Sunday, December 7, 2008


It is snowing outside and I am remembering Erica Murray, who I have written about twice before, and who lost her battle to leukemia this week. She was a beautiful sunshiney person, and will be missed by many people. Last night I re-watched the youtube music video ("If I had a Marrow Donor") she and her sister Jaci made encouraging people to sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry. And I cried. I am sad for Erica, and all the things she never got to do. And I am sad for Jaci watching her sister die. And for their mother. It breaks my heart.

I'm also remembering Nicole Elliot, who lost the same battle, some 10 years ago, in high school.

Remembering Nicole makes me feel old. How much I've lived since then. Remembering Erica reminds me that I am still young. How much is still left ahead. And in both cases, how unfair it all is.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Prop 8 by the Numbers

[Disclaimer: The numbers of votes and percentages come from the California Secretary of State. The number crunching (comparing Presidential and Prop 8 votes) is my own.]

The Text of the Proposed Law:
Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read:
SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The Numbers:

Presidential Race (CA):
Obama: 8,063,473 votes (61.1%)
McCain: 4,902,278 votes (37.1%)
Other: 248,081 votes

Prop 8:
Yes: 6,838,107 votes (52.3%)
No: 6,246,463 votes (47.7%)


What the numbers mean:
13,213,832 votes were cast in the Presidential race in CA.
13,084,570 votes were cast on either side of Prop 8.
This is slightly less than in the presidential race, but very similar. In fact, fewer people declined to vote on Prop 8 than voted for “other” in the Presidential race.

If every person who voted for McCain also voted for Prop 8 (clearly an exaggeration, but it is reasonable to assume that a very large percentage did so), 1,935,829 Obama supporters must have voted for proposition 8. Yes, qualitatively we knew this was the case, but seeing that number has different sort of impact. (I would add that this is accurate even taking into account those who voted for “other” as it is likely that the vast majority, being more liberal on this issue than the general population (green party, peace & freedom, etc), voted against prop 8).

Recent Historical Context:
In 2000 Proposition 22 proposed to limit marriage to that between a man and woman in CA. This was at the time a legal fiction since there was already only marriage between straight couples but it was seen as preventative. In addition, this was a normal ballot measure, not a constitutional amendment, and was overturned by the court, along with other relevant statutory law, in May 2008, thus making same-sex marriage legal in CA and precipitating the current Prop 8.

Prop 22 passed easily with Yes: 4,618,673 votes (61.4%) compared to No: 2,909,370 votes (38.6%). Clearly there were many fewer voters in this election (It was the presidential primary in March 2000). Moreover, a majority of them were Republicans (4,153,693 voted for Republican candidates in the primary compared to 3,272,023 for Democratic candidates).

So, The relevance of the Prop 22 story is two-fold: If you simply look at the percentages, well, we’ve come a long way – to move from 61% to 52% in 8 years is actually remarkable. This extent of this change is undercut by the different distribution (republican/democrat) in voters (and quantity of votes) in the two elections. Nonetheless, I think that is still indicative of an ongoing cultural shift (this is my own conjecture, not proved by the numbers, but one can make a strong argument for this understanding).

[And next, on Postcards from Outer Space, a more qualitative look at Prop 8 and CA politics.]

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another election season as a California expat

As I prepared for the election by having my biannual pre-election phone consult with my father I thought, how can I ever stop voting in California? I would miss this so much. It is our bonding time in a very real way, as my dad talks me through the various judicial candidates and ballot propositions – with my mom in the background adding her perspective and keeping him honest. It’s a Sunkist Family Special.

We Californians voted for Barak Obama by 61.2% compared to 37% for McCain. That was exciting, but it also means that on election night a bigger question was how the various ballot measures were going to turn out. There were 12 state-wide ballot measures, plus various county and local measures. (Prop 8 deserves its own discussion, so today I’ll only touch it in relation to the other measures.) People outside Cali seem to think Californians are totally liberal, but that misunderstands California politics. California is its own special snowflake (err, sun-flake?!). My theory is that California politics is in large part predicated on our ballot-measure voting system. That is to say, the general population is able to pick-and-choose their issues; opinions are mixed and people can vote their opinion on separate topics.

For an overview, Californian voters over my lifetime have tended to be: pro-choice, pro-environment, anti-immigration, anti-criminal (e.g. pro-three-strikes law, pro-capital punishment), and anti-though-increasingly-divided-on- gay marriage.

