pollan recently published How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. It is a remarkable work of participatory journalism not only because it highlights the recent renaissance of what had been a very promising field of psychiatric research prior to government backlash against the counterculture of the 1960s, but also because it suggests a broader understanding of how we might define ourselves and thus live happier, more meaningful lives, something relevant to each of us, afflicted with mental illness or not. While the book’s title is certainly a reference to the extraordinary capability of psychedelic compounds to allow the user to view his life and the world around him from a vantage point inaccessible to our normal state of consciousness, it also could be said to refer to the book’s ability to change our mind about psychedelics, from believing they only offer meaningless, drug-induced altered states of consciousness, to understanding they can be used to effectively treat a wide variety of mental illness, and perhaps even engender insights into the meaning of spirituality. To Pollan, after various experiments with these compounds, that meaning is both profound and simple – we can see that egocentric ways of living our lives are harmful to ourselves and our loved ones, and “spirituality” means recognizing life is much bigger and more mysterious than it appears from our vantage-point of everyday awareness. Opening up to that mystery entails a greater sense of connection to our loved ones and even to all of humankind and the natural world.

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The Big Lie

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2018 | 4 Comments »

What is “The Big Lie” and why is the Present Occupant of the White House so committed and adept at deploying it?

When Hitler coined the expression “The Big Lie,” he meant it as an accusation against German Jews, charging them in Mein Kampf with falsely condemning Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff for losing World War I due to his strategic errors in the spring offensive of 1918, after which he was forced to leave his post.

Ludendorff retaliated by working overtime to blame defeat not on losses in battle under his command, but on Jews and Communists, whom he saw as a powerful internal enemies. As history shows, his Big Lie triumphed in the court of public opinion. As World War II ramped up, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the term to characterize the British relationship to public opinion, accusing them of telling a big lie and sticking no matter what.

Mostly, though, we hear the term in relation to Nazi Germany’s own propaganda, as in this characterization of Hitler from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the present-day Central Intelligence Agency) during the war:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.


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REVIVAL Album Spreads Love and Hope

Jun22

by: Robin Kopf on June 22nd, 2018 | No Comments »

Just in time for LGBT+ Pride weekend in San Francisco and New York City, the live folk-rock show, REVIVAL, has released an album as of June 21st.

Part of the spirit of Pride is modeling a world that focuses more on love and less on fear and hatred. REVIVAL‘s story based songs do just this – they send messages of healing, spirituality, joy, faith, and caring for the world we live in.

REVIVAL started out as a performance by singers Lea Kalisch and Julia Ostrov, violinist Samantha Gillogly, guitarist Ugene Romashov, and percussionist Anna Wray, all based in or around New York City. The music and lyrics were written by Kristen Plylar-Moore in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and they began performing the show in late 2016.


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Is This It? I’m Afraid So

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Jews of my generation are trained from infancy to sense which way the wind is blowing.If you descend as I do from a long line of nomads and refugees – if your family tree is stunted, the branches disappearing into cracks in history, if the images of children being torn from their parents’ arms are imprinted just behind your eyes – you develop a keen sense of impending disaster. And so the question that reverberates is simple: Is it now? Is this it?

I’m afraid so.


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Response to “Thoughts on Roth”

May30

by: Judith Mahoney Pasternak on May 30th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As a woman, a Jew, and a writer, I’ve tried for the days since I learned of Roth’s death to parse the grief I felt at that moment. It comes down to the repeated shocks of joy I felt on first readingPortnoyin 1969, before the very different shock of Second-Wave feminism had carried me down different paths, although never away from appreciating his work.

In fact, I think, it was feminism that enabled me to articulate whatPortnoyhad achieved: Roth had revealed, as no one before him had, the ways in which so many men of my demographic saw women – the Jewish American men of my generation, good men, men I had admired, loved, even married. As everyone has already noted about Roth’s work, I didn’t see myself mirrored in it. The so much smaller proportion of published works by women throughout most of Western history – combined, of course, with the profound differences in experience between the genders in a gender-divided world – has always made it hard for us to find ourselves mirrored in the literary canons.

