There’s been some discussion lately on my Lefty mailing lists about what they call “social media”. There was a brief flurry of interest in something called “Ello”, apparently marketed as the hipster version of facebook, with a very cool minimalist UI and a very vaguely-worded commitment not to monetize your personal information. It didn’t last long enough for me to check it out.

More generally, we were all wondering how to disentangle the benefits of commercial social media — like facebook — from their obvious harms: the data mining, the marketing. The puppies.

The benefits can’t be entirely dismissed. I’ve found people on facebook with whom I’m glad to be back in touch, and whom it would have been difficult, in the actually existing world, to find in any other way. On the other hand I’ve had “friend” requests from people who seemed respectable — went to the same school, had a couple dozen “friends” in common — and turned out to be awful pests. It’s surprising how upset one can be when one of these people rounds on you and bites you in the neck — as if they were real friends, rather than pixelated shadows. One is tempted to invoke notions like “illusion of community”.

Of course in one sense all communities are illusory; they’re constituted by categorization. You are my neighbor, or you aren’t. I get to decide.

Much Lefty thinking boils down to the question: How would we do this under socialism? What would the socialist subway fare be? What would a socialist facebook be like? Could you even have social media without ad revenue, or VC’s who are hoping for ad revenue? Hey, who’s gonna pay all those coders without it?

Along the same line, one is (once again) tempted to suggest that facebook is the solution that our kind of society offers to a problem that our kind of society creates. Perhaps a different kind of society wouldn’t need facebook or anything like it.

Meanwhile, I see it in much the same light as the highway system. I don’t think there’s anything historically inevitable about mass automobilization. There’s no need to like it; and any rational person hates driving. Driving is not only a bore, it’s bad for people’s character. The same could be said about facebook. What would socialist interstate highways look like? Overgrown ruins, let’s hope (though who knows?).

But occasionally one gets into the car, rather reluctantly, and commits oneself to the Merritt Parkway or the Major Deegan, simply because it’s the least inconvenient way of doing something one needs to do. Along the way one will encounter any number of assholes, because the activity itself encourages assholery. But after a few hours of deep boredom interspersed with moments of active disagreeableness, one will, with luck, find oneself in some place one wants to be.

This is as close as I can get to being what they call “realistic”.

Crescat scientia, vita excolatur


I have a friend, a fella whom I’ve known for years, whom I like and admire, and who went to the great climate march recently. Let’s call him Homo Sapiens.

Sapiens put a picture of himself on his Facebook page — yes, I admit it, I still do Facebook. He was carrying a placard, printed out in the approved 350.org color scheme, that read, “Teach science!”

Now the pedant in me immediately wondered, what the hell is “science”? Last I heard, there were only sciences: physics, chemistry, herpetology and so on. Grand unification seems to be some ways off. But this wonderment rapidly gave way to another: What the hell was my old pal Sap doing saying such a thing?

He’s a smart guy, but his education was purely literary; he doesn’t know the first thing about any science. I doubt that he could tell you what the law of gravitation really says, or how Copernicus was right and how he was wrong, or the relationship between a watt and a volt, or what was interesting about Darwin’s finches. “Teach science?” Nobody ever taught Sap any science at all, and he wouldn’t have taken to it if they had tried.

I’m afraid that what old Sap meant, by holding up this placard, was something which could be unpacked more or less as follows:

There are all these stupid benighted people out there who think that the world was created day before yesterday, who don’t believe in evolution, whatever the hell that is, or in global warming. These people have a bad belief system. It needs to be replaced with a good belief system. Like… science! Teachers, do your thing! Students, listen to your teachers! Parents, shut the fuck up and leave it to the professionals!

The problem here is that what makes ‘science’ a good thing is that it is not a belief system. Sap, I suspect, thinks that there are people who believe in Genesis and other people who believe in ‘science’ — people mostly rather like himself.

Now there are a number of things wrong with this analogy, starting with the fact that believers in Genesis are quite likely to have read the book at some point, while Sap has certainly never peeked into the Origin of Species, not to mention any technical discussions of atmospheric chemistry.

