Sunday, August 3, 2014

An Inconvenient Symmetry

Israel claims they have the right, in essence, to shoot through the civilians, because their enemy is hiding behind them. As hospitals and schools and UN shelters blow up, they say Hamas had assets in or near those places, and it is true often enough. Israel uses the best, most accurate weapons they possess to minimize civilian deaths, they say, and they regret the loss of innocent life, but Israel must defend itself. Israel has a right to exist.

I'm going to ignore the interesting question of whether Hamas represents an existential threat to Israel (if not, Israel is just taking its rage out on the helpless because they are helpless) and focus on the claim that it is permissible to kill civilians if you cannot strike your enemy without doing so.

Can't Hamas make a symmetrical claim? Can't they say their primitive rockets are one of a few, equally unsatisfactory ways they can strike their enemy? Surely they would prefer to do some damage to the IDF forces that surround and attack them, as opposed to, say, a cow, but it is difficult to do that with a weapon that can only be aimed at a compass point. Israel, I suppose, would object to giving Hamas better rockets, but wouldn't their claim that Hamas deliberately targets civilians scan better if Hamas had weapons that could target things?

(Human Rights Watch has declared that Hamas do target civilians. I am arguing that if it is wrong—or right—for one, it is wrong—or right—for both)

It is an inconvenient symmetry: If it is OK for Israel to kill Palestinian civilians because that is the only way they can strike their foe, then it is equally OK for Hamas to kill Israeli civilians for the same reason.

Of course, symmetry is symmetrical. If it is wrong for the Israelis to murder Palestinian civilians, then it is wrong for Hamas to murder Israeli civilians. The claims, in the first place, that billion dollar smart-weapons are insufficiently smart, and in the second that it's tough enough just to make a Qassam go north, excuse no one.

There is no symmetry of suffering; the slaughter is hideously lop-sided, against people who are not only helpless, but have already conceded everything that life permits. They have nothing more to give their tormentors than to die; to die in blood and fire and be cursed for being in the way; or to suffocate slowly, buried alive in Gaza and be forgotten.  That Israel merely stop suffocating them is their desperate demand. It is a demand they have every right to make, since it is the demand for life itself, the same right to exist Israel invokes even as it exterminates them—not because it must: because it can.

And that demands a symmetry only The Hague can supply, though I doubt the world will find it convenient.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Effect of Adrenaline on Broca's Area

or How I Became So Angry I Started to Sound Like a Libertarian

The controversy surrounding Snowden, Manning, and whistle-blowers generally is inexplicable to me. Thinking about it makes me so angry I can only speak and write in categorical imperatives. I have noticed this before. A promising field of research awaits somebody.

What set me off this time was Greenwald's latest article on The Intercept.

After reading it, I attempted to post the following. (I was not hoping to win a prize if I was the millionth person to do so. I was just fuming.) As I write, my remarks have not appeared. I suspect some Bayesian filter (triggered, perhaps, by the repetition of the word "objective") decided Ayn Rand's heirs might sue them:
Contra Kinsley, there are objective criteria for what the government may and may not keep secret. It is easiest to start with the negatives: the government may not conceal its own crimes and blundering. This means, for instance, the government may not conceal that it is violating the 4th amendment, nor the means by which it is doing so, nor the names of any programs which do so, nor may it hold secret hearings, tribunals, or write secret memos to itself to secretly legalize its criminal acts. The government may not conceal evidence of war crimes by our own forces, nor can it conceal evidence of war profiteering, nor can it conceal the unpleasant details of war, nor anything else which the people need to know in order to decide whether they continue to approve of any war. In general, the government may only conceal that which, if revealed, would harm the people, the securing of whose rights and liberties is the solitary reason for it's existence.

A whistle-blower, then, is someone who reveals that which the government had no right to conceal, and a journalist is whoever publishes such revelations. Contra Kinsley, any of us can examine such revelations and, erring on the side of sunlight, easily determine whether they ought to be protected. The criteria are plain, simple and objective. We need no authority to decide for us.
Wow. I ought to submit that to Reason magazine, but then I would have to add a paragraph explaining how all of this would come about magically if we starve the poor.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How I Lost My Cookies

I stopped to buy Girl Scout cookies yesterday, and by way of chatting, thoughtlessly asked if they had noticed any effect from "cookiecott." The oldest girl, who was about twelve, asked me what that was. The others were all much younger. They looked at each other, and at me, and were equally puzzled.

At that point, I realized two things: Their leaders hadn't told them, and Girl Scouts are very, very green. I made a feeble joke about Weight Watchers Anonymous and left. How could I possibly tell little kids that self-nominated "patriots," stirred up by billionaires and the hate-mongering sociopaths they fund, had decided that the Girl Scouts of America are bunch of feminist, commie, lesbian baby-killers?

When I got home, I discovered that I had forgotten my cookies. I felt sick. How are we going to clean up this mess?

I have since learned from a scout leader that some liberal organizations have also little-boycotted the Girl Scouts, apparently for being insufficiently green.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Anatomy of a Tantrum

Remember, if you can, when not getting that candy bar or toy was just unthinkable. You were two, probably, and the big people who controlled everything were inexplicably insisting that you go to bed, eat your peas, withholding life itself. Most of us were so young when we threw our last tantrum that the specific memory is lost; still you may be able to recapture those feelings: how you built up the horror of not having your way to such an unbearable pitch that your anger and frustration were out of control. The evil was so great, so incomprehensible that you had to make them see at all cost! 

