Maybe Not the Root of All Evil, But a Lot of It


Another day with a lot of terror-related stuff. Sorry. We are usually guided by the Way of Elvis: don't be disgusted, try to be amused. That's impossible today, and probably for the near future. Above the fold:

  • It's a war against you and me. Kevin D. Williamson can be relied on to savage the sloppy language used to obfuscate. Today he writes about The War on Thinking.

    Jonah Goldberg once suggested that we live under a “tyranny of clichés.” That is nowhere more true than in Israel and at no time more true than when Israel is under attack, as is currently the case. Watch for the flags of two perennial offenders: the adjective “proportionate” and the verb “escalate.”

    The first cliché that usually comes into play in times such as these is the demand that Israel forgo any “disproportionate response.” NPR: “Egypt warns Israel not to take disproportionate action against Palestinians.” U.N. human-rights commissioner Volker Türk warns “all parties” against actions that would cause “disproportionate death and injury of civilians.” The cheap moral equivalency of the U.N. grandee is really something: Imagine the denunciations that would—rightly!—rain down upon Israel if they carried out a response that was even merely proportionate in terms of death and injury to civilians, a tit-for-tat operation going door-to-door and murdering innocents, kidnapping children, etc. The fact that a perfectly proportionate attack would constitute a gross crime against humanity tells us a great deal about the character of the combatants here. In a similar vein, the European Council on Foreign Relations warns Israel against “a full ground invasion and disproportionate attacks against Palestinian civilians,” again, as though the Israelis were engaged in the same kind of ISIS-style brutality as the Palestinians.

    Irish politician Thomas Byrne says the Israeli response “has to be proportionate. They cannot just go in and do the same thing,” as though for the Israelis to “just go in and do the same thing”—massacring civilians at a music festival and carrying out a campaign of door-to-door murder—were something the Israelis would even consider, rather than an act of savagery that is, in this conflict, reserved to one side. Some variation of the word “proportionate” appears no fewer than seven times, including in the headline, of the Irish Times’ writeup of Byrne’s remarks. The foreign ministry of Qatar sniffs that Israel is using the attack as an “excuse to launch a disproportionate war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” Those crafty Jews—always getting themselves murdered as an excuse to get what they want. On and on you can go, without even drilling all the way down to the idiot children at Columbia or in the Democratic House caucus.

    I see no padlock on the article, so click and read for more about "proportionate" and what the big brains are saying about "escalation". Conveniently, the demand is that "significant moral burdens fall only on Jews and never on Arabs."

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines does not apply to Philip Greenspun's article, which asks: Are American taxpayers the biggest funders of Hamas?.

    “Trump’s Claim that U.S. Taxpayer Money Funded Hamas Attacks Is False” (New York Times, October 8). If the NYT says that something is “false” and Trump is involved, perhaps it is worth investigating..

    Although we say that we don’t like Hamas, they are the legitimate government of millions of Palestinians and have more popular support than Joe Biden does among Americans (AP: “The poll found that 53% of Palestinians believe Hamas is ‘most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people,’ while only 14% prefer Abbas’ secular Fatah party.”)

    The most expensive services provided by the U.S. government to residents of the U.S. are, in Gaza, paid for by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), established in 1949. UNRWA pays for health care, schools, food, etc. for as many Palestinians as want them (fueled by these unlimited resources, Gaza has one of the world’s highest rates of population growth and, thus, there are more customers every day).

    … and the largest donor to UNRWA is Uncle Stupid.

    Trump, of course, wasn't talking about that. He was talking about the $6 billion "unfrozen" assets the Biden Administration released to Iran in exchange for hostages. Which is supposed to be used solely for "humanitarian purposes."

    But the NYT article admits, at bottom: "Money is fungible."

  • Fun with fungability. Jerry Coyne points out Another reason why Palestine is largely responsible for its own plight: its leaders get rich taking money from the people.

    Well, it's unclear "the people" ever had its hands on the money in the first place. But never mind that:

    While I’m by no means an uncritical worshiper of the Israeli government, neither will I blame the war and its carnage on Israel’s “apartheid” policies. If there is an apartheid state among the two, it’s surely Palestine, which won’t allow Jews to live there (in contrast, I was just in Israel and saw that Jerusalem was full of Arabs mingling freely with Jews), won’t allow Jews to walk the streets, oppresses women, and criminalizes gays, apostates, and infidels. How is that not an apartheid state?

