J Street Los Angeles!

Because I am a glutton for punishment with no sense of restraint, when the email came in saying that J Street was opening up local chapters, not only did I immediately sign up, but I checked off every single skills/interests box. (Can I help it that I’m so well-rounded?)

Sooo, I’m going to need some help, people! Sign up, please! And maybe we can even get a Long Beach branch going? (I have no idea what these local chapters entail, by the way, but I’m pumped.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

A Yom Kippur Activity

Recently, someone I know said something very smart: that whenever you stop listening to what someone is saying, you’re deceiving them. Meaning that if they’re speaking to you, and you’re nodding along but internally you’ve checked out, then pretending to listen to them is actually a form of lying (not to mention a waste of their energy and breath).

This really stuck with me – and helped me better understand other, similar forms of deceit. So if you’re looking for something to change this year, consider the little ways that you may be deceiving people:

- If you break a promise to someone, or don’t follow through on it fully, then that promise was a form of deceit (and a potential source of stress for them, if they need to make up for what you were going to do).

- If you make plans with someone and then flake, then that is a form of deceit (and a waste of the block of time they set aside for you).

- If you apologize for something but don’t change your behavior, or claim to accept someone’s apology when there’s more that needs to be said, then that is a form of deceit (and an abuse of that person’s trust and vulnerability, and possibly an enabler of more unhealthy behavior on their part).

Everyone knows deceit is an act you want to think long and hard about before performing, but we let ourselves get sloppy with little things like plans and apologies. We rationalize things to make our own lives easier: He won’t notice, she won’t mind, it’ll all blow over anyway. What little things do you do to deceive people? What makes you do them, and are you able to overcome that? What is one form of deceit that you can realistically eliminate from your interactions this year?

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Stack Your Functions!

In Permaculture lingo, “stacking functions” refers to building redundancies into a sustainable garden. In a forest, a tree doesn’t just do one thing; instead, it performs multiple jobs, like regulating climate, sequestering carbon, holding soil together, providing habitat, and giving food, just to name a few. One of the problems with industrialized society is that almost every aspect of our lives is specialized – there are shockingly few things we do or have that that perform more than one or two functions. This is especially true in our food and habitat (for most of us, houses and apartments), and it leads to an incredible amount of waste. Imagine if forests needed a separate organism to do each and every single job that one tree can easily perform.

Take, for example, a lawn. The lawn is pretty much the epitome of wasted space. Most of the time, it performs one single function: looking nice (if you like the way lawns look, something I personally can’t wrap my head around). Sometimes – sometimes – it also serves as a recreational area, so that’s two functions, which wouldn’t be so bad if lawn wasn’t the single largest crop in the United States. If you add a hedge to the edge of it to make it look nicer, you again have a plant that probably only serves one function – and notice that they don’t help each other out very much. If you find it impossible to keep your lawn healthy, this wasted space and lack of relationships is the reason why. Lawn is a monoculture, and there’s a reason monocultures never occur in nature.

To build a truly ecological garden, you need to make sure that all your plants are performing multiple tasks (and that all tasks are being done by multiple plants – more on that in a minute). For example, if you’re a fan of flowers, don’t just get a variety that looks nice. Try to find a flowering vegetable or perennial herb, or a creeping vine that acts as mulch or shades a window, or an edible flower like nasturtiums, or a flower that feeds and creates habitat for beneficial insects and spiders. If you’re growing vegetables, go for natural configurations that help the plants help each other. The most often cited example is the Three Sisters garden, in which squash, corn, and beans help keep each other healthy through mutually beneficial relationships. The corn provides a stalk for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash acts as mulch. See The Urban Homestead or Gaia’s Garden to learn how to do it, or check out Kai Chang’s blog for updates on his garden. Another way to stack functions is through a polycultural bed, in which seeds are scattered so that vegetables come up in no particular pattern. The random placement of beans means that you don’t need to rotate your crops to amend the soil, and the close proximity of plants shades the ground so that the temperature is regulated and moisture is preserved. Again, see Urban Homestead or Gaia’s Garden.

Think about stacking functions in terms of landscaping, too. Why plant some anonymous hedge when a rosemary bush is edible and produces adorable flowers? If you’re looking for border plants, why not plant strawberries or chives, both of which also flower? If you never use your lawn, why have one at all? Edible landscaping, polycultural beds, or a fruit or nut tree can look just as nice (better, in my opinion) as grass. And if you take your climate into consideration when you’re planting, it’ll take much less work to care for your garden.

