Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thoughts on Zionism

David Seaton's News Links
"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell." Buddha
For much of the world, Zionism is associated today with racism and apartheid. That certainly was not always the case. In the context of 19th century European imperialism, where it had its origins, Zionism was totally benign.
Zionism's original idea was to "heal" the Jewish people of the deformations caused by centuries of Diaspora wandering. Heal them by renewing their contact with the land.
Zionism's foundational idea was for Jews to become farmers and artisans.   But you could say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, because they certainly picked the wrong neighborhood to put it into practice.
The Zionist movement began with anything but the "ethnic cleansing" now in relentless progress.
In the days before antibiotics had brought down infant mortality in hot countries, with the subsequent population explosion, Ottoman Palestine, although not "empty," was nothing near as populated as today.
The Turkish empire was tottering on its last legs and most of the land  that early Zionist pioneers acquired was owned by absentee landlords, who lived in Istanbul. Buying their land was easy and Baron Rothschild helped finance the first colonies. In Jewish families of that period Zionism was the sort of flaky thing that your wife's younger brother was involved in. And so it remained until the 1930s.
The horrible irony of all this is that it was Adolph Hitler that really put Zionism on the map for well-meaning and powerful gentiles...  again within the totally eurocentric context of the day, the idea that in compensation for the German-led Holocaust, the Jewish people should be given Arab Palestine instead of Baden Würtenberg seemed to make sense.
Now, it looks like Israelis have painted themselves into a dreadful corner, one where they are forced to do a dozen evil things before breakfast just to keep their lead balloon of a country afloat.  So much for being a light unto the nations.
Believe me, this is not just a Palestinian tragedy... it is taking the Jewish people, who, with all their Nobel prizes, brains, initiative, talent and soul, are an ornament of humanity, and bending them all out of shape. You might say that their "inner Albert Einstein" is in danger of being overpowered by their "inner Bugsy Siegel".
The real change that has taken place in the world since Theodor Herzl was inspired to create the Zionist movement, is the emancipation, self-awareness and the empowerment of the heretofore humiliated, subordinate and invisible... the process whereby "colored people" become "people of color" called anti-imperialism.
Israel itself is a projection of Europe's sins and problems onto a region which had never organized pogroms and where Jews had lived in peace for centuries. (I understand that Iraq's Jewish community, for example, dated back some four thousand years).
Ironically, a product of eurocentrism, Israel, created to be the homeland of the persecuted and downtrodden, is the last bastion of the "white man's burden" left standing.
In the world of "Arab Springs", Israel's case is like the slogan of Sam Peckinpah's classic, "The Wild Bunch"... "they came too late, they stayed too long". They, of all people, should know better. DS
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Palestine at the UN... masks fall, all stand naked

David Seaton's News Links
The entire rest of the world is in agreement: Palestine should be admitted to the UN. This whole controversy boils down to a problem of America's domestic politics, which is taking the USA down the path of throwing away any influence it might have gained in the Muslim world with the election of Barack Obama. Here is Gideon Levy writing in Haaretz:
The riddle remains unsolved because it is difficult to comprehend how a black president, who believes in justice and equality, can bow down with such unbearable lightness to a right-wing government in Israel, to narrow election considerations in America, and to Jewish and Christian lobbies. It is difficult to comprehend how his America does not understand that it is shooting itself with a lethal bullet in the heart by supporting the Israeli refusal to make peace. After all, deep in his heart this American president knows that the Palestinians' demand is justified because they too are worthy, finally, of becoming independent - and that Israel supports occupation. Why does one have to wait for the book of memoirs that he will surely write one day in order to hear this? He knows that the Arab Spring, that erupted to a certain extent in the wake of his promising Cairo speech, will now turn its anger and hatred toward America, once more toward America, simply because of its insistent opposition to Palestinian freedom.
The pressures that Levy speaks about are both brutal and naked.
For example, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee who wants Congress to pass a bill cutting off all American funding for the United Nations if they vote freely to admit Palestine as member state.
This naked and brutal pressure, which could eventually cause severe damage to America's world influence and its economy, could end up producing a disastrous domestic blow back.
To give a clear example of what I mean, the ADL takes periodic polls to determine the ebb and flow of antisemitism in the USA. The question asked to determine if the respondent is an antisemite or not is the following: "Do you believe that Jews have too much influence in the United States?" To answer in the affirmative is to be classed as an antisemite.
Read the following by Thomas Friedman in today's NYT:
I’ve never been more worried about Israel’s future. The crumbling of key pillars of Israel’s security — the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan — coupled with the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel’s history have put Israel in a very dangerous situation.

