Monday, October 31, 2011

What's Inside Dawud Shehab?

 Yesterday's Wall Street Journal -
An Israeli aircraft struck a pair of Palestinian militants on Sunday, killing one man and wounding a second. On Saturday, nine militants and an Israeli civilian were killed in some of the worst violence in the area in months.
"When all of the jet fighters leave the skies of Gaza we will stop firing rockets," said Dawud Shehab, a senior member of Islamic Jihad. The latest round of violence was set off by a rocket attack last Wednesday by Islamic Jihad.
When the overall situation is reduced to a single incident one can see clearly what the problem is. Shehab and his organization started the exchange by firing rockets last Wednesday. And four days later he was indignant about the reprisals for it. 

Ordinarily can imagine the Palestinians having some sort of amnesia about their aggressions and their imagining the Israeli reprisal to have been unprovoked. But this was last Wednesday and Dawud Shehab knew exactly the sequence of events. So how could he with a straight face make such a demand and even be indignant about it? 

All the usual adjectives about such a person - fanatic, bigot, racist, terrorist - are all too general. Those address only why he would be a senior member of an organization like Islamic Jihad. But the question here is, what went wrong in Dawud Shehab's brain that he was unable to connect what he did on Wednesday with the consequences of it the next few days? If one could understand that, one would understand why there is no peace. 

I suspect the problem may be one of national identity. Most nations have long histories reaching back centuries. They are defined by shared history, shared traditions, shared language, shared religion, shared customs, shared literature, shared art, shared cuisine, by a sense of solidarity. The Palestinians have none of these. 

What defines a Palestinian? Their language is not distinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, or Egyptians. Having persecuted and driven out the Christians among them, they have merely the ordinary Sunni Islam of the places they immigrated from - primarily Egypt and Syria. There having been no Palestinian people before the British Empire separated what few of them there were from centuries of Turkish and Egyptian rule, there are no Palestinian traditions and no history separate from reaction against Israel. There is no Palestinian literature, no national epic.  There is no distinctive Palestinian cuisine, no famous art works.

Tellingly, there are no Palestinian holidays whatever that have no reference to Israel. Land Day is a protest against Israel, not a celebration of anything Palestinian. There was no Palestinian history until the Zionist settlers arrived because there was no Palestinian people before that. When the Jews arrived, their economic activity attracted the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of the Palestinians from Egypt and Syria with the prospect of jobs in Palestine. 

There have never been Palestinian kings or kingdoms, no great victories, no heroes, no literature. Nothing defines the Palestinian national identity but their hostility to Israel. Palestinian personal and national identity is recently formed and has no content except hatred of Israel. That is pretty slim pickings to look inside yourself and your society and see so little, so very little. 

The arrival of the Zionist pioneers and their hiring of Arab immigrants from Egypt and Syria led to the formation of an amorphous proletariat, a fellaheen, of people who could define themselves only by what they were not. 

That is apparently what Dawud Shehab is saying. He is not saying that he has forgotten that he and his friends started shooting rockets at Sderot and Ashdod last Wednesday. He was saying that he was feeling empty because he had not restated his identity recently. While this seems a blanket condemnation of Dawud Shehab, one has to sympathize with him slightly. It would be horrifying to look within oneself and to see nothing. Or at least nothing but hatred. 

It also explains why there can never be peace until the Palestinians suffer so vast a catastrophe that they are able to construct some other identity from it. The Germans were able to forego their Aryan superman national identity only when American bombers and Red Army tanks crushed those pretensions out of them. Only when the Palestinians are forced by some vast catastrophe to absorb the reality of their situation will they be able to construct some other identity for themselves as individuals and as a people. 

My guess is that only an existential disaster will change them. Only when people like Dawud Shehab can look inside and see some sort of identity and self-image other than hatred of a neighboring people will there be peace. It won't be soon but it will one day come.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The World, the Whole World!

A hundred years ago the idea of a world powered by anything but coal would have seemed a daydream. The transition to petroleum took place naturally and through ordinary market mechanisms. 

The transitions away from it, driven both by market mechanisms and by political will can make the changeover to other forms of energy quicker and less costly than the change from coal to oil was. 

Henry Kissinger once said that the way to become energy independent was to put a floor under the price of oil. The reason capitalists are so reluctant to invest in alternate energy sources is that the price of their main competitor, oil, is so volatile. No one will lay down a billion to build an energy plant if the price of oil might plunge and make the plant unprofitable. If there were a floor under the price of oil, money could be invested in any number of ventures to produce energy by other means. 

