Sunday, December 31, 2006

BYE BYE 2006 - BUY BUY 2007

Another year down the tubes, another year beginning. While I tend to focus on the negative, I am also hopeful that the coming year has the potential to see many positive things happen in the world. I only wish that we in the U.S. of A. had some real leadership.

Our dear President Bush has been talking about "a new way forward." This phrase should actually be in caps because it is his latest slogan (the man loves slogans). The world is anxiously awaiting his message about The New Way Forward in Iraq - I'm not holding my breath.

But Bush gave us a hint of what he's thinking at a recent press conference (might have been December 20th). Here are his words:

As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. … And I encourage you all to go shopping more.

You all certainly remember that this was also his advice to us following the September 11 attacks. Go shopping! The Bush M.O. is very clear - spend, spend, spend. "Strengthen our military" in the above statement translates to "we're going to spend a lot more money on the military" - the cost of the Iraq war is now at $2 billion per week (see footnote). "Meet the challenges of the 21st century" means figuring out new ways for consumers to spend more so Bush's supporters (puppet masters?) can reap even larger obscene profits than they already are (have you read about the record CEO compensation packages in 2006?).

The implications of the Bush "go shopping/spend" policy are very far-reaching. An excellent article by Anatol Lieven discusses the relationship between global warming and western free-market democracy - an important read. A previous post of mine discussed the relationship between American consumerism and global air pollution from China. So don't be fooled by G.W. Bush's down-home folksiness - this is bad shit, and generations to come in the USA and around the globe will be paying for it!

Bye bye '06 - buy buy '07!

Footnote: The number $2 billion is difficult to grasp. Think of it this way - if you are fortunate enough to make a salary of $100,000 per year, it would only take you 20,000 years to earn $2 billion.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


TO: Grand Council of Science
FROM: Investigator Qzrkstynlptyr (8i4412121212zpq)
SUBJECT: Investigation of Planet Blue Liquid (S+3): Preliminary Life Form Observations

Council Members:
I respectfully submit this report as per my investigative assignment under the Inter-Planetary Scientific Survey Protocols of 0695534, Section a666, Sub-x. Since my recent arrival on the Planet Blue Liquid 14 parmuns ago, I have spent considerable time conducting non-contact, non-visible observations to determine which life forms are dominant and potentially approachable. This report summarizes my initial observations of the apparent dominant life form on this planet, which I shall refer to as Life Form D06 (LFD06).

I selected as the setting for my first contact an area known as a "park," based on my observations that the dominant life form frequents these areas regularly. Curiously, all of these creatures bring with them to the park area another life form, which I have coded as LFH8, with which they have a peculiar relationship. Each individual LFD06 in the park area is pulling one specimen of LFH8 by means of a length of material, often a synthetic or hide strap. LFD06 has a loop of material around the area between its head and trunk to which the length of strap is attached; LFH8 appears to be grasping a loop in the other end of the strap in one of its two articulated upper appendages.

I should describe here that LFD06 is a quadra-pedal life form, while LFH8 is typically bi-pedal, but has a second set of appendages with articulated endings with which it manipulates objects. LFD06 is fur-covered over the entirety of its body; LFH8 typically has scant fur except on the head, although many males of the species have much less fur even in that location.

After considerable study of these organisms, I have determined the following behavioral patterns:
1. LFD06 is dominant, and pulls LFH8 behind it, sometimes with great effort, along pathways, through shrubbery, and under trees.
2. LFD06 constantly inhales through special openings in its head as if sampling the air, particularly close to the ground and on vertical objects.
3. LFD06 stops frequently to void liquid, and occasionally to deposit solid material on the ground.
4. LFH8 uses a thin plastic membrane pouch to collect the solid material deposited by LFD06 and transports it for the remainder of the travel through and out of the park area.

My conclusions thus far concerning these behaviors are: a) LFH8 is subservient to LFD06; b) LFD06 has trained LFH8 to follow specific behavioral commands, although LFH8 sometimes exhibits resistance, particularly when being pulled by a strap; c) LFH8 values the solid material deposited on the ground by LFD06 (perhaps as food??), and collects and carries this material with it.

The next phase of my investigation will be to attempt contact with an individual LFD06. I have many questions about this life form, including its relationship with, and apparent tolerance of, the less intelligent LFH8.

Until my next report.

May your quarks flow randomly; may the nebulae align favorably; and may the interests of galactic study always be foremost in your active neurons.

Investigator Qzrkstynlptyr

Monday, December 25, 2006


"The finest structure can house the worst evil." This was the message inside my fortune cookie today at our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. (I searched the internet for the origin of this saying - all I could find was a lot of other people who had the same message inside their fortune cookies also wondering who said it!) I'm a big fan of fortune cookie wisdom; I have often received sayings that had a particular relevance to my life or my thoughts. This one, received on Christmas Day, is no exception.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the capacity of human beings to perpetrate evil. A headline today about world leaders calling for peace, on Christmas Day, urged me to write about this topic. In many ways, the human animal is "the finest structure," a result of millions of years of evolution (obviously I'm not a creationist). Humans have an intellectual and creative capability that is, as far as we know, superior to any other living organisms on Earth. Part of this superiority is the ability to recognize and distinguish between "good" and "evil" (these words are in quotes because I don't want to even try to define them - I'll leave that to you). But throughout history humans have committed what can only be termed "evil" acts against other humans. A quick trip around the world today finds terrorism, genocide, occupation, torture, bigotry, humiliation, and other actions in every corner. History repeats, and we humans never seem to learn from history. Why?

On a recent "Journey of Peace" to Israel and Palestine, we met with Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian, philosopher, and the President of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. I recently read one of Dr. Nusseibeh's presentations, “Identities in conflict: Masters and Slaves,” given at the International Conference of the Human Development Capability Association in Netherlands, September 2006. His discussion of human identity is very relevant to my questions about evil among humans. Dr. Nusseibeh talks about the "wide range of identity-layers, or layers which together make up or constitute an identity." In other words, each of us has multiple factors which together constitute our identity. Each individual, however, manifests an identity to those around him or her, and the choice of identity is "the degree to which one is a master or slave of one’s identity - a degree which can be taken to be at once a measure of one’s freedom, as well as a function of the propensity to prejudice-propelled conflict or violence."

It is the choice of identity that I believe is the key to understanding the manifestations of evil by humans. Dr. Nusseibeh states that "to the extent that one can make those choices one can be said to be master of one’s identity; and to the extent that one particular layer comes to dominate and in an exclusivist manner therefore to limit one’s choices one’s capability range, or freedom, is diminished, thereby reflecting the transformation of the agent from being master to being a slave of their identity." Do we as individuals consciously choose our identities, or do we allow external factors, including other people, to choose our identities for us? "Are we destined, as human beings, to be victims of our self-prejudiced identities?" Do we make excuses for our own behaviors by blaming the behaviors of others? "If we admit we have been turned into monsters only by the violent actions perpetrated by the other side, what else should we expect to find on the other side as we carry out similar actions but monsters, too."

As "the finest structure," we as humans can choose our identities; we can choose to reject evil and promote good. Humans also have the capacity to teach and learn - we are not just biologically programmed to act out the same behaviors over and over. "Being able to master sufficiently one’s identity, and to shape it, can be a powerful tool in helping shape the identities of others."

My identity as an American is seen by many in the world as the identity projected by the actions of my government, many of which I presently do not support. It is my goal, therefore, to actively choose and present an identity that is aligned with my core values and beliefs. And, while I often find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude about the world and the actions of my fellow humans (read some of my blog posts), I know that I must continue to focus my self-identity on the parts of my humanity that are "good," all the while rejecting "evil" and speaking out against it.

The finest structures can house the worst evil. But the finest structures can also house the greatest good. There are many good people on this planet, and we need to tell their stories more often as examples for hope. The choice between good and evil is ours - each of us - and I still, despite the evil rampant in the world, trust in the true goodness of humanity.

Friday, December 15, 2006


On December 16, 2006, President George W. Bush praised outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a farewell ceremony. According to the President:

Don Rumsfeld has been at my side from the moment I took office. We've been through war together. We have shared some of the most challenging moments in our nation's history. Over the past six years, I have come to appreciate Don Rumsfeld's professionalism, his dedication, his strategic vision, his deep devotion to the men and women of our nation who wear the uniform, and his love for the United States of America.

