Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Americans celebrate our revolution against tyranny and oppression every July. Yet we allow tyranny and oppression to exist in our everyday lives in the form of police brutality, hunger, poverty, disease, unemployment, homelessness and many others. 

Of particular notice in the media are the almost daily incidents of Black Americans, mostly young men, dying at the hands of police officers. Today the media are focused on Baltimore; tomorrow will be yet another American city. What is the cause, why is this happening, who is to blame? 

America is to blame. Racism is firmly institutionalized in the American system. Slavery and Jim Crow have been replaced by a more insidious and mostly hidden form of institutionalized racism that is difficult to put a finger on and even more difficult to root out. If you read past the headlines, you have at least a general sense of the issues in the Black neighborhoods of American cities. You certainly have seen the numbers of young Black Americans in prison or with prison records, mostly for crimes related to drugs. You have read about the level of unemployment, poverty, and lack of education of our young Black American men. Too many of us shake our heads in dismay, talk about how terrible this is, and move on to other things.

And all too often we blame "the police" for the problems. Yes, police brutality and excessive use of force are too prevalent in our cities. Yes, police departments across the country must be forced to change institutionally, and police culture must be changed drastically. In too many cities, the police departments include militarized units that in practice are occupational forces tasked with controlling the population, specifically in poor and minority neighborhoods. But the police are not the root of the problem.

The root of the problem is the American system that creates the poverty, unemployment and  substandard education that keeps a large segment of our fellow citizens in a state of subjugation. A variety of barriers are erected to keep these citizens separated from the more affluent segments of our society, and the police are given the job of maintaining that separation. As the desperation of the subjugated class grows, the level of repression increases in the form of violence by police officers. 

These are complex problems that need complex solutions. It is fair to say that government as we know it today is not going to solve these problems; if that were the case, we wouldn't be in this situation now. And rioting will not solve the problem, either. So what do we do?

First, by "we" I mean every American, not just Black Americans. We need to pull together over this set of issues and work within our communities to level the playing field. And all communities need to coordinate nation-wide to take actions at a national level, or that will get attention from national news media. We need to work together to get from a society of greed to a society of collaboration. We need to push our local economies to create living wage jobs and find ways to get people who need them into those jobs. We need to find ways to improve neighborhoods without forcing out the people already living in them (i.e. gentrification). We need to push our school systems to be inclusive and to act as community institutions that address the problems of poverty and education by lifting families as well as children. 

And that's my opinion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I am once again thinking about the health care system as I help my wife recover from back surgery. People always talk about their surgeon, and how fantastic he or she is. And this is usually, thankfully, true. The neurosurgeon and the anesthesiologist who conducted the back surgery on Sherry did a terrific job, and they were both friendly, caring and patient the times we met with them.

But the real kudos go to the nurses. Sherry was in the hospital for only 6 hours, but the nurses who cared for her, Steffanie, Kelly, Patty and student nurse Rachel were the front line staff who made the experience not just tolerable, but comfortable and, at times, even fun. They are professionals; they are also warm, friendly people who enjoy their jobs and are truly interested in the people to whom they provide care. So yes, my wife's surgeon was terrific, but her nurses were out of this world!

I learned recently that health care workers have one of the highest rates of work-related injuries.

Chicago, IL -(PRNewswire)- Workers in the healthcare industry suffer higher on the job injuries than most other professions, with more than two million reported lost work days in 2011. Despite this, the focus of safety in healthcare facilities has been primarily on patient safety, according to Safety Culture in Healthcare, The $13 Billion Case, a peer-reviewed feature in the October issue of Professional Safety, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) journal.
It seems that most hospitals put profit before the health of their staff (this includes the so-called not-for-profit hospitals). National Public Radio did a series on this topic. In my humble opinion, the big hospital systems are making big profits on the backs of their workers - literally. 
So let us all say hooray for nurses, nurses aides, orderlies and all other health care workers. And let's also protect the health of health care professionals. It's an old saying, but people before profit applies here. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Many months before the recent election in Israel, before Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gave his speech to the U.S. Congress, I had in mind writting a post about Israeli politics. The title would have been something like: "Why does Benjamin Netsanyahu Keep Stabbing Me in the Back?" It seemed that every time I posted my thoughts supporting the right of Israel to defend itself against terrorists (e.g. Hamas in Gaza), Mr. Netanyahu slipped a knife between my ribs by announcing more settlement building. It got to the point of being predictable, and infuriating.

