Monday, December 04, 2023

The Middle East is Not Listening to Us

 Once again, today, there's a news article about a street demonstration in San Francisco demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.  Several Bay Area cities (including mine) have passed resolutions demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.  I've been thinking, and I have to get this off my chest.

Folks, neither side is listening to us and our "ceasefire resolutions."  Certainly not to the cities of Oakland and Richmond, CA.  The Israelis aren't even listening to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said recently

"In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat," Austin said, drawing on his experience as a four-star general overseeing the battle against Islamic State militants.

"So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel's leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and strategic imperative."

The real problem in Gaza is that neither side wants to compromise.  Netanyahu has built an entire career on opposing a 2-state solution, which (in my humble opinion) is the only peaceful answer to this.  One of the reasons Hamas is in charge of Gaza is that Netanyahu supported them against the Palestinian Authority, because he knew they would never agree to a 2 state solution, and Mahmoud Abbas might have.  So when Hamas started this (and they did), they knew that Netanyahu would throw everything Israel had at Gaza.  Which is a lot.  I'm going to guess that Hamas also assumed what has happened would happen - millions of people around the world would see Israel bombing civilians in Gaza and killing many times the people the Oct. 7 invasion killed - and would immediately assume that Israel is to blame for the horror.

No, folks.  Hamas started this.  And Hamas' stated goal is to destroy Israel and take all of Palestine back, "from the river to the sea."  Which Netanyahu will do everything he can to prevent.  I don't know if Hamas didn't realize how much Israel would throw at them (I don't believe that), or if they simply didn't care how many Palestinian civilians got killed, because it would all make Israel look worse.  (I wouldn't be surprised.)

I'm in the camp that believes the only long-term solution for Israel and Palestine is a 2 state solution, preferably with Israel not run by Netanyahu and his right-wing gang, and with the Palestinian state not run by Hamas.  Israel has a good chance of getting Netanyahu out of office - he was on trial for corruption, and it just picked up again, after being paused for the war.  And before October 7, a lot of Israelis were demonstrating against him.  

I don't know what anyone could do about Hamas; but a non-Netanyahu Israeli government might be able to negotiate something with the Palestinian Authority.  Except that Mahmoud Abbas was elected to a 4-year term as PA President in 2005, and they haven't had an election since then (not to mention that Abbas is 88 - definitely older than Joe Biden whom many are complaining about!).

And the trouble with Israel "destroying Hamas" is that Hamas is not just an organization (one whose leaders, I might add, don't live in Gaza) but an ideology.  Go back and read Lloyd Austin's comment again, he understands.  Every Palestinian Israel kills have relatives who are potential recruits for Hamas.

I wish I had answers.  Should the U.S. quit giving Israel money?  Are we then saying they shouldn't defend themselves?  Is the only real solution the one that neither side will agree to?

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

There's No Excuse for This

My last post was about believing absurdities leading to committing atrocities.  Well, we have one, and it's right down the block from my house, at Chabot Elementary School.  

We have no kids, but as neighbors, we're on the school mailing list.  Last night about 11:10PM I got an email from the principal.  They had arranged a playdate last Saturday for all the families and children of color who attend the school; they were trying to "to increase a sense of belonging among all of our students and their families."  It seems to have gone very well, especially in a school and a neighborhood that is mostly white, although the news reports suggest that the kids at the school are about 45% BIPOC. 

The email continued, "A member of our community found the idea of this playdate exclusionary and posted their thoughts and questions on Reddit.  This post has gone viral inviting emails and calls from all sorts of anonymous folks who do not understand what we are trying to do at Chabot and in OUSD."  And finally the principal included this appalling message:

“Hi there you racist pieces of sh**! Just wanted to stop by and let you know that if you keep this sh** up we're going to put you back in chains or in the jungle where you belong. Go ahead and keep pushing for segregation. If you want a race war we'll f***ing give you one and you won't like how it ends. Have a wonderful day :)

This is a school that serves children from kindergarten to 5th grade.  I was and am appalled.  But I wasn't surprised when I left the house at around 10AM to go to an exercise class and saw the school intersection blocked off with crime tape, at least 2 Oakland Police cars there, a couple of Oakland cops walking around, and a person being interviewed by someone carrying a TV camera.  I walked down to see what was up and was told by an ABC reporter (yes, I'm apparently somewhere on ABC's coverage, although I haven't found myself yet; 2 of my friends have contacted me!) that there had been a bomb threat!  I now know from the news coverage that the bomb threat came via email at 7:30 this morning, fortunately before the normal start of class, and that the police, the FBI, and a bomb dog unit were going through the school to make sure it was clear.

