If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
1. Court strikes blow at 8 Washington/your help needed for height limit initiative ASAP
2. Save tropical frogs - boycott palm oil
3. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources in Pacifica Jan 25
4. Mike Sullivan starts blog on San Francisco trees
5. Red-necked phalarope completes 16,000-mile intercontinental journey
6. Revival of biodiversity after destructive wildfires/air pollution poses fire risk in Sta Monica Mtns
7. Feedback: Jupiter, constellations, and celestial movements/immigration vis-a-vis racism
8. World’s biggest solar plant may pave way for smaller-scale renewable future
9. Action alert: Shed Light on Corporate Political Spending
10. Jewish parents in US begin to question the need for circumcision
11. Notes & Queries: At what point does a habit become an ism?
1. No Wall on the Waterfront
COURT DEALS MAJOR BLOW TO 8 WASHINGTON PROJECT, STRIKING DOWN LAND SWAP PLAN FOR CIRCUMVENTING ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
A judge has just ruled that the State Lands Commission acted illegally trying to evade environmental laws and approve the 8 Washington "wall on the waterfront" luxury condo project that was resoundingly rejected by San Francisco voters last November. This is a stinging rebuke to the San Francisco Port Commission and State Lands Commission's current policy of circumventing public review and environmental protections in order to advance mega-developments on San Francisco's waterfront.
It is also a major blow to developer Simon Snellgrove's effort since the election to ignore the will of the voters and proceed with some version of the 8 Washington project despite its overwhelming rejection by the people of San Francisco.
FINAL 10 DAYS UNTIL WATERFRONT HEIGHT LIMIT INITIATIVE PETITION DEADLINE - WE NEED YOUR HELP!
The Petition Drive to qualify the Waterfront Height Limit Right To Vote Act for the ballot is going incredibly well with voters responding enthusiastically to the petition to "Let the People Protect the Waterfront."
But time to qualify the measure for the June ballot is short with just 10 DAYS LEFT until the February 3rd deadline.
Here are three things you can do today to get the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act on the ballot:
1) VISIT the No Wall on the Waterfront office at 15 Columbus Avenue in North Beach to sign and pick up some petitions to circulate among your friends and neighbors. Office hours are Monday to Friday 10-6, Saturday & Sunday 12-4. The phone # is (415) 410-9588. Call or just come by!
2) SEND a contribution to support the petition drive and help pay for printing petitions, signs, and other things we need to get this on the ballot. Please mail your donation of any amount to No Wall on the Waterfront, P.O. Box 330476, San Francisco, CA 94133. Please include the name of your employer and your occupation with your donation. There are no contribution limits for this campaign.
3) JOIN us on Saturday, February 1st at 12:00 Noon at the No Wall on the Waterfront office at 15 Columbus Avenue for a FINAL PETITION PUSH RALLY featuring former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos.
2. Save Tropical Frogs: Boycott Palm Oil
Tropical rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands around the world are rapidly being destroyed to grow oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), which produces a vegetable oil high in saturated fats, commonly known as palm oil. In recent decades, palm oil has become a common ingredient in candy, peanut butter, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair sprays, cosmetics, cooking oil, ramen noodles and other supermarket products, as well as biofuel. Approximately 85% of the world's palm oil comes from non-certified sources that have few environmental or social safeguards.
SAVE THE FROGS! recommends that you DO NOT BUY PRODUCTS WITH PALM! Please look at the ingredient list of products you are considering buying, and if it says palm, buy another brand! Through awareness we can reduce the demand for palm oil. SAVE THE FROGS! has teamed up with Generation Awakening and we have begun writing CEO's of large companies to ask them to remove palm oil from their products. We will keep you updated as to our results and may be asking your support in sending in letters to the corporations should they be unwilling to move in a more environmentally friendly direction. Learn more about palm oil on our brand new webpage:
Palm oil plantation photo courtesy Glenn Hurowitz
The problems with palm oil
The palm oil industry is directly responsible for:
(1) the destruction of critical wildlife habitat in some of the world's most biodiverse areas;
(2) heavy pesticide use and release of toxic chemicals as effluent from palm mills;
(3) the release of huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning and clearing of carbon-rich peatlands and rainforests, contributing to global warming;
(4) erosion, which clogs streams and facilitates landslides;
(5) an increase in saturated fats in the human diet;
(6) the displacement of indigenous people;
(7) the use of child and forced labor;
(8) direct killing of wildlife by plantation owners who view animals that eat palm fruit as pests;
(9) an increase in fossil fuel use as domestic sources of vegetable oil in the west are replaced with palm sourced from the other side of the planet.
