ASIA/SYRIA – The Marists in Aleppo: there is a risk of getting used to horror

Aleppo – “The reason why we do not write to you on a regular basis from Aleppo, although you continue to ask news about us, is because we think that the repetition of the denunciation of the crimes committed and the suffering of Syrians risks becoming insignificant”. This is how the last “letter from Aleppo” by Dr. Nabil Antaki, lay member of the community of Marist of Aleppo and director of one of the last two city hospitals functioning, begins, who usually spreads news and considerations on what is happening in the martyred Syrian city through periodic letters sent to friends, acquaintances and communication operators.
“We are afraid that, by constantly reading the atrocities being committed in Syria” continues Antaki “there is a risk of getting used to horror”. In the letter, also sent to Agenzia Fides, the Marist Brother, on behalf of the whole community, traces some examples of this risk: “the throats of humans are slit. You complained a year ago when they slaughtered some Westerners. Unfortunately they were not the first! Hundreds of Syrians had already been victims of this barbarity. Many others suffered the same fate; the last in order of time was the archaeological director of the area of Palmyra, an 82-year-old scientist, but there were few protests”.
Syria, martyred by “criminal gangs” – continues the Marist Brother -, “is emptied of its people, especially Christians. They have become the ‘refugees’ that give you so much trouble. You would do well to listen to them and talk about their suffering and the dangers they face to move to Europe illegally. They must remain home, some would say! But at home there is hell, there is chaos, there is death. They are not migrants, as you like to call them, they are refugees; and then, if refugees bother you so much, next time, before you start a war at home, think twice”.


After 39 years of publishing La Prensa San Diego, founded and run by the Muñoz family, the time has come to turn over the reins.  Ownership of La Prensa has been turned over to Art Castañares, who will ensure its continued publication.

On one hand, I wish I could say it was a hard decision. But in fact, it was inevitable and therefore an easy decision.

In 1976, when my father Daniel L. Muñoz started the publication, the goal was to provide a voice for the Chicano/Hispanic community. A voice was needed to express the pain felt by the community when politics caused adverse effects. At the same time, La Prensa provided an outlet for voices in the fight for self-determination.

The paper was an outgrowth of a newsletter from the political organization, the Spanish Speaking Political Association, which my father was one of the founders. A part of the organization was the newsletter ‘Tezozomoc Speaks’. The newsletter grew to the point where it became obvious that a regional newspaper was needed for Hispanics.

The ‘Tezozomoc Speaks’ newsletter became ‘La Prensa San Diego’.

In the beginning, La Prensa was a community operated venture. Like all good Chicano happenings, the first thing they did was to hold a party introducing the new publication, even though they had not yet printed a single copy.

Following the party, the business of putting out a publication began. In November 1976, the first edition of La Prensa San Diego hit the streets. It was a modest effort.

The paper was not created by journalists. Instead it was created by community activist who wanted change.

“La Prensa San Diego was born out of the desire to provide a vehicle of communication for the large community of Mexican-Americans-Latinos that call the San Diego borderlands home.’

“The goal, to create a medium of communication that understands the language, the culture, the subtle nuances of the Mexican-American existence, and — more importantly — their needs.” Daniel L. Muñoz

With the November 1, 1976 publication, La Prensa started a 39 year journey, publishing every Friday.

The first ten years of publication was a struggle. La Prensa was one of only about 45 Hispanic publications in all of the United States and we believe it was the only bilingual publication. Back then there was no such thing as a Hispanic market, or ad agencies that focused on the Hispanic market like you see today. Everything we did and everything we tried was breaking new ground for bilingual publications.

For Dan Sr., it was indeed a struggle. It would become a question of making a mortgage payment or putting that money into the newspaper. For him and his wife, Lydia, the paper and its goals were too important to give up. They would sell the house.

We worked hard and long. We would work late into the night, not only working on La Prensa but we made ourselves available to others for graphics work, typesetting, whatever we could do to make extra money to pump back into the paper. I remember working until 2 sometimes 3 in the morning doing what it takes to survive.

And survive we did! But it wasn’t the money made that sustained us, it was the response that we received from the community. The publication was never about making money, though we did believe that we could and would make money. It was about the community and the community responded positively to what we were doing. They believed in our efforts and that our intent had their best interests at heart, always!

As noted earlier, La Prensa was a bilingual publication for very specific reasons. Our audience was the Chicano/Mexican-American community that lived, worked, studied, played, and most importantly voted. That was the audience we wanted to reach and this audience was bilingual. At the same time the power structure was dominated by the white Anglo-Saxons and they needed to know about our community and the only way to reach them was in English.

