Monday, December 14, 2009


Some philosophy types need to take a look at this before some less humorous philosophy types go and change it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Today I went to Advent vespers. That is, an evening service, in the season of Advent, which marks a period of waiting, both recalling the time before Christ, and marking the current age before the Second Coming. It's the "God is coming!" time of the liturgical calendar.

Given the occasion, the selection of the first scripture reading was interesting. It began:
"So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)
And if this is part of the Advent message, then it turns out that recent stories like this and this are very seasonal; and if we had any sense at all then maybe we (comfortable Christians in America) should probably be spending this season praying for Him to stay the hell away.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Elizabeth Warren on the middle class

Elizabeth Warren knows a lot about recent economic history, where that points to, and how to communicate this. A rare and lovely combination.

Stagnant wages, increasing cost of living, suffering busts while enjoying no booms, a top-heavy corporate economy functioning to siphon wealth out of just about everyone into the hands of a wealthy few, and a corrupt political system that (at the moment) promises not much hope and change but rather a lot of despair... get ready for America without a middle class.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another big fight

Good Jobs Chicago: challenging big box stores to bring good jobs to our city.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

You get a food stamp, you get a food stamp, everybody gets new food stamps!

The headline declares: Food Stamps Will Feed Half Of US Kids. But this is actually understating the findings. That prediction is based on stats collected in "1968 through 1997", according to which:
Overall, about 49 percent of all children were on food stamps at some point by the age of 20, the analysis found. That includes 90 percent of black children and 37 percent of whites.
So that's already happened. It's in the past and present, not the future.

Pause: Almost all black people (at least under the age of 60 or so) have been on food stamps. I read this article hours ago, and my mind is still metabolizing just that little snippet.

But (moving on) you can't just project that similar stats will be seen in the future. Income inequality has gotten worse, not better. And then came the latest financial / economic crash, which siphoned billions out of poor and (disproportionately) minority households (I forget where I read just how many billions, but it's a big number), and looks to be headed for a yet more spectacular sequel before too long.

Well, I've been working on not ending on downers, so here's a joke:

You might be living in a fundamentally unjust economic system if....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting weird....

One of the other rally organizers asked me if I wanted to pick up on an interview spot on Chicago Public Radio (or possibly NPR?).

I said no, of course. (That "of course" will make sense to you if you've ever listened to me try to think on my feet about complicated issues.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Barbara Ehrenreich

...spoke on campus to promote her new book, Bright-Sided. That book was finished months ago, and since then she'd spent some time on a series of very fine columns on issues relating to the financial crisis, appearing in the NY Times (one, two, three, four).

So I sent her an email over the weekend, telling her a bunch of students here were organizing for the ABA counter-convention--and she wrote back to tell me I could make a spiel at the end of her talk, which actually ended with a call to activism (the solution to our problems is not to pretend they're not real problems, but to see them clearly and work to fix them).

So that was very cool. Also: Butterflies!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Showdown in Chicago

My chief extracurricular activity for the month of October.

More explanation to follow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Homelessness and health care

Holy crap:
A ground-breaking demonstration in Chicago showed that providing housing and supportive services to chronically ill homeless people could reduce health care use by one-third. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that housing and social services could more than pay for themselves in reduced medical costs.
The provision of housing and support for the homeless is in any case a moral imperative. Not that this matters. But now it turns out that it's also a good idea in narrower economic terms.

Then again, I recently saw a clip of a woman condemning health care reform on the grounds that it would help out illegal immigrants... and then revealing that her own husband works 4 jobs, but still lacks health care. There are not a few who would sooner withhold help from those whom they consider undeserving, than see things improved for everyone, including themselves. I suppose the homeless are just looking for a free ride--and what's more important than spiting them?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The LORD watches over the stranger (Ps. 146:9)

Slacktivist with another good post, on the topic of that form of trespassing more commonly known as illegal immigration, and why no one likes to call it "trespassing":
The main reason that none of these Very Angry, Very Scared people wants to use the word "trespass" is that it reminds them of church.

There's this prayer we Christians say in church, at every service, whenever we get together. We recite it in unison, usually, and we've all got it memorized. We call it "The Lord's Prayer," because Jesus himself taught it to us and told us to pray it. Sometimes we call it the "Our Father," since that's how it starts.

Most of this prayer is comforting and reassuring, like the 23rd Psalm. "Give us this day our daily bread," we pray. "And deliver us from evil." Daily bread and deliverance, that's nice.

But then there's this other phrase which, when we listen to ourselves saying it, is the scariest part of any given Sunday. "Forgive us our trespasses," we pray, "as we forgive those who trespass against us."


Think of Wilson and the rest of the "take back America" crowd praying this prayer in tens of thousands of nominally Christian churches across the country. Think of them praying this prayer on behalf of "their" country: "Forgive America its trespasses as America forgives those who trespass against it."

If those are the conditions -- and they are -- then we're screwed. Our own words, our own prayers, condemn us.
To which I would add a few brief addenda (perhaps also relevant to a certain other nation state that has quite the problem with "trespassing"):
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exod. 22:20)

You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exod. 23:9)

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 19:33-34)

Hear out your fellow men, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment (Deut. 1:16-17)

Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. For the LORD your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:16-19)

Cursed be he who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deut. 27:21)

This land you shall divide for yourselves among the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as a heritage for yourselves and for the strangers who reside among you, who have begotten children among you. You shall treat them as Israelite citizens; they shall receive allotments along with you among the tribes of Israel. (Ezek. 47: 21-22)
Or, less fancifully:
The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the stranger without justice. (Ezekiel 22:29)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blasphemy at the 9/12 March

The Statue of Liberty is not Jesus. Aren't there supposed to be some Christians in that crowd? Hell, that guy probably thinks he's one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

Solidarity forever

In 2005, polls showed that 40 million non-union workers in America would unionize if they could.

40 million new union members would more than triple the number of unionized workers, which was 16 million in 2008, 12.4% of wage and salary workers. The percentage of the workforce composed of unionized labour has been dropping since the 50s (however, in 2008 it actually went up slightly from the 2007 figure of 12.1%).

Why unionize?

For example: A new survey of over 4000 workers in New York, LA, and Chicago, revealed that:
...the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.
Never mind the fact that a full time job on minimum wage can, without any violation of the worker's legal rights, still be insufficient to live on. Hunter-gatherers can live comfortably on a 40-hour work week (or even a 20-hour work week, depending on who you ask), but this is not possible for many labourers in the civilized world of mechanization and automation and ever-increasing productivity.

What stands in the way of unionization, a right which is (on paper at least) legally protected?
One in five workers reported having lodged a complaint about wages to their employer or trying to form a union in the previous year, and 43 percent of them said they had experienced some form of illegal retaliation, like firing or suspension, the study said.
Happy Labour Day!

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (James 5:4)

On holiness

According to this BBC report, the assault on Gaza saw rabbis join front line fighters for the first time. What possible purpose could this serve?
"Our job was to boost the fighting spirit of the soldiers. The eternal Jewish spirit from Bible times to the coming of the Messiah."

Before his unit went in to Gaza, Rabbi Kaufman said their commander told him to blow the ram's horn: "Like (biblical) Joshua when he conquered the land of Israel. It makes the war holier."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A health care post

Hello neglected blog. Most of my links just get thrown up on facebook nowadays. But here's one for you.

So many crazy things being said by the American right about the health care system in Canada. I wish I could sit down with all the Americans and explain to them what it's really like. Or at least get them to watch this video:

The guys who shot the interviews (they did them along the way while they were on vacation in Canada) said they didn't run across a single Canadian who disapproved of Canada's universal coverage. It should be said that they probably would have, had they increased their sample size enough. There are some dissenters: fully 8% of Canadians think the American system is better; the number jumps to 12% among Conservative voters. (To put that 8% in perspective, you could probably find about as many people saying that the moon landing was a hoax.)

