Definitions

ADHD: A disease that spreads when teachers are inexpressibly boring.

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Adultery: That which, by some estimates, over half of all men and women in a relationship commit.

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Brain scientists: Researchers who can tell you what goes on in your brain when you are bored, but not what boredom is.

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Cash: One of the last remaining defenses against tyranny.

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China: A civilization masquerading as a state.

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Computers: Useless machines. They may be able to provide answers, but they cannot ask questions (Picasso).

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Courage: When a woman avenges herself on someone who, twenty years ago, got ahead of her in queue by accusing him of “sexual harassment” (see below).

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(A) c–t: What all of us, from the son of God down, have issued from. So why is it the worst thing anyone, male or female, can be?

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Democracy: The worst form of government, except for all the rest (Winston Churchill).

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Educational: Something that is neither useful nor fun.

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Elections: An exercise held to see whether the pollsters had it right.

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(An) expert: Someone you listen to as long as he tells you what you want to hear.

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Falsehood: When people revolt against the government and the media and believe Facebook instead.

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Fashion: A form of ugliness so bad that it must be changed every year.

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Feminism: When women put themselves first (Carol Gilligan).

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(A) fighter: An Israeli soldier who, along with his comrades, shoots and wounds a Palestinian girl armed with scissors.

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Gender Theory: The belief that you can be a man even though you do not have a penis.

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Godwin’s Law: The longer a discussion goes on, the more inevitable it is that someone will call someone else “Hitler.”

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History (1): A tale as filled with lies as the body of a prostitute is with syphilis (Schopenhauer).

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History (2): A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (Shakespeare).

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Interference in another state’s internal affairs: When Russia dares do what the U.S has been doing for decades.

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Justice: Something you will hopefully get if you pay the right lawyer the right sum.

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Love: When your partner’s shortcomings make you smile.

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Marriage: An alliance between a man and a woman aimed at creating a third who is more than either of them. Otherwise it is just two animals licking one another (Nietzsche).

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Mathematics: The one science able to provide absolute certainty, but only because it deals with things that do not exist.

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Nuclear weapons: If we have had no World War III, then only thanks to them.

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Offensive: Whatever someone, somewhere, with or without reason, does not like and wants to prohibit.

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Patriotism: The last refuge of the scoundrel (Voltaire).

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Political correctness: The belief that, if we see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil, evil will be abolished.

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Populism: When voters, how dare they, stand up against the political class.

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Racism: The belief that races exist and that there may be differences among them.

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Rape: See under sexual harassment.

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Ritalin: A form of cocaine legalized so as to enable the drug companies to make gigantic profits.

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Russia: A sort of Saudi Arabia with an arms industry.

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School: An institution for enslaving children so their liberated mothers can turn themselves into wage slaves.

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Sex: Consensual rape.

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Sex education: Forcing adults’ hang-ups down children’s throats.

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(A) Sexist: Anyone who refuses to accept even the craziest feminist ideas without argument.

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Sexual Harassment: Whatever a woman choses to call by that name, even if it takes decades for her to understand it has ever taken place.

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Taxes: If anyone but the government levied them, they would be called extortion.

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(The) US: A less civilized Canada.

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Terrorists: The other side’s freedom fighters.

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Wisdom: Knowing when to shut up.

My Country, More Wrong than Right

I am an Israeli. And proud of it. Several times on this blog I have praised my country’s virtues. As I tried to show in my book, Land of Blood and Honey (2010), over the last century no country on earth has achieved more. Demographically—there are now a hundred times as many Jews living here than there were in 1914—economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, culturally, you name it. When I first arrived I was just four years old. Not only have I spent almost my entire life here, but I very much hope my children and grandchildren will do the same.

That is why I am worried, more than worried, about certain things that have been happening in my country. Today, I want to share my worries with my readers.

* Some months ago, the Knesset passed a law which enabled a majority of 90 to vote and dismiss any one of its 120 members simply for speaking their mind about certain topics. For example, saying, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once did, that, if he or she were a Palestinian, he might join a terrorist movement against Israel, might cause the trigger to be pulled. As if speaking up is not what the members of Israel’s parliament, like those of any other legislative assembly in democratic countries around the world, have been elected for.

* Israel has some forms of communal settlements in which members have the right to vote on which new residents to admit. This has been used to bar Arab citizens. Though a court order has reaffirmed the right of Arab citizens to join the settlements in question, that order has never been implemented.

* For years now the police has been demolishing houses built by the Bedouin in the Negev. In the latest incident of this kind, mayhem broke out and a Bedouin as well as a policeman were killed. All because the government has suddenly decided that the permit to settle the area, issued sixty years previously, had been illegal.

* Bezelem (In the Image: after a sentence in the book of Genesis, according to which God created man “in His image”) is a voluntary Israeli organization. For many years now, it has been collecting and publishing evidence about the way Israeli troops in the West Bank, both IDF and Border Police (in practice, there is hardly any difference) have been treating and mistreating the local Arab population. In 2013, its tax-free status was revoked.

* “Shovrim Shtika” (Breaking the Silence) is a somewhat similar organization. The difference is that it is made up of officers and soldiers who spent time serving in the Occupied Territories. As the name implies, it too has something to say about the chicanes to which the local population has been and is being subjected. Recently its members’ right to speak in schools and certain public buildings has been curtailed.

* Another organization whose tax-free status has been subjected to re-examination is Amnesty, the largest of its kind world-wide. In the end its status was re-established, but just for one year.

* As some of you will have heard, last week a high court decision issued a long time ago was finally carried out. Amidst scenes of considerable violence Amona, a West Bank settlement that had been built on private Palestinian Land, was demolished. So far, so good; no sooner had Amona been taken apart, though, than the Knesset passed a law that officially “regulated” the status of thousands of other Jewish houses built on private property in the West Bank. This is not just contrary to international law: it is robbery, pure and simple.