But even more importantly, it’s apples and oranges. Biblical fundamentalism is a belief system, but science is an activity; a very worthwhile one, whose work product is always and only provisional hypotheses, subject at any time to revision or, for that matter, repudiation. The history of science makes this very clear; but Sapiens knows as little about the history of science as he does about ‘science’ itself.

Science, for real scientists, is a job, something they do; not a faith commitment, a body of dogmata that they believe in. This is precisely what constitutes its appeal and value.

But I’m afraid that what brother Sap means when he says ‘teach science’ is very much a matter of indoctrination. I don’t suppose that Sap cares much whether kids emerge from high school able to explain Avogadro’s number or Planck’s constant. But he would rather they were listening to jolly jokey Neil Degrasse Tyson, retailing his smooth popularized certainties and potted chronicle of progress on NPR, than so some wild man who doesn’t have a degree from a good school and who exhibits an unhealthy interest in the Epistle to the Romans.

Sap’s fideistic attitude toward ‘science’ is highly characteristic of the tribe to which he and I both belong. It’s part of our self-identification: we’re the party of enlightenment and, even more important, of expertise. Sap doesn’t understand the climate scientists’ reasoning; but he believes it, because they’re the duly ordained experts. Teach ‘science’! — but there’s no urgent need to teach any actual sciences. That is to say: teach belief, rather than content or method.

Obligatory disclaimer:

I think the climate-science boys are probably right, though I’m so poorly informed on the subject that I have no right to an opinion. And even if they’re wrong, I wish we’d act on the implications of their hypotheses. I wish we’d rip up all the asphalt and ban the manufacture of cars. I wish that everybody who didn’t live in a shack in the woods, ten miles from the nearest neighbor, lived in an apartment two blocks from a subway line. I wish every roof were covered with solar panels. I wish that air travel were a once-in-a-lifetime experience — if that — and that container ships were propelled by sail power. I wish we had a walloping carbon tax — as long as it’s rebated, on a strict per capita basis, to every man woman and child. All the things we might do in a desperate last-ditch effort against climate change are well worth doing for any number of other reasons — except, except! teaching people to believe the experts.

Opinion of climate


Needless to say, I didn’t attend the great Climate March a couple of weeks back. It’s a firm principle of mine never to attend an event for which a police permit has been obtained.

There were other reasons too. Climate change is a fait accompli. Nobody is going to do anything about it; probably nobody can do anything about it, at this point. It would make more sense to ask ourselves how we’re going to live through it. Probably many or most of us won’t; I’m afraid it’ll make the fourteenth-century Black Death look like a three-day suspension from school. But it might be interesting, at least, to imagine what sort of social arrangements could minimize the carnage.

Certainly not the ones we have, which I daresay few of the marchers were very interested in disturbing to any noticeable degree. It was a march in favor of rational policy choices — rational, that is, on the assumption of a universal humanity as chooser and actor. We should do this, we should do that. Of course in fact it’s not we, but they, who are calling the shots.

Translation needed


Thus the Times:

After five months of intensifying combat that threatened to rip Ukraine apart and to reignite the Cold War, the Ukrainian government and separatist forces signed a cease-fire agreement on Friday that analysts considered highly tenuous in a country that remains a tinderbox.

Previous attempts to stop the fighting have failed. But the prime difference this time was that the main thrust of the plan was not just endorsed, but laid out, by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom Western leaders accuse of stoking unrest to prevent Ukraine from slipping out of Russia’s orbit.

Translation: We’ll make sure the cease-fire fails, and blame it on Putin.

Because, like… Hamas!


For a guy who’s as much a non-fan of Israel as I am, I have a surprising number of friends on the other side of the question — people whom I like and value and admire but who are still, for one reason or another, very committed to Fort Zion. (It isn’t always the first-guess reason, either — some of ‘em are Episcopalians.)

