Tuesday, August 20, 2013

We've Moved

You can find everything new on the new site.


See you on the other side

Friday, October 26, 2012

Against All Odds

I've long thought that there is a link between food, consumerism, capitalism and social justice. The way we eat and the way we are fed is such a basic part of our day to day existence. There is no better way to understand how thoroughly social injustice is perpetrated by our very economic system than to witness the way healthy eating has become a luxury to be enjoyed by the wealthy while the rest of society is pushed towards eating more and more processed food, providing cheap calories while reaping havoc on our health. In the name of profit and continued growth we are being encouraged to eat more of what brings big food companies the most money. The impact of this on those eating all of this crap is something that does not concern these same companies.

Whenever they are challenged to take responsibility for their actions, the Mcdonalds, Nestles and Unilevers of the world put up a spirited and indignant fight. Relying on their wealth and political clout they often prove that might makes right. But this does not have to be the narrative. This film showcases two activists that stood up to big business and won against all odds

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When It comes down to it

When it comes down to it, I'm an anti-capitalist. The below has the same effect on me as showing Mexican welfare queens getting arrested has on elderly citizens of Arizona.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Being Wrong

There is little that triggers my derision and instant dismissal quicker than a climate change denier. How much evidence do you need? How long can you possibly spend burying your head in the sand in the face of the obvious human effect on our environment? We consume and pollute and waste and impact and pretend that it has no effect on us. And if you are not stupid and you are still denying our impact on the environment then you are, at the very least, selfish.

Writing these lines, I can feel the self righteous rage rise in me. I not only recognize that we need to act now to attempt to stop what looks like almost inevitable and disastrous environmental and social upheaval, but I am also a member of the Israeli Green Movement, I take an active part in trying to promote a sustainable future for humanity and the rest of the planet. And these idiots deny anything is wrong or pretend there is nothing wrong just to make a quick buck.

And I am no better then they.

I think that Naomi Klein is right when she describes the motivation behind a lot of institutional climate change denial as having its roots in an understanding of what it will take to stop climate change. When you begin to realize the drastic changes needed to the way we live, and procreate, travel, consume and eat in order to stop climate change, is it any wonder that people have little appetite for a green agenda? Herein lies part of the explanation, but when you slap your forehead at the stupidity of this suicidal, chauvinistic destruction of everyone’s future, realize that they act this way for the same reason that you are not a vegan.

Now, for all you vegans out there feeling very good about yourselves, consider this. Too many of you are  busy being preachy, self satisfied, unbearable kill-joys and too few of you are being quiet, inspirational examples that we can aim to emulate.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year thinking about the connection between pursuing a sustainable future and what I eat. I’m on the verge of becoming a vegetarian, rather than just drastically reducing my meat intake but the idea of being a vegan still feels hopelessly radical to me. The idea of having to give up dairy and eggs is simply beyond me. I know that what that what will allow us to feed the planet is for all of us to give up animal based food. I know that what will make a real impact on climate change is for all of us to stop eating animal based food. I know that in the end necessity will force us to stop eating animal based food but for now, at the very least, I want my cheese and I want my eggs.

So, the next time you feel perplexed by those numbskulls who won’t give up their SUVs, realize that they are just like you because you can’t give up your ice-cream. Empathy will always get you farther in changing someone’s mind than being right will.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Leaders of the Leaderless

George Orwell was a convinced communist until he saw how it’s ideals where being corrupted by the power hungry leaders of the Soviet Union. In 1984 he wrote of the dangers of thought policing in the service of doctrinal purity and in Animal Farm he addressed the suspicion with which we should approach those that claim to be our leaders. The animals, having become aware that they were being exploited by what they initial believed to be well meaning farmers, revolt and expel them, establishing an ideal and egalitarian society established on agreed and publicized principles. It does not take long for a certain group of animals, the pigs, to claim leadership in the best interest of the collective, quickly replacing the plutocracy of humans with a plutocracy of pigs.