It's called "awfulizing." The child's wish must be fulfilled, or the world will come to an end. A socialist nightmare will be unleashed! There will be death panels! People will be dragged into FEMA camps and turned into socialist zombies! Making health insurance more affordable is the greatest possible evil that ever was or ever could be!

And if you are trying to stop the greatest possible evil, then any evil you commit is a lesser evil. Obamacare must be stopped! It does not matter what harm we do.

A child is so dependent on his parents, so helpless that their refusal to fulfill a desire is terrifying. Today, a candy-bar. Tomorrow, food itself? Hugs? Starvation! Death camps! The tantrum is therefore the parents' fault. Their cruel and inexplicable refusal made him scream and break things.

The Teaparty loudly protest their independence, love of freedom, self-reliance and personal responsibility. Yet, their behavior is infantile, histrionic, authoritarian. They blame Obama and the Democrats for what they themselves manifestly do and cause. Their relationship to government is precisely the relationship of a tantrum-throwing child to its parents.

It can scarcely help that daddy is suddenly, inexplicably, and—for two elections now—willfully black.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How I Saved a Man's Life...Almost

See the faith-in-the-system-restoring update, below:

In a few hours, the Great State of Mississippi will execute Willie Manning, a man who they insist must be guilty of two brutal murders, in spite of a few minor flaws in the "conclusive, overwhelming evidence" against him. But there's good news: the FBI has done the right thing and informed Mississippi of problems in their part of the conclusive overwhelmingness, as well as some flaws in the ballistic evidence.

Not feeling quite so conclusively overwhelmed as they perhaps did before, the FBI have offered to perform DNA testing that could exonerate Mr. Manning—or possibly confirm that the case against him is solid enough, after all. Not quite as sure as death, perhaps, but hey, nothing's as sure as that.

So, the Great State of Mississippi has eagerly accepted the FBI's offer to perform this vital DNA test, right? After all, you can't undo an execution.

Well, no. You see, the other evidence against Willie Manning is conclusively overwhelming. Sworn testimony by convicted felons that he said he did it. Oh, wait. One of them recanted. Well, there's hair and fiber analysis by the FBI. Oh, wait. The FBI now says the evidence given by their analyst exceeded the limits of the science. Well, there's ballistics. Oh wait. The FBI says the ballistics evidence is questionable.

Well, never mind all that. The victims were white and Willie Manning is…conclusively guilty. The Great State of Mississippi don't need no DNA when it comes to good old fashioned Southern Justice.

Here is the text of my note to the Governor. Feel free to use it, if you like, but you might want to dress it up a little. I tend to be rather informal:

 Dear Governor Bryant, 
I'm curious to know what evidence could conclusively overwhelm DNA evidence. Or do the majority on the Mississippi Supreme Court and the DA's office mean only that the DNA evidence is bound to confirm the other evidence. Yes. That must be it. But it does raise another question: In that case, why refuse to allow the FBI to perform a test which must clear the Mississippi justice system of any suspicion of lynching or incompetence? It is bound to do that, right? What with the other evidence being so conclusively overwhelming and all.

You can write to Governor Bryant here.

Update Mere seconds after I posted this entry, Twitter lit up with the news that the Mississippi Supreme Court had voted 8-1 to block Willie Manning's execution. Conclusively overwhelming proof of the effectiveness of blogging and sarcasm.

Friday, June 22, 2012

How Capitalism Self-Corrects

In a capitalist economy, each choice you make is a vote. The following are some tips every responsible consumer should follow:

  • When your car accelerates uncontrollably and kills you, don't buy that make any more.

  • When the banks wreck the economy, take what's left of your business elsewhere—a sock, or a shoebox, perhaps.

  • When the health care oligarchy organizes mobs of bellowing idiots to cripple reform, write a blog post.

  • When Appalachia is turned into Mordor; when every stream is poisoned; when every city reeks; when the ice-caps are melting; when the biosphere is collapsing, ride your bicycle to work. Put a bell on it.

  • When you are run over by an SUV, ring the bell.

  • When General United owns everything…um…

  • When all wealth and power are concentrated in a ruling elite; when the courts, prisons, police, spies, and military serve them alone; when due process has gone the way of habeas corpus; when the walls have ears; when you will confess, accept your chains. (Only $19.95) 
Always remember: capitalism works best when each of us works to be the invisible hand's little helping hand.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tony Baloney

Tony Baloney
Tony Baloney

Tony Baloney
Thinks that pepper spray's all right
Tony Baloney
peaceful women scream tonight:

Why did he mace me?
Has he no heart?
Police and the law are
so far apart.

But Tony Baloney
knows why
I cry
Tony Baloney.

Dum-dum-dum-capsicum spray
will burn your freedom away.
Strafing a woman's OK
to Tony Baloney.

Tony Baloney
has a hate-on, that's for sure.
Tony Baloney
knows his spray is premature.

Maybe Viagra
makes him that way:
Vicious Niagras
of fuming spray
you've got to take—
it's another outrage
from Tony Baloney.

Dum-dum-dum-where is the law?

(The latest news on Anthony Bologna, the NYC deputy inspector who pepper-sprayed peaceful female protesters at an Occupy Wall Street rally appears to be this. As you can see from the video, I do not prepend the adjective "peaceful" out of partisan habit. The women were complying with the restraint cage held up by Inspector Bologna's fellow officers and were no threat to anyone. It's true they were shouting to be heard, but in a democracy it is permissible to be audible)