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May 03, 2024


What boggles me a bit is that, for decades, US conservatives (especially the semi-libertarian ones) would freak out at the very idea of the government, specifically the Federal government, issuing anything resermblig a national identity card. But now, in order to implement their anti-immigrant enthusiasm, they are pretty much requiring one. How else do you prove that you are legally entitled to be here -- say because your family has been here for n generations?**

Of course, they could just come clean and admit that they could care less about immigration. That what they are on about is race and ethnicity. But so far they seem to be more resistant to admitting to racism than to a national identity card. Which, if you think about it, is probably the less bad prioritization.

** I've got a branch of my family tree that has been in the US since the early 1800s (at least). On the other hand, one grandfather was an immigrant. Am I OK?

As long as you don't have natives in the family tree, you should be fine. [/sarcasm]

lj: I assumed the photo ID idea was influenced by US rightwingers, but I don't know for sure. However, if (as was speculated) it was a cunning plan to privilege Tory voters, it seems from this week's local elections to have comprehensively failed.

Labour has done spectacularly well all round the country (with only one exception in the mayoralty of Teeside), and Sadiq Khan has won an unprecedented third term as London mayor. Rumblings of regicide among the Tory assassins, never far away, look set to continue. Frankly, if I were Sunak I would just call a general election and get it over with. And the regicides would probably subside, wanting the disaster to be his, fair and square.

Reminds me of a few years ago when (IIRC) they passed an ID law in Arizona -- immigrants? non-citizens? I forget how it was tailored. But it didn't seem to occur to the proponents that if you require some people to carry an ID, you are in effect, at least logically, requiring everyone to carry an ID.

Because what happens to the falsely accused? (Similarly to the question of what happens to me when some paranoid idiot challenges my right to be in the ladies' room. But that's a post for another day.)

Of course, the people who wanted the ID requirement were, as wj says, actually on about race and ethnicity in addition to immigration status, and no doubt preferred not to recognize or admit that there are plenty of ethnically-challenged people (i.e. not "white" by their definition) whose ancestors were here before theirs. E.g. the people who lived in the southwest before the border moved.

me: "paranoid idiot"

Apologies, I am trying to break the habit of using such intemperate language.

My excuse, such as it is, is that I am exhausted and jet-lagged (but home safe), and not looking forward to what will happen to me and many other people if Clickbait is elected again. Or for that matter what is happening to people already in many states. Never mind women's health care....

A propos of this topic, this afternoon a BJ commenter posted a long quotation from this article. An excerpt:

Salt Lake City Democratic state Sen. Jen Plumb questioned on X whether it was appropriate for the office to allow reporters to attach images to their complaints.

“Apparently Utah’s solution to people feeling unsafe in restrooms is to encourage folks to take photos of & focus extreme attention on the private parts of others who are taking care of a biological need to eliminate waste? What could go wrong?” she wrote in a post.

As I keep saying, there is no way to fix laws like this so that they can actually work, except insofar as their real goal is to make people miserable and fearful.

wj: I've got a branch of my family tree that has been in the US since the early 1800s (at least). On the other hand, one grandfather was an immigrant. Am I OK?

My equivalent is ancestors documented in CT in the 1640s, and *two* immigrant grandparents. Not sure what prize I get..... ;-)

Then there's Senator Tammy Duckworth, who has addressed racist attacks with information like this (from her Wiki):

Following in the footsteps of her father, who served in World War II and the Vietnam War,[8] and ancestors who served in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War...

Duckworth was born in Bangkok to an American father and a Thai mother, and has a slaveowning ancestor. Her background is fascinating, never mind her own life and accomplishments.

Back to the more general topic, there's the blood quantum and the one-drop rule (mentioned in the piece at the link).

But it didn't seem to occur to the proponents that if you require some people to carry an ID, you are in effect, at least logically, requiring everyone to carry an ID.

The vast majority of the adult people that the proponents approve of have a government-issued identity card of one sort or another, and usually carry it. Driver's license. Non-driving state ID. Tribal identity card. Military ID. Permanent residency card. Passport. What we don't have -- yet -- is all of the databases linked together.

The vast majority of the adult people that the proponents approve of have a government-issued identity card of one sort or another, and usually carry it. Driver's license. Non-driving state ID. Tribal identity card. Military ID.

Linking the several strands of this discussion, at this point we don't have to show them to take a leak.....

The vast majority of the adult people that the proponents approve of have a government-issued identity card of one sort or another, and usually carry it.

Yes, but the vast majority of all those people (not to mention everyone else) know that IDs are asked for in certain pretty clearly identified situations (e.g. traffic stops). Any expansion of those situations is going to catch some people who aren't the intended targets, and who are likely to resent being asked to show an ID even if they have one.

At least in parts of the US the IDs accepted at polling places are carefully chosen and open to short term change in order to disenfranchise certain groups*. Once those groups begin to acquire one of those IDs, the rules get changed and that ID is henceforth excluded. Iirc in at least one US state a US passport is NOT an accepted ID but an NRA membership card is.
And of course the pollworkers get broad authority to reject IDs as 'suspicious', if the "wrong" people show up with them.
The last thing the self-styled ID fanatics want is a universal ID than can be easily acquired because that would defeat the very purpose.

*the means to acquire those IDs are also tailor made to make it as difficult as possible, e.g. closing the places where one can get them in certain districts or changing office hours to times where few are able to show up.
Some are even open about it: "If you can't manage that, you are simply not worthy of the franchise."

*the means to acquire those IDs are also tailor made to make it as difficult as possible, e.g. closing the places where one can get them in certain districts or changing office hours to times where few are able to show up.

I have recently learned that my state has started a small agency, with actual funding, whose purpose is to get the state's standard ID for people who have to overcome problems (eg, lack of a birth certificate).

