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In spite of our serious drought, the men in green ("Cleaning Ambassadors" under contract with the Downtown Berkeley Association) power washed the sidewalk at Shattuck and Allston Way for an hour on Sunday, July 13th.
Lydia Gans
In spite of our serious drought, the men in green ("Cleaning Ambassadors" under contract with the Downtown Berkeley Association) power washed the sidewalk at Shattuck and Allston Way for an hour on Sunday, July 13th.


New: Postal Workers Say Stop Staples

Lydia Gans
Saturday July 19, 2014 - 10:03:00 AM

Last year Berkeley citizens turned out en masse under the banner of Save the Berkeley Post Office. Claiming “dire financial circumstances” the U. S. postal service announced its intention to sell our historic post office building, as well as a number of others across the country, to private developers. Berkeleyans are determined to resist. But the issue is more than the sale of historic buildings. 

This is just one step in the process of privatization of the post office. The functions of the postal service are being outsourced to privately owned corporations. It is happening now with postal counters being set up in Staples stores and having the store employees handling the mail. 

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is calling for a Stop Staples campaign. All over the country unions and civic organizations are urging people to boycott Staples. While the Postal Service continues to contract with more Staples stores, the boycott campaign is growing. 

A Staples announcement a few days ago that they were terminating the agreement with the Postal Service was, in the words of APWU president Mark Dimonstein “an attempt at trickery”. In fact they were simply changing the name of the program to “approved shipper”. The United States Post Office sign still hangs in Staples' store windows. 

The APWU website has details on the agreement between Staples and U.S. Postal Service. For postal customers it means a serious deterioration of safety and quality of mail services. Packages and letters at Staples stores are not considered “mail” until they are picked up by the Postal Service. Packages dropped off at Staples stores are placed in unsecured containers. That means they don’t have the protection of the U.S. Mail. And Staples gets a discount on postal products while customers pay the regular prices. (This is not the case for other retail stores selling postal products. They get no discounts.) 

The mail handlers are non-union Staples employees working for low and minimal benefits in high turnover jobs. They get only a few hours of training and have no reason to develop any loyalty to the postal service. On the other hand USPS employees answer to the American people. USPS postal retail clerks have to go through 32 hours of intense classroom training plus on-the-job training and pass a test before they are qualified to work at a window. Before they are hired, USPS employees undergo a background check, take an oath to protect the security and safety of the mail, and are bound by a Code of Ethical Conduct. 

Berkeley activists have set up an “Info Table” in front of the Staples on Shattuck to hand out literature and urge people to support the boycott. They have been out there for almost a month. Mike Zint is there day and night. He is a homeless person and explains that spending his nights there serves as a homeless protest while in the daytime he is supporting the Post Office. “I'm just and American protesting the privatization of the post office … it's union busting” he says. 

The Info Table carries flyers about the boycott as well as other events of interest in town. And for people who are concerned about where to purchase their office supplies they have a handy list of stores in downtown Berkeley selling supplies, electronics and anything else that Staples offers. The action appears to have an effect. Fewer customers are seen in the store and fewer cars in the parking lot. 

And more people who see this privatization as another step in putting more power in the hands of the One Percent are participating in the action every day.

Berkeley City Employees Clean Up Homeless Encampment Under Gilman Overpass

By Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Friday July 18, 2014 - 09:50:00 AM

City of Berkeley officials today cleaned up a homeless encampment under the Gilman Street overpass adjacent to Interstate Highway 80 despite objections from advocates who have been working to find housing for those living there. 

City workers went into the encampment this morning to remove garbage and debris, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko.  

"Over the past few months the conditions at the Gilman underpass have gotten worse and there have been particular concerns about the amount of garbage debris and other refuse that was creating a haven for rodents," Chakko said.  

"So out of concern for those conditions and for safety, staff went in today and cleaned up all the garbage and refuse and debris." 

Chakko said the few people present in the camp when workers arrived packed up their belongings and left peacefully.  

Unattended belongings that appeared to have value were placed in storage and can be reclaimed from the city, he said.  

City officials on July 10 retracted a July 2 notice warning residents that the city would remove all personal property from the site on July 15 after homeless advocates said they were working to find housing for those living at the camp.  

A new notice posted that day, however, warned that the city would "monitor the situation and may without further notice take appropriate action to abate public nuisance conditions, up to and including the removal of personal property."  

Osha Neumann, a homeless advocate who works at the East Bay Community Law Center, said he's upset that the city cleaned up the encampment today with little notice to the people who were living there.  

His agency is among those working with city agencies to find housing for the camp's residents.  

Neumann said, "It's a very sad, pathetic scene at the encampment and it's kind of pathetic how the city went about this." 

He estimated that only seven to ten people had been living at the encampment recently. 

Neumann said he doesn't know where most of those people went after the city removed their property this morning but he said several wound up on a nearby site owned by Caltrans. 

The number of homeless people living under the Gilman Street overpass increased dramatically earlier this year after Albany officials closed down a homeless encampment at a nearby landfill site known as the Albany Bulb. 

Albany officials cleared out the site, which is near Golden Gate Fields, so it can become part of the Eastshore State Park and provided money to help homeless people who had been there find alternative housing and services. 

Albany Assistant City Manager Nicole Almaguer said last week that many former Bulb residents have found housing and a recent report indicated that only two former Bulb residents were living at the Gilman Street encampment. 

Chakko said the city is still working to find permanent housing for the people who have been living at the site. 

"There's been housing approved for a number of them, but it's a longer process," he said.  

Chakko could not comment on any efforts to keep people from returning to the site but said no new fencing had been added to the area.  

Man Claiming Bomb on BART at North Berkeley Stops Service

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 11:17:00 AM

A man who announced there was a bomb on a BART train at the North Berkeley station caused systemwide delays this afternoon, a BART spokesman said. Police responded to reports of a man who said there was a bomb at 2:23 p.m. and the train was stopped and evacuated, BART spokesman Jim Allison said. Bomb-sniffing dogs checked the train but found no evidence of a bomb, Allison said. Train service resumed about 10 minutes later. 

Because of the hold, there were residual delays throughout the BART system, BART officials said.

Book Review: My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel , by Ari Shavit

Reviewed by Joanna Graham
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 12:39:00 PM

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit, Spiegel & Grau; 1st Edition (November 19, 2013), 464 pages

Reviewer’s Note: I wrote the following very long review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land in mid-May, at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at such a low ebb that, as Israeli polls repeatedly showed, most Israelis, if not Palestinians, had pretty much forgotten about it. Not to mention all the rest of us. I wrote the review because I had to, then filed it because it wasn’t of much use or interest to anyone else. I hope it will be helpful now.

Amongst the cacophony of voices this year shouting mostly horrible news, I would not be surprised if many people missed the brief exhalation of breath that signaled the end of the twenty-year Oslo period in Israeli/Palestinian history. (Explaining the failure of the peace talks, John Kerry said, “Poof. And that was that.”)

Although initially resisted by at least some in Israel (Rabin, who signed them, was assassinated), the Oslo Accords ultimately proved to be useful beyond imagining in myriad ways, not least of which was their success in keeping the American Jewish community tethered by the tantalizing promise of a Palestinian state. For twenty years, the on-again-off-again peace talks nearly completely suppressed all those nasty issues of occupation, apartheid, etc., the sort of thing with which Jewish Americans are so annoyingly concerned. If only we could give the Palestinians their own little (demilitarized) state, people thought, Israel could be both Jewish AND democratic, problem solved! It was only the Palestinians (obviously) and the left of the left among Jews who noticed—in the immortal words of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat—that while they were discussing the future of the pizza, Israel was eating it.  

Now that it is dawning upon even those with a nearly infinite capacity for self-delusion that there will never be a Palestinian state side by side with the Israeli one, some liberal Jews, both here and in Israel, increasingly worried that an awful lot of us are about to leap off the sinking ship, have taken it upon themselves to do something to prevent the mass exodus, to strengthen our connection, our commitment, and our resolve, to explain (once again) why Israel is necessary, even righteous, and why it must be (once again) not only understood and forgiven, but even thanked for the benefits it showers upon the Jewish people.  