Well, I suppose it would be a bit tacky for the President to actually tell the truth about Rummie, so I'll do Mr. Bush a favor and do the dirty work for him.
  • Don Rumsfeld's professionalism: "Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said." Donald Rumsfeld
  • Don Rumsfeld's strategic vision: "Stuff happens. It's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." Donald Rumsfeld
  • more strategic vision: "The Gulf war in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months. But it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that." Donald Rumsfeld
  • Don Rumsfeld's deep devotion to the men and women of our nation who wear the uniform: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." Donald Rumsfeld
  • a combination of strategic vision (military) and devotion to our people in uniform: "We know where they (WMD) are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." Donald Rumsfeld
  • another combo, as above: "We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead." Donald Rumsfeld
But why stop here? How about some examples illustrating the need for a sharp mind and a keen sense of the world that makes a Secretary of Defense great?
  • "If we left Iraq prematurely, the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they’d order us and all those who don’t share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines." Donald Rumsfeld
  • "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." Donald Rumsfeld
Who could have predicted the result of the appointment of Don Rumsfeld to the position of Secretary of Defense? And who can predict how the new Secretary will do?

"I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past - I think the past was not predictable when it started." Donald Rumsfeld

Heckuva job, Rummie!!

Click here for these quotes and more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Sir: Based upon knowing your keen interest in history and the fairness of historical representation, as evidenced by your recent international conference: "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision," I would like to invite you to a newly announced international conference: "Review of Iranian Whining: Global Historic Revisionism." This conference will examine the truth behind claims by the Iranian people about their history, and reveal many interesting, and sometimes startling, actual facts.

A recent American television propaganda piece about Iran by the Jewish journalist Ted Koppel (whose parents did not escape from Nazi Germany - this is another great lie) included numerous supposedly Iranian people reminding Mr. Koppel that in 1953 the United States had overthrown the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran and replaced him with the Dictator, Shah Reza Khan, a puppet of the U.S. The international conference will expose this fraudulent myth for what it is - a fraudulent myth. Iran never had a democratically elected Parliament and Prime Minister; the United States did not overthrow this supposed Prime Minister and put him in jail and house arrest for the remainder of his life; and there never was a Shah Reza Khan - this is one of the Big Lies promulgated by the Iranian people, who are opposed to truth as history (they should be wiped from the map)!

Similarly, there are those among the population of Iran, and other countries I might add, who claim that there was a long war between Iraq and Iran between 1980 and 1988. These same false-witnesses to history also claim, among other lies, that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian troops, that some Iranian prisoners of war were not returned until 2003, and - the biggest fabrication of all - that the United States was complicit in its support of Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The infamous photo of the smiling Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein is obviously a photo-shopped fake!

So, Dear President Ahmadinejad, please accept this invitation to our international conference as the Keynote Speaker. Your presence will lend immeasurable legitimacy to this event as a gathering of committed individuals (or those who should be committed). Please tailor your keynote address to the following topic: "History and Truth: Ramblings of a Madman."

Thank you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I've developed a habit of studying landscapes as I travel the world. By "studying" I mean not just seeing landscapes as they roll by, but sensing their realities of geology, ecology, and human use. As we've traveled through Israel and Palestine (the West Bank), I've internalized a deep sense of the harshness of the landscape. With the exception of the coastal plain of the Mediterranean Sea, most of what I've seen in those lands is a beautiful, but harsh landscape of desert and rock.

Several years ago we drove the road from Tiberius in the north, south to the Dead Sea and then west to Jerusalem. The highway generally parallels the Jordan Valley, which is seen below as a green ribbon at the boundary of Israel and Jordan. But the more immediate landscape is desert sand and rock - hot, dry and with a sense of unforgiving. We passed small towns and individual dwellings, and imagined the effort needed to scratch out a living from this land.

This year we traveled into northern Israel again, to the area between Haifa and Tiberius, where we have family in the city of Carmiel. This landscape is dominated by rock, as pictured above. As I walked through an undeveloped area on the edge of town to take pictures, even the thorny plants reminded me that this landscape can be unforgiving. The rock itself is old and weathered, appearing ancient like everything else in this land. What stories could the rock relate if I could only find its language?

People occupy landscapes, and often change them to suite their needs. Forests disappear, grasslands yield to pasture and row crops, cities grow where nature once ruled. But there is something about the landscape of Israel/Palestine that conveys the sense that nature rules here. Perhaps the harshness of civilization in this land, the seemingly endless conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Jews, Muslims and Christians, is a reflection of the land itself.

For millenia, people have learned to live with and on the harsh landscape of these lands, to accept the land for what it is and reach an accord with it. My hope is that someday people can learn to live with each other, to reach an accord with the social and political landscape and turn its harshness into peace.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Yes, dear readers, it's true, Merry Christmas seems to have won "the War on Christmas." If you remember, 2005 was the year that the Christian right declared that they were doing holy battle against the evil-doers who were waging a War on Christmas. Who were these evil-doers? People like me, and many others who were simply saying "Happy Holidays" to friends and family who do not celebrate Christmas because - well gosh - they aren't Christian! Many retail businesses were also using "Happy Holidays" displays and advertising to attract consumers of all religious beliefs. And many people, myself included, objected to religious displays on public property, such as courthouse lawns.

"JUST SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS" was the rallying cry of the Christian right, and they crusaded mightily against the heathens among us who would object. Separation of church and State - bah humbug!

The 2006 holiday season is upon us - I'm sure you've noticed. And guess what? It looks like Merry Christmas is the winner. Every advertisement by Target stores for a recent major national television program was a Merry Christmas advertisement. "Merry Christmas" ads and banners have sprouted everywhere in retail land. Starbucks is once again selling their Christmas Blend, but try to find a bag of the Holiday Blend and you'll be very disappointed, even though the Starbucks staff will tell you that they're supposed to have the blue bags and labels for the same beans that are in the red bags. A very reliable source at Starbucks tells the following story: a customer asked what the diference is between the coffee in the red Christmas Blend bags and the blue Holiday Blend bags (it seems some stores have the blue bags). The Starbucks person explained that it is the same coffee, just in different bags. "Oh, I get it," replied the customer, "the blue bags are for Jewish people, and the red bags are for Americans!"

Just say "Merry Christmas."

Saturday, November 25, 2006


The Oregonian ran a front page article yesterday about huge clouds of soot and mercury drifting across the Pacific to Oregon and the rest of the United States. Major sources of this pollution are the coal-powered electrical generating plants in China. China presently has about 2,000 coal-fired plants, and has plans in place to build another 500. Impacts in Oregon of these Chinese plumes include hazy skies, increased particulate matter in our air, and increased levels of mercury in our rivers, leading to increased mercury levels in fish.

I've written previously in this blog about the basic laws of ecology, as posed in the 1970's by Dr. Barry Commoner, including "everything is connected to everything else." There are direct links between the Chinese air pollution and each Oregonian. I'm sure that like me, you've often noticed that almost everything we buy these days is made in China. Chinese manufacturers provide low cost labor, low cost materials, and an aggressive manufacturing and exporting sector based on scant government regulation regarding worker health and welfare, environmental impact (i.e. pollution), and other issues that increase the cost of goods made in the U.S.A. As a result, the Chinese economy is a raging tiger, trying to keep up with both the foreign demand for manufactured goods, and the domestic demand for modernity and a higher standard of living (in other words, the Chinese want to be like us Americans).

I pulled some data from the U.S. Bureau of Census web site about the balance of trade between China and the United States. Below is a graph of the data I pulled (sorry about the quality - I really struggled to import this as a graphic). The graph shows, for every year from 1985 until 2006, the dollar values of goods exported from the USA to China (blue line), imported from China to the USA (red line), and the trade balance, or difference between the import and export (yellow line). The vertical axis is millions of dollars, and the values shown on the axis are therefore $100 billion, $200 billion, etc.

In 1985, the US exported $3.85 billion and imported $3.86 billion in goods. By 1995, the US exported $11.7 billion and imported $45.5 billion. By 2005, the US exported $41.9 billion and imported $243.5 billion of goods from China. The trade balance (US exports to China minus US imports from China) went from minus $6 million in 1985, to minus $33.7 billion in 1995, to minus $201.5 billion in 2005, and is projected to be about minus $221.7 billion in 2006. Household and electronic goods account for a major portion of the imports from China.

