Eyeless, Sure. But Also Clueless and Nasty.

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I won't respond in detail to Robert Azzi's column in my local Sunday paper. (Yes, it's Tuesday. Might have taken me a couple days to calm down.) It's available at his website: Eyeless In Gaza: America And Israel. Key points:

  • He excerpts a couple uncomplimentary mail messages he received.
  • He accuses the senders of flaunting "their prejudices and ignorance in public."
  • He bemoans people being criticized, threatened, "and in some cases fired" for "expressing their views in public."
  • He notes that some of those people are "condemning Hamas’ war crimes". He ignores the people who are cheering Hamas' war crimes.
  • Throughout, his language is slanted: drive-by references to "the plight of Palestinians under occupation"; "colonizers and their agents"; "the official white American narrative"; "9,000 Palestinians who have already been murdered"; "the occupying power in Gaza" (guess who?); "the people whom [Israelis] are oppressing and subjecting to occupation"; the "white institutional media"; etc.
  • He's pretty hacked off at Hillary Clinton's and Chris Pappas's support for Israel
  • Which causes him to imply cause-and-effect to Pappas's campaign donations from AIPAC and the Pro-Israel America PAC. He's bought and paid for by the Joooos!

As always, Azzi's substantive criticism is of Israel and America. He wags his finger at Hamas, those naughty boys, but the underlying theme is: what they're doing is understandable given, well, the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

I should mention, in fainess, that an adequate rebuttal to Azzi was contained in the very first paragraph of a neighboring column from Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos, who quoted a Tom Cotton tweet:

If Hamas puts down their weapons there will be peace. If Israel puts down their weapons, there will be no Israel.

It would be nice to see Azzi, and people like him, try to refute that simple fact. Or, alternatively, and perhaps more honestly, embrace it.

Also of note:

  • I feel Geraghty's bemused frustration. And it's at Barack Obama's 'Blame Everyone' Comments on the Middle East.

    Former president Barack Obama appeared on Pod Save America — the podcast of his former aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor — and declared that regarding the violence in the Middle East, “Nobody’s hands are clean — that all of us are complicit to some degree.”

    I quote the entire available excerpt, lest anyone accuse me of taking anything out of context:

    If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively to do something, it will require an admission of complexity, and maintaining what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas that what Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it. And what is also true that the occupation* and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable. And what is also true is that there is a history of the Jewish people that may be dismissed unless your grandparents, or your great-grandparents, or your uncle or your aunt tell you stories about the madness of anti-Semitism. And what is true is that there are people, right now, who are dying, who have nothing to do with what Hamas did. And what is true, right — I mean, we can go on for a while. And the problem with the social media and trying TikTok activism, and trying to debate this on that, is you can’t speak the truth. You can pretend to speak the truth. You can speak one side of the truth. And in some cases you can try to maintain your moral innocence. But that won’t solve the problem. And so, if you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth, and you then have to admit nobody’s hands are clean — that all of us are complicit to some degree. I look back at this, and I think, ‘what could I have done during my presidency to move this forward? As hard as I tried, I’ve got the scars to prove it. But there’s a part of me that is still saying ‘well, was there something else I could have done?’ That’s the conversation we should be having. Not just looking backwards, but looking forwards. And that can’t happen if we are confining ourselves to our outrage. I would rather see you out there, talking to people, including people who you disagree with — if you genuinely want to change this, then you’ve got to figure out how to speak to somebody on the other side and listen to them, and understand what they are talking about, and not dismiss it. Because you can’t save that child without their help. Not in this situation. [Emphasis added.]

    First, any time you see someone insisting, “No one’s hands are clean,” or that everyone is to blame, there’s a good chance you’re hearing from the person who actually is to blame. Because while life gives us a lot of problems for which there’s a lot of blame to go around — poverty, violent crime, schools that fail to educate kids — in every circumstance, some people are more to blame than others. The easiest way to ensure that no one is actually held responsible for what happened is to insist that everyone is to blame for what happened. Claiming, “It’s everyone’s fault” is a sly way of ensuring the consequences will be indistinguishable from the conclusion, “It’s no one’s fault.”