If you Google Chabot Elementary Oakland CA today you'll see all the coverage. By noon when I returned from my exercise class it had all been cleared away - I assume they didn't find a bomb.  But it looks like the principal has decided not to have any classes today; there are no kids on the grounds.  I was relieved to see an Oakland police car turning the corner by the school as I left on an errand this afternoon.

There is no excuse for this crap.  Wikipedia says, "There is broad consensus across the biological and social sciences that race is a social construct, not an accurate representation of human genetic variation." I agree with Wikipedia that the genetic differences between the races are smaller than 1%.  

 The whole "race" business was invented by our European ancestors, centuries ago, to explain why they kept finding people (in the areas they were colonizing) who didn't look like them or act like them.  You may not have European ancestors, but I do.  I'm afraid the whole "race" business was really developed because a portion of the human race wants to have someone they can look down on, someone they can feel superior to - because they are disturbed by the people who (for financial, social, or political reasons) are "superior" to them.  We clearly have some of those people making trouble at Chabot Elementary.  I wish they would grow up and get a life.

Monday, July 31, 2023

If You Believe Absurdities ...

 Apparently Voltaire never quite said exactly the quote that's been attributed to him:  

Those Who Can Make You Believe Absurdities Can Make You Commit Atrocities

But that statement has been around long enough that, when I applied to attend the University of California at Berkeley, around 1962 or 63, it was offered to me as a possible subject for the 500-word essay I was expected to submit with my application.  I don't recall what the other possible subjects were.  I chose that one, and drafted a handwritten page or so (on the application) on why it is right.  (At the time I didn't know it was attributed to Voltaire.)  Cal admitted me for the 1963-64 year.

That was (my God!) sixty years ago.  Voltaire has been dead for roughly 250 years.  But the statement stands.  And as I look around today, I see more atrocities being committed, by people who believe absurdities, than I want to consider.  I'm not going to tell you what I think the atrocities are because I don't want to get into an internet screaming match.  But there are dozens of them, being committed by people in the U.S. and elsewhere.  

This isn't a good sign, people.  I think I remember a time when we could agree on the basic facts of life and the world, but we seem to have lost that.  It worries me.  I wish I could close this post with a witty remark, but all I can come up with is, it worries me.

Monday, June 26, 2023

More Labor Issues

I can't get away from this.  NPR this morning covered 2 labor related issues.  The first one was the recent contract negotiations with rail workers - the guys who build and maintain the tracks - to provide them with paid sick leave!  They've gotten 4 paid leave days per year, plus 3 "personal days," with most of the major rail lines.  They're still negotiating with BNSF.

The second was about a new federal law providing pregnant works with "reasonable accommodations" at work, with tales of women who were fired because they asked for things like a bottle of water at their work station, and a temporary shift to a position with less heavy lifting.

All I could think as I listened to this was the lyrics from Bodies on the Line (see this post where the management was responding to worker requests for sick time by saying, "Die, and prove it."

Die, and prove it.  And I thought we'd moved on.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Labor Issues are Still With Us

 On May 19, as a member of the Oakland Symphony Chorus, I participated in the spectacular (if I may brag!) world premiere of Bodies on the Line, an oratorio commissioned by the Symphony's late director Michael Morgan, about the 1937 auto workers sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan.  I've been rehearsing that for almost 6 months.  It's full of facts about what happened in the old GM auto plants, and what the strikers wanted, and every time I turn around these days, I hear echoes of those lyrics.  

For example, the first of the strikers' eight demands was the end of piecework pay, to be replaced by a daily salary.  A few weeks before performance, there was an article on NPR about the law, passed by California in 2022, banning piecework pay in the garment industry in California!  In 2022 they were still paying garment workers piecework!  And of course we regularly hear that Starbucks workers are trying to form a union, and the workers at Trader Joe's in Rockridge (a little over half a mile from my house in north Oakland) are trying to organize a union.  And on and on.