In the runup to the Israeli elections, Netanyahu collaborated with the worst elements of the congressional Republican right wing in the U.S. to bolster his cred with the Israeli right wing by dissing our President and our very serious negotiations with Iran concerning nuclear weapons. This was blatant electioneering supported and abetted by the Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Senate Republicans (47 of them) then sent an amazingly stupid and embarrassing letter to the leadership of Iran, further endangering the success of the negotiations between a coalition of world governments and Iran. (Although a clear evidentiary path has yet to be illuminated, some analysts think that the letter was the idea of Netanyahu's Likud Party and possibly written by the American lobby group AIPAC (see Note 1) In any event, the concept and execution of The Letter remains a very interesting political maneuver.). 

In the final days of the campaigning in Israel, Netanyahu took the low road to bolster his support by the Israeli right wing and ultra religious groups and stated that if elected, he would ensure that there would not be a Palestinian State, the elusive two-state solution. 

Netanyahu has now won what was supposed to be a very close election. This is a very big problem for liberal and progressive Jews and other people who support the existance of Israel as a democracy in which Jews have the national security they lack in many other parts of the world. The reaffirmation of Netanyahu and his policies is a blow to the open support of Israel, which is now clearly dominated by right wing, nationalistic politics. The election result fans the flames of anti-Israel sentiment and activities, and, by association, bolsters anti-semitism world-wide. 

I swore loudly when I woke up this morning to the radio news that Netanyahu had won the election. I had hoped that more moderate political forces would gain control of the Israel government and try something new regarding relationships and peace negotiations with Palestinians. This election result is a disaster for the Israeli peace movement and the Israeli left. It is also a disaster for support of Israel in the rest of the world. It continues the disaster for Palestinians who want peace,  political and economic power. 

I have, for several years, stated that I believe the conflict between Palestinains and Israel has no end point in sight, but that the two peoples are locked in a cycle of violence that is self-perpetuating. Based on history, I don't believe that Israeli political leadership of the past couple of decades, or more, have any real interest in peace and the creation of a Palestinian State. They have been two-faced, talking peace out of one side, while continuing the occupation and the illegal land grabs out of the other side. (see Note 2) Yes, the Israel-Palestine situation is very, very complex, and simple answers do not exist. But smart and serious people on both sides can certainly find a way to interrupt the cycle of violence and find solutions. Benjamin Netanyahu, and the interests he represents, are not these people. 

I am more disappointed than upset by the Israel election result. The state of politics in Israel is, after all, not much different than the state of politics in the United States and the rest of the world. Have we Americans already forgotten George W. Bush? We elected that dangerous politician twice! And we are still dealing with the result of those elections. Our House and Senate are now controlled by the Republican right wing. America is dancing with fascism. What about Europe, China, Russia, the Arab states, Africa, South America? Israel absolutely has no lock on right wing politics. 

Does the election really mean that a two-state solution is out of reach? Maybe; maybe not. After all, above all else, Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician. And politicians very often say one thing during a campaign, and another thing once elected. But maybe this is a good turn of events. Maybe the clear admission by Netanyahu that he and his backers will not endorse a two-state solution is a way to move the discussion to a different level. Join fact, it appears that there were some very important gains in the Israel election for women, Arab Israelis and other groups.

The real losers here are the Palestinians, such as those in the West Bank, who are faced with a continuation of an illegal and often brutal occupation.

It might be that the world has entered a period of human right-wingism that will last for some time until it plays itself out. In that case, we progressives and other left-of-center folk need to hunker down for the long-term, and do all we can to fight back (and drink more red wine).

What we don't need to do is bash Israel alone for it's right-wingedness; after all, this seems to be the    sad state of affairs of most of the world.