Yesterday was the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in America, and is always the biggest shopping day of the year. Stores open at 5 and 6AM with big sales, and people line up to be there early. The TV news showed shoppers with carts full of big-screen televisions, video games, stereo and video equipment, and all manner of electronics and toys and household items, mostly bought on credit (US consumer credit debt is another topic). A majority of these consumer goods are probably manufactured in China.

Everything is connected to everything else. The pollution drifting through the atmosphere from China to Oregon is directly linked to the buying habits of American consumers. We want our "stuff," and we don't really think or care about where it comes from - we only want it at a low price. Unfortunately, the dollar price we pay at the store is not the true price of the item. The true price includes the ecological price tag that comes - hidden - with each item we buy.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Maybe I tend to be too cynical, but, as Lily Tomlin said: "no matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up." I know that the media tends to focus on negative news, and that good things are happening in some places; but everywhere I look there are telltale signs that human civilization is hosed. A few examples from the recent headlines:

  • In 2005, 35.1 million people in the United States were "food insecure" (a government term for spinning the term "hungry"), meaning that they didn't have enough food for an active, healthy life.
  • The number of Oregon school children who are homeless increased by 16% last year compared to the previous year, to a total of 13,159.
  • Siberian bears are not hibernating, Arctic sea ice is at very low levels, Arctic sea temperatures are warmer than historically, shrubs are taking over large areas of Arctic tundra, and permafrost isn't very "perma" anymore - all signs of global warming.
  • The Deputy Ambassador of the United Kingdom is traveling through California, Oregon and Washington looking for state and municipal partners to combat global warming. The British have given up looking to the Bush White House for leadership on this issue.
  • President George W. Bush thinks that the U.S. A. can win the Iraq war if "we don't quit" like we did in Viet Nam.
  • Genocide continues unabated in Darfur as the world watches.
  • The U.S. foreign policy in relation to nations such as Iran and North Korea is to call them names, refuse to talk to them, and crank up the machines of war.
  • Israel and Hamas continue to throw explosives at each other.
  • And finally, people are camping on the sidewalks in front of retail stores - for days - in order to purchase the new $600 Playstation 3 video game console.
Walking around the city of Jerusalem last month reminded me that human civilizations have been around for many thousands of years. But we don't seem to learn anything from history. Why is it that humans cannot get past what seem to be the most basic and troublesome behaviors of hate, mistrust, intolerance and greed? One would think that a species that has evolved such tremendous mental capacities could find its way out of primitive thinking and destructive behaviors. But then, one would have to think!

Friday, November 03, 2006


OK, now that I've ruled out the role of god in dealing with Iran (see my previous post), does that mean people should do nothing? Certainly not. (As an aside, our Israeli cousin, after reading my letter in the Jerusalem Post, said that she agrees with me - George Bush is not god's operative who has been willed to destroy Iran - but her take is that god should bomb Iran!)

The Israeli Prime Minister yesterday chastised the world community for not being tough with Iran, and for being too slow to do so. Israel is rightly concerned about Iranian moves towards nuclearity (a term I just invented), considering: 1) Iran's announced intention to develop nuclear weapons, 2) the Iranian President's continuing declarations that the Holocaust was a fake, 3) the Iranian President's stated goals of wiping Israel off the map, and 4) the televised tests by Iran yesterday of missles capable of delivering warheads to Israel.

I'm certainly not a statesman or a diplomat, and I won't pretend to be one. I also don't think we can change the direction Iran is taking by saying "pretty please don't" or something like that. But I can't accept a military response as the first response. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is, in my opinion, justified in criticizing the international community for moving too slowly on this threat. The world community, including the NATO countries, China and Russia, as well as many others, need to take a very strong and very vocal stand against Iran's moves towards nuclearity. Economic moves should be clearly designed to hurt Iran in the pocket book (and I don't mean by starving the Iranian people), and diplomatic moves should be designed to isolate Iran as a country moving in a dangerous direction.

But - and this is a major but - channels of communication with Iran should be kept open, and new channels developed to move towards agreement on basic principles. Unfortunately, the United States does not operate this way under Geaorge Bush. Instead, the U.S. administration uses name-calling (Axis of Evil) and threats of war to try to bully our "enemies" into submission. The foreign policy of the United States is a simple one - no policy at all, and don't talk to people we don't like. Every action gets a reaction. And the U.S. President has not made and kept friends around the world who are eager to stand with us; instead, Bush has pissed-off many governments around the world, and not built bridges of understanding and cooperation. Do I think Bush is the problem vis-a-vis Iran? No, but he has made matters worse in a very short time.

Let's not kid ourselves, Iran is a direct threat to Israel, the Middle East, and world stability. If the rest of the world diddles around too long, Iran might do something stupid, which will have very dire consequences for large numbers of people and for global relations. Maybe they want that to happen (they being the present rulers of Iran). So my message to all you world leaders who are regular readers of my blog is: do something now before it's too late.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


In his November 1, 2006 OpEd column "An appeal of faith to President George W. Bush," Michael Freund implored the American President to accept the will of god and attack Iran in order to save Israel.

Mr. Freund urged President Bush to accept the responsibility of carrying out the mission for which he has been chosen:

I know you believe, as I do, that God guides the destiny of men and of nations. And I know you believe, just as I do, that He raised you up to the helm of power precisely at this critical period, to serve as His agent and His instrument in this world.

The God of history has chosen you, Mr. President, just as He did Churchill, and He has entrusted you with a sacred mandate: to save the world from the designs of a madman.

My response to this was published in the Jerusalem Post Letters to the Editor the next day. I think we would live in a better world if people didn't use the "God told me to do it" excuse!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Israel-Palestine: a tortured land. No other place on Earth has so much history and so many events and places important to so many people as this small slice of land. This place is home to both peace and strife, love and hatred, kindness and violence. There is no single truth here.

As visitors to Israel-Palestine, our group sought answers. What are the issues? What are the solutions? Who can move things forward? Why do things seem to be moving backwards? After 10 days on the ground we only have more questions.

One of the presenters to our group told us that the vast majority of problems in this country have no solutions, and people need to find ways to live with them. He suggested that as Americans, we can't accept this answer because, I suppose, we are solution-oriented. Perhaps he is correct. I find this difficult to accept, but I also find that the problems here have defied solutions for decades. And I also know that there are no simple answers; nothing here is black and white, everything here is a shade of grey.

The people we've met in Israel and the West Bank have to a person been friendly, gracious and appreciative of our interest in their lives and issues. At the same time that we've heard tales of anger, violence and fear, we've also heard stories of friendship, collaboration and kindness. Perhaps it is most telling that for every issue that divides Arabs and Jews, we find Arabs and Jews working together to find solutions.

I finish this journey with over 70 pages of hastily scribbled notes from at least 14 presentations and visits. During the next week of traveling through Israel on our own, I plan to comb through these notes to solidify thoughts and ideas, and post more to this blog. But I also plan to enjoy being here, visiting friends and relatives, taking in the visual beauty of the land, and enjoying the wonders of this troubled place.

Friday, October 27, 2006


What does Judaism say about war (or, is there such a thing as kosher casualties)? This was the topic of the talk given to our group by Matthew Wagner, the religion reporter for the Jerusalem Post. Matthew discussed with our group the morality and ethics of war from the perspective of interpretation of Jewish law (Halacha). He began with the following anecdote:

A man sitting on a hill in southern Lebanon observes, through binoculars, a peaceful scene at a farmhouse below, with a group of children playing near the house. A truck drives in and parks, and the driver goes inside the house. Soon after, a rocket is launched from the area of the farmhouse. The man on the hill is a miliary observer in the Israeli Defense Force whose job is to direct IDF fire to missle launch sites. But the man hesitates - if he calls for an artillary strike, the children will certainly be killed. After a few moments of deliberation, he decides not to call for the artillery strike in order not to harm the children.

This story was told to Matthew by an IDF soldier he was interviewing during the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah; the man telling the story was the observer on the hill. The story illustrates an ethical dilemma of war - should military personnel do everything they can to not harm non-combatants? What if such action puts one's own life at risk? This was a heated topic of discussion during the recent war, including opinions expressed by various rabbis in Israel. Some rabbis justified killing based on biblical content such as "he who stands to kill, kill him first" and "there is no guilt if you are following God's will." Civilian casualties are, after all, secondary to winning the war.

