RSS feed for entries


The migrant crisis and standing in line

I get a kick out of seeing editorials in the United States (the NYTimes had one recently) lecturing the Europeans on being more humane and welcoming to migrants.

Irony is dead.

However, that’s a side issue. What I wanted to write about is the problem created by unbalanced idealism.

When it comes to the immediate crisis, the humane side insists help is the only possible response, which is right, and ignores the downstream consequences, which is wrong. It’s also stupid, and it provides no counterweight to the seal-the-borders xenophobes.

Just as a matter of numbers, imagine all of subsaharan Africa (about 800,000,000) and the Middle East (approx. 350,000,000) coming to Europe. And that means Germany, Scandinavia, UK, Benelux, and France, (around 250,000,000). Most migrants are not hoping to stop in, say, Slovakia. With that level of migration, those countries in Europe would indeed be swamped.

That is the future the anti-migrant people fear. You’re not going to change their minds by one neuron if your only response is to say, “How dare you be such an inhuman monster!” Inhumanity is not what they’re worried about.

It would be far more productive to say that nowhere near everyone is fleeing. And don’t try to argue that not everybody wants to, even though it’s true. The fearful people can’t believe that. Point out that even if everyone did want to, they couldn’t because they don’t have the money. Of the few millions who can or will, Europe is getting the cream of the crop: the most enterprising, the well-off, the better-educated. Europe, it could be pointed out, could use more workers than it has to support the aging pensioners. This could all be a win-win.

I realize none of those arguments would matter to racists. I realize that some of the loudest anti-migrants are racists. I’m not talking to them or for them. They’re not worth engaging on any level. The people who could be convinced of a better response than “Screw ’em!” are the non-racists, or are only minor part-time racists. They’re just afraid for what they hold dear, and they’re a majority of the anti-migrants. Those are the people who could be convinced of better solutions than what the racists want, but only if their fears are addressed. Telling them to shut up and help won’t do that.

There’s also an obvious disconnect when talking about mitigating the refugee crisis rather than sealing the borders. The extreme anti-migrants are consistent. They’re saying “shut them out, too bad if they suffer,” and that’s the same wherever the migrants are. If they’re suffering at home or traveling or at the border, the answer is the same.

But if you’re on the side of helping the migrants, then where do you stop? Helping those at the border does nothing against the devastation of the hundreds of millions who can’t flee. If letting migrants die at the border is bad, why is it suddenly okay if they suffer at home?

I don’t see how the answer could be anything rooted in principle. The only real difference is whether people suffer a continent away or right on Europe’s doorstep. The “migrant crisis” consists of those in and near Europe. But actual consistency in humanitarian help means understanding that nothing less than global peace, prosperity, and good government is the real solution. Toxic levels of inequality in safety and well-being are driving this thing. All I can think when I try to envision a true solution is “Good luck with that.”

As far away as that real solution is, though, I think we’d do better to acknowledge it. Be forthright that we can’t do more than apply a few band-aids. That’s not only better than doing nothing, it’s also part of the path to the real solution. Whereas the wonderfully consistent seal-the-borders attitude makes any solution, even their preferred one, impossible. Borders can’t be sealed. It’s been tried. It doesn’t work.

But as far as the immediate problem goes, all that is another side issue. The point I want to make is that not addressing plausible fears just makes them more plausible. It does nothing to help the situation. It convinces the fearful that there’s no good way to address their fears. It tells them the only leaders with plausible solutions are the Tony Abbotts, the stop-the-boats-even-if-they-all-die crowd.

Let me try to explain what I mean by plausible fears.

I’m a third generation migrant. My family has been fleeing dictators, wars, misogyny, poverty, and more wars for decades. It changes people.

For instance, when I’m in a busy supermarket, I figure my partner and I should each wait in a different line, and then one of us can hop over to whichever line turns out to move faster. Sure, it’s not entirely fair to the folks further back who suddenly have a brimming cart added to their line. Part of me, the decisionmaking part, just can’t care enough about that. His idea is that you patiently wait your turn and he’s always upset at my tactics.