1. The article is here. It first appeared in Middle East Eye, and this is a link to the "who is" Middle East Eye. I am not certain yet about the credibility of this source; however, the link described would not surprise me.  
2. There are some notable exceptions to this conclusion, such as the efforts of Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


View downstream, north, from the tip of Ross Island.
Portland, Oregon is a river city, or so it is said by some. Yes, the Willamette River runs through the middle of Portland on its way to the Columbia River. The meeting of these two rivers is also in Portland. One would think that Portlanders are river people, by which I mean they use their river for many different activities and consider it one of the most important parts of the Portland identity. Well, that is not the case.

Like so many other American cities, Portland was developed along the river, but the river was considered only a place of business between land and water, and a place to dump things people wanted to get rid of. In the past few decades, however, Portland has changed its mind about the river in many ways, and the land along the river is now seen as an amenity and a public and natural resource.

But there are still problems in regards to Portland truly becoming River City. One of those problems is access to the river, not visual access, but physical access. This is especially true for people who want to put a small, human-powered water craft in the river in the downtown area (I'll call these people paddlers). I am a paddler, and the portion of the river that flows through downtown Portland offers a variety of interesting experiences, if I can get to it.
The new Tilikum Crossing transit bridge behind the Ross Island Bridge,
viewed from Ross Island.

This morning Dry Bag Dave and Paddlin' Paul (that's me) loaded our kayaks and gear and headed off to do an easy and relatively short paddling trip. Our goal was to paddle under the new transit bridge, a cable-stayed beauty named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. The new bridge, that will open in September, will only have light rail trains, buses, cycles and pedestrians; no automobiles or trucks.

So we decided to launch on the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland and paddle a short distance upstream and under the Tilikum Crossing. There is a low floating public dock just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge designed for use by rowing and paddle craft where we have launched before. When we arrived there, we found that there are some visitor spots in the parking lot, but parking is limited to 2 hours; not enough for a paddling trip. Parking there used to be for as long as desired. So we got back in the car and drove to the downstream side of the Hawthorne Bridge because it seemed to me we could launch from the dirt beach under the bridge. I know that the Human Access Project has cleared a lot of rocks from that beach so people can get into the river. There were some parking spots in the lot near the Eastbank Esplanade (pay parking, of course), so we figured we could carry the boats to the beach under the bridge. Well, the river was high, and that spot did not have a safe or easy place to launch kayaks.

We had spent a lot of time trying to find a place to put into the river. Our fallback was Willamette Park on the other side of the river and a few miles south of the Tilikum Crossing bridge. We arrived at Willamette Park and found an almost empty large parking lot. I went to buy the parking tag, and it was $1 per hour, or $6 for all day; pretty reasonable. I figured I would put in $4 for 4 hours - plenty of time for our paddling. But as I pushed the time button on the meter, the dollars kept going up, but the hours stayed at 3. Hmmm; well I read the fine print, which informed me that after 3 hours, a full-day fee would be charged. Really? OK, well the Park Bureau needs the money to maintain the park, so I was kind of OK with this scheme.

I went over to the restroom building at the park to get rid of some excess liquid - and the restrooms were "closed for the season." What? No bushes nearby, either. Luckily for us, there were 2 porta-potties on the other side of the parking lot, probably related to work going on in the park. OK, problem solved, but still, I paid my $6, what did I get for it?

We had a terrific paddle of about 7 miles round trip and spent about 3 hours total. But I was disgruntled about the experience of paddling in Portland.

Why isn't there access for paddlers to the Willamette River in the downtown area of Portland? The public dock on the east side and just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge is a convenient location, but parking is limited to 2 hours. (I later found out that after 3PM parking time is unlimited, but that really only works in the summer when days are longer.) The only places to launch from close to and south of downtown are Willamette Park and Sellwood Park. Going north from downtown, I can only think of Swan Island Lagoon and Cathedral Park, both very far from the downtown area. These four launching opportunities are shown on the map below.
The only four formal and convenient launching spots for paddlers in Portland are shown as red stars.
And by the way, Willamette Park, operated by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, is set up for power boats. The parking lot is mostly long spaces for trucks and trailers, with a much smaller number of spots for cars (and you get ticketed if you park a car in a truck-trailer spot, even if there are very few truck-trailers in the lot). The ramp into the river is concrete that is deeply ribbed for tire traction - real hell for the hull of my wood kayak. There should be a gravel ramp into the river for canoes, kayaks and other paddle craft to make this facility truly convenient for paddlers.