It’s also important to make sure that multiple plants are meeting a particular need, in case something happens to one of them. If you want to grow food, don’t just grow one plant or type of crop – if it gets a disease, then there goes all your work for the season. If you live in a dry climate, don’t rely on just one source of water – use multiple irrigation and conservation methods, like a soaker hose, thick mulch, a cistern, and berms and swales.

To reduce waste, try to stack functions in the rest of your life, too. One example from my own life is transportation. When I drive my car unnecessarily, I’m wasting both gas and time; notice that the car is only performing one function. If, however, I ride my bike, now I’m getting exercise while I travel. If I ride the bus, I can read or grade papers. If my destination is close enough to walk to, then I can listen to a Yiddish tape while I exercise and travel. Note that since most people reading this blog probably live in a car culture, the car makes sense, for now, if you’re in a hurry or if you need to carry a lot of stuff. However, since the earth doesn’t contain enough resources to sustain car cultures indefinitely, consider the virtues of animal transportation – a horse will give you fertilizer and companionship in addition to healthy transportation. (Horseback riding is a workout, right? It looks like it, at least.) Also note that this form of stacking functions shouldn’t turn into an addiction to multitasking. If you’re doing more than you can comfortably concentrate on, or if it’s stressing you out, then you are canceling out the good effects of your functions.

Conversely, living in a place that gives me the option of walking, biking, taking public transportation, or driving is an excellent system of redundancies. If my car or bike is in the shop, or I’m temporarily disabled, or I don’t have time for the bus, I still have plenty of options. I’ll never be completely stranded as long as I’m traveling within my city.

Another area of your life in which you should stack functions is food. Over the past century, we’ve developed a bizarre system in which, generally speaking, pleasure and nutrition are separated from each other. We eat fast food and chips and then buy vitamin supplements. We choke down iceburg lettuce and then crave cookies and soda. The whole reason we have a sense of taste is because a good taste, absent artificial ingredients, signals good nutritional content. If the food you’re eating isn’t both pleasurable and nutritious, then there’s a problem. It’s probably not your fault, especially if you’re low-income, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Western culture needs to drastically change its food system.

Finally, think about stacking functions in terms of space and garbage. If you have one room in your house for the guest bed, one room for each child, one room for eating, one room for watching TV, one room for entertaining guests, and one room for working on the computer, then you have too many rooms. (Full disclosure: I myself currently live in an apartment with too many rooms.) Like the lawn, all this wasted space creates a lot of unnecessary work. Can you put your desk in the guest room? Do you need both a living room and a den? Similarly, if you use a disposable cup once, for fifteen minutes, and then throw it away, that cup has only performed one function in its entire lifetime. Use a glass instead – or, at the very least, compost the disposable one and feed it to your plants. If the cup isn’t compostable because it’s plastic or has wax or poisonous dyes or whatever, then that’s a bad system.

Of course, the idea of cutting down on garbage is hardly revolutionary – but in practice, it can be maddeningly hard to pull off. This is why the best way to really start stacking your functions isn’t to simply pat yourself on the back for using canvas bags at the grocery store or travel mugs at the coffee shop, but to honestly evaluate every single object you use. If it only performs one function – or if it’s not reusable or even biodegradable – then it’s wasting space and resources. Once you realize that, you can begin figuring out what to do about it.

Naomi Klein On BDS

I’ve taken a long time to write about this because I wanted to make sure I had my thoughts on it sorted out. This article by Naomi Klein finally brought me around to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign against Israel. (Note: as you can probably tell, I’m very new to BDS, so this post is directed at other people who are new to it, too. I realize that many readers have been working on this for a long time.) This passage was what turned the lightbulb on for me:

Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work. (Emphasis hers.)

The problem, up until I read the article, was that most of the calls for boycotts I read were the dogmatic kind. Boycott Israeli academics! Boycott Israeli artists! Boycott non-Israeli Jewish business owners! Why? Because we hate them, that’s why! Because Zionism is racism! Even the ones that didn’t come off as dogmatic – or that made passing references to tactics – failed to address Jews’ concerns about anti-Semitism, and that turned me off to them. Was that irrational of me? Yeah, sometimes. But Jews have good reason to be wary.

I know, of course, that BDS will continue to attract anti-Semites, and I still fear that anti-Semitism will drown out pragmatism. I don’t know how to solve that problem – but we can address it by emphasizing, as Klein does, that it’s a tactic, not a dogma. We’re doing it because it works. We’re doing it out of love (for Israelis, too!). And, as Klein says, we’re targeting “the Israeli economy but not Israelis.” Strategy, not punishment.

