Aviva Chomsky’s Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal is one part history lesson, one part human drama. In it, Chomsky furthers her mission to advocate for and educate on behalf of undocumented immigrants in the US, delving into their very real experiences from a legal, social, economic, and historical context. The result is as compelling as it is illuminating. As in her previous book, “They Take Our Jobs!” and 20 Other Myths about Immigration, Chomsky seeks to set the record straight, correcting common and egregious misperceptions about the immigrant experience, as well as introducing key facts (such as the ten listed below) about the impact—and importance—of immigration to the US.
Mount Storm Coal-Fired Power Station in West Virginia (by user Raeky via Wikimedia Commons)
“Even if Stanford [University] divested itself fully of all its stocks, both fossil fuel and nonfossil, it would probably take the market less than an hour to absorb all the shares. It would not lead the executives of the affected companies to engage in soul-searching, much less to changes in operations.”
Ivo Welch, a finance and economics professor at UCLA, wrote those sentences recently in a New York Times Op Ed column, after Stanford announced that its $18.7 billion endowment would dump all holdings in coal-mining companies.
But where else have we heard that refrain? Ah yes, about 30 years ago, during the movement to divest stockholdings in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa.
Selling a few shares of stock won’t do any good, the refrain goes. Instead, you should do A or B or C...
Back during the South Africa divestiture movement, skeptics said that people who really hated apartheid ought to keep their money in General Motors and other multinationals, and then use their clout to pressure those companies to improve conditions for nonwhite workers. For his part, Professor Welch says that Stanford should invest in “research and development of clean-energy technology.”
However, these naysayers are proffering a set of phony choices and premises.
“It’s disappointing that we were not able to all move in this morning at 9:00 as planned,” said the Rev. Harlan Limpert, chief operating officer of the UUA, on Monday, May 19, when the UUA had hoped to begin operations at 24 Farnsworth Street. “But in a project this size—the first move in almost 100 years—this three-day delay is small potatoes.”
The UUA has been renovating the first three floors of 24 Farnsworth Street for use as its new headquarters since September. It moved staff out of 25 Beacon Street, its historic headquarters, and 41 Mt. Vernon Street late last week.
In November of 2003, when a Massachusetts court declared the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional in that state, Catherine Reid was left with an unexpected choice: to get married, or not. As the ten year anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts approaches, Reid, in this excerpt fromFalling Into Place, takes us back to those heady early days of victory and apprehension after the first marriage licenses could be issued to same-sex partners.
We have sixty days to take action before the marriage certificate expires, less than thirty before our blood tests will no longer be valid. We still have time to change our minds, and we consider backing out often, though now that we’ve agreed to do this with two other couples, we’ll be considered traitors if we develop a case of cold feet. Besides, my short list of excuses—how to deal with the bizarre notion of “wife,” or the difficulty in telling my ninety-nine-year-old grandmother, or the support this lends to the institution of the privileged—can’t compare with the number of reasons to go through with this, which became longer with an unexpected Sunday-night phone call.
“As a father of two children,” the automated voice begins, “I am horrified at the changes about to take place in our country.” Despite my own horror, I don’t hang up; I want a phone number, I want to register protest. “We urge you to support Article 8,” the voice insists, describing a bill that will empower the legislature to repeal “activist judges” and prevent married homosexuals from tainting our nation’s moral character.
My mom gently shook me awake. It was 5 a.m. “Quick—you’re going to miss it!” she whispered excitedly, rushing out of my bedroom and downstairs. I was still half-asleep, but I followed quickly. This had happened before, and I knew I didn’t want to miss it.
The coyote was back.
Groggily, I scampered downstairs and sidled up against my mother, who stood with her face squished against a window pane at the front of the house, peering outside. I squeezed my face next to hers. Our noses pressed flat on the cold glass, spreading a fog of collective breath across the pane. I used the sleeve of my Red Sox pajamas to wipe it away. I didn’t want anything to ruin the view.
The summer I turned twelve, this was a regular occurrence at my family’s house in Massachusetts. Our home, nestled in a heavily wooded housing development and closely bordered by horse farms, was no stranger to wild visitors. Still, the coyote was different from the deer, rabbits, foxes and even wild turkeys that frequently made cameos in our yard.
His presence could draw a twelve-year-old willingly from bed at the break of dawn. He was majestic. His vaulted ears made him look like a king. And he was intelligent. His calculating eyes flashed yellow in the dusky dark as he assessed his surroundings.