In a nutshell this was La Prensa San Diego.

We have often been asked, that after all these years of publication, have we succeeded? What are our victories? These are difficult questions to answer. First, we are not alone in this effort. To succeed or to realize a “victory” takes a whole community moving forward toward a goal. We were and are just one part of this community moving forward. We can enjoy the realization of success but we cannot take any more credit than the next man or woman, only the satisfaction that indeed there has been change over the years and that we were a part of that change.

Secondly, in regards to victories, it is a case of a glass being half-empty. For example, since 1976 one of our main focuses has been education. We have seen changes over the years, from the days when there was no such thing as bilingual education, nor were there many Hispanic educators in the classroom. Since those days education has changed to reflect changes in those areas along with many other changes. However, 39 years later, the education system is still failing our Hispanic students and they continue to be at the bottom when it comes to graduation rates and college success.

Often times we take a look back at the issues of 1976 and reflect that the issues back then are the same issues we face today. Subtle changes have occurred, but basically we face many of the same challenges.

For La Prensa San Diego, the question now was about moving forward into the future. I took over the newspaper from my father more or less fifteen years ago. At first, he moved toward retirement, but then we mourned his sudden death.

For me, two issues have come front and center. First it became harder and harder to keep up the everyday energy and enthusiasm needed to do a good job after 39 years.

Secondly, social media and all that it is comprised of is beyond me, something about teaching an old dog new tricks. La Prensa can and should be taking better advantage of this new media.

And, lastly it came down to a question of the longevity of the publication. If I don’t turn the paper over to a younger, more enthusiastic individual, the paper will cease when I do retire. Without the sale of the paper, I would have retired in two years or thereabouts.

My intent is to see that La Prensa San Diego continues on into the future.

Art Castañares is the new publisher of La Prensa San Diego. He will take the paper and shape it into the vision that he believes is in the best interest of the paper and the community.

I initially stated that it was an easy decision to make because it was the right decision, but that will not diminish the fact that I will miss the newspaper. I will probably cringe now and then as I watch new changes come about, but most of all I will miss the readers. I appreciate the fact that every week you the readers have taken the time to pick up a copy of the publication and read what we have had to say. I know that you probably didn’t agree with some of our positions, but I believe you appreciated the honest attempt to provide you with the news and ideas that reflected the best interests of our community.

With that, it is time to say Adios!

Daniel H. Muñoz, Jr.

What Happens When You Teach Math in the Garden?

It’s 9:30 on a Wednesday morning in a third grade classroom at Hannah Elementary School in Beverly, Massachusetts, and Leilani Mroczkowski, Education Coordinator of Green City Growers, is pretending to be a radish. She’s squatting on the ground, holding her knees, with her long black dreads hanging down toward her dirt-caked work boots. Behind Mroczkowski, her coworker Hadas Yanay is standing on her tiptoes, with her arms stretched toward the ceiling.

“So if I’m a radish down here, and Hadas is a kale, which way is north?” Mroczkowski asks the class. The kids point towards the front of the room.

“That’s right! That way the tall kale won’t block the short carrots and radishes from the sun!”

That’s the lesson of the day: where to plant vegetables of varying height in your garden. The record-breaking winter snowfall in Beverly landed this late March lesson indoors, a fact that made the students respond with a disappointed whimper.

The teacher, Suzy Tassinari, sits in the back, grading handouts. “They love getting outside, working in the garden, seeing the bugs and insects,” she says. “They all want to participate, even the quieter ones.”

Organizations like Green City Growers and City Sprouts, another Boston-area school garden program, are taking an unorthodox approach to education, bringing classroom subjects like math and social studies into the garden. Using hands-on, garden-based examples, they hope to provide lessons with a technique that differs from the traditional classroom, all while teaching young urban-dwellers where fruits and veggies come from.

Their efforts are not alone, and they align with the work of organizations all across the country. The Lets Move! Initiative, founded by First Lady Michele Obama, focuses attention in part on “greening” school lunches. Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard project aims to “build and share a national edible education curriculum” for elementary through high school students by establishing gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms. And chef Jamie Oliver has made an immense impact with his Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project, which provides schools with recipes, lesson plans, nutrition information, and all the supporting material they need to develop successful garden education programs.Bev-Kids

But some garden-based education isn’t limited to growing fruits and vegetables. Michele Kaufman, Garden Coordinator of City Sprouts, demonstrated in one morning the wide range of lessons that could be taught in the garden. One April morning, the first-graders were planting peas. The morning’s session was also, sneakily, the beginning of a math lesson. The kids will measure the growth of the peas as they climb up the string fence on the long side of the bed.