By way of contrast, here are some interviews with American small business owners, describing how they've had to struggle with insurance companies (from a series of (so far) 4 videos, all worth watching):

The self-employed are hit very hard by America's health care mess: they don't benefit from the programs offered for the poor, or from the ability of bigger businesses to get insurers to cover their employees as a group. As Paul Krugman suggests, this may be one of the big reasons why the US is (contrary to popular American myth) nearly last among major OECD economies in terms of self-employment rates, according to this study (pdf). (Yes, Canada ranks higher.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Awful NYT article on race (whodathunkit)

A couple of quotes from this NYT article, written on the occasion of the arrest of Professor Gates. The basis of the article: "interviews", "Web postings" and "television talk shows", with "blacks and others", all of whom are for some reason white collar professionals.

“No matter how much education you have as a person of color, you still can’t escape institutional racism,” said H., a sports and entertainment lawyer in Chicago who is black. “That’s what the issue is to me.”
Institutional racism aimed at poorly educated blacks? Not much of an issue for him. Well, hey, the NYT tells me that this guy is black. Who am I to question his reflections on race relations?

The second quote comes from:
C., 37, a white cardiologist who lives in Hyde Park, is married to a black man and said that she could not count how many times people had interrupted the two over the years to ask her, quietly, “Is this man bothering you?”
Given a description like that, you just know that we're dealing with a white liberal with enlightened views on race. Let's see what she has for us:
“Even here in this diverse area I’ve heard people say, ‘Look at those black guys coming toward us.’ I say, ‘Yes, but they’re wearing lacrosse shorts and Calvin Klein jeans. They’re probably the kids of the professor down the street.’ ”

“You have to be able to discern differences between people,” she said, criticizing the practice of racial profiling. “It’s very frustrating.”
Seriously: "lacrosse" and "Calvin Klein". The moral of the story: look deeper than the colour of a kid's skin, and check whether he's a walking parody of bourgeois whiteness. Or: before you go around judging black people, make sure you internalize the fact that Carlton Banks is not a gangster.

I've omitted the names of the interviewees, because this isn't really about them. While their statements are dripping with classist ugliness, they're just random schmucks and I have no reason to expect better from them.

On the other hand, I would like to be able to expect better content from the NYT. I would like an article like this to be written by reporters who realize that they might want to do more than just pick up some random comments from black (or married-to-black) members of the professional class. But I guess maybe this is what passes as insightful journalism in mainstream American news nowadays.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Testimonies from Gaza

Breaking the Silence has realeased a booklet of testimonies about from 26 IDF soldiers concerning the assault on Gaza. BBC story here.

It would probably be hard to find better commentary than that provided by Jerry Haber, starting with this post. His main conclusions drawn from the booklet:
According to these testimonies the IDF soldiers did not generally adhere even to the IDF Rules of Engagement.

...the policy was to shoot first and not ask questions later.

White phosphorus was used against international conventions.

The devastation was enormous, on an unprecedented scale in the Israeli warfare.

Vandalism was unreported

Gazans were used as human shields, despite being outlawed by the Israel High Court
His subsequent posts are (and no doubt will continue to be) also worth reading. In this one, Jerry Haber explains some of the background, and why Breaking the Silence is very pointedly not pursuing these allegations through established legal channels:
BtS was founded about five years ago, during the Second Intifada. It started with a photo exhibition of IDF soldiers in Hebron. That exhibition made front page headlines. At one point, the IDF seized the pictures and said it would try the soldiers who had participated in illegal activities against the Hebronites. After the pictures were returned to the group by an embarrassed IDF, the group was invited to the Knesset to present the exhibition. They were invited to military preparatory programs to talk about their work. They were almost national heroes. And the group thought, naively, that things would change.

They didn't. The IDF's conduct only worsened.

I don't think that the IDF, under the present circumstances, can be seriously reformed.
And this one, concerning white phosphorous. The summary of the IDF's shifting official statements on white phosphorous reads like a parody of propaganda.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I am fairly obsessed with this band. There is surely not a better post-hardcore spoken-word indie folk rock band exploring Christian and Sufi themes out there. As evidence, I present this wonderful music video, for their new song, "The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie".

The lead singer, Aaron Weiss, is an amazing lyricist. I gotta respect a songwriter who can outdo my vocabulary several times in a single song, and do so in such a creative manner. As in the spiel from the Crow in the above song:
Your subtle acclamation's true!
Best to give praise where praise is due.
Every rook and jay
in the corvidae's
been ravin' about me too.
They admire me, one and all,
must be the passion in my caw,
my slender bill
known throughout the escadrille,
my fierce commanding claw!
Without being preachy, Weiss' lyrics deal with sins of various sorts (like pride, as in that snippet), and the struggle to do away with all that, to renounce all attachments to worldly goods and passions, and instead become one with God.

And although one can never tell, there is at least some indication that he actually means it: Weiss is a freegan (i.e., he dumpster-dives instead of buying stuff), and he has apparently sworn himself to celibacy.

Plus, he's been arrested protesting at the Pentagon, and mewithoutYou's tour-bus runs on used vegetable oil instead of gas.

If it weren't for the fact that he was celibate (and certain other technical difficulties) I would totally want to have his babies.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Environment Illinois

What good little liberals we are! During a trip to the gay neighbourhood--to drop off two huge bags of stuff at one thrift store, and buy a smaller bag of some other stuff at another thrift store, with a stop for lunch at the vegan/vegetarian Chicago Diner--we ran in to some recruiters for Environment Illinois, and signed up.

I was moved to do this in part by this article, about how the fight for American climate legislation is losing out to the fight for health care reform. And this is bad.

Now, of course America desperately needs health care reform. (What it really needs is a proper universal system, though I suppose this "public option" business will help.) But, as Fafblog put it, "The good news is you might get health care! The bad news is everybody is going to die." Or, as Dawn put it, the poor you will always have with you, unless we kill them all.

So, while Obama's celestial gaze is focused elsewhere, our climate woes need all the attention us lesser mortals can afford it.

(Not that I'm likely to do all that much work with this group. I have other commitments to juggle, like, to other community organizations, and also to the intensive Latin courses I'll be taking this summer. Because, you know, saving the earth and all the humans on it from ecological disaster is great, but so are dead languages!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The death of Mr. Hooper

I've outed myself before, but I really love classic Sesame Street. There's one scene in particular which I've searched and searched for in the past, and I just now found it: Big Bird starting to come to grips with the death of Mr. Hooper (more context here).

They don't make 'em like they used to.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I know the pieces fit

I really love this picture of the rally at Azadi square in Tehran.

I've had a weird sort of special fondness for democratic movements in Iran, since some time in undergrad when I started reading about how Iran ended up with its current theocracy. As was bizarrely acknowledged by Obama in his Cairo speech (I say "bizarrely" because I didn't realize he was allowed to do so), Iran used to be a democracy, until 1953 when there was a western-backed coup. (Because the PM dared to nationalize the oil industry, of course, of course.) This was followed by the illegitimate, autocratic, and oppressive rule of the Shah, which was then overthrown in the Iranian Revolution. Although the Revolution led to a theocracy, it did not begin as a movement united behind Khomeini, but originally included liberals and Marxists, who had always been active in opposing the Shah.

So I think I'm so fond of the Iranian reformist movement because I especially love to follow a true story when I'm pretty sure the good guys are going to win.

Not that I'm particularly confident that that will happen just right now. But this recent round of unrest is the natural expression of the democratic aspirations and potential which have always existed in Iran, and are increasingly active. There have been protests in previous election cycles. But not on this scale. And this time, they have the public backing of top-level political figures. There are reports that there are plenty of police officers joining in with the rallies (not that an armed uprising has any chances of success). The regime's veneer of legitimacy is peeling terribly. For years, the majority of Iranian university graduates have been women (a good sign of other forms of progress). These are trends won't be reversed. Eventually, batons and tear gas and bullets won't be enough to keep them down. Inevitably, Iran will recover from the political sickness brought down upon it in 1953, and it will re-democratize.