The racist comments of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling have been analyzed from a multitude of viewpoints—American culture, history, sports, free speech, even our obsession with celebrity. But to my knowledge, no one has discussed a critical aspect that directly affects more people than most of the other topics:
What is the role of an ethical consumer in this kind of situation?
I haven’t seen any suggestion, for instance, that Clippers fans should boycott the team’s games.
After touring colleges with my second and final child this spring break, I am suddenly aware that I am approaching the end of an era. Parenting has felt like an endless and all-consuming way of being for me, a role I took on with great joy in my thirties, after years as a journalist. In motherhood, I became a PTA President, a leader in our interfaith families community, the schools columnist for the town paper, and ultimately the author of a book on religion and parenting. I was the mom that other parents called for tips on negotiating the school system, or organizing an interfaith bar mitzvah, or finding the best music teachers.
Somehow, I am only just now realizing that this excellent 20-year adventure in mothering may turn out to be, if I am lucky, only a small fraction of a long life. My grandmother lived until 98, my father is working on Bach’s Goldberg Variations at 90, my mother plays the ukulele at 83. So my own period of day-to-day mothering may only fill a quarter, or a fifth, of my lifetime.
“Is music universal?” It’s one question among many raised by S. Brent Plate in his new book A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects, and a question I struggled with for some time myself.
When I first started practicing capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art informed by live music, I had trouble picking out the tinkling rhythm provided by the lead instrument. Not understanding the rhythm meant not knowing the specific set of rituals involved.
At the time, I was traveling through Japan, and my Japanese was a becoming a burden, rather than an asset. While visiting a capoeira group in Tokyo, I did not want to embarrass my mestre (teacher), or my mestre’s mestre, still leading classes in Brazil at the age of 76.
In retrospect, the discussion was about me, though I didn’t realize it while sitting there. My colleagues’ conversation this day swirled around teachers not following State Mandates—how enforced curriculum mapping would ensure every teacher is on the same page, teaching the same topic, at the same time. Later, I realized I was the cause of my cohorts’ discontent, but not until a parent e-mailed, alerting me my job was in jeopardy from teaching “peace instead of literature,” not until students said they were “sorry about next year,” and not until a colleague cautioned that I was “not teaching the State Standards and Benchmarks.”
Languishing under the sweltering sun of New Mexico, where unemployment rates climb nearly as high as the temperatures, in part because of job outsourcing to nearby Juarez, Mexico, two thirds of my students subsist below the poverty level. For many, they would be the first in their families to finish high school, assuming the daily drudgery of educational irrelevance doesn’t dull their enthusiasm for learning, wouldn’t rob them of a lifetime of opportunity. For example, because of the frenzy to meet our high-stakes testing goals, most language arts teachers conformed their curriculum to the District’s thirteen “scientifically research-based” literacy strategies, none of which included reading books. These were disseminated and reinforced through countless vertical alignment meetings, horizontal alignment meetings, and daily team meetings with other content area teachers. These District-mandated literacy strategies promoted robotic writing and acronyms such as ACE (Answer question, Cite evidence, Explain further) and KIM (Key Idea, Information, Memory Clue) as they prepared for their MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) before taking their CRT (Criterion Referenced Test) under the auspices of NCLB. But after teaching ACE and KIM ad nauseam, while watching my students’ eyes glaze over, I simply couldn’t take the monotony anymore.
In Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America, now available from Beacon Press, legal scholar Sheryll Cashin reimagines affirmative action and champions place-based policies, arguing that college applicants who have thrived despite exposure to neighborhood or school poverty are deserving of special consideration. Sixty years since the historic decision, we’re undoubtedly far from meeting the promise of Brown v. Board of Education,but Cashin offers a new framework for true inclusion for the millions of children who live separate and unequal lives. In the following excerpt, Cashin examines one case where a seeming setback in affirmative action policy resulted in more inclusive legislation and a surprising outcome for students throughout Texas.
In 1997, Texas adopted a new law after the US Court of Appeals banned race-based affirmative action in Hopwood v. Texas, a case brought by four white applicants who were denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law. The law guarantees admission to the public colleges and universities of Texas to graduating seniors in the top 10 percent of every high school in the state. The program, which was developed by a group of Latino and black activists, legislators, and academics, passed in the Texas legislature by one vote, after a conservative Republican rural member whose constituents were not regularly being admitted to the University of Texas decided to support the legislation. As predicted, the plan increased minority enrollments and that of rural white students at the flagship public universities in the state. Those students who gain entrance under the plan do so by class rank, not standardized tests or extracurricular activities that they may not have time or money to afford. The program has repaired one shred in Texas’ social contract, forcing the same kind of trade-offs that robustly diverse private institutions like Rice University make in order to enrich their racial, geographic, and socioeconomic demographics.
