Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Open warfare has once again broken out in and around Israel. This time the fighting is between Israel and Hamas, and civilians on both sides are caught in the line of fire. I have many thoughts about this, both from the perspective of the present round of violence, and a broader historic and future perspective.

And for clarity - I am a secular (atheist) Jew and have visited Israel a few times, and parts of the West Bank once. One of the trips was a Journey of Peace, from which I posted to this blog (use the search function for the term "Israel.")

The present round of violence - There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against constant attacks by Hamas and other factions from within Gaza, or anywhere else. Over the past several years, since Israel pulled out of Gaza, more than 10,000 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza into civilian areas of southern Israel. The targets have been either random or specific civilian sites including schools and hospitals. The physical, psychological and economic impacts to the people of the region have been very great; deaths and injuries have been minimized by warning systems and bomb shelters. Israel's response to this constant barrage has been mostly restrained, using economic pressure (blockades, sanctions, etc.) and limited military actions - against military targets (yes, there have been civilian casualties, because the Palestinian rocket launchers typically hide in residential areas).

I think every one of us would agree that if someone started launching rockets into our neighborhood, we would expect our government to take decisive action immediately to end it!

Is the military response by Israel too much? This is a tough one to answer from where I sit. The information I've seen is that Israel has targeted military and government (Hamas) installations, and has tried to warn civilians in Gaza to get away from any military or government sites because they are targets. I believe that Israel does not target civilians (unlike Hamas and other terrorists), but there have been civilian casualties (I refuse to call these unfortunate persons "collateral damage."). I do support the suggestions that Israel call and maintain a 48-hour cease fire, asking Hamas to cease launching rockets into Israel in order to get discussions going to build a truce.

Can Israel or Hamas "win" this battle? No. Hamas cannot defeat Israel in a war. And, short of complete annihilation of the people in Gaza, Israel can only achieve a lessened amount of violence against it from within Gaza, with an accompanying strengthening of resolve of Palestinians, particularly the young, to fight "the oppressor."

The situation is an ongoing cycle of violence that seems to have no end. The fact that Hamas has the stated goal of eliminating Israel as a main part of it's mission is a major roadblock to peace.

Is there hope for the future? I'm not a citizen of Israel or Gaza or the West Bank, so these are armchair musings based on my study of the situation and my few visits there. I do think that there are some positive steps that can be taken for a better future for all people in the region.
  • Mutual respect for each other.
    • Israel - A civil rights movement is needed in Israel to provide Arab Israelis equality and greater integration into Israeli society. Prejudice against Arabs in Israeli society needs to be identified and eliminated.
    • Gaza and West Bank - the teaching of anti-Semitism in schools and mosques, as well as on TV and in other mass media, has to end.
  • Education.
    • Gaza and West Bank - accurate history and geography of the Middle East need to be taught in schools; Israel (not "the Zionist Entity") exists and needs to be shown on maps; the histories of the Jewish people, the Palestinian people, and the region are complex and rich, and should be a focus of education
    • Israel - the history and claims of the Palestinian people need to be recognized and taught, including an objective history of the creation of the modern Israel within the context of world politics and local realities at the time
  • State Building - the West Bank.
    • Israel - Israel's future will be best served by helping establish a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank (based on the pre-1967 border). Building of Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank should be halted immediately, and existing ones either disbanded or traded with the Palestinians for land of equal value inside Israel. Israel should work closely with moderate Palestinians and their leadership to forge a lasting peace based on mutual respect, security, and economic cooperation. Israel and other nations should be encouraged to invest in West Bank economic ventures, education and infrastructure development.
    • West Bank - Palestinians need to end fighting between political factions and find common ground based on building a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. A vision of statehood needs to reject extremism/terrorism and hatred of Israel and work towards cooperation with Israel for mutual benefits.
  • Jerusalem. Control of Jerusalem is a major and contentious issue between Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Old City (within the walls) contains important sites for these and other religions, and each group has important historic ties to the City. The Old City of Jerusalem should be re-established as a World City - perhaps a Heritage Site - under the auspices of the United Nations, and administered by a board of atheists. The remainder of Jerusalem should be divided between Israel and the Palestinian State based on negotiations. (Yes, this idea is way out there!)
I focused above on the West Bank because the present leadership there is more moderate and willing to work towards peace with Israel. Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in the region do not want peace with Israel - they want to destroy Israel and kill Jews. The present open warfare between Hamas and Israel is a lose-lose proposition for both sides, and the human toll is unacceptable. Implementing the items above, or something similar, can change the future by moving in positive directions and demonstrating that people on all sides of the conflict can learn to live in peace and work together towards a better world.