This is a clearing in Riau, Indonesia; photo courtesy of Aldenenvironment
Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources in Pacifica
There is going to be a program based on the Amah Mutsun Ohlone given on Saturday the 25th of January at 3:00pm at the San Pedro Valley County Park Visitor Center, 600 Oddstad Boulevard, Pacifica, 94044.
Called Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. The program features Dr. M. Kat Anderson, national ethnoecologist of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation service, and Mr. Val Lopez, chairman of the tribal council of the Amah Mutsun Ohlone. It will be a comprehensive study on how they managed the land for their food and survival.
This program is provided by The Friends of San Pedro Valley and there is no charge for admission.
Hi Jake - I recently started a blog on San Francisco trees at www.sftrees.com. I'll be posting from time to time on various topics of interest to SF tree lovers. Just did a post this week on the fantastic palm garden at Project Artaud in the Mission, for example. Could you share with your readers?
Thanks - Mike Sullivan
In praise of … the red-necked phalarope
One male red-neck has returned to Shetland after a 16,000-mile migration that took it to Peru, via Greenland and the Caribbean
When considering birds, it might seem more natural for the Guardian to celebrate the grey phalarope not its smaller red-necked cousin. That's because the grey, although even less common here than the red-neck, has the distinction of being what the Collins Bird Guide calls "a role-reversed breeder". This means that it's the female greys who take the initiative in courting and mating and that, once the eggs are laid, it's the males who incubate and care for the young, while females go searching for new mates. But the red-neck's achievement, announced this week, of notching the longest ever migration journey for a European breeding bird is more remarkable still. With an RSPB tracking device on its leg, one male red-neck has returned to the Shetland island of Fetlar after a 16,000-mile migration that took it to Peru, via Greenland and the Caribbean. It's the sort of thing that may even give migration a good name, not to mention red-necks
6. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics
Nature's silver lining: Revival of biodiversity after destructive wildfires – Prairie Dog Press
Cinder-dry conditions fueled by warming temperatures are expected to increase wildfires in quantity and intensity every season across most of the US, with the last two years seeing particularly destructive fires. The initial toll on structures, humans and wildlife is always severe and costly, but environmentalists see an ecological benefit in the renewal of a charred forest habitat.
Study: Air Pollution Poses Fire Risk in Santa Monica Mountains – patch.com
The first year of a three-year study by the U.S. Forest Service and University of California, Riverside, findings showed that air pollution harmed native plants in the eastern end of the mountains, fostering growth of non-native grasses. Those grasses are also known as “flashy fuels” because they have been linked to larger, more frequent fires.
On Jan 21, 2014, at 4:35 PM, Doug Allshouse wrote:
The moon's movement across the sky really fascinates me, especially given its appearance in the morning, then in late afternoon. That's when we see it on either side of our daylight rotation. Saturday night my wife and I were returning home from our son's house and the moon was in the eastern sky with its right half illuminated by the sun. Sunday morning it was firmly in the western sky with its left half shining bright. I'll bet if I had looked at it about 2AM the bottom half would have been illuminated.
When a half moon is visible in the afternoon, I have noticed that the position of the sun relative to the angle of the half moon is lower than I would expect. That is, the straight edge where light meets dark on the moon, makes it look like the sun should higher in the sky than it actually is. I attribute that to the moon being farther out from my Earthly position to the sun thereby creating a 3D triangle. Of course, it's difficult to look at the sun too long. It's hard to explain so I hope you understand my explanation.
Uh, I don’t, Doug. That may be my fault; translating words into thoughts from another mind is sometimes difficult.
I wonder if I understand you when you talk about the Moon on Saturday night and the Moon on Sunday morning. The Moon-Sun relationship hasn’t changed much in that time, so you would still see almost the same amount and place of light on the Moon.
