Thursday, January 2, 2014

Special interests and the food chain GET INVOLVED!!!!!!

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."- John Muir

Shauna, here. I'm new and you'll be hearing from me a lot.

I've just finished my second week at the Farmacy. Whew! What can I say? I am astounded by the work that is being done on this land and how fast the season seems to be going already. It's hard to believe we will soon be packing up boxes for the CSM

In the midst of stories of fracking, factory farming, and polluted waterways, it is easy these days for me and lots of others who care for the Earth to become so caught up in the news and the negativity that seems to abound. It's not always easy being green. 

Our staff orientation came just two days after Obama signed the Monsanto Protection Act. As we sat on a circle of straw bales discussing the plans for the season, Eli mentioned the unfortunate event. I wondered how she stays so positive. What gives her hope? She told me it was places like this and people like us, communities coming together, supporting each other and the land. After just two very fast weeks of working here, I get it. As soon as I come up over the crest of the hill, it's like I've arrived in a different world. A world where we work hard and stand strong for the things we believe in. It's a place where the future generation is safe and we can all eat and breathe and drink in the goodness the Earth has provided for us. And when I leave, I can take it with me into my life. Ah, the sweet taste of hope. 

are our foods safe from dangers of mutated seeds?? READ THIS ARTICLE TELL YOUR FRIENDS
are our foods safe from dangers of mutated seeds??

What is the 'Monsanto Protection Act'?

Anonymously added to a recent budget bill, the controversial rider would protect U.S. biotech companies from litigation if their GMO seeds turn out to be dangerous.
Thu, Apr 04 2013 at 10:24 AM
GM corn
Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images
Anger over the "Monsanto Protection Act" is growing like an herbicide-resistant weed, fueled by news the rider was anonymously added to a U.S. budget bill in an apparent favor to biotech firms. The measure has made unlikely allies of Tea Party and environmental groups, inspired more than 250,000 people to sign a petition opposing it, and even prompted the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee to retroactively disavow it.
But what exactly is the Monsanto Protection Act? And why is it causing such an uproar?
The mysterious rider
First, it isn't actually called the Monsanto Protection Act. Its more formal name is Section 735 of the "Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013," or H.R. 933, an appropriations bill that President Obama signed into law last week. The bill averted a government shutdown, but many lawmakers were reportedly unaware of Section 735's existence. In fact, rather than undergoing a formal committee hearing, the rider was anonymously inserted as the larger bill wound through Congress, sparking accusations of opacity, collusion and corruption. Its origins remain hazy, but Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has since told Politico he "worked with" Monsanto to secure the rider.
"[T]his all can be boiled down into a single, common phrase: a special interest loophole, and a doozy at that," writes Dustin Siggins, who blogs for Tea Party Patriots. "This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries." Environmentalists and food-safety advocates have voiced similar concerns; the Center for Food Safety recently called the rider "an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review of agency actions" and "a major violation of the separation of powers."
Seeds of doubt
At issue are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, created by Monsanto and other biotech firms. While there's no hard evidence that GMOs can harm humans, some worry about undiscovered health risks and the possibility of manmade genes spreading to wild plants, potentially wreaking ecological havoc. Supporters of the Monsanto Protection Act, who prefer to call it the Farmer Assurance Provision, say it simply aims to prevent activists from using the court system to make farmers scrap or destroy their genetically modified crops. "As we understand it, the point of the Farmer Assurance Provision is to strike a careful balance allowing farmers to continue to plant and cultivate their crops subject to appropriate environmental safeguards, while USDA conducts any necessary further environmental reviews," Monsanto says in a statement.
But critics say Congress caved to the biotech lobby, which they see as especially galling given the success of industry stalwart Monsanto. Just this week, for example, Monsanto reported its net sales rose 15 percent to $5.5 billion in the second quarter, and the company raised its full-year profit forecast by 10 cents a share. "They've got a great portfolio," one financial analyst tells the New York Times. "The seeds and genomics business is performing quite well." Nonetheless, the H.R. 933 rider essentially grants Monsanto temporary immunity from legal challenges to the safety of its seeds, setting what Siggins and other observers have called a "dangerous precedent."
"It is not the purview of Tea Party Patriots to comment on the merits of GMOs — that is a discussion and debate for experts and activists within that field," Siggins writes. "From the perspective of citizens who want open, transparent government that serves the people, however, the so-called 'Monsanto Protection Act' ... is one heck of a special interest loophole for friends of Congress."
Here's what Section 735 of H.R. 933 actually says:
"In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act."
The Plant Protection Act referenced in the rider is a 2000 law regulating "plant pests," "noxious weeds" and "biological control organisms." The full statute can be seen here.
Shutdown showdown
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., took some early blame for the rider, including from the Center for Food Safety. "In this hidden backroom deal, Senator Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental, and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto," CFS executive director Andrew Kimbrell said in a statement on March 20. "This abuse of power is not the kind of leadership the public has come to expect from Senator Mikulski or the Democrat Majority in the Senate."
But several days later, Mikulski issued a press release distancing herself from the measure. "Senator Mikulski understands the anger over this provision. She didn't put the language in the bill and doesn't support it either," the statement said. "It was originally part of the Agriculture Appropriations bill that the House Appropriations Committee reported in June 2012, and it became part of the joint House-Senate agreement completed in the Fall of 2012 before Senator Mikulski became Appropriations Chairwoman. That agreement was not reopened when the Agriculture bill and several others were included in the Continuing Appropriations Act to prevent a government shutdown."
The CFS has also softened its stance against Mikulski, recently acknowledging to the Baltimore Sun that the rider originated before her ascension in the Appropriations Committee, and that she faced pressure to dodge a government shutdown. "Her hands were tied by the negotiations that had previously happened," CFS director of government affairs Colin O'Neil tells the Sun. "We recognize the tough spot she was in."
In fact, as Blunt tells Politico, he was able to introduce the rider thanks partly to Mikulski's predecessor on the committee, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Inouye was "sympathetic given Monsanto's large seed operations in Hawaii," Politico reports.
As much controversy as the provision has generated, though, it has a relatively short shelf life. Unless it's renewed by Congress this year — and the Senate Appropriations chairwoman is now on record saying she opposes it — the Monsanto Protection Act is slated to expire after six months, when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Related genetic engineering stories on MNN:

The Walking Dead: Jews, Judaism and Halloween

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Walking Dead: Jews, Judaism and Halloween

So what do Jews, Judaism, and Halloween have to do with each other? Nothing, of course. Neither the holiday or the date has any Jewish connection whatsoever. None. The time when Jewish spirits come out to play is Sukkot (See - Sukkot: Gathering of the Spirits in the archive) and it has none of the tone of fear, terror, or deceiving the spirits that is associated with Halloween.

But that's not to say Judaism does not have a rich and vivid lore about spirits, monsters, and the undead. So I thought I'd share with you one aspect of this - Jewish lore on zombies. The term "zombie" comes out of West African tradition, but the idea of an re-animated corpse without it's neshamah ("soul") pops up in a few places in Jewish literature.

Director George Romero has defined how we think about zombies in the 21st Century, having set up the "zombie rules" in his movies Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead: Zombies are flesh-eating corpses who must undergo physiological decapitation (be shot in the head) to be stopped. Ok, so the Hollywood zombie is really more of a ghoul, a creature derived from Islamic folklore, but whether you call them zombies or ghouls, the walking dead are much different in Judaism.

Jewish undead traditions overlap the bigger and more prominent ideas of T'chiyat Metim, "Resurrection" (body and soul restored to perfected existence in the World-to-Come) and the Golem (an artificially animated being). Perhaps the reason there are not more than a few stories of the animated dead is that the very idea violates an aspect of Jewish law that most Jews take quite seriously - kavod ha-met, "showing respect for a corpse." Kavod ha-met is why Jews generally don't put our dead on display in open-casket ceremonies, why we don't embalm, why we are fastidious about collecting all the parts for burial (ever notice those in the films of bus bombings in Israel, the ones in reflecting vests picking through the debris? Most of those aren't Israeli CSI, they are ZAKA, a group of pious workers who ensure all parts of people get a proper burial), and why we are cautious about organ donation. Animating a corpse for the ephemeral needs of the living, even if possible, is unseemly.

Yet there are stories. According to most of the legends, animated corpses are created by an adept, rather then rising spontaneously. As in some Golem traditions, a divine name of power is used, either written on a parchment and then inserted under the tongue or sown into the skin, or inscribed on an amulet placed on the corpse (Sefer Yuhasin, Shivhei ha-ARI, Meisa Buch). Zombies are raised mostly so that they can talk: relating secrets about the World-to-Come, the divine spheres, or to solve a crime with knowledge known only to the deceased (Meisa Buch, Meisa Nissim, Jahrbuecher). In this last aspect, these traditions are also closely related to the hiner bet or hiner plet (Yiddish, "Catatonic"), a condition in which a person falls into a death-like state for days, or even weeks. Their only sign of life is that they speak sporadically, revealing the secret sins of people in the community, giving divine messages, or instructing us from the beyond about how we the living need to better oursleves.