Unless the west (or Israel) does something stupid, again. But, hey, what are the chances?

Scavenging 2009

We learned our lesson last year, so once again Dawn and I went out in the weekend following all the graduation ceremonies, rescuing things from the alleyways behind student apartment buildings.

I'm pretty sure this year's haul was much weirder than last year's. On the one hand, there were a lot of repeat goods. For example, for the second year in a row I expect I will have no need to buy new vinegar. But there were also some things you truly wouldn't expect, like lace curtains (in good condition), or a whole smoked salmon in one of those wooden gift boxes (like you see in airport shops or touristy stores in Vancouver). It was still in the original shrink wrap, and it's still good for another couple of years (not that we'll let it sit around that long). Who throws that away?

(We also discovered a big-ass box of hon dashi, but it was opened, and had possibly been rained on, so Dawn decided it actually was garbage. So sad--that probably could have lasted us the rest of our time in Chicago.)

As we were meandering around, we ran into a couple of undergrads I knew. I wonder how your average student would react to seeing his TA picking salmon out of the trash?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting my geek on

It's time I started creating documents like an adult, so from now on I'll be writing my documents in LaTeX, on Emacs. Of course, first I have to learn the damn things.

After I managed to put together the bare bones of a document, my first real project has been to put together a new kind of list. I like to enumerate my block quotes ("T1", "T2", etc.), and then refer back to those quotes by those labels. (A trick used by Gregory Vlastos in his papers.) I couldn't find any ready-made set of commands that would do this for me quite how I wanted it, so I decided I'd go ahead and define some myself. Totally doable. I used to be a comp sci major, you know.

Well. Call to mind the stereotype of the middle aged man who used to play baseball back in the day, and suddenly finds himself on a diamond again after a decade or two devoid of real athletic activity. The baseball-playing part of his brain still remembers what it used it used to tell the limbs to do when they were fully functional.

You know what happens next.

(I do have my list type now. I won't say how long it took. With my luck, all the work has probably been done and is nicely laid out in a LaTeX package somewhere.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Victory smells like whoa

As I mentioned when I talked about going to Springfield, SOUL, this community organization I've been working with, has been pushing for a green jobs bill. This was one of the reasons for the trip to Springfield. Details:
If passed, the state would devote $500 million over the next five years to retrofit urban housing stock, a great way to conserve energy use and protect people from spiking utility rake fees. Companies awarded the contracts would be required to hire and train people from the local community, as well. SOUL estimates that 50,000 jobs could be created in cities hardest hit by deindustrialization and the recent economic crisis.
And now it's been passed: $425 million for the plan.

Holy crap.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Philosophy at work

"The Case for Working With Your Hands" is possibly the best bit of philosophical writing I've ever read in a popular publication. The next time someone asks me what's worthwhile about philosophy, I think I'll start talking about this article.

The author, Matthew Crawford, has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago, worked various white-collar office jobs along the way, and has since ended up running his own motorcycle repair shop. Now he has brought his massive edumacation to bear on his experiences with different kinds of work, revealing the soul-destroying effects of much white-collar work, and the great value of work in the trades and being an entrepreneur. What emerges are some profound and terribly relevant thoughts on the relationship between work and happiness, and how massively we tend to misunderstand this relationship nowadays. And he does this all without any jargony philosobabble, and scarcely and name-dropping. The perspective on work here seems deeply Marxist to me, but Marx gets mentioned just once; he manages to talk about "alienation", "actualization", and other such concepts without using any of those weird words. I think I might someday use his description of his desk job (writing abstracts for articles according to profit-driven--i.e., arbitrary--standards) as an example of what Plato means when he talks about the shadows on the wall in the allegory of the cave in the Republic. I'm kind of in awe.

In the online comments, there are lots and lots of white-collar yuppie types (well, I'm guessing that's what they're like) finding the problems in their lives precisely diagnosed by that article. It's really quite remarkable. Not only is the article a great piece of popular philosophy, it addresses the good old question that started philosophy in the first place--how should we live?--in a way that might even be of some help to some people.

My one quibble--as some people in the comments point out--is that he puts too much emphasis on trades and entrepreneurship. I think the deep point to be gotten from the article is that work can and should be a source of value: you should be able to see something good in the work you do, in the work itself. But you can find that sort of work outside of the trades, and you can find it without working for yourself. You can even find it in an office job with a boss.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I've been contemplating this for a while, but now I've officially decided. I'm going to buy one new kind of produce each time I visit the local produce store, until I've tried cooking with every damn thing in the place.

This will take a while. Although I miss the produce sections back in Vancouver, you could hardly hope for better in a neighbourhood market in the midwest. For example, it's happily always stocked with napa cabbage, bok choi (two varieties), shiitake, cilantro, and lemon grass. At the moment there are tamarinds; a few times in the somewhat distant past they stocked enoki. Occasionally there are chinese eggplants and daikon.

Anyway, the selection is great. And there's lots of stuff there I've never touched before.

So, a few days ago I ended up making Indian style opo squash (aka dudhi, and a whole bunch of other names). Dawn says it's now her favourite variety of squash (heh, she likes dudhi). Sometime soon I'll have to figure out something to do with anise, aka fennel (the vegetable, not the seeds). I think the internets are telling me to roast the bulbs and use the tops in salads.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Weekly meatlessness

The city of Ghent, Belgium, is already doing this (well, maybe not on Mondays):
Ghent means to recognise the impact of livestock on the environment.

The UN says livestock is responsible for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, hence Ghent's declaration of a weekly "veggie day".

Public officials and politicians will be the first to give up meat for a day.

Schoolchildren will follow suit with their own veggiedag in September.

It is hoped the move will cut Ghent's environmental footprint and help tackle obesity.

Around 90,000 so-called "veggie street maps" are now being printed to help people find the city's vegetarian eateries.
Cutting it out entirely would be better, of course, but a whole city that goes meatless one day a week does more good than rather a large number of individual vegetarians.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just war for dummies

Courtesy of Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer:
Conduct your war in the presence of noncombatants on the other side with the same care as if your citizens were the noncombatants.
See how easy this is? Try it! I'm sure you'll like it.


Monday, May 11, 2009

"Hilltop 26"

I've been reading stories of peace activism in Israel/Palestine. In general they are good for my soul. This one here is especially nice (post 1, and 2; via). Some Israeli and Palestinian peaceniks get together. They find an illegal outpost built by settlers, and start building their own illegal structure next to it. In come the settlers, and the army, and down goes the activists' outpost. Meanwhile the adjacent, illegal, settlers' outpost is left untouched. Similarly, some of the activists are arrested (though this was a non-violent protest--on the part of the peace activists, if not the settlers and soldiers):
Their crime? Not obeying the ‘closed military order’. The settlers were also guilty of this crime but that did not wind them up in jail for six hours.
This action strikes me as damn near a work of art. At any rate, it's worth several thousand words about the relation between the settler movement and the rule of law. And when an Israeli politician talks about freezing the building of new settlements, ignore the words, and focus instead on the soldiers ensuring that settlers have the freedom to build new settlements. (Not to mention the talk of allowing "natural" growth of the settlements--a contradiction in terms.)

I hear they're worried this state might fail

An end to air strikes in Afghanistan, demanded by President Hamid Karzai after scores of civilians were allegedly killed this week, would deprive Afghan troops of vital protection, a US official said Friday.
You know, in some countries, the government gets to decide what protection the armed forces should receive from allies.