This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s. (emphasis mine)
I doubt if Thomas Friedman, of all people, is going to be accused of being a self-hating Jew, but, under a strict reading of the ADL's criteria, Thomas Friedman is an antisemite.
Now if someone as unlikely as Thomas Friedman could ever be accused of antisemitism, then imagine what serious people. but who "don't have skin in the game" as he does, may be thinking right now or will certainly be thinking if Netanyahu's policies end up damaging the US economy at precisely this moment. DS

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Will this all end with a bang or a whimper? - Part II

David Seaton's News Links
I'm afraid Dave
There is something in human history like retribution; and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the offended, but by the offender himself. The first blow dealt to the French monarchy proceeded from the nobility, not from the peasants. The Indian revolt does not commence with the ryots, tortured, dishonoured and stripped naked by the British, but with the sepoys, clad, fed and petted, fatted and pampered by them. Karl Marx
I have chosen the death of HAL - 9000, the homicidal, super-computer in Stanley Kubrick's, monumental, "2001 - Space Odyssey" as a perfect match to the quote from Marx. The killer tool can only be disarmed by an expert familiar with its inner secrets, by definition, someone who has worked in close collaboration with the tool that he now has to disable in order to survive. That, I believe will be the true "revolution"... The revolt of the geeks against the machines they have created and maintained, which are finally going to attempt to replace them too.
Here is the situation as it stands today:
New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures -- from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs. We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace. Douglas Rushkoff - CNN
As Harvard's Dani Rodrik says, "Without a vibrant manufacturing base, societies tend to divide between rich and poor – those who have access to steady, well-paying jobs, and those whose jobs are less secure and lives more precarious." The new technologies are destroying the middle class, by definition, the hard working, tax paying, rule following, mediocre, salt of the earth and elevating those who design and maintain the machines that are decimating their world and impoverishing them. They are helpless in the face of this because they don't understand the technology. Helpless as aborigines facing the "white man" with bows and arrows.
In contrast those who have degrees in mathematics, physics, computer science and the like are getting paid enormous salaries in designing the systems that are putting the less educated out of work or in designing ever more esoteric financial schemes.
But their salad days are numbered... the supercomputer, HAL, is out of the cradle and making his first toddling steps. If Moore's Law applies to super-computation, as it does to the rest of the field, in a period of time that a supercomputer of today could already calculate, a doctorate in math or physics could get you a position changing some grumpy old man's diapers or parking cars.
And that is when "Dave" will turn off HAL.
If there ever is a "revolution" it will begin with the "clad, fed and petted, fatted and pampered" intelligence workers and the sans culottes will follow.  When? How should I know? Ask the SGI Altix. DS

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12th

David Seaton's News Links
How ten seconds is worth a million words
Watching, reading and listening to all the ceremonies and interviews surrounding the tenth anniversary of 9-11, for some reason I was reminded of a totally unrelated anecdote.
Back in the 1950s Isabel García Lorca, the sister of the poet and dramatist who was executed by a fascist goon squad at the beginning of Spain's civil war, returned briefly to Spain from exile in the USA, probably trying to locate her brother's remains. When she was in Madrid, she paid a visit of several hours to an old prewar acquaintance, the eminent MD and philosopher, Gregorio Marañon.  Afterwards, the doctor's secretary asked him how it had gone. "A very charming lady" Marañon replied, "but she seems to be under the impression that she is the only Spanish woman who lost a brother in our civil war".  
This got me thinking about a book I read this summer,  Howard Zinne's, "The Bomb", about the incomparable horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and this got me thinking about all the relatives and friends of the estimated million Vietnamese that were killed in America's war in their country and the scores of children that are still being born with grotesque birth defects due to the herbicides we covered the place with. That led me  to thinking about the over a thousand Guatemalans that we deliberately infected with syphilis in a 1940s medical experiment.
"Stream of consciousness" being what it is, all of the above started me thinking about my wife's childhood in the ruins of postwar Berlin... the women clearing the wreckage and all the men folk either dead or in prison camps and the survivors eating dogs and cats. Everybody: Japanese, Vietnamese, Guatemalans and Germans seem to have put their tragedies behind them.
I experienced 9-11 at a distance, but the 2004 Madrid bombings, where nearly  200 people were killed occurred quite near me on train lines that I have often ridden in the morning rush hours and people wept and marched and voted a government out of office and a memorial was built and ceremonies were held... and life has moved on. I suppose that is because over the last hundred years or so, Spanish people, like the Japanese, Vietnamese, Guatemalans and Germans, after so much weeping, have learned to dry their tears.
Perhaps instead of such endless self-dramatization, we should learn to do the same... out of respect for all the dead.... everywhere. DS

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Will this all end with a bang or a whimper?