Do check out the whole article – she responded very effectively to almost every concern that I had.

The Global BDS Movement’s website is here.

Thoughts? (When you comment, please remember that this is a very sensitive and complicated subject. Rude or hostile comments will be deleted.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

CLEAN Carwashes!

We’re still at it!

Image description: Protesters in orange T-shirts reading PJA picket outside of a carwash.

Image description: Protesters in orange T-shirts reading "PJA" picket outside of a carwash.

This Sunday, May 3rd, the CLEAN Carwash Campaign and Progressive Jewish Alliance will be picketing the Vermont Hand Wash at 1666 N. Vermont Avenue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Although no carwash in Los Angeles can be described as “good,” the owners of the Vermont Hand Wash in Los Feliz are among the worst in the industry. By protesting the Vermont Hand Wash, we hope to send a message to other carwashes throughout the city. For more information, visit cleancarwashla.org.

Please repost or link to this message on your blog, or forward this to any Los Angeles residents you might know.

Also, please leave a comment if you or someone you know plans to attend. Thanks!

From Jewish Voice for Peace

Let me cut down to the chase. We have just learned that a number of Israeli peace activists have had their computers confiscated, have been called for interrogations, and have only been released upon signing agreements not to contact their political friends for 30 days. We are asking you to contact the Israeli Attorney General to demand an immediate stop to this harassment.

The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a group of feminist women and men daring to suggest that Israel need not be a militarized society. They are being wrongfully accused of inciting young people–like the shministim–not to enlist in the army. The charge is not true. While New Profile does not tell youngsters not to enlist, they certainly support those who do not: pacifists, those who oppose the occupation, and others. New Profile informs them of their rights and gives them legal support when necessary. But Israel is a country that does not acknowledge the basic human right to conscientious objection.

The government’s accusation against New Profile is not new. It has been out there for some time, as a source of harassment. Today’s police actions tighten the screws considerably. We’ve seen how international pressure has helped get many shministim out of jail. Now it’s time to put as much pressure so that Israeli peace activists can do their work free of intimidation.

I leave you with a note from New Profile: “These recent acts confirm what we have been contending for many years: the militarism of society in Israel harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of political association. One who believed that until now criminal files were conjured up “only” for Arab citizens of Israel saw this morning that none of us can be certain that s/he can freely express an opinion concerning the failures of society and rule in Israel.”

Here’s New Profile’s website.

Haggadah Inserts!

If you’re like me and found it a little impossible to have a seder on a Wednesday night, then you have some time to peruse these. If not, HURRY! HURRY before the sun goes down! (Happy Birkat Hachamah, by the way!)

J Street!


Jewish Voice For Peace!


Progressive Jewish Alliance!

Also take a look at FeministGal’s post on Passover (via Feministe)!

What haggadah do you use? How do you incorporate anti-oppression theology/theory into your service? I ask partly because I’m still shopping around for my Friday seder.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Some Beans!

I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW EASY IT IS TO GROW BEANS.

I just can’t believe it.

I planted some pole peans in pots in my window a few weeks ago ago to see if it’d be feasible to create a natural, edible curtain (see The Urban Homestead for a more detailed description) and they’ve gone from seedlings to this:

Image description: three beanstalks in a windowsill.  One of them reaches the top of the window.

Image description: three beanstalks in a windowsill. One of them reaches the top of the window.

Sorry for the bad photography – my mom gave me an expensive digital camera and I don’t know how to work it. But incredible, right? These things have been growing a couple of inches a day. Even better, they’re self-seeding (meaning they don’t need to be cross-pollinated by bees and other insects), so they start producing fruit as soon as they’re mature. Here’s one of the little flowers that started forming once the stalk was a few feet high:

Image description: a small yellow and white flower.

And here’s a wee bean that emerged when the flower died.

littlebean

Here’s the bean now!

beancloeup

Stir-fry, here we come.

Now, I have this problem wherein any vegetable I try to grow in a pot turns into a bonsai vegetable – so far, I’ve given up on my bonsai spinach, bonsai lettuce, and bonsai scallions. Some problem with root space, I guess, I don’t know. So I’m bracing myself for the possibility that these beans won’t get any bigger. If they do, though, I’ll have to get some stronger strings.