My mother was one of the kindest people on the planet. She was a teacher most of her professional life and her students couldn’t say enough for her fairness and how much she cared about them. But when she wanted to bring back some extra bottles of champagne as gifts from a trip, she gave them to eleven year-old me to smuggle through so we wouldn’t have to pay duty on them. I loved it. And I did it rather well, if I do say so myself. I know plenty of US’ers who’d be horrified at contributing to the delinquency of a minor like that.

Okay. I know. Those examples are such small things they’d work as comedy. But my point is that when your survival depends on taking shortcuts, you learn to take them. Then, when you’re in a more benign situation, you have to unlearn that again. Otherwise the place you fled to for its peace and prosperity turns into the same kind of free-for-all you fled from.

Because, really, the social contract, civilization, is nothing but a promise we make to each other. It can be broken overnight. Look at ISIS and how few years it took for the 9th century to lay waste to millions of people. Civilization depends on everyone keeping their word, it depends on trust. Something as basic as cooking food requires trust. It doesn’t take very many people cutting corners to destroy that trust. And refugees do cut corners. It’s one of the things the fearful people resent about them. (Well, that and the fact that they’re usually a lot better at it than the locals.) That reduction of trust really does need to be addressed. Maybe something like a mentoring system for new refugees could help (re)teach those who could use it how to navigate the system in a rule-based, stodgy way. Yes, that would take even more money.

And then there’s a big one. Misogyny. That can’t even be mentioned, for some reason. Somehow, it’s racist or xenophobic to point out the glaring fact: way too many male migrants to Europe are used to treating women like dirt. That is not acceptable. It’s a valid objection no matter what the politics or gender of the person making it. Pretending the issue doesn’t exist or that it’s racist to insist on the human rights of half the population is not a solution. All that will do is drive people toward those politicians who don’t ignore it, who, at this point, are all of the seal-the-borders variety.

What to do about it is the really hard part. I don’t know, of course. I could see preferentially admitting female migrants and their children. Male migrants would turn out to be quick learners if, say, three complaints of harassment were automatic grounds for deportation. There could also be another mentoring program people could sign up for to learn local cultural norms. People with more experience helping migrants understand the local culture would have much better ideas.

The immediate objection from the left to any suggestions of acculturation is that it’s disrespectful, imperialistic, patronizing, and takes immigrants’ culture away from them. I don’t know about disrespectful and patronizing, but as to taking that aspect of their culture away from them, why, yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I think must happen. Kindness to migrants does not mean one has to destroy the good aspects of one’s own society or suffer the loss of rights for half the population, local and immigrant alike.

Humanitarian leftists, by refusing to acknowledge what validity there is in these fears and by failing to have solutions that would mitigate them, open the door to the other “solution.” People get more and more frantic. They vote for bloodyminded governments. (Just one more example from today to add to all the others accumulating.) Before you know it, you have Tony Abbott, stopping the boats at all costs, including the slow and horrible deaths of migrants. That doesn’t lead to revulsion among his voters, by and large. Don’t kid yourself. It increases his popularity. The refugees aren’t the only ones who can lose everything that matters in this process.

That’s the choice. Addressing fears rationally and usefully, or letting them take over.

    Print This Post Print This Post

The sound of freedom

Fighter jets roared by above our yoga studio. Breaks the ambience, right?

One woman put it in context by murmuring,

“The sound of freedom.”

And I thought Dear God, where do you even start?

I spent the rest of the class absentmindedly bent into various shapes and thinking non-serene thoughts.

If weapons were the sound of freedom, there’d be no such thing as dictators.

The sound of freedom is the woman yelling about underpaid janitors at Speakers’ Corner.

The sound of freedom is the boy pushing his little sister in her stroller, walking through the quiet park filled with bird song, and no parents shouting at him to come home because it’s not safe.

The sound of freedom is nobody wondering where their next meal is coming from.