It is in this context that Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel should be read. Although Shavit is a well-known journalist with the Israeli paper Ha’aretz, the great-grandson of a Founder, and a man whose circle includes the great and powerful of his own country, his book was written in English and published in the U.S.; there is no Hebrew edition. In his acknowledgments, he thanks Cindy Spiegel, his editor at Spiegel and Grau (an imprint of Random House) who believed he could “deliver the book about Israel she thought was needed,” also, “his dear friend David Remnick,” who “encouraged me to write this book.” Remnick also published an excerpt in The New Yorker and threw the launch party at his house. The New York Times provided the front page of their book review for Leon Weiseltier of the New Republic to praise Shavit’s book lavishly. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman chimed in with accolades as well. In other words, this book was written by an Israeli for an American (Jewish) audience at the suggestion and with the help of pillars of the American Jewish establishment, liberal side. 

That these Jews wanted this book at this time is clear. Did they get what they wanted? If one judges by the response of the people in my Engaging Israel class (more on this in a moment), a resounding yes! Several of my classmates were reading and loving it and recommending it to everyone else. I’m not sure, of course, how far at that moment they had got. Because during the first three chapters even I, who am pretty impervious to this sort of stuff, fell in love with these attractive pioneers such as Shavit’s own great-grandfather, the comfortably well-off British-born son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, who, in 1897, stirred by Zionism, took a Cook’s Tour of the Holy Land, complete with catered camp-outs, and eventually moved there. Then there were those tough but idealistic Labor [and Defense] Brigade kids who, in 1921, settled kibbutz Ein Harod. They turned strong and brown as they worked in the fields by day but still had energy left over to sing and dance and fire their guns into the air by night. Who could not be moved by their enthusiasm? 

Of course sometimes the writing is a little bit over the top. For example, we are informed that all these kibbutzniks were orphans. OMG, all orphans? Oh, wait. I think Shavit means metaphorically. “After all,” he says, “Zionism was an orphans’ movement, a desperate crusade [sic] of Europe’s orphans. As the unwanted sons and daughters of the Christian continent fled the hatred of their surrogate mother, they discovered they were all alone in the world. Godless, parentless, and homeless, they had to survive,” etc. 

We never find out exactly which country or countries on “the Christian continent” these (metaphorical) orphans came from. And how alone exactly were they? After all, who was the engineer and who the surveyors who showed up to plan the drainage of the malarial swamp? And although the kids supplied the hard labor, someone must have paid for the all those clay pipes that were used to build the drainage canals. But this is caviling; the young Jascha Heifetz (who has left Lithuania but chosen to live in New York) has just shown up to play a concert. By all means, since Shavit has given his performance two whole pages, let us enjoy it too. 

My Promised Land is divided into seventeen chapters (plus an introduction), dated chronologically from 1897 (great-grandfather’s visit) to 2013. Each chapter is a snapshot of a particular time and place, most based on interviews, a few of which were previously published. Taken all together they provide a highly romanticized and polemical history of Israel which goes something like this: (1) In the beginning, there were starry-eyed but level-headed and brave pioneers who came to Palestine to (a) rescue the Jews of Eastern Europe from persecution and violence and/or (b) rescue the Jews of Western Europe from their soft lives and assimilation. (2) Then the Palestinians figured out what was going on, got mad about it, and fought. (3) After that the Jews got tough, drove the Palestinians out, and established a Spartan state, permanently surrounded by enemies, which can only survive if everybody stays tough forever behind their “iron wall,” able and willing to fight in the wars which will always be necessary—and if Israel retains its exclusive possession of the Middle East’s (so far) only nuclear weapons. (4) Alas, the Israelis now include Arab Jews, ultra-Orthodox, unassimilated Russians, fanatic right-wingers, delusional peaceniks, and young Tel Aviv hedonists strung out on drugs, music, and sex who believe they live in Athens, not Sparta; Europe, not the dangerous Middle East. If they don’t all shape up and return to the Founders’ militarized collectivist vision—the national socialism or social nationalism of the Labor and Defense Brigade (“In years to come, historians will try to determine which is the more dominant feature of the endeavor, socialism or nationalism,” p.40)—the country is doomed. 

One of the things so clear from these opening chapters is that Zionism was from the beginning a deliberate plan to found a new country ex nihilo. This may seem obvious, but, actually, try as I might, I can think of no other such endeavor. People move around and take territory by force. Kings used to; now that there are nation-states, nation-states do. Boundaries change. Regimes change. During the age of nation-state formation (the last 200 years or so), nation-states have emerged from territories formerly organized otherwise, such as princely states or tribal areas and/or colonies. Even the obvious comparables, settler states such as the U.S. or Australia, were not initially settled with a clearly defined object of new nation creation but as various other projects of a motherland (get rid of undesirables) or individual entrepreneurs (get rich, etc). Only the Zionists, that I am aware of, made a decision to create a nation for people who had little in common with each other, and, furthermore, to do so in territory occupied by someone else. 

Presumably, one has to have a pretty good rationale for this, but oddly, on this important subject, Shavit offers two contradictory ones. On the one hand, Jews were physically threatened by anti-Semitism, and of course, this turned out to be only too true. On the other, they were not. Thus, they were threatened by assimilation. “What [had] held them together as a people were religious belief, religious practice, and a powerful religious narrative, as well as the high walls of isolation built around them by gentiles…. Secularization and emancipation…eroded the old formula of Jewish survival. There was nothing to maintain the Jewish people as a people living among others….They were faced with collective mortal danger. Their ability to maintain a non-Orthodox Jewish civilization in the Diaspora was now in question,” p. 5. 

Note that individual assimilated Jewish people, like Herbert Bentwich, Shavit’s English great-grandfather, were doing very well indeed. It was “the Jewish people” who faced “a collective mortal danger.” Note also, the oddity of maintaining a “non-Orthodox Jewish civilization.” Whatever does that mean? 

In the weeks before reading Shavit’s book, I was attending the first five (before I gave up/got kicked out) of nine classes of Engaging Israel: Foundations for a New Relationship, which is currently being presented all over the U.S. and (I assume) Canada. This project of the Hartman Institute of Israel, consisting of video lectures followed by a sort of discussion, is, to my knowledge, the other big attempt this year to deal with increasing American-Jewish discomfort with Israel’s path. Donniel Hartman, who speaks earnestly into the camera in nine videos and earnestly with someone who agrees with him completely in nine others, is a rabbi; Shavit is secular. Hartman’s dad made aliyah from Toronto in the 1970s; Shavit’s family goes back to the beginning of the Zionist project. Hartman, as far as I could discern, favors a two-state solution; Shavit despises the peaceniks for their lack of realism. Hartman harangues; Shavit seduces with purple prose. Hartman presents an Israel which is nearly heavenly in its perfection, Shavit a country with a lot of problems and a “tragedy” at its core, the dispossession of the Palestinians. 

But both men have a core belief in an entity called “the Jewish people.” Hartman’s strategy was to admit in the first lecture that there are currently two large and thriving Jewish communities in the world, in Israel and the U.S. (and smaller communities elsewhere) but to go on to argue in the second that no matter where we live we are all members of this mystical body. Furthermore, both men believe that “the Jewish people” is under threat and that Israel is “the Jewish people’s” last best defense. 

But, as Shavit himself acknowleges, the defense has already failed utterly. In the unselfconsciously narcissistic way that only an Israeli can talk about the genocide of the European Jews, he writes, “It is a Zionist catastrophe unlike any other….Gone are the great Jewish masses that Zionism was designed to save. Gone is the great human reservoir that was to save Zionism. Gone is Zionism’s raison d’être….With no Eastern European demographic backbone, Zionism becomes a bridgehead that no reinforcements will ever cross, protect, or hold,” p. 96. 

In other words, we can cross out saving real Jews from real physical danger because, whoops, it’s too late. Thus we are left with saving Jews from the threat of no real physical danger. 

Shavit begins the last chapter of his book with a description of a vacation trip to the South Devon coast which he undertakes with his family every summer. After describing the pleasures and attractions of English life, he hauls out those demographics about shrinking Jewish populations with which Zionists are so obsessed. The way things are going, he says, “One can imagine the last of the Jews….Enlightened Europe…kills us softly, as does democratic America. Benign Western civilization destroys non-Orthodox Judaism….This is why the concentration [sic] of non-Orthodox Jews in one place was imperative. And the one place where non-Orthodox Jews could be concentrated [sic] was the land of Israel,” p. 387. 