There are once again many public anti-Israel demonstrations in the United States and around the world. I find it strange, and frankly disheartening, that there have been no public demonstrations in the U.S. against Hamas as they launched thousands of rockets and mortars into civilian areas of Israel over the past few years. Where were the demonstrations and letters to editors when Palestinian suicide-bombers and shooters killed and injured hundreds of Israeli civilians? I'm afraid there is at best a double standard in the liberal community - and at worst an ugly strain of anti-Semitism.

Let's be clear - Hamas, Hezbollah and others of their ilk are not "freedom fighters" - they are terrorists. The Palestinian people have legitimate grievances with Israel, but terrorism and violence are not acceptable tools. Israeli military strategy, like the current U.S. military strategy that relies on massive air power ("shock and awe") is also not acceptable. The State of Israel has, in my opinion, lost it's moral compass and needs to change direction. The 40 year occupation of the West Bank, and the continuing land grabs by Israeli Jews, as one example, needs to end now.

The present violence in Gaza will end, just as it did in Lebanon a couple of years ago; unfortunately, the toll in lives and property will be high, and the result will be the same tension that existed before - a status quo between armed camps waiting for the next round of violence. This is a failed paradigm, a cycle with no end. There has to be a better way.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


The fallacies of drilling or nuking our way out of our petroleum addiction have become quite evident, now that the hot air phase of the elections is over. The idea that we can solve the fuel problem by drilling new oil and gas wells off the coasts of the USA has a number of problems, primary of which is the simple fact of market economics (geeze - now I'm sounding like a free market Republican). If you've been paying any attention at all, you've certainly noticed that the price of gasoline at the pump is below $2 per gallon and still falling (dare I ask why we were paying over $4 per gallon a few months ago?), because the price of oil by the barrel has been in free-fall. The oil companies have suspended any thoughts of new drilling because - yep - the price of oil is too low to create the obscene profits they're used to, and want.

But wait, you say, isn't nukaler power the answer to our problems? It doesn't pollute, it's quiet, it's safe..... Well, one of the basic laws of ecology is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. In addition to safety and security issues, a major problem with nuclear power is the waste it generates, material that remains dangerous for a very, very long time. As discussed in a New York Times editorial today, there is still not a national repository for nuclear wastes, as ordered by Congress in the 1980's. "Tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel and military waste" are sitting around in temporary storage around the country waiting for the national repository to open. The Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada - the only one that has been pushed forward since the 1980's order - appears to be doomed by a combination of politics and technical issues. And oh, by the way, as designed, it is too small for the amount of waste that is now waiting for a place to go.

Using a controlled nuclear reaction to boil water for steam turbines has always seemed to me to be a bizarre and dangerous technology. Actually using a technology that generates extremely toxic waste that lasts for millennia, and deferring the decision to future generations about how to safely dispose of the waste is more than bizarre - it is simply irresponsible and immoral.

As citizens, we actually have some power here. When gasoline was over $4 per gallon, we drove our cars less, and also drove down the price of gasoline (supply and demand theory). Now that the price has fallen, let's not go back to our old ways, let's continue to use the gas guzzlers less. And the demand for electricity (i.e. more nukes)? Conservation has not been a part of the Cheney energy policy, but small to moderate increases in the amount of electricity each of us conserves, coupled with real conservation policies from the Obama administration, will literally speak truth to power.

It's up to us folks, and the time is now. Power to the People!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Certainly you've seen the video of an irate Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad today. (If you didn't, go to You Tube.) Now, I don't really condone throwing shoes, or anything else for that matter, at people, particularly world leaders; however, I have to admit that this was the best laugh I've had in some time.

Now if only we could get a court of law to throw the book at him.....

(And I really hope the shoe-pitching journalist wasn't dragged out back, tortured and shot, or rendited to Guantanamo.)

[Note - December 15: I heard a news clip this morning of President Bush making light of the incident: "Really, it didn't bother me; and if you need the facts, I think it was a size 10." Nice - but this is one of the things that bothers me about this self-proclaimed compassionate conservative, his lack of compassion and humility. Perhaps he could have used the incident as a moment to express that yes, he understands the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people caused by this war, and his hopes are with them for recovery and reconciliation, etc., etc. But this is too much to ask from the present leader of the free world.]



Our lives are filled with things. We're overwhelmed by possessions we own but do not treasure. Stuff we buy but never love. To be thrown away in weeks rather than passed down for generations.

Perhaps it will be different now. Perhaps now is an opportunity to reassess what really matters. After all, if everything you ever bought her disappeared overnight, what would she truly miss?


The De Beers Family of Companies

[The above is a full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Except for the last sentence, it reads like something I might have written on this blog as a protest of consumerism. This is slick copy writing! Never mind that the "value" of diamonds is created by the total control of the supply and market by the De Beers company, and by a brilliant advertising campaign. Ah yes, all she really needs are some diamonds, and everything else will be Okey Dokey!]