So, if you are planning to attend someone else's Halloween party this year (should a Jew really be hosting his own?), a Jewish zombie is definitely an option; and its better then a run-of-the-mill zombie - they only groan, while you get to tell people off.

Also consider these Jewish costume options:

The Angel of Death (Jewish authenticity junkies go with a sword dripping gall, not a scythe)
The Sar (princely angel) Metatron (fiery body with 365,000 eyes)
Behemot (a gigantic ox)
Leviathan (a sea dragon)
Ziz (a giant chicken)
Dybbuk (ghostly style, but always be sure to be clinging or hanging onto someone living)
Lilith (hairy body, bald head - unless you want to do the "succubae" incarnation)
Golem (clay complexion, word "Emet" on your forehead, not much of a conversationalist)
Ketev Meriri, the demon "Bitter Destruction" (He is scaly and hairy and rolls about like a ball)


Geoff Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami and teaches Kabbalah and Rabbinic Literature in the Jewish Studies Program at the University of North Texas. He is the author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, a 2007 National Book Award finalist, and recipient of an Honorable Mention for the 2007 Jewish Library Council Book Award. He has written numerous articles. The most recent, "Purity and Transformation:The Mimetic Performance of Scriptural Texts in the Ritual of Taharah," is in the Journal of Ritual Studies 26 (1), 2012.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Aronofsky's Noah: Reaching Deep into Jewish Myth

[Illustration of a fallen angel from the French comic Noe, part of Aronofsky's project]

So on the strength of my book and this website, I get contacted from time to time by writers, producers, and creators of books, TV shows, and feature films, who are seeking to develop projects that draw upon Jewish myth for themes, creatures, and story lines.

By far the most prestigious of these was a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a screenwriter working with Darren Aronofsky, the director and creative mind behind Pi and The Fountain, two strange and wonderful movies that integrate Jewish myth and ideas into their story lines. 

Naturally, given my enthusiasm for these earlier films, I was intrigued that Ari (that's the the screenwriter) was interested in plumbing Jewish myths of the antediluvian period (Genesis chapters 1-9). There is a treasure trove of fabulous traditions.

So we discussed the rabbinic notions of the world before the Flood, a world populated with objects of power, semi-immortal humans, giants, sea monsters, centaurs, fallen angels and demon spirits. It quickly became evident that Aronofsky was envisioning a version of the Noah story that would incorporate authentic Jewish ideas and legends, and therefore more Lord of the Rings than Ben Hur. Very exciting. But that was it. The calls stopped coming, I returned to my day-job as a congregational rabbi, and Noah dropped from my mind. 

But now Noah is back with a vengeance (and this time, it's personal!). The International Movie Data Base indicates the movies is set for a March release in 2014. Things are starting to pop up on fan sites, and a few photos are even appearing (Russell Crow! Emma Watson! JENNIFER CONNOLLY!).

And a lot of sturm und drang about six-armed angels. Clearly, some people don't get it. This idea seemingly so defies their expectations for a "biblical" film, it's really bugging them. They need to read their Bible. 

The basis for the HUGE tradition of fallen angels that figures so large in the Christian tradition is Gen. 6:4, a cryptic bundles of ideas about the "Sons of God":

 There were nefilim [giants] in the earth in those days;
 and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, 
and they bare children to them, 
the same became heroes which were of old, men of renown.

This was the trigger for a massive outpouring of the Jewish imagination during the Second Temple Period. Books like Enoch, The Book of Giants, and Jubilees, seized upon the notion that the  "son of God" were not just lured by Bronze Age Kate Uptons, they were expelled from heaven. Hence, fallen angels. Then there are the offspring, nifilim, which seems to suggest "Fallen Ones" (Though linguistically that's pseudo-philology), a word that actually means "giants." Soon a whole menagerie of fantastic creatures were included, a ready biblical "explanation" for the monsters, demi-gods, and minor spirits spoken of in the mythologies of surrounding cultures. So too, objects of power - the garments of Adam, the book of Noah, the sword of Methuselah, the rod of Joseph, and tzohar gem - were all duly derived from the Genesis narrative. 

But I digress. Six-armed angels. So naturally, when angels "fall," they lose their wings (watch your Dogma, people!). Or, the wings decay into mere arms. How many? Consult Isaiah chapter six:

 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, 
high and exalted, seated on a throne; 
and the train of his robe filled the temple. 
 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings...

Get it? Six wings become six arms. Giants. Totally biblical. Or at least in keeping with biblical ideas. 
Now, I want to see Leviathan. This is going to be awesome!