Speaking of Episcopalians, the local Bishop recently issued a rather tepid and carefully nonjudgemental call to aid a hospital in Gaza, which had just been bombed to shit by the Light Unto The Nations.

The Zionist thought-police response was rapid and consistent. How do we know that the money would go to a hospital — and not to Hamas? How do we know that rockets wouldn’t be fired from the roof of the rebuilt hospital — by Hamas? It doesn’t matter what the question is; the answer is always Hamas.

The essence of hasbara, I think, is changing the subject. The anti-Semitism gambit, and the closely related singling-out gambit, attempt to change the subject from Israel to the interlocutor’s feelings and motivations. The Hamas gambit seeks to seduce the interlocutor into either defending Hamas or arguing about details of what’s really going on in Gaza.

Now neither the hasbarist nor the interlocutor knows anything about details on the ground in Gaza, except what they read in the papers. The same applies to Hamas. In this new argument, about Hamas, no substantial conversation is possible; only hot air expended by tendentious malice on one side and (at best) wishful thinking on the other. But the hasbarist has succeeded. The subject has been changed. Israel and its manifest and acknowledged project of conquest, apartheid, and expropriation is no longer under discussion. Instead, Hamas and its sins real or imaginary are now the topic. The prosecutor of Israel has become the Legal Aid lawyer for Hamas, who has never met his client and knows nothing about him except what the newly-appointed prosecution chooses to say.

Speaking only for myself, I’m like Mlle de Rimbaud’s dad in the Mel Brooks History of the World: I suspect Hamas ain’t so bad, and certainly, if I were a young man living in Gaza I’d join up. But really, that’s neither here nor there. Good or bad, Hamas is a consequence of Israel and its essential undertaking. If you don’t like Hamas, do something about Israel.

Singling out


We’ve all heard the “singling out” argument, right? — As in, “Why single out Israel? What about the Tadjiks?!”

Of course nobody is asking about the Tadjiks any more. These days, anti-singler-outers are more likely to redirect your attention to Syria, where Assad is, purportedly, a much worse mass murderer than Netanyahu & Co.

Curiously, the Hasbara Manual doesn’t contain any reference to the single-out argument. I wonder why the manual left it out? Does it concede too much? Yes, Israel is a genocidal apartheid state, but it could always be worse. Not a terribly strong defense, when you come to think about it.

Then too the single-out defense is generally the setup for an anti-Semite gambit: Since Syria is worse than Israel, supposedly, the fact that you are talking about Israel instead of Syria can only mean that you’re an anti-Semite. Now the Manual soft-pedals this approach; its authors are happy to call the Palestinians anti-Semites but seem to feel that it may not be good hasbara to call your interlocutor an anti-Semite. Which is very intelligent on their part, if the goal is to convince your interlocutor rather than silence him. It’s strategically sound to try persuasion first, and fall back on silencing only if persuasion fails. Defence in depth. Even Steven Salaita wasn’t accused of anti-Semitism, just incivility — of which he was certainly guilty, bless him. Quite right too.

With or without the manual’s advice, one hears the argument a lot, mostly from otherwise intelligent and humane friends who happen to be still soft on Israel, for whatever reason, rather than from professional hasbarists. I think these good people go to silencing first simply because they want a quiet life — and also, perhaps, because they know persuasion won’t work. They realize that Israel is obviously a very sketchy proposition, but they have some history, or personal ties, or it would just be very bad for one’s back to be knocked off a horse on the road to Damascus. So can’t we talk about something pleasant?

Another precinct heard from


Email through the contact form. This sort of thing warms the cockles of my heart:

Dear God! Aren’t you a nasty peace of work!

You said that you thought the old Stalinists were half right. Given the establishment and support of a totalitarian state, the deportation and enslavement of millions in the gulag, the Holodomor in Ukraine (which led to the deaths of at least three million people), the Great Terror, the Nazi Soviet Pact, ethnic cleansing of minorities during World War II (including the Crimean Tartars), the Katyn Massacre, the sexual assault of millions of women in Eastern Europe (one of the greatest mass rapes in human history), sending Soviet soldiers who survived Nazi camps to the gulag, Soviet imperialism in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, persecution of Jews, Stalin’s agreement to let Kim Il-Sung invade South Korea, and many other crimes, I’d hate to see what you think completely wrong means.

