Recently in Election/Politics Category

What a Mensch of a President!

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I love that President Obama made such a nice Rosh Hashanah message. Even if he did pronounce the "Yom" in Yom Kippur like he was tasting something delicious (him and every other American non-Jew outside of New York), it's nice to know that he's thinking of us. I don't even mind that he got political toward the end, because that's his job, and what he's saying makes a lot of sense. (See J Street for more info.)

Most importantly, I like the genuine sense of joy that I see in the President's eyes when he talks about the holiday. I think he actually knows what he's talking about when he discusses the theology, which makes me miss the east coast, and it's nice to be reminded by the guy in charge to forgive people and reassess our lives.

Next steps: Inviting President Obama to our Passover seder... I think he'd particularly enjoy the part where we read aloud about the oppression of the Soviet Jews, and the responsibility of the international community to help them. I can dream, right?

Some Fabulous Lesser-Known Speeches

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My friend is a rhetoric major, and she needs to analyze a single text for her senior thesis. She doesn't like to analyze single texts, preferring instead to compare two or more texts. So, I suggested for her a couple awesome speeches that nobody knows about.

I'm not saying that "I Have a Dream" and "The Ballot or the Bullet" or Reagan's Challenger address are insignificant. In fact, "we slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God" remains the single best use of iambic meter in the 20th century. But each of those famous speeches has been analyzed hundreds of times over. Little new is left to discover. To that end, I've created a list of less-well-known speeches that are pretty cool:

The Rev. Al Sharpton, 2004 DNC: This speech is incredible because of its shape, and the power of its meaning. Written in two parts, it slowly ramps up through the first half into the second half's staggering crescendo, finally ending on the most patriotic use of Ray Charles I've ever heard.

Awesome line: "Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham." Believe it or not, it gets better from there.

Full audio: click here

Barbara Bush, Wellesly College Commencement: Just a nice grandiose speech. So many commencement speakers try to be so expansive, and to deliver "the speech that will define the graduates' time at the school." Really, though, the best of them simply speak gently and humorously, and join in the celebration.

This speech closes with a gem, though: "Thank you," she says, "and may your future be worthy of your dreams."

Full audio: click here

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Cape Town University: This speech is rather well-known, but it has the best opening of any I can recall. Really you should listen for yourself (link just below), but the opening paragraph is simply stunning. Revolutionized a generation's way of thinking:

"I come here this evening because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once the importer of slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America."

Full audio: click here

Joseph Ratzinger.

Even if he weren't a member of the Hitler Youth, the name alone sends shivers down a Jewish spine. So nobody was really surprised when he cancelled the excommunication of four Holocaust-denying bishops punished by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Some highlights of the NY Times article:

-In 1988, the four Holocaust-denying Bishops were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II because they resisted the modernizations codified at the Second Vatican Council. Among these were the inclusion of the vernacular in the Mass to make it more accessible, and official recognition (at last) that the Jews didn't kill Christian children and drink their blood. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reached out to the bishops, helping them continue their ultra-conservative, and anti-Jewish views.

-Recently, the Pope continued his concessions to the group, approving a more traditional version of the Mass that implores Jews to convert to Catholicism. (The version had been replaced during Vatican II in a fit of friendliness toward Jews.)

-One implication of the Pope's Holocaust-denying actions is that Israel will cancel its papal invitation for later this year.

So it looks like the Pope really screwed himself over on this one, after convincing everybody for years that he "hadn't really supported the Nazis." But then again, what did you expect from a guy named Joseph Ratzinger?

The People's Front of Judea!

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We evaluated my grandmother's multitude of holiday donation requests today, when I picked up my mother there. We took a bunch home, and looked them up on Charity Navigator to find out if they were legit. If you don't know, Charity Navigator is a great resource that explains the efficiency of charities to which you're considering donating money. For example, the American Jewish World Service received four stars (out of four), because almost the entire donation goes to their programming, and barely any goes to administration costs. The American Institute for Cancer Research, on the other hand, spends far more money on administration and fundraising, thus diminshing their efficiency.

The American Institute for Cancer Research, however, brings us to Point #2: A lot of these charities are pointless analogues, which only confuse potential donors. For example, my grandmother got mail from both the American Institute for Cancer Research and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. (Both rated only one star, by the way.) Neither of them is as legit as, say, the American Cancer Society. My grandmother also got mail from both the Disabled Veterans Associations (one star) and the Disabled American Veterans. Both worthy causes, if they were legit, but the added costs of separate fundraising clearly cut into their efficiency: 96.7% of money donated to the Disabled Veterans Associations is re-spent on fundraising, and only 2.3% is spent on their programming. Look it up!