The moan, the miserable groan

(Hat tip to, I dunno, a whole bunch of people.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dead innocents in Afghanistan--more stupid evil

U.S. blames Taliban for Afghan civilian deaths:
A joint U.S.-Afghan investigation confirmed that an unspecified number of civilians died in a southern Afghan battle local officials say killed dozens of villagers, but the initial findings released Saturday appeared to blame Taliban militants who used locals as human shields.
Fuck off. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? The Taliban are to blame for endangering the villagers. Meanwhile the air strike is to blame for actually killing the villagers. See how this works? This is not hard.

And another thing. If this were a case of a clear conflict between morality and narrow self-interest, there would at least be some sort of sense to made of it. But(as with so many of the evils in the world today) boneheaded actions like this are obviously counter to narrow self-interest, just plain counterproductive. The long-term strategic interests of American forces demand that the locals think of them as the good guys, i.e., that they not slaughter civilians. Self-interest and morality coincide entirely. But it doesn't help.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

An encounter with greenness

Today we ran across a few people dividing up plots in a community garden in the making. We stopped to admire it, and one of the people (who had a clipboard and thus looked official) came over to talk to us and take our contact info. (We may or may not get a chance to claim a plot. It's hard to say, since we have to move, and we're not sure whether we'll end up close enough to make it likely that we'll actually visit the garden on a regular basis.)

The clipboard garden guy was Ken Dunn, who (as he told us) used to be a philosophy grad student at the UofC, back in the days when it was populated by the villains from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And (as subsequent googling revealed) according to the Tribune he is quite possibly Chicago's greenest person.
Dunn produces only 3,800 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, as compared with the 44,000 pounds produced by the average American....

The difference between Dunn’s annual emissions and the average is the equivalent of chopping down 600 square feet of Amazon rain forest or driving a Honda Accord 60,300 miles on the highway....

Stated another way, Dunn is already living at roughly the level of carbon emissions that scientists at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say the average human must achieve by 2100 if we are to avoid dangerous effects of global warming.
Wow. Whether or not we get to garden with him, I want to visit his place to see how it's done. Or maybe have him come by our place for an audit. I would repay him with a meal, except it would probably be far below his ethical standards.

Friday, May 08, 2009

We also both have glasses and similar facial hair

There are two Asians in the department here. Today in a workshop, a visiting professor referred me by the name of the other one.

Slightly related note, I'm thinking of adding this as a note to all my papers.

When black people adopt white kids

This is what you get:
would-be heroes come up to [white girl] Katie in the cereal aisle and ask, "Are you OK?"—even though [black mom] Terri is standing right there.
And so on.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Greening Palestine

A "Green Building conference in the West Bank"? Seriously:
Scientists on the Al Quds faculty were already running a project treating university wastewater to make it drinking quality and then pumping it around campus for irrigation.
That is cool. If only university campuses over here could be so advanced.

This is basically a double-barreled feel-good story for me. But:
To be frank, today’s exhibition will never make the headlines of the Western media. Where’s the thrill in optimism in a region that for centuries could be relied upon instead for conflict? But I’ve seen it with my own eyes. A new generation of youth is preparing to make Palestine a greener place to live. In two days on campus, no one ever asked my religion. When it comes to caring for the planet, it did not seem to matter.

Friday, May 01, 2009


I've helped set up a blog for this student group I've been working with the past few months: the Southside Solidarity Network.

Here's one of the things we've done recently. Last Wednesday we went down to Springfield, the state capitol, to talk to politicians. (Well, OK, I myself just went down to be part of the crowd behind the people talking to the politicians.)

We went down on a bus with SOUL, one group of many which converged on the capitol on the same day. Counting all the various groups together, there were about 1000 people in all. The main issue uniting all the groups was a campaign to change the state's taxation schemes: to increase the state income tax rate, and make it more progressive. (The Governor is already on board with some such plan, though it naturally has many enemies.)

Here's the problem that this crowd was hoping to address. State taxes are unfair: because income taxes are low and flat, while sales taxes are higher, the poor in Illinois pay nearly 13% of their income in state taxes, while the rich pay under 5%. You don't need to be anywhere in particular on the political spectrum to admit that that is a disproportionate tax burden on the poor. In addition, state revenue is too low--there is an enormous structural deficit--which either means cutting basic services or raising more revenue. But there needs to be more funding of services at the state level, not less.

For example (and this was another issue we brought to Springfield): Illinois consistently ranks either the lowest or one of the lowest in terms of funding equity for education--the disparity is five-to-one between the best and worst funded kids in the state. How does this happen? In the US, federal funding for education is low, and state funding varies widely. If you live in a state with low state funding (like Illinois, one of the worst), the remaining funding burden falls on property taxes. And then you have to hope your parents and their neighbours have expensive homes. If not, you might be stuck with crumbling schools and ancient books; maybe you will have to share those books. At a rally we heard from a student who had a number of head-shaking anecdotes like that to tell about her school, but this is what stuck out at me the most: she had entered her highschool in a freshman class of over a 1000; now, as a senior, her class numbers in the 500s. (Probably a fair few of those dropouts have already ended up behind bars, which American taxpayers are evidently much happier to pay for. But I digress.)

Other issues our group pushed included a public rail proposal, and a green jobs bill.

While we there, we saw a number of professional lobbyists. Some of them looked at us weird, like we were getting in the way of their business; at times it seemed like they were purposefully trying to get in the way of ours. Some of us briefly debated the wisdom of pushing them down / over various parts of the building -- we decided against it.

Here are some pictures.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Satan's spit

I once heard someone describe smoking as "sucking Satan's fingers". (This was someone who disapproved of smoking, not a connoisseur of cigarettes who also happened to be a Satanist.) In roughly the same vein, I propose that bottled water be labeled "Satan's spit".

To start with, around these parts, at least, bottled water is (a) often less pure than tap water, (b) by far more poorly regulated than tap water, and therefore (c) not as safe as tap water, and, besides, (d) often doesn't taste as good. Tap water is regulated by 100s of people at the EPA, while there is one official at the FDA whose duties include oversight of bottled water. For more on this, and also some amusing blind taste tests demonstrating point (d), see Penn and Teller and 20/20.

But that's not all. The above points just show that bottled water is kinda dumb. But, more than that, the bottled water industry is also evil: in short, it works to falsely undermine public confidence in tap water, to actually undermine the quality of public water resources, and to privatize water resources. In the long term, Satan's spit corporations have their eye on a future in which they control the water supply as population growth and global warming lead to increased demand and decreased supply, which, for them, would equal profit.

No Impact Man has provided a summary of the evil corporate conspiracy underlying the rise of bottled water, comparing the future of water to what we have seen with oil. And we see this underway here (No Impact Man quoting BusinessWeek).
In the coming decades, as growing numbers of people live in urban areas and climate change makes some regions much more prone to drought, water—or what many are calling "blue gold"—will become an increasingly scarce resource. By 2030 nearly half of the world's population will inhabit areas with severe water stress, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. [Evil water privitizer T. Boone] Pickens understands that. And while Texas is unusually lax in its laws about pumping groundwater, the rush to control water resources is gathering speed around the planet. In Australia, now in the sixth year of a drought, brokers in urban areas are buying up water rights from farmers. Rural residents around the U.S. are trying to sell their land (and water) to multi- national water bottlers like NestlĂ© (BW—Apr. 14). Companies that use large quantities of the precious resource to run their businesses are seeking to lock up water supplies. One is Royal Dutch Shell, which is buying groundwater rights in Colorado as it prepares to drill for oil in the shale deposits there.
And here is a handy selection of further quotes. Also word of an upcoming documentary.

There is also the absurd waste of resources involved in the packaging and transportation of bottled water, but I won't get into that here.

Anyway: Please don't drink bottled water. And bottled-water-free zones are popping up in city halls and campuses and whatnot (there is no such thing here that I'm aware of, but I am eying the well-documented record of the successful campaign at the University of Winnipeg), so support those if they come your way--individual boycotts alone aren't going to defeat Satan's spit.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Michelle Bachmann

As best as I can tell, Michelle Bachmann has recently embarked on some kind of nuttery marathon.