In 2027 I will have to, for the first time in many years, go to the Dept of Revenue office to renew my driver's license. I'll be over 70, and will be required to go in and prove that I can still see well enough to drive. To be honest, I'd like to see them do some sort of reaction-time test as well.

The vast majority of the adult people that the proponents approve of have a government-issued identity card of one sort or another, and usually carry it.

But somehow I doubt that the proponents have any intention of limiting their negative attention to adults.

Hartmut: " Iirc in at least one US state a US passport is NOT an accepted ID but an NRA membership card is."

[citation required]

Particularly since a US passport is the "gold standard" for stating a claim of citizenship, while an NRA card just means that you paid into a Russian psy-op.

My own strategy for dealing with voting ID challenges is to challenge the challenger to PROVE that they're a citizen or GTFO. "Drivers licence? Doesn't prove citizenship"

A passport is a proof of US citizenship but not of a certain state. I believe that was the bogus excuse (iirc student IDs get rejected for the same reason, i.e. not proof of main residency). Plus it's federal.
Of course it's different, if you run for office on a GOP ticket. This election cycle alone has numerous exmaples of GOPsters running despite having their official residence in a different state while accusing their opponents of having no 'real' connections to it.
Either I was mistaken about the NRA membership card or I confused it with a concealed carry licence (OK, that's not going to last with red states dropping the requirement to have one).

As for the passport, I checked current state laws and the usual suspects currently accept it. But I distinctly remember that there were cases in past elections (post-Clinton) where this was on the table or there were local cases where it was actually tried.
Must search better. Now I am just drowning in links that do not contain what I am looking for.

A passport is a proof of US citizenship but not of a certain state.

No. Green card holders can have passports but they are not citizens.

As usual, I am on the run, but this:


might be helpful, or it might just add to your (hartmut's) pile of "links that do not contain what I am looking for."

Have tried to post this link three times (bare) and it isn't showing up. Maybe embedded will work.

Seems to be a very thorough reference.

On a quick -f search of that link, only the Tennessee entry mentions "proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate)" for getting the photo ID required to vote.

The general case seems to be that you have to have some kind of document indicating who you are, and some kind of proof of residency, but not proof of citizenship.

I don't want to go back and find specific relevant comments, but I have no problem with requiring proof of residency in the place where you want to vote. People who don't live in my town shouldn't get to vote in my town (state, country).

Expat status complicates that picture a bit, but it can be handled. Dual citizenship is (to me) more complicated, but I haven't really thought it through.

College students complicate the picture too, but off the top of my head I don't care if they vote in their home towns or their college towns, as long as it's not both.

A few years ago, when the Rs were trying to make voting harder in Maine, college students were on their radar. The one person who was caught voting both at home and in the town where he was in school was -- you guessed it (and IIRC) -- the son of an R legislator. (I may be getting this detail wrong, but there was some R-related extra reason for schadenfreude in the story.)

I need to let this go, but one last comment: when I say people should have to prove residency, I don't mean ridiculous impossible barriers should be put up. Registering to vote should be as easy as possible. Maine is good in that regard -- you can register at the polls on voting day, and if you're already registered all you have to do is give your name when you go and vote.

Living in an authoritarian police state like Germany has its advantages since we have been brainwashed so successfully that we consider a national ID card as something useful, uncontroversial and even natural.
We just complain that the fees are getting too high and that it takes too long to get an appointment and that we simply look dreadful on the photos on the card. And no one I know sees anything nefarious in that but everyone sees and/or assumes that the public servants are both overworked and plagued by obsolete hard- and software.
And we all get mercilessly registered automatically for voting and our only hope is to switch location often and fast enough that the state bureaucracy can't keep up with updating it. We dread to get to the new living space and find the election notification having arrived there before us, telling us where our polling station is and in which of the several used rooms we are supposed to cast our own ballot and be back home in less than half an hour, if it takes us a walk of slightly above ten minutes in either direction.

Hartmut -- every Republican's nightmare, lol!

Every case of "voter fraud" around here (E. PA) that I've heard of since ~1990 has been a GOPer.

They're the only ones with both a strong enough urge to make their voices heard by voting, and stupid enough to think that a small number of votes will tip the scales, and that they won't get caught.

I doubt that they earned more than a token slap on the wrist, rather than the hard time that they advocate for others.

Snarki -- like this?

I would like to see that DA jailed for terminal viciousness.....

Yes, exactly like that.

I applaud your grandmotherly kindness towards that DA.

I'd just scrag 'im and make him an example.

@Hartmut... The US labors under the handicap of having a federal constitution that is all of written, 230 years old, and very difficult to change. If we had written something new mid-20th century, the federal-state relationship probably would have been quite different.

I've just seen Cornel West being interviewed on C4 News. I know almost nothing about him, or his politics, but my immediate and strong reaction was "He's much too clever, principled and nuanced to be an American President." What a comment on current politics.

People like West are called spoilers.

I like him too. In general though, I wish people of integrity would run for President. They don’t have to be far left— just honest people in general,people who have a conscience. I am not familiar with Senator Van Hollen,for instance— not even sure I spelled his name correctly. But he seems honest about Israel’s behavior in Gaza and that sort of thing— basic honesty— is not something you can count on.

So, the Cornel West you saw being interviewed, was he a African-American with wild hair? Because if he was, he's in bed with Ron DeSantis. He disliked Obama because Obama didn't use him as an advisor. He's grifting for some kind of college course that he created, which is why he was so enthusiastic about changes at the New College in Florida.

West tries to be friends with some rightwingers or find common ground when he can. I had to Google the DeSantis thing— he likes the idea of classical education, apparently. West is also friends with Robert George, another right winger. If I wanted to use a pejorative term I would call him flakey and not suited for politics, though given the sorts of people who make it to the White House that isn’t really an insult.


