Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Warmth of Other Suns - by Isabel Wilkerson - Well Worth Reading

Isabel Wilkerson's 2010 book:  The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration is well worth reading for white people (as well as Afro-Americans and others) who are concerned about race and racism in the United States.   It is a beautifully written book.  Though it is not short, it is easily readable.  It takes one into the stories of three Black people who migrated in different decades from different locations north and west from the South.

This book tells so much of our history in a warm, loving way that confronts bigotry and racism, telling moving stories as well as adding historical context and much information.   Whether one agrees or disagrees with every premise of the author doesn't matter.  The individual stories teach  important lessons that may affect individual readers differently.   The messages seemed much broader and deeper than the stories alone.  

While this book obviously reached an important spot within my psyche, I suspect that others with interest in its topic will also find it fascinating.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Murder of Trayvon Martin

Having had several days to read, listen and reflect, I’m feeling various sad and angry emotions regarding George Zimmerman’s acquittal from charges concerning what I would clearly call: “The Murder of Trayvon Martin”.   It is painful to realize that under particular circumstances, all of my immediate family could still today be targeted and even killed because they are African-American.   It feels horrible to realize that people who otherwise might be decent people either make the (tragic) victim into a villain or are barely, if at all, affected by the injustice that has occurred.

When we don’t deal with issues like racism in deeply significant, painful ways amongst ourselves, particularly when we are White Americans, we help continue the festering wounds of racism.   We should not be surprised, though we should be shocked, at what has happened.

I, naively hope that this incident will, in the end, help bring about some important positive change.   My cynicism returns however telling me that we said the same thing about handguns after the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings not that long ago.   

I hope, against hope that things will get better!   I appreciate and greatly respect the many wonderful people who are speaking out positively and in loving ways, as well as speaking of their anger, frustration and pain at this injustice.

Thank You!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bobby Blue Bland - Fond Memories

I was saddened to learn today of the death of Bobby Blue Bland who died two days ago at the age of 83.   For many years I've loved rhythm and blues bands which featured a (male generally) vocalist with at least several horn players playing their band arrangements backing up the featured performer.   Though I never saw Bland in his prime when his band played primarily to predominately Black audiences in a generally segregated era, it was always wonderful to hear him appreciated in the various venues I saw him play at.  

In 2011 he played a wonderful show I was lucky to be able to attend at the New Orleans Heritage Jazz Festival.   (When I'd last seen him before then, his voice had seemed to be going, and it was great to hear him sing powerfully there.)

(I think also in 2011) I greatly enjoyed going with my son and his partner to the site of the former South Shore Country Club (now a city owned outdoor space) in Chicago to see him perform for a small, but spirited audience (mostly Black) outdoors.   It felt especially good to see the two of them comfortable in that setting hearing music that meant so much to me.

Thankfully the music will live on!   Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Now That I'm 62 Years Old

Now I'm 62 years old.   Saying that makes me feel "old".

In late 1973, over 39 years ago, I began working as a claims representative for The Social Security Administration.   One needed to be 62 years old (,along with other requirements,) to collect Social Security Retirement Benefits.    Though I've been retired from my paid employment for over six years, "62" still resonates with me in a way that feels a little uncomfortable, like I'm "aging".

It also feels good to be my age.   I'm learning to relax and enjoy many moments that would have passed me by, ignored in my franticness, in earlier years.   I'm trying to "grow up" in ways that feel significant to me.   I'm becoming more aware of when I feel anxious or otherwise irritated, and learning to stay in my discomfort and not to discount my feelings.   I'm trying to become a better listener and less of a "pontificater".   I'm learning how to be present with my mother and really be with her, despite how difficult it can be at times.   I'm trying to be a better life partner and father to my son.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Van Cliburn's Death - My Father - Many Years Ago

While visiting my mother yesterday, I told her of the death of the noted classical pianist Van Cliburn.   She added to the memories I have of an old story related to my father.

My parents went to see The Louisville Symphony with Van Cliburn as the guest soloist at the Elliott Hall of Music at Purdue University on November 11th, 1964.  (Prior to yesterday I didn't know of the soloist.)

