Friday, January 30, 2009


Tonight I met Howard Zinn, and last week I met Noam Chomsky. What a week. What a week indeed. Here's to that.

Rather than describe the profound affect that both Chomsky and Zinn have had on my life politically, intellectually and most importantly, morally... something that would take dedication to describe and not important for the moment. And rather than detail the profound significance of having the rare opportunity to meet not one, but two of my heroes; which is connected to the first subtopic. I'd rather aptly describe both encounters in order to record for my own memory.

Wednesday, January 21st 2009 I went to a teach in at the Palestine Cultural Center in Allston. The event was headlined by Noam Chomsky; who, with a few other speakers, was seeking to educate and enlighten on the current US/Israeli assault on the Palestinian people living in the Gaza Strip.

The only other time I tried to see Noam Chomsky speak was when I was an undegrad. With several friends, I drove about an hour and a half (including getting lost) from Syracuse to Binghamtown, NY. Because it was in the middle of upstate New York, I didnt expect a crowd. Instead the auditorium was overflowing past capacity, including every aisle filled with people. An adjacent auditorium, which was just showing a video feed of him speaking, was also overflowing. we could not get into either. It was disappointing.

The talk on Gaza, on 1/21/09, was informative and helpful; a description which does no justice to Prof Chomsky, but is lacking in detail because a proper description would warrant a book. And he has many, which I recommend.

Afterward every left and Prof Chomsky wandered over to talk to someone, and a few people went to greet him, have their pic taken and see about an autograph. I rushed over realizing I could be one of the few. One of his handlers was rushing him off but I was able to quickly meet him and get a picture with, in my opinion, one of the greatest people of all time.

Friday, January 30th, was when I met Howard Zinn. He was speaking at an event called "Voices of Gaza" in Cambridge, incidentally headlining with a wonderful professor of mine, Leila Farsakh.

There was a lack of seats when I came (due to a crowd) and I ended up being seated behind the speakers podium, facing the audience. It was odd but a great location.

There were many wonderful speakers. Professor Farsakh, who just returned from a visit to the West Bank, read a beautiful poem, which I will return to.

Professor Zinn was the last speaker, who rose to a standing ovation. He spoke of the importance and role of artists, social critics and intellectuals in society, revealing and magnifying the injustices we may be blind to. He recited e.e. cummings and read from Dalton Trumbone's "Johnny Got His Gun". He spoke of injustice, and truth and promise. Its difficult to describe if not familiar with Zinn.

As the event ended a friend and I race up to Zinn. She spoke first, shaking his hand and speaking to him briefly about her love of his work. Then I got a chance to do something I did not get a chance to do with Chomsky.

I said, "Professor Zinn, my name is Kevin and I just wanted to shake your hand." And I did.

I cant really describe how that felt. It was like meeting Nelson Mandela or Mohatma Ghandi. It was that big for me. It was overwhelming.

And he was gracious and kind, and I told him how much I love his work and he was a major influence on my life. And I asked if he minded if I had a picture with him.


The theme in both of these encounters, unfortunately, is that they rose amidst tragedy in Gaza. It has a lot to do with what I admire about both men.

There is, right now, whats was coinied "politicide" by an Israeli scholar, being waged upon the Palestinian people, "a gradual but systematic attempt to cause their annihilation as an independent political and social entity." There is unspeakable death, destruction, humiliation amidst a brutal and inhumane occupation that none dare speak of in the United States; lets they be labeled "anti-semetic" for questioning Israeli policy.

I wont go into the details of the particular assault on Gaza; ostensibly waged to fight Hamas rocketfire, which is indefensible and criminal in its own right. But Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza in a brutual occupation denying the most basic human rights since 1967. And worse, it has been annexing Palestinian land; forcing them from their land, bulldozing their homes, and building "Israeli only" colonies, connected by 'Israeli only" roads, correctly described as Apartheid. One speaker at the Voices of Gaza, a doctor, pointed out that Israelis bar Palestinians from digging wells for water on their own land so that Israelis can steal that water. On the West Bank Israelis take over 98% of the water, leaving Palestinians with less than 2%.

The west bank, of course, is worse. Over half of the people do not have daily access to food or water. It is collective punishment upon a civilian population and can only be described as a descent into a kind barbarism. And I should add at this point it is the United States that enables all of this, supports all of this, funds all of this; and stops anyone from trying to stop this. Every American (myself included) harbors responsibility.

Including Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn; two Jewish intellectuals who took time from their lives to speak out against the injustice and horror of the Israeli actions against the Palestinian people. Speaking out for the defenseless, speaking out against injustice, struggling for hope. Because as both men point out, we as American citizens have responsibility to stop the crimes of our own society and our own government; including its support and arming of the Israeli occupation.

Turning back to the poem read by Professor Farsakh, it was particularly moving for a few reasons. ALthough it was about Palestine, it had a human universality that was relevant to all of our lives. And it was tragic, in that it spoke of a livilhood and nation being destroyed by American and Israeli policy. But hopeful, in that the struggle is not over and more can be done, and must be done. We are all humans, we all inhabit this planet and we are all mortal.

The poem is called "We have on this earth what makes life worth living" by Mahoud Darwish

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s opinion of men
The works of Aeschylus
The beginning of love
Grass on a stone
Mothers living on a flute’s sigh
The invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
The final days of September
A woman leaving forty in full blossom
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
The peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile
The tyrants’ fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, the lady of earth,
Mother of all beginnings
Mother of all ends.
She was called… Palestine.
Her name later became… Palestine.

My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Good News

Updates on stimulus package;

According to, yes, the NYT; the bill expands health care coverage for the unemployed; stating that if you are collecting unemployment, you are automatically elegible for Medicare.

Previously it was means/income tested, meaning it wasnt enough to be unemployed, you also had to be impoverished to be on Medicare. Thus a lot of people had to either enroll in Cobra (which costs a small fortune) or go without health insurance. As someone in that position, I ended up just going without health insurance for a while, which is a scary thing. Cobra is widely expensive.

So more good news for average people. Lets hope this bill passes

Good News

money money money money money money

Good news on some of the components of the economic stimulus package (as it currently stands.) According to today's New York Times, the bill will "shower the nation's school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education's current budget."

It goes on to note that the money will be spent "on nearly every realm of education, including school renovations, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students" and that it would be " the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II."

"The bill would increase 2009 fiscal year spending on Title I, a program of specialized classroom efforts to help educate poor children, to $20 billion from about $14.5 billion, and raise spending on education for disabled children to $17 billion from $11 billion."

Not everyone is happy though. The right-wing American Enterprise Institute noted that "It's like an alcoholic at the end of the night when the bars close, and the solution is to open the bar for another hour".

Confused? A lot of Republicans want to eliminate the Department of Education and claim to be against government spending in general (which they really aren't, they are just against government spending on social services; if the government spends on military or hands money without strings to private business, for any reason, thats ok.) So they think its stupid that the Democrats' solution to our horrible education system is to just spend more money. Hence, its like giving an alcoholic more alcohol.

ANd they are partially right (although hypocritical, they will trip overthemselves to sign military spending increases). But we have a new education secretary Arne Duncan (I think?) who is going to direct this money, and regardless there is a lot of money for proven successful programs like Head Start which is badly lacking in funds.

Its a good measure.