What does Shavit mean by “non-orthodox Jews”—a phrase recurring three times in the few lines cited above as well as throughout his book? I think American Jews would use the phrase “secular Jews” or “cultural Jews” to describe the same state of being. Two facts about it strike me. The first is that the in-betweenness it represents is not restricted to Jews. Everyone who moves from a small integrated culture to a large cosmopolitan one like urban Western Europe or North America can experience nostalgia for a lost way of life, which includes language, religion, rituals, recipes, music, jokes, and so on. For close-knit communities, these cultural practices can be maintained over time—or at least dragged out for special occasions like holidays and life passages. But for most of us they fade generation by generation. This is as true for Irish-, Italian-, or Polish-Americans with their Roman Catholic background, for example, or Greek- or Russian-Americans with their Eastern Orthodox faiths, or Laotians or Tibetans or anyone else, as it is for the Americans whose ancestors came from the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. With each generation the ties to the old country and the old ways loosen a little more until they are all but lost—or combined with other ways to create something new. 

So the second fact is that when Shavit speaks of “non-Orthodox Judaism,” he is speaking of something which by its very nature, although often suffused with nostalgia and longing, is transitory and must pass away. It can’t be saved. “Non-Orthodox Judaism” is the sensibility of a generation that has rejected Judaism as a way of life but can’t quite let go of, shall we say, the accoutrements. No God, but lox and bagels. But then Japanese-Americans start eating lox and bagels and Jews are eating sushi and soon they’re married to each other and even the nostalgia is gone. 

In this way we can see the Zionist project as an attempt to freeze a moment in time when the “world of our fathers” has disappeared but some vague memory of belonging to some sort of collective something remains. Don’t forget that Shavit described the Ein Harod youth of the 1920s as “Godless, parentless, and homeless.” Since their project was to settle “the Jewish state,” did you wonder about that “Godless?” 

In fact, Israel was settled by Eastern European Jews who hated everything to do with being Jewish. If they were “parentless and homeless,” it was not because the Holocaust had (yet) destroyed the world behind them, but because they had deliberately rejected their families’ kosher-keeping, Shabbat-observant homes to become “New Jews.” And one of their legacies to their descendents, like Shavit, is a hatred of “orthodox” Jews, who, as their percentage of the population inexorably rises, obsess Ashkenazi Israel. 

Here’s a passage from the last chapter. “More than twenty yeshivas and synagogues and religious schools stand on the northern slopes of Deir Yassin, and more than twenty stand on its eastern and southern slopes. Here are tens of thousands of square meters of religious institutions whose students don’t work, pay taxes, or fulfill military service. After the grand dream and the great effort and the horrific sin [a massacre], what Zionism established on the land of Deir Yassin is a new ultra-Orthodox ghetto,” p. 396. 

The detestation drips. But wait! There’s more. Even the “non-Orthodox Jews” of the Diaspora remain still a little bit tainted with too much Jewishness. 

Here’s Shavit: “Hebrew identity was revolutionary. It defined itself as a revolt against Jewish religion, Jewish Diaspora, and passive Jewish existence. It affirmed itself on the foundations of the Hebrew land, the Hebrew language, and the belief in a Hebrew future. It sanctified the Bible while dismissing postbiblical Jewish history and tradition. It cherished progress and action and a secular attitude to life,” p. 404. 

Please re-read that passage. For me, it is one of the most frightening in a very frightening book, because in it the whole mad illogic of the Zionist enterprise is calmly laid out. Israel was created to save “the Jewish people” from annihilation, whether by murder or assimilation. But Zionism rejects everything that made “the Jewish people” in fact Jewish— religion, culture, tradition, and history. 

In other words, a nation created by displacing a people (Palestinians) and destroying their completely actual, ordinary, everyday lives is dedicated to preserving some indefinable essence called “the Jewish people” by destroying other people’s (Jews’) actual, ordinary, everyday lives and replacing them with something as invented as anything Disney ever came up with—and somehow similar in its two-dimensionality, sentimentality, and inability to perceive nuance of any kind: a secularized mythologized history-free Bible-based Hebrewness, propaganda where once there was thought. 

OK, the project is crazy and certainly nasty for the Palestinians but why should we care? Because of Shavit’s chapter seven, “The Project, 1967” and chapter sixteen, “Existential Challenge, 2013.” But first, in case you haven’t read it lately, I must refresh your memory about Numbers 25. 

In this Old Testament narrative, like so many others unsuitable for children, the Israelites in the midst of their forty-year journey are camped out at Shittim, having sex with Moabite women and worshipping the Baal of Peor, thus bringing down the wrath of the Lord expressed as a terrible plague. While Moses is in confab explaining what must be done to appease Him (impale all the chiefs in the sun), Zimri son of Salu makes the grave mistake of wandering into the meeting with his new Midianite woman, whereupon Aaron’s grandson Pinehas grabs his spear, follows them out, and catching them either in a chaste embrace or in flagrante delicto (the text is not clear) runs them both together through the belly, like threading meat on a skewer. The Lord tells Moses that Pinehas has done the right thing and that, furthermore, he, Moses, is to “harass the Midianites, and defeat them: for they have harassed you by the trickery with which they deceived you in the affair of Peor,” etc. 

I looked up this text because in class three of Engaging Israel, (“Sovereignty and Identity”) and again in class four (“Power and Powerlessness”) and again in class five (“War and Occupation”), we found in our readings Remidbar (Numbers) Rabba 21:4 which, in its entirety, says: “Harass the Midianites (Numbers 25:17). Why? For they harass you (ib. 18). From this the sages have derived the maxim: If a person comes to kill you, kill him first.” 

How the sages derived the maxim that they did, either from the Biblical story in its entirety or even from the excerpts that they quote, is unclear to me, since both the story and the excerpts appear to deal with revenge, not preemption. But there it is. And as I’ve so recently learned and am sharing with you, it is a central text in Israeli thought. 

In week five of Engaging Israel, for example, our moderator, instead of leading a discussion about the putative topic (“War and Occupation”) devoted pretty much the entire session to Numbers Rabba 21:4, using it to teach us that unlike Christians, who are apparently weak and soft (cf. Matthew 5:38-42, the famous “turn the other cheek” speech, which was also in our readings), Jews value their own lives as much as the lives of others and therefore do not sacrifice themselves on others’ behalf. 

I don’t mean to denigrate this discussion, by the way, which is an important and difficult point of ethics. The problem in the rabbinical text, of course, is in the verb “comes.” How close must that person be to his intended act to justify “killing him first”? Personal self-defense is legal (even in weak, soft Christian lands) but it’s narrowly defined. And under international law nations are permitted to go to war if attacked or under imminent threat of attack but not preemptively. How imminent must imminent be?  

In 2009, Shavit managed to score an interview with Yosef Tulipman, a month before Tulipman died (chapter 7, “The Project”). Tulipman was the director general of the Dimona project from 1965 to 1973 while Israel brought its reactor online and produced the first weapons in its nuclear arsenal. In the interview, he is referred to only as “the engineer.” 

At one point in the interview, Shavit suggests to Tulipman that Dimona could be the first in a nuclear domino effect in the Middle East. “Our Dimona,” he says, “will turn from a blessing into a curse.” 

Shavit goes on: “The engineer does not have an argument to refute mine. Quite the opposite. He can definitely foresee a Middle East glowing in radioactive green….As far as the engineer is concerned, there is only one answer: a preemptive strike. He who comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” 

Here the man who could be described as the father of Israel’s H-bomb—and, I would guess although I do not know, one of the “non-Orthodox” or “Godless” Jews—quotes a (rather late) rabbinical commentary of uncertain origin on a violent, and presumably fictional, story written perhaps 2500 or 3000 years ago to justify starting a war, even possibly, if I understand his words correctly, a nuclear one. Had I not attended five weeks of Engaging Israel, found Numbers Rabba 21:4 in my source book three times, and participated in a two-hour discussion about it, I would not have recognized the quotation nor understood its centrality to Israeli thought and policy. 

Of course, Israel did bomb the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 and a possible nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007. In fact, Israel has been attacked just twice in its history (1948 and 1973)—both times, by the way, as a result of prior Israeli aggressions. Every other one of its many wars has been an aggressive war undertaken on the grounds of a theory of self-defense which has no basis in international law, but rather, as we can see, on a self-serving reading of a traditional Jewish text by people who despise those who actually study Jewish texts (in all those non-tax-paying yeshivas). 

“He who comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” In chapter 16, “Existential Challenge,” Shavit explains why he believes that if the United States will not take it upon itself to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Israel will have to bomb Iran, come what may. 

So there you have it. This is what David Remnick of The New Yorker and Cindy Spiegel of Spiegel and Grau ordered up and Leon Weiseltier and Thomas Friedman admired. 

