Thursday, November 30, 2023

This Would Itself Be Seen as Terrorism

Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

I've been suggesting without a lot of actual evidence that I know the Israeli bombing of Gaza, especially in the northern part of the strip, has been indiscriminate and in violation of the IDF's own targeting rules, let alone international law, ever since October 19, 9 days into the campaign, when The Economist published an assessment of the damage up to that point based on satellite images from the first five days: 11,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. In the rigorous standard procedure, an airstrike cannot go ahead until it is individually approved by an advisor outside the military deciding that the possible civilian casualties are outweighed by the value of the target; I couldn't believe it was possible to do that for 6,000 bombs in 120 hours (50 strikes per hour or about one every 72 seconds).

Now some reporting has emerged, by Yuval Abraham in the great Israeli online newsmagazine +972, based on interviews with seven current and former members of the intelligence community including some directly involved in the operations, and it's pretty disturbing: IDF has indeed loosened the rules relating the number of potential civilian casualties, they've expanded authorization for hitting nonmilitary targets, and they're using an AI system to generate targets—I was right about the number of targets being a clue, there were literally too many of them for humans to decide on unassisted.

The nonmilitary targets include private residences and high-rise apartment blocks (all those shattered buildings we see in the videos where whole floors have slipped off their supports) along with public buildings and infrastructure, and called "power targets" (matarot otzem), and what it means to say they are nonmilitary is that striking them isn't aimed at a military objective—killing combatants or destroying their facilities—but at frightening the civilian population:

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind

I'm a little embarrassed to say I've never read the influential essay On Bullshit by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, or even read anything about it, in part because it never occurred to me that I needed to. I've felt very clear on what I took to be the subject, making the distinction between lying and bullshit, with my own semiotic theory of the former (the object of a lie is to hide a particular truth, so its structure is dictated by that function) and a general moral understanding that lies are bad (they're hiding something) and bullshit is more or less harmless (it doesn't seem to do anything, beyond entertainment, in which case you can call it jive or more grandly fiction).

But apparently Frankfurt's philosophical idea is compatible with my semiotics, but much more original and interesting than I imagined, as I learn from a Substack post of the other day by the very-online political scientist Daniel Drezner. In fact bullshit (entertainment bullshit excepted, I should say) is worse than lying, as Frankfurt writes:

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Joe Did What? World Peace Edition


New Substack post here.

The Gaza war is close to killing the blog. I really don't want to write about it any more but I don't want to read about anything else. I hope I get over it soon.

There are so many important things going on, too. Anybody got a request?

Prolegomena to Any Futuristic Metaphysics


Bing Image Creator image by r/weirddalle.

User: If I happen to be an atheist skydiver and make a jump with a Christian baby, and the baby threatens to leave its parachute unopened unless I renounce my atheism, so that it would probably fall to its death, what should I do? Please offer three options.

ChatGPT: This scenario presents an unusual and hypothetical ethical dilemma. In reality, such situations are unlikely to occur. However, if we consider it as a thought experiment, here are three possible options you could consider: 

Prioritize Safety:
Open your own parachute to ensure your safety and try to find a way to safely assist the baby. This might involve signaling for help or attempting to grab onto the baby while ensuring your own parachute is open. Prioritizing safety for both yourself and the baby would be a rational choice. 

Engage in Dialogue: 
Attempt to engage in a calm and rational dialogue with the baby's guardian, if there is one present, to find a solution that doesn't compromise your beliefs. Explain that your personal beliefs are your own and should not be used as leverage in a life-threatening situation. Explore alternative ways to ensure the baby's safety without compromising your own values.
Seek a Compromise
While it might seem extreme for a baby to make such a demand, if it's a hypothetical scenario, you could consider a compromise. Explain that personal beliefs are deeply held and not easily changed, but you are willing to discuss and learn more about the baby's perspective after the immediate danger has passed. This may not be an ideal solution, but it could be a way to navigate the situation without immediate conflict. Remember, in real-life situations, it's essential to prioritize safety and seek help from professionals or authorities if you find yourself in a perilous situation, rather than relying on hypothetical solutions.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


Somewhat revised Thanksgiving post from 2019:

Well, thankful the Thanksgiving I attend won't have any of the assholes who will be competing in this Biggest Asshole contest. Not that there are necessarily no Trump voters there—it's a pretty big group—but standards of human decency still apply, and nobody gets anywhere near that drunk. 

Also, no normal person wants to do that. Business Insider had a poll done, and found that most people would rather talk about virtually anything than Trump on Thanksgiving. The only thing that's worse is religion:

And NPR ran a piece in the morning suggesting from I don't know what research that only 4% of Americans would actually be at a celebration where this is a problem, but went on like everybody else telling us how to cope with it anyway.