The issue of ethics in war, and the "purity of arms," was heightened during the recent war in Lebanon. The IDF knew that Hezbollah fighters and missles were hidden throughout civilian areas, essentially using the civilian population as "human shields." Was killing civilians necessary and acceptable (morally and ethically) in order to protect Israeli civilians who were the targets of Hezbollah missles?

Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish scholastic philosopher and rabbi, one of the major theologians of Judaism, wrote rules for war, including these: when laying siege, only array your forces on three sides of the target city; those who want can escape, those who want can make peace, and those who want to fight will be defeated. The IDF used a tactic similar to the rules of Maimonides in southern Lebanon by warning the civilian populations in specific areas, using radio, leaflets dropped from aircraft, and even phone calls, to evacuate because the areas would be bombed. Three major questions need to be asked prior to an action in which non-combatants could be harmed: 1) is the purpose of the action to protect Israeli civilians, 2) is there intelligence and proof that the action will save lives in Israel, and 3) is there an alternative that will cost fewer civilian lives?

War is not something to be taken lightly, and the killing of civilians raises moral and ethical questions that can be looked at from many angles. Jewish morality and ethics require the asking of these questions.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This Journey is a lot more intellectual work than I think any of us imagined. Each day is packed with visits, lectures and discussions that tend to overload one's brain. But, that's why we're here.

In this short post I want to try to summarize some points about the issue of civil equality in Israel. As I wrote in the previous post, we visited and met with people at organizations that are working for civil equality - read that as civil rights for Arab Israelis.

We've learned some basic facts:
1. About 1.3 million Palestinians are Israeli citizens.
2. Palestinian Israelis live inside the borders of Israel; these are not the Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank.
3. Palestinian Israelis face discrimination in both personal and institutional ways.
4. There appears to be general agreement within the Jewish community of Israel that discrimination exists and it is an issue that will need to be dealt with.

We met with people from three different groups working on issues of civil equality. Givat Chavivah is a center that conducts educational programs, including face-to-face experiences for Jewish and Arab teens. Neve Shalom~Wahat Al Salam is a community of Arabs and Jews that live and work together, including a shared school where children are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic. Sikkuy, Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, is an advocacy group that works at the government and business levels on institutional issues of discrimination.

As Americans, these dicsussions were meaningful at several levels. Our understanding of Israel in regards to the issues of Arab citizens has been heightened. But we have also thought and talked about issues in the United States regarding discrimination against our fellow citizens.

From the information we've received on this issue, it appears that a variety of organizations are working to improve the situation for Palestinian Israelis in education, employment, and greater inclusion in society. I see this as more than a civil equality issue. I see direct connections to national security, international relations, and Israel's strength as a nation.

Like everything in the Middle East, the issue of Palestinian Israelis' status in Israel is complex and not easily resolved. One need only look at the United States, where civil rights issues took center stage several decades ago, and yet today there is much progress to be made in the area of civil rights for ethnic groups within our society.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


(Note: this post is one of a series about our experiences on "A Journey of Peace to Israel and Palestine" - a group of people from Portland, Oregon USA. The 22 people on the trip are Jews and Christians, the trip leaders are Rabbi Joshua Stampfer and Rev. Dr. Rodney Page who first organized and led a similar trip 20 years ago. I will post as often as possible summaries of our travels and experiences (not the tourist activities), things learned and questions raised.

The first two days of the trip (October 22 and 23) focused on Jewish and Arab Israeli relations and history, and efforts to build bridges between the two groups within Israel. On October 22 we spent the day at, and touring with the staff of, Givat Haviva Institute, which "educates and acts to promote the values of equality and human dignity." Givat Haviva was founded in 1949 as a national education center of the Kibbutz Artzi Movement, a federation of 83 kibbutzim throughout Israel. On October 23 we visited Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS), a village of Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship founded in the early 1970's. NSWAS residents/members are "demonstrating the possibility of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians by developing a community based on mutual acceptance, respect and cooperation."

It was helpful for us to understand that about 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs (between 1.2 and 1.3 million people), and that among those, about 84% are Muslim, 10% Christian and 6% Druse. These people live primarily in Arab villages in Israel, with most of the villages in the northern area. About 150,000 Arabs remained in Israel following the war of independence in 1948 that resulted in the State of Israel. These people chose to remain in Israel, as citizens, rather than give up their homes and live as refugees. Two Palestinian speakers each told how their parents or grandparents were criticized and considered traitors by those Palestinians who left Israel because they chose to remain and become citizens of Israel.

The "facts" of history depend on who writes the history, but it is clear that conflicts between Arab Palestinaians and Jews grew in the early decades of the 20th century as increasing numbers of Jews immigrated to Palestine, many as part of the Zionist movement. Serious violence erupted between Arabs and Jews during the period 1936 - 1939 while Palestine was under British rule. During the mid- to late 1940's, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel each declared independence from the British; the Israeli declaration of independence initiated a war between Israel and the neighboring Arab states. The armistice agreement of 1949 between Israel and it's neighbors established the Green Line demarcating the boundaries between Israel and adjacent nations, including Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Following the 6-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

Against this backdrop of a very complex history, we heard from speakers at Givat Haviva and NSWAS about the status of Arab Israeli's and the programs and efforts of these institutions and communities to bring people together. The focus of these efforts is education, face-to-face experiences, community building and cooperation. Givat Haviva programs include the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, within which are the Departments of Educaton, Community Involvement, Women and Gender Studies, Regional Cooperation, Teacher training, Institute for Arabic Studies, and Institute for Peace Research. Givat Haviva also has a Peace Library, Holocaust Study Center, Arts Center and International Department. A few of the many things we learned about the programs of Givat Haviva: 3,000 to 5,000 Jewish and Arab high school students participate in a "Face to Face" program every year; they operate the best school for teaching Arab spoken language ("language is a barrier or a gate"), they have published the story of the Holocaust in Arabic, and house the largest library in the world of Palestinian Israeli information.

The community of Neveh Shalom~Wahat al-Salam began with one family in 1979, had 8 families in 1984, and today consists of 50 families - half Jewish and half Arab. The village is governed democratically by community members, and has a small group of elected members who run the administrative aspects of the community. The community school is the only one in Israel where children are taught equally in Hebrew and Arabic, and learn about and participate in both cultures, while following the standard school curriculum of Israel. NSWAS is unlike towns in Israel where both Jews and Arabs live - NSWAS is a community where Jews and Arabs purposefully build community together in order to break down the barriers between people.

In a future post I will discuss some of the issues presented to us concerning Palestinian Israelis.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Sherry and I begin our travels with a small group from Portland on the "Journey of Peace" to Israel and Palestine. The trip itinerary is shown below. Our goal is to post as often as possible with summaries and thoughts from our visits, meetings and discussions. The posts will be titled: "Jouney of Peace" and dated.


Oct 21, Saturday: arrive in Tel Aviv, travel to Givat Chaviva
Givat Chavivah is an institute that provides education to promote human dignity and equality
between Jews and Arabs living in Israel. We will tour the region of Wadi Ara and the Arab village of Barta’a.

Oct 22, Sunday: Givat Chaviva

Oct 23, Monday:
• visit Neve Shalom, the only joint Jewish-Arab community in Israel;
• visit Mini Israel;

Oct 24, Tuesday:
• meeting with representative of Sikkuy, Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel;
• visit Mt. Zion (David’s Tomb, Last Supper Room)
• go to old city
• Western Wall
. Temple Steps
. Davidson Center

Oct 25, Wednesday: organized by Yesha, settler's organization in West Bank
• separation wall in Mt. Gilo
• Gush Etzion settlements
• Yeshiva Har Etzion
• Kfar Etzion
• discussion in Judaica Center
Jerusalem: lecture by Dr. Ephraim Inbar

Oct 26, Thursday:
• Bethleham: Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Bible College
• Jerusalem:Jerusalem Post meeting with Mati Wagner, correspondent
• meeting with Elias Zananiri, Palestinian journalist

Oct 27, Friday:
• Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
• Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery
• Shrine of the Book
• Mea Shearim

Oct 28, Saturday:
• Jerusalem: Chaiphas House; Mount of olives; Church of the Ascension; Christian Quarter of the old city:
Pool of Bethesda, St. Anna Church, Lithostrothos at the Ecce Hommo Arch, Holy Sepulchre Church
• Garden Tomb

Oct 29, Sunday:
• joined by representatives of Kol Hashalom radio station
• Hand in Hand School
• meet with Peace Now members at hotel

Oct 30, Monday: organized by Rabbis for Human Rights
• meet with Seri Nuseiba, moderate Palestinian
• Wall Excavations

Oct 31, Tuesday:
• Tantur Ecumenical Institute: visit and meetings with Israelis, Palestinian Muslim, Palestinian Christian

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


About 4+ years ago, when we moved into our new home, we bought all new coffee gear: electric drip coffee maker, espresso machine, burr-type coffee bean grinder, and some accessories, all Starbucks brand from the corner store. (This became a shrine to Starbucks on a small counter in our kitchen.)