I must admit that I did find it refreshing to read a mainstream Israeli (or any Jewish) writer who calmly admits that the Zionists drove the Palestinians from their land and believes, moreover, that there is no easy way out of the situation this action produced. I agree with Shavit that it’s self-deception to think that handing back some part of less than a quarter of their original land while leaving the situation of millions of refugees untouched will satisfy Palestinians forever and make their demands go away. 

But how satisfactory is Shavit’s answer of permanent war? Is permanent war even possible? I think not. Either its threat will ultimately, in some as yet unknown and unimagined way, recede, or the Middle East (and possibly elsewhere as well) will in fact “glow in radioactive green.” Just as “non-Orthodox Judaism,” a way station between Jewishness and non-Jewishness, cannot, I think, be a place of permanent residence, so too, a state of war is an in-between state and always resolves eventually one way or another, up to and including everyone on the battlefield dead. 

The strange thing, for me, is the appeal of Shavit’s book, not to hardcore rightwingers, but to the U.S. liberal Jewish establishment and perhaps to ordinary liberal American Jews as well. Doesn’t he say all the things we claim to oppose? Isn’t he scary as hell? 

On the other hand, it does make sense in a weird way. Shavit has produced an impassioned evocation of the state of Israel in which we (older) people grew up believing, the one to which we sent money so trees could be planted and the desert made to bloom. That vision melded the secular socialism of our parents’ or grandparents’ generation with a dream of rescue (if not, sadly, the rescue itself) as well as with the dream that someone, somewhere, was preserving what we ourselves were busy getting rid of as fast as we could. If we were changing our names and fixing our noses and drinking milkshakes with our burgers, in Israel they were saving “the Jewish people” on our behalf. Of course, since all Jews everywhere of East European origin wanted to shed the skin of their humiliating past, they were changing their names in Israel, too—but in their case not to something WASPish, in an attempt to blend in, but to something sexy or romantic or heroic, the Hebrew equivalent of “Stalin.” 

But that’s the point, isn’t it. Shavit resurrects the sexy, romantic, heroic Zionist dream: blond pioneers half-naked in the sun with pitchforks in their hands and guns slung on their shoulders. As Herzl wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream,” and thus they will remain that way—forever. 

Added 7/16/14: On June 12, 2014, after an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip which killed a purported militant and killed or injured a couple of other people also, including a 7-year-old—almost certainly one of the causes of the decision by Hamas to break the ceasefire and resume rocket attacks on Israel, thus leading to the current situation—Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted: “Our policy is clear. Kill those who rise up to kill us.” Mondoweiss, which reported the tweet, compared the sentiment to “an eye for an eye.” But they were wrong. It was not about revenge. As I—and now you—understand, Netanyahu’s tweet was what we here in the U.S. refer to as a “dog whistle”: an insider reference to Numbers Raba 21:4 which signaled clearly to all Israelis that their state in the name of “the Jewish people” will continue in perpetuity to arrogate to itself the right to kill, on its own judgment, whomever, whenever, and wherever it chooses, preventatively.



Appreciating Zoia Horn (1918-2014)

Becky O'Malley, with help from Tom Lord
Saturday July 19, 2014 - 09:33:00 AM
Jacob Schiller

Commonly people think of heroes as big strong young guys riding white horses. Not me, not always.

This week I was sorry to learn about the death of one of my heroes who was, when I knew her, a little gray-haired lady wearing spectacles. Reference librarians in general have always been my heroes—when I was writing for magazines they rescued me from many sticky situations. In those pre-Wikipedia days they were essential. Zoia Horn was a librarian’s librarian, and a hero in other ways to boot.

In 2004 Dorothy Bryant wrote a wonderful appreciation of Zoia when she was a youthful 85. You can read it here if you want to get to know her: Zoia Horn Takes Pride in Provoking.

The money quote from that article:

"But at 85, Zoia refuses to become a quiet icon. She is still provoking people, protesting attempts to charge fees for library reference services, defending a gay librarian in Oakland attacked for creating a display of gay library materials, speaking at community meetings urging the Oakland Public Library and the Oakland City Council to adopt resolutions against the Patriot Act (they did)." 

When she died last week she was 96. A younger colleague, Rory Litwin, wrote a tribute to her, which includes a picture as well as links and reminiscences from other admirers: Zoia Horn has passed on

I knew Zoia toward the end of the seventies when I was at the Center for Investigative Reporting and she was at the Data Center just down the street in grungy pre-hip downtown Oakland. I’m surprised to learn from a comment on Litwin’s piece that Zoia was only a volunteer there—I always thought she ran the place, and she probably did in fact, without pay of course. 

When I needed information about something I was working on, all I had to do was ask, and she could produce fat file folders full of clippings on any subject, information as esoteric as anything which can now be found online with a Google search and much more. And if she had an opinion on the topic, as she frequently did, she wasn’t shy about sharing it. 

When we took over the Planet, we got the first of a series of encouraging notes from Zoia. In 2006, when we had problems with poorly-behaved critics of our free speech policy she sprang to our defense with a spirited op-ed essay, one of several fine contributions she made to our Commentary section. She was 87 at the time. 

As we get older there’s a strong temptation to retire from the job of healing the world. I didn’t even get to know Zoia Horn until she was well past the age when many have given up, settled into an easy life of conflict avoidance without regard to what they’re leaving for the next generation. With her example before us, it’s hard to claim that it really doesn’t matter what we do, just because we’ve gotten older and are feeling a bit tired. 

There’s always work that needs doing. 

We should all hope to get old, considering the alternative, but we should also hope never to get too tired to speak up against injustice wherever and whenever it’s to be found. 

Here are a few examples of how Zoia did it: 

Commentary: Outcry at Library Meeting Justified by Substantial Issues  

Commentary: Sunshine is the Best Antidote for Bigotry 

Commentary: Oakland Measure Will Not Aid Libraries 


The Editor's Back Fence

Follow the Money in West Berkeley Development

Friday July 18, 2014 - 10:53:00 AM

After last week’s story on the planned demolition of the Grocery Outlet store in West Berkeley, a reader forwarded the 2012 California Form 460 campaign expenditure reports filed by the “Coalition for a Sustainable West Berkeley for Measure 'T'”, the front organization for property owners trying to overturn the citizen-created West Berkeley Plan. It turns out that Read family members, who own the property where Grocery Outlet is located and hope to replace it with an apartment building, were the major contributors to that campaign, which was ultimately defeated by Berkeley voters. A grand total of $7,500, which is big money in a Berkeley initiative election, was attributed to Reads: $2,500 from Read Real Estate LLC and $5, 000 from Peter Read, Owner, Read Investments. The family seems to have been tired of the low-end grocery trade and ready to shift into presumably more lucrative property development for a while now. For Berkeley, that means the loss not only of affordable groceries but also of union jobs and sales tax revenue.


Odd Bodkins: Their Only Friend (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday July 19, 2014 - 02:51:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

What We Can Do for the Children at Our Borders

Carol Polsgrove
Monday July 21, 2014 - 01:53:00 PM

Anyone who imagines that U.S. policy in Central America has nothing to do with the flood of unaccompanied minors on our doorstep hasn’t been keeping up. Given that responsibility, what can we the people do?

As a start, we can summon up the political muscle to beat back those who would have Central American children stepping onto the fast track along with unaccompanied Mexican and Canadian children, who, under current law, can be sent home quickly without even seeing a lawyer or judge. 

While Democrats have for the most part lined up with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to oppose such changes, Republicans in Congress (and one Democrat) have introduced bills that would amend the 2008 law that protects these children’s right to a day in court. 

Meanwhile, the President does need more funds to process these children’s cases under existing law. 

Both topics may come to the floor of Congress this week, according to a July 21 report in The Hill

The American Friends Service Committee makes it easy to contact our members of Congress and ask them to hold that protective line and provide funds for protecting the children’s wellbeing and legal rights: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50601/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14383

Anyone who belongs to a faith community, social justice group, rights group, peace group, professional group, or any other group that might be bestirring itself to action can seek out or initiate other avenues for action. 

While we cannot undo overnight all the damage inflicted on Central America over the years, we can act now to protect these children from being returned to danger without the due process granted by law. 

New: Gaza Superimposed on the San Francisco Bay Area

Alice Diane Kisch
Sunday July 20, 2014 - 12:52:00 AM

The red area of the map below represents the Gaza strip, home to 1.8 million people. Because of the Israel-imposed blockade of Gaza which was begun in 2007, Gazans are not permitted to leave Gaza except under rare and special circumstances. Although sustainable fishing practice requires a fishing area that extends at least 30 miles from shore, Israel permits the fishers of Gaza to fish only within three nautical miles of the coast. Gaza has intermittent electricity and not enough food; most Gazans suffer from malnutrition. Building supplies are generally not permitted. As of January 1, 2014 unemployment in Gaza was at 38.5%. 