There is a new ramp that is being described as a kayak launch in the South Waterfront Central District immediately south of downtown; it will be open later this year. It is a narrow concrete sidewalk that I consider to be a tricky launch spot at best, and a dangerous spot especially when the river is low in the summer. Because there is no way to drive a car close to the ramp, and public parking is not located nearby, it will likely be used mostly by people who live in the condos in the South Waterfront who can cart their boat to the ramp without a motor vehicle. This does not solve the problem for the rest of us.

City planners know that river access is a problem, and they are working on ideas to create more and better access. They will need to change some city codes, figure out access and parking for motor vehicles, and also deal with federal agencies that discourage river access because of alleged issues with fish habitat. In the meantime, I'll paddle the downtown stretch of the Willamette once in a great while, and drive to other places on the edges of or away from Portland that are more welcoming to paddlers.


Monday, February 02, 2015


I am a 70 year old man who tries to keep up with the digital age in which I live. I have a smartphone (Android OS), a tablet (iPad) and a laptop  (MacBook). I spend a lot of my time using these marvelous devices in a variety of ways. And it has truly ruined my real life.

My digital life is dominated by the apps on my smartphone, the apps on my tablet, and the software on my laptop. All of my devices are synced in various ways, mostly in the cloud. The apps shared by me and my wife, such as google calendar, enable us to keep track of our individual as well as shared schedules, as long as we don't make any mistakes when entering data (which we sometimes do). My consulting business relies on my devices, apps and software to communicate, coordinate, collect information, create reports and letters and memoranda.

I have 92 apps on my smartphone (probably a small number compared to many people), including apps to: measure the amount of propane in the tank of my outdoor grill, measure the inclination of a hill, do mathematics, magnify and take photos of things, measure sound level, convert units, convert money, translate languages, record sounds, check the river level, check the weather, buy movie tickets, waste time on facebook, check email, send and receive text messages, take photos. And cables and chargers and dongles - a boatload of them because Apple cables don't fit Android devices and visa-versa, and every device has it's own charger, and I carry a travel-size extension cord when we travel because most hotel rooms don't have enough outlets for the phones and computers we carry.

Photos - I have taken uncountable thousands of pictures with various cell phones and digital cameras. I have these scattered throughout the cloud in various free storage services, most of which I've maxed out without paying an annual fee. This is why I now have a flickr account - they give me 1 terabyte free! But what do I do with all of these photos? Nobody else can see them unless I post them somewhere like facebook or google+ (has anyone heard of google+?). But there are so many photos I don't even remember what they are, or how to find the ones I do remember.

And the convenience of my digital life. I don't have to leave the coach to go shopping - Amazon.com is all I need. (Does anyone else remember when Amazon was just a book seller?) And books - I read on my iPad. I have a banking app on my smartphone, so I can deposit checks and pay bills and all of that from - yes - the couch.

My digital life is becoming more of who I am than my biological life. I have a lot of friends - digital. A lot of people "like" me - digital. I go to exotic places in the world - digital. I read a lot of books, newspapers, magazines and technical journals - digital. I map out where I am driving or cycling - digital. I write to people and have nice chats with them - digital. I have discussions with people who see me and I see them - digital. I write about life and politics - digital. I schedule events and appointments on a calendar - digital. I watch movies, TV shows and listen to music - digital. I keep notes and journal items - digital. I print labels and postage on packages and have them picked up by the postal service - digital. I explore new digital applications for my digital devices - digital!

My digital me is always afraid. My digital being is constantly threatened by hackers who want to steal my identity and rob me of my credit and money. To defend my digital self I need passwords - lots and lots and lots of passwords and user names and secret questions with answers I'm supposed to remember. And the passwords can't be simple, they need to be complex. And I am told to change every password frequently. My digital self is so nervous about safety that I think I need digital drugs to calm me down!