The concert did not begin particularly auspiciously.  Because of my father's weakness, my mother suggested that they leave at the intermission.  Dad asked to stay, indicating that the remaining music would likely be much better.   They both enjoyed the second half of the concert very much.

My father taught his math class the next morning at Purdue University.   Because he was feeling very weak and sick, my mother took him to the hospital.   After various tests came back negative, it was suggested that because he had further tests scheduled for the next day, that he spend the night in the hospital.

Dad died in his sleep very early the next morning, the only night he spent in the hospital during the last six months of his life, at the age of 46.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Magic Sam - Happy Birthday!

Magic Sam - was a most incredible blues singer/guitarist who tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 32 in 1969.   Today would have been his 76th birthday (over 43 years after his untimely death).

is an example of his genius.

Bob Koester of Delmark Records thankfully recorded two studio albums of Sam's work that are both masterpieces:  West Side Soul and Black Magic.   Other recordings have been issued since his death mostly of concert recordings.

You can easily Google him  and look on YouTube - for more on him.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Peace - Israel Palestine - An Interesting Perspective

In communicating with others about Israel and the Palestinians I often hear:
1.                 The Arabs/Palestinians can’t be trusted – look what they’ve done, and/or
2.                 I don’t like current Israeli positions but both sides are equally wrong  - e.g. – why are you so: “pro-Palestinian” ? and/or
3.                 Why are you concerned about Palestinians?   There is no real “Palestinian”.  People have taken advantage of things in creating something that isn’t real and/or
4.                 Israel does its best in difficult circumstances.

I find this very frustrating.  

It is obvious to me that some Palestinians and the leadership of neighboring Arab countries have made serious mistakes.   As World War II ended, Palestinians and neighboring Arab leaders should have accepted and supported the idea of  proposed  Jewish and Arab states in Palestine.   Jordan’s King Hussein made a huge mistake in getting involved in the June, 1967 War in support of Egypt.   

I am troubled, though, by the continuing message which says essentially:  “Israel wants to make peace, but there are no Palestinian leaders to negotiate with”.  
I’ve found after reading numerous books and other writings that the reality has been more like:    “Israel wants to make peace as long as its proposed partner has  guaranteed in advance that the terms will be overwhelmingly in Israel’s favor (e.g.  unacceptable for lasting peace with the Palestinians)”.    

Yasir Arafat could have agreed to several Israeli peace proposals.   It is unclear what good this would have accomplished if his leadership would then have almost immediately been overthrown (or if he would have been assassinated) as being a traitor to his cause.

In The Bride and The Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War  (Yale University Press, 2012),  Avi Raz speaks effectively of the aftermath of the 1967 war.   His deeper message clearly is shown at the end of the book:

(p.282)   Though the June 1967 War had catapulted the Palestinians onto center stage, Israel had refused to recognize their emergence as an independent political factor – a nation with a legitimate claim to statehood.  It took more than three decades of occupation and five years of Intifadah  for Israel to concede its momentous mistake.

However, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process failed, and in 2000 a second, much bloodier Intifadah erupted.    A serious study of the peace process and its collapse awaits sufficient historical perspective and access to the relevant official records.  But it is already clear that the failure is largely rooted in the pattern set by the Israeli government during the early days of the occupation.  While Washington insisted that Israel should return to the pre-June 1967 War borders, the Israeli aim was – in the explicit words of Premier Levi Eshkol – to retain the “maximum of territory.”  This line was pursued by subsequent governments.  It was underpinned by Jewish settlement in the occupied territories which the Eshkol government had instigated early on.   The settlement construction in the West Bank never stopped; in fact it increased sharply after the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had got under way.  Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister between 2006 and 2009, stated in 1988  that the “policy of expanding Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria…was designed to block any possibility of pressure for Israel to withdraw from these areas.”  It took Olmert another two decades of intensive building of settlements to acknowledge the inevitable territorial price the Israelis must pay for peace.

On 6 June 1967, the second day of the Six Day War, Abba Eban said at the UN Security Council that “men and nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”  Eban reiterated the same aphorism in articles and speeches in later years, always referring (p.283) to the Arabs.  He and his government colleagues never thought of themselves in this context.  Only when Eban was no longer a member of the cabinet did he admit privately that “the [Israeli] government sometimes makes the right decisions but not before trying every other possibility.”  Indeed, throughout the four and a half decades that followed the June 1967 War, it has been Israel that has time and again proved the validity of Eban’s maxim.