Thus some key results from 2008:
Prop 2: Farm Animals: Yes 63.4%, No 36.6%
Prop 4: Parental Notification: Yes 47.7%, No 52.3%
Prop 5: Nonviolent Drug Offense: Yes 40.3%, No 59.7%
Prop 8: Ban Same-Sex Marriage: Yes 52.1%, No 47.9%

Where Prop 2 requires better treatment of farm animals; Prop 4 would have required parental notification for abortion; Prop 5 would have improved treatment programs and reduced prison sentences for nonviolent drug offences; and Prop 8 amends the CA state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

[Coming up next on Postcards from Outer Space, a discussion of Prop 8.]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

When school meets the sabbath day

I don’t actually have a problem with talking about school (which is after all my “work”) on Shabbat. Maybe it would be different if I didn’t like what I did. Certainly I choose to avoid the aggravating related subjects (homework), but I am happy to talk about the content. After all, I chose to study IR because I’m interested in it. I’m fascinated with how the world works. Moreover, as mentioned previously, politics of all kinds are also a hobby.

On a day-to-day basis I get caught up in the frustration of coursework. So I actually really appreciate the chance to talk about what I’m learning. For one thing, it makes me step back and think about that question, and that helps put the whole school thing in perspective. So last week, when E asked me about international criminal law, I jumped at the opportunity to explain.

The problem is, as my friends used to point out in undergrad, that the stuff I choose to study is frequently depressing. Really. What did you learn about this week? Genocide. Not really shabbos dinner conversation. Not even for me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Addicted to Politics

Hobby of the semester: explaining domestic (US), and particularly California, politics to foreign students during the bus ride.

Hobbies more broadly: Minyan politics, domestic politics, disability rights, saving the world…

Oh wait, saving the world’s what I do professionally! Otherwise known as international politics. Hmmm…

Seems that it’s all politics. Anyone surprised?!

*Disclaimer: I did actually have other hobbies before I was a graduate student. Really.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wishing life were fair

I have written about Erica before, in March, when she was searching for a bone marrow donor after having a relapse of leukemia which had been in remission for a year. I only know her peripherally, but we have many mutual friends, and have crossed paths for a long long time. She never found a perfect donor, but they went with an imperfect match, and she has been doing well with that and was leukemia free – until 20 days ago when she relapsed again. That led to more chemo. And today, more bad news. The chemo failed. I am feeling so sad.

Around Rosh Hashanah, my mom emailed asking “Who or what has inspired you in the past year?” My answer was Erica. Both in her personal strength and the way I have seen her inspire other people. She is a very special person, and I’m feeling reminded about how unfair life can be.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I am allergic to the East Coast.
Oh, I know. You think I’m being melodramatic again. But you’re wrong.
I mean, quite literally, I was allergic to almost nothing in CA.
Then I moved East.
After a couple years in DC, I developed skin allergies – allergic dermatitis – reactions to airborne allergens that result in itchy rashy arms.
A couple more years in Boston, and I have (presumptively – not yet confirmed) developed seasonal allergic asthma.
That’s right, I moved East to a place where my skin breaks out in rashes and I can’t breathe … literally!
California sounds SO appealing right now. I want to go home. I want to breathe.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A student of international relations

I recently got in touch with a childhood friend. She asked me a question that turned out to be surprisingly difficult to answer:
“International studies sounds very interesting and cool. I don't know much about what it entails, could you let me know?”
The dictionary says:
a branch of political science dealing with the relations between nations.
But that is not a satisfying definition. It is too short and outdated. After a bit of thought, this is approximately what I wrote (slightly edited for identifying details):
Let me try to answer your question about international relations. Many places international relations is treated as a sub-specialty within political science, but increasingly it is seen separately as its own subject. Nonetheless, it is very much interdisciplinary, involving aspects of political science, history, economics, sociology, and area/cultural studies.

Basically it is the study of how countries, societies, and people interact across borders. Traditionally this meant the understanding of how and why countries conduct foreign policy (both diplomacy and military action). Today this also entails how transnational organizations work (be they inter-governmental organizations like the UN, multi-national corporations, or international non-governmental organizations), and how transnational forces work (the flow of people, ideas, and goods across borders).

When studying international relations people generally choose a specialty to focus on – either regional, topical (functional), or both. For example, people may focus on international security, international law, international organizations, international trade, international economics, mediation and conflict resolution, international environmental policy, or any of a myriad of other sub-specialties.
Later, thinking about how long and winding my explanation was I decided to look up some other definitions. What I found made me feel much better about my descriptive definition. Compare my off-the-top-of-my-head explanation with the intro to wikipedia entry on international relations:
International relations (IR) is a branch of political science. It represents the study of foreign affairs and global issues among states within the international system, including the roles of states, inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and multinational corporations (MNCs). It is both an academic and public policy field, and can be either positive or normative as it both seeks to analyze as well as formulate the foreign policy of particular states.

