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.