First I heard of her campaign against a fictitious global currency.

Then I heard her raise the alarm about some fictitious re-education camps.

And just now I ran across her call for an armed revolution against cap-and-trade.

Everywhere I turn these days, she's saying something crazy. Is she in some kind of contest?

The first two bits of nuttery can be partially explained by her unmistakable allegiance to a popular bit of End Times conspiracy theory. (Slacktivist pointed this out with respect to her opposition to the imaginary global currency.) According to scenarios like those popularized in the Left Behind series, the second coming of Christ is going to be heralded by the creation of an evil secular one-world government. This regime is going to bring the whole planet under a single global currency (you know, just cuz), and is also going to institute re-education camps. And Bachmann is going to assume that plans for those things are already under way, because she's quite convinced that the second coming, and all of the things on the checklist leading up to that, is going to happen any day now.

Just kidding!

This afternoon the news came out that, despite the Mayor's promise that four mental health clinics would not be closing (yet), they had in fact closed.

So, that sucked. We'd thought we'd won that one.

But wait! Within the span of a few hours, the news stories were updated: yes, the clinics have closed, but they'll be reopening real soon now, promise.

So: victory again! Maybe this time it'll last even longer than a couple of days.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Score one for the good guys

So I've been getting all activisty recently. (After Obama's election campaign, community organizing became the in thing, so I thought I'd check it out.)

Here's an infuriating thing: a while back the city decided to close down four of the city's mental health clinics--and all the ones slated for closure just happen to be in poor, largely minority neighbourhoods on the southside. Because if you've got a budget problem, the thing you really want to do is take support away from people with mental health problems living in impoverished areas.

There was a whole series of actions on this issue (protests and town-hall meetings), but none of those yielded much success. The mayor's office consistently refused to talk to anyone about the issue. Things were looking pretty grim. But then:
Mayor Richard Daley today issued a temporary reprieve to four South Side mental health clinics slated to close but did not say how long they would stay open.


The clinics were to close as early as Tuesday, but a brief sit-in staged Monday by clinic patients and their advocates led to meetings with Daley Chief of Staff Paul Volpe and the subsequent mayoral reprieve.
The sit-in involved a half-dozen people dressed in suits, walking into the office at different times with various legitimate-sounding inquiries--and then refusing to leave. That was the core group, ready to be arrested if it came to that. They were backed up by a much larger group of protesters outside of the office. And also a bunch of cameras from local news outlets. Beautiful.

Alas, I didn't actually make it out to that last rally. (Naturally I now feel terrible about that--not only would it have been a good thing to participate in, but it would have been a big rush, too.) And the lack of a full commitment to keeping the clinics open is worrisome. But, all that said, it still feels pretty damn good.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Goggle go!

I was looking up Kraftwerk's "Man Machine" on Youtube (good stuff), and ran across a piece of my childhood: the opening credits to Seiun Kamen MachineMan, a superhero adventure TV series of the genre which Power Rangers took all its clips from (except MachineMan belongs to the subgenre that features a single hero, rather than a team of five--I'm not sure if that's made it over here). For more information, I refer to this wiki page, which appears to be the Portuguese entry run through a computer translator.

Man that is a great theme song. I think I might have had it on tape.

And it led me to others. For example:

Don't ask me to explain the name "Goggle Five". I mean there's 5 of them, and their helmets look like they have goggles.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Spaceballs approach to apocalyptic

Our digital converter box won't pick up the Trinity Broadcasting Network. This means that my days with these crazy TV preachers are numbered. So I'm trying to enjoy them while I can.

Good ole John Hagee has delivered a couple of gems recently. For example, he asserted with great confidence that the second coming would be occurring within his lifetime. (Looking at the guy, it is evident that this is a bold claim indeed.) He quoted some scripture in support (?) of this claim, including one of the last sentences in Revelation: "Yes, I am coming soon." (22:20).

Get it? Soon!

I couldn't help but be reminded of this:

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I do dimly recall this story about this Palestinian man, Duwiyat, going on a rampage with a bulldozer in Jerusalem. And now Israel is going to knock down his family's house. Not his house, mind you, but his father's house, in which he lived, along with the rest of the members of his extended family, none of whom went nuts in a bulldozer in Jerusalem. Presumably a bulldozer will be involved in the demolition, which could count as poetic justice, assuming we imagine that collective punishment just might count as justice.

This is explicitly being done in the name of deterrence, as is apparently commonplace: Palestinian does something bad, Israel destroys home of Palestinian. I find this incomprehensible. I don't see how anyone could possibly consider this a permissible form of response. And besides that, it's just so stupid. The article notes "in 2005 a military committee ruled that the tactic did not serve as a deterrent for future attacks"--and how in the world could it? In what world is this practice going to stop Palestinians from going on rampages?

The idea that this is seriously intended to be a form of deterrent makes no sense, and I don't think it even makes sense to those who say it. "Deterrence" here is a convenient word, used to make a place in supposedly decent society for indecent aggression.

And if it were just a few houses, well, who (aside perhaps from the militants with the rocket launchers) would pay attention to something so trivial going on in the middle east. But when it used as a cover (albeit one of many--variety is the spice of life) for the death of hundreds of civilians, that's something to take notice of.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chas Freeman throws in the towel

Last month Chas Freeman was selected to be chair of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman thinks true things about Israel and US-Israel relations, and in the past has even been so bold as to give voice to those thoughts. This was cause for great concern to the "pro"-Israel lobby. As a result, Freeman became the target of intense smear campaign. This campaign was idiotic. And it worked. Says Freeman:
I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign
So that all sounds very reasonable. But surely this will serve to encourage this, the ugliest side of "pro"-Israel lobby.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

My kind of shopping

I just got a pair of Goretex-lined leather boots, used but in good condition, for $6. That's $3 a boot!

(That would be at the N. Halsted Brown Elephant.)

Friday, March 06, 2009


This is a brief article on Will Allen, and the urban farming business he started up. It sounds like he's doing happy work, but the first few sentences are terrifying:
Forget organic and locally grown food—in America's poorest urban neighborhoods, it's hard to find any affordable fruits and vegetables at all. Six grocery stores serve South Los Angeles' population of 688,000. West Oakland has no supermarkets, but close to 60 liquor stores.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I heart Amnesty International

A great idea (via BBC):
The human rights group said it had evidence both Israel and Hamas had used weapons sourced from overseas to carry out attacks on civilians.

It called for the UN Security Council to impose the embargo on all parties.
Well, how is that not fair?

And kudos also to the BBC for that darkly ironic photo-and-caption combo at the top of the story. Chalk it up to that dry British wit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Don't count your isotopes before they've hatched

The Globe and Mail printed a good reality check on Iran, including some useful history and a cute comparison to Canada. This is apparently in response to a recent round of nuclear-Iran hysteria, which involved some news outlets reporting that Iran has more atoms of U-235 than previously thought. If that bit of information leaves you asking questions about the concentration of those atoms, then you understand one of the fundamental issues in chemistry--and are therefore not in the target audience of such news reports.

More info from a scientician here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Faffing the assault on Gaza

I am in awe of how the author of Fafblog is able to distill the central points of an issue into a short post, with jokes. As in this post.
Israel's critics will forever bicker over the spilled milk of Israeli policy - a few thousand homes demolished here, a few thousand corpses over there - but we must allow that Israel has a right to defend itself, and we must also allow that defending itself necessarily entails the indiscriminate bombing of thousands of screaming refugees. After all, if an implacable terrorist enemy had been launching rockets at one of your villages, wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop them? And once those same implacable terrorist enemies agreed to a cease-fire, wouldn't you break that cease-fire by bombing them and their families, reasoning that they are, after all, implacable terrorist enemies, and not to be trusted? And when you went to bomb those terrorists and their families, wouldn't you also bomb everyone and everything around them, reasoning that only a terrorist would live near, go to school with, or be hospitalized in the same vicinity as a terrorist? And when you went to bomb everything around them, wouldn't you be sure to plan that bombing months before the event that nominally precipitated it? And before planning that massive bombing campaign, wouldn't you be sure to cut the entire population off from terrorist food, militant medicine, and jihadist electricity for months in advance? And when that population retaliated against your pre-retaliation retaliation by launching rockets at one of your villages, wouldn't that merely confirm their nature as implacable terrorist enemies who must be destroyed at any cost?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why you should be picky about seafood

When we get seafood, we try to restrict ourselves to ecologically-friendly varieties, using guides like the handy wallet-sized pamphlet from the Shedd Aquarium (pdf), or this one from the Blue Ocean Institute (now with sushi names!).

