Beinart’s new book

In city after city, American Jews have built Holocaust memorials. The Jewish schools in those cities are often decrepit, mediocre, and unaffordable, but there is no shortage of places to learn how Jews died. When a community builds better memorials than schools — when it raises children more familiar with Auschwitz than with Simchat Torah — the lesson of those memorials cannot be: Honor the dead by leading informed, committed Jewish lives. Nor is the lesson: Honor the dead by acting justly toward those non-Jews who live under Jewish rule, since mainstream Jewish organizations rarely grapple with the injustice inherent in occupying land in which Jews enjoy citizenship and non-Jews do not. Instead, the implicit lesson is: Honor the dead by preventing another Holocaust, this time in Israel. That lesson is reinforced by the vast sums that American Jewish groups spend on “Israel advocacy,” on teaching young American Jews to defend the Jewish state against the viciously anti-Semitic climate that supposedly pervades their college campuses and the world.

But the Israel advocacy generally fails. For one thing, it is difficult to teach Jewish students to defend the Jewish state when they have not been taught to care much about Judaism itself. Second, it is intellectually insulting to tell young Jews who have been raised to think for themselves that they should start with the assumption that Israeli policy is justified, and then work backward to figure out why. Third, since young American Jews—more than their elders—take Jewish power for granted, the victimhood narrative simply doesn’t conform to what they see in their own lives or in the Middle East.

Rethinking Zionism Jews have gone from powerless to powerful in the last few decades — and now it’s time to acknowledge what it means BY PETER BEINART

I thought this was an interesting point. Museums are probably much less expensive to run than schools, but Holocaust remembrance can become a sort of fetishism of death, the sort that Jews rightfully deplore in their enemies.

The Crisis of Zionism got a mostly negative review in the WSJ:

Here is what he thinks: Israel is an oppressive, apartheid-type state. Its failure to attain peace with the Palestinians can be blamed on the actions of—in no particular order—Israel’s leaders, American-Jewish organizations and Orthodox Jews (bigots to a man, in his telling). Because of these bad actors, Mr. Beinart warns, the “liberal Zionist dream”—a Jewish state built on liberal ideals—risks demise. He focuses in particular on the West Bank, the area captured in 1967 by Israel from Jordan in the Six-Day War. “If Israel ceases being a democratic Jewish state,” he writes, “it is less likely to be because Arab armies invade the West Bank than because Israel permanently occupies it.”


Mr. Beinart attempts to resolve this contradiction by claiming that there are two Israels: one within the country’s original 1948 borders and one outside, where “occupation . . . desecrates Israel’s founding ideals.” But in truth there is only one Israel. Mr. Beinart fails to appreciate that Israel is in a state of war and that Hamas—which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2006—is a terrorist organization (recognized as such by the U.S.) that seeks to destroy what it calls the “Zionist entity.”

But while Hamas’s charter openly declares this destructive goal—and Hamas fosters attacks on Israel with rockets and suicide bombers—Mr. Beinart blames Israel for not doing everything to “find a diplomatic solution.” He also attacks Jewish leaders for focusing on the wording of the Hamas charter and ignoring the group’s other, less extreme documents. If only Hamas listened to Mr. Beinart.

In a State Over Israel

No poisoned Halloween candy but there is some poisoned Easter candy

I once read on Snopes that despite parental worries from my childhood about posioned candy, there were no recorded cases of poisoned or razor-bladed Halloween candy. As far as I know, that’s still true, but this story caught my attention:

Each year 68-year-old Joerg-Werner Lubbe from the town of Markneukirchen, in southeastern Germany, decks out his yard with tasty Easter treats. And every time, the decorations prove irresistible to children in the neighbourhood, who help themselves.

[He] allegedly laced a batch of chocolate bunnies with ammonium hydroxide and hung them from a tree in his front yard. A …10-year-old … gobbled down a baited bunny. He was violently ill and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Police said they were investigating Lubbe for grievous bodily harm and said they found six more poisoned bunnies in the yard. They said adults would have immediately noticed the smell of the chemical…

German pensioner accused of poisoning chocolate bunny thief

It is interesting to me that you could get in trouble for this. Private property, requests to not eat your decorations, and an odor of poison are apparently not  enough to protect you.