Toward the end of Maine's R Gov. Lepage's 2nd term, a local teacher/coach announced that he was running for governor.

He was smart -- a physics teacher. He was personable and well-spoken and coached very successful high school x-c teams for decades. I'm pretty sure he was principled, although I don't know him beyond a hello on the street.

He had people working for his "campaign," gathering signatures, putting up signs, etc., but he was so ill-prepared to function in politics and government that he didn't even figure out how to get enough signatures to get on the primary ballot.

I was tempted to ask him whether he thought any of Maine's governors over the years could just walk into his physics classroom and do that job with no preparation, ditto with coaching, but it wasn't worth going to some event to ask the question.

Dunning-Krueger? Just plain arrogance? I don't think either exactly explains it.

But someone who has never been in government is going to be a disastrous president (witness the last one). That's obviously not to say that having been in government guarantees anything in the other direction, but it does have to be someone with some familiarity with the system, how it functions, and how to function in it.

It's tempting to say well, someone like Cornel West could just appoint good people and they would take care of things, but he would be a sitting duck for the ill-intentioned.

(Plus, I'm not convinced he's all that principled to begin with.)

People like West are called spoilers

I get that, and wish in a way they wouldn't do it (Ralph Nader also springs to mind - I still haven't forgiven him). Krishnan (main anchor of C4 News, who was interviewing him from Israel whence (!) he is currently reporting) asked him about that aspect of his candidacy, and he gave a mature, principled answer. So, in short, my opinion is he shouldn't be doing it and risking Trump, but I cannot fault a principled stand when they are so rare. He was also very good on the Israel/Gaza situation.

Ha Nguyen: I don't know how often you hang around here, but if you have been you may know that in general I don't like or trust "guilt by association". Donald (another highly principled type) gives a completely understandable explanation to the De Santis accusation, and as for the "grifting" and Obama accusations, perhaps you would be prepared to show your work?

Janie, in case it wasn't clear, I did not in any way think he would or would not be an adequate president, because I knew so little about him, but his personal qualities, as far as I could reckon them, disqualified him from the off.

I tend to think of Cornel West in the same way that I think of Ralph Nader, or (political ambitions aside) Noam Chomsky. He's a public intellectual and critic of corporate dominance of American politics. He's also, like the others, a gadfly with a keen sense of how to stir up the media.

I agree with many of the things he says and writes on a moral and idealistic level, but I think he'd make a horrible president by any practical measure, given the way that he has publicly criticized Obama. West's views, at least as expressed publicly, are too morally absolute (the trait that makes me associate him with Chomsky).

IOW, I'll read his books (and might even cite him favorably on many topics), but don't think I could ever vote for him, and think his candidacy is mostly just performance art that accomplishes less than he could accomplish by sticking to the sidelines as an observant commentator.

I saw Cornel West speak 10 or so years ago at the Free Library of Philadelphia. (Tavis Smiley was the other speaker, so that tells you it was some years ago.) He's sparklingly brilliant. His off-the-cuff ability to cross reference the historical, philosophical, biblical, and political rapidly and nearly without pause was dizzying. It was like riding an intellectual roller coaster.

But, yes, he'd be an awful president.

It's almost like different jobs require different skill sets.

It's also almost like the skill set that gets you elected isn't the same skill set that would let you do the best job once you're in office. There's some overlap, thank goodness. In normal times, anyhow.

RFK Jr is so committed to fairness that he has handicapped himself to be on par with the guys he's running against...

hsh: given what I saw on the brief interview, I can believe what you say in your first para. And actually, I believe what you and nous both say about his POTUS potential.

What my post was really about was how certain characteristics, normally admirable, are probably unsuitable for someone holding the highest office.

Talking of which, I see that Donald Trump offered a bunch of top oil bosses a deal last month: namely, that he would void all Biden's environmental protections etc on his first day in office, in return for them giving him $1 billion for his war chest.


I can't help thinking that if the Dems publicise this properly it will win back some of the youth vote they have alienated because of the Gaza situation.

The whole time I was thinking about Cornel West as president, I was thinking about the difference between Carter and Obama. Carter maintained greater integrity and moral character in office, but Obama achieved far more and was a better president despite having compromised his moral standing on multiple occasions.

West strikes me as being more in line with Carter, but with a greater degree of showmanship.

$1 billion for his war chest legal bills

I agree in every particular with nous's paragraph on Carter and Obama.

he would void all Biden's environmental protections etc on his first day in office, in return for them giving him $1 billion for his war chest.

The question is, are they dumb enough to believe that this guy, who stiffs anyone and everyone he can, would suddenly keep faith with them?

Even if they think he will very probably get elected, it's a bad bet. And if they have a realistic idea of his chances, it's a worse one.

It's almost like different jobs require different skill sets.

Well, I'm an engineer. I can do anything.

hsh: touché.

Nice to see you around the place.

hsh: seconded!

Agree with the general view on West, particularly the comparisons to Nader and Chomsky. He's best suited for advisory boards and I think he'd be an important voice in that capacity. As a politician/leader? Hard pass. I hope - if he's as intelligent as I believe him to be - he'll throw his support to Biden once we get to/through the nomination pageantry. He has to know he can't win and where he'd be pulling votes from. Stein already isn't helping and who knows which way the chips will fall with BrainWorm.

Well, I'm an engineer. I can do anything.

"Can" seems somewhat structural here, but ok:

Hot Dogs 10/pkg, Hot Dog Buns 8/pkg.

Get back to me when you figure that one out, Dr. Genius.

Hot Dogs 10/pkg, Hot Dog Buns 8/pkg.

