I ran into Gary Hart in the halls of the State Legislature. It turns out we were both trying to locate the room where he was to give a press conference on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and were having difficulty finding it. We exchanged a few words, and after asking a maintenance man working wiring in the hall, found our way. I don’t know how old he is, near 80 maybe? Whatever, he still cuts a handsome figure, thin, impeccably dressed, a fine head of hair although it is all gray. As with many of us growing older, he seems to be somewhat hard of hearing…but what the body might lack, the intellect makes up for.
He was very sharp and clear in his comments. He know his stuff about the agreement, came out four square for the agreement that would limit Iran’s nuclear energy program in exchange for an end to sanctions against that country and the freeing up of sequestered Iranian funds in U.S. and European banks. He fielded essentially everything thrown at him in the question and answers, calmly and systematically. The press, with its usual gutter level understanding of the agreement, seemed obsessed with two issues: first the verification questions. They seemed to have swallowed – and then regurgitated – the same old stuff coming out of the country’s right wing, AIPAC and the like. They were also curious as to how Michael Bennet might vote on the issue. Hart thought Bennet would probably make a public statement very soon, in a day or so. Some one in the audience suggested that Diana De Gette, the Congresswoman representing Denver would also shortly announce. Read more…
The Jews of North Africa: From Dido to De Gaulle by Sarah Taieb-Carlen (Translated by Amos Carlen). University Press of America: 2010 – Part Two
- North African Jewry: a long and distinguished history…
A theme often repeated in Moslem countries concerning the treatment of Jews living there before the 20th century is that Moslems and Jews got along fairly well, that Jews were “a people of the book,” protected according to the Pact of Omar (Or Umar) and as a result, having a rightful, if clearly inferior, place with the broader Islamic society. It is often repeated by Moslem writers that through most of history until the modern era Jews living in Muslim countries were treated much more kindly and fairly than they were over the same period in “Christian” Europe. There is something valid in this statement although a more careful review of the history of the Jews living in the Muslim World in general and the Maghreb in particular suggests a much more nuanced, conflictual and rocky relationship throughout its 1300 year history.
As Jacques Taïeb notes in another excellent small volume, Être Juif au Maghreb á la viellie de la colonisation (Éditions Albin Michel: 1994) the Jewish experience in the Maghreb goes through four period: a “productive opening during the period of Classical Islam – in spite of the cruel excesses of the Almohads, a period of extended repression during the long centuries of Berbero-Arab domination, the period of “Turkish modernization” “full of contrasts” (ie, tolerance and repression combined) and the modern pre-colonial period, confusing and conflictual with many revolutionary and innovative aspects. Taïeb-Carlen’s work in many ways fleshed out Jacques Taïeb’s briefer sketch essentially using the same (or closely similar) historical periods. Read more…
Michele Hobart Obituary
August 19, 1957 – August 30, 2015
Resided in Cayce, SC
The quest for the end to suffering and the elimination of injustice among humans lost a dedicated and passionate advocate with the death of Michele Hobart of Cayce, SC.
Born in New Orleans to a liberal librarian (Mary Mitchell Hardy, Red Lodge MT) and a libertarian ex-Marine (Robert E. Hobart, deceased) and raised in oil boom towns large and small throughout the western US, Michele had an innate kindness, a natural curiosity, a zest for understanding, a staunch independence, a Bill of Rights bookmark, and an uncompromising compassion-based vision of what that document implied for the responsibilities of her country and its citizens in pursuing peace and justice.
Americans grow up regularly reciting our pledge of “liberty and justice for all”. Most of us don’t often reflect on what that really means while some say the words but hear “liberty and justice for those just like me”. Michele, with an unwavering clarity of purpose, fully embraced that clause as written and knew that until the last two words, For All, become universally practiced, then we have not truly achieved liberty and justice.
While her greatest joy was as a single mother helping her daughter, Rachel Rhiannon Hobart (Pullman, WA) grow to become another strong, passionate woman with a beautiful heart and a clear sense of right and wrong, Michele dedicated much of her free time to seeking nonviolent paths to peace and justice. Her kindness, her laugh and her smile were revered among those who knew her, but her fierce compassion and empathy for the powerless is what guided her throughout her life.