Thursday, December 11, 2008


News flash from the U.S. Senate: it's the auto workers union that's going to be the cause of the demise of the Big Three. Oh give me a break!!!!

I've thought a lot about the auto industry bailout, and (with apologies to our Detroit-area relatives) I'm leaning towards saying "goodbye and good riddance!" I've made lists in my mind - reasons to bail them out in one column, reasons to not bail them out in the other column. The "bail them out" column really has only one item - avoiding massive lay offs of working people, people who have no control over the decisions made by the automobile industry. The collapse of the American auto companies will be disastrous for working people and the economy, but I think there are ways the new administration can organize a recovery.

The "don't bail them out" column has a long list. For decades, the American automobile companies, now known as The Big Three, have made business decisions intended to do one thing - increase and protect profits. Yes, this is the goal of business, to make a profit. But the auto industry profits, for the years that the companies made them, were based on massive hidden costs to American taxpayers - and people around the world. The Big Three built their profits on death and destruction, the resulting costs of which have been borne by everyone living on the planet. The automobile, as I've discussed in several previous posts over the last few years, became the central feature of our society, it's use dominating and dictating the realities of urban design, transportation and commerce. America became addicted to foreign oil, our cars and trucks spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide and poisons into the air and water, and thousands of people are injured and killed in auto accidents.

The American auto industry has fought tooth and nail against almost every proposed safety standard, fuel efficiency measure, and emission standard. And they're still at it, challenging the new State of California emission standards in court because they claim that they can't meet them. This is, of course, more of the same BS for which the auto industry is famous. And in the meantime the climate changes more quickly, asthma and other respiratory illnesses are on the rise, and our roads get more gridlocked than ever. None of this is a news flash, we've all known about these problems for years. And yet the Big Three have continued to tell Americans that what we want is bigger and faster cars, behemoth trucks and SUV's, all designed to use gasoline as if it's an unlimited, benign and cheap resource.

So why should we, the taxpayers, bail out these greedy companies? The executives at GM, Ford and Chrysler have made bad decisions, and their chickens have come home to roost. Isn't that what it's all about, we're told, free market, market forces, trickle down, and all that other capitalist mumbo-jumbo? Hey fellas - you snooze, you loose.

There's an aspect of the proposed bailout that isn't discussed: if the government loans these guys money so they can stay in business, who's going to buy their cars and trucks anyway? We are in a recession (yes, it is now official - duh), many thousands of people are losing their jobs, their homes, their savings and retirement funds. Car dealers are going out of business, and new cars from Asia are sitting in giant parking lots in west coast ports with no buyers in sight.

I think this is a giant lemons-to-lemonade moment in U.S. history, and I'm hoping our political leadership undergoes a miraculous transformation and actually does the right things. We need to plot a course away from the automobile as the centerpiece of our culture, and become a more sustainable society. We need to rethink the most basic assumptions about our culture and our economy, and make wise choices that will push us in new directions. There are plenty of jobs to be had in a green economy if we have the backbone to make some tough choices, roll up our collective sleeves, and rebuild an America that makes sense.

I, for one, am tired of being pushed around by big companies with fleets of lobbyists and attorneys and over-paid executives who decide how my world should be - for their profit. To the Big Three I say - get out of the road, the times they are a'changin, and you guys are just in the way.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Here's the video that goes with a previous post about Suzhou Silk Factory Number 1, in Suzhou, China.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


There are certain events that bring people together; brief moments of community that connect people with those around them. Such a moment was tonight's sunset that created a sky filled with gloriously blazing red-bottomed clouds against a darkening blue sky.

I left the house for a quick walk to the store for a few needed items, and a parked car was blocking the sidewalk at the corner - how rude. But as I walked around the car, I noticed a young woman in the drivers seat with her cell phone in hand - held up in front of her eyes. She was taking a picture, so I turned to see what the subject of the photo might be, and froze in my tracks in wonderment. I called my wife to tell her to go out on the porch and look, then walked on towards Hawthorne Blvd. When I got to the next corner, many people on the crowded street were looking to the west, and probably 1 out of 5 were snapping photos with their cell phones. Parents were pointing to the sky to show their children, and people were talking to each other - stranger to stranger - about this incredible display that nature had provided just for us to enjoy.

My cell phone photo doesn't really convey the breathtaking beauty of this brief moment. And, of course, a photograph cannot do justice to the moment of community that I shared with my neighbors.

I wonder how many people, and in how wide a geographic area shared that moment of community. I'm guessing many thousands of people; and you know what? I bet we were all kinds of people in terms of age, race, gender, politics, and religion (or not) watching and marveling at that sky. These are the moments of community that make Earth a small village - wouldn't it be nice if we had more?