Hot dogs are generally packaged by weight, targeting 16 oz (a pound) or a little under. Skinny hot dogs are 10/pound. Premium brands tend to be 8/pound. Bun counts, OTOH, trace their packaging back to the original bakery pan sizes.

Buy 4 packages of hot dogs, and 5 packages of buns. This isn't really that hard....

Wrong, nerds.

The correct answer is you cram 2 hot dogs into 2 of the buns.

Or Beenie Weenie.


Double your pleasure. Double your fun.

Unless the hot dogs are Icelandic, the correct answer is "can I get a bratwurst instead?."

Hot Dogs 10/pkg, Hot Dog Buns 8/pkg.

Hot Dog Math :)

If you really wanted to, you could cut 2 hot dogs into quarters lengthwise and distribute them to the others in the 8 buns. It's the world-famous "Dog and a Quarter" method first developed by the Etruscans, though the Romans later tried to take credit for it. Engineers know everything about history.

Soundtrack for hairshirthedonists plan, courtesy of Siouxsie and the Banshees (Pompeiian, rather than Etruscan, but probably as close as we can get in popular music):


B-side of the "Cities In Dust" single.

Unless the hot dogs are Icelandic, the correct answer is "can I get a bratwurst instead?."

I lived in Milwaukee for four years. Prior to the move, I had heard of bratwurst but couldn't have told you what it was to save my life. Then, for four years, I don't think I ever heard the phrase "hot dog." It was always "brats [brahts] and fries" in contexts where it would have been "hot dogs and fries" elsewhere.

I kind of missed them when I moved away.

If you really wanted to, you could cut 2 hot dogs into quarters lengthwise and distribute them to the others in the 8 buns.

Or cut the first eight in half, and the last two into quarters, all crosswise, then put two halves and a quarter into the bun, quarter in the middle to keep it from falling out.

Oh, yeah, somebody thought of that and marketed "bun length hot dogs" that come eight to a package and save you from all that cutting and assembly work. My children grew up with bun length hot dogs. I don't know how old they were before they even realized the 8/10 dichotomy existed.

Excellent work, guys! This is the kind of out-of-the-bun thinking we need! Now, how do we apply this to lifting a bridge off of a ship, reducing global average temperature by 2°C, and lasting peace in the Levant? There’s a little wiggle room on that 2C & the peace thing is probably gonna need a soundtrack.

For some unknown reason, two almost identical comments of mine just got disappeared. They're frivolous, so not worth going to any trouble to liberate...

JanieM - Milwaukee is very close to the event horizon for brats in America, just up the highway in Sheboygan.

Only place on this earth that I would put up against Bavaria for serious bratwurst action.

Packer and Brewer home games are the pop-up versions for tailgating.

I have to say, in my opinion any woman unlucky enough to be pregnant by a man capable of this has absolute prima facie entitlement (even if she has no other reasons for the choice) to choose not to have him father her child:


TaNehisi Coates interview. I only listened to the part about Gaza which starts about minute 17. He is heavily critical of Israel. At the end he does come out as a lesser evil voter but one is fine with the protests, including throwing fake blood at Blinken’s car.

This is more or less where I am.


Jon Ronson's podcast Things Fell Apart was highly recommended to me, but I never listened to it (I hardly ever listen to podcasts for some reason). But this, from today's Observer, is interesting:

Among other stories, he looks at how a bogus medical syndrome known as “excited delirium” was instrumental in guiding the Minneapolis police’s lethal treatment of George Floyd; the way that an Oxford traffic filter scheme and a futuristic think piece published by the World Economic Forum were falsely presented as a global conspiracy to control human movement and rob people of their property; and the dissemination of the idea that Covid-19 was created for big pharma profits.

"I think we need to treat people as complicated grey areas rather than magnificent heroes or sickening villains"

The eight episodes are characterised by compelling interviews with culture warriors, conspiracy theorists and their targets, which were notable for their curiosity, restraint and understanding. Given that some of the people Ronson speaks to seem to have lost all contact with objective reality, his questioning comes across as an impressive feat of empathy and toleration.

The polarising effects of these weaponised debates appears to be spreading through political systems and cultural institutions across the world. Is there a way out of such an antagonistic discourse?

“It feels to me that for great numbers of people – journalists, documentary-makers, social media users – ideology and activism have started to matter more than facts and evidence,” he says. “And that’s happening in different ways across the spectrum. The right tell these big, baroque, almost mythological lies, like QAnon or pizzagate. With the left it’s more subtle, like labelling gun-loving anti-government militia people as dangerous white supremacists actively conspiring to kickstart an ethnic-based civil war.”

His remedy may sound a bit old-fashioned to some, but it involves reasserting the importance of some reportorial values that are under threat. “The fact that ideology-led nonfiction storytelling is happening everywhere feels worrying, because a society that stops caring about facts is a society where anything can happen. I think the way out of it is to treat people as complicated grey areas, rather than magnificent heroes or sickening villains. And to stick to the nuanced truth, rather than flattening it to make ideological points.”

He’s quick to add a qualification: “That doesn’t mean I’m against activist journalism – it’s obviously done a lot of good. But the old rules of journalism – evidence, fairness – still need to apply.”


Aaaand: C4 News have just won the 2024 BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for News Coverage, for Inside Gaza, Israel and Hamas at War. I couldn't be more delighted for them, they deserve it.

Weirdly, another comment just disappeared, even though it was (temporarily) showing on the "recent posts" sidebar, and now I see is again. It is all a mystery to me, but I will try again.

C4 News has just won the News Coverage BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for their reporting on Inside Gaza, Israel and Hamas at War. I could not be more pleased for them, they deserve it.

For anybody who is interested, and who hasn't already read it, here is the New Yorker Zadie Smith essay that everybody has been talking about recently:

In the campus protests over the war in Gaza, language and rhetoric are—as they have always been when it comes to Israel and Palestine—weapons of mass destruction.