It’s fun to try to figure these things out. But I find trying to think in three dimensions difficult. When I see Jupiter moving in a certain direction, I try to think of the Earth moving faster in its orbit than Jupiter, and how that would affect where Jupiter is vis-a-vis the starry background. Not easy. In fact, I haven’t been able to do it. I can draw an accurate diagram, but when I look at the sky I lose it.
It is a difficult way to explain the phenomenon. I think of it this way. I know that the moon doesn't move much in 12 hours, just 1/56 of its 28-day journey around us. So the key factor is the Earth's rotation from sundown to sunrise and the moon moves east to west during that time. Our position changes 180 degrees during that time but the moon's doesn't (much).
Imagine looking at the Earth from a vantage point between the sun and earth where the planet is in full sunlight. At sunset we are on the right side of the planet and at sunrise we appear on the left, given the earth's counter-clockwise rotation. So we see the moon at sundown on one side of Earth's rotation and on the other side at sunrise. The illuminated side of the moon doesn't change in relation to the sun but it appears to change. If you face east after sunset the moon is in front of you and the sun is behind you. At dawn the next morning facing east the sun is in front of you and the moon behind so the opposite side of the half-disc appears to be illuminated.
An aside: When the moon is a thin crescent I have seen the crescent facing straight down at the ocean after sunset. That's before the equinox.
On Jan 21, 2014, at 2:31 PM, Pete Klosterman wrote:
Jake, I don't want to start a fight, just a couple of points. Certainly not all who are concerned about immigration are intolerant, nasty, and / or racist, but you must admit that there is a correlation, in that it's very likely that those "natives" who are indeed intolerant, nasty, and / or racist are very likely to oppose immigration on that basis. The statement that immigration is a "threat to national identity" does not necessarily hold for the US, California in particular, a nation and a state consisting entirely of immigrants - even the first people who settled here, called Indians by early Europeans, with various forms of self-identification, originally came from Asia. I would argue that tolerance of and respect for immigrants, when those sentiments exist, are among the best characteristics of the US and California and should be considered part of our "national identity”.
Pete: In this newsletter we don’t fight, we discuss--or maybe only listen and acknowledge.
For the sake of clarity, the letter writer is European, and he was referring to the European situation, which is different from ours. But we need a more nuanced view in this country, too, and some of these remarks can apply here. What it comes down to is: population is a deeply serious problem, immigration is a subset of it, but there is a conspiracy of silence about both that I would like to breach.
As to racism: Of course there are powerful racist elements in many immigration opponents. That is a given, both in this country and in Europe. You state "you must admit that there is a correlation, in that it's very likely that those "natives" who are indeed intolerant, nasty, and / or racist are very likely to oppose immigration on that basis”. I’ve tried to parse that sentence to find what you’re saying, but I gave up, as the syntax is too tangled for me to tease out.
There are other reasons than racism, which the letter writer made clear, and those reasons need to be acknowledged and responded to. Thinking, at least in this country, is too black and white, and I want to open its complexities.
And, btw, I agree with your last sentence. I’m talking numbers, not how we treat them. Of course they should be treated with respect. The question is how many should we allow in?
On Jan 21, 2014, at 4:41 PM, Frank Noto wrote:
Jake - I know you probably won't publish this, but perhaps education one person at a time is helpful, too. You advocate for the sentiments pushed by a letter writer who says:
"Hostility towards mass immigration arises not just from fears of economic “progress”, but from instructive experiences of cultural incompatibility, social disadvantage, imported crime and terrorism and an uninvited threat to national identity. To brush aside such considerations as trivial, intolerant, nostalgic, racist, nasty and even Nazi exposes a faulty and counter-productive analysis, itself blinkered by global-growth criteria.
Perhaps there is a problem of definition here. How do YOU and the letter writer define intolerance, xenophobia and racism? Opposition to immigration because of "cultural incompatibility" implies that the author objects to the culture of the immigrant to his country. As to complaints about the "threat to national identity," most of us think that is the essence of xenophobia (or racism in some cases). Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign."
For discussion of the connections between xenophobia and racism: "Xenophobia and racism often overlap, but are distinct phenomena. Whereas racism usually entails distinction based on physical characteristic differences, such as skin colour, hair type, facial features, etc, xenophobia implies behaviour based on the idea that the other is foreign ...