I am no more than 0's and 1's, a vessel of data harvested every nanosecond of my digital life. Minions of madmen ad men algorize my digital being non-stop looking for clues and patterns so they can sell me to those who push advertisements at me. I have no secrets. My own government tracks my digital self everywhere I go, every key stroke I make, every search I google, every email, text and chat I have is harvested and analyzed and stored for the future in vast server farms scattered around the planet. My digital self consists of billions of fragments.

I grow flabby from lack of exercise because more and more of my shopping, banking, communicating and everyday activities are as a digital being rather than a biological being. How will this end?

Can I end my digital life? Is it possible to commit digital suicide - digicide? Is there life after the digital life? After all, my jillions of on-line posts and photos and messages will still be in the cloud even after I've pulled the plug.

If I do commit digicide, how will you know? Maybe you will notice that I haven't posted stupid things on facebook for awhile, or posted to this blog, or tweeted or tooted. Will you notice? Will anyone?  Especially once I install this new DigitalMe app; you know, the one that analyzes everything I have ever done on-line and then starts to generate posts from the digital me, without the biological me having to do anything. The ultimate app for digital immortality!

In fact, how do you know if the digital me or the biological me wrote this blog post?


Sunday, December 07, 2014


I would say that this is like a bad movie, but that would make light of a very serious and real situation in America. If you didn't live here and were reading the headlines every day, you might think that being a Black man or boy is a crime in America, punishable by death on the spot. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix are the most recent Black men and boys killed by police, but certainly not the only ones.

"Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI" (USA Today). This statement is based on data submitted to the FBI by police departments, and it is a very incomplete and, some think, very flawed database. However, the stark reality is clear, young Black men are killed by police at a disproportionate rate compared to young white men killed.

Propublica has a good summary of these data in a recent article. The graphic below is from the Propublica article.

But rather than get lost in the data, which is readily available on the internet, I want to stick to my opinion, which is, after all, what you are reading.

Racism is alive and well today in America; however, in my opinion the core issue is not racism of individuals but racism inherent in our institutions. A lot has been written on this topic, and should be required reading for every US citizen, not as a guilt trip for white readers, but for the sake of educating all of us. 

There is a lot of justified anger in minority communities, as well as in a large proportion of society in general, concerning the treatment of Black men and boys in law enforcement and the judicial system. (Note that this is true in the Latino community as well.) Some of this anger spills over as rage, and mob mentality has taken over in some places resulting in destruction of property and looting. These actions are not by the majority of protesters and demonstrators, no matter how often the media shows us video and photos of the flames. 

There is a growing movement nationwide focused on police brutality and judicial indifference. Some commentators predict it is a new phase of the civil rights movement, and could grow into a major movement. I hope this is true, and I also hope that leaders emerge who can coordinate strategies, put forward a consistent message, distance the movement from the fringe groups and individuals who favor violence, and organize support for change by a majority of Americans. 

I don't condone war against the police; this is not productive and is a losing campaign. Nor do I condone blaming and labeling all cops as racist. There are many statements and interviews in the media right now by active and former police officers who admit that there is a problem, and state that some small percentage of police officers are "bad cops" who do bad things, and should not be in these positions. They also admit that the majority of cops typically don't speak out when they know what the bad apples are doing, either because they don't want to get involved, or they are concerned about their own careers. This obviously needs to change.

It is not just the bad cops that are the problem, however; it is the system, the institutions of law enforcement and justice, that not only allow these individuals to be in positions of authority, but protect them when they do bad things. The death of Eric Garner by policemen, ruled a homicide by the coroner and seen by millions in a video on the internet, was not considered worthy of a trial. This is the outrage. A policeman killed a citizen whose potential crime was selling cigarettes, and the cop was not indicted.  Would Eric Garner be alive today if he was white? Would the cop be on trial if Mr. Garner had been killed and was white? It is not OK for a cop to kill someone without justification; but it is even more egregious that the justice system takes a pass on it. 