May 5, 2024

A philosophy without a politics is common enough. Aesthetes, ethicists, novelists—all may be easily critiqued and found wanting on this basis. But there is also the danger of a politics without a philosophy. A politics unmoored, unprincipled, which holds as its most fundamental commitment its own perpetuation. A Realpolitik that believes itself too subtle—or too pragmatic—to deal with such ethical platitudes as thou shalt not kill. Or: rape is a crime, everywhere and always. But sometimes ethical philosophy reënters the arena, as is happening right now on college campuses all over America. I understand the ethics underpinning the protests to be based on two widely recognized principles:
1. There is an ethical duty to express solidarity with the weak in any situation that involves oppressive power.
2. If the machinery of oppressive power is to be trained on the weak, then there is a duty to stop the gears by any means necessary.
The first principle sometimes takes the “weak” to mean “whoever has the least power,” and sometimes “whoever suffers most,” but most often a combination of both. The second principle, meanwhile, may be used to defend revolutionary violence, although this interpretation has just as often been repudiated by pacifistic radicals, among whom two of the most famous are, of course, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the pacifist’s interpretation, the body that we must place between the gears is not that of our enemy but our own. In doing this, we may pay the ultimate price with our actual bodies, in the non-metaphorical sense. More usually, the risk is to our livelihoods, our reputations, our futures. Before these most recent campus protests began, we had an example of this kind of action in the climate movement. For several years now, many people have been protesting the economic and political machinery that perpetuates climate change, by blocking roads, throwing paint, interrupting plays, and committing many other arrestable offenses that can appear ridiculous to skeptics (or, at the very least, performative), but which in truth represent a level of personal sacrifice unimaginable to many of us.
I experienced this not long ago while participating in an XR climate rally in London. When it came to the point in the proceedings where I was asked by my fellow-protesters whether I’d be willing to commit an arrestable offense—one that would likely lead to a conviction and thus make travelling to the United States difficult or even impossible—I’m ashamed to say that I declined that offer. Turns out, I could not give up my relationship with New York City for the future of the planet. I’d just about managed to stop buying plastic bottles (except when very thirsty) and was trying to fly less. But never to see New York again? What pitiful ethical creatures we are (I am)! Falling at the first hurdle! Anyone who finds themselves rolling their eyes at any young person willing to put their own future into jeopardy for an ethical principle should ask themselves where the limits of their own commitments lie—also whether they’ve bought a plastic bottle or booked a flight recently. A humbling inquiry.
It is difficult to look at the recent Columbia University protests in particular without being reminded of the campus protests of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, some of which happened on the very same lawns. At that time, a cynical political class was forced to observe the spectacle of its own privileged youth standing in solidarity with the weakest historical actors of the moment, a group that included, but was not restricted to, African Americans and the Vietnamese. By placing such people within their ethical zone of interest, young Americans risked both their own academic and personal futures and—in the infamous case of Kent State—their lives. I imagine that the students at Columbia—and protesters on other campuses—fully intend this echo, and, in their unequivocal demand for both a ceasefire and financial divestment from this terrible war, to a certain extent they have achieved it.
But, when I open newspapers and see students dismissing the idea that some of their fellow-students feel, at this particular moment, unsafe on campus, or arguing that such a feeling is simply not worth attending to, given the magnitude of what is occurring in Gaza, I find such sentiments cynical and unworthy of this movement. For it may well be—within the ethical zone of interest that is a campus, which was not so long ago defined as a safe space, delineated by the boundary of a generation’s ethical ideas—it may well be that a Jewish student walking past the tents, who finds herself referred to as a Zionist, and then is warned to keep her distance, is, in that moment, the weakest participant in the zone. If the concept of safety is foundational to these students’ ethical philosophy (as I take it to be), and, if the protests are committed to reinserting ethical principles into a cynical and corrupt politics, it is not right to divest from these same ethics at the very moment they come into conflict with other imperatives. The point of a foundational ethics is that it is not contingent but foundational. That is precisely its challenge to a corrupt politics.
Practicing our ethics in the real world involves a constant testing of them, a recognition that our zones of ethical interest have no fixed boundaries and may need to widen and shrink moment by moment as the situation demands. (Those brave students who—in supporting the ethical necessity of a ceasefire—find themselves at painful odds with family, friends, faith, or community have already made this calculation.) This flexibility can also have the positive long-term political effect of allowing us to comprehend that, although our duty to the weakest is permanent, the role of “the weakest” is not an existential matter independent of time and space but, rather, a contingent situation, continually subject to change. By contrast, there is a dangerous rigidity to be found in the idea that concern for the dreadful situation of the hostages is somehow in opposition to, or incompatible with, the demand for a ceasefire. Surely a ceasefire—as well as being an ethical necessity—is also in the immediate absolute interest of the hostages, a fact that cannot be erased by tearing their posters off walls.