The actual radicals are not the conservationists. The real radicals, the ones who will do any crazy thing at all if there is a chance of a decent return on it, are the capitalists. Let them have a shot at the problem. They can't until they have some way to know what the prices are going to be.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Inhuman Conditions in Gaza

So is the problem in Gaza economic deprivation?  Or maldistribution of incomes?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Old Glory

I was in Cambridge with Rita yesterday and after the Harvard Natural History Museum we went through the Memorial Church on the Harvard campus. The main hall of the church is lined with plaques honoring the Harvard men who fell in the Civil War. Each plaque has the young man's name, his dates of birth and death and where he died. Gettysburg, Antietam, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, Bull Run, Petersburg. And others.

The plaques made them suddenly real. In their mid- to late-twenties, they had been young officers., lieutenants and captains. They died in the prime of their lives.

The name of one of them, Benjamin Franklin Pierce, had been appropriated by a television program as the name of the character 'Hawkeye' on the television program ' MASH'.

Once on a bicycle trip up the Potomac I had shied away from a short side trip that would have taken me to the Antietam National Battlefield. I was afraid of hearing the voices, the screams of the wounded and dying, attenuated by a century and a half, but not silenced. Here in Harvard Yard I had stumbled among them.

I got a lump in my throat and started crying. I had to get out of there before I made any more of a fool of myself. Rita was kind and understanding and left with me. I had been sneering at Harvard men and women as snobbish, self-satisfied, elitists, who made lots of money but were second rate at the research that had won Berkeley so many Nobel Prizes and Harvard so few.

Suddenly that seemed shallow. Harvard men had been dying in arms to save the Republic and to free the slaves before before there was a Berkeley. Certainly none of the privileged young people walking about in Harvard Yard were likely to die in arms for a cause they believed in. Those times are gone. But they are heirs of those who did.  For the first time I understood the meaning of a tradition.  The dead honor the living in a way that is hard for the rest of us to comprehend.

Here at Cape Elizabeth in Maine, a few hours drive north of Boston, Rita and I drove up to the hotel. In front of it there was a flagpole with an American flag flying. Over the years I had come to think of that flag as the emblem of the dominant world power, the American imperial republic. It had a stale look to it.

After the plaques in Harvard's Memorial Church, the flag was fresher, the colors brighter. It was the flag of the Union, the last best hope of mankind.


OMG...Obama is Hoover!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


[The morons couldn't even spell 'Caen' - click on yellow arrow for fullscreen]


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hallelujah! The Recession is Over! NOT!

[1933 bread line]

According to an article in the New York Times, median household income in the United States has fallen an additional 6.7% since the end of the recession in June 2009. This is in addition to the 3.2% it fell during the recession which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. Unemployment, which rose to 9.5% during the recession, has remained above 9% since the recession ended.

Those who lost their jobs were out of work an average of 16.6 weeks when the recession began and an average of 24.1 weeks when it ended. Now that there is no recession, those losing their jobs are now out of work an average of 40.5 weeks, the longest in 60 years.

For those still employed, wages adjusted for inflation have continued to fall since the recession ended. The number of people neither working nor receiving unemployment benefits has continued to rise.

Which means that the government's definition of a recession, "a period in which gross domestic product falls for two or more consecutive quarters" is worse than wrong - it is meaningless.


A Clearer View

[a sukkah, 'booth' in English, made for Succot, the Festival of Booths]
Harvey said...
Your view on doing charity work is off. To not help others because the system that created the need should to be changed is foolish. It is not living in the present. Besides, revolution changes nothing but the characters.

You do not feed a hungry person because you want to end world hunger, but because he is hungry now. There is no end to the projects you can do.

Several year ago I got a grant to build sukkahs for people who never had one before. (Chico went from 2 sukkahs to 8. Earthshaking? No. but a nice difference) I bake and distribute challahs free to people on Shabbat. (One person told me they were just going to have dinner, but because they received the Challah they set the table, lit the candles and had a family Shabbat dinner.) My project to make and distribute tsitsit is taking off. A number of people now wear tsisit, a reminder to be a good person and to consider your actions.

Small steps on a small scale. Not as big as feeding people, but at least it may be feeding hungry souls. Or maybe not, but it is what I can do. The talmud says if you save a life, you save the world. That's big.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Seen Through the Fog

[Overthrow the Bastards!]

The Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur high holidays have left me still in a quandary about what to with myself. At long last I have achieved some modest security of means and still enjoy good health. I live in arguably the most beautiful area in the world. And now in a particularly good part of it, with a woman who loves me and whom I am coming to love. She takes care of me and there is a view of city lights from above from our bedroom.

Now what? When life's problems of subsistence and comfort are solved, what should one, I, do? The obvious answers are all wrong.

Doing charity work without changing the system that makes it needed, has long since been shown to be a waste of time, counter-productive even. It is simply doing for free individually what should be done collectively and paid for by taxes on the rich.

