Tuesday, May 31, 2005

As I mentioned in the previous post, I attended a training of trainers co-sponsored by Mosaic, The National Jewish Center for Gender Diversity, and the ADL. I learned LOTS at the training -- it was a remarkable experience -- and had the pleasure of screening two documentaries I recommend to anyone interested in GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) topics.

I've reviewed the two films, Keep Not Silent: OrthoDykes and No Dumb Questions on the movie review blog I share with a friend, thumbsupordown. They are both remarkable films, and I recommend them if you are interested in these subjects!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Today is a pause between the Gerecht Family Outreach Institute (a terrific learning experience and a chance to see some old friends) and a training for diversity trainers in Denver, CO, sponsored by
Mosaic: The National Jewish Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and the Anti-Defamation League. The agenda item for today is laundry, needless to say!

I've also been catching up on the news, and have run across something I want to share, because it does not seem to have gotten much attention. (I've been getting my news via radio from NPR and CBS -- if it isn't on either of those, seems to me it hasn't gotten much attention.)

Have you heard about the Downing Street Memo dated 23 July, 2002? (Clink the link if you would like to read the text for yourself.) Here is the paragraph that made me sit up:

"Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. "

Those words were written in JULY 2002, by Matthew Rycroft, a British diplomat, after a visit to the U.S.

I, for one, believed in the WMD's. I was really surprised when they didn't find any (after all, I'd gotten the daylights scared out of me in Israel, carrying around a gas mask in case Saddam shot poison gas at us.) I was skeptical about President Bush's motives but was convinced because Tony Blair and Colin Powell and all these other very respectable folks seemed convinced.

It was all lies. The Brits knew it was all lies back in July 2002, before the lies were even made public. This whole thing was planned because our President Bush wanted to invade Iraq.

I grant you, if Saddam Hussein were my head of state, I'd be glad if someone got rid of him. But the lives of Iraqis have gone from one bad thing to another, not from bad to good. Nothing I'm hearing from Iraq suggests that it is a bearable place to live today. Yes, there were free elections, and the people who voted in them took their lives in their hands to go on the street to vote and they STILL don't have a functioning government.

And let's not forget the byproducts: the world has been given a new workshop for terrorists, a new rallying point for Al Qaida and Hamas and all those lovely people. The terrorists have had access to weapons we failed to secure.

Apparently our news organizations don't care. They care about selling you Michael Jackson testimony, and American Idol speculation, and other similar swill. News organizations don't care because they have become profit-driven, or grant-dependent. (NPR does not get off the hook here, either.) They don't care because their research shows that we don't care.

I'm asking you to care. If you don't like being lied to about the war in Iraq, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (and TV, and so on) and tell them that you care more about the war in Iraq than you do about the latest titillating details from the Jackson trial and who won American Idol. Tell them you don't understand why the Downing Street Memo hasn't gotten more airplay.

If you are a Republican, and think the Downing Street Memo is no big deal, I ask that you care enough to tell your media sources that you care about real news, about our men and women dying in Iraq, about other things that are Real in the world. Tell them that you're fed up with titillating crowd-pleasers on the news. I respect you enough to believe that you don't really think that the bread-and-circuses approach to news is OK.

Write to someone. Raise Cain. Please.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Today I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes: exploring California. For months now, I've been eyeing an alternate route over the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles. Normally I take the I-5 over the Tehon Pass, through the "Grapevine," a spectacular piece of engineering through the Angeles National Forest. It's no small shakes, but after two years of drives to and from Merced, I know that road by heart.

Another, longer way south turns east after Bakersfield and takes Highway 58 over the Tehachapi Pass through the mountains, where the Tehachapis meet the southern end of the Sierra Nevada. The road turns south from there to cut across the western end of the Mojave Desert. That road called to me from the map: it whispered sweet nothings about beautiful mountain and desert views. I had resisted the call for months (classes to go to, services to lead) but today I stopped in Bakersfield, slept until I woke up, and then headed east for Tehachapi.

One unusual glitch: whoever heard of a rainy day in May in Southern California? When I left Bakersfield, the rain was spitting a little, nothing much, but as I ascended into the mountains, I also ascended into the low cloud ceiling and more rain. I was grateful for the bright orange Cal Trans truck ahead of me: I followed that truck through the fog and trusted that its driver knew the road, because I could barely see the taillights of the truck, much less anything to do with the road. I imagine it's a gorgeous road up to the pass, but I've no idea. I'll go back someday and see, I guess.

At one point, I got a little nervous about the road (lots of fast vehicles passing me and the Cal Trans guys) so when I saw a California Historical Site Marker for something called the Tehachapi Loop I thought, "What the heck is that?" and then "What the heck?" and turned on the road to Keene, CA.