Is there any hope we can hold on to freedom, when so many don’t even know what it is they want to hold?

    Print This Post Print This Post

Terrorist Hunting Permit

That’s the bumpersticker I drove behind for miles. I didn’t see it at first. It was just small and black-and-white and down on the actual bumper. Higher up was an “Impeach Obama” sticker. Fair enough. You feel the current Preznit has not upheld the Constitution, you have the right to say so. Another had a picture of the Democratic Donkey and the words “Warning. Nuts Inside.” Also fair enough. Hard to argue with, even. Next to that (the guy is into bumperstickers and I had plenty of time to read them all) was one saying “Freedom isn’t free. Thank a vet.” As well as many other kinds of people. Then quite a long one: “I believe in the Constitution which says we still have freedom of speech.”

I’m getting the impression the guy is into America! Number One! Freedom!

Fine. Whatever. And then I get to the Terrorist Hunting Permit.

So, suddenly might makes right? After all that stuff about freedom and constitutions? How exactly are you going to impeach Obama if you dump the rule of law and just hunt down anyone you want? You do realize the size of the guns he controls, right?

The viciousness is heartsickening. But somehow — I can’t even explain it to myself — the stupidity is even worse.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Congressmen should have at least room temperature IQ

Now I’ve heard everything. I know. This is an Idaho state rep. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not fit to empty bedpans, let alone make decisions that will wind up killing women.

This nincompoopery happened during hearings about an anti-abortion bill.

An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

I mean, ‘s obvious, right? Unlike men, who are known to have stomachs and lungs and hearts somewhere in their bodies, women are just bags for incubating fetuses. No doubt he’s also convinced they can get pregnant from oral sex.

Could we please have qualification exams for Congressmen? You know, they have to be able to spell their own names, know which end is their ass, stuff like that.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Offensive offendedness

I haven’t commented on the murders of freethinkers at Charlie Hebdo or in Copenhagen because I’m too angry. Goons want to send us all back to the Dark Ages. We mustn’t let them. That’s beyond self-evident. Human rights, basic freedoms, secular governments, obliviousness to blasphemy rules, these are all essential to peaceful societies where everyone’s rights are equally respected.

(Yes, it includes blasphemy. Otherwise, if you can’t say anything I don’t like and I can’t say anything you don’t like, and nobody can say anything Joe doesn’t like, it won’t take long before everyone can say nothing and there is no freedom of speech.)

I do realize that free speech which gives offense is a complicated subject. It is said to justify harassing women into silence, soaking a crucifix in urine and calling it art, or drawing Mohammed to comment on the methods of violent loonies who call themselves Muslims.

Do I think it justifies these things? In the order given, no, yes, and yes. I’ll do a second interminable post on it some day explaining exactly why simply because I feel compelled.

But, really, there’s no need. It’s all been laid out by Evolving Perspectives in one cartoon. (I took the liberty of translating the French back to English. Click on the image or the link to the source for a full size version.)

What to do about offense: a flowchart. (Note the first fork: Is anyone harmed?)

    Print This Post Print This Post

Vaccination (like everything else) is about rights

There is no controversy about vaccines. They work. The diseases they prevent are horrible. The vaccines themselves are about as harmless as it’s possible to be and still exist in the real world. For instance, Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, DTaP: fewer than one person in one million has serious complications. “Serious” means any reaction that requires medical attention, even if it’s temporary, such as high fever or a bad allergic reaction. Measles-mumps-rubella, MMR: fewer than one in one million with serious complications; inactivated polio, IPV: even fewer than the previous; shingles: none reported yet so “being monitored.” (Source: CDC)

As for the generated “controversy” about vaccines, it deserves as much attention as people who plan to fly by flapping their arms. It is nonsense. Yes, science and medicine have both been wrong about some very important things in the past, and they will be again. Vaccination is not one of them. The evidence in favor of it is beyond overwhelming. End of story. That is, it’s the end of the scientific and medical story.