I get the chills when I read updates on the English language facebook page of the “The Israeli Social Movement (NGO)” such as:

Alon Lee-Green, Stav Shaffir, and Yonatan Levi, leaders of the Israeli Social Movement, in Time Out Israel” 
“In a highly divided society in Israel, it is a challenge to mobilize everyone for the cause of social justice. Social justice movement leader, Stav Shaffir, believes it is possible. Stav posted on the issue of representation in organizing protests”

I cannot help but think of Orwell’s pigs strutting about on two legs, not long after all the animals shouted “four legs good, two legs bad!”

What are these people thinking? Do they not see the irony in claiming leadership of a movement that has been driving the ruling elite crazy by refusing to appoint leaders they can negotiate with? How can they possibly claim to represent a movement that is so broad  it is impossible to reduce the protests to a simple list of demands, no matter how long?

The genius of the protest movements of the last year, be they in Tel Aviv, New York or Madrid is that they recognized that the entire system requires an overhaul in order for things to change. It’s not enough to pressure a party on the left or on the right because in the end they are part of the same corrupt political structure where capital and politics are merged at the hips. By understanding that if these movements imitate the same power structures of those institutions they are protesting, they are destined, like the animals on the farm to go from the tyranny of humans to the tyranny of pigs, to become that which they rail against. The most important outcome of the protests has been to cause us to look and think about our respective societies outside the narrative of the establishment and their media mouthpieces.

It’s disappointing to see how well intentioned individuals are unable to resist the temptation to take ownership of movements they are a part of. Is it so difficult to insist on being an activist and not a leader? Why cheapen yourself by giving in to the very same culture you are protesting, where everyone is just working to get ahead while elbowing their comrades to the pavement? Have you so little self awareness that you are reduced to a Ya’ir Lapid?

This is our protest movement. It belongs to all of us. We will join you but we will never follow you. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Uncomfortable thoughts about being a hypocrite

For years now I’ve been giving my brother a hard time for never buying music, movies or ebooks. He pirates them all. My argument has always been that if you enjoy the music that someone has invested time and effort in making, if you spend a couple of days reading a book then the least you can do is give the musicians and authors their fair share. The standard response has always been to call me a hypocrite because, although I buy a lot CDs and books, I also pirate music and movies. This is not an entirely unfair criticism, I just don’t think it’s as black and white as that. It’s not either you pirate everything or you pirate nothing. It’s not about maintaining purity, about thinking that the choice is between living exactly by an ideal or assuming that you can change nothing. This mindset that allows us to on the one hand complain about the fact that TV, newspapers and popular culture is crap and at the same time not realize that we are all part of shaping our surroundings is at the crux of a lot of our problems.

I thought of this after I read this response to this blogpost, where an NPR intern details how she never bought more than 15 CDs, not seeing the irony that she is undermining the very industry she wants to work in. Reading this made me realize that we maintain a similar hypocrisy about many things we criticize.

Many bemoan the demise of the independent stores in town centers. The kind of stores where you actually establish a relationship with the people working there, they know your name and they know what you like. Yet, we cannot pin the blame for their disappearance on the big box retailers and the national chain stores alone. It is us, who prefer the convenience of 24/7 shopping and saving a couple of bucks that is driving these small retailers to close their doors. If are not willing to spend a little more or be OK with not being able to shop at 9 in the evening, then we have no right to complain that the stores we go to are impersonal and staffed by people that care nothing about us.

This doesn’t mean that we can never order from Amazon but rather that we should stop expecting to get Amazon prices for everything we want. If there’s a Starbucks and an independent coffee shop on your block then avoid Starbucks. When you need some paint go to a local hardware store instead of home depot. Understand that if you want your neighborhood to look different then you need to put your money where your mouth is.

This is true for many of the choices we make.  We can complain loudly about the quality of food but at the same are not willing to pay the premium for buying from small farmers. We are upset with our lousy politicians but how many of you have written or called your representative to share your opinion about something you care about? When was the last time you demonstrated or volunteered for something? We’re concerned about the environment but the majority of people can’t give up their addiction to their car or put up with the “inconvenience” of public transport.