And now this. 

One wonders how many holocausts the world will allow, and with what frequency, 


This is a map of what the Gaza strip would look like if placed directly on top The Bay  Area. The Gaza strip is the red zone. It's really sobering to realize how small the Gaza strip really is, and gives an understanding of the borders that the people who live there have to follow. </p><p>May Allāh grant ease to all the oppressed around the world, including those unjustly incarcerated right here at home.  



Press Release: Urgent Action Needed: Stop the Killing, Stop the Escalation, Stop Fueling Conflict in the Middle East

Kevin Martin Executive Director Peace Action
Friday July 18, 2014 - 11:09:00 AM

(Because this went out late Thursday afternoon, just as we learned Israel had begun a ground invasion of Gaza, many of you may have called but were unable to get through. Please call the White House today, between 9am and 5pm eastern time, at the number provided in this message.)

Peace Action has long worked for peace, disarmament and addressing the root causes of war and violence. As we know from experience, far too often U.S. military aid and weapons transfers to undemocratic and human rights abusing governments, or to one or more sides engaged in violent conflict, fuels that very conflict, rather than providing defense, security or stability.

U.S. taxpayers fund over $3 billion in military aid to Israel annually, enabling continuation of the illegal occupation of Palestine and armed conflict with the Palestinians, as we see now, once again, in the awful violence in Gaza. Peace Action advocates nonviolent solutions to conflict, and as such calls for a ceasefire by Israel and Hamas to end the current conflict. Additionally, the U.S should suspend transfers of weapons, crowd control devices, and military training to Israel in response to Israel's human rights abuses of Palestinians in order to help end what The Washington Post called a “deeply asymmetrical conflict.” 

We also agree with Amnesty International’s call for “…the UN to immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups with the aim of preventing further serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by the parties to the conflict. Pending such an embargo, all states must immediately suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to the parties, which have failed to properly investigate violations committed in previous conflicts or bring those responsible to justice.” 

Please take action for peace in Palestine and Israel. Call the White House comment line at 202.456.1111 and demand a ceasefire and suspension of U.S. weapons and military aid to Israel. 

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

New: Thurmond Leads in Poll

Tree Fitzpatrick
Tuesday July 22, 2014 - 08:06:00 PM

A new poll conducted by Oakland-based EMC Research shows the Tony Thurmond campaign in the lead for the State Assembly district that includes Berkeley but goes way up north into Contra Costa County. 

According to the poll, which surveyed 402 likely voters from June 25 to June 29, Tony Thurmond has a narrow lead over our opponent: 26% to 25%. 

With 49% of voters undecided, Tony Thurmond's campaign has a lot of work to do to win this campaign, but these results are encouraging. 

This poll suggests that the people of this very diverse district want serious representation in Sacramento, by a leader who can get results on important issues like education and the economy. This district expands far beyond Berkeley and a Berkeley machine candidate should not represent the district. Folks in Richmond, Contra Costa County, North Oakland and even in Berkeley need diverse. 

Tony Thurmond is the only candidate with legislative experience and a proven track record of doing real, solutions-focused work in all communities in the 15th District. George Miller, a former and much-beloved Congressional representative of this area, has endorsed Tony Thurmond. Other politicians supporting Tony Thurmond include Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsome, Kriss Worthington. He got a teacher’s union endorsement, a nurse association endorsement. He doesn’t have the backing of the Berkeley political machine, which is one of the strongest things in his favor for me. 

The writer of this piece is a Tony Thurmond supporter.

New: Berkeley Minimum Wage Victory— and Beyond

Harry Brill
Saturday July 19, 2014 - 01:53:00 PM

On Monday, July 14, the East Bay Tax the Rich group had a well attended celebration for achieving along with many other organizations and activist individuals a minimum wage ordinance for workers employed in Berkeley. Although it was initially opposed by a majority on the Berkeley City Council, it was finally enacted by a unanimous vote. This victory demonstrates what many of us already know, which is the enormous advantage of mass, militant organizing.

At least 8500 low wage employees who work in Berkeley will enjoy a better standard of living. They will receive a minimum of $10 an hour beginning in October of this year. Their income will then increase the following year to $11 an hour, and in 2016 their earnings will rise to $12.53 an hour.

Let us take a look at what this means to these workers. A waitress who works 30 hours a week at a very popular Berkeley restaurant told me that she is earning $8 an hour. The 25 percent wage hike to $10 an hour will yield her an additional income of $3000 for the year. In 2016, when her wages increase to $12.53, her weekly income will increase by $135.90. Her annual income will climb to about $6,700 more. 

Although we are all proud of the victory, we are certainly not satisfied. Now that we won the first round, we will shortly prepare for the next one. Working people deserve even higher wages and an annual cost of living adjustment. They are also entitled to a paid vacation. Especially important, they must obtain paid sick leave. This is not just a labor issue. It is also a public health issue. Too many people who eat out are subjected to the risks of contracting serious infectious diseases because sick employees cannot afford to miss work. Co-workers of sick employees in any industry are also at risk for the same reason. 

But we also know that good laws are not enough. Workers have to be informed, and of course the law must be enforced. So we have organized what we call a COURIER OF JOY CAMPAIGN. The reason for this phrase is that we have been very impressed so far with how elated many workers become when they learn about the good news. We are asking people to drop by workplaces and anywhere else that low wage Berkeley workers gather to hand out leaflets detailing the wage increases. We also intend to keep a watchful eye on the City’s Department of Finance or any other department that is responsible for its enforcement. 

We have no intention of submitting to a culture of low expectations.

Press Release: Stop the Sirens in Israel: Emergency Solidarity Gathering in San Francisco

From Elka Looks (JCRC), Ilan Kayatsky (the Federation)
Friday July 18, 2014 - 09:56:00 AM

San Francisco, CA – On Sunday, July 20, at 4:00pm, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and the Board of Rabbis of Northern California will hold an Emergency Solidary Gathering to Stop the Sirens in Israel and end the latest cycle of violence in the Middle East. As Israel continues to face incessant rocket fire from Gaza, and Hamas rejects Israel’s offers of a ceasefire, we call on our community to come together for a mass gathering to stand with the people of Israel during this difficult time. The event will feature the Israeli Consul General, elected officials, community leaders, interfaith leaders, and music. It is ecumenical and open to the public. 

WHAT: Emergency Solidarity Gathering for Israel  

WHERE: Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street, San Francisco 

WHEN: Sunday, July 20, 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM  


Dr. Andy David, Consul General of Israel 

Jared Huffman, Member of Congress 

Scott Wiener, SF Supervisor 

Malia Cohen, SF Supervisor 

Jewish Community Relations Council 

Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund  

Northern California Board of Rabbis 

Other Elected Officials, Other Community Leaders

El Wafa Hospital Destroyed. Barbara Lee's support for weapons to Israel

Jim Harris
Friday July 18, 2014 - 09:46:00 AM

Groups of internationals have been staying at [El Wafa Hospital in Gaza] for days, as Israel has been warning it will be targeted. Just in the last few hours, reports are that it has been destroyed, or at least heavily damaged. At least some patients were evacuated. As Doctor’s Hospital in Richmond is fighting for its existence, money for Israel pours in from the US congress to fund the bombs and bullets to continue the carnage.

Which brings me to this local angle… Barbara Lee is on record as supporting the funding the weapons for this slaughter, or at least to the Israeli military in general, and has limited her response to the escalation to a weak press release of “concerns”. (below). Not what we should expect for a “renegade for peace and justice”. A petition has been initiated:


From Barbara Lee: 


Washington, DC - In response to the violence in Israel and Gaza, Congresswoman Barbara Lee released this statement: 

“I am gravely concerned about the current violence and loss of life in Israel and Gaza; this horrific violence does nothing to enhance the security of Israelis or Palestinians. Only a diplomatic solution can ensure lasting security,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “We need strong diplomatic intervention by the US and regional partners to help establish an immediate ceasefire that allows for the negotiations of a permanent and peaceful settlement.” 

A much better statement came from former congressperson Dennis Kucinich. 

From Dennis Kucinich: 

One of the few regrets I have in not being a member of the 113th US Congress is that I was not present in the House chambers to oppose H.Res.657, which passed by a voice vote, supporting Israel without mentioning the Palestinians.

