About That Code of Ethics…

The reason I featured that particular “code of ethics” (see my May 25 post) for discussion is because it so starkly contrasts with other guidance we get nowadays. I’m thinking of “centering” guidance, such as “We will center racism…” or whatever other ism is in the headlines. I stumbled across the “Live each day with courage…” code when I was browsing news about Wyoming, my home state. I do that periodically, just to see what that broad empty expanse of the Wild West is up to today.

In my most recent exploration of all things Wyoming, I discovered that the Code of the West was adopted in 2010 as the Official State Code of Wyoming. The one thing I changed in my recent post was the “Work for the team” line which was originally “Ride for the brand.” I just figured that “Ride for the brand” would give too much away, and I wanted it to come to you in a neutral way.

This code is being used in schools across the state, and I have to say that prefer it to all of the various diversity, equity, inclusion guidance that kids get in many schools today. I would quibble with lots of it based on experience derived from my advancing age. For example: “Always finish what you start.” Ha. A year ago, as part of my ongoing downsizing effort, I officially gave up on a variety of knitting projects, some of which were fairly close to completion. I’d had them sitting around, some for years, waiting for a bit of advice, time, or that feeling of optimism I had when I started them. They only induced guilt each time I looked at them until I finally said to myself, “This is ridiculous. Perhaps someone will make use of this yarn. Get these out of here!” And yes, I’m glad I did that.

One bit of the code I do like is this one: “Talk less. Say more.” For me, it’s missing a bit in the middle, namely “Listen first.” I really am committed to doing a lot more listening lately, and I am learning some valuable things. I’d do other editing before adopting the code as is, but if a state is going to give guidance in this day and age, I rather they use this code than, say, the Ten Commandments, or “Look for racism everywhere all the time,” or other admonitions that pass for good advice today.

If you were searching for advice that schools could adopt, would you start from scratch, edit something like this, or forego the exercise altogether? Years ago, I substituted in a 4th grade classroom that had this for a motto: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” It was a great class, but perhaps it was because the teacher just led the kids in a supportive, but patient way. Perhaps it wasn’t just the motto. Whatever the case, I do think it might be worthwhile to think through our values now and then. Have they changed? Do they need to be updated? Have world events or personal experience affected how we see things?


Would This Code of Ethics Work for You?

Let’s imagine that your local school district develops a code of ethics to guide staff, students, and the community. It contains the following bits of guidance. Would this meet with your approval? Yes? No? Why or why not?

Seriously, folks, I’d love to hear your responses to this code. (Note: I’m rewording one so as not to make the source so obvious. I’ll share it when I discuss the source of this code tomorrow.)

Here we go:

Live each day with courage.

Take pride in your work.

Always finish what you start.

Do what has to be done.

Be tough, but fair.

When you make a promise, keep it.

Work for the team.

Talk less and say more.

Remember some things aren’t for sale.

Know where to draw the line.

You can scratch some out, edit, add to it, whatever you’d like to do to make this work for you. Have at it. I’ll share my thoughts tomorrow.

People Are Opting Out

People are opting out. Of life. I wonder why. Can we blame it all on Covid? No, I don’t think so. Yes, I think Covid threw a monkey wrench into life as we knew it. But if it hadn’t been Covid, I think it would have been something else.

For sure, the interruption to our social life is having an impact. Not feeling comfortable eating out in a busy, popular cafe is truly a downer. And I heard today that after a large, maskless meeting of CDC employees last week, 35 of them soon came down with Covid. So masking up in big groups or small rooms is tedious, but that hasn’t pushed me over the edge.

Everyone has a tipping point, and I felt like I reached mine last week. I was across the street for an eye exam and noticed that the very convenient, very helpful eye-ware shop was shuttered. Grrr, I thought. Decisions from much higher up, I was told. (Much higher up, in this case, means the bosses of the very large Catholic institution that now runs the show.)