Today I heard another story on NPR that brought the oratorio lyrics back to me with a bang.  It was a story about a ceremony in (I think) Stratton, Ohio, where the W. H. Sammis coal plant will shut down in mid-July.  It sounded kind of like a memorial, if not a funeral, for the plant, which has operated in the area since 1959.  The plant had employed the people of Stratton (population under 300) for most of their lives.  And listening to this story, another lyric came back to me.  Late in the oratorio, during the strike, the chorus sings about it, and everyone but the altos was in favor of the strike (I sing alto).  The altos sang, "What would we do without GM?  It's GM who feeds us, who feeds the people of Flint."  And you know, I listened to the story of the memorial to a dying coal plant in Stratton, Ohio, and those words ran through my mind; and I cried.  I'm crying now.  These are stories about human beings, and sometimes we're not as much in control as we think.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The A's Are Leaving Oakland

 So - the A's have signed up to buy land for a stadium in Las Vegas.  Many people in Oakland are furious - many of my friends are.  I sympathise with them; but I'm not furious. This is going to annoy them, but I want to speak my mind.

I can't deny that the Coliseum is a mess, although it's easier to get to than the proposed stadium at Howard Terminal would have been.  Coliseum even has a BART station, with a pedestrian walkway to the stadium, and lots of parking.  The proposed stadium near the Port of Oakland is at least half a mile from BART and is not served by any major bus lines.  At one point the A's were suggesting an overhead tram arrangement to get to the stadium, but I haven't heard that in quite a while.  (For those who don't know, Howard Terminal is the name of a part of the Port of Oakland facility that the A's wanted do buy.)

I've been in Jack London Square, and I know the area around the port.  It hasn't got parking.  It isn't set up to manage heavy traffic.  The main traffic street along the waterfront has an active railroad line, for God's sake, which I know carries Amtrak passengers and I'm fairly sure also carries freight to and from the port.  How would that fit in with 35,000 people on game day??  I know that both the Port and the railroad people opposed the site.s

The housing they propose would be nice, we can always use more housing; I don't recall hearing how much of it would be affordable.  But they're also suggesting 270,000 square feet of retail space (along with 1.5 million of "commercial space").  If you don't live in Oakland you may not know how much of the existing retail space has "For Rent" signs, but it's a lot.  Who do they think will rent all that retail space??  

I've never heard an A's person admit to this, but I've been convinced since it was first proposed that they A's want a baseball stadium on a waterfront - because the Giants have one.  That's all this is about.  They thought they could con Oakland into paying for a lot of the infrastructure upgrades this would need.  But they forgot one thing:  Port of Oakland is a working port, a major container ship facility.  There is water traffic (BIG ships!) in and out of there all the time.  The Giants' nice waterside stadium went in long after the Port of San Francisco stopped being a working port, now it's mostly cruise ships, and they're farther north.  Everyone thinks the people who hang out in canoes in McCovey Cove, trying to catch foul balls, are really cute.  You couldn't have that outside a Howard Terminal stadium; not with container ships going back and forth in a relatively narrow estuary.  McCovey Cove backs onto the Bay.

So they're going to Las Vegas to play ball, they say, in a stadium they say will have a retractable roof.  Have fun playing there in the summer, boys.  I thought that about the Raiders, too, but they usually play in the fall and winter.  Still, they start in September.  I used to visit Vegas regularly to see my sister, and summer is not fun.  I've seen 117 in the shade (and no shade!) in September.  Better keep that retractable roof closed, and turn on the A/C.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Fighting the Phishers

 We've all gotten them - the phishes.  The email about a purchase on your Amazon account that doesn't exist, with a link that doesn't lead to Amazon.  And others.  Now they've found my cell phone number and they're texting me with phishes.  In the last 2 days I've gotten 2 texts that claimed to be about my EBT card.  (For the non-Californians - EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer; and an EBT card is basically a debit card you can use to buy food.  It's also called CalFresh, and SNAP, and it's food stamps.  I don't have one.)

Well, at the end of the '90s, I was working in the data center of a major bank, and I was the team lead of the group that set up the bank's first SMTP server, which allowed email exchanges with the rest of the internet.  I saw the first phishes develop, lousy spelling and all.  I've watched them get weirder, but there's always something that isn't right.  In the texts about my EBT card (which doesn't exist), the phone number to call was not the phone number you get when you go to the EBT site.  

I decided to be a good citizen and make sure they knew they were being phished, so I called the real number and waded through the menus until I got a human.  When I told her, you're being phished, she said grimly, "We know."  (If you look at their main page, there's a big "Beware of Scams" notice.)  So I said, OK, I just wanted to make sure you knew, and I hope you catch the bastards.  

There was a brief pause, and she answered in the least "official" tone you could imagine, "You are so right, sister, and I hope they put them underneath the jail!"

I hope I made her day.