Julia Ward Howe originally conceived of Mother’s Day in her 1870 “Appeal to womanhood” (later renamed her “Mother’s Day Proclamation”), arallying cry to protest the bloodshed of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. Howe was a prominent women's rights and social activist, a poet, a lecturer, Unitarian, and the author of the poem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She worked to end slavery, helped to initiate the women’s movement in many states, and organized for international peace.
The traditional “Mother’s Day” holiday of flowers and Hallmark cards, celebrated this year on Sunday, May 11th, is also “Mamas Day”—a day to honor all mamas with acts of justice and love. This year, the Unitarian Universalist Association is joining with Strong Families and other organizations to help return Mother's Day to its activist roots. Let’s especially celebrate those who bear the brunt of hurtful policies or who are weighed down by stigma in our culture, and, for me, this is a call to remember mothers and women in prisons.
That was the question the woman was asking me, while we stood on the rooftop of a Brooklyn apartment building enjoying a cookout and celebrating the release of my first book. She had just been introduced to me as someone important in the Holocaust community (I won’t say how) and her response to the fact that I had just co-authored a book with a Holocaust survivor left me stunned.
It had never occurred to me that the Holocaust was something that was private or unshared by the rest of the world. In fact, one of the reasons Rena—the women I wrote Rena’s Promise about—wanted to tell her story was so she didn’t have to bear it alone anymore. She hoped that by telling her story the pain of her experience would lessen, and it did. It is through sharing our stories and through empathetic listeners that pain and horror is not validated and in that way the pain and horror can shift from being solely a personal burden. That is the purpose of Holocaust Remembrance Days and Weeks—it is a chance for us to touch history and honor its place in our lives. It is a chance for us to remind ourselves of the importance of preserving our humanity.
Are you worried about the future as you approach retirement age? Did you watch your 401(k) shrink dramatically during the 2008 recession, taking your dreams of retirement with it? Are you worried that your retirement account may never recover from those losses? Sadly, you're not alone. According to a recent study of 2.2 million large-company employees who have 401(k)-type plans, 85% will not have sufficient resources to meet their needs if they retire at age 65.
How did we get to this state of affairs?
In Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis, retirement expert James W. Russell shows how and why a majority of Americans moved from the stability of traditional pensions to more volatile market-based 401(k) accounts. In the process, he exposes what amounts to a massive and international retirement robbery—a substantial transfer of wealth from everyday workers to Wall Street financiers via tremendously costly hidden fees.
Phyllis Schlafly, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2011. (WikiMedia Commons)
“The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.”
The above quote is from a recent column by Phyllis Schlafly, arguably the nation’s, if not the world’s, most famous hater of the feminist movement. I had not seen mention of her in the media for some time, and this column has caused me to reflect both on her long career and her relevance. Her column also sparked thoughts about the larger problem that U.S. conservatism has had in finding credible spokeswomen.
I confess to some grudging admiration for Schlafly, given that at nearly 90 she is still active politically—but that is the only thing about her I can admire. Ever since the 1970s, Schlafly has devoted her considerable energies to vilifying the women’s movement and those who identify with it. Here are some of her positions on various items of the feminist policy agenda:
On marital rape: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.”
On domestic violence: “When marriages are broken by false allegations of domestic violence, U.S. taxpayers fork up an estimated $20 billion a year to support the resulting single-parent, welfare-dependent families.”
My stone collection lives in a Hard Rock Café glass on my kitchen counter. Many of them are polished gemstones, purchased at some point in a mystical gift shop or as accessories to a tabletop fountain or other faux-zen object. Some of them were gifts, like the leopard skin jasper or the sodalite, that were proposed to hold some kind of power—self-confidence, inner peace, the dissipation of fear—which would “flow around” me, granting me the ability to shed the flaws in my personality. This might be only time the phrase “mumbo jumbo” has ever been applicable for me.
Reports of autism cases per 1,000 children grew dramatically in the US from 1996 to 2007.
April is Autism Awareness Month, established in the 1970s by the Autism Society to “highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism.” Unfortunately, that need continues to outpace expectation: reports of autism have exploded over the past twenty years, leading some to believe that doctors are overdiagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder on a large scale. In the interest of spreading awareness about common factors that lead to the misdiagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we spoke with Dr. Enrico Gnaulati, clinical psychologist and author of the recent book Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Q: Why do you think Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is overdiagnosed? Where’s the evidence?