Congress missed a huge opportunity to stand for peace in the Middle East, recognizing and backing Israel under attack by Hamas, while ignoring issues of illegal settlement building, the desperate conditions inside Gaza, the Israeli government’s subversion of Palestinian unity and the insufficiency of the Cairo initiative which amounted to non-negotiable demands.

No one should condone Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel, and any and all casualties as a result. But where is the US government’s voice when it comes to the war being waged against Gaza, where over 80% of hundreds of casualties are innocent civilian non-combatants?

How can we expect the Palestinians to become partners for peace if the US Congress refuses to even recognize their existence? If this raging conflict is to be brought to a conclusion there must be recognition of Palestinian existence as well as Israel’s right to exist. Now, more than ever, those who would be party to peace talks must be prepared to recognize the concerns of both.

Dennis Kucinich

Berkeley's Revenue Problem

Thomas Lord
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 01:02:00 PM

Berkeley faces a serious fiscal crisis. Years of deferred maintenance and postponed improvement have left Berkeley with a massive infrastructure deficit. The state-level looting of the CalPERS pension fund, compounded by the financial fraud crisis of 2008, has saddled Berkeley with an overwhelming, unfunded retirement benefits liability.

All nine members of the City Council and every attentive resident of Berkeley with a lick of sense knows these problems.

The only possible saving grace is that this fiscal crisis will unfold somewhat slowly, only as the bills come immediately due. Berkeley has some time to try to work its way out of the problems.

In the short term our fiscal problems will be partially addressed by further reductions in service and payroll. If the city is to remain solvent this appears to be the only choice. In other words: if the public facilities and services have seemed to grow a little shabby around the edges over the past decade, know that they are going to become worse. 

Cuts alone can't solve the big problems, though, and neither can raising taxes. Berkeley must find ways to grow its revenues. 

There is a very clear strategic issue at stake here that isn't coming across clearly enough in the news and public debate. What is the best way to grow revenue? 

Is the best course to encourage land speculation to collect windfalls of transfer taxes and development fees? This seems to be a strategy favored by the council majority faction. 

On the other hand, is the right direction to try to grow taxable business incomes? 

Can the city do both? 

The two biggest sources of general fund revenue for the city are property-related taxes and fees on the one hand; sales taxes and business license fees on the other. 

The council majority is strongly aligned with groups that reflect the interests of major commercial land owners. And this is where a kind of strategic distinction should be drawn because the council majority is apparently going all in trying to temporarily boost transfer taxes and development-related fees to kick the budget problems down the road. 

The opposing strategy is one that emphasizes the *other* major revenue source: sales taxes and business fees. 

It comes down to a difference about what kind of economic activity to aim for and encourage. The council majority want to encourage flipping and speculative development of expensive land. The counterpoint strategy is to encourage and invest in expanding Berkeley's business income. Do we make a priority of growing transfer taxes for a few years? Or growing business license fees and sales taxes for many years? 

It's a difference between asking for private investment in property and asking for private investment in people and a healthy economy. 

The development side tries to say that development *is* how to grow business income. They say "Let's do both and the way to to do both is to build. Through development and land speculation, business incomes will later grow." 

Yet, look around town. Look at the commercial vacancies. Look at the failed projects. Look at the anemic retail sector. 

The strategy of "if you build it they will come" is a palpable failure. Not only is it leading to dubious changes to the built environment but the land speculation they are encouraging is *crushing* Berkeley business income with outrageous rents 

Thirteen years ago when the current General Plan was adopted with broad participation, the people of Berkeley saw this coming. Looking back at the then recent experience of the 1990s boom times they saw that rapid inflation in the price of urban land threatened to devastate the economy of Berkeley, it's neighborhoods, its communities, and its strong arts culture. 

With that in mind they tried to orient the city to be cautious about development and to leverage development pressures to protect and enhance the Berkeley economy, not bury it in high rents. They emphasized economic development meaning expansion of jobs, expansion of opportunities to create new businesses, and expansion of business incomes. 

Thirteen years ago the wise citizens of Berkeley even recognized that a thriving industrial sector was vital not only for jobs, but so that exports not household incomes could pay for more of the city's operations. 

In the thirteen years since the plan went into effect the land-owner factions have held power. They've done the opposite. They twisted the plan around, paying only lip service at best to economic development and are doing everything in their power remove all barriers to development projects -- to encourage land speculation. 

Having neglected infrastructure, the expansion of Cal, and the looting of Calpers this land-owner faction now wants to double down on destructive patterns of development to temporarily paper over their neglect with a few one-time transfer and development fees. Maybe squeeze just a little more property tax out of the city. 

It's time for progressives to articulate a platform that isn't anti-development but that is pro-business and above all pro-people. It's the economy, stupid, and fantasies that a few more hotel rooms and a handful of micro-apartments will somehow turn Berkeley around are short-sighted, naive, and cynical.

How Homelessness Happens – Under Your Nose

Carol Denney
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 12:49:00 PM

Patrick Kennedy’s at it again.

The guy who managed to convince this supposedly green community to build ugly, only-a-student-could-stand-it condos and apartments on toxic former gas station sites wants to up the ante on one of Berkeley’s neighborhoods that suffers the most – southside of campus.

Instead of creating functional, affordable housing, which is not rocket science, these dorm-style revolving-tenancy nightmares are developers’ efforts to capitalize on the housing crisis because a few units are purported to be “affordable” according to Patrick Kennedy: 50% of the median income.

Even if you’re willing to dance with the semantics, this means 59 of the 65 proposed units will be “unaffordable”, in other words highly profitable. It goes without saying that in a deliberately created housing crisis people will, in fact, double and triple-up in absurdly small, window-free units for the duration of their undergraduate or graduate student tenure. Take a look at the horror that is now the town of Isla Vista near the UC Santa Barbara campus for the full view of what happens to a community when ripping off students becomes the dance of the day.

The median income, a number wildly skewed by a techie millionaire or two, is $72,000, half of which is $35,000. If you do the math, this will still leave a minimum wage worker $11,000 short of being able to pay rent alone in one of these units, let alone any other living expense. 

$35,000 a year may look like a low salary to the $200,000 set, but I have news for the planning department, the city council, and anybody who doesn’t object to such proposals. People who are making $35,000 a year are not homeless. 

Absolutely no more square footage in this extremely dense town should be squandered on any proposal that makes no effort to address the housing crisis. Patrick Kennedy’s proposal is absurd for other reasons – the windows-free bedrooms, the annihilation of the nationally renowned Center for Independent Living building, the destruction of any privacy for nearby homes’ backyards, etc. 

But if we’re going to sacrifice the views as well as the atmosphere of an entire neighborhood, compound the current parking insanity, force students to live like dogs in a kennel, let’s at least get some honestly affordable housing out of it. 

For the details: 

Berkeley neighbors question parking, height of student-oriented housing planned on Telegraph

New: Civilians Are Suffering in Gaza

Lea Gabay
Saturday July 19, 2014 - 10:02:00 AM

I am writing in regards to a recent piece in this publication about Israel's bombing and invasion of Gaza. 

According to the United Nations, of the dead, at least 260(approximately 77%) have been civilians, including 44 children and 29 women. At least 25,000 children traumatized by the death or injury of a family member, or loss of a home, require specialized psychosocial (PSS) support. Israel's attacks against Palestinians in Gaza are not narrowly targeted against military targets, but are having devastating impacts on civilians. 

US citizens and the world need to know about these atrocities and demand an end to this ongoing violence against civilians.



By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 11:35:00 AM

This month is the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed July 26, 1990. Not only a landmark in removing barriers and increasing autonomy for people with disabilities, it is one of the nation’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. The ADA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The death-with-dignity movement represents the latest civil rights struggle. All people deserve full autonomy in living and in dying.  


Chronic pain has special meaning for seniors, elders and old people. Dictionary definitions associate chronic with something of long duration or continuing, or as an example of frequent recurrence, chronic colitis.  

The new, second edition of Mayo Clinic Guide to Pain Relief is a glossy tome that e-x-p-l-a-i-n-s pain. It is based on the take-charge approach to managing chronic pain practiced at Mayo’s Comprehensive Pain Rehabilitation Center. The publisher, Mayo Clinic, continues: “thorough, easy-to-read information about the same solutions that are offered the Clinic’s patients, the latest advances for treating arthritis, migraines, low back pain, fibromyalgia, and painful illness and injury. Mayo doctors know how pain interferes with sleep, work, social life, and simple daily life.” Barbara K. Bruce, Ph.D. and Tracy E. Harrison, M.D. are the Guide’s “Medical Editors.” Their compilation consists of three parts: understanding, treating, and managing chronic pain.  