Apart from political science, IR draws upon such diverse fields as economics, history, law, philosophy, geography, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and cultural studies. It involves a diverse range of issues, from globalization and its impacts on societies and state sovereignty to ecological sustainability, nuclear proliferation, nationalism, economic development, terrorism, organized crime, human security, foreign interventionism and human rights.
I also looked it up in my handy-dandy Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, which came up with similar ideas. I will not replicate it here.

I guess I did alright after all. It was kind of an interesting exercise.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Purpose of Government

In his inaugural address President Kennedy famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." It was inspirational and expressed an important concept about giving back to society. However, in a political environment that tends to question the efficacy of government writ large and to deride "insiders" and "bureaucrats", I think it is also important to remember what your country can do for you.

What is the purpose of government? It is to allow us to act collectively in ways that we are incapable of acting individually. This is what President Lincoln wrote on the subject so many years ago, and it is still relevant today:
The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves - in their separate, and individual capacities.

In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.

The desirable things which the individuals of a people can not do, or can not well do, for themselves, fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions.

The first - that in relation to wrongs - embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and nonperformance of contracts. The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.

From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need for government.

~ Abraham Lincoln

Of course, in this highly imperfect world, there are only too many ways in which government is needed to help us collectively reach towards our potential.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Foreign Policy Experience

To all my friends and neighbors who are going around proclaiming “I have more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin” (which, among other things, is the name of a group on facebook)…

I do not believe that Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President. Moreover, I do not believe that Sarah Palin should be Vice President because I wholly disagree with her policy stances. However, I believe that criticism should be justly and accurately applied.

Most of you do not have more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin. Perhaps you have equal foreign policy experience to Sarah Palin, because you have none. But there is no value of less than zero for foreign policy experience.

Take it from me. I actually do have more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin. But that is a statement I make as a person who has been studying and working in international relations for the past 9+ years. I do not expect most politicians to have that. I don’t even expect most presidential candidates to have that. Yes, I would like them to have more foreign poicy experience than our current President did upon taking office, or than Sarah Palin currently has, but that does not mean that I believe that you have any more relevant experience than she does. I know that life is not fair, but I can try to be. Thanks for trying with me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Summer Reading

Empire Falls, Richard Russo
The Grass Is Singing, Doris Lessing
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
Ines del Alma Mía, Isabel Allende
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

Currently reading:
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards

Wait! Free time? Reading literature? What's that?! Oh yeah. Summer vacation. What an amazing concept. It is, of course, over now. But I read some good stuff. And a nice mixture of just-for-fun and good-for-me. The good for me category included the Isabel Allende because I read it in the original spanish which is good practice so I don't get rusty, and Les Misérables because it is was on my list of books-I-ought-to-have-read. Also, about 1/2 the books were gifts from my Bubby, who is the #1 person keeping me apprised of interesting literature.

Now I have to get back into the swing of school. Eek! Luckily I only have a few unread (fiction) books left on my shelf to distract me, which is fine since I only have time to read on shabbos and chag. Still if you have any ideas of what should be on my future list, I'm always taking suggestions. I keep a very long list which I will not replicate here.

Still on my shelf:
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
La Sombra del Viento, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Homeward Bound

During my California adventure I have, of course, been visiting with family and friends from my past. Over the course of these visits, I have been repeatedly asked my favorite question: “So, do you think you’re going to come back?”

Me? Move back to LA? I love it. I miss it. It is a part of me. And no, I’m not moving back. At least not any time soon. (Maybe when I retire? It’s not like I’d go to Florida!)

Seriously though, I’m pretty committed to staying on the East Coast. It may not exactly be “home” in the sense of the land of my birth, or the land of my family, but it is “home” in the sense of the place I live. Despite my longing for California, I know that at the end of this visit I will be returning to Boston. And that, at this moment, is where I belong. It is where my apartment is, my stuff, my school, my friends, my community. Yes, I may be home for a visit, but at the end of it I will be happy to go home.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Of Saints and Angels

The other day I saw an exhibit at the Gene Autry Museum called “All the Saints of the City of Angeles.” It was a very cool multimedia bilingual and socially-conscious art exhibit. The basic idea stems from the large number of streets with saints names in Los Angles (e.g. Santa Monica, San Fernando, Saint Pierre, etc):

In All the Saints of the City of the Angels, artist J. Michael Walker uses the saints and the streets bearing their names to uncover the soul of Los Angeles, the City of the Angels.
By connecting the stories of the saints with the people and places of L.A., Walker illuminates the many facets of Los Angeles' multicultural heritage, from a troubled past including forced Native labor and greedy land developers to a contemporary landscape of economic chasms and newly built cultural bridges.