"... it is often difficult to differentiate between racism and xenophobia as motivations for behaviour. At the same time, expression of xenophobia may occur against people of identical physical characteristics ...
"In the 90s, xenophobic outbursts were followed by an increase in acts of racist violence in several societies in the world. This rise of xenophobia can be distinguished from the old form of racism leading to Nazism and Fascism in terms of its ideological roots and causes. Accordingly, it is possible to talk about a 'new racism' that developed in the post-war era since racism no longer was based on biological but rather on cultural differences."
Why wouldn’t I publish this, Frank? I often post opinions different from mine. Open discussion is healthy, as long as the conversation is respectful.
The problem does not stem from definition; the letter writer made clear what his concerns were. If all you see in his statements is racism, that is something you read into it. Read it again, carefully; it is well thought out, carefully worded, and complex--as life is. He packs a lot into two sentences.
We humans have a propensity for projecting our own thoughts and motivations onto others. I am becoming expert at detecting it, as I do it all the time. I have of recent years been getting better at spotting and curbing it, but it’s always there. That’s why we misunderstand each other, attributing thoughts and feelings to those who may be innocent. It is a major reason why we have strife, wars, and general unhappiness, regardless of what economists, politicians, and assorted pundits and pooh-bahs tell you.
The LTE writer is taking The Economist to task when he refers to economic “progress”. That journal sees the world mostly through economic/business eyes, one of my discontents with it. It (and perhaps you) readily sweeps aside “experiences of cultural incompatibility, social disadvantage, imported crime and terrorism and an uninvited threat to national identity”. I hope you won’t deny those concerns; you wouldn’t if you were in Europe. (To a lesser extent it can apply here, too.) You may, as some do, read concerns about national identity as racism. I don’t; it is a nuance that needs paying attention to. Name any European country; they all have distinct personalities, language, race, tradition that are worth saving; I would hate to see them disappear into an indistinct stew. If I were in Holland or Hungary, or wherever, I would want to keep that identity. That is not racism. The wish to retain one’s identity is very human. Some may not appreciate this, but voters understand it very well.* (There is plenty of racism in Europe; I didn’t mean to imply there isn’t.)
The United States is different in that regard, and that argument is less applicable here. But even here we find weariness--disapproval, even--of multiculturalism. That may obscure various motivations, and that may be a reason for discomfort and suspicion--on the part of both promoters of and detractors from multiculturalism. I am a student of history, and I look beyond immediate events and trends. A soft heart is an asset, but it needs to be guided by a hard head. I don’t see a lot of thinking happening in this country, only political pressures blowing this way and that. The country is deeply dysfunctional.
Although it is not germane, since you asked how I would define xenophobe, here it is: the term means fear of foreigners. I don’t fear them. The term racism implies a view that some races are in some way inferior or lacking in ability. On the face of it, that is absurd, and foreign to anyone experienced in the world. It is the same illogical idea that underpins discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. It is unfair, cruel, hypocritical, and self-defeating.
I reiterate the basis of my views, and why I stick my neck out on this issue: population, the sheer number of people on a planet that can’t support us at the scale we would like--or, possibly, won’t support us at all. That is my bottom line, and I will not budge. For some reason we are unable to talk about it. We will regret that reluctance. Overpopulation has had severe negative effects already, but nothing to what I see coming down the tubes. Everything I hold of value in life is being destroyed by too many humans--compounded by the fact that a huge number of them have more money than they can sensibly spend. Excessive numbers and wasteful consumption is causing degradation of the environment, species extinction, and quality of life. You may reply that immigration is only a small part of the problem, and I would agree. But it is one of the few places where I can act, and we have to start somewhere.
It is troublesome that an issue of such importance is one we’re not able to talk about. Such a discussion, free from polarized thinking, would be healthy. I like my newsletter to talk about issues and to discuss them freely.
* (And, btw, have you ever noticed that the countries settled by and descended from England [U.S., Canada, NZ, Australia, S Africa] are the ones most concerned about racism. Do you hear about it in, say, Japan, China, Afghanistan, Ethiopia? Not much. Think about it.)