There is no particular reference to or consideration of senior citizens, aged persons, or the relationship of pain to aging. Much as in life, family and friends are incessantly referenced. Some of Mayo Clinic’s other volumes deal more specifically with health concerns directly related to aging and old people, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and high blood pressure.  

To control pain, one needs to understand how it develops. Part 1 discusses the anatomy of pain — the parts of the body involved in the development of pain — and why some people respond to pain differently than do others. Part 2 explains options for treating pain… the various drugs used to treat pain, why some medications are more effective for certain types of pain, potential side effects, other types of available treatments, e.g. pain-site injections, nerve stimulators and medication pumps as well as alternative and complementary therapies. Managing chronic pain, part 3, is a self-care section describing steps one can take independently.  

Mayo Clinic is the first and largest integrated nonprofit medical group practice in the world. a nonprofit medical practice and medical research group in Rochester, Minnesota. It specializes in treating difficult cases through integrated, tertiary care. Tertiary care is defined by Johns Hopkins as specialized consultative care, usually on referral from primary or secondary medical personnel, by specialists working in a center that has personnel and facilities for special investigation and treatment. Secondary medical care is provided by a physician who acts as a consultant at the request of the primary physician

Mayo Clinic is located in Rochester, Minnesota. It has been near the top of the U.S. News & World Report List of Best Hospitals for 20+ years and on the list of America's 100 Best Companies to Work For published by Fortune magazine for 8. 

The July/August/September 2014 issue of Senior Update, “the eyes and ears of Alameda County Seniors,” carries an article by Moshe Lewis, MD, MH, MBA titled “Recent advances in pain management.” Dr. Lewis focuses on new advances in non-invasive treatment. To subscribe to Senior Update – it’s free -- , phone 1 800 510 2020. 


Ranking America’s Fifty States; A Comparison in Graphic Detail considers numerous aspects of Americans’ lives. (Berman Press, 2013) Here are some of author Michael D. Dulberger’s findings that are California- and age-related: 

  • One third of the U.S. population lives in 4 states: #1 California, with 32.6% of the U.S. population. The others are New York, Texas and Florida.
  • Americans’ median age in 2010 was 37.2 nationally. California 35.2; Utah the youngest median 29.2; Maine the oldest 42.7.
  • Life expectancy at birth: males 76 years, females 80.9.
  • Suicide rate in 2007: 11.3 per 100,000 residents nationally. California 9.8; New Jersey the lowest 6.7; Alaska the highest 22.1. [See also "Baby boomers have the highest rate of suicide," by Rick Montgomery (Kansas City [Missouri] Star, July 6, 2014).)
  • Medicaid recipients in 2009: 20% of population nationally.
  • Age-adjusted cancer death rate in 2009: 173.2 deaths per 100,000 persons nationally. California 159.1. Lowest, Utah 120.6; highest West Virginia 208.2.

On Sunday, July 20, 2014 from 2-4 P.M., the Berkeley Historical Society will present From DNA to Genetic Genealogy: Everything You Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask. 

Steve Morse will discuss genes, chromosomes and DNA, and then show how DNA is inherited. “That knowledge can be used for finding relatives you didn’t know you had, learning about your very distant ancestors and the routes they traveled, and possibly determining if you are a Jewish high priest (Kohan). 

Examples presented will include Genghis Khan’s legacy, the Thomas Jefferson affair, and the Anastasia mystery.”  

See www.BerkeleyHistoricalSociety.org

The Berkeley Historical Society and Berkeley History Center are at 1931 Center Street, Berkeley, CA in the Veterans Memorial building.  


“As A Husband Becomes Caregiver To His Wife, A Marriage Evolves," by Julia Mitric (US National Public Radio. All Things Considered, July. 4, 2014) is about one of the 15 million Americans caring for a family member with dementia is described. A spouse often becomes the round-the-clock caregiver. This husband’s goal is to keep his wife at home for as long as possible. He is confident he can handle the many physical demands of caregiving. It is the social isolation that that is brutal for him. He says their social life as a couple evaporated when his wife’s dementia accelerated. 

From another, quite different perspective, a “Husband's health and attitude loom large for happy long-term marriages," by Jann Ingmire (University of Chicago [Illinois] news release via Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], March 12, 2014). 


JAPAN NEWS: "Early onset dementia poses special problems," by Tomohiro Osaki (Japan Times [Tokyo], July 4, 2014). 

"Assistance for vulnerable elderly on the rise," by Mami Maruko (Japan Times [Tokyo], July 5, 2014). 

NEW ZEALAND NEWS: "Euthanasia legitimate up to a point, says (Prime Minister John) Key," by Simon Collins (New Zealand Herald [Auckland], July 6, 2014). 

"ISO (In search of) Romance: Dating Sites Help Older Singles," by Ina Jaffe (US National Public Radio All Things Considered, Feb. 25, 2014).  

"More Baby Boomers Divorcing And That Means More Dating," by Jim Shea (Hartford [Connecticut] Courant, April 23, 2014). 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Factors That Govern a Good Outcome

Jack Bragen
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 11:33:00 AM

The main concerns that govern how well someone with mental illness will do, include, but are not limited to, treatment, housing, relationships and employment. 

Good housing is a major concern of someone whose mental illness is disabling to the extent that it affects work. If someone does not have or can not maintain skilled, full-time employment, it is very difficult to obtain decent housing. For good housing, money is usually required. It determines whether or not someone is living in safety and comfort, versus someone who must live in life threatening circumstances and slum-like conditions. There also exists the "board and care" option in which a person with mental illness lives in shared housing without any privacy to speak of, and with very few personal belongings. However not all persons with mental illness require supervised housing. 

The number of affordable housing units in the Bay Area is dwindling. It is becoming harder and harder to find a place, even if you have a section 8 certificate in good standing. Thus, even those of us who do not require supervision at all times, and are capable of supervising ourselves, can find it very hard to locate an affordable unit. 

Housing can make the difference between a mentally ill person struggling to survive plus being continually re-traumatized, versus making continued progress in recovery. The threat of violence is a form of violence. Thus, if you are being threatened, then in effect you are being assaulted. 

One's housing should be a source of comfort, a source of pride, and a refuge where one can retreat when realities are a bit harsh. It should not be a source of stress, a source of terror, or a source of uncertainty. 

Treatment of one's illness is more important than housing, but not by a big margin. If the condition is not being treated, then you don't have a usable mind. Without a usable mind you can not accomplish anything. The realization that you need treatment comes not when one is forced into treatment, but rather when a person understands the cause and effect relationship of medication used to treat mental illness. With force comes resentment. And it prevents the learning curve from taking shape in which someone with mental illness eventually learns from his or her mistakes. 

Treatment, on the other hand, is what brings some amount of clarity. Thus, when fully psychotic, manic or depressed, the learning mechanism is not intact. 

It would be simplistic of me to say forcing medication on someone is never necessary. And it would also be simplistic to say there is no factual basis for modern psychiatry. Mental illnesses are complex diseases that bring forth complex issues. At any given time, someone will be displeased with how things are. 

On the other hand, the basic human dignity and human rights of people with mental illnesses are oft trampled upon by overzealous treatment practitioners or by bad police practices. Thus, when bringing treatment to a person with mental illness against their express wishes or otherwise, the how of what gets done is as important as what gets done. 

Mental health treatment practitioners and police who deal with mentally ill people must be accountable. As it stands now, they are in fact getting away with murder some of the time. This happens to people who are mishandled in the name of cleaning up a nuisance on the streets. It happens when lethal force is used by a police officer when it is not needed. It happens to people who are put into restraints and it triggers asphyxiation, heart attack or stroke. It happens when people die young of the metabolic side-effects of medication. 

Notwithstanding all of this, treatment is a basic necessity for someone with mental illness. 

The importance of relationships is right up there with that of housing and treatment. I am not referring to romantic partnerships, but to anything in which there is an emotional bond. Thus, members of one's immediate family play an extremely important role in the recovery of someone with mental illness. Relationships with family or with someone you call a friend, can some of the time prevent suicide—that's the magnitude of their importance. Relationships allow someone to connect with the rest of the world, and not live in an isolated, pseudo reality. 

