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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Printmaker Michele Ramirez Celebrates Central Valley Fieldworkers

Jan31

by: Annie Pentilla on January 31st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

La Raza Noble, linoleum cut, 18" x 24".

When you bite into a ripe tomato, have you ever wondered where it came from? That tomato on your kitchen table has most likely traveled all the way from California’s Central Valley, plucked from the vine by the hands of a migrant farmer. This is the valley where painter and printmaker Michele Ramirez and her family have called home for at least three generations. “I have flashbacks every time I smell a ripe tomato,” says Ramirez, who spent a summer with her uncle harvesting tomatoes. “A really good tomato has this really earthy, beautiful smell. I smell it and boom, I’m back in the fields for just that nanosecond.”

The Central Valley has long captivated the imagination of artists and novelists for whom the beauty of its topography, with expansive pale skies and farmhouses speckling the horizon, has proven irresistible. For Ramirez, the Central Valley is both a beautiful and “distant, unknowable place” whose solitude she captures eloquently in her paintings. “You have this beautiful landscape [with] nobody in it… this giant sky and this slate horizon and all these grids.” Part of the appeal for Ramirez is the emptiness of the Central Valley, along with its blunt geometry, created by the rows and fields of its massive farms.

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Peace Through the Hijab

Jan31

by: on January 31st, 2014 | 19 Comments »

Courtesy World Hijab Day

Stereotypes are hurtful, no doubt about it. They assume things about an entire group of people by those who have less than an iota of knowledge about the group. It shrinks each individual in the group to the lowest common denominator, or even to something unrelated entirely to the group. And it’s doubly sad when stereotypes are perpetuated not just externally but internally as well.

Today, perhaps no other group faces more stereotypes than the Muslim woman. The adjectives – I call them labels – used to define her range from the inaccurate to the offensive and even sometimes laughable. Submissive. Oppressed. Quiet. Homemaker. Religious. Devout. Covered.


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Remarkable Conversations, Unexpected Outcomes

Jan30

by: on January 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Perhaps because this year I am teaching a yearlong telecourse (in four independent parts) on The Art and Craft of Dialogue, I’ve been more deeply attuned to the largely unknown power of dialogue to create entirely unexpected results. In those moments, when the veil of separation drops, at least momentarily, and we stand in the magic of finding a path forward that truly works for everyone, I often feel both elated and profoundly sad.

The elation is directly the result of having visceral evidence of the simplicity and elegance of the path. Rosenberg, the man who created the practice of Nonviolent Communication that informs everything I do, says about this phenomenon:

“So many times I have seen that no matter what has happened, if people connect in this certain way that it is inevitable that they will end up enjoying giving to one another. It is inevitable. For me my work is like watching the magic show. It’s too beautiful for words.”

I confess that for years I was dubious – how could it be “inevitable”? I didn’t truly believe it, though I loved hearing it said. Over time, I realized that it is, likely, inevitable. The catch is more in the “if” than in the outcome. The question, for me, has then become simply about how to create the conditions – both inner and outer – that make it possible for people to connect in this way.

Which brings me to the sadness. I find it so tragic that so many people are likely to live and die without having access to this experience, without knowing it even exists, without trusting that such transformation is so possible and so simple.

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The Gap Between Samantha Power’s Moral Vision and Her Toolkit

Jan30

by: on January 30th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Credit: Creative Commons

Three days ago, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power used a word that has been, for the most part, absent in the U.S. discourse surrounding the Syrian civil war: evil. Granted, the word “evil” is actually quite difficult to inject into a sentence structure that also includes phrases like “the two sides need to meet face to face at the negotiating table.”

Ever since George W. Bush’s infamous 2002 State of the Union speech in which he called Iraq, Iran and North Korea the “Axis of Evil,” the word “evil” seems to have left on a jet plane and hasn’t come back again. It seems that for most of the citizenry, from the influential power-brokers in Washington, to the town gossips on Main Street, to anonymous commenters on blogs, the word “evil” is best avoided if one wishes to persuade others.

Before she was even sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Power gave the faux sophisticates of the “no-such-thing-as-evil” crowd a major boost to their cause: her Senate confirmation hearing to be America’s next ambassador to the international body was simply brimming with all manner of denial of the U.S. government’s past atrocities. As mentioned in this article from last July, Power’s confirmation hearing was punctuated in particular with the repeated statement “I will not apologize for America.” Another notable standout from the hearing was her statement to senators that “America is the light of the world.” Needless to say, her confirmation vote passed the Senate with flying colors.