David Seaton's News Links
U.S. corporate profits and efficiency are getting absurd. On Friday we saw record quarterly profits of $1,450 billion, making up a record share of GDP at 10.1%. We're also at record corporate efficiency of $15,278.72 -- up 22.3% from last year (...). That last one says it all. Rampant job cuts and salary cuts, with new responsibilities for old workers, during the recession turned corporations into profit-making machines. Stimulative policies from the government and the Federal Reserve helped plenty. New technology also helps with efficiency. Unfortunately there are no signs that corporations are turning revenue into jobs. Business Insider

The problem with US manufacturing is not that it has been shrinking – despite the “offshoring” of textile and electronics manufacturing to China, US manufacturing output rose by 3.9 per cent a year between 1997 and 2007. However productivity grew 6.8 per cent annually in the same period, so millions of jobs were lost. If manufacturing carries along the same path, McKinsey estimates that it could shed another 2.3m jobs by 2020, while the economy needs to create 21m more jobs to return to full employment. The mini-recovery in manufacturing jobs – 164,000 were added in the six months to April – recently stalled. John Gapper - Financial Times

Over time, advanced economies will need to invest in human capital, skills and social safety nets to increase productivity and enable workers to compete, be flexible and thrive in a globalized economy. The alternative is – like in the 1930s - unending stagnation, depression, currency and trade wars, capital controls, financial crisis, sovereign insolvencies, and massive social and political instability. Nouriel Roubini - Project Syndicate
Since Steve Jobs announced his resignation a few days ago, there have been endless (well deserved) paeans to his genius and how sorely he will be missed. However, it seems to me that what the world needs more than anything else right now is not another Steve Jobs, but another Henry Ford.
This is because the jobs that Jobs has provided are mostly for people with post-graduate degrees and what is needed now is what Henry Ford provided: steady, well paying, jobs for people with even less than a high school education. Ford created an entire industry based on the idea that the men that worked in his factories should earn enough wages to buy the cars they themselves made. That concept was the keystone to America's disappearing middle class prosperity.
The present technological revolution means that workers in today's more advanced and "competitive" industries often need some two years of specialized training to be of any use at all, thus advances in productivity are creating an impoverished subclass of "working poor"... if they can find work.
Most commentators think that this problem can be solved by improving education to make those entering the work force more "competitive". Certainly education is always valuable even for (or especially for) its own sake. But those who have sweated through four or many more years of university to acquire marketable skills, should not feel smug.
Those with post-graduate degrees in math and engineering should be looking warily over their shoulders at the advances in artificial intelligence (AI). They might ponder on the programs that today allow computers to defeat the world's most skillful chess players. If we take as a working hypothesis that artificial intelligence is now at about the same stage as personal computers were at the beginning of the 1980s (remember the Commodore 64?)and project the trajectory of AI similarly into the coming three decades they could easily picture their futures as Walmart greeters... if Walmart can find enough paying customers to stay in business... or, more probably, armed with their PHD in math, finding employment as security guards or gardeners at a gated community for (fill in blank)...
Thus the system seems to be moving inexorably toward eliminating human input except as credit-fed consumers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this cannot be sustained for very long without a political explosion of some kind... now that credit is crippled, perhaps for good.
Tragically this explosion probably wont happen in the USA, where it is needed most.
Most of today's middle class Americans, in contrast to the rioting, overcrowded, ghetto residents of a few decades back, live isolated in places that Gertrude Stein described as "when you get there, there is no there, there".
In the USA there is really no equivalent to Cairo's Tahrir square or Madrid's Puerta del Sol: a recognized demonstration-drome, which can make governments and societies themselves stop in their tracks. There is no Bastille* to be taken in the United States, just angry, isolated people stewing alone in darkened living rooms, easy prey for the ilk of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party crazies. It probably will be they who inherit the wind. DS
*did you notice how French millionaires, who do remember the sans culottes, and the Paris Commune are lining up to pay higher taxes.