Thursday, December 3, 2009

“Eating Animals” author Jonathan Safran Foer takes a stand for ethical eating

Originally featured on JTA's Capital J blog:

Award-winning author Jonathan Safran Foer took the stage at 6th & I Synagogue in Washington, DC Tuesday night to discuss his latest book and first work of non-fiction, Eating Animals.

The book addresses the ethics of animal agriculture and the mainstream American diet from a personal and often emotional perspective. A vegetarian since childhood, Foer discussed the morality of eating meat prepared by what many consider a warped and environmentally destructive system.

Foer often relies on his Jewish upbringing to articulate how tradition and family enter the equation (his grandmother, who is the subject the book’s first chapter, was even sitting in the audience). Despite the book’s strong narrative elements and the author’s background in fiction, Foer adamantly stressed that “as far as nonfiction goes, this is very nonfictional.”

In classic Jewish fashion, the event was kicked off by Foer‘s unmistakably proud mother, Esther Safran Foer. But it wasn’t just a chance for her to kvell; the elder Foer serves as the executive director of 6th & I, a synagogue that has gained cross-cultural appeal by holding a wide range of events in its sanctuary, including rock concerts, comedy tours and of course, book talks.

“I knew Jonathan before he was a reader and before he was a writer,” she said to two floors of jam-packed pews. “I even knew him when he was a vegetarian for the very first time at 9. And as many of you know, I’m his mother, so I can say these things.”

Foer was then introduced by Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, blogger and Foer admirer. Sullivan cited his esteem for Eating Animals, noting that the book had touched upon concerns with which he himself grappled.

“To see what is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle,” Sullivan admitted before ceding the stage to Foer amid loud applause.

Despite the touchy nature of his chosen subject, Foer laid off the sermonizing. The issue of ethical eating is best broached “not by a lecture, not by a reading and certainly not by an argument.” Rather, Foer spent his hour and change at the podium by taking questions from what seemed to be a veggie-friendly audience.

Though he did not advocate vegetarianism (“We don’t have to become vegetarians . . . [that] implies that we have to do everything or nothing.”), Foer emphatically emphasized the necessity of reforming the meat industry and consumer awareness. Knowing where your meat comes from, said Foer, is essential.

In addition to citing the prevalence of animal cruelty, Foer noted that according to recently released figures by a World Bank affiliated magazine World Watch, animal food production is responsible for about 51% of all Greenhouse Gas emissions.

One question addressed the place of hunting in the ethical eating debate, highlighting the argument that hunters are closer to their food source and therefore present an ethical alternative to buying store bought meat.

Foer dismissed this assertion, saying “I don’t think that’s why people hunt.” He stressed that people who choose to hunt are not hunting to eat – they eat what they hunt, an important distinction.

“These are people who I’m sure have access to supermarkets . . . it thrills them to kill things,” said Foer. “Any other explanation is disingenuous, it’s not true.”

The mood took a more lighthearted turn when Foer was asked his thoughts on where Judaism stands on hunting. To this, he responded, “Jews don’t recoil from hunting for ethical reasons, but more that, like, it’s feh.”

The loud guffaws heard across the sanctuary suggested this was an audience familiar with the Yiddish exclamation.

Whether or not audience members were convinced by Foer’s argument, it seemed as though he had given them food for thought. Regardless of their opinion of Eating Animals, Foer asked them to “act on [their] values, even when it’s not convenient, when it’s more expensive, when it’s socially awkward.”

The event, which was co-sponsored by 6th & I and local DC independent bookstore Politics & Prose, concluded with a book signing and light vegetarian desserts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is the Jewish Fetish a Two-Way Street?

Originally featured on Plight of the Pumpernickel.

Stop the presses! The hot Jewish girl is the new Catholic schoolgirl.

My personal Jewish network has been all a'twitter (pun intended) over an article published in Details Magazine's December issue titled "The Rise of the Hot Jewish Girl: Why American men are lusting after women of the tribe."

While tasty Jewish girls have been on the scene for quite a while now (Natalie Portman, anyone?), this article is the first I've seen which suggests that the quest for a Star of David clad sexpot isn't just limited to nice Jewish boys from Long Island.