Politically, it’s not the end of the story because there’s no law saying we always have to be rational. If I want to jump off a roof while flapping my arms and kill myself, I can do that.

But not vaccinating differs from the personal choice to be an idiot in one very important respect: it’s not just personal. It can take other people down with it. And there are laws against that.

So which law counts? The one that says I get to decide about my own medical treatments, or the one that says I can’t damage people?

Before the current measles outbreak, the comments on news sites would have fit comfortably into this Onion article. Now that there is an outbreak because so many people avoided vaccination, or had it avoided for them if they’re children, people feel vulnerable. Suddenly the comments are calling for these horrible parents to be jailed. Suddenly a lot of people are clear on the fact that vaccination is not a purely individual thing. Now they’re going nuts in the opposite direction, from loony libertarian straight to jackbooted totalitarian.

Both are wrong, obviously, because neither works, obviously. The only solution is a balancing act between the different rights.

I know that’s the last thing most people want to hear. It’s much easier to be simple and wrong than go to all the trouble of thinking things through. But the sad fact is that there’s no other way to get to what works. Luckily, in this case it’s not even difficult.

The right to make your own medical decisions is rather worthless if anybody can kill you at any time. The right not to be harmed by others takes precedence over all other rights because they are all meaningless if that one is not respected.

So the balancing act is quite easy: the public health issue of not infecting others with contagious diseases takes precedence over anyone’s personal medical choices.

This is yet one more example of the fact that rights are not equal, that there’s a hierarchy of rights, and that some are more essential than others. Some rights have to take precedence over others or else they all become meaningless.

Therefore the medical and public health requirements for vaccination take precedence over any non-medical objections. There can’t be allowances for religious or philosophical objections. It means the whole US has to follow the lead of Mississippi and West Virginia and have only medically necessary exemptions from vaccination.

A plague doctor. 1819

That said, though, the idea is to have as high a vaccination rate as possible. It’s not to beat people up for ignorance. So resources need to be directed toward the actual goal, vaccination, and not squandered on useless, resentment-building exercises like jailing recalcitrant parents. Yes, it’s important to stop the Onion mindset of “I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back.” Even more important is to see that they get vaccinated, no matter what the voices in their heads are telling them.

Sometimes it takes very little to achieve that goal. For instance, in one health district [update-2015-02-04: near Duchesne, Utah], registering a philosophical objection to vaccination required nothing more than a tick mark in a box. Receiving the vaccination on the other hand cost $25. When the public health officials were trying to figure out how to get more people vaccinated, one bright worker noted that they should invert the incentives. So the vaccination was given free, but expressing a philosophical objection required payment of $25 for “administrative costs.” Which isn’t even a lie.

You know how that story ends. The number of objectors plummeted. The vaccination rates climbed above the medically essential 95% of the population, and the problem was solved, at least from the standpoint of public health. And that’s the first priority.

    Print This Post Print This Post

The USA officially supports torture

I started this blog because I was sick at what the US was doing. The first post was on this horrible topic. I’d like to repeat one point.

There are two hallmarks shared by dictatorships: detention without trial and torture.

At that point, it no longer looked like the US might step back from the brink, but even then I assumed they would at least pretend to respect human rights.

Apparently not.

The US has just gone over that line. The head of state is supporting torture, out loud. Obama. Won’t be prosecuting anyone because, because, because.

[The Geneva Convention and US law] specifically bars any exception in the case of national emergency. Not to prosecute because of such an emergency is therefore to end the Geneva Conventions – which is what Obama has effectively done.

Rest in peace, Lady Liberty

    Print This Post Print This Post

Ebola First World Problems

This is not to minimize the real suffering of the real people who have contended with the real disease in the First World. It is a horrifying disease wherever it occurs.

No, this post is about what I’ve been seeing in the news here. When the disease was limited to Africa, it wasn’t seeing much at all in the US. Thousands died, and there was hardly a blip. What I did see seemed mostly to question whether there was any point in sending medical aid.

