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.

Easter in Orange County

Last Sunday, sitting on the steps next to my container garden outside my Long Beach apartment, I heard a group of people singing in the next building. I thought of the seder I’d had a couple of nights before; my friends and I had sung the Ma Nishtana, which I only learned a few years ago and forget every year. Only two of the guests remembered the melody at first, but it only took a line or two for it to come back to the rest of us. I wondered if the neighbors could hear us. I’ve never had an anti-Semitic incident in this neighborhood, so I thought it’d be kind of cool if on the other side of our open windows, people were listening to us sing.

I watched families walking in and out of apartments, carrying children, greeting relatives. I smiled as I listened to the singing. Then I realized it wasn’t a hymn or some other Easter song – they were all singing a pop song. Blink 182 or something.

Oh. Well, it was still nice to hear singing. Yellow jackets buzzed around my bacopas. My bean seedlings were just starting to twine around the railing, and my lavender was blooming like the world was going to end.

***

According to the Slingshot Collective, “the modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirtiest, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.” I don’t know if it’s the ugliest, the saddest, or the est of any of those other things, but many parts of it certainly are ugly and sad. I was thinking about that quote, along with various discussions I’ve witnessed about the “lack” of white American culture – whiteness as negative space – and white Americans’ need to appropriate more exotic cultures, when I tested a theory out on my husband: that the United States has one of the shallowest national cultures on the planet. Continue reading

Edu-Dump

From the New York Times:

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”

He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ “

In line with Dean Hogge’s observation are Professor Greenberger’s test results. Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

What else is there really than the effort you put in? Well… you know, there’s the finished product. The one thing that I, the educator, actually see? But that’s inconsequential, right?

Here’s the bad news – I originally wrote a pretty detailed response to this article, including both my outraged reaction as an adjunct who has experienced this sort of behavior, and a more thoughtful response on how race and gender play into student entitlement. But I found I couldn’t write it without divulging details about past jobs. So no commentary for you!

Instead, here’s an education-themed tab dump (it’s been a fertile week at NYT):

The humanities continue to have to justify their existence to college administrators. The best justification, in my opinion: the humanities explore what it means to be a human being. It’s true that you don’t need to go to college to do that, but college would be a pretty barren place without it.

18 students have been suspended from NYU following a sit-in. The students were demanding, among other things, an annual reporting of the university’s operating budget and the right of TAs to organize. Oh, the horror.

Speaking of university labor and operating budgets, coaches, star faculty members, and administrators can make millions of dollars a year while adjuncts and TAs – you know, the people doing the actual teaching? – subsist on salaries as low as $4,000. (That last part’s not in the article – it’s the salary I received my first year as a TA, after tuition was deducted.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

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!

Reapportioning Our Lives

From the AP wire:

Unemployed use time for health, hobbies and family

FOND DU LAC, Wis. – Jay Capelle would give anything to get back his factory job of 32 years. At the same time, he’s grateful to have extra time on his hands these days to care for his ailing wife, stay in shape and work on a long-planned baseball documentary.

The unemployed are stressed out about unpaid bills, dashed retirement plans and the loss of workplace camaraderie. But many say life minus work also has its bittersweet upsides, including more time with family and friends, learning new skills, focusing on their health and pursuing hobbies.

All of these people said they would give up their newfound free time in a heartbeat if they could land jobs. And most spend hours each day trying. But as unemployment spells drag on longer than anticipated, they have allowed themselves to enjoy activities not directly related to the job hunt without feeling guilty.

Others are spending time in the classroom.

Andre Lovato, 55, of Waukesha, Wis., who was laid off from his job at a signmaking company in 2006, earned a degree in printing and publishing from a technical college in December. Lovato, who has applied for 35 jobs since then without any luck, devotes his free time to woodcarving, sketching and computer illustrations.

Here’s a gem from the Slingshot Collective:

You might think that with all the technology and abundant material possessions capitalism has created at the expense of the earth’s environment that people in developed countries would be the happiest people in the history of the world. But capitalism – with its constant competition and insatiable appetite for more – corrodes the human spirit and human cultures just as surely as it destroys the natural environment. We have undergone the greatest speed-up in the history of the world. Time to spend with our families, time to be in nature, time to learn about the world for its own sake, time to make music, time to master a craft, time to just sit and be still – capitalism rations it all.

I’ve been officially underemployed (sort of – I have a wee bit of freelance work for pocket money) for a couple of months now, and honestly, I’m loving it. I’m finally making headway on my novel. I’m gardening, knitting, learning to bake bread. My apartment is actually clean most of the time. I’m reading, reading, reading, reading, reading. I don’t have a whole lot of money, but that just means I don’t buy a whole lot of stuff.

Of course, if I had a major illness, a child to feed, or even just a more expensive apartment, I wouldn’t be singing the same tune.

To everyone out there who’s looking for work – I hope you find happiness and security very soon.

Protest for a CLEAN Carwash!

It’s that time again!

Who: Progressive Jewish Alliance and the CLEAN Carwash Campaign. More importantly, though: YOU.
What: A picket line to protest a failure to pay minimum wages, a lack of basic health and safety protections, and numerous other workers’ rights violations in the Los Angeles carwash industry.
When: This Sunday, January 25th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Vermont Hand Wash at 1666 Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles.
Why: Although almost 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. Last time we protested, we managed to bring business to a standstill. The more support we have, the bigger a statement we’ll make – and the closer we’ll come to getting the owners to agree to meet minimum labor standards and allow their workers to organize.

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