According to Details, desire for the JILF (Jew I'd Like to F*ck) is more widespread than ever. Hell, apparently 'frum porn' is even a thing, boasting a devout non-Jewish following. And don't think it isn't lost on me that the article in question was written by one Mr. CHRIST-opher Noxon.

While the existence of Jewish-themed pornography disturbs me on a deep emotional level (bagels are for eating!), it does bring up an interesting question. Could the gentile attraction to girls of the hot and Jewish variety be due to its inverse? Do Jewish girls have a fetish for goyishe boys?

Of course, this question stems from personal experience. Despite my best efforts to date Jews, as chronicled in my piece for Washington Jewish Week, nearly every one of my major emotional relationships have been with shaygitzes. Much to my mother's dismay, I assure you.

What is that? My Judaism is extremely important to me and plays perhaps an intimidatingly large role in my life, both personally and professionally. I agree with Jewish community leaders who warn that intermarriage is an alarming and problematic trend. Why then can't I just settle down with a Jew?

Perhaps it's the thrill of going after something I'm not supposed to go after. Maybe Jews seem too familiar and unexciting. Maybe I have a thing for that Anglo look. It's probably a combination of the three.

Or, as Details would have us believe, those non-Jews have just been going after me especially. It's their fault, Ma.

Those Jewish boys had better step up their game; there's a lot of competition for us Jewish girls these days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Training Tuesday with the DFA: The Big Scary Budget

Every political campaign and organization must spend money to maintain serious levels of activity. Increasingly, campaigns must raise significant amounts of money to become and remain competitive. Although we can protest the growing costs of campaigning, the reality for any campaign is that without these funds, there can be no staff, no office, no phones, no computers, no signs, no media coverage - no campaign.
-From the Democracy for America Campaign Academy Training Manual
Consider the list of things you need to run a campaign. The quote above touched on some of them. From a birds eye view, a full campaign budget is alike to a vast stretch of canyons, almost too much to take in at once. In these videos, Selene Hoffer-Shall will share some insight on how to break the budget down, how to make it manageable, and how to meet the goals. Selene's advice comes from experience:
A former crisis counselor, Selene joined the Dean for America Operations Team in 2003, helping to compile the largest FEC reports in Presidential Campaign History. Selene was one of the 12 original staffers of Democracy for America working as the assistant to the Finance Director. She left DFA to become Finance Director for Peter Welch in his successful race for Congress in a race where she broke all previous fundraising records for the district. Following the 2006 election, Selene worked in San Antonio, TX as the Finance Director for Ciro Rodriguez in the TX-23 run-off election, raising over $600,000 in less than three weeks to successfully oust an 7-term Republican incumbent. Selene currently works as freelance finance consultant.
We join the training just after the group compiled an enormous list of what you need to run a campaign. In this first video, the group takes a large weight off the back of campaign finance directors by establishing what things can be donated:

After you have built the list of thins you can get contributed, you are, sadly, still left with a lot of money to raise. You will need a plan to raise this money, and no, you cannot rely on your opponent to make a fool of himself and raise you one million dollars. But there are tested strategies at your disposal to raise funds. In this next video, Selene breaks down some metrics for us:

So now you have your big scary list of things you need, and you have a reasonable basis to understand the tactics you are going to use to get all this stuff. Now it is time to set your benchmarks:

With benchmarks in front of you, this next video will go over meeting your first month goal:

That is all for today. Next week we will have round two of The Big Scary Budget, where Selene will talk about your campaign's three budgets, the importance of the Union Bug, and more! So check back next Tuesday at 6:00pm (Eastern Standard Time) or sign up to receive email alerts from Sum of Change.

Monday, November 30, 2009

MUSIC MONDAY: Hugh Masekela- A Brief History

Hugh Masekela’s career has been going strong for nearly 50 years, so it is hard to talk about him in such a small format. The South African trumpeter and flugelhornist (yes, the instrument does exist) has traveled the world and incorporated styles of music he picked up in his travels into his music. There aren’t many constants in his music- his style is constantly changing depending on the circumstances. No matter his style, Masekela has constantly been true to himself and his experiences and expresses a part of himself in everything he does.