Now that there have been about seven cases here (the two Samaritan’s Purse health workers, Thomas Duncan, his two nurses, a freelance journalist in Nebraska, and the Doctors Without Borders physician there’s currently a flap about)– now that there have been cases here, the country is hysterical.

NASA artist's conception of asteroid destroying Earth
(artist unknown. NASA)

A school in Maine put a teacher on administrative leave after parents “expressed concern” — meaning panicked — that she could have been exposed because she visited Dallas with one Ebola patient in quarantine in a hospital that she never visited.

I’ve heard of a caller to emergency services complaining about a pilot running around loose who’d been to West Africa, which later turned out to be the same place in the caller’s small mind as Western Europe. And, yes, that’s funny, but it’s also bad. While that drivel is going on, the dispatcher and the ambulance (they sent out an ambulance?!) can’t respond to actual emergencies.

People of West African extraction are being shunned because, because what? They’re catching it by quantum juju from people 5000 miles away whom they’ve never met? White Africans, interestingly enough don’t seem to be seen as quite as susceptible to magical infection.

Most recently, a bunch of governors saw a great opportunity to get out in front of the hysteria and Doooo Something. Let’s quarantine everybody, sick or not, who’s ever been near West Africa. So when a selfless altruist like Kaci Hickox returns, a woman who’s a nurse for Doctors Without Borders and has treated Ebola patients and actually knows something about the disease, when she returns she becomes a political plaything for Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo (bipartisanship!) to score points with ignorant voters by dumping her into a senseless quarantine.

Quarantine is for CONTAGIOUS people. It’s a useless waste of money and resources applied to any traveller some bozo happens to have fantasies about. Quarantine can be a medical necessity. It needs to be done on medical grounds. When it’s nothing but jerks lashing out in panic, it’s not only insane, it’s actually counterproductive and increases the spread of disease. (So much for Christie’s and Cuomo’s “leadership.”)

So, that’s the “Keep Calm” part. What about the “Carry On” part?
Are there things that could sensibly be done to help the situation? Why, yes. Yes, there are.

Number One. (This should be in bold all-caps, but I’ve done that already. Must ration myself.) The US needs to get itself an actual healthcare system. Using disease as a profit center for Big Medicine and Big Insurance just isn’t working.

When Thomas Duncan fell ill in Dallas everybody knows what happened next. After his first emergency room visit, he was sent home. Now, note this: Ebola is not contagious until after the patient has run a fever for some time, a day or so, when the virus starts being secreted in body fluids. (The main research paper so far on contagiousness: Bausch et al., 2007. Discussion in Science.)

So if the emergency room had actually worked, he went early enough that there would have been just about no chance he’d been contagious. But the emergency room didn’t work. What hasn’t been mentioned loudly enough is that he had no insurance. Stories about grievously ill uninsured people turned away from emergency rooms in the USA go on forever. There’s even a name for it: “patient dumping.” Some of them die, just like Thomas Duncan. But, this being the First World, most of them aren’t contagious. That was the only part Texas Presbyterian Hospital forgot. They needed a big sign in the physicians’ break room: “CAUTION. Do not kick out patients with incurable contagious diseases! Could have lethal Bad Publicity consequences!”

There’s the first culprit: a profit-oriented “health” system. If we really want to reduce the chances of catching Ebola from random strangers, then we need a health care system that encourages people to get help whenever they feel ill. Nor can it expect them to self-diagnose first so that hospitals see only “real emergencies.” And then the system has to actually treat them for whatever ails them.

Number Two in the list of useful things to do is to help deal with the problem at its source. (In fact, this is Number One, but this post is about first world problems.) They need many things to stem the disease in West Africa: Information distributed everywhere by trusted health workers on how not to transmit the disease. How best to treat ill family members. (There’s a surprising amount that could be done with that, as demonstrated by the knowhow and astonishing strength of the Liberian nurse who took care of her whole family and managed to save most of them.) How to reduce chance of infection. Contact tracing. Enough transport for sick people so they’re not crammed eight to an ambulance. Enough field hospitals and enough beds so contagious patients can be properly cared for.

