Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Gender of War

In The Christian Science Monitor, Rachel Brown makes a very strange case. She essentially says two things: That women are disproportionally suffering from the crisis, and that if women will be more involved in negotiations, it would improve peace results.

The first argument is half-plausible; The second not at all. Women are weaker than men, and thus maybe "increased levels of militarization and violence have affected women disproportionately, particularly in poor and marginalized communities", although it would've been nice to see some evidence for that claim. But men are the ones fighting, and thus the ones who are dying and falling captive more; So a case could be made that they are suffering more.

Indeed, Brown's strange view that "civilians on the ground suffer during armed conflict – and ... bears the largest burden of violence" is undefended. In western thought, non combatant deserve special protection in war; It's not OK to kill them as it is to kill soldiers and fighters. But I seriously doubt they suffer more than fighters. After all, fighters face all the "normal" risks and dangers faced by civilians (destruction of their home, loss of economic opportunities, death or injury of themselves or relatives and friends, etc), plus direct threat to their own life and health during or as a consequence of military operations or training accidents. It is true however, that many Palestinian and some Israeli combatants recieve wages from their respective governments though, and thus face somewhat more limited economic hardship.

And none of this offers any evidence thaan women's involvement would solve the conflict, or make it any better. There has been many women involved in the resolution of this conflict: 3 out of 5 American Secretaries of states since the Oslo process has begun had been women. On the Israeli side Tzipi Livny had been foreign secretary for years under Sharon and Olmert's governments, and one prominent palestinian leader had been Hannan Ashrawi. There has been many more women involved in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations than in the Egyptian-Israeli or the Jordanian-Israeli ones.

I don't know what the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I doubt girl power is the answer.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ignoring the Obvious

OK, I've been silent for a while, but a commentary by Eliot Spitzer in Slate awakened me. I actually agree with Spitzer, but he makes life easy for himself by ignoring the powerful argument against his (and my) position.

Spitzer writes about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the so called Hillary Movie Case . The Case deals with the Constitutionality of the McCain–Feingold Act, a 2002 bipartisan bill ment to limit the influence of Corporations on politics.

Previous rulings by the US Supreme Court have decreed that limiting Campaign contribution is constitutionally legit. Corporations can't "buy" a candidate by contributing unlimited amounts to his campaign.

The problem was, of course, that where there's a will, there's a way. The amount of money a corporation can contribute to a candidate may be limited, but until the McCain-Feingold bill, the amount of money Corporations spent on political speech wasn't. So, instead of the Corporation giving money to the politician to make films smearing their opponents, the Corporations now make the films themselves.

The McCain-Feingold act tried to limit these films, by regulating the political Speech of Corporations. The act prevented the showing of commercials for a film smearing Hillary Clinton before the 2008 /democratic primeries.

Censoring speech this way is uncomfortable in a Democracy. But if you don't censor it, you create the appearance and possibly the reality of deals between politicians and corporations? This is such a Dilemma, that Eliot Spitzer won't face it. He simply ignores it:

The problem of quid pro quos has been effectively dealt with by limiting direct contributions to the candidate (although the levels of these contributions may still be too high, especially at the state level). There is pretty general agreement that these limits do no harm to our First Amendment. The ability to contribute to somebody else is not at the core of our First Amendment rights, as long as you also retain the right to voice your opinion on your own.

When advocating for a position, Mr. Spitzer, it is NOT Kosher to ignore the other side's best argument.

Why then did I say that I agree with Spitzer's conclusion, that is, I agree that the US Supreme Court should rule McCain-Feingold unconstitutional?

For two reasons - First, the censorship involved makes me very uneasy. Whenever there's censorship, the question of who the censor is becomes critical. As a rule, it's a good idea to forsake it when possible.

Second, and more importantly, preventing Corporations from helping politicians is essentially impossible. The McCain-Feingold act has limits, and there would always be a way of getting around it.

As Elliot explains:

What distinguishes what Citizens United did and what Bill O'Reilly on Fox News—Rachel Maddow on MSNBC—does every day? Fox and MSNBC are corporations bombarding the airwaves with political rhetoric, from the right and left, that is as close to "electioneering communications" as anything I can imagine. [But Fox and MSNBC can do it because t]he McCain-Feingold statute excluded "media companies" from its limitations.

I disagree with Elliot about the distinction making no "logical sense". It is logical. It's just impossible to delimit.

Overall, I think there's an advantage to linking politicians with contributions. By breaking the connection between the Politician and the financier, the Politician can avoid taking responsibility - pretending to be all honorable and honest, while the swift boaters undertake his ugly offenses.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

An Ad Hominem attack on Ad Hominem attackers

this is simply too ironic. To call someone "stupid" is bad, but to say that someone uses "Ad Hominem" attacks is good? That's hillarious.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is the Occupation Corrupting?

In a Blogpost about President Obama's Cairo Speech, Dr. Orit Kamir is arguing for the usual Left Wing solution to the Israeli Palestinian problem (dismantling settlements, evacuating the West Bank, creating an Independant Palestinian state, etc), but also to change the Israeli "occupation mentality" so to speak, to "cut down to size" and give up the dreams of an Empire.