Or are you one of those folks who denies that the above atrocities happened, and says that I’m a “capitalist running dog” for mentioning them?

And your lies, sneers, and intellectual dishonesty in your coverage of Ukraine are appalling. The best that can be said about your coverage of the Ukraine is that it’s not quite as inaccurate and dishonest as Walter Duranty’s.


But you’re trying your best to make it so!

Michael Delong

I don’t think I know a Michael Delong. Idle googling turns up quite a few, one of whom seems to be retired general. I hope my correspondent is that one. The General’s photo is shown above.

A few imbecile comments on Ferguson


“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.”

Of course there is, you lying dog. We wouldn’t have civil rights legislation today if it weren’t for the riots of the 60s.

Eric ‘Timon’ Holder:

We must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community.

No, Timon. People need to understand that the policeman is not their friend. Fortunately, many already do. More every day.


Elizabeth Warren, the sweetheart of Daily Kos:

“This is America, not a war zone.”

What premises, what reasoning, if any, lie behind this bizarre observation? “America” is not like, say, Gaza, where Qualitative Superiority Warren has made it clear that she’s on the side of the chaps in the tanks and the airplanes? But surely it’s obvious to the meanest intellect that Ferguson is in fact very much like Gaza.

Dirty birds of a feather


New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a deeply loathesome figure, and Sheldon Silver, a figure if possible even more deeply loathesome, or at least loathesome for a longer time, and a couple of other inconsequential whores from the New York state legislature, have jetted off on a solidarity visit to poor beleaguered Israel. (Shellie is the one all the way to right, whose face is half cut-off by incompetent photo cropping. Competent cropping would have cut off his entire face and all six of his limbs.)

Might also be a good idea to re-think that logo under Cuomo’s right shoulder. Could be misread.

The governor’s press release makes entertaining reading:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Co-Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced a unity visit reaffirming the State of New York’s support in light of the continued threat of attacks by Hamas and other terrorist organizations….

[Cuomo said]” As Hamas and other terrorist organizations continue to threaten Israel, now is the time to deliver that message of solidarity in person.”

Senate Co-Leader Dean G. Skelos said, “During this important moment in history, it is incumbent upon New York to reaffirm its strong and unconditional support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas-led attacks…[I] look forward to bringing the good wishes of the people of my district and the state of New York to our nation’s most trusted and reliable ally.”

Senate Co-Leader Jeffrey D. Klein said, “As the grandson of Holocaust survivors the State of Israel is not only personally sacred to me but a beacon for the values and rights inherent in a Democracy which I hold dear.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “… I am proud that many New York businesses were started there.”

New York is home to more than 1.7 million Jews…

Much to ponder on here. Those 1.7 million New York Jews, for example, have chosen to live here rather than there. A very intelligent choice, I’d say. This state is pretty much a shithole, but it’s better than wretched Israel.

I had never heard of Dean Skelos before, since the obscene monkey-tricks of the New York state legislature have never seemed either interesting or amusing to me. But I looked him up. He represents a district in Nassau County, on the South Shore of Long Island, which includes the raffish and rather likable beach town of Long Beach, a quick easy train ride from sweltering Manhattan. The beach is much more ethnic and working-class than further-out beaches like Jones Beach, which are much whiter and more middle-class, as intended by that deeply evil man, Robert Moses. I remember some long sun-dazed afternoons, years ago, of swimming in the modest surf and napping in the sun on Long Beach, the best of them in pleasant company.

Less pleasantly, Long Beach is also home to a number of warehouses for elderly Jewish people, among them the King David Manor, shown below. It is a safe bet that none of the people playing volleyball in the foreground is a resident.