Would that take money? Yes. But it’s peanuts compared to what it’ll cost if the disease continues to spread. And it’s not as if panic is cheap. (Panic is a total waste, but it’s not cheap.) Would the money have to be spent in Africa? Yes. Get over it.

Notice something about useful actions against Ebola: They involve admitting that fear is not useful. They involve restraining automatic reactions. They involve huge amounts of tedious work. They offer no excuse to lash out at anybody. They’re no fun.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Two percent inflation is essential to the illusion

Jared Bernstein in WaPo recently said, “Why is 2 percent the Federal Reserve’s inflation target? Because it is.” The idea being that the world’s central bankers and economists and money men pulled this number out of their left ears because they didn’t know what else to say.

But Martin Wolf actually gave a real answer to that question, which had been bothering me for years.

[E]xperience shows that the low inflation targets to which policy makers are committed are not high enough to ensure short-term interest rates can remain above zero in all circumstances….

His article is on another topic — the need for financial reform — but that sentence gave me an Aha! moment.

Interest rates have to be high enough so that people with money feel they’re getting something for it, even if in reality they aren’t.

If, in reality, they’re not getting anything then the honest interest rate would be zero percent. But who wants that? You might as well have kept your money in your mattress and saved yourself the fifteen cents of gas getting to the bank to open an account. Then, of course, nobody could use your money to make money. The powers-that-be are terrified of people deciding to keep their money in mattresses.

So it’s vital to give people the illusion that they’re getting something for their money. Obviously, if the best you can do is zero, a 10% interest rate (and 10% inflation) is a much more exciting illusion than 2%. But the problem with high inflation is it starts running away with itself and the whole economy lands in the shredder. Two percent, on the other hand, seems to be about the lowest return that still motivates people to buy bonds. (Wolf’s point is that 2% isn’t working. The illusion needs to be set higher, at 4% perhaps.) The fact that it’s fictional if there’s matching inflation doesn’t matter. Even professionals buy the things so long as there’s at least a small positive number attached. (They report their year-end results in ordinary numbers, not inflation-adjusted ones.)

It’s a shell game, in which you provide money in the hope of gain. By the time you find out it was all fairy money, it’s too late to do anything about it.

And that’s why there’s a 2% target for inflation.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Who runs US Mideast policy? Bozo?

Actually, scratch that. Bozo would do a much better job. You couldn’t run a clown show this badly. This is no way to even run a hamster on a wheel. Unless you actually wanted it to fall off and tangle itself up like this:


I, of course, did not listen to Obama’s speech about how he’ll clean up the Stone Age savages calling themselves a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Life is too short.

But this morning I did see a headline that I was curious to read: Five potential pitfalls in Obama’s plan to combat the Islamic State.

The first “pitfall” is listed as:

Using Yemen and Somalia as success stories


It does not get better from there. God help us all. Nobody else is about to.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Ebola is not Over There

It’s right here on planet Earth.

Current genomic work shows it’s mutating quite rapidly. So far, none of those mutations has changed how it’s transmitted — that is, only by direct physical contact — but high mutation rates in viruses mean you never really know what they’ll be able to do next.

Which is why articles like this, by a doctor affiliated with Stanford University, no less!, are jaw-droppingly stupid. His main point is that there are plenty of lethal and far more widespread diseases such as malaria and AIDS. So when the WHO estimates five hundred million dollars to contain this Ebola outbreak, all that spending would be a waste of money when there are other more pressing priorities.

No. It means that the fights against malaria and HIV are horribly underfunded. Using the atrocious lack of money for one set of diseases as an excuse to ignore another disease is called compounding the error, not solving it.

The consequence will be that Ebola is not contained, that tens of thousands or many more will suffer and die, and (if you’re the sort of person who worries only about yourself) that the virus keeps merrily mutating until one day controlling it may not even be an option. Then, you who felt too safe to worry about it may die no matter how much money you decide is worth spending then.