World's biggest solar plant may pave way for smaller-scale renewable future
Vast desert solar farms helping to meet energy targets but environment and wildlife campaigners raise concerns
Lenny Bernstein for the Washington Post
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 21 January 2014 09.18 EST
BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. Photograph: Isaac Brekken/Washington Post
Tower One glows so bright against the blue sky that even at mid-afternoon in the Mojave Desert it would be easy to conclude it is designed to illuminate the valley floor below.
In fact, hundreds of thousands of glittering mirrors, carefully arranged across a swath of desert, reflect sunlight on to the tower and two others like it, heating them to 538C and causing the glow. Water in pipes atop the towers turns to steam. The steam spins turbines to generate electricity.
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will send that power across California, the Golden State, early this year, becoming the largest solar plant in the world to concentrate the sun's rays to produce electricity. Such utility-sized solar plants are beginning to appear across the US, with 232 under construction, in testing or granted permits, many in the south-west and California, says the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities. The scale of the largest plants is difficult to imagine in the eastern part of the country, where a relative lack of available open land and unobstructed sunlight have limited solar facilities to perhaps a tenth the size of the West's plants. In the west, ample sun, wide-open spaces, financial incentives, falling costs and state mandates have made big solar plants possible.
"Right now you're seeing the gold rush of renewable [energy] projects coming on line," said Fong Wan, senior vice-president for energy procurement at Pacific Gas and Electric, the big northern California utility that has bought about two-thirds of the electricity the Ivanpah plant will produce.
But even as the largest plants are helping utilities meet state requirements for renewable energy, the appetite for them may be waning, say experts. The next phase of solar development – especially in the east – may feature smaller projects located closer to cities. Environmental groups want regulators to look at sites such as landfills and industrial zones before allowing construction in largely undisturbed environments such as deserts.
"Part of the beauty is that solar is scalable, literally from the back of a cellphone all the way to a million panels in the desert," said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "The market is still trying to determine what is the optimal size." The very largest plants, like BrightSource Energy's $2.5bn Ivanpah system and the Topaz Solar Farm, which will produce current with 9m photovoltaic panels, can generate as much electricity as a coal- or natural-gas-fired power plant.
But there is still a long way to go. In 2012, coal and natural gas plants produced 37 % and 30% of US electricity, respectively, according to the US Energy Information Administration, while wind generated 3.5% and solar just 0.1%.
And the road to big solar energy's development has been difficult. Lawsuits against the large plants accuse developers and the federal government of spoiling the fragile desert environment and the habitats of wildlife there. On 13 December, the California energy commission tentatively refused to permit another BrightSource project because of its concerns that super-heated plumes of air from the towers and mirrors might harm birds. A small number of singed dead birds have turned up at Ivanpah, according to media reports.
Ivanpah is a "concentrating solar" thermal plant. The better-known variety – like the flat solar panels on homes – convert sunlight directly into electricity via photovoltaic cells. The price of those panels has dropped so low that those plants are much cheaper to build than facilities that use the sun's heat to turn water to steam. Thermal plants like Ivanpah have advantages – they are more reliable – but their futures may depend on finding some way to store heat so power is available whenever needed.
"The benefit of a thermal solar plant like Ivanpah is it's not subject to the wild swings in production that a [photovoltaic] plant is," said Randy Hickok, senior vice-president of NRG Solar, which holds a majority stake in the project. Another major investor is Google.
Environmental groups, for their part, have sometimes found themselves in the awkward position of choosing between their dual goals of protecting desert species and promoting clean, renewable energy.
The powerful Sierra Club, for example, chose not to side with other, smaller groups that sued the interior department and its bureau of land management to block Ivanpah over the damage they said it would do to the threatened desert tortoise's habitat on federal land. The Sierra Club was not happy about Ivanpah's impact, but it took no position, said Bruce Nilles, director of its Beyond Coal campaign.
"I think they were very misguided," said Michael Connor, California director of the Western Watersheds Project, which lost a bid to halt Ivanpah in federal court but has appealed the decision. "It's all about 'we've got to do something, we've got to get something going here' .. instead of working out strategies [and] alternatives." Ivanpah is undergoing testing, its three 46-storey towers rising out of the vast desert like Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo Hotel in nearby Las Vegas did almost 70 years ago. Motorists regularly pull off interstate 15 at the California-Nevada border to get a better look at the arrays of mirrors on 1,416 hectares around the three towers, and to ask: what exactly is going on here?