But that wasn’t what did me in. Rather it was the discovery a few days later that the hospital gift shop was also being closed. WTF? Do the bishops disapprove of shopping? Do they not know that shopping is therapy? Do they not know that patients’ families need a distraction? Do they not know that we all need a treat or a magazine or a card for someone now and then? The gift shop was run by volunteers with about a half of a staff position or less doing oversight. WTF, indeed! 

Perhaps I could survive the loss of these two very handy businesses if they weren’t coming on top of the loss of Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Chico’s, the neighborhood branch of our bank, a bunch of retail at Pacific Place, the pharmacy next to Gelatiamo, and retailers that I never patronized, but other people did and they helped keep downtown alive. 

Supposedly, there are more people downtown this week because Amazon said to show up at the office or else. Perhaps that means something now that even the Amazons of the world are laying people off. Granted, the people who work at Amazon don’t exactly support my kind of retail, but somehow they help the world look alive, even in their nerdy zombie state. There was certainly more traffic today when I managed to run two errands during morning and evening rush hours by mistake. Note to self: avoid rush hours again!

I don’t think the lack of shopping options is the primary factor leading to the deep pessimism that I and others are feeling. It’s pretty easy to thump the table and grumble at the loss of a gift shop, but I’m confident that the pessimism derives from more serious problems. Such as the wildly dysfunctional national government, the wildly stupid extremes of the culture wars, the wildly ridiculous length of being on hold for answers to the simplest of questions. And construction, still going on everywhere! And the transit interruptions, and the absence of oatmeal in the Bistro, and  the impossible wait times for elevator repairs, and the endless timelines for  “corridor refurbishment,” and the incomplete remodel of our main meeting room such that the audio doesn’t work on one day and the lighting doesn’t work on another day, and no, the drapes are not here yet.

Nothing ever gets finished. The finish line might as well not exist: no one will ever get to it. 

Hence pessimism. For older folks such as myself, this is taking a toll. You know things are bad when people are opting to end their lives by VSED – that’s “Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking” to you youngsters out there. It is not an easy way to die. But guns are not allowed in my retirement community. Frankly, I’d buy a gun and break that rule before starving myself to death. Seriously, what are they going to do to me? Kick me out? Ha. That’s the whole point of the exercise. 

I actually am not at that degree of pessimism yet, but it is sad to see that others are. And I am well and truly frustrated with the state of the world. I’ve been well and truly frustrated for quite a while, but Ukraine just did me in, even more than the way we mucked up Covid. Could we please just enable Ukraine to win this war within my lifetime? Please! Just win it! 

Well, I live in Seattle, and our hockey team, the Kraken, are in the second round of the playoffs – in just their second year of existence. I see why some people tune out the news and tune in to sports. But then once the game is over, the corridors are still not finished, there is still no oatmeal in the Bistro, Madison Street is still a mess, and the AV system in Anderson Hall will likely never be complete. 

So we are heading out of town for a few days in eastern Washington. I don’t care if it rains or snows or we are blinded by the sun. We are outa here, folks. See ya later!

Unlearning Fear

Tyre Nichols. Philando Castile. Two men, just trying to comply with police instructions, end up dead for no good reason. How do we put an end to this disgrace?

Some deaths at the hands of police are just wrong. Some deaths at the hands of police seem unnecessary, but investigations reveal reasons for police use of deadly force. Sometimes the police are clearly the good guys, and the bad guys are truly out of control, dangerous to the public, and need to be stopped. When any police shooting is caught on video, the only thing we know is that we don’t know the whole story.

Here are a few things we do know: people, liberals especially, vastly overestimate all killings by police and especially the killings of black men.* Black Lives Matter leaders have pushed the narrative of out of control police departments targeting black men. This narrative only increases fear of police to the point that more men resist and/or flee which only increases the risk that force, perhaps deadly force, will be used on them. 