The key reason for this, Kamir argues, is that the "occupation corrupts". It hurts not only those occupied, but also the occupiers. It has made Israel cruel not only "towards the Palestinians" but also in "other areas of life":

"We have learned to live with exploitation, with the suffering of others, with De-humanizing. "Foreign Workers", Women being marketed for prostitution, Poverty and huge gaps between Rich and Poor, Healthy and Sick, Fortunate and Misfortunate no longer agitate us. The occupation requires these huge walls of cement we hide behind, and we have learned to seal everything off with them".
(all translations are my own)

This is a very standard leftist line. The argument that the "Occupation is Corrupting" ("Ha Kibush Mashit") is a very old one in Israeli Political Discourse. See for example the argument that the violence of the occupation spills over to violence against women and children.

To be very clear: This is not the argument that the occupation is abusive. Not that it gets worst or that it perpetuates itself. This is the argument that the occupation is infective. That the evil ways it teached the Israeli society than effect Israeli society in other, unrelated areas.

I think this is highly unlikely.

To be sure, the occupation is corrupting in the sense that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The occupation has created interest groups committed to to maintaining it. Israel has lorded over the Palestinians and regularly abuses its power in making life difficult for them. Soldiers actions in check points are rarely models of courtesy, to say the least. IDF soldiers who kill palestinians are hardly punnished.

But has the occupation worsened Israeli society as a whole? This has often be asserted, but I've never seen it documented in any way. Many of the so-called brutalizations have been around long before the occupation (Operation Cast Lead, which Kamir criticizes, was no worse and probably better than many of the actions taken in the 1950s as retaliation against Palestinian violence). Other involve changes that took over Israeli society and usually aped American development. The spread of Capitalistic mentality and the wearing down of solidarity are also partially a natural response of the coming of age of the Israelis who were born after the birth of Israel, and who lacked the founding generations' ideological commitments.

In short, to the extent that the trends in Israeli society which Kamir laments emerged after the occupation, blaming them on the occupation is a case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

I find the argument that the "occupation corrupts" troubling for two reasons.

First, it argues for inaction. If the occupation corrupts, than ending the occupation would solve, or at least ameliorate, Israel's social problems. The expectation that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would significently improve Israeli society is naive. It also implicitly calls for inaction against social justice in the Israeli society: If the source of the illness is with the occupation, treating the "manifestations" of the problem wouldn't do the trick.

Even worse, the argument that the occupation corrupts strikes me as pretentious, patronizing and hypocritical. The Israelis are not the victim of the occupation. The Palestinians are. The idea that we suffer from it reminds me of Robert E. Lee's position on slavery:

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former.

Ending the Occupation of the Palestinian territories will be good for Israel's long term security and peace. It would also be good for Palestinians. It is not, however, a cure for the problems of Israeli school violence or women tariffiking.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Dragons Not Dancing

Ah, the web, the web. It really has anything.

Following my recent post I just discovered that there's a blog dedicated to attacking George R. R. Martin for his numerous delays in Publishing A Dance with Dragon. It is amusingly titled Finish the book, George, and it is very funny, although also very unfair and even cruel towards Martin at times. In a way, I guess Martin should accept this as the ultimate compliment - his writing has been powerful enough to elicit all kinds of emotions.

But say what you will about the blog, it is often right. See his criticism of Neil Gaiman's Defence of Martin. Best quote:

"frankly, for Gaiman to call his blog post "Entitlement Issues," and then talk about how he and other writers have seemingly no responsibility to anyone but themselves, is irony at its sickening finest."

Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Winter is Coming... but what about A Dance With Dragons?

About all of Humanity (OK, I'm exagerating) is looking forward for the release of George R. R. Martin's new book, "A Dance With Dragons". For those who don't know anything about the book, it will be the latest in the NYT bestselling series A Song of Ice and Fire, about a land where the winters last for years, where politics is a game in which one wins or dies, and in which an ancient evil is making its way towards Civilization. Its a brilliant series, with one big problem - it never ends!

The last complete book "A Storm of Swords", was published in 2000. 2000! You know, when Bill Clinton was President and Britney Spears was sexy. Then in 2005, Martin published HALF a book - a continuation of half the story from "A Storm of Swords". Many of the most interesting characters and story lines from "A Storm of Swords" failed to appear in that book, called "A Feast for Crows". In the book's end, Martin promised that the next book, "A Feast for Crows" would appear "next year", that is, in 2006. Famous Last Words.

Back in February, Martin has predicted that the book would be finished in June, and that it would be released in 2009. This now appears unlikely.

Now, I've met Martin, and he's a Gentlemen and a really, really great guy. He's also hands down the best writer of epic fantasy today. Some of his other stuff, novels like "Fevre Dream" and short stories like "The Way of Cross and Dragon" are utterly brilliant, too.

But what Martin is making his fans endure is really too much. If Martin misses this month's deadline (which I assume is pretty certain) that probably mean the book will not be out until 2010. This means 10 years will have passed between one chapter and the next in his story. This is too much.

Now the internet is filled with defences of the series, arguing that Martin is not behind schedule, or only slighly so, or its not his fault. Some use very complicated reasoning to get there.

In my view, Martin is unfair to his fans. He is a professional writer, who simply does not write! He spends excessively large quantities of his time in other projects (I don't begrudge Martin his recreational activities, but he has edited and contributed to several anthologies in the last few years, as well as worked on a series of A Song of Ice and Fire tie ins).

I will buy "A Dance with Dragons" on Hardback the second it will come out (2011?). I will follow the rest of the books. But I can no longer recommand the series to new readers. They should wait until an era of peace and prosperity, when the wolf lies down with the lamb, and the last book is delivered.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I decided to restart the Blog after realizing, to my great surprise, that it is still online. More to follow. For now, I'll alert the hebrew readers to a piece I wrote for "Hofesh":