Every morning when I grind coffee beans for that fresh cuppa, I marvel and curse at the ground beans as they come leaping out of the little plastic drawer in the grinder when I pull it open. These fresh grounds are charged with static electricity and do their very best to get away from each other - and all over everything within a 6 to 8 inch radius. They stick to the metal measuring spoon, they stick to the grinder, they stick to the nearby espresso machine. Arghhhh!

Recently, a Peet's Coffee store opened across the street from our local Starbucks. We've been using Peet's roasted beans for a couple of weeks and, mystery of mysteries, the ground Peet's beans don't leap out of the grinder - they just sit there in an un-charged state waiting to be put into one of the machines that will douse them with boiling water.

This is truly one of the Great Mysteries of Life and, quite honestly, has me completely stumped. Any and all theories to explain the coffee grounds mystery will be gladly accepted.

And now, the pot is ready and I need that cuppa....

Monday, October 02, 2006


This is not my America!

My America stands for freedom, democracy, human rights, and justice.

My America doesn’t hold people prisoner for years without due process. My America doesn’t run secret prisons all over the world. My America doesn’t torture people, and outsource torture of prisoners. My America doesn’t have a President who pushes for laws that allow torture, abuse, secrecy, and violation of international conventions.

My America doesn’t stifle free speech, labeling those who speak out, those who question, those who criticize as “traitors” or “offering comfort to the enemy.” My America doesn’t ignore the law and spy on its own citizens without due process. My America doesn’t have an administration that considers itself above the law. My America doesn’t have a President who signs a large number of bills into law with a “yes, but” statement that allows him to ignore the law.

My America doesn’t build huge fences to keep people out, symbolically placing a blindfold on the Statue of Liberty. My America doesn’t hate diversity of color, dress and language. My America doesn’t hate people of the same sex who love each other.

My America doesn’t give big tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting funding for education, health care, social services and public infrastructure. My America doesn’t ignore public safety, let poor people fend for themselves and die in a natural disaster, and then break promises to assist with recovery.

My America doesn’t ignore and subvert science, particularly when the environment of the planet is at risk. My America is a leader in science and technology, not an ostrich with its head in the sand. My America doesn’t have a President who fiddles while the Earth burns.

And my America doesn’t invade and occupy other nations, using false pretenses, lies and selected information to pose an enemy. My America doesn’t declare “mission accomplished” while the killing continues unabated under a failed strategy (or no strategy at all). My America doesn’t claim success in a “war on terror” at the same time it has created conditions for even greater terror.

What is my America? I dream of an America where freedom, democracy, human rights and justice are the foundations upon which we help build a better world. Poverty, disease, hate and ignorance are swept away by my America. The people of my America have honest dialogue about who we are in the world, and where we are heading. We use our freedoms, our creativity, our wealth and our amazing spirit of “can do” to work cooperatively with all people of the world, building towards the true fulfillment of human potential.

Unfortunately, the present America is not my America, or yours. And we all should say “Enough!”

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Here in Portland, Oregon, the self-proclaimed green capitol of the world (a lot of which is true), the politics of the automobile are in plain sight. Hordes of Toyota Prius and other hybrid cars glide silently by on the streets (as one friend says, decreasing the smog but increasing the smug). A growing number of gas stations sell locally-made biodiesel, and some businesses and government agencies have/are converting their fleets to this fuel. These are positive trends for the environment and the economy, and they demonstrate that individuals can make choices that are "correct." What troubles me, however, is that these correct trends might also be ignoring the real issues, what I call the politics of the automobile.

The lead story in today's newspaper Autos section reads: "Lexus brings GS hybrid up to speed." The article, about the 2007 Lexus (Toyota) GS 450h, is about, in the writer's words, "the world's first luxury hybrid hot rod." For only $55,000 or more, you can get a hybrid car that does 0-60-miles per hour in just 5.2 seconds!! Great - a totally luxurious car that goes real fast, and is a hybrid, meaning it's also a "correct" car. Well...not exactly. Like a lot of the new hybrids on the market, both Japanese and American, this automobile has the hybrid technology primarily for one reason, greater acceleration. The Lexus GS 450h is EPA rated at 25 city/28 highway gas mileage. That's what we get with our 1993 V6 Toyota Camry XLE (see my Automobile Part 1)! A quick look at a government site about fuel efficiency reveals the following:

2006 Lexus GS 300/GS 430 (non-hybrid): 22/30 MPG, $1566 annual fuel cost
2007 Lexus ES 350 (non-hybrid): 21/30 MPG, $1566 annual fuel cost
2007 Lexus GS 450h (hybrid): 25/28 MPG, $1507 annual fuel cost.

So the new Lexus hybrid uses slightly less fuel in the city and more on the highway than last years non-hybrid model, and saves about $60 a year in fuel costs; now that's progress! To be fair, the new hybrid has a much better EPA rating for air emissions - a good thing.

What am I trying to say here? While hybrid technology and alternative fuels are good things, let's not overlook the basic fact that these are all variations on a theme - the automobile as the basic mode of transportation. I've often thought that if we had to do an Environmental Impact Statement for the automobile, we might not be driving them in the future. The automobile has been the driving force (pun intended) behind a lot of our urban design and many other social and economic aspects of our culture. Too many of us define ourselves by the car we drive, hence the development of the fast luxury car and the monster SUV - machines that really don't make a lot of sense.

Meanwhile, back in Portland, the green capitol of the world, it seems like a growing number of people are thinking about the politics of the automobile. During the daily commute, some streets look like the photos we used to see from China, with hundreds of bicyclists peddling to and from work. Buses and light-rail commuter trains are filled with people. Urban development in and around the downtown is booming, attracting many new city dwellers away from the burbs. Streetcars, once the norm in Portland as well as most American cities, have reappeared. And people seem to be (gasp!) walking more than before. So maybe there's hope after all that we'll understand the politics of the automobile and make informed choices.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


"The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run," Bush told a convention-center audience of over 2,000 people. Does anyone agree with this man? Does anyone not see the spin dribbling out of his mouth? What the hell is he talking about, anyway?

First of all, what does "cut and run" mean?

An old nautical expression. In an emergency, it was sometimes necessary to cut the anchor cable, instead of going through the time-consuming business of winching up the anchor, in order to get away quickly ('run' before the wind, at full sail).

So "cut and run' is not a coward's business, "cut and run" is a deliberate strategy employed when faced with impending danger. A very worth-while article on using this strategy for the Iraq war is "Cut and Run? You Bet!" by Lt. General William E. Odum, published in the journal Foreign Policy earlier this year.

The facts speak for themselves: the Bushies have lost their war in Iraq; the "War on Terror" is a dismal failure; the U.S. intelligence agencies all agree that the Iraq war has made us less safe, and has been a huge success for the jihadists; Americans other than the very wealthy are worse off now than we were thirty years ago; U.S. debt is huge - we're owned by China - and getting bigger; global warming is a reality; and the United States of America has chosen to take the moral low ground with the President's law allowing torture, secret jails, and kangaroo trials.

But hey, it's an election year, so the R's roll out the Rove robots and smear everyone in sight who dares be critical of them, using lies, deception, inuendo and spin, spin, spin.