Yet it is precisely that kind of denial, both of history and present reality, that not only leads to foreign cynicism about the intentions of U.S. leaders, but effectively delivers a Betty Crocker cake to those inside the U.S. who would prefer to ignore the evil that Ambassador Power is so devoted to fighting.

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Snapping to the SNAP Challenge

Jan30

by: Sharon Goldman on January 30th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons/Paul Sableman

Jacob is being groomed for empathy. So said Rabbi David Ingber of Congregation Romemu in New York City during a Friday night D’var Torah last November. It was the week of Parsha Vayetzei, the Parsha in which Jacob, with only a rock as a pillow, dreams of angels ascending the ladder. So begins Jacob’s solo journey, one marked by a series of perfidies, betrayals, and disappointments. By the end of Genesis, having experienced both ends of these dynamics multiple times, he has sown the seeds of humility and compassion. Empathy for the patriarch Israel, is a painstaking development. Empathy was also the theme of that particular Shabbas, not only with the focus of the Rabbi’s D’var, but also with the community potluck dinner after evening services, acknowledging the participants of the SNAP Challenge.

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Mis-Remembering Ariel Sharon

Jan30

by: on January 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

(Ariel Sharon/ Credit: Creative Commons)

The media has no problem focusing on the petty offenses and sexual infidelities of public figures but seems unable to acknowledge when some have engaged in or abetted human rights abuses or inflicted pain, violence, or murder on civilians. So we’ve been subjected to the iconization of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and — since his death earlier this month — of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Of all the murders he ordered, the one that sticks out most in my mind is the first set, in which he ordered his clandestine military unit in the early 1950s to take revenge on Palestinians who had been crossing the Armistice lines of 1949 in order to reclaim land that had been theirs before the Israel’s military victories that pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes. To terrorize the Palestinians, his unit entered and massacred a Palestinian village, setting fire to homes in which primarily women and children perished.

What is equally egregious is the media’s repeating of the lie that Ariel Sharon was on the verge of reducing West Bank settlements when he died, a follow-up to his supposedly peace-oriented move to remove the Israeli settlers from Gaza. But as Sharon’s close assistant and adviser Dov Weinglas explained to the leaders of the Settlement movement, the withdrawal of 5,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza was a strategic move aimed at undermining international pressure to remove settlers from the West Bank. But how could Sharon be sure it would play out in that way? Simple: instead of negotiating the withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority, he would insist that there was “no one to talk to” among Palestinians, and that therefore Israel would simply unilaterally withdraw, thereby assuring that Hamas, which had taken control of Gaza by eliminating the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, would then be in control of Gaza. Yes, from the standpoint of undermining international pressure on Israel to end the settlements, this was a brilliant cynical move. But it was the opposite of a move designed to bring peace. With Hamas in charge of Gaza, the rage of Palestinians would be given full expression, and then Israel could say, as it subsequently did, “see, we gave the Palestinians Gaza and all they did was to use it as a base to attack Israel.” A fuller discussion of this appears in my 2012 book Embracing Israel/Palestine. But the central point is this: Ariel Sharon was the father of the settlement movement, and his ideological and practical political moves were all about holding on to the West Bank as part of Israel. He was not a closet peacemaker, and the attempts in the media to portray him as such were nothing short of bizarre.


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Glory, Fame, and Ambition: the Custer Model

Jan29

by: on January 29th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

George Armstrong Custer. "The last thing we need in our homes, workplaces, and national leadership is a Custer," Kurth writes. Credit: Creative Commons/National Archives and Records Administration.

When I was a girl, my father called me a “glory-hound,” and I was embarrassed and indignant, probably because it was so true. Most writers, it seems, long for glory, fame, acknowledgement. Some of that is a human need to be seen and valued, an experience we all deserve. But lately, I’ve been seeing a very real danger in the obsessive pursuit of fame and even the pursuit of achievement.

What could be wrong with “following your dream” or “being all you can be?”

In a radio interview, a spiritual author writing a book about a religious icon, mentioned a key moment when she was allowed to see the icon. At that moment, her companion and guide, an elderly man, was so affected, he collapsed to the floor. Her reaction was something very close to, Oh, that’s all I need: a dead guide on my hands.

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t a spiritual quest draw us closer to others, make us sympathetic to their suffering and possible death? That moment is undoubtedly not typical of the writer’s attitude overall, but it made me certainly made me ponder ambition, my own and others’, and where it stands in the way of humanity. Where do we find ourselves seeing others and even their suffering as mere obstacles to our goals?