The prevailing narrative ramps up fear to what might be an irrational level, but the deaths of Nichols and Castile illustrate that some amount of fear is rational. Many police departments are trying to train and retrain officers to interact in ways that reduce the violent and intimidating tactics we associate with anyone being arrested. The goal is for everyone to come out alive at the end. Ideally, black men would know that this is happening, understand that the goal is for everyone to chill, cooperate with police, and end up alive, either released when appropriate or working their way through a justice system that is fair to all. 

The recent death of Tyre Nichols helped me understand why fear is still rational if you’re stopped by police. The question is when is it rational to let go of rational fear, that is fear based on reasonable evidence that police just might kill you? 

We, as humans, are not that good at judging risk, yet we do it all day every day. What’s truly challenging is recalibrating our level of fear when the calculations change. Yet, we can do this. Even I, with my long-standing fear of flying, flew on four airplanes in 2022 without any white knuckles. Somehow, the safety record for flying became so compelling that I had to dial back my fear, especially when it was obvious that the only way I could get where I wanted to go was to fly. Fortunately, no recent disasters occurred that would have interfered with my new-found confidence.

This is not the case however, when it comes to interactions between police and the public, especially the black and brown public. I can only imagine the emotions that ran through police departments that were making a serious effort to alter the tone of interactions with suspects in non-violent situations. Decent cops must surely have been devastated to see the videos of the beating of Tyre Nichols. Decent black men may surely have thought that things are never going to change. 

Fear can absolutely be rational. It can also be irrational. One of the challenges young women face is learning to calibrate their level of fear to the social situations they encounter as they enter the world outside their home. (I’m skipping the fear some children learn at home for now.) We’ve all heard about “the talk” that black mothers give to their sons in hopes that they will emerge unscathed from encounters with police. Calibrate your fear. Your best bet to emerge alive is to follow instructions.

And then, Tyre Nichols. Was Nicholas an exception? Yes. But how much of an exception? Were other examples simply not filmed for our viewing? How many examples? How long will it take for young black men to begin to let go of rational fear? If deaths as senseless as those of Castile or Nicholas happen only once a year, or once every two years, or five years, it will be enough to sustain the fear that lingers. Police must intervene to stop their peers who overreact. Young black men could benefit from recalibrating their fear of police, knowing that change is happening. Dialing back the violence and the rhetoric could occur at the same time from both sides. No, the burden shouldn’t be on young black men to unlearn their fear. But the reality is that their chances of sustaining permanent injuries or being killed are low enough to take a chance on compliance. I get why everyone might disagree with me, but I hope both sides will give peace a chance. 

* Sources:

Washington Post Data Base

Roland Fryer studies of use of force

Public estimates of police use of force

BDS vs Israel: Peace, Anyone?

As I write this, the US news is silent regarding antisemitic crimes. No recent shootings of Jews in synagogues, no take-downs of Jews eating at outdoor cafes in LA. I assume that Hasidim still get harassed on the streets of Brooklyn, and that swastikas still get sprayed onto any structure that might be Jewish, but that hardly qualifies as news nowadays.

The actually urgent news is coming from the streets of Israel where thousands of people are protesting Netanyahu’s plans to remake Israel’s supreme court such that he will have control of it. Until Netanyahu’s return to office last fall, it was fairly easy to be pro-Israel while wishing someone would put an end to the settlements in the West Bank. The rationale went something like, “all countries do deplorable things, but Israel is still the only democratic state in the Middle East.” If the current government succeeds in their judicial overhaul, will we lose that talking point?

Meanwhile, the people behind the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) aim at putting economic pressure on Israel to be nicer to the Palestinians. They have succeeded in gaining support across college campuses and beyond. Perhaps BDS is so successful because it seems to be the primary voice of Palestinians. Regrettably, IMO, it doesn’t support a two-state solution. This comes a shock to many because they are so successful in focusing on Israel’s bad acts that supporters often don’t dig deeper into their information. Essentially, they want Israel to cease to exist, to replace it with a single state with “equal rights for all.” In other words, no Jewish state in a country with an Arab birth rate much higher than the Jewish birth rate. 