If you’re in LA between now and Sept 7th, and interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Writing from the Other Side

I am writing this blog post from my native land, where I am home for an extended visit (read: several weeks).

I’m having a very So Cal vacation. Thus far I have been to the Griffith Observatory, the Aquarium of the Pacific (aka the Long Beach Aquarium), the Nixon Library, a Dodgers game, and my alma mater. I have met people at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (or “coffee tea and bean” as my father calls it!), eaten lunch in Pico-Robertson (read: Jew-ville), and hung out by the Ocean (the Pacific is the only real ocean for me!). I’ve been eating plenty of fresh-picked strawberries, and getting plenty of sunshine. I have driven in circles around most of LA county multiple times, with my trusty Thomas Guide by my side, and used more gasoline than I’d care to admit (though my conscience is assuaged by the fact that I don’t even own a car in Boston, and in fact have never owned a car in my life!). It's all so very LA.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Primary Madness

I am waiting for the results from today’s election. It being the first Tuesday in June, it is California’s primary day. “Wait a minute,” you may think, “Didn’t California have a primary way back in February?” Yes. We did. And yet, here we are again.

You see, California state law requires that the statewide direct primary elections be held on the first Tuesday in June (which, back in the day, is when we voted in presidential primaries – long after they had been wrapped up and decided by other less populous states). However, this year the powers-that-be, with the blessing of the Democratic Party, decided to move the presidential primary up to Super Tuesday (Feb 5, 2008). On that ballot, we voted for the presidential candidate of our choice, and of course a large number of ballot measures (referenda and/or initiatives), as is our custom.

However, the presidential primary cannot displace the statewide direct primary election, at least not without a legal change first, and so, we have another election. On this ballot I got to vote in the primary for assembly member, member of congress, numerous judges, and, of course, a couple more ballot measures on eminent domain (after all, it has already been a few months since the last round of the primary, clearly enough time to need more ballot measures!).

I find this situation very frustrating. As anyone who cares about participation in the electoral process knows, the best way to get people to vote for the smaller offices (state and local), is to tie it in to a big election that people care enough about to go to the polls. Having the primary on Super Tuesday is just such an opportunity. Not to use it is worse than squandering the opportunity – it is actually counterproductive for participation in the local election – who is going to bother to care about voting in a second primary when they already voted for president months ago? Me, and my family, and a few (millions) of our closest friends. Not enough people. Not nearly enough.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Country

I learned to drive in CA, and had never driven on the east coast at all until this past fall. At that point, after driving Toyb’s car the first few times, I quickly came to the realization that in order to survive I will need to learn two things: rotaries, and parallel parking. Neither of which I know to do. Because after all, neither is necessary in So Cal.

I also noticed something else about East Coast driving which struck me as quite peculiar: there are no painted curbs. This makes it so much harder to know exactly where to park. In CA we have painted curbs in many colors:
red for absolutely no parking (on corners, by fire hydrants, etc)
white for quick drop off / pick up of passengers or mail
yellow for slightly longer loading/drop off and pick up of passengers and freight
green for limited time parking (e.g. 30 minutes only – it will be painted on the curb)
blue for handicapped only.

My latest observations from my road trip have added some new aspects to east coast driving:
• In MA, and ME you aren’t allowed to drive in the left lane on the highway, it’s for passing only. Say what?! Yeah, so very weird. (*Trivia: It turns out this is also the rule in PA, NJ, IL, KY, and WA.) I'm having a really hard time understanding this one, despite Toyb's valiant efforts to explain its supposed merits.

• There are signs with a lower speed limit (i.e. minimum as well as maximum). This actually does make sense to me…but I have never seen such a thing before!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Why is this year different from all other years? All other years I intended to count the omer. But I never succeeded. This may seem odd to people who know how detail-oriented I generally am. But the problem is that I have never managed to start. That’s right, I keep thinking if I could just manage the first day then maybe, just maybe, I would pull it off. At least that would be a beginning. And it is rather ridiculous that I’ve never managed even that.

So, why is this year different from all other years? This year I actually started!

Moreover, I am very excited to note that as of today (last night) I have made it half way through! During my week-long road trip with a friend, we counted together every night. And being the dorks we are, that made us very excited! :)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Activist Judges

(or what I learned in school this semester...)

I have been studying comparative law and my professor is fond of saying that he wishes somebody would tell the President that when he rails against activist judges, he really sounds very French! He makes an interesting point.

The French (civil law) and American (common law) legal systems were both designed with a “balance of power” in mind to provide protection against the abuses of the pre-revolutionary system. But different historical experiences shaped those fears, and thus the new systems they helped create.