Part of the significance of a student protest is the ways in which it gives young people the opportunity to insist upon an ethical principle while still being, comparatively speaking, a more rational force than the supposed adults in the room, against whose crazed magical thinking they have been forced to define themselves. The equality of all human life was never a self-evident truth in racially segregated America. There was no way to “win” in Vietnam. Hamas will not be “eliminated.” The more than seven million Jewish human beings who live in the gap between the river and the sea will not simply vanish because you think that they should. All of that is just rhetoric. Words. Cathartic to chant, perhaps, but essentially meaningless. A ceasefire, meanwhile, is both a potential reality and an ethical necessity. The monstrous and brutal mass murder of more than eleven hundred people, the majority of them civilians, dozens of them children, on October 7th, has been followed by the monstrous and brutal mass murder (at the time of writing) of a reported fourteen thousand five hundred children. And many more human beings besides, but it’s impossible not to notice that the sort of people who take at face value phrases like “surgical strikes” and “controlled military operation” sometimes need to look at and/or think about dead children specifically in order to refocus their minds on reality.
To send the police in to arrest young people peacefully insisting upon a ceasefire represents a moral injury to us all. To do it with violence is a scandal. How could they do less than protest, in this moment? They are putting their own bodies into the machine. They deserve our support and praise. As to which postwar political arrangement any of these students may favor, and on what basis they favor it—that is all an argument for the day after a ceasefire. One state, two states, river to the sea—in my view, their views have no real weight in this particular moment, or very little weight next to the significance of their collective action, which (if I understand it correctly) is focussed on stopping the flow of money that is funding bloody murder, and calling for a ceasefire, the political euphemism that we use to mark the end of bloody murder. After a ceasefire, the criminal events of the past seven months should be tried and judged, and the infinitely difficult business of creating just, humane, and habitable political structures in the region must begin anew. Right now: ceasefire. And, as we make this demand, we might remind ourselves that a ceasefire is not, primarily, a political demand. Primarily, it is an ethical one.
But it is in the nature of the political that we cannot even attend to such ethical imperatives unless we first know the political position of whoever is speaking. (“Where do you stand on Israel/Palestine?”) In these constructed narratives, there are always a series of shibboleths, that is, phrases that can’t be said, or, conversely, phrases that must be said. Once these words or phrases have been spoken (river to the sea, existential threat, right to defend, one state, two states, Zionist, colonialist, imperialist, terrorist) and one’s positionality established, then and only then will the ethics of the question be attended to (or absolutely ignored). The objection may be raised at this point that I am behaving like a novelist, expressing a philosophy without a politics, or making some rarefied point about language and rhetoric while people commit bloody murder. This would normally be my own view, but, in the case of Israel/Palestine, language and rhetoric are and always have been weapons of mass destruction.
It is in fact perhaps the most acute example in the world of the use of words to justify bloody murder, to flatten and erase unbelievably labyrinthine histories, and to deliver the atavistic pleasure of violent simplicity to the many people who seem to believe that merely by saying something they make it so. It is no doubt a great relief to say the word “Hamas” as if it purely and solely described a terrorist entity. A great relief to say “There is no such thing as the Palestinian people” as they stand in front of you. A great relief to say “Zionist colonialist state” and accept those three words as a full and unimpeachable definition of the state of Israel, not only under the disastrous leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu but at every stage of its long and complex history, and also to hear them as a perfectly sufficient description of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived in Israel or happened to find themselves born within it. It is perhaps because we know these simplifications to be impossible that we insist upon them so passionately. They are shibboleths; they describe a people, by defining them against other people—but the people being described are ourselves. The person who says “We must eliminate Hamas” says this not necessarily because she thinks this is a possible outcome on this earth but because this sentence is the shibboleth that marks her membership in the community that says that. The person who uses the word “Zionist” as if that word were an unchanged and unchangeable monolith, meaning exactly the same thing in 2024 and 1948 as it meant in 1890 or 1901 or 1920—that person does not so much bring definitive clarity to the entangled history of Jews and Palestinians as they successfully and soothingly draw a line to mark their own zone of interest and where it ends. And while we all talk, carefully curating our shibboleths, presenting them to others and waiting for them to reveal themselves as with us or against us—while we do all that, bloody murder.
And now here we are, almost at the end of this little stream of words. We’ve arrived at the point at which I must state clearly “where I stand on the issue,” that is, which particular political settlement should, in my own, personal view, occur on the other side of a ceasefire. This is the point wherein—by my stating of a position—you are at once liberated into the simple pleasure of placing me firmly on one side or the other, putting me over there with those who lisp or those who don’t, with the Ephraimites, or with the people of Gilead. Yes, this is the point at which I stake my rhetorical flag in that fantastical, linguistical, conceptual, unreal place—built with words—where rapes are minimized as needs be, and the definition of genocide quibbled over, where the killing of babies is denied, and the precision of drones glorified, where histories are reconsidered or rewritten or analogized or simply ignored, and “Jew” and “colonialist” are synonymous, and “Palestinian” and “terrorist” are synonymous, and language is your accomplice and alibi in all of it. Language euphemized, instrumentalized, and abused, put to work for your cause and only for your cause, so that it does exactly and only what you want it to do. Let me make it easy for you. Put me wherever you want: misguided socialist, toothless humanist, naïve novelist, useful idiot, apologist, denier, ally, contrarian, collaborator, traitor, inexcusable coward. It is my view that my personal views have no more weight than an ear of corn in this particular essay. The only thing that has any weight in this particular essay is the dead. ♦