Most shrimp, for example, is pretty bad, as we see here. At least, when I've checked, most of the shrimp around here has turned out to be of the red-coloured varieties. Or the variety isn't specified, and I assume the worst. You can click around the links to find out why those varieties of shrimp are so bad. And if you want to learn more, there is a whole blog devoted to the issue of the badness of shrimp (and the volume of its consumption): Shrimp Suck.

Or maybe it's not worth the bother. Here's a confession: I've been lax in sticking to the standards of those happy seafood guides. I knew "red" meant "bad", but I didn't always stick to it. Not with respect to shrimp in particular, but some other things. (Long story short: two new sushi restaurants opened up in our neighbourhood.)

So never mind the text and stats; it's probably better just to take a look at this picture:

That handful of shrimp is the catch. The myriad critters underneath are the by-catch, which will be thrown back into the ocean, dead, like so:

I can't even stand to leave a single grain of rice in my bowl (a success for my mother). The thought of the amount of waste seen in those pictures makes me feel slightly ill. So now whenever I'm tempted to dip outside of the green column of my seafood guides, I'll just call those pictures to mind, and that should take care of it.

Aside from the dynamics of my personal appetite, the moral of the story is nicely summed up in the this Grist post, which is where I got the pictures from in the first place: "We're loving seafood -- and the seas -- to death."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

John Chrysostom on wealth and poverty

The poor man has one plea, his want and his standing in need: do not require anything else from him; but even if he is the most wicked of all men and is at a loss for his necessary sustenance, let us free him from hunger....

If it is possible for you, remember everything I have said. If you cannot remember everything, instead of everything, I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.
That's from some sermons on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) delivered back in the day by John Chrysostom, who was apparently some kind of rabid commie or anarchist or lord knows what.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Untrained melody

The spiel for this BBC audio slide show on the Soweto Gospel choir describes the choir members as "untrained singers". They sing in (four part?) harmony, they've won two Grammies, they accompany their songs with choreographed dances, and a good number of them have probably been singing their whole lives. But they are "untrained". They were not taught to sing scales by an elderly caucasian with spectacles and an English accent. What other kind of training could there be?

Which reminds me, Youtube has the entirety of the movie Amandla, a documentary about music under apartheid in South Africa. (It's even legal.) It features some people with amazing voices, probably similarly "untrained".

Friday, February 06, 2009

Generic Asian family wish you happy Asian new year

On the occasion of the Lunar New Year, the local Citibank branch featured a special display including the following fliers. As you can see, one features a Korean family celebrating the New Year, the other a Chinese family doing the same.

These were right beside each other on a table. I think maybe they weren't meant to be together on the same table.

But I'm sure both groups felt properly honoured by these specially tailored promotional materials. (Including the people from mainland China who weren't taught that set of Chinese characters in school.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Write 60 Minutes' Bob Simon a letter of support

Bob Simon of 60 Minutes ran a good piece on the role played by Israeli settlements in the peace process. Part one, part two. Summary: settlements = no peace process. A simple truth about the situation, presented in a straightforward manner, on an American network -- whodathunkit?

Some groups are trying to crack the whip at Simon and 60 Minutes in response. One of these is CAMERA, which I think has had some success in getting media outlets to back off from criticizing Israel.

You can contribute to a counter-campaign by sending off a quick email via J Street.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Canada TQMs research

The Canadian Association of University Teachers analyzes the new Canadian budget. Here's the outlook for research:
Budget 2009 offers very little for the academic research community. There are no increases to the base budgets of the granting councils. In fact, the government has identified “strategic review savings” of $17.1 million in 2009-10, $43 million in 2010-11, and $87.2 million in 2011-12 for a total of $147.9 million over three years. These savings are to be used to support the infrastructure funding, and to upgrade Arctic research facilities.
Well, OK, that sucks, but after last year the budget was bound to suck for academia.

But this, on the other hand:
As well, $87.5 million of the savings will be returned to the granting agencies not for research but to temporarily expand the Graduate Scholarship Program. It’s also worth noting that government will require that these scholarships awarded by SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council] be focused on business-related degrees.
Wow. How deeply must you misunderstand academia in order to decide that that's a good idea? I guess first you need to think that the university ought to spend more of its time aiming at somehow generating money. You would then have to imagine that PhD research in business schools is somehow by nature more suited to that task. (They are presumably aware that MBAs aren't doing any research for this Research Council to fund.) It's hard to see how this decisions stems from anything other than a robust combination of both cynicism and immense ignorance--and while the former is probably inevitable in a Conservative government, one might have hoped that they would avoid the latter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quotable quotes from the Israel lobby

Obama has appointed George Mitchell as his envoy to Israel and Palestine. Richard Silverstein notes that this has the Israel lobby worried. Why?
“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support.

“So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.”
Major pro-Israel groups “tend to favor the kind of mediator with the least prospects of success,” said MJ Rosenberg, a longtime pro-Israel activist and policy director for the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). “George Mitchell worries them because he was so successful in Northern Ireland, a success that was built on his persistence and his utterly impartiality ... and a deal means Israeli concessions which they have never favored. The stronger the candidate for envoy or mediator — the more of an honest broker he or she would be -- the more uncomfortable they are.”
I do not think "pro-Israel" means what they think it means.

Quotable quotes from Israeli officials

On the real war--the propaganda one:
"There is an unequal war going on there between a power and a terror organization, and the only way to hurt us is to get those images to hurt us in the battlefield of public opinion," Danny Seaman, the head of Israel's Government Press Office, said last week before the strike on Abuelaish's [*] home. "In that sense, the less pictures coming out helping them the better."
There could hardly be another explanation for the fact that Israel banned the presence of international media from Gaza (contrary to a ruling from its own Supreme Court), but you wouldn't expect them to actually admit it quite like that.

On proportionality:
The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these [the villages] are military bases," he said.

"This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised."
Which goes together nicely with this account of the IDF plan in Gaza City.

And then there's Olmert saying he got Bush to tell Rice to reverse America's vote on a cease-fire resolution.

They just say this stuff. Pretty remarkable.

* "Abuelaish" = "Abu Al-Aish", as in, the peace activist doctor with the three dead kids. Shouldn't we have a consistent romanization scheme for this language already?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"A Lost Opportunity"

"You, Ivan, are strong and free to go wherever you please, while I have been lying for years on the oven. You think that you know everything and that I do not know anything. No! you are still a child, and as such you cannot see that a kind of madness controls your actions and blinds your sight. The sins of others are ever before you, while you resolutely keep your own behind your back. I know that what Gavryl did was wrong, but if he alone should do wrong there would be no evil in the world. Do you think that all the evil in the world is the work of one man alone? No! it requires two persons to work much evil in the world. You see only the bad in Gavryl's character, but you are blind to the evil that is in your own nature. If he alone were bad and you good, then there would be no wrong."


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dr. Abu Al-Aish, CBC headline

The story of Dr. Abu Al-Aish became the lead story on the CBC site. It probably helps that he has a Canadian connection: a job offer at the University of Toronto. Canadians love Canadian connections.