In pre-revolutionary France the parlements were overly powerful – serving both judicial and quasi-legislative functions, and were identified with the landed aristocracy. The Revolution was in part a reaction against the parlements. Thus the post-Revolutionary Napoleonic Code was designed to prevent such abuses by an overly powerful judiciary.

In the American context, in contrast, the danger which the system was designed to guard against was an overly powerful executive. In the common law experience judges provided individuals with defense against the state. Thus a powerful judiciary provided a safety-check against the executive – judge made law is an integral part of the common law system, designed to protect people. In other words, activist judges are the very basis of our judicial system.

It is in France that judicial activism is inherently feared and thus systemically prevented through a firm reliance on codes and legislative supremacy. Judicial activism is very American! :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mongolia as a NWFZ

One evening when we were taking a study-break by playing the map game, Aliza asked me a question about Mongolia. Mongolia is a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone, I noted in response. Aliza asked how this was possible. How, indeed? Aren’t NWFZs definitionally zones (treaty-created areas covering more than one state), not single states? Normally, yes. As the UN Chronicle explains, the very rationale behind NWFZs is based on encouraging stable non-nuclear inter-state relations:
Most States seek nuclear weapons for their deterrent qualities, often pursuing them because they fear that their neighbours are developing such weapons. Nuclear-weapon-free zones are intended to fix this security dilemma because they prohibit the possession, testing, transporting and stationing of nuclear weapons within a specific area. Without the presence of nuclear material in a region, no country should feel insecure enough to seek or develop such weapons. At its foundation, NWFZs are confidence-building measures aimed at improving trust and transparency among neighbouring countries.

In fact, the oldest NWFZ predates the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) by a year. It was established in 1967 in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1968, the NPT explicitly granted regional blocs the right to create NWFZs: “Nothing in this Treaty affects the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories,” (Article VII, NPT). Since then NWFZs have been successfully established in the South Pacific and South East Asia. NWFZs have also been created, though they are not yet in force, in Africa and Central Asia. More recently, post-Cold War Mongolia declared itself to be a single-state NWFZ and the international community has accepted this designation. Surrounded by Russia and China you could hardly expect it to create a regional zone.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You can take the girl out of California…

Conversation with an old friend:

Me: So, if I’m staying here indefinitely, I guess that means I really live here.
Friend: Yeah, it kinda does.
Me: Does that mean I have to register to vote here?!
Friend: Yeah, it does.
Me: But… I still feel like a Californian!
Friend: Some people may adopt their new homes, but even if you never live in California again, you will always be a Californian.
Me: Yes, that’s true! … But my kids won’t be!
Friend: True, it’s not a nationality – you can’t pass it along!
Me: But that’s so SAD!

...but you can't take California out of the girl.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Erica, with whom I am acquainted in real life, and who bridges my California-East Coast divide, was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and has recently relapsed. This means she is very much in need of a bone marrow donor. In fact, Erica and her sister Jaci made a song about the search for a donor. If you're not on the registry, consider joining, not only for Erica, but for the random stranger out there who's life might be saved. Next time it might be someone you know. (Also, if you're on the registry and your contact information has changed, make sure it's updated!) And please, re-post/ pass this along to people you know.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Productive Procrastination

In honor of Spring Break (which is really a misnomer because it is NOT spring in New England, no matter what the calendar says!) and Purim, Sunkist Miss presents some fun and productive ways to procrastinate (at least if you share some of my interests). These are a few of my favorite things:
1. Geography as procrastination. It’s a map game! Addictive and educational. Perfect for your local internationalist, and anyone else who likes to know where other countries are. (Hint: it helps if you turn the sound on. I know the noise is annoying, but it is useful for knowing when you are getting things right or wrong).

2. Free Rice. Seriously, this is a great procrastination tool for those who are verbally inclined (not that we know anyone like that!). And it’s a feel good game, because as you play, you donate rice to the World Food Program (paid for by ads, of course).

3. Beverly Hills Chabad. Say what?! Yes, really. So, maybe normal people don’t sit around learning leyning when they’re procrastinating, but who ever said I was normal? Anyhow, this is an awesome resources – I kid you not, it’s an online tikkun! How cool is that?! (Yes, you can also check out Bible ORT, for a verse-by-verse dissection, but for basic tikkun functionality BH Chabad is totally the way to go!).

Happy Purim!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

District of Columbia v. Heller

The Supreme Court today heard the oral arguments for the case examining DC's handgun ban and the 2nd Amendment. The last time SCOTUS heard a Second Amendment case was in 1939. This one is going to make history folks. It's worth keeping track of.

Here are two articles on today's proceedings: the first is from the Washington Post, and the second from the New York Times (there's also a link there to CSPAN's audio of the arguments). When available, transcripts of the oral argument will be on the SCOTUS website.