The boom was set in motion in 2002, when California told its big electric utilities they would have to generate 20% of the state's electricity from renewable sources such as sun and wind by 2010. In 2011, the state toughened its "renewable portfolio standard" to 33% by 2020. (Thirty states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia have adopted such requirements. Virginia is among a handful of states that have set "goals" for the use of renewable energy.)
Companies began proposing to build large plants, many of them on federal land in California's sparsely populated deserts. In 2008 they were aided by the eight-year extension of a federal investment tax credit available for renewable energy projects and later by energy department loan guarantees and incentives in the federal economic stimulus package. BrightSource received a $1.6bn loan guarantee that was critical to the project, according to Joseph Desmond, senior vice-president for marketing.
The result is the growth in solar power that is plainly visible in parts of the state as well as in Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere. Pacific Gas and Electric, for example, will provide about 11% of its power from solar by 2020, up from zero a decade earlier, Wan said.
In the early days of the rush, the bureau of land management reviewed plant proposals on an ad hoc basis as developers brought them forward. That resulted in some siting decisions, including Ivanpah's, that environmentalists and conservationists have criticised. In 2012, the agency created 17 solar zones covering 115,000 hectares of federal land in six south-western states, an attempt to steer projects toward areas where environmental review showed the least damage would be done. There are now 19 zones and more than 121,000 hectares of federal land in the programme, according to BLM officials.
Some of the 173,500 sets of paired mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. The mirrors reflect sunlight on to towers that hold water. The heat from the sunlight turns the water into steam used to spin turbines that produce electricity. Photograph: Isaac Brekken/Washington Post
"We are in a lot better place," said the Sierra Club's Nilles. "There's a more orderly process in place."
At the Ivanpah plant, an initial survey showed that construction would displace only a small number of desert tortoises, but as work began it became clear that many more were living there. The company has spent $56m to build fences and raise tortoises in its "Head Start" pen, where 55 have been born in captivity and will be fitted with devices that allow biologists to follow them when they are returned to the desert. Though two hatchlings were lost to fire ants, Desmond said that the ancient species' survival rate is much higher under BrightSource's care than it is in the wild. Responded Connor: "That's like arguing it's OK to pave the desert over because we can move all the animals to a zoo."
To mitigate its impact, Ivanpah's owners spent $11.4m to purchase and manage 2,800 hectares of habitat for tortoises and other wildlife in other parts of the state.
There is little argument that the project has brought advanced technology to an area of rock and scrub that is home to a golf course, three casinos, some fast-food restaurants and a few stores. Computers guide 173,500 sets of paired mirrors, or "heliostats", so they can follow the sun for as long as possible each day and generate the maximum amount of heat on the boiler tubes. Eventually, Ivanpah will supply electricity to 140,000 homes.
Robotic devices, controlled by a single person, traverse the rows of heliostats, cleaning the mirrors every couple of months, usually at night, Desmond said. BrightSource, which created the machines, won't show them publicly.
The plant uses air to cool the water that flows through the boiler tubes. As a result, Desmond said, Ivanpah's annual water use is the same as just two holes of the nearby golf course.
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post
(Two holes of a desert golf course, where temperatures average >100 degrees in summer? That's a lot of water. Further, I'll bet they're lying.)
9. ACTION ALERT - Help Amplify the Demand for Transparency in Policy Making
Don't let special interests inappropriately influence public policy and pollute the national dialogue on scientific issues like climate change and energy production—write the Securities Exchange Commission today.
Take Action Today!
Shed Light on Corporate Political Spending
Today marks exactly four years of allowing an unlimited volume of corporate money to flood the U.S. policy-making process, courtesy of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In just four years we've seen an unprecedented amount of dollars inundate our political process and an inability to follow who is actually steering conversations on the policies that deeply impact our health, safety, and environment. And our recent study on corporations' ability to obstruct climate action through their trade and business associations—with no disclosure and accountability—is a perfect case-in-point.
The public deserves to know who is influencing policies that affect our wellbeing. The proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule is an essential step to do just that.