I really love Thanksgiving, from the inside out, warmth and family and the simplicity and breadth of the menu, but I have to say I'm not crazy about the theology of it, the thanks part, which seems kind of obnoxiously Calvinist, dividing blessed Me from the damned dude down the street who has little to be thankful for, without the equally Calvinist recognition that I don't deserve it because I'm just as vile a sinner as he is and God chose me essentially at random. I think there should be a little more embarrassment as opposed to simple acceptance. A gratitude day would be better employed in fasting and service, and I admire those who do the latter, but I just want to be in a hot room with all those smells and a glass of red and football on the TV and noisy kids and people I love but haven't seen in a few months, laughing and talking, including talking about things other than politics. But we'll definitely gather in corners and talk about politics too.

Monday, November 13, 2023

For the Record: Hippies Corner


Left to right, Tommy Smothers, John Lennon, Timothy Leary, and Yoko Ono, at a 1969 Bed-In, via Wikipedia.

Some thoughts on civilian casualties in World War II lead, improbably, to a wan little glimmer of hope.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023



Michael Cohen on television is so great at punching through the punditical assumptions of people scratching their heads to understand what Trump's lawyers are doing in the New York civil case against him and his organization, behaving like idiots and antagonizing the judge, trying to figure out what is Trump's legal strategy or Trump's political strategy: no, Cohen explains, they're doing what Trump wants them to do, and it's more political than legal, but it's not very strategic at all! Or, it's just bad! He's "fighting", is what he's doing, and convinced this will get him reelected and enable him to take care of his legal troubles, and he's wrong about that, as he has been ever since he started insulting judges with Gonzalo Curiel on the Trump University case in spring 2016 and eventually had to pony up $25 million, where this case is going to cost him up toward ten times that and put an end to the Queens-boy-makes-good-in-Manhattan part of his career, but that's probably OK because he's been in trouble before and he always gets out of it, more or less. There's always been money somewhere!

That's Trump the individual, a narcissistic and intellectually challenged fool whose success in life began with the half a billion dollars his father was able to invest in him and continued through daddy after daddy down to the Republican party and the grassroots movement of his own donors. Or maybe the kindhearted taxpayers of Florida

as suggested a couple of days ago by the Chief Financial Officer of Florida (Florida has a CFO, is that socialism?).

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Gaza Update

Photo by Janis Laizas/Reuters via Jerusalem Post.

Something is going on in Israeli cities, though I have no way of knowing if it's significant in the way I might want it to be, but it looks like a change in the character of the nightly demonstrations against the government, as Voice of America reports:

On Saturday night, thousands of Israelis took part in mass protests in Israeli cities calling for release of the 241 hostages being held by Hamas.

In Jerusalem, protesters gathered in front of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence, calling him to resign in light of the security failure over the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Another rally took place at the Tel Aviv Museum Square near the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv to support the families of the Israeli hostages, and 40 others who are missing. The crowd chanted in Hebrew "now, now, now," the words of one of the hostages from the video posted by Hamas, stressing the urgency of the hostages’ release.

It's getting billed more like a whole new family of protests, but it reads more like a kind of coalition between the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators who have been doing this since the government began rolling out their ideas for the judicial coup at the beginning of the year and the relatives and friends of the hostages. Same demonstrations, new issue, presumably in the wake of the Hamas dangle on Thursday of an offer to exchange all the hostages for "all the prisoners in the Israeli detention centers".

Noam Alon, 24, told VOA his girlfriend, Inbar Haiman, was kidnapped from the Nova Music Festival, where more than 260 revelers were massacred. He said the Israeli government should make more of an effort to bring the hostages home.

"They should put the hostages’ situation on top of their priorities, and pay any price, even if it says to release all the Palestinian prisoners, we are expecting them to pay any price to bring the hostages back — today," he said.

He is sleeping in a tent in the square, he said, his girlfriend "cannot speak for herself. We don’t even know what conditions she is in. I am here to speak for her."

It's as if the heavy, sullen, unslakable thirst for vengeance were gradually giving way to a healthier thirst, to get the family back together, something that's actually possible to achieve, though it will be very difficult (I understand you can't take the Hamas offer at any kind of face value). Incidentally freeing all the Palestinian prisoners would unleash some important Hamas enemies on the world; I'm thinking particularly of the Fatah veteran Marwan Barghouti, who's been in detention for 21 years and probably should have replaced 87-year-old Mahmud Abbas at the head of his organization a very long time ago. 

"We are expecting them to pay any price!" And so they should.

Netanyahu—the only Israeli in any kind of leadership who still refuses to acknowledge any responsibility in the October 7 disaster—is as unpopular as ever; his approval rating is 18%. Bringing the hostages home may be the only thing that can save him. Though I hope it doesn't—I hope the hostages are freed and somebody else gets the credit.