    That's a long excerpt, but there's more, and I encourage your perusal thereof. Also, the NR editors speak as one: Yes, Obama Is Complicit.

    To start, the blame for October 7 and all of the events that followed it rests squarely with the terrorist group that perpetrated the attacks. But to the extent that there’s more blame to go around, it’s worth separating Obama from the rest of us. Unlike Obama, the rest of “us” did not get to be president of the United States and steer policy in the region for nearly a decade.

    Obama referred to his presidency in characteristically self-aggrandizing fashion, patting himself on the back for all of his amazing effort: “As hard as I tried, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, but there’s a part of me that’s still saying, ‘Well, was there something else I could have done?’”

    We have some ideas.

    Obama entered office in 2009 as one of the most hostile presidents to Israel in the history of American relations with the Jewish state. Meeting with the leaders of major Jewish organizations, he said he would intentionally attempt to create more distance between the U.S. and Israel. “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states,” he said, the Washington Post reported. All his policy of “daylight” accomplished was to convince Palestinians to demand more concessions before negotiating a peace deal, and to make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more suspicious of signing a deal based on security guarantees from Obama. Even as Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly rebuffed Obama on peace talks, his administration consistently pointed the finger at Israel as the primary barrier to getting a deal. This, even after the PA signed a unification agreement with Hamas, which ruled Gaza but was splintered from the government.

    As Bob Dylan didn't sing: His hands are dirty, but his clothes are clean.

  • That'll teach you to be a twentieth-century white lady liberal, Harper. Dave Huber of the College Fix reports the latest censorship effort, a title I didn't see in the "read a banned book" pile down at my local library: Progressive teachers want ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ banished from curriculum.

    There’s been a lot of discussion lately about book “banning,” primarily focused on conservative parents’ and politicians’ efforts to restrict access to material which is sexually explicit.

    While these efforts often have been labeled everything from “terrorism” to “scary” to a “threat to the Republic,” machinations from the opposite side of the political aisle are framed in a positive light — if not outright lauded.

    A recent Washington Post story highlighted the efforts of a quartet of Washington State teachers to ditch the Harper Lee classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the name of racial enlightenment.

    In their formal challenge, the teachers wrote that the novel “centers on whiteness” and “presents a barrier to understanding and celebrating an authentic Black point of view in Civil Rights era literature.”

    I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. My report is here.

  • Odds are I won't be here, sorry. J.D. Tuccille looks at a report claiming that we have 20 Years to Disaster.

    For decades, budgetary experts have warned that the U.S. federal government is backing itself—and the country—into a corner with expenditures that consistently exceed revenues, driving the national debt ever higher. The latest red flag is raised by the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), which says that the federal government has no more than 20 years to mend its ways, after which time it will be too late to remedy the situation.

    "Under current policy, the United States has about 20 years for corrective action after which no amount of future tax increases or spending cuts could avoid the government defaulting on its debt whether explicitly or implicitly (i.e., debt monetization producing significant inflation)," Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters, authors of the October 6 Penn Wharton Budget Model brief, write in summarizing their findings. "Unlike technical defaults where payments are merely delayed, this default would be much larger and would reverberate across the U.S. and world economies."

    Well, that's heartening news. Sorry. I assume the response from our elected representatives will be like my own CongressCritter:

    Shorter: I wanna spend more money on stuff.

  • Commies gotta commie. Maine is just a short hop across the river from Pun Salad World HQ, and I've been seeing a whole bunch of advertising against this proposal: Maine Voters Will Decide on Bernie Sanders-Backed Utility Plan.

    In Maine, the progressive left is pushing a plan to seize the means of electricity production—and distribution.

    Don't expect the result to be lower energy bills.

    Voters in Maine will decide Tuesday whether to authorize the creation of a new quasi-public entity to run the state's electric utility services. If approved by a majority of voters, Maine Ballot Question 3 would allow the new Pine Tree Power Company to "purchase or acquire"—via eminent domain if necessary—the state's existing private electric production facilities and distribution lines. The new company would be governed by a board with a mix of appointed and elected members, and it would be the first such statewide utility entity in the country.

    Boy, if it passes, Route 4 into South Berwick will literally be the Road to Serfdom.