Tell the SEC to shed light on corporate political spending and pass this rule.
By requiring publicly traded companies to disclose more about their political spending, including their support for trade and business associations, this rule would allow for greater knowledge on how these corporate dollars are being spent.
It would only be fitting that, on this anniversary day, the SEC hear from thousands of concerned citizens, scientists, and investors, who demand greater transparency. Help push back against special interests' efforts to inappropriately influence public policy and delay action on protecting our public health and environment—email the SEC in support of the rule today.
(JS: It was only a few decades ago that I first heard of circumcision, and I was horrified at the thought. How unnecessary and silly, I thought. I am glad that the question is being raised.)
Jewish parents in US begin to question the need for circumcision
Growing numbers make changes to ceremony that takes place on eighth day of boys' lives and is one of Judaism's oldest rituals
Guardian Weekly, Friday 17 January 2014 05.00 EST
Some liberal Jews are having second thoughts about circumcising their sons. Photograph: P Deliss/Godong/Corbis
When his pregnant wife first challenged circumcising their son, Mike Wallach had a gut reaction: "That's what we do, we're Jews!" But doubts about whether the surgery was medically necessary and concern over his wife's opposition forced Wallach to confront some questions.
Can you be Jewish without Judaism's oldest ritual? he wondered. What does it mean to be Jewish?
Speaking with God, the 37-year-old screenwriter and grandson of Holocaust survivors explained he was using the "free will and brain you gave me" to reject circumcision. God, he concluded, wouldn't be impressed by the desire to do something simply "for tradition's sake".
"I wasn't at peace until I had that conversation," said Wallach, who grew up in Washington and now lives in Brooklyn.
Wallach is among a small but growing number of Jews who are slowly altering what has for millennia been considered perhaps Judaism's core rite. The Bible says an adult Abraham circumcised himself to mark the covenant between him and his descendants and God. Any male who doesn't circumcise, God says in Genesis, "that soul will be cut off from its people; he has broken My covenant".
Many of these Jews, according to rabbis and the ritual circumcisers known as mohels, are rejecting the classic festive circumcision ceremony, called a brit milah, or bris. For thousands of years, Jews have performed the ritual removal of the penile foreskin on the eighth day of a boy's life, sometimes at the cost of death during periods of antisemitism.
A very small percentage, including Wallach, are not circumcising at all. Others, uncomfortable with the joyous, public ceremony around an intimate surgical procedure, are circumcising their sons in the hospital and crafting new baby-welcoming ceremonies days or weeks later for family and friends. Some are having no public service at all.
Meanwhile, there is an unprecedented level of debate among friends, grandparents and couples about whether to circumcise and how. Given that the topic merges sex, religion, identity, culture, gender equity, health politics and antisemitism, such discussions can grow intense or acrimonious.
"What's a nice word for the Bermuda Triangle?" said Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Washington's largest community of 20- and 30-something Jews. "Circumcision is at the nexus of everything that it means to be Jewish ... It's primal. It's deeper than anything we can understand rationally."
Sixth & I gets so many questions about circumcision from younger Jews that it will hold a class in early 2014, Stutman said. While the vast majority of Jews decide to circumcise, she said, "the days of being 100% sure and not even thinking about it are done". Stutman opted for a private ceremony when her son was born.
Several factors are fuelling the trend, including growing secular discomfort with the practice, mixed data on medical necessity and an American culture increasingly open to reinterpreting religious practices. The percentage of circumcision procedures among the general population is also dropping.
American Jews, on the whole, are now more immersed in secular culture and thus more apt to look askance at the idea of a tribal scarification ceremony. High education levels and a natural aesthetic are also prompting questioning among younger Jews.
"Because the American Jewish community is significantly educated, they're more likely to do organic and wanting everything to be natural, and a bris is sort of primal and ancient," said Julie Pelc Adler, director of the circumcision programme for Reform Judaism, the largest US denomination of Jews. "It's really different than the aesthetic of, 'Oh, let's bring this perfect new baby and swaddle him in perfection.' It's looking at this perfect baby and saying, 'He's not perfect, we need to do this one thing.'"