But all these silly organizations with confusingly similar names remind me of a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian. It's his first encounted with the People's Front of Judea, NOT to be confused with the Judean People's Front:

In closing, I'd like to share some of my favorite charities, Camp Tawonga of Northern California and the American Jewish World Service (four stars out of four for efficiency). I can personally vouch for both of them, having been involved with Camp Tawonga for 12 years and with AJWS for seven. They both provide vital programming, one to California's young Jewish community, and the other to the entire population of the developing world. I encourage you to check out their web sites to find out more, or feel free to ask me for details. I can't think of another place where your donation will have such a vast and important impact!

Worth watching!

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Keith Olbermann with a "special comment" on the passage of California's Proposition 8. In an era of mediocre television, this clip stands out.

Thanks to Katie for finding and posting this.

Do I need The West Wing anymore?

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I own all seven seasons of West Wing, and I watch them frequently. I've gone straight through the series about five times, and I've watched specific episodes far more than that. This year, I started in August with the first episode, and finished the last season earlier this week. As relevant as ever, especially with the real-life election that West Wing completely foreshadowed, but now I stop to question why the series meant indeed so much to me.

I think back to the excitement I always felt before watching an episode. I'd rush back from class, or lunch, or a meeting, and have just enough time to watch one before heading off again. I quite literally put off papers that were due the next day to watch West Wing. But it was more than just a funny or a dramatic show, this year in particular. It was a show about hope. A show demonstrating that in this America, which we all love so dearly, the kind of government that we could only dream of is possible. A show proving that despite the inherent beaurocracy and dehumanization of "The Government," real people are placed all throughout it, making it run, and trying their very best to make our country better.

And maybe that's why I no longer feel that addiction. The day after our election, I watched the West Wing election in Season 7, in which Congressman Santos beat Senator Vinick. Santos was modeled after Pres.-Elect Obama, and Vinick after Sen. McCain. The episode following, the West Wing timeline sailed past the real-life timeline, as Pres.-Elect Santos worked on his transition, deciding whom to appoint and whom to hire. In real life, Pres-Elect Obama hired Rahm Emanuel (on whom Josh Lyman was based) to be his chief of staff. On West Wing, Pres.-Elect Santos appointed his formal rival, Sen. Vinick, to be his Secretary of State.

And so the hope has been fulfilled. After eight years of ever-darkening nighttime, daybreak has dawned on America. And with a Democratic House and Senate, combined with a Democratic president, perhaps Pres.-Elect Obama will be able to accomplish the tasks that Presidents Bartlet and Clinton never could.

Dreams are based in experience, right?

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I didn't sleep well last night. Probably something to do with the window being open just wide enough for the wind to blow against the blinds, knocking them together and waking me up about every four minutes.

But the good news is, I remember my dreams. One of them, anyway. You might even call it a nightmare. I was either Pres.-elect Obama or Pres.-elect Santos, I don't know which, and I was stressing out over whom to appoint to my cabinet. I was standing in my wood-paneled transition office, and I was arguing with someone (who very well may have been Barry Goodwin) about which appointees would be best for the job.

Go figure. What a scary/realistic/timely dream!

I think it would be so much fun to appoint cabinet members.

Even more West Wing :-)

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So as I was checking Will's father's title for the previous post, I found this incredible blog section that consists exclusively of creative fiction with Will Bailey in it. Cool!

There's this really great story about Will conspiring with Amy Gardner to keep Josh away from the First Lady's meeting with a certain Republican congresswoman. Check it out:

Sesame Street

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So I'm watching Sesame Street, and they're talking about families today. Risky, to be sure, even without the diversity component. But then somewhere in between the families with single parents and the families with grandfathers, and the Asian and Latino families (OMG! Asian familes exist? I had no idea!), they showed a family with two fathers. Hallelujah! I'm so proud of Sesame Street, that they take seriously their responsibility to educate a generation of children (and their parents) to accept diversity, and reject bigotry.

I seem to remember a West Wing episode during which the congressional Republicans wanted to cut Sesame Street's funding because of this specific issue. Kind of a West Wing day... :-)

On a related note, I learned from the Asian family that long noodles are special because they represent a long life. Also, the oranges at the end of the meal represent a sweet life. And the youngest child pours the tea for the whole table. "Actually, I'm not the youngest. But babies can't pour tea." Ain't that the truth!

"It's been a long time coming, but I know: A change is gonna come"

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"It's been a long time coming, but I know: A change is gonna come." -Sam Cooke, "A Change is Gonna Come," 1964

What a night! I realized, mid-way through President-Elect Obama's speech, that this is the first time I can remember that we won. Certainly the first time that I was aware of its significance. It's an historic election for the Black community, and he's the first liberal president(-elect) in 28 years.

But more than that, it's the hope I felt for the future. Yes, we can change the government! Yes, we can fix the problems that have persisted for far too long! And yes, we can choose the best candidate for the job regardless of his name or the color of his skin.

And I can't help but wonder, now that this once-impossible election has been won. Maybe, someday, possibly, could a Jew be elected?

But for now, congratulations, Pres.-Elect Obama, and I can't wait to see you in the White House.  

"It's been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America." -President-Elect Obama, in his acceptance speech tonight