At age 15 in Denver, Michele graduated from high school, achieved “Emancipated Minor” status, and headed off to save the world. First stop was as a volunteer for Cesar Chavez in the United Farm Workers movement, traveling the country in support of UFW efforts. In 1975, at age 17, she participated in a peaceful, informational picket line around a liquor store in suburban Denver, urging patrons to purchase UFW-friendly wines. All the picketers were arrested, but Michele and two other women were singled out to be strip-searched and held in solitary confinement. The women were awarded compensatory and punitive damages in a civil-rights lawsuit after a jury trial. Michele and her co-plaintiffs used their monetary award to set up the End Police Abuse Fund, the balance of which was recently transferred to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (http://www.naacpldf.org) to support efforts to change the culture of police forces in a continuing effort to truly end police abuse. She spent the ’80s pursuing, primarily, labor causes while also raising awareness of social injustices around the world.
In the early 1990’s, Michele and Rachel moved to Seattle, where Michele developed two new passions that would be major influences in her life: Buddhism and her future husband, Tom Owens (Cayce, SC). Buddhism spawned a spiritual element to her desire to end human suffering. In Tom, she found a kind, kindred spirit who became an ever-tolerant and (mostly) silent partner in her quests while sharing her wanderlust and her desire for quiet solitude. Their relationship relied on a unique bond of strongly independent souls with a similar zest for life and firm grasp of the absurd that allowed them both to laugh, thrive and grow over the next 20 years. Tom’s job brought her to South Carolina, where she first put energy into building a Buddhist community. Around the turn of the century, she pursued this effort to the tune of over 1000 miles/wk driving “The Monk Shuttle” from a then-nascent, now thriving, Buddhist Meditation Center in Atlanta (http://meditationingeorgia.org) to Columbia, SC and Asheville, NC to bring teachings to introduce her Buddhist tradition (http://kadampa.org) to the Carolinas. Those efforts bore fruit and 16 years later there are thriving communities of Buddhist practitioners at the Kadampa Meditation Center in West Columbia (http://meditationinsouthcarolina.org) and the Vajradhara Buddhist Center in Charlotte, NC (http://meditationcharlotte.org). Through these centers, Buddhist teachings are provided throughout the Carolinas and many individuals will benefit from her efforts for years to come. To develop her personal meditation practice, Michele spent the winter of 2002-2003 in a 4-month silent meditation retreat in Scotland.
South Carolina is not without its own social justice challenges and so Michele marched and sang in 2000 with 46, 000 others to pressure legislators to finally remove the Confederate Flag from atop the State Capital and was pleased to live to see the symbolic job completed this summer, although saddened that such a tragic loss of life was necessary to move forward. In fact, Michele spent many hours on the State House grounds, standing in silence regularly on Wednesdays with the Women in Black (http://womeninblack.org) protesting the continuous state of war in which we have lived almost since her arrival in South Carolina, joining the Carolina Peace Resource Center (CRPC; http://www.carolinapeace.org) to support numerous marches and protests, and sleeping on the steps of the State House during the Occupy Columbia protests. Her long-held concern for the plight of the Palestinian people became a focus of her activities over the last decade of her life. She was active in the CPRC efforts on this issue, wrote often and met with her senators and congressmen or their staff in both Columbia and Washington, DC to address concerns, served as a local contact for the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (http://www.aaper.org), hosted educational lecturers from the Jewish Voice for Peace (http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org), and sponsored and helped organize Palestinian Film Festivals and film nights. In 2009, she traveled to Egypt as part of the Gaza Freedom March (http://www.gazaark.org). While she did not make it to Gaza, the young people of Egypt and the March participants she met in Cairo from around the world (often through shared time under house arrest!) were inspirational and provided Michele hope that the rest of the world may eventually come together to solve the unjust situation in Palestine at a time when her faith in her own government’s commitment to contribute constructively was at a low ebb. She also mounted clandestine incursions into local retail outlets to strategically place educational information about manufacturers who engage in unjust practices toward the Palestinians (Some displays lasted weeks; Walmart and Target were oblivious!). She was a strong believer in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement (http://www.bdsmovement.net ; http://www.endtheoccupation.org). Michele’s last action was in July of 2014 in Five Points where she struggled to overcome the effects of chemotherapy to join others from the Carolinas in protesting the bombing of civilians and children in Gaza.