Check it out. No commentary from Sunkist Miss today. Just bringing you the news.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Amor con sal, chile, limón

Querido lector (Dearest Reader),

I have written previously about cilantro as the secret to Mexican cooking. Today, I share with you the other key, the trinity: sal, chile, limón (salt, chili, [and] lime).

This trio can be found on every table, your regular daily condiment, as common as table salt is here. It is a also a refrain you hear anywhere that food can be found. No “and” necessary. It is a phrase unto itself. Siempre así, “Sal, chile, limón.”

Last night, I prepared mango the proper way – seasoned with sal, chile, limón – for dessert, and it was such a treat. Just the right combination of sweetness with a kick.

Love with a sprinkling of sal, chile, limón,

Sunkist Miss

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mikvah Ladies in a Post-Denominational World

Ima Shalom is a friend and former neighbor, self-described as a “work-at-home-stay-at-home mom living the post-denominational life with her son and Orthodox husband.” About 6 months ago, when her baby was 9 months old, she started a collaborative blog with several other Jewish mothers of young children. It’s a really lovely effort. The reason that I mention it today is that yesterday she wrote a post that I think several of my readers will find interesting. The post talks about her recent invitation to help coordinate the schedule at the local mikvah.

This is particularly interesting in light of the shul politics of the area where she lives... There is a substantial constituency of people there who are active in both the orthodox shul and in (a) the local post-denominational egalitarian minyan and/or (b) the local partnership minyan. The people in this situation have been explicitly excluded from serving as mikvah attendants lest their (varying levels of) egalitarian practice imply loose observance of niddah and thus taint the mikvah. (The ortho shul has also taken issue with men who participate in these minyanim, but that is not the subject of this post.) Anyhow, interestingly enough Ima Shalom attends the ortho shul (where her husband is very involved and respected) and both of the above-mentioned minyanim. As she notes, being a mikvah scheduler is an important way for her to participate, even if she cannot serve as a mikvah attendant. Anyhow, you should read her post. And, if you’re interested, check out her blog regularly.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some days I feel like a Conservative

In a post on the Conservative Movement, Elf wrote:
So it doesn't bother me that the movement doesn't always reflect my ideals, or even that it doesn't seem to have a clear-cut mission. From my perspective, the movement's function is to serve as an umbrella organization for similarly-minded Jewish leaders to build and sustain communities, grapple with contemporary issues, and educate the next generation. Granted, it doesn't always do these things very well, but it hobbles along. And since I don't generally expect much from religious institutions (or institutions in general), I'm not seriously disappointed.

Elf very much reflects my feelings on the matter despite the fact that I (a) grew up in the Conservative Movement, and (b) sometimes identify as Conservative. 

Actually growing up with it, I don't think I ever had the idea that it was supposed to be any different than what Elf describes. And it met my needs by providing us with the UJ, Hebrew High, and the United Synagogue Website (which was my way of figuring out where I might want to daven when entering a new city -- seriously, I must have been the only college student to actually use this tool!)

As for identity, well, when I identify as Conservative (which is not always) I do so first because it's convenient (other days I prefer to say observant, or observant and egalitarian, for example, but what does that mean?!), and secondly because I appreciate being able to label myself as somehow still under the same umbrella as my family despite being at a quite different place on the spectrum that is Conservative Judaism.

Of course, I’m a bit unsure of the utility of the Conservative label for someone who isn’t involved in the Movement. I tend to agree with those who say that the distinction between Conservative and anything else to the right is mixed seating. You may think I’m exaggerating or referring to an old-fashioned distinction. But truly – one of the 2 Conservative shuls where I grew up had mixed seating but did not count women for minyan nor allow women on the bima, while the last post-denominational minyan I was involved in has separate seating but allows women to do basically everything. Moreover, if this really is the distinction, and I if I have concluded that seating arrangement is not a deal breaker (which clearly I have, given my involvement in said minyan), then can I really claim to be Conservative? Perhaps not. But today it’s the best I’ve got. If you want tomorrow’s opinion, you’ll have to ask then!

Now, regarding Katrina's observation about disproportionate disillusionment among Conservative Jews... I have to admit that most of the conservative, formerly-conservative, and would-be-conservative-except people I spend time with fall somewhere close to the conservadox / observant-egalitarian / post-denominational / modern orthodox fault-line. Which is to say, I'm not convinced that I have a representative sample.

That said, is it a problem that the most educated and involved Conservative Jews seem disillusioned with the movement? Yes. That can't be good.

But then again, J is going to be a passionate Conservative rabbi someday – one who actually believes in the movement for its potential. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the happens.