In short, my brother is right. We are all hypocrites. But, if we now resign ourselves to our hypocrisies and as a result only double down on behavior we know to be self defeating then we waste an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. The uncomfortable feeling when you realize you may talk the talk, but you are not exactly walking the walk is best seen as invitation to examine your actions and motivations. Otherwise it only leaves us feeling embarrassed.

Many social justice protesters in the west espouse a fairer distribution of resources in their countries. They protest the unfair hoarding of money and influence by the 1% at the expense of the 99%. Were you to extend this demand to it’s logical and global conclusion, then those same people in rich western countries, the global 1%,  should also agree to a fairer distribution of global resources for everyone else. This would mean a lowering of living standards in the first world in order to improve living standards in the third world. I’m not sure how many of the people protesting in New York, Tel Aviv, Madrid and Athens would agree to this (yours truly included).

Does this hypocrisy of ours mean that we shouldn’t seek greater social justice in our respective communities? Certainly not. What’s more, it is realizations like these that allow us to think beyond our comfort zones, our ideological bubbles, our truisms and maybe, just maybe learn something new.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Open Letter to Chris Hayes


Following the controversy over your remarks about whether automatically calling all soldiers heroes doesn’t get in the way of us having an open and honest conversation of how and when we should use our armies; I was surprised at how upsetting I found many of the chauvinistic, knee-jerk reactions to what you said.

I thought that your remarks where intelligent, meaningful, respectful and necessary. I’m sorry that you felt the need to apologize for them. Let me explain.

I served as a platoon commander in the armored corps of the IDF during the second half of the 90’s. I was repeatedly deployed in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon. My soldiers and I often talked about the disparity we felt between serving in what was a war zone when at the same time civilians were leading normal lives, often only miles away. We felt this most strongly when coming home to Tel Aviv on weekend furloughs while stationed in southern Lebanon. Many of us asked how could people just go about their daily lives as if nothing is happening while we are getting injured and killed.

I always thought that that was the point of having an army. With universal conscription, everyone (in theory at least) spends three or four years of their lives in the army to protect civilian society so that when they get out of the army, they can live a normal civilian existence. By shouldering the burden of defense for a limited amount of time we where allowing the existence of a vibrant, liberal democracy where people could ask difficult questions about how we should treat our military. I risked my life so that your Israeli counterparts could question why my soldiers and I were being sent to Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. I most definitely did not risk my life so that I could get false respect from macho militarists, most of whom wouldn’t recognize the shooting end of a rifle if was staring them in the face.

On November 23, 1998, during a battle with Hezbollah, my tank was hit by multiple anti-tank rockets and I was injured. For 7 days straight I was in both major daily newspapers, being called every kind of hero. I was thoroughly embarrassed. I didn’t feel like a hero. I just didn’t get out of the way of the rockets in time.

You’re right, when you say that not everyone is made out to serve in the military and that goes double for combat units. It’s physically demanding but then so is working in agriculture or construction, so that doesn’t make us heroes. You need to be able to eat a lot of shit, which certainly doesn’t make you a hero. You spend most of your time bored out of your mind while waiting for something to happen, which doesn’t make you much except for a little twitchy. And you have to love your comrades enough so that you don’t think twice about endangering your life in order to keep them safe. It is that camaraderie that makes serving in a combat unit a privilege rather than a burden.

I’ve found that the people who called us heroes and went out of their way to celebrate our service, were for the most part the same people most enthusiastic to go to war and at the same time the least likely to serve in combat units. The way to honor our troops is by paying them a decent wage, taking care of their families, making sure they have the equipment and the training they need to do their jobs, paying for their college education, giving them citizenship, properly funding VA, healing their injuries (both physical and mental), understanding that our responsibility towards them does not end when they are discharged and continually asking ourselves if the wars we send them to are absolutely necessary.

That is respect. The rest is just so much hot air.

Thank you for your service, Chris. You honor us with the tough questions you ask.

 Bram Spiero