To grow your own bean curtain, you’ll need:

- runner beans (NOT bush beans)
– enough large pots to cover a windowsill
– potting soil
– a paperclip
– a ceiling hook or nail
– yarn, twine, or other thick string

Beans will only germinate in warm soil, so choose a sunny south-facing window. (Planting them here has the added benefit of deflecting sunlight and cooling your house in the summer. Just make sure you don’t bake them – beans don’t produce much when it’s too hot.) Plant them about an inch deep in damp (not soggy) soil. Unfold the paperclip so that it looks like a U, and stick it into the soil about an inch away from the bean so that there’s a little metal loop sticking up. Feed the string through the loop and tie it onto the ceiling hook. (Right now I’m using pushpins, which I know is an astronomically bad idea. I’m currently searching for alternatives that won’t get me in trouble with the landlord.)

That’s… uh, pretty much it, actually. Keep the soil moist (dig down a couple of inches before you water it, since surface soil is often much dryer or wetter than deeper soil), give it a little organic potassium-rich fertilizer if you want, and just watch the magic happen. Remember to pick each bean when it’s still young and tender. The flavor will be better that way, and the plant will keep producing as long as it perceives its beans disappearing.

If you’ve got a yard, you can build a bean teepee. Just take a bunch of long poles, stake them into the ground and tie them together on top, and plant 3 or 4 beans around the base of each one. If you make several small ones, your kids will love you forever, and if you make one big one, you can spend your May weekends reading Walden in your leafy getaway.

Or, if you live in a warm climate, consider using runner beans for Sukkot. You’ll have to do some advance planning here. Build your sukkah out of trellises or poles about two months before Sukkot, and plant the beans around them. You may want to hold off on the roof at first, just to make sure the beans get enough sunlight. If all goes well (keep in mind I’ve never tried this), the walls will fill themselves in gradually, and you can eat your first harvest on the first day! After the vines have stopped producing, simply use them for mulch or compost when you tear down the sukkah. I know having your sukkah up for like three months is a significant departure from Jewish tradition, but I mean, hey, beans. Just think about that. Besides, Sukkot is a harvest festival anyway, and there’s something beautiful about shelter that builds itself.

In conclusion, beans beans beans, I love them. The end.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Knit a Sweater!

Okay, hear me out. I know you think knitting is just for privileged hipsters who want to show off how alternative they are by dropping a hundred bucks on silk/wool blends and then pulling it out on the bus. I know you think that any knitted garment that actually looks good probably takes a thousand years, not to mention superhuman talent and dexterity, to make. I know you guys think knitting is just for women. I know you think knitting is too expensive, too time-consuming, too hard on your carpal tunnel to be worth the trouble.

Well, the carpal tunnel I can’t help you with, but knitting doesn’t have to be expensive and time-consuming.

Here’s the deal with the sweater you bought at the mall. Each of its components – the fiber, the yarn into which the fiber has been spun, the pieces of fabric, the stitches that hold them together, the buttons, the tag – has most likely been produced by sweatshop workers. Sweatshops have become a fact of American existence. Virtually every item we wear is made by laborers somewhere on the spectrum of exploitation, whether they’re living in near-prison conditions in another country or being sexually harassed and prevented from organizing at the American Apparel building in L.A. Sweatshops don’t go away every time some celebrity launches a PR campaign against them; they’re too ingrained in the American economy, too invisible for most people to care about.

Not that the yarn and notions (buttons, zippers, needles, etc.) you buy to knit with are reliably better, unless you’re paying twenty dollars a skein for yarn spun and dyed by the sheep farmer who sold it to the yarn store. But see how many steps you slice off the chain of exploitation when you buy the garment at an earlier stage in its development? No, you won’t have the sweater as quickly as you would if you bought it finished, but you’ll know that the person who put the most work into it – you – was treated fairly.

Unfortunately, the two main problems with knitting – money and time, as I’ve mentioned – are formidable. This is because it’s still mainly considered a hobby. Stores only stock luxury yarn because, come on, you’re doing it for fun, right? And who cares if a pair of socks takes you three months – you’re only pulling it out when you feel like it! There are ways to get around these problems, though, and they both involve community. If you need 700 yards of a certain yarn to knit your sweater, but each of the 7 skeins you’ll need costs ten dollars retail, get together with a few people and try to buy a bag of it wholesale. Also, remember that more utilitarian yarns like acrylics do exist, even if the owner of your local yarn store wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. (I was about to say “ten foot knitting needle.” See how much I care about you, that I refrain from the most painful jokes?) If time is a factor, consider buying a knitting machine. Again, community is key here. It doesn’t make sense for 10 people to each own a machine (or multiple machines – I think you have to buy a separate one for each weight of fabric you want to produce) when they could all easily share one. What if machines were housed in public spaces, so that people could rent out slots of time to work on them?