Michele died on August 30, 2015 at age 58 of small cell lung cancer. Yes, she smoked for a couple of decades in her youth and she wishes she had not. True to form, her self-education into her disease over the last year left her concerned that lung cancer’s Marlboro Man image is detracting from research efforts to save others, both non-smokers and smokers alike. Did you know that lung cancer is the #1 killer of women in this country, surpassing breast cancer more than 3 decades ago? She had immense respect for the commitment and focused efforts of those working to eradicate breast cancer, but she also learned that, take away the “evil” smokers, annual deaths in woman who have never smoked a day in their life may be only 20% less for lung cancer than for breast cancer. Lung cancer is among the top 10 causes of death in this country for non-smokers. Yet, research expenditures on breast cancer per annual death are about 10 times more than spent on lung cancer (the same is true for prostate cancer). Remember that when the celebrities and the pink football shoes disappear at the end of October each year. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Anyone who has ever had sweet nothings whispered in their ear knows that the lungs are also a sexual organ. #savethelungstoo
There are no words to describe the love Michele feels and the debt she owes to her parents, her daughter, and her husband. Michele wants her siblings Lee Hobart, Art Hobart, Wanda (Dotty) Hobart, Eric (Elaine) Hobart, and Craig (Sabrina) Hobart, her dear Auntie Clare Witcomb and uncle Sam Hardy, and her cousins Jennifer Robeson, Claudia Hauser, Chris Hardy, Lisa Patton, and Ed Kleemola, and her sister-in-laws Ann Owens and Christie Balsam to know that she is humbled by the friendship, love, and support that they provided during her life. She misses her step-mother Judy Kleemola Hobart, who died in April (also of lung cancer). Nieces, nephews, their children, her many co-workers, and all those who have helped her, befriended her, and taught her during her lifetime are also thanked with love.
To the tens of thousands of people who stood with her over the last 40+ years to change the world: Thank you; You must carry on. To those who have yet to free their Inner Activist, ask yourselves: Does your inaction advance the causes and values in which you believe?
A traditional Buddhist Powa Ceremony (transference of consciousness) for Michele was performed at her bedside beginning shortly after her death. Powas have been and will be held on her behalf at Kadampa Buddhist Centers and by individual practitioners around the globe during the 49 days following her death. A traditional American Memorial Service may be held at a future date, likely in Red Lodge, MT.
In lieu of flowers, those who are so inclined are encouraged to contribute to the Kadampa Meditation Center in West Columbia (http://meditationinsouthcarolina.org), any of the organizations cited by URL above or any other organization that advocates for non-violent change in the world.
The Jews of North Africa: From Dido to De Gaulle by Sarah Taieb-Carlen (Translated by Amos Carlen). University Press of America: 2010 – Part One
The book is surprisingly readable.
Why “surprisingly”? It’s not so easy to condense the nearly 3000 years of a Jewish North African presence in 140 or so pages, do the subject justice, say something of value, but the author, Sarah Taieb-Carlen manages to pull it off. She creates a useful and interesting sketch of the main themes of the long Jewish presence in North Africa with many pertinent insights. As much as anything, the book is essentially a cultural history, that looks at Jewish relations with other major groups – Berbers, Bedouins, Phoenicians, Romans, Islam, French colonizers over that extended period, and how the Jews fared with each. the book strikes me as being something of a phd thesis turned into a more readable manuscript as the references to academic figures like Fredrik Barth, Albert Memmi suggest.
The writing is controlled, thoughtful and from what I know of the subject (about which I have some working knowledge) accurate. After reading it, one comes away with an appreciation of the historical depth and breath of the Jewish presence in North Africa, a sense of the historical vicissitudes of that experience, of its extraordinary cultural richness over time, it ability to survive through periods of tolerance and bigotry. And then there is the final speedy collapse. Well perhaps not total, but near-total collapse. Of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived in French North Africa (as it was then called) just at the turn of the 20th century precious few remain. By the century’s end, the populations had shrunk to naught, a couple of thousand in Morocco, supposedly around 1500 in Tunisia, not a one in Algeria.
As a quote from S. Trigano (p. 108) put it only five years after the massive exodus of Algerian Jews took place that corresponded with the country’s 1962 independence:
From the point of view of its conscience Algerian Judaism had already forgotten in Algeria its specificity, avoiding even the thought of it. But this sparkling world which was ours has disappeared. It lives inside of us. It does not live any more inside of our children. The identity of the Algerian Jews is no longer.
If Moroccan and Tunisian Judaism clings on for dear life, a shadow of their former historical richness, most of these worlds too have disappeared; gone. That the Jewish presence in North Africa might some day rebuild, as it did, repeatedly over the centuries and millenia, is difficult – if not impossible – to imagine. As such, Taieb-Cohen’s book reads like a long and loving cultural obituary, an attempt through the written word, to record some of the main themes of a lost world, a great and humane one I might add for all its foibles. Read more…
As fast as it appeared on the media horizon, it disappeared. Here one day, virtually gone the next.