And why don’t I personally feel angsty and disillusioned? I guess I think the Conservative movement did well by me, and made me who I am. And, despite all the musing in this blog post, I actually don’t feel required to stick myself in a label/box. I can therefore accept that legacy without worrying too much about whether it is for me today.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All Fired Up

I am, to borrow a phrase from Barak Obama, all fired up. Now, you might wonder, what is it that has Sunkist Miss fired up today? The election? No, I’m fascinated by but not worked up about the election. Kosovo? The arms trade? Minyan politics? No, no, no. What I’m talking about today is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the right for people with disabilities to obtain accommodations. In another life I think this would have been my calling. As is, it is what you might call a hobby. In any case, it is something that I am passionate about. And this week, I had the opportunity to help out a friend, in a small way. It reminded me about how frustrating it can be to deal with the system. And how important it is to be able to advocate for your needs.

The friend in question was asking for reconsideration of a request for accommodation on a standardized test that had been denied. I helped edit the letter. This required a certain touch that goes beyond knowing how to write. And as she noted, I am quite good at this. My response: I learned from the best. And it’s true. Along with how to write a cover letter, and what else happened in 1492, my mother taught me everything I know about advocating for accommodations. I know what to say and how to say it so that you hit the right buzz words. And much as I was frustrated by the fact that the letter was needed, I was excited to realize that this is something I now know how to do. I’ve come a long way. It’s really nice to be able to use that to help someone else. It makes me feel like there was some net gain from my own experiences with this.

Perhaps some other time I will write more about disabilities issues. But for now I’m just thinking about how much I care about this issue, how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned, and how much I would like to find a way to help other people beyond the friends/acquaintances who occasionally come my way. Maybe when I’m done with grad school I’ll make that a real hobby.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fighting the Cold

Winter is Cold. I know – you, East Coast native that you are, are not surprised. But hey, for some people this is a revelation. It was new to me when I moved east – and I’m still getting over the shock! Anyhow, this seems to come up, repeatedly, in my war class. Just ask my professor…
• Waxing nostalgic on the Peloponnesian War:
“Melos is a nice place – especially when you’re in the midst of the arctic night which is [Boston] in January or February.”

• Contemplating the Napoleonic Wars:
“Napoleon’s idea, when he invaded Russia, was to winter in Lithuania. Now, I don’t know… my idea of wintering doesn’t include either Russia or Lithuania!”

Imagine... if only Napoleon had decided to winter in Greece!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Only in California...

I miss voting on election day. I mean, I voted of course, but being a PAV (that's permanent absentee voter, for those of you not in the know) is much less exciting...especially if you vote for someone who subsequently drops out! Oops.

Anyhow, one of the joys of being a voter in the Great State of California is the dubious privilege of voting on numerous referenda/ballot propositions. I mean, some one has to legislate. If the legislators don't do so, you bring it to the people. Repeatedly. My favorite measure on the Super Tuesday ballot: Proposition 91 on Transportation Funds. Prior to each election, the Secretary of State sends out an official Voter Guide, where you can read the text of the measures, the official legislative analysis of what it will change, and pro and con arguments. Examine the arguments regarding Prop 91:
Pro: Prop. 91 is NO LONGER NEEDED. Please VOTE NO. [...]

Con: No argument against Proposition 91 was submitted.

Now, the official results, with 100% of precincts reporting. Proposition 91 failed. NO votes: 3,820,464 (58.1%). YES votes: 2,763,289 (41.9%). That's right folks, 2.7 Million voters in the state of California voted yes on a proposition that absolutely nobody supported.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Diamonds are for Fighting?

The other day my roommates and I watched Blood Diamond. It’s a fictional account of the conflict diamond trade in Africa, and specifically in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. The movie later prompted a conversation about diamonds and politically/socially conscious decision-making in buying jewelry. I should note that nothing in the movie was news to me, and that I had actually thought about this subject a lot already.

So, if you want to be socially responsible, what are the options?
(1) Do nothing. The Kimberly Process, which entered into force in 2003, is a voluntary process that is supposed to ensure that conflict diamonds are not traded in participating countries (including the US).
(2) Ask for documentation of the seller’s policy on conflict diamonds, and find out how they verify their suppliers.
(3) Get a certified conflict-free diamond (probably a diamond from Canada – yes, they have diamond mines there, they are really from Canada not just via Canada).
(4) Re-use an old diamond.
(5) Since it’s difficult to actually verify where diamonds come from and the major buyers (companies) may mix them together, offset part of the cost by donating to some NGO working to combat the trade in conflict diamonds.
(6) Get something else.

