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At Home in a Virtual Forest

I'm taking further definite steps to leave Pittsburgh, heading east to Philadelphia. It'll take some getting used to a new city; I like that in Pittsburgh, my perception of the area can easily flip between "nature with some city in" and "city with some nature in it". Philadelphia won't be like that, I don't think. I don't know yet if I'll be living in the suburbs or the city proper.

Currently I'm looking for a good job to hold down for about a year; there are things I could do remotely (either in the region or on the national level), but I'd probably be happiest working in a university. Current targets: UPenn, TJU (was hoping Drexel would be an option, but there are no good open jobs there). Anyone who has leads in the region, feel free to send pointers; with my savings and experience, I can afford to be picky.

As part of closing down my current job, I've been teaching another local wizard the basics of administering Emulab. We started with the plan of installing virtual servers for a test run, but it turns out that system performance is good enough that the management servers can (probably) run permanently under VMWareESX. I'm jealous of the setup and intrigued at the "virtual port" setup which connects it over 802.1q to a given port on a correctly configured Cisco switch. Maybe we're finally at the point where all servers should be virtualised; the benefits of easy snapshots/rollbacks/etc are too great to be ignored if the performance is good enough.

To tiptoe into Israeli/Palestinian politics again,Recently there's been some some controversy over Hamas objecting to the teaching of Shoah in Palestinian history classes. Hamas, at least as far as I can tell by their spokespeople, denies that Shoah occurred. Seraj Assi (Palestine Chronicle) suggests that this be viewed in light of Nakba.

Some quick terms:

  • Shoah - holocaust, particularly focusing on the Jewish victims
  • Nakba - the voluntary and involuntary expulsion of Arabs (and killings, by Zionist terrorist groups like Irgun and Lehi) before and during the formative years of Israel
The current government in Israel is fairly right wing (run by the rightmost of the large parties, supported by the far-right portions of Israeli politics), and recently it passed a bill withdrawing government services from any town that mourns the day of Nakma (as it is also Israeli Independence day). The original plan for this bill was to illegalise mourning it (3 year prison sentence!).

Israel has problems. It was founded for the wrong reason in the wrong place in the wrong way, it can't built national unity towards peace until it's ready to control its settlers, it's lied to its people about its foundation not being a monstrous crime, and its fierce nationalism has strong racist elements. In other words, it's a government made of real people. Just like everywhere else. As Americans, we're used to the idea of being in a country whose founders were appallingly bad people and which foundation came at the expense of extinction of many peoples and their ways of life. We still have various rotten people who are proud of that history; people who either overlook slavery and the extinction of Amerindians, or who see these as good. We're no stranger to lies and distortion, with our chutzpah at being outraged by the Iranian hostage crisis. Israel's wrongs mirror ours, as they do the wrongs of the Palestinian governments.

We can't focus too much on the past. If Israel's foundation could be prevented, that would be fantastic. If the ships of the Conquistadors could've been sunken every time the Atlantic was crossed, that would've been great. We lack those options; all we can do is to hope to make up for a naff history with a better future. This means, in messy conflicts like this, having ideals that nudge people towards being kinder to each other without giving up their ability to respond to regressive elements should things fall apart. With enough progress towards the center, there can be peace, even if the sensible approach to it is cautious (other option: very powerful neutral arbitor imposes peace)

It is tempting to suggest that ending violence is a first step. This is wrong. Violence is not always the worst wrong; putting in place a status quo and cementing it there through systems of ownership and law can easily place one people above another. Both settlers and current land distribution amount to this; Israel is a society of laws, and the status quo favours the Israeli Jewish population. Israel continues to expand its settlements; without violence, the possibilities for a good life for non Israeli-Jewish citizens are being curtailed. Sometimes settlements even go beyond current (already unjust) Israeli laws, but they are only rarely reigned in. Violence may be considered legitimate to respond to the continued abuses, until and unless a (reasonably) just solution is found, and while said violence should be focused on the Israeli government and the settlers (particularly but not only those who use actual violence against nearby arab settlements), one cannot expect Arabs to peacefully watch more land taken by settlers for "Greater Israel", nor for them to react well when Israel continues to grant free citizenship on racist grounds to those of Jewish descent.

We in the west, particularly America, have a stake in this. We support Israel, but we do not do so critically, nor with an eye towards peace. That relationship should change.