    See Kevin's article linked above, Jerry. The rule is: Significant moral burdens fall only on Jews and never on Arabs.

    But on to the main charge:

    Those who blame the problems of Gaza on Israel not only neglect the diversion of humanitarian funds by Palestinians into terrorism, but the fact that corruption is so rife that the higher-ups in Hamas, Fatah, and even Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA, are billionaires or millionaires. These leaders have simply diverted money meant to go to poor Palestinians into their own bank accounts.

    Jerry provides links to standard credible news sources that point out the larceny over the years.

Also of note:

  • Let's talk about some legal larceny right here in the good old USA. There's plenty, but Jonathan A. Lesser concentrates on The Offshore-Wind Boondoggle.

    Like the proverbial skunk at a garden party, reality has disrupted the offshore-wind fantasy. After announcing a potential $2.3 billion write-down on its U.S. offshore-wind projects, Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper said that it was “inevitable” that consumers would need to pay more for renewable energy, since offshore wind “faces cost increases in orders of magnitude.”

    Nipper’s confession makes a jarring contrast with claims made about offshore wind’s costs only a few years ago. In 2017, Michael Liebrich told BloombergNEF that green-energy costs were at a “tipping point” and had fallen below those of fossil fuels as technology “slash[ed] the costs” of offshore wind and solar. “One of the reasons those offshore wind costs have come down to be competitive without subsidies,” Liebrich said, “is because these turbines are absolute monsters.”

    Even before supply-chain woes, crippling inflation, and inevitably higher interest rates intervened, the promise of rapidly declining costs driven by ever-larger turbines was always a delusion. In Europe, as University of Edinburgh economist Gordon Hughes documents, wind energy’s capital costs have risen over time, and newer and larger offshore wind turbines have regularly broken down.

    The general rule is: when Uncle Stupid starts dropping tons of money from the Federal Helicopter, there will be plenty of well-connected boondogglers waiting below with their wheelbarrows.

  • Let's pause the calls for an AI "pause". Scott Alexander has (thank goodness) amusing observations about the Big Brains focusing their Natural Intelligence on the AI menace. Pause For Thought: The AI Pause Debate.

    Last month, Ben West of the Center for Effective Altruism hosted a debate among long-termists, forecasters, and x-risk activists about pausing AI.

    Everyone involved thought AI was dangerous and might even destroy the world, so you might expect a pause - maybe even a full stop - would be a no-brainer. It wasn’t. Participants couldn’t agree on basics of what they meant by “pause”, whether it was possible, or whether it would make things better or worse.

    There was at least some agreement on what a successful pause would have to entail. Participating governments would ban “frontier AI models”, for example models using more training compute than GPT-4. Smaller models, or novel uses of new models would be fine, or else face an FDA-like regulatory agency. States would enforce the ban against domestic companies by monitoring high-performance microchips; they would enforce it against non-participating governments by banning export of such chips, plus the usual diplomatic levers for enforcing treaties (eg nuclear nonproliferation).

    Scott does a philosopher's job of distinguishing between differing varieties of "pausing", and finds problems with each.

  • Don't misread this headline. Chris Stirewalt is not echoing the cliché you might have heard at Freshman Orientation: What You Get Out of College Is Who You Put Into It. He starts out by illuminating an interesting fallacy, and if you don't laugh out loud when reading the second sentence of his first paragraph, I don't even know why you are reading this blog:

    Americans who drive Volvos live far longer than those who drive most other cars. Who knew that driving a vehicle that looks like a child’s drawing of a car might save your life?

    A Volvo might be good in a crash, but so would a lot of other cars. A Toyota or a Kia might do just as well or better. The life expectancy of Volvo divers isn’t about what’s in them, but rather who

    Women, particularly affluent women, buy Volvos. And rich women live longer than anybody else in our society. On the road, where men account for three quarters of all traffic fatalities, and off, women as a group outlive men by an average of six years. And rich people outlive poor people by an even greater margin, almost 16 years at the extremes.

    So, if you want to have the best chance to live to a ripe old age, don’t buy a Volvo. Be a rich woman. Which might be very challenging for many Americans …

    Eventually, Chris makes his point about college, but the path he takes to get there is illuminated by (unpaywalled!) insight.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:33 AM EST