Ben Rempell, 35, didn't consider himself particularly religious. So the USAid employee was surprised at the force of his reaction in November 2009, when one morning his then-pregnant wife, Danielle Rudstein Rempell, lobbed this question: "Isn't circumcision another form of genital mutilation?"
Rempell remembers "giving her a disgusted look" and becoming defensive and angry. He became more so when she raised the question with their weekly Sunday dinner group.
He began to struggle with it on his own, unsure why the rite was so important to him given that he was not a particularly observant Jew.
Ultimately, he discovered, his motivation was more tribal.
"It wasn't a Jewish thing, it was an identity thing, envisioning growing up and he sees me and I see him and he asks why he's different. A child's identity is their family," he said.
But isn't Jewishness part of your identity?
"It had to have something to do with Judaism. That's what we do. That's what I am," said Rempell, who now lives with his family in Honduras.
His secular-but-tribal argument for a son "who looks like his father" convinced his wife. They now have two sons, both circumcised – but with no ceremony.
Not all couples get on the same page. Several couples interviewed didn't want their names used, either because their disagreement was so intense and they wanted to put the issue in the past or because they were expecting and didn't want family and friends to be drawn into their private debate. They tell similar stories of angrily emailing American Academy of Pediatrics studies, painful conversations challenging each other's concepts of Judaism and even circumcisions ending in tears and fights.
Four statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the largest US body of children's doctors, have wavered back and forth a bit since 1979. Most recently, in 2012, the group said benefits outweigh potential risks but not enough to recommend circumcision routinely. Organisations that have done the most extensive polling on US Jews say there is no data on circumcision rates.
Binyamin Biber, a rabbi of the small movement called Secular Humanistic Judaism, is perhaps the only rabbi in the Washington area who advertises his willingness to bless a welcoming ceremony for a boy who is uncircumcised. Requests for his services are small but growing, from one or two each year in the past to four or five a year now.
He sees questions about circumcision as a natural product of a time when more and more families are interfaith and parents aren't sure about a ritual once rooted in special treatment for boys. The liturgy he uses doesn't mention God and emphasises bringing the child into a "human covenant for a better world".
"We live in a more cosmopolitan world and Jewish families have become very intercultural," said Biber. "For those families, a ceremony which regards Jewish males as privileged seems problematic, to put it mildly."
Rabbis who are engaging Jews' questions about circumcision are asking people to think about the ritual in a different way. "We do all sorts of things that hurt our children that help them for the greater good. We vaccinate them, we ground them, we take away their devices," Stutman told a wide-eyed class of adults converting to Judaism one recent night as she ran through the circumcision curriculum.
Several people in the class at Sixth & I gasped when she explained that even when circumcised men convert, they give a few drops of blood from the penis to represent their commitment. "Remember we are an earthy people! We don't pretend we don't have bodies!"
Adler said the circumcision issue is just part of a world of questions about bringing Jewish ritual and law into a new era. She fields questions, for example, about whether the male child of a lesbian couple whose birth mother is not Jewish – but whose other mother is – would be considered Jewish, or would the child need a conversion component of his circumcision ceremony.
Judaism generally was passed to children through their biological mothers. But in recent decades more liberal Jewish denominations have been recognising biological fathers as well.
When it comes to religious evolution, she asks, "where is the line? At what point is it no longer Judaism? Each choice distinguishes Jews, and it's a slippery slope."
This article appeared in the Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post
11. Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly
Too little thought involved
At what point does a habit become an ism?
It already is. A habit is something you do without thinking; an ism is something you think without thinking.
Tony Mount, Nakara, Northern Territory, Australia
• When some behaviours that may have been chosen for good reasons become part of a doctrine with rules and rigidity as well as sanctions for those who do not conform.
Margaret Wilkes, Perth, Western Australia
• At the point of the nun's wimple.
Jennifer Horat, Lengwil, Switzerland
• When a psychiatrist seeks fame (and fortune).
Philip Stigger, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
• When it is politically incorrect, as in sexism.
Ted Webber, Buderim, Queensland, Australia
• It is a truism that a habit becomes an ism.
Avril Taylor, Dundas, Ontario, Canada
How is America exceptional other than that it thinks it is exceptional?
Reiner Jaakson, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Where exactly is the middle of nowhere?
Donna Samoyloff, Toronto, Canada