Sunday, January 7, 2024

Speaking of Which

I didn't open this until Friday, when I wrote the introduction to the Israel section. I only got to collecting links on Saturday. Still, quite a bit here. The main reason for the late start was work wrapping up the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll, including this blog post, and a big chunk of time I spent documenting the discussion generated by Matt Merewitz's Facebook post.

I should also note here that after posting last week's Speaking of Which a day early, I went back and added a few more links and notes, marked with a red border stripe, like this paragraph.

Top story threads:

Israel: We speak of Israel's war against Gaza as genocide, because it fits the technical definition, and because genocide was formerly regarded as such an extraordinary crime as would compel other powers to intervene and stop. The classic model was what Nazi Germany did to European Jews during WWII -- the the discriminatory but less lethal period from 1933-39 now recognized as a precursor to genocide. But we've come to recognize other episodes of systematic killing and/or expulsion as other examples of genocide. (Some people like the term "ethnic cleansing" for expulsions, but the term first gained currency as used by Serbs in Bosnia, where it was plainly a euphemism for mass murder. I don't see any distinct value to the term, as the very idea of "cleansing" ethnics points to genocide.)

There can be no doubt that what Israel is doing in Gaza is genocide. (As for the West Bank, there is little difference between what Israelis are doing and what Nazi Germans did taking power in 1933, which doesn't necessarily mean that Kristallnacht, let alone Vernichtung, is coming, but certainly doesn't preclude it.) However, there is no precise word for what Israel is doing. The Germans had precise words to explain what they wanted: Lebensraum, Judenrein, Endlösung: they wanted land to settle, they insisted that no Jews could live there, and they meant this state to be final. What Israeli Nazis (I'd be open to a different term, but we routinely distinguish between Nazis and ordinary Germans, and that's precisely the distinction at work here) want in the West Bank is clearly articulated in the first two German terms (substituting Palestinians for Juden). But in Gaza they're moving straight to Final Solution, which they're willing to pay for even by giving up what has always been their prime directive: settlement (or Lebensraum).

There is a word for what Israel is doing, but it has rarely been used, and never by its practitioners: ecocide. Israel's goal (or to be more precise, the goal of the Israeli Nazis in power) is to make Gaza uninhabitable. If they succeed at that, they won't have to kill every Gazan. The land will be free of Palestinians, and Israel will have reasserted its Iron Wall. This shouldn't be much of a surprise. The catchphrase we've been hearing for decades was "facts on the ground." This was the motto of the post-1967 settlement movement in the West Bank: to establish "facts" that would make it politically impossible to undo. So while Israeli and American diplomats talked, in increasingly ridiculous terms, of "two-state solutions," Israeli policy was making any such thing impossible. And so, today, diplomats and pundits talk of postwar schemes for containing Gazans in their rapidly demolished surroundings, Israel is making life impossible, and irrecoverable.

The closest thing I can think of to an historical analogy is Sherman's efforts to exterminate the bison on the Great Plains. As a result, many Plains Indians starved, but more importantly the survivors realized that they couldn't sustain the way of life they had enjoyed when the buffalo roamed, so they gave up, trudged into the concentration camps the government set up for them as reservations, while settlers turned the vast grazing lands into farms. When Israelis spoke of their desire to turn Palestinians into "an utterly defeated people," I always thought back to the Plains Indians.

I also noted that at some point the US became satisfied with its Lebensraum, and realized that they didn't have to exterminate the last Indians, who in any case had started to adapt to their changed reality. The Final Solution turned out to be liberal democracy -- a stage that Israel is far from realizing, and may never given demographics and psychology. Indeed, any other "solution" would have failed, as Israeli history is repeatedly showing us.

This week's links:

Israel, America, and the search for a larger war in the Middle East:

Israel, genocide, and conscience around the world: Israel is not just fighting Palestinians. They're also, with American help, waging a propaganda war around the world, not just against sympathy for Palestine but against the possibility that people around the world will develop a conscience and try to hold Israel accountable.

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Edward-Isaac Dovere: [01-02] How the Biden campaign hopes to make 2024 less about Biden and more about a contrast with Trump. The worst part of this strategy is the temptation to try to drive a wedge between Trump and supposedly less extreme Republicans (like Nikki Haley?). There is no practical difference. Forget about Trump and Biden for the moment. Democrats do much better in generic polls than when they're represented by Biden, in large part because people understand that Republicans are worse. Campaign on that. The only downside is realizing that Biden is dead weight, dragging the whole ticket down.

  • Noah Lanard: [12-22] How Joe Biden became America's top Israel hawk: "The president once said 'Israel could get into a fistfight with this country and we'd still defend' it. That is now clearer than ever."

  • Ruy Teixeira: [01-03] How did we get stuck with Biden and Trump again? I should read this more carefully, and maybe even read the book he wrote with John B Judis (Where Have All the Democrats Gone? -- on my proverbial bedstand), but I'm suddenly gobsmacked by the bio line: what kind of Democrat cashes checks from the American Enterprise Institute?

  • Michael Tomasky: [01-05] Americans don't care about democracy? Well, Democrats -- make them care: "What Biden needs to tell American voters today -- and every day until the election." Actually, Democrats need to do more than lecture Americans on their civic duty. They need to show the people that democracy serves them, and not the special interests (which most of them spend most of their time pursuing).

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

AP: [01-05] Boeing still hasn't fixed this problem on Max jets, so it's asking for an exemption to safety rules. Then, a day later, there's this coincidence:

Dave Barry: [01-01] 2023 in review: Or, as the title appeared in my local paper: "2023 was the year that AI and pickleball came for humanity."