I remember the King David Manor because it used to advertise extensively in the subway. The ads were definitive for chutzpah. Everybody knows what an old folks’ home is really all about, but the KDM ads suggested that every resident made Zorba the Greek look like a wimp, as regards vitality, gusto, sex drive, and general joie de vivre.

Israel itself is, I suppose, a kind of King David Manor too — a dead end on the beach. Though some of the inmates are a bit younger.

I find it encouraging that fewer and fewer young people outside of Israel, including Jewish young people, are residents of the mental King David Manor in which our various jailers like Cuomo and Silver and Skelos still dwell. The latter remain balls-to-the-wall for Israel, come what may, and will be so to the bitter end, but the public increasingly are not. I wonder when, and how, push will come to shove on this topic. I now feel that I can reasonably hope — though I am not, generally, an optimistic kind of guy — that I shall live to see it.

The Death Star’s new secret weapon…


… to wit, the Boredom Bomb, which seems to be a beefed-up version of the old hot air blast ordnance known affectionately as Tubby Tommy. The new model appears capable of boring whole nations to death at one stroke.

I happened to pick up a copy of last Saturday’s NY Times today on the subway and was gobsmacked to find a mighty piece by the apparently retooled, neobionic Thomas Friedman occupying almost the whole of the op-ed page. The online version runs about 2,300 words. Never have I seen a neuron-buster on this scale dropped by the Times, even on a test range, much less in combat. The effect was devastating. As soon as the page was exposed to the air, people all around me began to lose consciousness and snore sterterously. I don’t know why I was spared; perhaps I used to read the Times enough when I was younger to develop an immunity.

But even I didn’t dare read this damn thing of course. There are limits. I cherish what scraps of sanity I have left. A quick browser word search — eyes averted — revealed that this is clearly not the old Thomas Friedman, since there is no reference to a cabdriver anywhere in the text. Prompted by a hunch, I searched for the word ‘Shiite’ and sure enough, found that it’s all the Shiites’ fault, according to Obie:

The fact is, said the president, in Iraq a residual U.S. troop presence would never have been needed had the Shiite majority there not “squandered an opportunity” to share power with Sunnis and Kurds. “Had the Shia majority seized the opportunity to reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds in a more effective way, [and not] passed legislation like de-Baathification,” no outside troops would have been necessary. Absent their will to do that, our troops sooner or later would have been caught in the crossfire, he argued….

“[W]hat we have is a disaffected Sunni minority in the case of Iraq, a majority in the case of Syria, stretching from essentially Baghdad to Damascus. … Unless we can give them a formula that speaks to the aspirations of that population, we are inevitably going to have problems. … Unfortunately, there was a period of time where the Shia majority in Iraq didn’t fully understand that. They’re starting to understand it now. Unfortunately, we still have ISIL [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], which has, I think, very little appeal to ordinary Sunnis.” But “they’re filling a vacuum, and the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how are we going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area…”

So it’s still all about encircling Iran, apparently. ISIL, that Golem ginned up by the Gulf States, no doubt with help from the US and Israel, may be a somewhat dangerous and problematic tool; but what’s a Death Star gonna do?

When the big bombs go off, one doesn’t ordinarily pay much attention to the popgun, but a kind, or perhaps unkind friend forwarded me a cri de coeur from no less than Louis Proyect, that keeper of the Fourth International flame and great friend of the Sunni. (I don’t normally see Louis’ stuff any more since I finally unsubbed from his Marxmail list. This, also, in aid of protecting the abovementioned scraps of sanity.)

Louis, as far as I can tell, is indignant that what he calls ‘the “anti-imperialist” Left’ — the embedded quotes are important — isn’t leaping to the defense of ISIL:

For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

I say “as far as I can tell” because Louis has an uncanny capacity to tie himself in intellectual knots that any topologist can prove are impossible in the ordinary 3-D world, so being hit by a Proyectile of this kind gives one a queasy, churning sensation, like looking at one of those puzzle pictures by Escher.

Update: I’m told on good authority that my topology metaphor misfired (see comments). A Valuable Prize to the best suggested replacement for it.