A major scandal involving mismanagement, abuse and intimidation at the highest levels of the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) – and throughout the department – has come and gone from the news. CDHS is a state agency with a budget (if I could get the figures correctly) of more than $22 billion; it has responsibility over everything from the mentally ill, to prisons, to foster care and veterans nursing homes. The scandal, described below, resulted in what amounts to an administrative shake up, but little more.
In order to stem the tide of criticism and avoid a more serious investigation, high level administrator, Vicki Manley, CDHS’s Director of Long Term Care Services, was let go (given the choice between quitting and being fired), but the Human Services executive director, Reggie Bicha, ultimately responsible for the mess in the system remains on the job, tenaciously defended by Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper. Beyond the firing of Manley, the department’s accumulated grievances have not been addressed. An administrator is let go, but other than that, the CDHS hasn’t changed a bit, an eerie foreboding of more to come. But through what amounts to clever political maneuvering, the governor has put out a fire that could threaten his legacy and undermine his national political aspirations.
The mess continues Read more…
Nuclear Arms Deal with Iran – War or Peace? Sunday: August 16 11 A.M. at: First Unitarian Society of Denver 1400 Lafayette Denver, CO
The Great Late Cretaceous Interior Seaway: A Visit to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas
If possible, when I go to eastern Nebraska (Nebraska City, at the far eastern edge Nebraska near the Missouri River) on a visit, afterwards, I try to dip down and return through central Kansas. That is what I once again did this past week.
Leaving Nebraska City and stopping off at Holton, Kansas, from where a life long friend’s family hails, I wind up for a few relaxing – and always intellectually stimulating – few days with Margy Stewart and Ron Young at their Bird Runner Wild Life Refuge on Lower McDowell Creek, south of Exit 307 on I-70 ten miles east of Junction City. On route to Denver again, I find it difficult to bypass the small town Wilson, Kansas, whose welcome sign claims it to be the “Czech Capitol of Kansas” and whose sole grocery story offers the best hometown made sausage available in these parts, and for the most reasonable prices. Then it’s off east of Wilson to Hays, Kansas for what is one of the great thrills of the whole trip: a visit to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.
The Sternberg is best known, among paleontologists, at least, for its extraordinary collection of what are referred to as “Kansas Cretaceous marine life” and specifically, the wonderfully preserved “fish-within-a-fish.” “Gillicus” is the six-foot long fish swallowed by the fourteen foot Xiphactinus some 70 million years ago. The suggestions are that while Xiphactinus was able to swallow Gillicus whole, no small feat for the ancient glutton, that the experience killed him, a prehistoric example of biting off more than you can chew. The extraordinarily well perserved fossilized skeletal remains of both predator and victim locked in a lethal display. For those interested enough, this fossil is just a gateway to a long-lost world.
As with most other museums, what is displayed is a small, if not tiny part of a much larger collection. In the Sternberg’s case, those displayed for viewing are a sliver of the museum’s 3,750,000 specimen collection. For those of you unfamiliar with the language of geological historical slices of time, don’t let words like “Cretaceous” scare you away. “Cretaceous” refers to a geological period beginning at about 145 million years ago extending to 66 million years past. The climate during this time was generally warm, with rising sea levels. The oceans and seas were populated with now extinct marine reptiles, ammonites and what are referred to as rudists; on the land this was the age of the dinosaurs while new species of mammals, birds and flowering plants came on the scene.
The Cretaceous itself is a part of “an era”, – a longer geologic stretch of time, known as the “Mesozoic.” These geological “periods” and “epochs” were first clearly delineated in the early 19th century by a number of scientists (Lyell and others), and with modern dating methods (tree ring, radio-active carbon ), scientists have been able to put very accurate dates on these timelines. The Cretaceous ends around 66 million years ago and is marked by what is referred to as the KT boundary. At that moment 66 million years back, a dramatic shift took place for life on earth that affected the planet. It is at that time that a large number of species went extinct – most well-known of which are the dinosaurs, that went the way of all flesh suddenly and forever after a long – 80 to 100 million year – run. Slam, bam – they’re gone. Less known is a whole variety of “mega” maritime life (“mega” – meaning very, very large – big dinosaur sized) that were to the oceans what Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops were to the land. Others left the scene suddenly too. Looking at the geological record, scholars have come to conclude that at that 66 million year ago moment, the world had experienced the fifth of a series of “mass extinctions”.