We've had the sound of police helicopters overhead for the last three hours as the campus administration sent in the riot police to clear out the Gaza solidarity encampment.

Got an emergency alert notifying us of "violent protest", which seems to have consisted of protesters staying where they were as the police put on their riot gear and shouted threats about the use of gas and clubs to break up the encampment.

The "barricades" being erected are small enough that a local middle school's production of Les Miz would point and laugh. Still being made much of by the law enforcement in the area that needs a good counternarrative for smacking around the non-compliant.

On the way back from teaching, we passed a neighbor (some sort of campus faculty or staff) in a watermelon Hawaiian shirt headed towards the encampment. Hope that he's okay.

Classes canceled for today. Classes tomorrow have gone remote.

Office hours on Zoom were a lot of WTF? and worry for friends.

Good times.

Helicopters still going. Hope that means that the cops are being exceptionally slow and careful.

Unlikely, but that is my hope.

Sending the same hope, nous.

Hard not to think of May 1970, when, after Kent State, students went on strike all over the country. Our classes were canceled for the rest of the year, and we had the option of taking finals in the fall.

Similarities and differences, and people keep dying.

Sounds like the helecopters have finally gone away, but our neighborhood has police outside of it controlling access in and out. Not sure what this means for the status of the protest on campus - whether or not protesters still occupy any buildings or public spaces.

I do know that I dislike being kettled and cordoned off, and I resent the huge police show of force on campus against people who were no threat, and barely any disruption.

Dollars to donuts that the right is going to try to scream and yell about antifa thugs starting trouble and the poor peace officers being forced to come in and risk their lives to protect the peaceful students.

The student that I was talking to in office hours when the alert went out to everyone's cellphones told me that they were Jewish and that they had been active with Jewish Voice for Peace on campus, and that they were worried for their friends and mentors who were at the encampment.

As always, the Administration is far more concerned for outward appearances and reputational concerns than they are for the campus community. This was clearly a top-down decision.

We'll see when they start letting faculty and staff out of their residential neighborhood on campus through more than a single access point.

I spoke too soon. At least one helicopter has returned and is hovering over student housing.

Gonna be a long night.

It's not every day that I get to say that I'm on a first name basis with both a person (incorrectly) singled out by Fox News as an outside agitator AND with a person being feted by Steve Bannon on his podcast after having been outed as an alt-right influencer.

Today must be really special.

At least the cops and the helicopters are gone.

"At least the cops and the helicopters are gone."

I am told they decamped to Louisville to arrest Scottie Scheffler.

"I am told they decamped to Louisville to arrest Scottie Scheffler."

The way to stop a bad man with a club is a good cop* with a club, amirite?

(*existence debatable)

As a follow up to letters from human rights lawyers about what the laws of war permitted (and more importantly did not permit) that I linked in the aftermath of the October 7th atrocity, I thought that the ObWi commentariat might be interested in this, from some of the same lawyers, about today's events at the ICC, and from the ICC itself:



Good information to have, especially the independent consultants' analysis (though I prefer the linked report to the summary op ed - that's an academic for you). It's especially useful considering all of the chaff that Blinken is throwing out in the official US response, which is focused entirely upon intentions and the lack of equivalencies and tries to swerve around the legal obligations and the actual evidence for potential crimes in need of prosecution.

The disconnect between how bad the terms "war crimes" and "war criminal" *sound* and the lightness of the resulting punishment.

Kill a hundred innocents in a war crime? Prison sentence less than if you knocked over a bank for $1000.

*assuming* that charges are brought, and prosecuted.

If Israel is guilty of war crimes, Biden and Blinken are guilty of complicity.

The problem is that the Western idea of a rules- based order has no room in it for accountabilty for high ranking Western officials. You can, if you are lucky, obtain some token convictions against members of the military and even then the result is often a wrist slap. But that is all you will get.

Hmm, I realise I would have regarded Netanyahu as a "Western" leader. Makes me wonder if we should instead say "European and American" officials....

I think most people see Israel as part of “ the West”, whatever that term means exactly. There is this idea of “ Western democracies” vs all these other frequently authoritarian governments. Not sure where Japan and South Korea would fit in. Are they “ Western”? What about democracies in South America? I am not sure about that either.

But I think Biden and others acting like the stereotypical fainting Victorian lady who needs her smelling salts is doing this because the ICC is not supposed to go after “ Western democracies”. By definition, apparently, Western democracies have legal systems which can handle their own war crimes and so there is no need for the ICC. Years ago that was the liberal argument for why we should agree to be part of that system— we wouldn’t have anything to worry about because we have this judicial system and we take care of our own war criminals. That was the argument in the Clinton era, before Bush, Iraq, and torture, but after Henry Kissinger.

I never understood how anyone could make that argument and expect to be taken seriously. I think it was a way to show you were a serious person— you fake belief in obvious self serving nonsense and you get to be part of the foreign policy community. Conservatives opposed joining it for fear Americans would be tried and while their motives were wrong, they instinctively realized the rest of the world wouldn’t be so impressed by the glories of our judicial and political system.

All the attention and criticism Israel gets is something of a backhanded compliment. There's little expectation for the other countries in the region to be humanitarian.

It may also have to do with all the weaponry and munitions they get from us, which allows them to be something other than humanitarian that much more effectively.

Where Israel slots into the argument is a bit fuzzy because a lot of the time when people talk about "western democracies," they are actually talking about "western-style democracies" AKA "liberal democracies," and the latter category includes a lot of decidedly non-western countries in the post-medieval European sense of the word, with Japan being a really good example here.

My question would be the extent to which Israel can be considered a liberal democracy given its decidedly illiberal stance on what constitutes nationality and citizenship. Israel seems to me to be no more liberal in this than was Hungary under Orbán.

Can illiberal democracies be "western-style" democracies? Discuss.

My question would be the extent to which Israel can be considered a liberal democracy given its decidedly illiberal stance on what constitutes nationality and citizenship. Israel seems to me to be no more liberal in this than was Hungary under Orbán.

Not to mention its inbuilt misogyny and homophobia, which is a result of the ultra-orthodox having more and more power the longer Netanyahu is in power, but was always present to some extent, a consequence of family law being largely within the control of religious courts.

In that case Ireland wasn't a "Western" democracy either given the influence the RCC had there and how that influence was used. The Magdalene laundries damaged the image but were not sufficient. What broke the spell was the attempted detention of a - very - underage rape victim that had made the grave mistake of going to the police to get a DNA sample secured before she would get an abortion in the UK. The Church tried to have her under arrest until after delivery and the state tried to oblige. That turned out to be the last straw. And then came the revelations about the decades of sexual child abuse covered up by the Church. As far as I know that has as of yet prevented the Church of getting its stranglehold back.