Notice that when we’re talking about the basic act of clothing ourselves, the gendering of knitting seems to fall away? You need to keep warm, right? So cover yourself. If you dudes still need convincing, check out menwhoknit.com or the patterns in Debbie Stoller’s Son of Stitch ‘N Bitch, a book dedicated to projects for men. (Unfortunately, the book is aimed at women who knit for men. This from the editor of a prominent feminist magazine.)

Now, the title of this post is “knit a sweater,” but if you’ve never knitted before, you probably want to start off with something easier. How about a potholder? This project will give you the chance to make what’s called a swatch, which is a square piece of knitted fabric that allows you to see how big your stitches are using a given pair of needles. Swatches are vital for larger projects like sweaters, where you need to match your gauge to the one stated on the pattern so that your garment comes out the right size.

To make a very simple potholder, you’ll need a pair of… let’s say size 10 needles, and a basic acrylic cotton yarn. The needle size doesn’t matter all that much, but 10s are big enough that you can clearly see what you’re doing.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by teaching you to cast on, make a knit stitch, and bind off, because a million other people have done it already. Youtube has a wealth of instructional videos like this one; one Google search will give you tons more. The best book I’ve found to learn the basics (and the one that I still consult whenever I come across something unfamiliar in a pattern) is Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘N Bitch, also known as Mother of Son of Stitch ‘N Bitch. Many yarn stores offer classes, if you’d rather have a real person teach you.

To make your potholder, cast on 30 stitches. That very first row of stitches will be about half the width of the finished swatch. Knit 30 rows in garter stitch, bind off, and then use the yarn that’s hanging off the end to make a loop so you can hang your potholder up. The other end of the yarn can be woven into the fabric (see Stitch N’ Bitch or other instructions). That’s it! So easy! Now, every knitter’s gauge (the size of the stitches you produce) is different, so you may have produced a potholder that’s either way too big or way too small. Just knit it over again, adding or subtracting stitches beforehand to get the size that you want. It’s good practice. Now you know why you need to do this before you knit an entire sweater.

Next, learn the purl stitch. Then you can make a ribbed scarf. Ribbing means that you alternate between knits and purls to give your fabric an extra stretchy striped look. If you’re wearing a sweater right now, look at the cuffs of your sleeves. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, look at the collar of your T-shirt. See how there are columns of arrow-looking stitches between columns of bumpy-looking stitches? That’s ribbing.

After that comes the fun stuff like cables, lace, and color knitting like fair isle. I’ll tell you right now: it’s jaw-droppingly easy. All of it. You know that amazing shawl of your great aunt’s that had this sort of fern pattern sticking out of the fabric? That was easy. Most things require a few additional techniques like increasing and decreasing, but the only two stitches you’ll ever use are knits and purls.

But I digress – the sweater. My advice is to make a baby sweater first; that way you can learn how it’s constructed without worrying too much about how it’ll look on you or whether it’ll have been worth all that yarn you bought. Unload that sweater on an expecting friend, or save it for your young’un.

As for your own sweater, I’m not going to suggest a specific pattern for you, because you really need to knit something you like – otherwise you’ll never be excited enough about it to finish. A former roommate of mine made the Skully sweater from Stitch N’ Bitch (a loose, unisex sweater with skulls and crossbones on the sleeves). I myself am currently working on this cardigan from Knitty.com, with purple and blue stripes instead of green and blue. And you know what? I’m very tempted to try and make my own buttons to go with it.

The revolution will not be store-bought!

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Herbs From Seed!

From Little Herb Gardens by Georgeanne Brennen and Mimi Luebbermann:

The almost-instant gratification received from growing arugula, cilantro, or dill is reason enough to plant them. Each sprouts and grows quickly. Arugula leaves pop through the soil in three or four days. Success appears before your eyes. Cilantro emerges shortly thereafter, in five or six days, while feathery dill tips come through the soil in about ten days. Any of the three can be put to use within a few weeks, to flavor salads, soups, and sauces and to sprinkle on pizzas and sandwiches. Grow any or all of these herbs in small, window-sized pots, and replant with fresh seeds after a couple of months. A steady supply of succulent, tender leaves is your reward. Spring and fall produce especially good harvests. All three herbs quickly send up central stalks, flower, and go to seed during summer, and in winter germination is slower. Arugula is also called rocket, garden rocket, and roquette. Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley and coriander. Continue reading

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