If there are any Palestinians and Israelis who still support a two-state solution (I suspect there are and that they are keeping a low profile), they are not organized in the way that BDS is organized. 

Meanwhile, Jews within Israel and abroad have many opinions about the Jewish state, they have many different organizations to promote various opinions, and they have countless journals and websites to promote their views and elicit support.  (I’ll confess that I’m envious of a community in which disagreement is expected; I’m frustrated with people who are so settled on an answer that they don’t look for, and cannot reflect on, new information.)

When I write an article like this one, I generally spend days searching for information about different perspectives. I watch YouTube videos, scour websites, read articles and occasionally an actual book. I’ll share links to some of my sources at the end. One thing that has impressed me this time, is the rhetoric that now defines the BDS campaign and is used by some Jewish organizations as well. 

About the rhetoric: let’s start with settler-colonialism. I tend to think of settlers as people who willingly left one home in search of a better life in some new place many years ago. Nowadays, people migrate, but we don’t tend to think of today’s migrants as settlers. Unless you’re Woke and talking about Israel or white people anywhere at all.

I think of colonialism as the adventures of powerful countries searching for resources or trading opportunities in lands far afield from their point of origin. Colonial powers generally had advantages that enabled them to impose their will on residents of territories they exploited. These are not scholarly definitions, just my personal takes. Do Israelis count as settler-colonialist interlopers? 

Huh? Well, they are certainly not a colonial power; settlers, perhaps, at least back in the late 1800s when many Jews began immigrating in noticeable numbers to areas they associated with their biblical history. This migration enabled them to leave behind frequent, devastating pogroms in Eastern Europe that had prompted them to seek opportunities elsewhere. Some Jews have always lived in the Middle East, and the Arabs were not necessarily enemies. Jews lived successfully within the rules of the Ottoman Empire, though not as equals. Thus their biblical homeland seemed like a logical place to go.

What about charges of apartheid? I would suggest you read this article by the Council of Foreign Relations about Arab Citizens of Israel. Apartheid hardly seems like the right word to me. Does it to you? If so, please take time to comment. Israeli Arabs are not second class citizens under the law in the way of the Jim Crow era in the US. On average, they have larger families, less education, and less income that Jewish Israelis, but in much the same way that black people in the US have not yet caught up with white people on a variety of metrics. I suspect the BDS movement uses the term apartheid because they want people to conjure images of the brutality of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and they want BDS to be blessed with an assumption of the righteousness of its cause.

Then there’s the term occupation. Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. Rules are never the same in occupied territories as they are in unoccupied areas (ask a Ukrainian if you doubt me). It’s likely that an occupying army will be visible in occupied territories. People might have some amount of autonomy, but that is always subject to the whim of the occupier. Israel’s occupation has been contentious. They have allowed many Israelis to create settlements within the West Bank, a policy that is certainly cringe-worthy to most of us who consider the settlements illegal and want peace. 

Palestinians have a very long list of injustices done to them by Israelis, and the fact is that many Jews in America as well as Jewish Israelis criticize state actions. The Israeli state generally responds that its actions are in response to terrorist actions of Palestinians; often they are correct. But are state actions disproportionate? 

What does BDS say about occupation. BDS demands three things from Israel. #1: Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall. As I’ve said, “colonization” doesn’t make sense to me. So, on to occupation. “all Arab land” deserves some scrutiny. Perhaps they’re just referring to lands occupied after the 1967 war, but actually, BDS supporters say that all of Israel is on Arab land, and they want it all “from the river to the sea.” 

Demand #2 is for equal rights for all citizens of Israel. Funny, that. Some Israelis want equal rights for all citizens, meaning that Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish citizens would have to serve in the armed forces and give up other special considerations. In any event, I refer you back to the Council on Foreign Relations article.