We should expect:

  • There to be some historical curriculum taught that does not celebrate nor mourn the foundation of Israel, and that this curriculum is bold enough to get into the actual history of the times. This should be taught to all children, as part of integrated schools. Any Yeshivot or Madrassot must somehow cope with including this, although ideally both would lose their role as exclusive schools.
  • An immediate end to the Law of Return, loyalty laws, and anything else in the legal climate that marks Israel as being special for one race.
  • Some kind of a property settlement that's equitable, or alternatively the destruction of all settlements, East Yerushalaim, and pre-1967 Arab lands returned to Palestinian hands
  • A commitment of Israelis and Palestinians to this, political disenfranchisement of those that cannot commit, and a commitment of both sides to police their people to imprison those who endanger the peace (settlers, those who fire rockets, etc)
  • A recognition that disenfranchisement and systems of property can create oppression and damage equal to that of violence, and that violence may be a response to abuses that are done while wearing the glove of the legal system. It is not acceptable to create laws that effectively abuse a people and then play innocent when those people respond violently.
  • Some kind of a tender recognition that there have been terrible abuses by most involved
Helen Thomas, a Whitehouse corrispondent, lost her job last year after making controversial statements about Israel and Jewish people. Deservedly so? Maybe. She was advocating that people "just go home" to europe and everywhere else, leaving Israel. That's not possible, not helpful, and way over the top (although the top is pretty low given that the status quo is unworkable and any alternatives to it are difficult to stomach). Do jews own the White House as she says? Let's distinguish the lobbies pushing for either nuanced (J Street) or unconditional (AJC, others) support of Israel from Hebrews or American-or-world Jewish culture as a whole. Not all Jewish people are Zionist, and not everyone agrees about what Zionism is. With that distinction made, I think, yes, there is influence there, and it is well-funded. There are a lot of other lobbyists too, and a lot of media ownership shaping people. Is it undue influence? With that background, it's hard to say. Still, I would be happier were there categorically no lobbyist groups driving America's foreign policy, particularly in this case where supporting Israel neither helps Israel nor is just/safe/prudent. The Pro-Israel lobby is a problem, but they have no strong connection to individual Jewish people and only a weak connection to Jewish culture here. As for her criticism of the significance of Shoah in Yiddishkeit, I think she has a point in that it is often wrongly invoked to justify Zionism. I reject that justification; one wrong turn does not deserve another, and there are many abused peoples (consider the Roma or the Kurds) who lack states in the world; we are not in a rush to make states for them. I'd stop the criticism there though; rememberance of pain is one kind of shared identity that binds a people together, and so long as the response is not one that prevents peace, I am not willing to suggest that Jewish culture abandon its past-misery focus (Dayenu, etc etc). In brief, Helen Thomas has some points, but she attaches them to ugly thoughts.

There is still a large backlog of things to write about, but it is very late as I finish this, and I am tired.

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I appreciate all the time you spend writing this stuff. I read it and I learn from it. I never feel qualified to comment on it. :-)
Thanks. This stuff more "escapes from my head" than is presented, and I know it's probably sometimes hard to read (length, or bad phrasing). It's nice to hear that at least sometimes it's read. ^_^
Given that most of "We should expect:" won't happen, and given that the Israeli government repeatedly snubs American efforts to press for even the most moderate concessions (e.g., continuing the freeze on settlements), I would support simply cutting off U.S. aid to the Israeli state, and telling them to make peace with the Palestinians or fend for themselves.

And yeah, I know, that won't happen either.
Perhaps efforts towards campaign finance reform might change things; right now lobbyists effectively buy influence directly with only the loosest safeguards (a group would have to be incredibly unpopular to fail at that).

If that happened, at least there'd be room for debate; it's possible that the far-right flavour of Christians, who feel very strongly about the issue for theological reasons (Muslims = bad, Jews will all convert to Christianity, future history of Israel in Revelations, ...) will effectively dominate; it's easier to advocate their policies in a quick soundbite than a nuanced one like this (there are other hardline positions we could imagine (Helen Thomas's ideas or further) that would be very anti-Israel, but I don't see the US or Europe adopting them, nor would I want them to). Still, even if we're not likely to handle this very well on a cognitive/political level, that'd be better than a subconscious/lobbyist level.