Fabiola Cineas: [01-05] The culture war came for Claudine Gay -- and isn't done yet: "Harvard's former president is just one target in the conservative uproar over higher education." Also:

Rachel M Cohen: [12-29] Why treatments for severe mental illness looks radically different for rich and poor people: "And a new way to understand cities' response to tent encampments." Interview with Neil Gong, author of Sons, Daughters, and Sidewalk Psychotics: Mental Illness and Homelessness in Los Angeles.

Sheon Han: [01-05] What we lost when Twitter became X: "As former Twitter employee, I watched Elon Musk undermine one of the Internet's most paradoxical, special places."

Sarah Jones: [01-04] Who gets to be a person? By the way, she's become my favorite columnist of the past year, so let me remind you of a few of her pieces:

Fred Kaplan: [01-05] Nostalgia for Cold War diplomacy is a trap: "Compared with the international problems of today, post-World War II diplomats had it easy." Responds to an article in Foreign Affairs, which given that foreign policy wonkery is a reserve for elites is beyond my budget -- the piece is Philip Zelikow: The atrophy of American statecraft: How to restore capacity for an age of crisis -- I can't fully engage in. I will note one aspect of Cold War diplomacy that I am nostalgic for: mutual fear that even small conflicts could escalate into world war (as, e.g., happened after an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914) led the US and USSR to force ceasefires urgently, as happened with Israel's wars in 1967 and 1973. Since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the US has never shown any urgency in ending conflicts, because that fear of escalation has been lost, and more fundamentally because the US is increasingly in the business of intimidation and escalation, and as such has set the model for other nations -- above all our supposed enemies -- to follow. The irony is that peace has never been more urgent, because the world has become ever more complex, interdependent, and fragile.

Kaplan quite rightly points out that the Cold War diplomats were pretty fallible. I would also add that they enjoyed two big advantages over current diplomats: after WWII, America was very rich, compared to the rest of the (largely devastated) world, so could afford to be generous in its dealings; and the US enjoyed a great deal of good will, largely because the US was not viewed as an aggressor in the World Wars, and had a relatively small and benign imperialist footprint. Both of those advantages dissipated over time -- especially the latter, as American bases, arms, and banks replaced colonial with capitalist exploitation.

Still, the sorry decline of American diplomacy since 1990 isn't a mere function of declining advantages and increasingly complex terrain. A toll is also being taken by arrogance, greed, special interests, domestic political calculations, the persistence of myths (many dressing up plain stupidity), disregard for justice (partly due to increasing inequality in America), and sheer pettiness. One could (and someone should) write a book on these mistakes. It is hard to think of any other area of public policy where so many ostensibly smart people have been so wrong for so long with such disastrous consequences, yet they continue to be celebrated in the annals of elite publications like Foreign Policy. (Need I even mention Henry Kissinger?)

Doug Muir: [01-06] The Kosovo War, 25 years later: First of a promised series of three posts.

Rick Perlstein: [01-03] You are entering the infernal triangle: "Authoritarian Republicans, ineffectual Democrats, and a clueless media." The former is what it is, but we rarely examine it critically, or even honestly. Much of the blame for looking away lies with the latter two, for which the author gives numerous examples. Argues that "all three sides of the triangle must be broken in order to preserve our republic, whichever candidate happens to get the most votes in the 2024 Electoral College."

Nikki McCann Ramirez/Tim Dickinson: [01-05] Longtime NRA chief resigns ahead of corruption trial: Wayne LaPierre.

Clay Risen: [01-06] Arno J. Mayer, unorthodox historian of Europe's crises, dies at 97: "A Jewish refugee from the Nazis, he argued that World War I, World War II and the Holocaust were all part of a "second Thirty Years' War." A little late -- I've cited pieces on the late historian two previous weeks running -- but does a good job of defending his "nuanced" view of the Nazi Judeocide and his disillusionment with Israel, both of special relevance today.

Paul Rosenberg: [01-01] Project Censored top 10 stories: Corporate abuse and environmental harm dominate: "The pattern signals a deeper truth about economics and human survival." Fyi, let's list these:

  1. "Forever chemicals" in rainwater a global threat to human health
  2. Hiring of former CIA employees and ex-Israeli agents "blurs line" between big tech and big brother
  3. Toxic chemicals continue to go unregulated in the United States
  4. Stalkerware could be used to incriminate people violating abortion bans
  5. Certified rainforest carbon offsets mostly "worthless"
  6. Unions won more than 70 percent of their elections in 2022, and their victories are being driven by workers of color
  7. Fossil fuel investors sue governments to block climate regulations
  8. Proximity to oil and gas extraction sites linked to maternal health risks and childhood leukemia
  9. Deadly decade for environmental activists
  10. Corporate profits hit record high as top 0.1% earnings and Wall Street bonuses skyrocket

Dean Spears: The world's population may peak in your lifetime. What happens next? Argues that world population will peak with six decades, then lead to a precipitous depopulation, which is supposed to be some kind of problem -- one in need of "a compassionate, factual and fair conversation about how to respond to depopulation and how to share the burdens of creating each future generation." People who worry about such things worry me.

Emily Stewart: [01-04] You don't need everything you want: "Our expectations around money are all out of whack." Pull quote: "There is nowhere you can look in society that isn't screaming at us to spend, spend, spend."

Ask a question, or send a comment.