When I listed employment, it is used very loosely. For purposes of this article, "employment" refers to any meaningful or gainful activity performed on a regular basis. This can include volunteer work, it could include painting pictures or sculpting, it could include babysitting or raising offspring. The point is that you are doing something more with your life than the bare minimum. And doing that creates hope and a positive outlook. Yet, my suggestion of "employment" is optional and need not be used as a standard against which to judge yourself as insufficient. 

What I haven't mentioned above is that you should consider yourself a good person, worthy of self-respect, no matter what anyone says and regardless of what you have or have not accomplished.

Arts & Events

REVIEW: Napa Valley’s Festival del Sole: Not Primarily about the Music

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday July 17, 2014 - 01:14:00 PM

Established ten years ago, Napa Valley’s Festival del Sole advertises itself as a celebration of music, food and wine. I suggest that the elements should be reversed. The emphasis should be on the wine. Rivers of wine flow throughout Festival del Sole’s ten days of events every July. This is only natural, for Napa Valley is now an industry based on wine. During the Festival, food is often served alongside the wine, but the wine clearly takes precedence. Music is added to help create an ambience of high art and good living. All this, of course, takes money, lots of money. What Festival del Sole is really about, if you scratch below the surface glitter, is money. To become a VIP Patron entitled to attend all events in the 2014 Festival del Sole will set you back a mere $8,500. For a slightly lower amount you can be an Allegro Patron and attend most of the events. Of course, no one could possibly attend all or even most of the Festival’s offerings, for aside from the damage done to one’s constitution by so much wine guzzling, many events are held concurrently with others.  

This year’s Festival del Sole featured an Opening Night concert, on Friday, July 11, by internationally famous violinist Joshua Bell at the Castello di Amorosa. For those who have never visited the Castello di Amorosa, let me explain that this is an authentically designed medieval Tuscan castle built largely by Italian artisans under the guidance of local wine mogul Dario Sattui, who wished to build a tribute to his Italian heritage. Rising like an apparition from medieval Tuscany, Castello di Amorosa is situated on a hill on the west side of Route 29 just south of Calistoga. It is a site not to be missed for anyone loving Napa Valley’s wineries. 

The Opening Night concert at Castello di Amoroasa was supposed to begin at 6:00 PM. However, a van delivering the musicians of the Sphinx Virtuosi, scheduled to accompany Joshua Bell, was involved in an accident on Route 29, injuring no one but disabling the vehicle. A re-placement van had to be dispatched to ferry the musicians to Castello di Amorosa. Meanwhile, those of us awaiting the beginning of the concert were pleasurably plied with wine and hors d’oeuvres. Even here, however, money distinctions were noticeable. VIP Patrons sipped their Reserve wines and munched elaborate hors d’oeuvres atop the battlements of the Castello di Amorosa, with views out over the vineyards; while Allegro Patrons sipped less costly but still excellent wines and munched on slightly less elaborate hors d’oeuvres in the Great Hall of the castle.  

Incidentally, while awaiting the arrival of the musicians, I had an opportunity to talk at some length with Dario Sattui., the founding genius behind Castello di Amorosa. After offering my deep appreciation for how authentic his Castello di Amorosa indisputedly is, we somehow got to sharing how formative for each of us were our decisions, in our early 20s, to live and work abroad. At age 21, I entered the Peace Corps and spent two wonderful years teaching high school in Malawi, in East Africa. Dario, having grown up in Marin County, left for Europe after college and spent two years in Finland and Sweden. We both reminisced on how important it was for each of us to look at life from outside our own country’s perspective. 

Eventually, the musicians arrived, and in the open air courtyard of the Castello di Amorosa the concert began. As a surprise tribute to Festival del Sole benefactors Athena and Timothy Blackburn, (whose gift to the Festival del Sole was listed in the rarified category of “$150,000 and above”), a male dancer, Temur Suluashvili, and a female dancer, Victoria Jaiani, from the Joffrey Company performed a beautiful pas de deux from the ballet Spartacus. Then Joshua Bell and the Sphinx Virtuousi came onstage to play Antonio Vivaldi’s baroque chestnut I Quattro Stagioni/The Four Seasons.  

So popular has this work become in the last two centuries that we often fail to realize that Vivaldi, whose career was spent largely in Venice, died in poverty in Vienna in 1741, and that his enormous output of musical compositions fell into neglect until 19th century scholarship revived interest in Vivaldi’s music. Likewise, few realize how important were the innovations Vivaldi wrought in the concerto form. Abandoning the slow introductory movements favored by his predecessors Arcangelo Corelli and Giuseppe Torelli, Vivaldi began his concertos with lively allegro movements, typically followed by a slower second movement and another faster one. Indeed, all four of Vivaldi’s concertos comprising The Four Seasons follow this format. There are other innovations introduced by Vivaldi, especially regarding key modulation, but I won’t go into them here, except to note that Vivaldi explicitly wrote out a programmatic schema for The Four Seasons, offering verses illustrating different aspects of life that one experienced in each of the four seasons, as exemplified in his music.  

As principal soloist in The Four Seasons, Joshua Bell demonstrated his brilliant virtuosity and vibrant tone on violin, in his case, on a 1713 Stradivarius. However, with a larger group of musicians behind him than are usually found on performances of The Four Seasons, (although thankfully without the harpsichord or chamber organ one hears on some recordings), I found details glossed over in this performance. With 18 string players performing behind Joshua Bell, in La Primavera/Spring, I could not distinguish whether I heard a dog barking or the rumble of distant thunder. In L’Estate/Summer, while the call of the cuckoo was heard, the bird-songs of the turtledove and goldfinch passed by in a blur. Even the angry swarms of mosche e mosconi/gnats and flies were barely noticeable in the heavy string sonority. Likewise, I failed to register with the usual acuity the sound of raindrops plopping on the ground in the middle movement of L’Inverno/Winter. Maybe this lack of details should just be attributed to the amount of wine imbibed while waiting for the late onset of the concert. Nonetheless, they proved mildly disconcerting; and they emphasized to me yet again that, for whatever reasons, Festival del Sole is not primarily about the music, but about the wine. Following the concert, VIP Patrons trooped off to the Castello di Amorosa’s Barrell Room for a lavish dinner, while I made the drive back to Berkeley. 

On Saturday, July 12, I drove back up to Napa for the Festival del Sole’s event called A Taste of Napa, held partly indoors in a pavilion on First Street in Napa, and partly outdoors on a terrace reached by sliding doors. This event seems to be the one Festival offering geared to the masses. For the price of an entry ticket, (which seemed to cost Allegro Patrons $99, though try as I might I never could find out for sure what the basic price was), the masses could circulate among tables offering food and wine supplied by some 70 wineries, restaurants, breweries and caterers. Wineries outnumbered all other suppliers by something like ten to one. Where the masses are concerned, I have to wonder who they are. Even the pair of sunglasses someone left behind were no ordinary sunglasses. They were by Prada. Do Napa Valley’s masses wear Prada? 

Later on Saturday afternoon I made it to the Lincoln Theatre in Yountville to hear a concert featuring Pinchas Zukerman playing the Bruch Violin Concerto with the Sphinx Orchestra led by Mexican female conductor Alondra de la Parra. Never having been to the Lincoln Theatre before, I searched in vain in the Festival program for directions to the theatre. Oh well, I thought, Yountville is so small I can’t miss it. Driving up and down Yountville’s Main Street several times, I never found a sign pointing me to the Lincoln Theatre. So I stopped and asked a pedestrian. “Oh. It’s over on the west side of Route 29,” he answered. So I dutifully tried to cross Route 29, which, due to the heavy traffic, took me almost ten minutes. Then when I eventually found the Lincoln Theatre, I couldn’t find a parking spot. This cost me another ten minutes. By the time I entered the theatre, tenor James Valenti had sung all his opera arias, and Pinchas Zukerman had just begun playing the Bruch Violin Concerto. Approaching his 75th birthday, which will be celebrated on Wednesday, July 16, Zukerman has lost none of his exceptional technique and vibrant tone. He gave a glowing account of this major work of the violin concerto repertoire. After intermission, Alondra de la Parra led the Sphinx Orchestra in Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G-Major. There is a pastoral air about this symphony, which is replete with Dvorak’s beloved birdcalls. In the controversial third movement, Dvorak surprises us with a very Slavonic waltz disguised as a scherzo, which, by the movement’s end, has become a Czech folk dance. The fourth and final movement, introduced by horns, is a call to the dance; and here a recurring theme from the first movement is given robust treatment in a rousing conclusion. 

(Part 2 on Festival del Sole will follow later.)