Demand #3 is for the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties in accordance with UN Resolution 194:

“refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

So, here’s some math: Current population of Israel: 9,000,000; 20% of current population are Israeli Arabs: 1,800,000; BDS claims there are 7,250,000 people with the right of return. Population if all return: 9 million Jews, 9 million Arabs. Hmm. That could work, though, half them, half us? Peace on Earth? If the Jews didn’t want a Jewish State, that could work, but they do want a Jewish State. And why not. Iran? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? 

Here’s another perspective, “What Do Palestinians Want,” from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. How many words have been spent on Israel and Palestine since 1948? More words than bullets, I’m sure, and many bullets have been fired over that time. I find it exhausting. My sentiments have shifted more than once over the years. For now, I still support the idea of Israel, situated where it is, with some sort of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I’m absolutely angry that the citizens of Israel have elected Netanyahu again, and that he wants to take over the courts. I hope the protesters are able to prevent this. 

That said, I don’t support BDS. I’m OK with one Jewish state in the world. I don’t see anything constructive in the BDS program, and I see Jewish students on campuses across the country now fearful of “outing” themselves as Jews, Meanwhile, the de-platforming battles are ongoing with both sides scoring wins here and there.

The BDS movement has begun linking to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US claiming that Palestinians are in the same marginalized status as black people in the US. I don’t buy it. For one, I don’t buy the BLM narrative. The status of BIPOC people in the US has improved since the passage of civil rights legislation in the 60s and the end of red-lining in the 70s. 

Without getting hung up on that issue, the situation of the Palestinians in occupied areas is simply not comparable to the status of minorities in the US. Within Israel, Arab Israelis have full citizenship. Within the West Bank they live in an occupied territory and have limited rights. Gaza is its own mess and would do well to stop firing rockets into Israel. Israel, meanwhile, is surrounded by many millions of people who do not acknowledge its right to exist. 

Palestine could have become an independent state in 1948 but chose not to because they wanted Israel gone. Perhaps with the strength of the BDS movement, they will get their wish. But honestly, I think making peace with Israel would be the better path forward. 

Is the BDS movement antisemitic? Short answer: yes. My reasoning is this: I get how Jews came to want, and need, a Jewish state. The Holocaust was a plan to exterminate Jews. When I think about that, and about the antisemitism that exists even here, in a country that has been relatively accepting of Jews, I get why Jews want a Jewish state. They don’t trust us, and they shouldn’t. Sentiments can change, rapidly, in fact. 

Having a “safe place” is something that today’s college students should relate to. Just last week, Stanford Law School students shouted down a judge, Stuart Kyle Duncan, who’s a member of the 5th Circuit. He’d been invited to speak to students, but the heckler’s veto won out because some students claimed to feel unsafe. Prior to that a Hamline University professor, Erika Lopez Prater, was fired for showing, complete with trigger warnings, a classic painting of Muhammed that led a student to feel unsafe. Surely these students can understand how Jews, both in Israel as well as in the Diaspora might feel unsafe given the ancient rhetoric that lies just below the surface today, bubbling up at the first opportunity. 

Palestinians are not without agency in fashioning their own future. Jews are certainly expressing their opinion in the streets of Israel. If they don’t win this week, they won’t be giving up. No one is optimistic regarding Israel and Palestine, but surely people are getting tired of the ongoing conflict. Do conflicts only end when people are exhausted? Or can they end when new leaders appear who are willing to chart a new path forward?

Further reading:

Anticipating Israel’s Counter-Attack: Make the “One Democratic State” Mainstream Again

Critical Race Theory and the Hyper-White Jew

There’s Hope for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Palestine lost: It’s up to the Palestinian people to share their future now

And a book:

Woke Antisemitism: How Progressive Ideology Harms Jews, by David L Bernstein, 2022