The policy towards the Gaza Strip is yet another glaring example of a fatal mistake that took Israel nearly forty years to correct.  As we have seen, the Eshkol government decided to retain Gaza, and subsequent governments built civilian settlements there.  This blunder was not corrected until the premiership of Ariel Sharon, one of the prime movers of the Israeli fait accompli approach and the godfather of the settlement project.  In the summer of 2005 Sharon finally yielded to the intolerable cost – in blood, money, and international reputation – of keeping this tiny, poor, and densely populated province of maintaining the security of a few thousand Jewish settlers who lived lavishly in twenty-two settlements in the midst of 1.4 million destitute Palestinians.

To be sure, Sharon had no intention of giving up “Judea and Samaria.”  In fact, the so-called Disengagement from the Gaza Strip was designed to freeze the political process, thereby preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and maintaining the geopolitical status quo in the West Bank.  Yet an increasing number of the more realistic Israelis have recognized that the conflict with the Palestinians  cannot be resolved unless Israel accepts what the whole world has been saying from day one of the occupation: Israel must return to the pre-Six Day War lines with minor and reciprocal modifications.     In 2002 the Arabs offered what Israel had called for from its foundation in 1948: an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, recognition of Israel, peace agreements, and normal relations – in exchange for withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June 1967, a just solution to the refugee problem in accordance with UN Resolution 194, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with Arab Jerusalem as its capital.  This far-reaching peace initiative was crafted by Saudi Arabia, adopted by the twenty-two member Arab League at its summit in Beirut in March 2002, and reaffirmed at the Riyadh Summit of the Arab heads of state in March 2007.  In Israel none  of the governments (p.284) since 2002 – Sharon’s, Olmert’s, or Netanyahu’s – has ever discussed the Arab peace offer.

Despite high-sounding proclamations about the desire to make peace with the Arabs, whenever a prospect of reconciliation was on the table, Israel has been immobilized by fear of what it would entail.  ‘Aziz Shehadeh, who led the Palestinian entity movement, wrote in 1969: “Immediately after June 1967 a golden opportunity was offered to the Israel Government to achieve a peaceful settlement…. The Israeli  leaders wavered and did not grasp the importance of this offer.”  Shehadeh concluded: “The seed of peace that was planted immediately after the Six Day War has thus been trampled upon by forces both within and without the country.”  But Israeli leaders kept maintaining that no Arabs were willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel.   As late as 1975 Yisrael Galili, who served in the cabinet from 1963, went so far as to claim that “there was not a single occasion when the government of Israel refused to respond to an Arab initiative.”  However, a number of prominent contemporary officials and observers – including a cabinet minister and an army general – argued retrospectively that in the aftermath of the 1967 War, Israel missed an opportunity for a settlement with both Jordan and the Palestinians, particularly the latter.

Indeed, it was not the Arabs who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity – as Eban’s often cited quip suggests – but the Israelis, who persistently and deliberately squandered every opportunity for a settlement.    They changed tack only when doing so was inescapable.    King Hussein’s pithy  summary was that “Israel can have either peace or territory, but not both.”  Abba Eban, who quotes this observation in his 1993 memoirs, goes on to say that it was “not far from being a universal international consensus.”  But it was Eban who  quarter of a century before had carried out Israel’s foreign policy of takhsisanut, or deception, designed to serve as a political cover-up for the effort to gain time while staying put in the occupied lands and creating a fait accompli.

This study has focused on Israel’s policy and practice in the aftermath of the June 1967 War, and some readers might feel that its conclusions, which are especially critical of Israel, are not even-handed.  But it should be borne in mind that the parties to the conflict were unequal.  There were the victorious occupiers on the one hand and the vanquished and the occupied on the other, and the former held all (p.285) the cards.   They were aware of international resentment but did not care.  A popular song which came out in 1969 appropriately captured the Israeli collective spirit:

The whole world is against us
Never mind, we’ll overcome
. . . . . . . .
And everybody who’s against us
Let him go to hell