Isn't it time that we all realized that the bullshit is eyeball-high, and do something about it? Let's see what November brings.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


(from the New York Times, August 18, 2006) The civil rights leader Andrew Young, who was hired by Wal-Mart to improve its public image, resigned from that post last night after telling an African-American newspaper that Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners had “ripped off” urban communities for years, “selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables.” (see full article)

So what are Jews, Arabs and Koreans doing about this insult? Has any rabbi declared a jewhad against Ambassador Young and Wal-Mart? Have former governors and ambassadors been gunned down in the street? Have Wal-Marts been firebombed? Well, no, not in this country. Mr. Young has been roundly criticized by Jewish-, Arab-, and Korean-American leaders, as well as by Wal-Mart, his former employer. Mr. Young has issued a public apology. And that's it, although there will be collective memory of his unfortunate remarks for a long time.

And this is what I call civilized behavior.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


OK, one thought I had while lounging around Italy last month was that my posts tend to be very serious, and I take that input serious - - - ly.

So, a new feature is being added to Read My Opinion - Humor in the News.

From the headlines of September 18, 2006:

Conservationists have petitioned the federal government to have the Palouse Giant Earthworm listed as an endangered species. - Special interest groups are already weighing in on both sides. An anti-listing petition is being widely circulated by the political committee of the largemouth bass association.

President Bush wants US intelligence and military personnel to be allowed to use torture techniques on terrorist prisoners. - The President expressed surprise that there are objections to the use of some forms of questioning, such as water-boarding: "Heck, we always enjoyed water-boarding behind Poppy's muscle boat in the summertime!"

International Space Station astronauts implemented emergency measures after detecting a "foul odor." - The situation was resolved when they discovered that one of them had tried a new 6-bean chili recipe for dinner the previous day.

Pope insults Muslims..... - [blogmaster notice: this "joke" has been deemed not funny, and has been removed after reading press releases by Al Quada in Iraq about "chopping necks"....]

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I haven't posted since late July. A month in Italy was great (except for landing at Heathrow on August 10 in the middle of a terrorism alert, not getting to Rome when planned, and not getting one suitcase back until September 12!).

A lot has happened in the world since my last post, and yet nothing seems to be all that different from before. Lots of things to write about, so I'll be back on-line soon.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Since my last posting, I've had a daily e-mail exchange with a friend about the situation in Israel-Lebanon. His opinion is that if Israel would give to the Palestinians 100 percent of the West Bank in addition to Gaza, and a corridor connecting the two, all of this fighting in Israel and Lebanon would be over because the Palestinian people would have what they want, and they would not tolerate the terrorists anymore. Unfortunately, I think this proposed solution misses the bigger picture, and ignores a brutal reality about geopolitics and the future.

Look at a map of the midddle East:

A few simple facts: Iran and Syria are supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran is a Shiite-dominated country. In Iraq, a dominant figure is the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Iran and in solidarity with Hezbollah and Hamas. al-Sadr controls more than 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament and 5 cabinet positions. He is linked to death squads that have acted brazenly to murder Iraqis and Americans since early 2004. The Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, is also a Shiite with close ties to Iran and Syria.

Going back to the map, we can see a large arc of territory either controlled by Shiite extremists or with large and growing elements of Shiite extremism - Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This "group of folks" has clearly stated goals that include bringing their brand of Islam to a place of power in larger and larger portions of the world.

This is very scary to think about. We are in a global power struggle between democratic societies and Islamic theocracy. The focal point this week is the no-holds-barred battle between proxies for the United States and Iran - Israel and Hezbollah. I can't help but think that the U.S. first fell into the trap of invading Iraq, under the very wrong theory of the neocons that we could sweep Saddam out and pour in instant democracy. What we have instead is a no-win situation that gets worse by the day for democratic ideals, and just keeps getting better for the Iran-supported extremists. I also think that Israel walked into a set-up. They, too, are in a no-win situation that is getting worse by the day. No matter what Hezbollah does, they will come out the winners, even if they lose (which I now think is not very likely).

Iraq and Lebanon are the battle fields where radical Islam is writting a different history than any of us in the West imagined. They are showing that the United States and it's proxies are over the hill and in decline. They are winning the public relations war, and growing in strength with every day. We can't beat them with our kind of military and our kind of strategies (see the excellent article in the July 30 NY Times about network warfare, or net war, by Thom Shanker).

It's easy to see the Israel-Hezbollah war as just another chapter in the long Middle East conflict over the plight of the Palestinian people. But reality isn't that simple. The goal of Hezbollah/Iran isn't Palestine replacing Israel; the goal is regional dominance, replacing existing governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab countries with Iranian-type theocracy. Viewed in this way, Israel is suddenly not just in a battle for its life, but a battle for the future of democracy.

Quite frankly, as I've put this together this week, it has scared the shit out of me. I hope the realization of the stakes in Lebanon scare you too, scare you enough to take a look at the bigger picture and not focus on the minute-by-minute pictures of the pain.

Friday, July 21, 2006


OK, full disclosure first so there are no questions about my potential biases: I am a secular Jew, second generation American, with relatives living in Israel, and I've been to Israel twice. I'm not a knee-jerk "Israel can do no wrong" supporter; I'm often critical of Israeli government policies and actions. I believe strongly that Palestinians should have sovereign lands (Gaza, West Bank) and self-government. I don't like the settlement movement that has taken land in the West Bank. The security wall bothers me, but I understand the need for it.

I also try to look at every situation objectively, searching out different opinions and information that might give me insights into the truth behind an issue.

So, with those caveats out of the way, you can now "read my opinion;" however, I have to warn you, my opinion on this issue is dynamic and changes daily in subtle ways.

I agree that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself from attacks. Israel has exercised this right continuously in response to attacks within it's borders by a variety of terrorist groups. (Note: I don't buy the "freedom fighter" tag for terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, al Quaida and their ilk - they are murderers and criminals.) Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Northern Israel for several years since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, and I think Israel has shown remarkable restraint during this time. The recent cross-border incursion by Hezbollah militia, and the increased intensity of missile launches into Israel was an escalation by Hezbollah, one that was condemned by a large number of governments, including many Arab states.

Some facts are in order here:
1. U.N. Security Council Resoultion 425 established the "Blue Line," internationally recognized as the border between northern Israel and southern Lebanon.
2. Israel completed it's withdrawal from Lebanon, in respect to the Blue Line, in 2000.
3. U.N. S.C. Resoultion 1559, adopted in September, 2004, called on Syria to withdraw it's forces from Lebanon, and for all Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah, to disband.
4. Syrian troops completed their withdrawal from Lebanon in April, 2005. Hezbollah has not disbanded, and continued to fire missiles into Israel.
5. Hezbollah has an arsenal of at least 10,000 missiles in Lebanon, supplied to them by Iran and Syria.
6. Both Hezbollah and the Lebanese government refer to Israel as "the enemy."
7. A remaining point of contention between Israel and Lebanon - Hezbollah is the Shabaa Farms area that is under the control of Israel. Lebanon claims the area; however, the United Nations, and even Israel agree that the area is part of Syria. (As an aside, Syria does not recognize the independence of Lebanon, Jordan or Israel, by law, considering all of them to be part of "Greater Syria.")

So, with the above facts in mind, one begins to understand the incredible complexity of the situation. Clearly, the intelligence agencies of the U.S. and the European nations knew that thousands of missiles were being shipped into Lebanon to Hezbollah forces by air, ship and road. And yet, everyone seems to have turned a blind eye to these activities. With this understanding, it seems reasonable for Israel to bomb the Beirut airport, port facilities, roads and bridges to stop or slow the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah. It is also understandable that Israel would destroy fuel depots to make it more difficult for Hezbollah to fuel the vehicles that move these weapons around the country. It is also reported in the Western press that Hezbollah has many of their weapons positioned in areas where people live.

The majority opinion from world governments seems to be that, while Israel has the right to defend itself, it should show restraint. While I agree with that in principle, I also understand that on-the-ground reality is very different during war.

One of the things that disturbs me most about this situation is the outpouring of hatred I'm seeing towards Israel by people in the United States, including many of my liberal friends. In my view, too many people are always too ready to blame Israel for every situation because they are "the oppressors," "occupiers," "agressors," etc. Certainly Israel has occupied territory "won" during wars with its neighbors. Many (not all) Israelis have contempt for or hatred of Arab people; even Arab Israelis are in many ways second-class citizens. And a number of the tactics used by the Israeli government and military forces have been questionable. But it is important to put all of this into the context of history and politics, and not rush to judgement unfairly.