    [Update: it failed, by a lot. Guess the lights will stay on in South Berwick.]

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    You have no choice but to believe this. Stuart Doyle claims Robert Sapolsky is Wrong. It's a review of Sapolsky's new book Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will (paid Amazon link at your right)

    In Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, Robert Sapolsky argues that free will does not exist, and explores how he thinks society should change in light of that conclusion. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, known for his studies of hormones and behavior in wild baboons. In this new book, he makes an effort to address several different ways in which others have proposed that free will could be real, despite the laws of nature acting on our physical brains. But in his efforts to cover the bases, Sapolsky fails to offer an original argument supporting his claim that free will is not real. Instead he serves up a partial and rewarmed version of the argument made by Bertrand Russell in the 1940s. Sapolsky ornaments the argument with findings from the biological sciences, which he admits do not prove his intended point.

    Nevertheless, by my own free will, I've got Determined on my get-at-library list. Previous Pun Salad Saplosky references here, and here. I haven't been impresssed so far. But maybe his book will win me over to the determinist side. In which case, "win me over to" would mean "tickle the neurochemicals in my head enough to make me believe in".

Recently on the book blog:

… might be of interest to political Pun Salad readers.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:19 AM EDT

The Myth of Left and Right

How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America

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The authors, Verlan Lewis and Hyrum Lewis, make a pretty good case that the one-dimensional political spectrum everyone uses for convenient pigeonholing of others and themselves is (let's see…) historically illiterate, inherently fallacious, and profoundly damaging to ourselves and our political discourse. The book's argument is presented in an accessible and punchy style. I get it, and I'm probably going to be a lot more careful about ideologizing people (and myself) in the future.

The authors' look at the history of "left" and "right" politics is illuminating. You might remember from a high school history course that it originated in the seating arrangements of the post-revolution French legislature, with stodgy monarchy supporters on the right, wild-eyed radicals on the left. How could that possibly apply to American politics?

Well, for a long time, it didn't. The authors note that the "spectrum" simply wasn't a part of political discourse in America until the 1920s; before that, we just had a bunch of politicians and statesmen taking stances on issues. Hard to believe, I know! (Later, historians and pundits tried to shoehorn previous pols into the spectrum, unconvincingly.)

The authors identify "left" and "right" as essentially tribal positions. You, you typical voter you, first associate yourself with your political party, then (and only then) do you try to fit in, discovering that your positions on the issues just happen to coincide with the prevailing positions of your party.

The authors (entertainingly) debunk efforts to explain the one-dimensional spectrum in any other way than tribalism. Even the sainted Thomas Sowell's dichotomy of "constrained" vs. "unconstrained" political visions is rebuffed.

The authors' association of the spectrum with today's political parties is probably the least convincing bit of the book. Republicans have their ideological fractures (just ask Kevin McCarthy or any never-Trumper). So do Democrats, although I think they do a better job of hiding it. In any case, they are very leaky pigeonholes.

But the "tribalism" accusation can sting. Am I being tribal in my general disdain for Democrats? Especially when I disrespect a lot of Republicans too? I can't even stand many of the Libertarian Party pols these days.

But the strongest part of the book is the authors' description of where this tribalism (or "ideological essentialism", as the authors describe it) has taken our political discourse: right into the toilet. We are forever asked "which side are you on". The "other side" is not just people you disagree with on a number of issues; they are the enemy, who want to destroy the country, and probably you too. Tribal people are especially prone to nasty biases, especially confirmation bias. (I can confidently refuse to believe anything reported by the New York Times, because…). Every election becomes a "Flight 93 Election". Storm the cockpit!

The authors offer some advice, which I promise to take: stop the manichaean pigeonholing of others (and, if necessary, yourself). Disaggregate positions on issues from the one-dimensional spectrum; it's sloppy and stupid to dismiss someone as a left-winger because of their position on abortion; just describe them as pro-abortion. Check.

It's a short book, with a lot of end matter. According to my Kindle, the main text stops at page 100. The Notes section takes up pages 101-148, and the Index is on pages 149-160. My only gripe is that this makes the Kindle's estimates of remaining reading time of the book way off.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:46 PM EDT