The consequence is that tremendous people working to actually do something about this awful and incurable disease have to spend their time drumming up funds instead of, you know, working to actually do something about this horrible disease.

The consequence is that people with the stamina to work against hopeless odds, in heat, packed into layers of sealed plastic, because everything they do can change their life to death in one unnoticed heartbeat — the consequence is that those people have to report scenes like this:

The new patients sometimes arrive eight to an ambulance, those with suspected cases and those with probable cases all mixed together.

That increases infections. That increases the number of people needed encased in plastic in the heat to feed and bathe the patients and carry out and disinfect the dead bodies.

The consequence is that we’ll be seeing the following horrors more and more, maybe even right in your face one day, until enough of us realize that hanging on to money is not the most important thing in the world.

Health workers prepare to remove abandoned corpse in Duwala market, Monrovia, Liberia. Aug 17, 2014.


Trying to enforce quarantine in West Point, Liberia. Aug. 22, 2014. (Very counterproductive. Quarantine order later lifted.)

The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

    Print This Post Print This Post

“The day the US decides to put an end to the Gaza occupation, it will cease”

I have suspected that for years. It has always seemed to me that the massive, multifaceted US support was essential to Israel’s unsustainable aggressions. But the title is a quote from Gideon Levy who actually knows what he’s talking about. He’s spent years pushing for peace.

It’s people like that who make Israel worth saving. And what makes Palestine worth saving. It’s what makes the human race worth saving. The hundreds and thousands who go beyond the hatred and anguish and desperation, especially their own, and try to understand others. The Palestinian and Israeli Bereaved Families For Peace. The Holy Land Trust. The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center. The Library on Wheels for Nonviolence and Peace. Haaretz, the main Israeli news source, has much sterner criticism of Israeli actions than its US equivalent, the New York Times. The best reporting on the situation that I have seen, bar none, is, a large group of Israeli and Palestinian reporters and writers.

But what triggered me to write this right here and right now was the Independent’s report on Gideon Levy. (What follows actually excerpts only a small part of it.)

[H]e has done something very simple …. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” …

Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.” [I can think of too many non-Israeli examples of exactly this process.]

The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now… dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.” …

He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. …

Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. … Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.” …

He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. … It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?” [Elsewhere in the article: a two-state solution with fair borders, real rights, and security for Palestinians.]

But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. … The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you.”

And then he says this:

“You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”

And this:

“A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.”

    Print This Post Print This Post

Is the internet a CIA project?

You know what is unspeakably sad about this?

For many years, Russia had relatively lax internet laws.

However Moscow has recently changed its tune, with Mr Putin branding the internet an ongoing “CIA project”.

As Bruce Schneier has pointed out so well so many times, the US actions mean that there’s no good reason to assume Putin is lying.

    Print This Post Print This Post

This is an actual headline in the actual US of A

What kind of people can even think such a thing?

Headline on an editorial opinion piece — this has the full weight of the newspaper behind it! — in the Miami Herald:

Israel must put down Hamas

The full headline is “Israel must put down Hamas – rebuild relations.” Well, sure. After you slaughter all the chickens with bird flu, you try to “rebuild relations” with the uninfected chooks.


Update: Aug 18, 2014. I guess the Miami Herald reads this blog and noticed how atrocious that sounds. Now the only thing that comes up is an editorial from July 26th with the same meaning but more marketable words: Israel’s Challenge. The Orlando Sentinel still has a copy up. And I’ve taken a screen shot this time in case it disappears again. The point, I would like to tell these editors, is not to delete the article. It is to delete the mindset.

Update: Feb. 6, 2015. Second link also disappeared. All righty, then, here are the screenshots: Read more »

    Print This Post Print This Post

What is the US trying to do with Ukraine?

First (well, first for me) there was Victoria Nuland pushing for some guy to run Ukraine and “Fuck Europe” for not being decisively behind the same strategy. Up to that point, I didn’t even know the US was pushing an agenda in Ukraine, which is bloody stupid since the US is always pushing an agenda. Everywhere.