One of these earlier mass extinctions, referred to as the Great Permian Crash, some 248 million years ago, is estimated to have wiped out some 96% of all living things. In the Cretaceous ending case of the KT boundary 66 million years ago, for a long time it was unclear what might have caused such a sudden catastrophe, until in 1981, Luis and Walter Alvarez suggested it was the result of a giant asteroid fell in the Yucatán Peninsula, at Chicxulub, Mexico. It changed the earth’s atmosphere producing a dust cloud that kept out the sun, spiked global temperatures changing climatic conditions and killed off much of life on earth. Looked upon skeptically at first, with time, the hypothesis has gained strength and credibility as KT boundary layers have been discovered in many rock formations worldwide. As recently as 2010, a world conference of scientists endorsed the Alvarez hypothesis which is generally accepted as the cause of the dinosaur extinction.
Getting Back to Kansas…
The other animals that died out at the same time where the maritime mega-forms, as oxygen levels and water temperatures also plummeted. Many of these long-lost maritime species roamed the seas of Kansas (yes, that is not a mistake) and the fossilized remains of many of them have been continually uncovered over the course of the past 150 years throughout, especially, the western parts of Kansas.
Although it might goose the state’s influential – and increasingly wacko – Christian fundamentalists, the Kansas of today is quite different from its appearance 100-80 million years ago, that geological period known as the “late Cretaceous”. It was entirely under water as was much of the Great Plains. In fact what today is the Eastern United States was separated from West by what was known as the Cretaceous Interior Seaway that split the North American continent in two (and sometimes in three) sections). At its largest, it was 2,500 feet (760 m) deep, 600 miles (970 km) wide and over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) long. Its seashores fluctuated overtime, but through most of its long history what is today the state of Kansas, as well as much of the West up to the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern California was under water. The current generally flat-ish landscape of this region in western Kansas and the high plains of eastern Colorado was, 100 million years back, the bottom of the sea and one can still see not far from the surface in many places large quantities of the sand that made up the sea bottom.
The Western Dinosaur Hunters
The period of western expansion and development after the end of the American Civil War was marked by intense economic and political developments, “the closing of the frontier,” the decimation of the buffalo, and the wiping out of the last remnants of independent Native American culture (from the Sand Creek Massacre in 1865 to the Wounded Knee slaughter in 1890). It was in this period between the end of the Civil War and 1900 approximately that western regions of the United States from the Missouri River to eastern California were more intensively probed, settled and economically exploited.
Fossil hunting along with archaeological discoveries, such as the discovery and excavation of the Mesa Verde Anasazi site in SW Colorado were an integral part of the period. Hunting for the bones of dinosaurs of all sizes and shapes in the western regions – but especially Colorado, Wyoming and Western Nebraska intensified and was followed with some excitement in the national press. In these regions O.C. Marsh from Yale University in New Haven Connecticut and E.D. Cope of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia engaged in what became known as the “Bone Wars” in which each tried to discredit each other in the press the others discoveries, destroy each other’s discoveries with each claiming that their most recent dinosaur discovery outdid their competitors in evolutionary significance, a classic example of the utter stupidity of academic competition setting the stage for the future, although in the process, the two did make a significant number of dinosaur (and other) fossil discoveries, most of which had to be re-interpreted later by more sober analysts.
While Cope and Marsh were slugging it out intellectually, not far away, in Western Kansas, Dr. George M. Sternberg was making less publicized, but equally dramatic discoveries of maritime giants from the same period, the late Cretaceous. As the Sternberg Museum brochure – inexpensive but informative – explained:
Dr. George M. Sternberg, renowned Civil War surgeon and later Surgeon General of the United States Army, was assigned to Fort Harker (Fort Ellsworth), Kansas in 1866. While stationed in Kansas, Dr. Sternberg often visited poss along the Smoky Hill Trail. During his travels, Sternberg helped to identify fossil bones that had been found by soldiers on patrol in western Kansas.
Sternberg would stay in the region for the rest of his life and continued fossil collecting. Unlike Cope and Marsh whose collecting passions centered around “trophy fossils” and the press attention they garnered, Sternberg became interested in collecting fossil leaves found in the sandstone hills near his home. Many of these specimens are now a part of collections worldwide. George Sternberg passed on his interest in fossil collecting to his sons, George F., Levi and Charles M. At the tender age of 9 George F. had already made a major discovery, a fossil reptile called a plesiasaur, a giant carnivorous marine reptile, a kind of tyrannosaurus-rex of the seas. In 1952, George discovered the famous “fish-within-a-fish,” discussed above, the most complete specimen of its kind known. The museum in Hays, Kansas where Sternberg did much of his work was renamed in his honor after his 1969 death.