“[Garden education] gives direct, hands on lessons, rather than conceptualizing. It puts everything they’re learning in the classroom into context,” says Kaufman. “There’s a big difference between measuring a two-inch line on a piece of paper to measuring a two-inch height of a plant in the garden.”

There are lessons to be had in science—everything from the life cycle of a bug to the anatomy of a seed and social studies—planting vegetables specific to regions the classroom is studying, like Africa, or historical periods, like colonial America. The garden can also be used as inspiration for art and creative writing.

Developing a curriculum that is both worthwhile and makes the most of the garden is a staple for a successful garden education program. Program coordinators spend the colder months working alongside teachers to develop curriculum for public schools that complements the increasingly rigorous state public school standards.

According to national research, garden-based learning delivers. REAL School Gardens, a nonprofit organization that trains teachers and creates garden learning environments for schools across the country, has seen a 12 to 15 percent increase in standardized test score pass rates in their schools. In addition, 94 percent of teachers reported an increase in student engagement in the garden and in the classroom.

In a 2014 case study, Green City Growers also found that the students they’d worked with had a 43 percent score improvement and a “much stronger grasp” on concepts associated with organic farming and sustainability after just one semester. More students were also able to identify vegetables like eggplants, radishes, peppers, cucumber, kale, and beets. And student scores increased with conceptual questions on benefits of organic and local foods.

Garden-based learning may also help students who have trouble sitting and listening in the classroom. “It’s not that they’re bad students, but the environment that they’re learning in is not conducive to their type of learning,” says Mroczkowski of Green City Growers. “When you get them outside and have them experience hands-on learning, that’s when they zone in and focus.”

Tassinari, the third grade teacher, has seen this first-hand in her classroom. “There was a boy in my class last year who had a really hard time in the regular science program. He wouldn’t sit still, was impulsive, had shout outs. He didn’t seem to be that into the subject,” she says. But when they went outside, he absolutely loved it, she said, and he became focused, tuned in, and even helped other students with the subject. He had discovered that gardening was “his thing.”

The post What Happens When You Teach Math in the Garden? appeared first on Civil Eats.

Nebraska’s Attempt to Import Execution Drug Halted in India | Death Penalty Information Center

A shipment of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic once widely used in executions, was recently stopped in India before it could reach Nebraska. The Indian distributor sold more than $50,000 worth of sodium thiopental to the state in May, but the shipment was stopped before leaving the country because of “improper or missing paperwork.” FedEx said it halted the shipment because it did not have Food And Drug Administration clearance: “As with any international importation of a drug, data about that shipment is transmitted to federal agencies in advance, including U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration. If the shipment is authorized, we will deliver it to the recipient; if it is not, we will return it to the foreign shipper.” Nebraska purchased the drugs despite the FDA’s warning that importation of sodium thiopental for executions violates federal law. The FDA has consistently said that it will not allow execution drugs into the U.S. because the producers are not FDA-credited and the drugs are not approved for that purpose.Nebraska spent $54,400 to purchase enough drugs for 300 executions from the overseas supplier. After the shipment was halted, a state spokesperson confirmed that it does not have a usable supply of lethal injection drugs. Ten people are on death row in Nebraska, though the legality of their death sentences is being challenged based upon the legislature’s repeal of the state’s death penalty in May.

Source: Nebraska’s Attempt to Import Execution Drug Halted in India | Death Penalty Information Center

Dodger Icon Fernando Valenzuela Appointed Special POTUS Ambassador : LAist

President Obama appointed former Dodgers pitcher and current broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela to a position as “Presidential Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization” on Thursday.The appointment is part of the Obama administration’s new Stand Stronger program that aims to promote the rights and opportunities for lawful, permanent residents, and will help these eligible immigrants and refugees become U.S. citizens, the L.A. Times reports. Of the approximately 13.3 million lawful permanent residents living in the United States, 8.8 million of them are eligible to apply for citizenship, says the program’s fact sheet. Stand Stronger was just announced today on “Constitution and Citizenship Day,” a holiday that commemorates the signing of the Constitution on this day in 1787, has a really beautiful website to boot. Among the other celebrity ambassadors appointed by Obama are chef José André, actress Diane Guerrero, and musician Dave Matthews.

Source: Dodger Icon Fernando Valenzuela Appointed Special POTUS Ambassador : LAist