He was born in Witbank, South Africa in 1939. His father, a coal miner, had a wind-up gramophone and several records of American jazz musicians, which young Hugh became very fond of. He quickly took to music, learning how to play trumpet under Father Trevor Huddleson, an anti-apartheid activist, where he learned to play music on a trumpet donated by Louis Armstrong. He soon formed the ‘Jazz Epistles’, the first African group to record and LP in South Africa , who played an African hybrid of Be Bop music called ‘township bop’. After the deportation of Father Huddleston and the 1960 Sharpville Massacre, where 69 peaceful protesters were gunned down, Masekela left South Africa in 1960 for more than 30 years on a self-appointed exile from his racially divided homeland.

He first moved to London, where he backed artists such as the Byrds and Bob Marley, before he got a record deal in America, thanks in large part to the help of Miriam Makeba. Makeba, who he later briefly married, was another South African immigrant with whom he had performed in South Africa who had become a successful singer in America. After releasing several Albums in America, including his most famous, Grazing in the Grass, he re-found his roots and moved back to Africa.

After a pilgrimage to Zaire, he spent time with Fela Kuti in Nigeria, which is where he met Hedzoleh Soundz, a Ghanan band with whom he recorded 5 albums (check out the song Languta for a great example). After, he set up a school of music in Botswana, a country nearby to his homeland of South Africa, which helped and trained musicians who, like Masekela, had fled Apartheid for better opportunities. Later, his song Mandela (Bring Him Back Home) turned into an anthem for Nelson Mandela’s return to South Africa and the end of Apartheid.

With that, he could end his 30 year exile and finally return home. Since doing so, he has continued to record and tour all over the world, but he has also made a strong effort to improve the world around him. He has written songs about addiction and substance issues, something which troubled him during his exile, and has done a lot of work to help others who have had similar problems.

His home country of South Africa, however, has been Masekela’s main cause. He feels that there have been lasting social ramifications of the Apartheid regime, “It sort of limited our adventurism into who we are, into ourselves and what we have here. It does not disturb me, but the element that I’m most obsessed with, is the element that I wish every creative person to try and extract that.” Masekela has fought to explain the world from an African, specifically South African view. By doing so, he was not only boosting South African morale but explaining the cultural differences to the rest of the world.

The song Mace and Grenades from the album Still Grazing is a good example of this type of song. As the title infers, the song is about the rampant violence in South Africa. He sees everyday life and life in jail on the same level and wonders if the punishment is living in jail or living with Aperteid in South Africa. With all the dangers- he mentions .45s, bazookas, machine guns, bombs in addition to the ‘Mace & Grenades' - there is more danger and repression on the streets than behind bars. He hammers the point home by repeating, “I’m in jail out here, I’m in jail in there” highlighting how only in this unique country could such a choice be even considered, much less preferred.

Many of his songs, especially more recently, are more uplifting than eye-awakening, but as with the rest of his music, his songs on South Africa vary widely. To further demonstrate the range of his style, I would like to bring to your attention a song from his 1966 Album Grrr called, Zulu and the Mexican. In this time period, Masekela was just beginning his career in America. He spent a lot of time with artists like Miles Davis and Harry Belafonte who encouraged him to merge his jazz practices with his South African musical styles, such as the township bop. Those sentiments influenced him to create a hybrid of African, Jazz an Pop music.

In Zulu and the Mexian, you can hear the sharp, yet smooth tone of his flugelhorn. It has been described as “a charismatic blend of striking upper register lines, half valve effects, repetitive figures and phrases, with some note bending, slurs and tonal colors”. It is a very simple arrangement and the song maintains a light and airy attitude. However, his complicated, but logical solo is very expressive as well. He emits a tone that is simultaneously muted and radiant. It is nasally and understated but clear, beautiful, and inspiring at the same time.

I hope that you have enjoyed this little exploration into Hugh Masekela’s career and I hope that you continue the exploration into his music. All songs and albums are hyperlinked to Itunes store for purchasing or listening (though I suggest or to listen to the entire songs).

Please email me at with questions/comments/citations/etc and check back next week for the next Music Monday from Sum of Change.