Then once separatists start breaking away, there’s the US again apparently doing its damndest to stir the pot. Crimea? All Russia’s fault.

I’m sure Putin is as far from innocent of pretty much anything as it is possible to be, but so are a lot of other world “leaders.” That doesn’t explain why the US is so loudly playing it up in this case and not otherwise.

Eastern Ukraine separatists? Also all Russia’s fault. And the US has satellite evidence! Except nobody can see it.

They keep screaming for more sanctions against Russia because Putin doesn’t curb his dogs. (I wonder how that makes the separatists feel? I get the distinct impression some of them think they’re rather important. Not a smart move if you really did want to manipulate some of these guys.)

The horrible shooting of the Malaysian jet? They started saying that was all Putin’s fault almost before the pieces hit the ground. Again, there are presumably satellite pictures, but nobody can see them. The obvious guess is that some trigger-happy loon thought he was shooting down an enemy transport and then found out he wasn’t. It seems to have even less actual thought behind it than the US shooting of the Iranian passenger jet or the Soviet shooting of the Korean one. But it’s all Putin’s fault and requires massive sanctions now now now.

The latest thing I see is something about Russia breaking the 1987 nuclear weapons treaty. Omigod. Bad. Bad Putin! You will be punished. The only thing they haven’t said yet is “Ve haff vays!” (in a bad-guy-German-World-War-II voice of course).

So what in hell is Obama playing at? I’m assuming he doesn’t really want to start a World War With Nukes. Right? Right? Is this all to make the Europeans get over being spied on? And to keep them running to the US Big Brother instead of the Russian Big Brother? Is it to gin up some popular war feeling in the US in time for the elections? (Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past them.) Is it all of the above? Together with several other things I can’t even imagine?

What a world.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Hah. I’m way ahead of Carlos Slim.

He’s making the news because he’s a gazillionaire and he thinks people shouldn’t work so much.

All right. I mean, really now, isn’t it obvious? If we spread time and money around a bit we could all be working less and enjoying it more.

I made that point years ago. But, not being a gazillionaire, I’m one of those people who’s actually done overlong work weeks, so what do I know?

The only thing he does wrong is not take it far enough.

He’s talking about a three-day work week of 11-hour days. (Financial Times but with stupid login restrictions. The gist also here.) So it’s not really a big change from the civilized world with its current 35-hour week. And there’s research (I’ll come back with the link as soon as I dig it up) that people’s productivity slopes off toward the end of even an 8-hour day. It’s d.u.m.b to use people as placeholders to fill up traditional and counterproductive time.

What we need is 24-hour work weeks. Yes, twenty four hours. It seems like a huge departure, but once upon a time a work week was on the order of 70 hours. Halving that to 35 to 40 has helped, not hurt, economies.

The same would happen with 24-hour weeks. If people were paid real living wages for those hours, it would mean significantly more even distribution of wealth. As I think we’ve all figured out by now, that would be a good thing. Rich people would be making twenty or forty times as much as ordinary people. Not hundreds or even thousands of times more. Economies have plenty of resources to provide for (normally) rich people and lots of ordinary people able to live on their 24 hours per week of work. Really. Read that first link up there. I go through the numbers.

And it would solve other problems, too. With 24-hour weeks, there’d be many ways to slice up shifts. Work could be four hours a day for six days, or eight for three, and so on. Within a day, shifts could start every four, six, eight, or, hell, even twelve hours if that works in some cases. The flexibility would be good for everyone: students, people with errands to run, creatives, you name it. Employers could, by law, accommodate caregivers with different shifts. Child care or elder care could become much simpler to arrange.

Honestly. It’s time. The wealth produced by our technologically advanced economies is festering because it’s all piled up in a tiny space and doesn’t get air.

A wage you can live on for a week you can live in.

Happy elderly Siberian couple, photographer unknown

Real wealth

    Print This Post Print This Post