I see Israel in a very tenuous position right now in terms of world politics, and in the court of public opinion. When attacked by Hezbollah, Israel did not have the option to appeal to the United Nations for resolving the conflict - just look at places like Darfur where people are still waiting, and dying, for the U.N. to do something. And while the U.S. and the European governments pay lip service to Israel's right of self defense, I think they are more than happy to let Israel deal with Hezbollah, and by proxy Syria and Iran, and take the political and public relations heat for these military actions.

Finally, to those Americans who are so quick to lambast Israel, let me pose a scenario. Let's say that a group of extremist members of a political party in Mexico or Canada, or of an Indian Tribe with sovereign treaty lands inside the U.S., crossed their border and attacked a U.S. Army base, and then started firing missiles into U.S. towns and cities. Would we, the U.S., have the right to defend ourselves? And what would "restraint" look like on our part? If recent history is an example, let's say Afganistan following the attacks on September 11th, I think the U.S. would bomb someone back to the Stone Age - in a heartbeat.

Some key readings for your enjoyment:

Good summary of issues re: UN Resolutions 425 and 1559 in Wikipedia

The Innocent Bystander Myth, by Evelyn Gordon in the Jerusalem Post (

Disastrous Miscalculations, by Alon Ben-Meir in the Turkish newspaper Zamon (online edition)

Thursday, July 20, 2006


I read with interest in the Portland, Oregon newspaper this morning that Legacy Hospitals has agreed to settle a class action suit concerning the higher prices paid for services by the uninsured. As a recent surgery patient, I am witnessing first-hand the intricacies and complexities of the Medical-Insurance Complex.

As a consumer of medical services, I have several problem with the billing procedures of the medical providers and the insurance companies. My three main concerns are the following:

1. Consumers should know the cost of the services they are buying prior to purchase. I have made a point of asking what the cost of a medical procedure or service will be when I check in at the reception desk. I have never gotten an answer, except a couple of times when the receptionist did me a favor and called someone to ask. Medical services might be the only commercial enterprise for which consumers agree to a purchase without knowing the price they will be paying.

2. I won't pay for something without first seeing an itemized bill. The typical process for the expenses related to my surgery has been that I never get a bill from the medical service provider (there have been 1 or 2 exceptions). Instead, I get an Explanation of Benefits from the insurance company showing how much was charged, how much the insurer will accept as a charge for the service (see number 3, below), how much the insurer will pay, and the balance left for me to pay. Then I get a statement from the medical provider for the amount the insurance company didn't pay. In many cases, I have received statements from medical companies (doctor groups or laboratories) that I have never heard of, and I have no idea what they did to or for me. After some investigation, I find that doctor so-and-so read an MRI, doctor such-and-such looked at my freshly removed tumor, and company xyz ran the CT scan. My message to these folks: "Send me an itemized bill so I know what you did and I'll think about paying you."

3. The pricing agreements of the Medical-Insurance Complex are amazing! My understanding is that every insurance company negotiates a price list with the providers on their list. This is truly amazing stuff. Here are some examples gleaned from the Explanation of Benefits documents I have received:
- Legacy Emanuel Hospital semi-private room (2 days, 1 night): $1,171; Great West Insurance "covered expense" (the amount they have negotiated): $175.
- Legacy Emanuel Hospital "hospital extras": $12,872; Great West Insurance covered expense: $1,225.68.
- Oregon Anesthesiology Group "anesth inpatient": $780; Great West Insurance "covered expenses" $572.
- medical supplies and equipment: $156; "covered expense" $69.11

The medical providers list the reduction in price on their bill (if you get one) as a discount or insurance allowance. I assume that patients without insurance pay the full meal deal, hence the class-action lawsuit.

Here is what I would like:
1. When I go for a medical service, I am told prior to receiving the service a) the cost to me of the service, and, b) the names of all providers who will be providing service and then billing me. The cost I want to see is the amount negotiated with my insurance company; this information is certainly in the medical providers computer databases.
2. An itemized bill from every medical service provider who provides services to me, not just a statement of the balance after insurance payments.

These are simple and reasonable requests for a consumer to make, and it would help get the Medical-Insurance Complex into line.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


The Bush & Co. Global War on Terrorism - code words primarily for the on-going military action in Afganistan and the invasion/occupancy of Iraq - was upstaged this week by the arrest of seven wannabe terrorists in Miami. Were the arrests part of this "global war?" Well, the "global war" seems to be focused on al-Qaida, but these apparent home-grown bozos in Miami weren't associated with al-Qaida. They, like similar suspects arrested in England and Spain, seem to be disaffected youth who fall sway to internet-based terrorist preachings and see the United States as "infidels" and "devils."

"Left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaida" according to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales reminds us that local, independent "cells," not any international organization, were responsible for the train station murders in Madrid and the subway and bus bombings in London.

The arrests in Miami were, as far as I can tell, the result of good criminal investigation work by local and federal law enforcement agencies. During the early days of the Bush War on Global Terrorism, there were a number of national security and law enforcement experts who went on record to say that a "war" was not the correct response to the events of September 11th. They urged the Bush administration to view the attacks of September 11th as criminal acts, not acts of war, and to use good, solid criminal investigation and enforcement work, the stuff our federal and local law enforcement agencies have long been good at, to identify, investigate and arrest terrorist criminals. The U.S., working closely with the law enforcement agencies of our allies around the world, could deal with international terrorist criminals. But this was not the Bush & Company plan.

So here we are, spending ever-growing billions of dollars on un-winable "wars" in Afganistan and Iraq, providing the best-ever training grounds for terrorists where they can learn murder and barbarism in real time against real people. The "Global War on Terrorism" is a sham, and it's a war that can't be won.

I'm proud of the law enforcement agencies that reeled in the seven men in Miami; this is the kind of anti-crime work we need, both in the United States and abroad. The British, Spanish, Canadians and many others seem to understand that local law enforcement is the front-line defense against terrorism (why Tony Blair hooked up with Bush remains a mystery to me). The ideology of "global war" in this country needs to be abandoned and replaced with good police work that fights crime.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


It's sometime in the future. The setting is in a nation that has intrusive communication technology and a huge, hi-tech military. The majority of citizens live in either a) cramped, bustling, dangerous ground-level urban areas, or b) utopian conditions where everthing is seemingly perfect and the people are doped-up on government-sanctioned, government-supplied drugs that promote happiness and good sex. Meanwhile, the elites live somewhere above it all, kept safe by both government and their own security forces. Big business and government are one and the same, manipulated by the very wealthiest of the wealthy. The large TV screens everywhere stream fast-moving images of sexy women, fast cars and newsertainment. The leaders of the country fly in and out of important meetings via sleek black airships, being careful to only go where they have absolute control of their own safety. The President's image appears often on the large, ubiquitous screens, proclaiming; "We have always been at war with Eurasia" one day, and "We have always been friends with Eurasia" the next day. "Life is good" he often proclaims, "Go shopping," "We have a Plan," "Mission Accomplished." Those who dare to question this faux stability are whisked away by men in black.

Yes, it's a fairly common sci-fi theme that we've seen many times in the movies. And we've always thought, "gee, that could happen sometime in the future if we're not careful." Or maybe we've thought, "wow, that's highly unlikely, but it's good science fiction." But we now live in the age of Reality T.V., where real life and fiction are somehow blurred. The news isn't as much about news as it is about entertainment and ratings. Our elected leaders use carefully selected words to tell us things that are somewhere between reality and fiction, where they try to get us to accept fiction as reality, and reality as fiction.

Why do I feel more and more that I'm living in this movie I've seen before? I see the President on TV and it's just like a scene from some sci-fi film. He sneaks in and out of some "New Democracy" that he's created, but he's really sneaking in and out of a high-security "Green Zone" fortification so he and his elite followers can meet with other elites to spin up some new "realities" to feed to the big screens.

So what's the difference between the movie and the reality? Well, for one thing, the movie always has a hero, someone with vision, a mission, and something called "leadership." Neo, Snake Pliskin, Mad Max, some other schlub-turned-hero who can differentiate between fact and fiction, and has the balls to do something about it. (OK, these are all male gender references, so I'll include AeronFlux, Princess Leah, etc.) The only problem with this script is that these characters are able to turn things around using violence, and their incredible ability to be shot at ten billion times without ever being hit, while killing ten billion of the enemy single-handedly.