His daughters were apparently discussing their possible future in Canada when those Israeli shells brought the house down on them.

I can't fathom it.

But the good doctor has not lost hope. Not for himself and his remaining family members, and not for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He remains a raging peacenik. Small mercies.

Paying for peace?

In the UK, there was a debate about Gaza. It sounds like it was a real debate. A powerful moment:
Sir Gerald, who was brought up as an orthodox Jew and Zionist, told MPs: "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town .. a German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

"My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza."
Chris Mullin, the Labour former minister, says that war crimes are being committed by the Israelis. He accepts that Israeli civilians are at risk, but he says civilians were killed in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s by terrorists "and we did not go and level west Belfast".
And there were plenty of other criticisms of Israel, and of course plenty who spoke in defense.

But, regardless of who was right and who was wrong, the debate in the Commons did reflect something of the difficult nature of the issue, as well as (no doubt) the split in British opinion over the issue.

In America opinion is similarly split. Shortly after the attacks Rasmussen did a poll. In the general populace, about 44% supported the attacks, while 41% opposed -- a pretty even split. Among Democrats, 55% opposed, 31% supported -- so Democrats opposed the attacks by a rather large margin. And this was in the early days of the offensive; the numbers would be rather less kind to the IDF today.

But such a split in opinion is hardly registered at all among America's politicians. Glenn Greenwald noted this early on, and then we had the spectacle of a one-sided resolution passing in Congress 309-5, with 22 abstaining. The chorus-line of unconditional support for Israel in all it does was, apparently, broken only by Paul and Kucinich.

It is bad enough that the American government effectively gave Israel carte blanche. But that is not the deepest problem. It would be one thing if there had been a vigorous debate, of the sort that occurred in the UK, leading to the wrong conclusion -- if there had been a fight where the good guys had lost. But there was hardly any fight at all. It's not just that there was a wrong conclusion; rather the whole political discourse is so corrupt (so one-sided, so out of contact with both the opinions of the general populace and the nature of the issue itself) that it is impossible to see how the end result could possibly have been different.

Juan Cole places the blame on AIPAC, which he thinks is more or less uncontested in its rule over this issue in Washington. He argues that the only way to bring some sanity to American foreign policy with respect to Israel and the Palestinians is to have a lobby which can counter the influence of AIPAC. (He has more to say about it here, following a mind-boggling report of Ehud Olmert bragging about how Bush and Rice are his little puppets).

Such a lobby would have to involve money, which of course speaks louder than (say) protests or letters. But Cole thinks this is in fact doable. He argues that the main obstacle to his proposal is that there is a lack of organization. It is not that the cash is unavailable. He claims that AIPAC often gets its way with relatively modest sums of money.

But something feels dirty about the idea of paying money for peace. The direct beneficiary of that money is going to be some politician of dubious moral character. This does not satisfy the idealistic bleeding heart. But that's beside the point. The real question is one of effectiveness. And it is hard to see what could be effective, if not this.

Mission accomplished

Prof. John Mearsheimer in The American Conservative provides a handy summary of the crisis in Gaza, its recent history and prognosis (via). A particularly dreadful moment:
After the IDF killed 40 Palestinian civilians in a UN school on Jan. 6, Ha’aretz reported that “senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower.” One officer explained, “For us, being cautious means being aggressive. From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground … I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock.”
I'm sure they'll be describing it to each other clear through the next generation. If that was the goal, well done.

Dr. Abu al-Aish

Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish is a Palestinian gynecologist; he speaks Hebrew, and was trained in Israel; he lives in Gaza but works at a hospital in Israel. He lives in both worlds, and naturally desires that the two be reconciled; so he works as a peace activist.

Since the beginning of the Israeli offensive, he's been stuck inside Gaza, and has apparently been in numerous phone interviews on Israeli TV, describing the suffering and the medical situation within Gaza. On Friday he was scheduled for yet another interview, but when the studio called him up at his home, housing an extended family of 18 people, they found out that the IDF had just dropped a tank shell on the heads of his children.

To their enormous credit, the anchors and producers put the call directly on air. Watch the clip at your own discretion.

This man works for peace. He helps the wives and daughters of Israel have healthy babies, and Israel killed his girls.

Afterward he and some of his wounded relatives were allowed out of Gaza; they are being treated at the hospital where he works. This is not a service done for the average resident of besieged Gaza, but because of his high profile he received this great and absurd favour. While there:
Abu al-Aish spoke of his slain daughters - Bisan, 20, an economics and business management student at Islamic University in Gaza, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, as well as his niece, Nur, 17.

"I raised my children to work, and to be soldiers of peace. I believed medicine could be a bridge for peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "During all of my work at Soroka people would ask me, 'Where are you from - Haifa, Nazareth? I wanted them to know I'm from Jabalya refugee camp, a Palestinian. That we can live together."
Dream on, doctor. (Please.)



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Early Christian class warfare

The Didache is a Christian document from somewhere in the first three centuries, a sort of manual or handbook (an early edition of Christianity for Dummies).

One section of the Didache contrasts "the way of life" (good) with "the way of death" (bad). Here are some of the vices associated with the latter.
"They love vanity," "look for profit," have no pity for the poor, do not exert themselves for the oppressed, ignore their Maker, "murder children," corrupt God's image, turn their backs on the needy, oppress the afflicted, defend the rich, unjustly condemn the poor, and are thoroughly wicked. My children, may you be saved from all this!
There's a lot of stuff about the rich and the poor in there, over and over again. The author(s) in the Didache were apparently highly concerned about emphasizing this point -- almost as if there was a risk that Christians would forget about their obligations to the poor!

And it's evil to even defend the rich. Wow -- possibly the primary meaning there is legal, in which case it seems to be saying that the rich deserve to lose every court case. Or maybe it's being used in a broader sense. It's actually a pretty important word there: "parakletos". This is used in the NT to refer to the Holy Spirit. Now, I think that use of the word might only be found explicitly in John, which might not have been available to the author(s) of the Didache (possibly the Didache predates John). But it sure is fun to think that that part of the Didache was written in light of that connotation of "parakletos".

"A Sderot Woman Speaks Out against Gaza War"

Here (via). The woman is Nomika Zion (what a name for a dissenter). She argues that the war is unjust, and that furthermore it will not lead to peace for Israel. Sderot is less than a mile away from the border of Gaza, and possibly the most popular target of rocket attacks from there. People who blather on about how critics of Israel ought to imagine rockets raining down on their neighbourhood -- I wonder what they would have to say to her.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

If terrorists were raining rockets down on my neighbourhood....

I hope I would be able to maintain as much sense as these folks.
Despite the ongoing rocket attacks on their town from Gaza in the last several years, some 500 Sderot residents have recently signed a petition calling to stop the IDF operation in the Strip and renew the truce with Hamas.

Arik Yalin, 43, from Sderot told Ynet that over 1,800 Israelis and Palestinians have already joined the petition. "About a month ago we realized that the situation was about to deteriorate into total chaos," he explained.

"It's important for us to voice an opinion that represents quite a few residents who live within the rocket range but who believe that we can, and should try to resolve this ongoing conflict in a peaceful manner.

"We have experienced the terrible hardship of life under rocket fire for the past eight years, and it has deeply hurt us both mentally and physically. Our need to voice a different stance stems from the strong desire to change the situation and begin negotiations with the other side in order to stop the violence," he added.

According to Yalin, a military operation will only deepen the hatred on both sides and reduce the chances of reaching a settlement.
Via Tikun Olam.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I heart this marine

A former marine and Iraq vet writes the following at the NYT:
I am dismayed by the rhetoric from US politicians and pundits to the effect that “if the US were under rocket attack from Mexico or Canada, we would respond like the Israelis”. This a gross insult to US servicemen; I can assure you that we would NOT respond like the Israelis... Israel has indeed taken a small number of casualties from Hamas rocket fire (about 20 killed since 2001), but we have taken thousands of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many civilian personnel. [...]