Making revolution has been shown by a lifetime of listening to idiots talking about "building a movement" to be a fool's errand in a plutocracy with a show of elections. It was once said of William Randolph Hearst that there is no point in getting into a shouting match with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Besides, life has taught me that I don't really want a revolution. In each of the great revolutions, France, Russia, and China, the wars and mass killings were caused not by the destruction of the old order but by the instability of the new one. Yesterday's massacre of Coptic Christians in Cairo shows that the Arab Spring will be no different.

Reformist politics, at least in the US, have once and for all been given the lie by the election of Barack Obama. His campaign rhetoric of hope has been followed by endless concessions to those whose excesses one hoped would be restrained by his reforms, reforms which never came to pass.

So what does that leave? One listens to the voice of the master, Voltaire. His advice was "tend one's own garden". I take that to mean that one should try to live a good life on one's own and not imagine grand social reforms nor any other great work.

So of what does a good life consist? According to another master, Aristotle, the good life consists of developing and exploiting whatever talents one has. Not even to excel, but to live to one's own limits - not to throw the discus further than anyone ever has, but to throw it as far as one can possibly throw it oneself.

I am either particularly unfortunate or particularly blessed in this regard. I once took the Johnson O'Connor Foundation's three-day battery of aptitude tests to find out what sort of career I should take up. I was dismayed to learn that according to the Johnson O'Connor Foundation my talents and aptitudes, while uniformly high, were all roughly equal. Which told me exactly nothing about what I should do.

In the exit interview, the regular guy was on vacation so I got a substitute, a hippy airhead, who suggested that what I should do with my life was either to end world hunger or build a starship. I am not making this up. I paid $300-odd dollars for this back in the 1980's when $300 was a month's rent.

But in retrospect the Johnson O'Connor Foundation did give me a valuable bit of information. It told me that there is no help, that experts are worthless. I could have prayed to G_d for guidance and saved the $300. Whatever one is going to do with one's life, one must decide on one's own.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Islamophobia in the Press - Again

[Saul Perlmutter holding up the permanent UC campus parking permit awarded to Berkeley Nobel Prize winners]

The various agencies of the media are all reporting that Berkeley's own Saul Perlmutter and Technion's Daniel Schechter have both won 2011 Nobel Prizes, Perlmutter for physics and Schechter for chemistry.

Perlmutter and his team studied extremely distant supernovae and discovered not only that the universe is expanding, which was known, but that the expansion is accelerating. The energy of universal acceleration is called Dark Energy. It constitutes 73% of the mass-energy content of the universe.

As I understand it (a huge caveat) it combines two notions from high school physics and one from college. According to Newton: F = mA where F is force, m is mass, and A is acceleration. Force through distance is work. E = mc2 where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light.

Work is in units of energy, is energy. Here, the force equals the mass of the universe times the observed acceleration of the extremely distant supernovae. The force necessary to accelerate everything in the universe is applied through the distance by which the acceleration exceeds what the expansion would have been had it been un-accelerated. That force applied through that distance is the amount of work done. One is tempted to say that that is a ton of work/energy. But it is vastly more. The mass-equivalent of that much energy is expressed as m = E/c2.

So far from being a mere ton of energy, that much energy exceeds all the rest of the mass of the universe by almost three to one. Even the remaining 27% of the universe that is not dark energy is problematic as well. 23% of the mass of the universe is dark matter, detectable only by its gravitational effects on things we can see, like stars, gas, and dust. Only 4% of the mass of the universe consists of the stuff that we had until recently thought was all of it.

Which means that 96% of the universe consists of stuff that we have no idea whatever what it is. And Saul Perlmutter discovered three quarters of it. In 1998.

Daniel Schechter discovered and published, into the teeth of intense scientific opposition, the theory that the atomic arrangements of quasi-crystals are uniform and mathematically predictable but do NOT repeat. This so flew in the face of well-known and established principles both of crystallography and of the philosophy of science that Schechter almost lost his position at the university on account of it.

Neither reality nor Schechter succumbed to the pressure, and in the end the one validated the work of the other. The Swedish Academy added its imprimatur (and a million and a half dollars worth of Swedish kroner) to his work this year.

Though the Swedish Academy, and the academic world generally, recognized the work of Perlmutter and Schechter, they shamefully refused to acknowledge the equivalent accomplishments of Arab or even of Muslim scientists. Given that the much touted 1.4 billion Muslims out-number the much-reviled 14 million Jews by roughly 100 to 1, there must surely have been far greater accomplishments among the Muslims, among the 100, than among the Jews, the 1.

So the press must have covered up or omitted the vast accomplishments of the Muslims. What else could it be but a Zionist conspiracy of the Jewish-controlled media? Either that or the Muslims are exactly the stupid bastards their violent primitive behavior suggests they are. :o)