The last option merits further exploration. First of all, if you are going that route – do some research on whatever it is you are planning to buy. That said, it occurs to me that perhaps, for those who are concerned about this issue, buying a diamond, even one that is conflict-neutral or conflict-free, might present a situation of marat ayin. In other words, do I want to give other people the impression that I, a politically aware, socially conscious consumer am okay with buying a diamond that might not be clean? If not, the safest answer is not to have one. I actually overheard some girls at school discussing this idea (albeit with different vocabulary!) last year when one of them was explaining why she didn’t have a diamond engagement right because while she would’ve gotten a certified one, she didn’t want others to think it was simply acceptable as-is.

However, there is not a simple right-and-wrong sort of answer. Yes, the diamond trade tends to be exploitative of poor and conflict-prone countries. However, many developing countries also rely on those exports, and boycotting diamonds could be seen as unfairly damaging their economic prospects even when the particular country of origin is not the source of the problem. As with all my favorite topics, this one defies easy answers.

I am not intending to judge people’s decisions by posting this. Rather, if I have made you think and fomented discussion, I have succeeded. I know good people who have chosen each of the above routes (or a combination thereof). The secondary motive is that people have actually asked me for advice on this subject before, as their resident international relations expert. So having it thought-through and written down is a useful exercise. Along the way, I've included a lot of links with helpful information.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Rest is Commentary

Today I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which dates to the 6th Century BCE. My mother told me that the thing that’s important to understand about Sun Tzu before delving in, is that it's like reading Talmud – it is published with the original text embedded with various commentaries.

This turned out to be very helpful advice. For example, let’s start at the very beginning:
Sun Tzu said:
War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.

Li Ch’üan: ‘Weapons are tools of ill omen.’ War is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.
I begin to see why this is still arguably the most important book on military strategy. And yes, that lasting impact is another parallel. 

In fact, thus far I have found Talmudic logic a useful corollary in several of my courses this semester. Another example is in comparative law, where we have been studying the development of civil law and the jus commune, which began with the glossators at the University of Bologna (11th-12th Century CE) expounding on the text of the Justinian (roman) codes with interlinear commentary.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunkist Miss: Your friendly neighborhood translator

Today, after spending the ride home chatting with yeshivaBoy, I stepped off the T and into an alternate identity. Meet Sunkist Miss, your friendly neighborhood translator and local Latina.

I went to CVS and was minding my own business, when a little old lady came up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. I rapidly recalled the last time this happened in CVS, but decided she probably wasn’t proselytizing and really did need help. This was the right decision. I helped her find the medication she was looking for. Mission accomplished.

[Note: the story referenced is from before I started the blog, I just posted it so you have the back-story if you are so inclined. I think it's entertaining.]

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Spell is Broken...

It is frigid outside. And I slipped and fell on ice on the way to shul yesterday. Everything aches. I miss my warm and dry native land. I hate the winter. All's right in the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winter Magic

I know, I know. I said there was nothing good about winter. After all, I’m cold-blooded, or as Toyb says, endo-thermic. I don’t sustain my own body heat; I extract it from my surroundings. So come winter in Boston, I freeze. This is all still true. 

And, yet. Here I am, in January, shivering, and appreciating this crazy season! What happened? Well, it snowed, again. And actually, there is something quite magical about it. Watching the snow falling is something I will probably never get used to. It’s just such a novelty. Like, wow, what’s that white powdery stuff falling from the sky?! So on Monday, when it had stopped snowing, I dared to venture outside and see my city transformed into wonderland. And I did what every good Californian would do: I took pictures. After all, the best lesson I ever had in photography came from my mother, who told me, "when you go some place new, look around and observe what in your surroundings tells you that you’re not in LA." 

And the thing is, a few days later, the magic hasn’t quite worn off. I know it will this weekend when the temperature drops and the snow turns icy. And at that point I will return to my visceral hatred of winter and cold. But today, as I was walking home, I purposefully stepped off the sidewalk and into the snow. I know people were looking at me funny. But hey, it was still dry and fluffy and virtually untouched, and that feeling of walking on cloud puffs is so strange and irresistible. Like, totally!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The cultural event of the year

When I was home in Cali during winter break, not only did I get to visit my family and replenish a bit of my Vitamin D, but also I attended the annual Sunkist family cultural outing, which in this case was a trip to the Music Center to see The Color Purple. I'm not sure what I think about the Color Purple as a musical, but it was certainly beautifully done. Moreover, it truly was a cultural event, an LA happening. Sitting there, it was impossible not to feel the energy in the theater that came from watching this particular play amongst a wonderfully diverse audience. It was an experience. An LA experience. Being there reminded me for a moment of the unique experiences I had growing up in Southern California. It was a special opportunity, watching the Color Purple in that setting. It was also a special chance to reflect on my own upbringing. I don't know if I'll ever return to CA to live, but it has certainly shaped who I am.