Or we could say that both Hungary under Orbán and Ireland prior to the legalization of abortion were western democracies, but not western-style democracies. They were both illiberal western democracies.

“ All the attention and criticism Israel gets is something of a backhanded compliment. There's little expectation for the other countries in the region to be humanitarian.”

What hsh said. I see Israel as just another thuggish country which has democratic values for people inside its voting community, though pro Oct 7 the Israelis were already worried about the direction they were going and they weren’t thinking about the Palestinians there.

I think there should have been more protests about Yemen. But the fact that Israel is widely praised also attracts more criticism. Nobody expects anything from the Saudi government and the only weirdo that seems to like MBS is Thomas Friedman. In general, Friedman aside, nobody in the US likes the Saudi government unless they are paid to like it.

On the democracy discussion one can also ask what sort of democracy the US was when only white males could vote. But on the human rights issues I think people commonly overstate the virtues of democracy— it is the least bad form of government, etc.,.On human rights, the voters may not care what happens to certain categories of foreigners,or for that matter, they may not care about people inside the country who don’t have the right to vote.

Muslim Israeli citizens are freer and treated better in Israel than Muslims are in most of the other Middle Eastern countries. Being the wrong kind of Muslim in those countries can be fatal.

Nobody expects anything from the Saudi government and the only weirdo that seems to like MBS is Thomas Friedman.

But we'll still do business with them as long as they have all that oil. [How did our oil get under their sand anyway?...]

"American troops might be pledged to defend Saudi territory soon. President Joe Biden is seeking a "mega-deal" that would bind the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel into a Middle Eastern military alliance. After Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman last week, both governments announced that they had a "near-final" version of a defense pact worked out."
Biden Wants a Defense Pact With Saudi Arabia While 9/11 Victims Are Suing the Kingdom: The White House announced a “near-final” defense pact with Saudi Arabia yesterday, just as new evidence about Saudi links to 9/11 is emerging.

Muslim Israeli citizens are freer and treated better in Israel than Muslims are in most of the other Middle Eastern countries. Being the wrong kind of Muslim in those countries can be fatal.

Freedom House ranks Israel the same as it does Lebanon and Jordan for "Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?." They all get 2/4.

But really, that particular defense of Israel doesn't really do anything to elevate Israel's case as a western-style democracy or a free country. It's more free than the surrounding dictatorships, (tiny) hooray.

It's still a far cry from the enlightenment ideal of an egalitarian, pluralistic society.

Some animals are still more equal than others.

If Israel didn’t have an occupation not many people would be criticizing their human rights record, so sure, if you carve out what makes them bad they don't look so bad.

To be more precise, non Jewish citizens of Israel are not treated the same as Jewish citizens and when the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said ( along with other human rights groups) that Israel practiced apartheid, they included the different treatment of non Jewish Israeli citizens as part of their case.

But if that was it, if there was nothing more to say, it would not be high on the list of global human rights problems and Charles would have a point, along with the countless other people I have seen making that argument.

But it is an absurd argument, because in the pre Oct 7 era what people focused on was the occupation and yes, that is a brutal apartheid system by any standard.

In general, Friedman aside, nobody in the US likes the Saudi government unless they are paid to like it.

He's probably not capable of liking anyone. But I think it's fair to say that Trump admired the Saudi government, even before they started giving his family vast amounts of money.

But on the human rights issues I think people commonly overstate the virtues of democracy— it is the least bad form of government, etc.,

Perhaps I am misreading this. But you seem to be saying that, when it comes to human rights issues, there is some other form of government which does better. An example of that better alternative would be of interest.

You are misreading it. The point is that voters in a democracy can vote for politicians who support war crimes or, say, in Trump’s case, rounding up millions of people and putting them in camps.

People sometimes talk as though a government can’t be guilty of some terrible crime because it is a democracy. This is false. I suppose they think that because democracy is the best form of government, it therefore follows a democratic government can’t be guilty of some terrible crime. But the logic is faulty.

And this is why some people claim to be outraged that Israel, a democracy, is being charged with Hamas. Of course another possible and very likely reason is that Western politicians don’t want people looking at them and thinking that maybe we want a world where they can be charged with war crimes.

I am not sure what that world would be like. Getting there would be pretty close to a revolution. It might be rejected by the will of the people, the way Trump supporters reject the idea that their hero might belong in jail.

Carter maintained greater integrity and moral character in office

I don't agree with the positive reception of the Carter presidency. Maybe it was just incompetence, but his handling of Iran, Indonesia and Afghanistan were certainly not glorious chapters in US foreign policy.

I don't have a good sense for how big of a deal this is.


hsh: symbolic, but a biggish deal nonetheless because it shows how even previous defenders of Israel are turning (and feel they can publicly turn) against it. And therefore, yet another illustration of how, after October 7th, Israel under Netanyahu walked straight into Hamas's trap. I have already lost longtime friends over my theory expressed soon after 10/7 that that was what Israel's response was doing, but as time goes by I become increasingly convinced of it. Small consolation for any of this.

On a different question, Janie, in reading about a new play that is about to open about Tom Lehrer I see that he taught for a while at MIT. Did you ever encounter him or attend his lectures etc?

novakant - I don't agree with the positive reception of the Carter presidency. Maybe it was just incompetence, but his handling of Iran, Indonesia and Afghanistan were certainly not glorious chapters in US foreign policy.

I would never claim that Carter's foreign policy represented a golden age. My point was that he's the only US president from the Cold War on who actually attempted to address many of the US's past human rights abuses and gave human rights more weight when faced with realpolitik situations.

Can anyone point to a US president post-1945 that put greater practical emphasis on human rights in US foreign policy? Would any of the other presidents we've had in that period have made a better, more moral decision in any of the cases where Carter did turn a blind eye to human rights abuses for the sake of realpolitik?

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