Dr. Gnaulati: The latest statistics out of the famed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that 1 in 68 children are now affected by autism. That’s a 30 percent increase in just two years. In 2002, 1 in 150 children were given the diagnosis and, in 1991, 1 in 500. The spike in diagnosis is mostly accounted for by “mild” cases of autism, where the afflicted child has acquired decent communication skills and has average, or above, intelligence. Many of these milder cases go on to shed the disorder—upwards of 30 percent, according to a University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill study, making one wonder if the diagnosis really applied in the first place. Remember, ASD is generally considered to be a life-long, disabling neuropsychiatric condition that a child does not shed as childhood progresses. Consequently, with a sizable percentage of children supposedly shedding the diagnosis in the course of childhood, we have to start questioning the validity of the diagnosis in many cases.
We celebrated Easter last year with our community of Christian and Jewish interfaith families. Our minister started off by pointing out that Easter is not in the Bible, and that our holiday traditions make reference to ancient goddesses, and the fertility rites of spring. She then gathered the children together and talked to them about the Buddhist metaphor of a cup of tea representing the comforting memories of life after the tea bag (or body) is gone. She’s not your typical minister.
Next, our rabbi gave an adult sermon about the themes of intimacy, transcendence and unity in the story of the resurrection of Jesus. Somehow, the idea of life beyond death, of renewal and regeneration, seemed completely universal to me as he spoke. As a Jew, I do not feel I need to believe in a messiah or a personal savior in order to celebrate these Easter messages. Our rabbi spent his career at Georgetown, knows his gospels, and has been called a “closet Catholic” by Catholic friends. And yet, he’s an erudite, dedicated and deeply spiritual Jew. He’s not your typical rabbi.
I first heard of the idea of “Polish-Jewish” reconciliation from my Zen rabbi, who often evoked the most radical commandment in Judaism in his Friday night talks: “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were once a stranger in Egypt, and you know the heart of the stranger.”
This week, Jews are obligated to commemorate the liberation from slavery in Egypt with the Passover seder. The observance demands that we ask questions, sing songs, even argue—all in the service of keeping alive a story that we’ve told and retold through the millennia. We are asked to “enter” the story, to imagine that we ourselves were slaves, that we wandered in the desert for forty years.
The image of the Passover seder plays a central role in both my memoirs—The Souvenir and The Crooked Mirror.The Souvenir is based on my discovery, after my father passed away, of hundreds of letters my father wrote to my mother during the Pacific War, as well as my discovery in those letters of a war souvenir—a bloodied Japanese flag—which bore the name of a Japanese soldier named Yoshio Shimizu.
A companion is someone we share bread with. That’s what the word companion literally means: from com meaning “together,” and panis meaning “bread.” When company comes over, we break out the bread. Bread is a pervasive symbol of being together, of gathering, of community, a symbol that we engage, chew, taste, swallow, and digest in the presence of others. Historians of social life are clear that commensality, eating together, has been vital to ongoing political power, and peaceful coexistences, while a Moroccan proverb tells us, “By bread and salt we are united.”
Peter Matthiessen in 2008 (courtesy Melissa Eagan, WNYC New York Public Radio)
Peter Matthiessen was a mentor and model to me in the early seventies, when I was dropping back in after the mind-blowing sixties. I had lived in the New Hampshire woods with my “old lady,” and there, as my mother put it, “nature hit me,” which was not surprising, as I come from a family of Russian explorers, naturalists, and natural scientists. My dream to become the next great poet in the great tradition, the next T. S. Eliot, had morphed into wanting to be the next Bob Dylan, and that dream too had run its course.
In 1971, I came obsessed with birds, and was making watercolors of them and keying them out in the Peterson field guide, and taking copious notes in my journals. Writing about nature, having read Wordsworth, Yeats, Cowper, Frost, and other poets who wrote so beautifully about their natural surroundings, came naturally. Having been on the Harvard Lampoon, when in New York I would usually visit George W. S. Trow, the Lampoon’s editor-in-chief two classes ahead of me who was now writing for the Talk of the Town and producing long elegant profiles at the old New Yorker’s Dickensian offices at 25 West 43rd Street. Trow introduced me to the finely crafted literary journalism of John McPhee, who also wrote beautifully about nature in his portrait of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, for instance.