So no, I didn’t see myself reflected inPortnoy. But I saw men I knew. They were exaggerated, of course. I was pretty sure that no one I knew had ever fucked his own family’s dinner, although I rolled on the floor laughing when I read Alex Portnoy’s confession of having done it.

That’s what writers do. We don’t create real people, God does. We create people whofeelreal, for thepurpose of telling a story. There’s never been a literally real Alex Portnoy, or a literally real Mr. Micawber or Constance Chatterley. (One of my worst arguments with my father in our lives was when he told me how well D.H. Lawrence understood women and I demurred.)

Roth wrote great stories. Like what’s still the preponderance of the canons, they were about men, about what men think and feel and experience, including their experiences of the women in their lives. I’m glad there are more women being published now,glad our stories are being told. But I’m also glad Roth was here to write the ones he wrote.

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Now based in Paris,Judith Mahoney Pasternakis a long-time U.S. writer and journalist in the progressive media and an activist for feminism, peace, and Palestinian self-determination.

Thoughts on Philip Roth: America, Jew, Male

May30

by: Shaul Magid on May 30th, 2018 | Comments Off

Author Philip Roth at this UWS home. Image Courtesy of Wolf Gang

By Shaul Magid (and please also read the afterword by Rabbi Michael Lerner with another and somewhat critical reflection on Roth after the bio of Shaul Magid below)

Why did it matter so much to me and so many others like me that Phillip Roth has left this world? When I first heard the news in the early hours of a late spring morning, I felt a kind of shudder like a window had closed suddenly and the air quality changed just a bit. He was, of course, a gifted writer and an American literary icon, but why does it really matter more than when other great literary figures leave this world?But there was something about Roth for anyone who really came to life in postwar America that is different. He often said he hated the term Jewish writer and always denied he was one. He identified simply as a writer and said “If I am not American I am nothing at all.” And yes, and yet. His use, manipulation, parody, obsession, subversion, and yes even diabolical love of Jewishness and Judaism made him one of the great Jewish writers in the past century at least. He is equal in my view to Shalom Aleichem or Shai Agnon, although painting a different world, for different people, of different Jews.

His Jewishness reminds me of what Hannah Arendt said she was asked what she thought of being a Jew, she replied, “Well, I c

But what was Roth really saying to us…about being Jewish. First, it is that in today’s America, there is nothing to hide about being Jewish. He believed in America and he believed Jews were deeply a part of America. In the early 60s whenGoodbye Columbuswas first published he claimed he was booed at Yeshiva University, after being invited to speak there, and rabbinic leaders there tried to use their muscle to derail his literary career by writing to his publisher. One of the rabbis said, “In the Middle Ages they knew what to do with people like Roth.” (Steve Zipperstein’s May 28thessay inThe Forward“Phillip Roth’s Forgotten Tape” writes that the reception at YU was not nearly a negative as Roth portrayed it). Gershom Scholem said ofPortnoy’s Complaint, “This will be worse for the Jews than theProtocols of the Elders of Zion.” And yet, the way in which Jack Kerouac or Normal Mailer or Truman Capote or Tom Wolfe meant something to the emerging counter-culture in the 1960s, Roth opened up a way for Jews in those years that they no longer needed to be in hiding. Yes, we had Malamud, and Howe, and Bellow, and Singer, but Roth was more subversive and more tempting. Roth pushed the boundaries in different and arguably more disturbing ways. The unveiling of Jewish neurosis for all to see, the queering of stereotypes to make them comical and then fascial, and then banal. The ability to laugh and feel suddenly naked, and then laugh at that too, that was a gift Roth gave us.an’t think of being anything else.” So while Roth may have denied being a Jewish writer, he was a writer who spoke to Jews in a way that was similar but different than the way he spoke to everyone else the same way that Toni Morrison speaks to blacks in a way different than the way she can he heard by whites. But for both Roth and Morrison it is all in the context of being an American, quintessentially so.


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