I have been working closely with the Portland Police Bureau over the past year to address issues in our neighborhood. The police formed a special unit, based on what they are calling relationship policing, to conduct daily walking patrols in a few neighborhoods. This has been a pilot project, and has been very successful. The officers assigned to the unit were selected using a set of criteria, including their communication skills. Many cops feel that the public hates them, and they are reluctant to get out of their cars and walk around. But the community response to these walking patrols has been overwhelmingly favorable, including many "street people" who are afraid of the bad elements on the street. The goal of this pilot project is to have cops and people in the community get to know each other, on a first name basis, and to have the cops out there to help people who need assistance, diffuse tense situations, address issues of behavior in public places, and help build a greater sense of community. As Ric, the Sergeant in charge of the unit often says, good parenting is not ignoring your kids until they do something wrong and then punishing them, but that is how policing has worked for too long (and he is quick to point out that police are not your parents!). The situation in our neighborhood has improved greatly, and by the way, this special unit of officers made very few arrests and issued very few citations, not because they weren't doing their job, but because they were doing their job in a different way.

I am hopeful that, working together, we can make needed changes in our society. I'm not yet delusional enough to think that this will be a slam dunk; it will be hard work. Institutionalized racism is buried deep in the core structures of our public institutions, and there is a tremendous amount of inertia to keep it that way. We need to change laws, we need new legal precedent, we need individuals inside federal, state and local governments, including police forces, to push from the inside, we need citizens to participate in public discourse and to vote

Next time you see a cop walking around your neighborhood, stop and say hello. Introduce yourself, get into a conversation, talk about what's going on. Build community. 


Friday, November 14, 2014


AAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!! Driving home today I was listening to a local talk show (Think Out Loud) on our NPR affiliate, Oregon Public Broadcasting. In the news roundtable segment the host asked three guests (journalists) what the top story of the week was for each of them. One of the two men said that his top story was wondering why President Obama is reportedly going to "poison the well" in Congress by acting on immigration reform through Executive Order. 

WHAT? First of all, why is a journalist using the Republican playbook term of the month? Almost immediately following his reelection to the Senate, Mitch McConnell used the term "poison the well" in his acceptance speech: "In an ambitious speech hours after his party gained control of both houses of Congress, McConnell warned Obama not to “poison the well” by pushing forward with unilateral action on immigration reform...." (source)
Two days later House Speaker John Boehner warned that "the president will "poison the well" for the new Congress if he takes executive action to address the deportation of undocumented immigrants" (source). The floodgates were open, and every news outlet repeated the term "poison the well" over, and over, and over ad nauseum. 

And so, once again, the popular media are following the playbook of a political party by parroting a catchy phrase designed to stick in the heads of the public and sway their opinion. Some consultant to the Republican Party earned her or his pay for that one. 

But there is another, even more important aspect to this discussion; the assertion is false! For the past 6 years the publicly stated goal of the Republican Party has been to thwart every effort by Barak Obama to get things accomplished. McConnell and Boehner each are on record with this message. The Congress during Obama's term will go down as one of the most do-nothing Congresses in the history of the United States, to date. If anyone has poisoned the political well, it is the Republican Party.

And let us not forget the liberal Democrats who have very loudly criticized Obama for not getting tough, going toe-to-toe with the obstructionist Republicans in Congress. What a wimp! What a dish rag! What a disappointment! As if President Obama is the reason the Republicans have stymied every effort by the administration and the Democrats to move things forward. 

The Republican Party is The Poison in the well that all Americans drink from. Name any social issue in this country, and the Republicans are on the front lines to stop any progress. I salute President Obama for his patience and his persistence. He has accomplished a mountain of important things, and yet, for some strange reason, the American public and the popular media allow the Republican Party to write the script and coin the phrases.

I truly hope our President uses his executive authorities to make long-overdue and much needed changes to immigration policies, environmental policies, energy policies, and many more. And truly, if there is poison in the well, we can only hope that the Republicans in Congress drink from it soon! 
P. Fishman - November 14, 2014