The point of all this is that we're in The Movie We've Seen Before, and we desperately need to find a new ending. We need a citizenry that is informed and can differentiate between fact and fiction. We need a citizenry that casts more votes in real elections than they do for American Idol. And we need real leaders with real ideas who believe in truth and justice to point us in a better direction.

I don't watch reality TV because reality itself is bad enough. But honestly, as I look around me every day, I wonder how I got cast in The Movie I've Seen Before.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


The lead editorial in the June 15, 2006 Oregonian newspaper was about the EPA finally phasing out the use of Guthion, a pesticide known to cause serious health risks to farmworkers. Guthion has been one of the most widely used pesticides in Oregon's fruit orchard industry. The Oregonian editorial chastises the EPA for waiting so long, likely the result of agriculture industry lobbying pressure. Right on.

The Oregonian editorial begins with: Imagine that the federal government learned that thousands of middle-class workers, say high-tech employees, were regularly exposed to a chemical known to cause vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function and death. Would the government wait more than four years to order a liesurely phase-out of its use? Of course not, but that is exactly what the government has done in the case of farmworkers, the editorial continues.

Good point, but the rest of the story wasn't told. The large photo of a farmworker accompanying the editorial shows a man who is most likely of Mexican or Latino origin. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc., of the more than 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the U.S.A., 81% are foreign born. Of these, 95% were born in Mexico, 2% in Latin America, 1% in Asia, and 1% in other countries. The estimates of the number of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents in Oregon are: 1990 - 128,564; 1993 - 147,245; and 2000 - 103,453.

Although the Oregonian editorial was about EPA regulation, or non-regulation of harmful chemicals, it is also an important story in the on-going debate about illegal immigrants to the United States. The numbers presented above debunk the lie that immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans - you don't see American workers clamoring for low-paying, high-risk farmworker jobs. The agricultural industry, like a number of others, is very dependent on a cheap labor force that is willing to move around and follow the work, a labor force consisting of many workers who don't get paid well, don't get health care benefits, and who can be "disappeared" back to Mexico if they make any trouble.

So yes, the Oregonian is correct that the EPA has been lax, and has been guilty of classism - I would say racism - in choosing who to protect from exposure to harmful chemicals. It's an outrage, and it is really an important part of the larger conversation about who gets to reap the benefits of being American. As a citizen of Oregon, it concerns me that somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 of my neighbors are treated differently by the government because they are, after all, immigrants, and possibly illegal immigrants at that. This is not acceptable.


President George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad the other day (actually, as The Guardian so rightly points out, he visited the Green Zone, not Baghdad). Our President slipped in, spent about 5 hours, and slipped out. Mission Accomplished.

In-and-Out is the M.O. of this President. Yesterday President Bush did an In-and-Out in the Seattle area to appear at a Republican fund-raiser (he raised $800,000) attended by the wealthy elites of Microsoft world. In - spend three hours - Out. Mission Accomplished.

The day after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, President Bush left his Texas ranch and flew directly to - San Diego - where he appeared at (can you guess?) a Republican fund-raising event. He then flew back to D.C. to check on the hurricane situation. In-and-Out. Mission Accomplished.

Oh how we yearn for the day when this President is just OUT.

Friday, June 16, 2006


"The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

This is the text of Senate Joint Resolution 12 - a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect the flag of the United States. It must be an election year again!

Yes, it is. And our dear Republicans are once again wrapping themselves in the flag. And guess what? Anyone, such as a Democrat, who votes against this resolution will therefore be unpatriotic, in favor of desecrating our dear flag. Oh brother - give me a break!!

A short anecdote. When George H.W. Bush (George I) was campaigning for the office of President, his first run, I attended a rally where he spoke, just out of curiosity (know thine enemy). As I and hundreds of others entered the outdoor space in a downtown Portland park, we were each handed a small paper U.S. flag on a wood stick that we could wave in the air as George pontificated. Once inside, I looked carefully at the setup. The back of the stage was a very large flag of the United States hung from above, and the end of our dear old flag, several feet, was lying crumpled up on the stage floor in the dirt and dust! This was the backdrop for George's speech. As we all left the park after the rally, almost all of the paper flags were tossed in trash cans conveniently placed at the exits. I sure wish we had a flag non-desecration amendment at that time so I could have made a citizen's arrest of George H.W. Bush and his campaign staff!

My wife and I have two flags of the United States of America; the first is a wool 48-star flag from the Navy ship on which my father-in-law proudly served during World War II; the second is a cotton/poly 50-star flag that we fly from our front porch on appropriate holidays. We fly our flag for two reasons: 1) we are proud to be Americans, and 2) we refuse to let the political right wing of this country claim that the flag belongs only to them. Since the election of George Bush II, I also display a small sign under our flag that says simply "Take Back America."

Thursday, June 15, 2006


An interesting small article caught my eye this morning in the Oregonian: Council approves funds for sockeye run. It's a small story about trying to recover endangered fish, but it's also a larger story about the roles of science and politics.

Redfish Lake, Idaho, on the Snake River system, historically had adult sockeye returns of about 35,000 per year. But by 1991, when the population was listed as "endangered"under the Endangered Species Act, only a few adults returned to their native spawning lake. That same year, a Captive Brood Program was established that has captured returning adults and held them in hatchery facilities to produce offspring that could be re-introduced into the river system, thus preserving the genetic population and moving towards recovery. The captive brood program has been very successful, in terms of hatchery fish produced; however, it has been a failure in terms of restoring the run of sockeye in Redfish Lake.

I found the following numbers on the web: adult returns from hatchery produced sockeye were 7 in 1999 (the very first returns from the brood program), 257 in 2000, 26 in 2001, 21 in 2002, 3 in 2003, 27 in 2004. The total returns since 1995: 342 fish.

The Captive Brood Program spends at least $2 million annually to produce and raise 160,000 young sockeye salmon; I calculate that at approximately $88,000 per returned adult fish from the program. This week, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved $2.7 million for the program to increase the number of fish produced and raised to 260,000 per year.

Now here's the kicker, the Independent Science Review Panel, an 11-member panel of scientists appointed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, recently recommended that the Council not fund the program anymore, and let the sockeye run go extinct. To quote the ISRP: Since there has been no response by the populations to recovery efforts in the Basin, it is clear that conditions outside the Basin determine the fate of these fish, and there is no evidence that these conditions are likely to improve significantly in the foreseeable future. Not only are these limiting conditions not likely to change, the fish themselves are likely to be changing as a result of present intensive propagation and rearing procedures so that their viability even under restored conditions is increasingly in doubt. Recovery of endangered species is important, but evidence presented here does not demonstrate that recovery is occurring. The view of the ISRP is that there is no scientific basis for continuing this program. (report)

So what's going on here? Why did the Council go against a very strong recommendation by their own scientific experts and put even more money into this program than was requested? I don't know the answer, but my guess is that Save the Salmon Industry politics have trumped science once again. Significant sums of money go to state agency and Tribal entities each year for salmon recovery programs. Pork barrel - fish barrel; they're both the same in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Three days ago I had surgery to remove a tumor from my left parotid gland (one of the salivary glands, under the jaw/ear). Next week we'll get the biopsy report, but the statistics are good for it to be benign. I'm not a big fan of big medicine - that is, the industry operated by big insurance and big medical provider companies. When I owned my own company, a small (15 people) consulting firm, the cost of health care premiums increased every year, typically by 15 to 25%, a cost that became increasingly difficult to cover for my employees. And the insurance beaurocracy drives me nuts, to say the least.

But I've been sitting at home for the past 2 1/2 days feeling very priveledged to have available very fine medical care - the surgeon and his team were top notch, and the care, in general, has been good. (There have been some annoying experiences, but I can overlook these as just that.) My part of the costs will be 20% up to $15,000, at which point the insurance will cover 100%. With the annual deductable, my maximum out-of-pocket would be $3,500 - not exactly small change, but "rainy day" money will cover it.

I can't help thinking about people who don't have medical insurance. I can't help thinking about people who live in places where good medical care is not available. And I also can't help thinking about people who live where medical care is available, but only to those who can afford to buy it. I can't help thinking that I, my family and my friends, are all very fortunate and priveledged people.

The common thread of history is the juxtaposition of the rich and poor, the priveledged and unpriveledged, the powerful and the weak. In the context of history, including today, I'm among the rich and priveledged in this world, as most middle-class Americans are. This is not something to accept lightly.