Americans do not, I repeat DO NOT, respond to that fire indiscriminately. When I say “indiscriminately”, I mean that even if we can precisely identify the source of the fire (which can be very difficult), we do not respond if we know we will cause civilian casualties. [...]

With that in mind, I find the conduct of the Israeli army in Gaza to be brutal and dishonorable, and it is insulting that they and others claim that the US military would behave in the same way.
These people defending Israel's actions in Gaza are thereby insulting American soldiers? OK, rhetorically that basically tops anything any of us peaceniks could possibly have to say on the issue.

And on the attack on the UN school:
In particular, I am stunned at the Israeli explanation for the 30+ civilians killed at the UN school. The Israelis say they were responding to mortar fire from the school. Mortars are insidious because their high trajectory and lack of primary flash make it very difficult to trace the source of the fire; you have to have a spotter locate the crew. The Israelis claim that they traced the source of the fire precisely to the school; if so, they must have directly spotted the crew. Thus it is inconceivable that the Israelis did not know that the target was a crowded UN school, yet they chose to fire on the school anyhow. [...] US servicemen do not behave that way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we face much deadlier adversaries (Hamas mortar crews are apparently not very effective: I believe that all but one of the total Israeli combat fatalities have been from friendly fire).
Via Juan Cole, who provides caveats (and lots of other commentary).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A good blog

Tikun Olam, a liberal Jewish blog. Can't recall how I came across it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I heart Dr. Mads Gilbert (and Dr. Erik Fosse)

Mads Gilbert is a Norwegian doctor. He is well-spoken, capable of sounding passionate while maintaining a reasonable and objective tone. He has an accent, but it's slight, and it's one of those respectable European accents. He is white. And he is working at Al-Shifa, the largest hospital and Gaza. And CBS put him on the news twice.

(via Juan Cole)

Thank you, Dr. Gilbert.

And thank you, CBS, for not being all bad.

Edit: Dr. Gilbert also got on CNN. Erik Fosse is another Norwegian doctor, who also got covered by CNN online, but I'm not sure if he's gotten on the all-important idiot box. 2nd Edit: I just noticed that the white doctor guy in that first CNN link is identified as Dr. Fosse, but he sure looks like Dr. Gilbert. And BBC.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Gaza letter

So I wrote this letter. Different versions went out to different politicians. The one for was quite a bit different near the end. If I were writing to a Republican, I'd have to take out the references to Bush -- I would probably also not bother at all.

* * *

[So-and-so, we're in your constituency.] We are writing to encourage you to join us in calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza, and to join us in supporting a long-term renewal of constructive American involvement in the peace process.

We agree wholeheartedly that Israel has a right to self-defense. However the right to self-defense does not justify any response whatsoever, and we believe that the Israeli offensive is clearly causing excessive death and suffering among the civilian populace of Gaza. Furthermore, we believe that the current attacks are ultimately contrary to Israel's long-term security interests. This is not a matter of taking sides with Gaza against Israel, or with Israel against Gaza: it is in the interests of everyone concerned that the Israeli assault ends immediately

For the sake of the civilian populace of Gaza, it is imperative that the current attacks cease immediately, in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. Since Hamas gained control of the region in June 2007, Israel has placed an economic blockade around Gaza. The stated aim of the blockade was to halt rocket attacks, but this has not come about. Instead the blockade has served to cause shortages of food, fuel, and electricity. These problems have been greatly exacerbated by Israel's recent attacks. Hospitals and medical supplies are stretched thin, and sewage has begun running in the streets. The UN, the Red Cross, Oxfam, and other organizations are calling for an immediate truce, and demanding that Gaza get full access to humanitarian aid. (Please see references below.)

We believe that these attacks are both unjust on a moral level, and unwise on a pragmatic level. Convincing arguments for these points have been made, for example, in an article in the Economist and by former National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (please see references below). We will summarize the main points here.

Israel's attacks are unjust because they fail three crucial tests: they are not proportional to the threat posed by Hamas; Israel has not exhausted peaceful means of resolving its conflict with Hamas; and the attacks have no reasonable chance of ending the threat posed by Hamas.

First, the attacks are entirely disproportional to the threat posed by the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. According to the Economist, about a dozen Israelis had been killed by rocket attacks coming out of Gaza during the time period from Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, up to the beginning of Israel's attacks on Gaza a few days ago. So that is about 12 Israeli deaths in over 3 years. Since the beginning of Israel's attacks, Hamas has fired rockets killing 4 more Israelis. Meanwhile, according to the UN, over 400 Gazans have been killed by Israeli attacks so far, and 25% of these are civilians. That is 100 Gazan civilians killed by Israeli attacks over the course of just a few days, compared to 4 Israeli civilians killed in the same time, and about a dozen in over three years prior. There is no comparison.

Second, Israel did not exhaust peaceful means of seeking an end to the conflict. One of Hamas' major demands has been that Israel drop this blockade. Israel has not tried in good faith to meet this demand in exchange for peace.

Third, the attacks cannot end the threat posed by Hamas. No Israeli military action has ever been able to end Palestinian terrorist activity, and there is no reason to suppose that the current military action will succeed where past military actions have failed. The attacks cannot be effective in achieving their stated goals. The civilians of Gaza are suffering and dying to no real purpose.

So that is the moral case against Israel's attacks. In addition, the attacks are unwise: they are contrary to the long-term interests of Israel, and contrary to America's interests in achieving peace in the region. Israel's attacks on Gaza are further radicalizing the population of Gaza, and the West Bank as well. Indeed, they are further radicalizing Arab and Muslim populations around the world. And this in turn is undermining popular support for those Arab leaders who have been most cooperative with Israel. Moderate Arab leaders like Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are partners which Israel and the peace process can scarcely do without, but in light of Israel's recent attacks the Arab masses are condemning them as collaborators. Meanwhile regimes unfriendly to Israel, such as Iran, are gaining in popular support and influence as a result of the attacks.

But if the attacks are so clearly immoral and unwise, why did they ever happen? There is reason to think that the decision to attack was motivated by domestic Israeli politics (see references below). There is an upcoming election in Israel. The hawkish rhetoric of Benjamin Netanyahu has become popular among Israeli voters, and this threatens to cost Israel's current leaders (Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni) the election. This gives them excellent motivation to show some muscle in Gaza, in the hopes of convincing Israeli voters that their hawkish credentials are just as strong as Netanyahu's. So it is likely that the attacks are politically motivated.

This ought to sound all too familiar to us here in America. Israel's leaders are simply following the precedent set by the Bush administration: immoral, unwise, and politically motivated military ventures are precisely what we have seen coming out of the Bush White House. Indeed, as Dr. Brzezinski rightly points out, the Bush administration's failure to take a serious role in the peace process is largely to blame for the current tragedies on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. As might be expected, the Bush administration has in effect condoned Israel's military actions against the people of Gaza.

[So-and-so], we hope and pray that President-elect Barack Obama will correct the errors of the Bush administration in this regard. But no matter how things change after Inauguration Day, we do not think that the civilian population of Gaza can afford to wait until then. So please join us in calling for an immediate end to Israel's attacks on Gaza. And please join us also in urging President-elect Obama to lead America towards a more reasonable, responsible, and constructive engagement in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: a form of engagement which does not condone the deaths of innocent civilians and the further radicalization of Arab and Muslim populations, and which takes a serious interest in renewing the peace process.





[Oxfam] Gaza crisis: Crisis critical with supplies of food and fuel perilously low

[Red Cross] Gaza Strip: civilians at risk as attacks continue

[BBC] Gaza facing 'critical emergency'


[Economist] Gaza: the rights and wrongs

[MSNBC] Zbigniew Brzezinski interview


[BBC] Israel's mixed motives for strikes

[Chicago Tribune] Israel's politics in play as it hits Hamas,0,3825693.story