Custer: A Far Scarier Example

Soon after hearing the radio program, I watched a PBS feature on Custer, a horrible and disturbing story. My mind kept flipping back and forth between two visions. One was a popular picture of Custer in his time, glamorous Custer, a “gallant” triumphant competitor, a rule-breaker and risk-taker, adventurous, courageous, confident, dashing, a man who dressed with flare and had a passionate romance with an equally high-voltage woman, his wife, Libby. This, I thought, is the archetype of success in our culture, the fireworks person, the Steve Jobs, the important one who drives himself beyond human limits and achieves fame, power, and money – and makes us feel bad about ourselves.

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Pete Seeger: A Personal Remembrance

Jan28

by: on January 28th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger performs at the Clearwater Festival in 2007. Credit: Creative Commons/Anthony Pepitone.

I could scarcely believe my ears when staff members at Tikkun told me that Pete Seeger had just called to ask if he could perform at the first national Tikkun conference in New York City in 1988. I had raised my son on Seeger’s music, and had myself been moved by some of his radical songs. He was already a legend, and I was already a fan when I was in high school.

Seeger understood that the kind of Judaism we espoused was rooted in the universalist and prophetic tradition that had led so many Jews to become deeply involved in the movements for peace and social justice – not the chauvinist nationalism that was becoming dominant in large sections of the organized Jewish community – and he told me that he had followed my case in the 1970s when the Nixon White House had indicted me (at that time I was a professor of philosophy at the University of Washington) for organizing anti-war demonstrations. The trial was called “The Seattle Seven,” and eventually all charges were dropped after spending some time in federal penitentiary for “contempt of court” – a charge overturned by the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals court.

Seeger became a fan of Tikkun and a supporter of our activities, and his appearance at our conference was one of the highlights of the event. Even Jewish folksinger Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who also performed at that conference, told me he felt joy and awe at Seeger’s presence at the Tikkun conference.

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The Idiocy of The System: A Cultural Lens

Jan22

by: on January 22nd, 2014 | 4 Comments »

I used to love the original “Star Trek,” each episode a short course in cultural anthropology. The Enterprise traipsed through outer space, often stumbling across civilizations running on a distorted operating system that oppressed some inhabitants to benefit others. The distortions being colorfully different from our own, they were easy to spot. For instance, one planet made a holy book out of an account of Roaring Twenties organized crime, left behind by a prior visitor who’d transgressed the prime directive prohibiting cultural interventions that could influence the development of alien civilizations. In that episode, “A Piece of The Action,” the Iotian body politic was enslaved by mob bosses who used tommy guns to retain control of a terrified populace.

It’s official: we’re all living In Iotia now. In a just-released report entitled “Working for The Few,” Oxfam this week confirmed the colonization of Planet Earth by the forces of Midastan (named after the king whose lust for gold destroyed his life). The 85 wealthiest individuals now own as much as the 3.5 billion poorest (i.e., half of everyone), and little is being done to halt the occupation. A few highlights:


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Make Guantanamo, and All Torture, History (Update: Link to CNN Report of 11,000 Syrian Government Torture Victims)

Jan20

by: on January 20th, 2014 | Comments Off

Anti-torture activists at the White House fence. Credit: Creative Commons

On January 11th, the dedicated activists from Witness Against Torture broke new ground: they raised public consciousness about the Obama administration’s ongoing torture regime at the Guantanamo Bay military prison and other military prisons, not by holding signs in front of the White House, but by creating a “living exhibit” at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, an unauthorized demonstration where the activists donned the orange jump suits that the United States government forces upon human beings who have never been charged with a crime.

The video of this “living exhibit” demonstration is compelling. Hundreds of tourists of all stripes, who thought they were in for a day of absorbing the extraordinary exhibits on display at the American History Museum, got to witness an exhibit on the most important feature of America’s founding document: the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the right of free speech, free assembly, and the freedom to petition our government for the redress of grievances – of which protest against the torture of human beings must be paramount, if all the other rights are to have any meaning whatsoever.

The Youtube link to this moving, unauthorized, live-person exhibit of the First Amendment and basic human decency is down below. Thankfully, however, all those of us who are not able to see, or participate in, these crucial anti-torture demonstrations taking place in our nation’s capitol and around the country have another outlet to voice our support.

The organization Women Against Military Madness is sponsoring an anti-torture activist video contest called “Tackling Torture at the Top.” There are eight short videos that have been selected as the finalists, and members of the public are encouraged to cast their votes. The public voting will end on January 30th, and the winner will be announced on February 7th. Make sure to cast a vote.

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