Disqus moderation issues

I just learned that the excellent  HTTPS Everywhere  extension from the EFF is the source of my problems with the Disqus comment system I use. When HTTPS everywhere is active  Disqus gets stuck on an  endless loading / hourglass / spinning loading symbol step. Disabling the extension temporarily solved the problem.

Russian Silver Fox Experiment ending

I was sad to learn that the Silver Fox domestication project is in serious risk of closing due to limited funds (Guarding the Fox House A famous animal experiment is in peril, after 54 years of work. By Ceiridwen Terrill). We discussed the project a few years ago in Floppy ears are probably genetically linked to friendliness. They need a kickstarter or charity website so people can make donations (adopt a fox?) . I think that community support could keep the project going for at least a few more years.

Getting into two new series

Sherlock is a new BBC show (renewed) about a contemporary Holmes and Watson. I’ve really enjoyed how they’ve dealt with the oddeties of their relationship including:

  • What does Watson contribute?
  • How do they meet?
  • What is in it for the police, Watson, and Holmes?
  • Isn’t it odd for two men of that age to live together and not be homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that (someone must say that 3 times in the first episode)
  • The handling of Holmes’s drug adictions

The reformed Sherlock (Laurie and Downey as fellow travelers of Cumberbatch) as universal polymath remains and of course annoys me. This is what Doyle has to say about Holmes’ knowledge (first speak is Holmes, the second Watson):

“It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this I have endeavoured in my case to do. If I remember rightly, you on one occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined my limits in a very precise fashion.”

“Yes,” I answered, laughing. “It was a singular document. Philosophy, astronomy, and politics were marked at zero, I remember. Botany variable, geology profound as regards the mud-stains from any region within fifty miles of town, chemistry eccentric, anatomy unsystematic, sensational literature and crime records unique, violin-player, boxer, swordsman, lawyer, and self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco. Those, I think, were the main points of my analysis.””

I man with limited if powerful abilities. Maybe it doesn’t matter what Doyle thought. Perhaps he’s lost control of his creation and Watson and Holmes belong to all of us as a part of universal myth.

I like that he’s less of a general savant than Robert Downey Jr’s interpretation, replacing that rakishness with sociopathic behavior and general contempt for others (excepting Watson as far as we can tell), and I find this a general improvement.   James Bond he is not.   It isn’t the generally nasty conduct of Laurie either. Laurie’s house enjoys tormenting others but  Cumberbatch seems to see them as puzzles to solve regardless of the consequences. In many ways Laurie expresses love through hate but Cumberbatch tries to pass off his clever observations as actual understanding of human behavior. I one point Cumberbatch says something awful and to the silence looks at Watson and says “did I say something terrible?”.


I also enjoyed The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) the first of three books detailing the life of Kovoth, a bard, wizard, swordsman, street urchin and generally heroic guy.  I generally prefer stories where the main character cannot do everything. He doesn’t display godlike abilities, but he is able to master in hours or days what takes most people months and he seems to have perfect recall in all sorts of domains. The poverty and misery of his late childhood is  humanizing, but not as humanizing as being good at somethings and not others. I’ve enjoyed the brisk writing that carries the story forward with intensity. My only complain is that from time to time the author gets overwrought, which I think Rothfuss does to create a dramatic atmosphere. From a perspective of economic history, he makes the typical overestimates of both the quantity of trade and general level of wealth in pre-industrial societies. The small quantity of magic could make some difference,  but how it would do this is far from clear. For example, a  bar in a rural area and he’s got spices and a dozen sorts of things to drink has individual rooms with wood floors for all his guests. I think that would have been pretty uncommon until about 1700 or even later in the west. Still, if you want realism, read history. This is a good yarn and worth a read if you like the genre. The second book comes out any day now and the book is part of  a trilogy.