Keene is a wide spot in the road with about 400 residents; it was damp as I drove through but people seemed friendly. The little road curved back 3 miles into the brush past Keene's cafe and post office, and I thought to myself, hmmm, was this smart? But it certainly was interesting. All the wildflowers that had been flashing past my window on Hwy 58 were now close enough to touch. The terrain was rough, befitting a place where the Pacific and North American plates have been jamming up against each other for millenia: the only flat ground had been carved out to make a road, to build a house, or to build the railroad through the pass. Everything else was vertical, lots and lots of hills and hillocks, bounding up and down the mountainside, studded with huge rocks.

When I found the brass Historical Marker by the side of the road, I pulled off to read it. Turns out that the Tehachapi Loop is one of the great railroad engineering feats of the 19th century. I looked out over the valley below the road, and there was a loop of railroad. It was nice of the railroad people to leave a freight train sitting there to help me see it. It took me a few minutes to understand what I was looking at, but after some staring through the rain, I got it: the engineers who designed the railroad track had been faced with a problem when they tried to design track to go over the Tehachapi Pass throught this wild, vertical country. In addition to tunnels (through the hills) and bridges (over the valleys) and a circuitous route (around the devilish hills) they needed a way to gain 77 feet in elevation in a single spot, a seemingly impossible feat. That was accomplished by designing a giant loop of railroad track that crosses over itself, gaining the 77 feet. (If you find this hard to visualize, click the link and the diagram may help.)

All this work was done by hand, by Cantonese railroad workers. They called the loop "Walong" which means "Chinese Road" or "Coiled Dragon" depending upon whom you ask. The railroad from Caliente to Tehachapi, including the loop, is a marvel, and a testament to the Chinese contribution to California history. Even now, that track carries over 40 frieght trains a day, and it is one of the busiest sections of rail track anywhere in the world. I was sorry to hear that there's no passenger service over the loop; apparently the bus from LA to Bakersfield is quite a bit faster than the train would have been, which is why there's an Amtrak bus from LA to Bakersfield.

I got back on 58 and saw lots more great stuff: the town of Tehachapi (it's a rail town, with streets labeled A,B,C, and D) and the town of Mojave, where I had lunch. I left the rain behind at Mojave -- it was stopped by the height of the mountains, and when I looked back, I could see a few clouds leaking through the pass, as I had.

I saw the Silver Queen Mine, a huge plant visible from Hwy 14. There's lots of mining up there, silver and gold and borax and goodness knows what else. I saw all sorts of beautiful wild things blooming: brittlebrush , Mojave aster, creosote bush, and Joshua Trees in bloom. The Joshua blossoms have a strong odor; when I pulled off the road to look at a tree to see if those were blossoms or fruit, I got a snootful of their amazing stink. The Mojave is a wilderness with a flavor of its own; the wildness reminded me of the Judean Desert, even though the plants are quite different and instead of Bedouins, the Mojave has test pilots!

The last bit of my detour took me down Soledad Canyon Road, in the Tehachapis. The photos at the page I linked to don't do it justice; it is a beautiful, winding road following a small river and the railroad down the canyon. I saw a lot of interesting geological bits in the canyon, outcroppings of what looked like basalt in one place, and what I think must be the tailings of an old copper mine on a slope above me. (I hope it was an old copper mine -- I hate to think what else might have made that strange green color.)

I'd like to take that route again sometime, armed with a more information and more time. There were a dozen side roads that looked interesting, and some small museums (like the one in Keene) which I hated to pass by.

I told someone recently that I'm a fool for new ideas. That's true. I'm also a fool for an unexplored road. I think those two qualities are linked -- I just love going where I don't know what I might find!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The papers went in on time, just barely. Since then, I've visited Jamie and Aaron in Santa Cruz and come to spend my final weekend of the year in Merced. Summer's here: it's hot today.

I thought I had a lot to say about a lot of things, but the wind's gone out of me. (Mark your calendars.) I'm very tired after this past year. Even after dropping two classes, this term was a heavy load. I spent most of my time working on my theology paper, an examination of Jewish Peoplehood. I kept writing it and rewriting it because I learned a little more with each iteration; I still haven't learned everything I want to learn from that paper, but it's in Dr. Adler's hands now.

I was disappointed with my exegesis of Ruth 3. I thought there was more "there" there, but I couldn't find it. Compared to the other texts on which I've done an exegesis, it looked like a piece of cake, which just goes to show you: very little in the Bible is simple. I found some things I think will be useful for the theology paper (which has now graduated into being either an obsession or a hobby, depending on how you look at it) but I was disappointed with that exegesis.

I restarted my Hebrew journal a few weeks ago; this summer I'm working on Hebrew and Aramaic, honing my skills. Maybe I'm writing the theology paper again, too.

I had the honor of naming another baby last night: Lirit bat Benyamin v'Rachel. I do love naming babies!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I'm coming down to the wire now... three items left on my to-do list, and then Year 3 of Rabbinical School is over.

Watch this space for some serious rambling when I finish it all!