* Last not least, Israeli law has an arrangement known as BAGATZ, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Under this arrangement any citizen or organization—not just the parties involved in a legal dispute—has the right to approach the supreme court as a court of first and last instance, asking it for a resolution against government actions that, in their opinion, violate the law. It was a BAGATZ that ordered Amona to be evacuated. And it is a BAGATZ that will hopefully counter the “Regulating Law” just passed. What I find worrisome, very worrisome, is the attempts of certain right-wing politicians to curtail the power of the BAGATZ and/or change the system by which supreme justices are selected in such a way as to make the court more compliant.

What did the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir say? Often it is not those who criticize their country who love it the least.

 

PS Last week this site had a technical problem which blocked access for a few hours. Thanks to all of you on Facebook who inquired and took the trouble to let me know. As we Dutch say, het geeft de burger moed (it gives the citizen courage).

Why I Blog

Some three years have passed since I started this blog, and it is time to draw up a balance. No, my site has not drawn very large numbers of readers and has not developed into the equivalent of the Huffington Post. And no, I do not do it for profit; though at times I was tempted by offers to open the site to advertising, in the end I rejected them all. As a result, never did I receive a single penny for all the work I have been doing (normally, about two hours per week). More, even: since I am not very computer literate, I rely on my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, to run the site for me. But for him it would not have been possible. So let me use this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.

What I have received and am receiving is feedback. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some people have used the appropriate button on the site to say what they think of my work or simply in order to get in touch. Others suggested that they write for me or else responded to my request that they do so. Others still have asked, and received, my permission to repost my work on their own sites. A few have even taken the trouble to translate entire articles into their native languages. Except for a few yahoos who ranted and swore, almost all my contacts with the people in question, many of whom were initially complete strangers, have been courteous, informative, and thought-provoking. Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of the ideas behind my posts are derived from the media. Others have to do with my personal experiences; others still, such as the series on Pussycats, have to do with the research I am currently doing or else were suggested by various people. Perhaps most important of all, I often use my posts as what Nietzsche used to call Versuche. By that he meant attempts to clarify his thoughts and see where they may lead. The most popular posts have been those which dealt with political and military affairs. Followed by the ones on women and feminism, followed by everything else. Given my background and reputation as a longtime professor of military history and strategy, that is not surprising.

At one point I tried to enlist the aid of a friend to have the blog translated into Chinese and make my posts available in that language too. No luck; I soon learnt that the Great Chinese Firewall did not allow them to pass. Why that is, and whether my work has fallen victim to some kind of dragnet or has been specifically targeted I have no idea. Thinking about it, the former seems more likely; to the best of my knowledge I have never written anything against China. But one never knows.

That brings me to the real reason why I write: namely, to exercise my right to freedom of thought. And, by doing so, do my little bit towards protecting it and preserving it. My heroes are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The former because he has exposed a few of the less decent things—to put it mildly—out dearly beloved governments have been saying and doing in our name. The latter, because he has shown how vulnerable all of us are to Big Brother and called for reform. Both men have paid dearly for what they have done, which is another reason for trying to follow in their footsteps as best I can.

Freedom of speech is in trouble—and the only ones who do not know it are those who will soon find out. The idea of free speech is a recent one. It first emerged during the eighteenth century when Voltaire, the great French writer, said that while he might not agree with someone’s ideas he would fight to the utmost to protect that person’s right to express them. Like Assange and Snowden Voltaire paid the penalty, spending time in jail for his pains. Later, to prevent a recurrence, he went to live at Frenay, just a few hundred yards from Geneva. There he had a team or horses ready to carry him across the border should the need arise. Good for him.

To return to modern times, this is not the place to trace the stages by which freedom of speech was hemmed in in any detail. Looking back, it all started during the second half of the 1960s when it was forbidden to say, or think, or believe, that first blacks, then women, then gays, then transgender people, might in some ways be different from others. As time went on this prohibition came to be known as political correctness. Like an inkstain it spread, covering more and more domains and polluting them. This has now been carried to the point where anything that may offend anyone in some way is banned—with the result that, as Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind has shown, in many fields it has become almost impossible to say anything at all.

Let me give you just one example of what I mean. Years ago, at my alma mater in Jerusalem, I taught a course on military history. The class consisted of foreign, mostly American, students. At one point I used the germ Gook. No sooner had the word left my mouth than a student rose and, accused me of racism. I did my best to explain that, by deliberately using the term, I did not mean to imply that, in my view, the Vietnamese were in any way inferior. To the contrary, I meant to express my admiration for them for having defeated the Americans who did think so. To no avail, of course.

And so it goes. When the Internet first appeared on the scene I, along with a great many other people, assumed that any attempt to limit freedom of speech had now been definitely defeated. Instead, the opposite is beginning to happen. Techniques such as “data mining” made their appearance, allowing anything anyone said about anything to be instantly monitored and recorded, forever. All over Europe, the thought police is in the process of being established. Sometimes it is corporations such as Facebook which, on pain of government intervention, are told to “clean up” their act by suppressing all kinds of speech or, at the very least, marking it as “offensive,” “untrue,” and “fake.” In others it is the governments themselves that take the bit between their teeth.

Regrettably, one of the governments which is doing so is that of the U.S. Naively, I hoped that Trump’s election would signify the beginning of the end of political correctness. Instead, he is even now trying to prevent people in- and out of the government from discussing such things as global warming and the need to preserve the environment. Not to mention his attacks on the media for, among other things, allegedly misreading the number of those who came up to witness his inauguration. Should this line continue and persist, then it will become imperative to do without him and go against him. Not because of what he has to say about both topics is necessarily wrong, but to ensure the right of others to think otherwise.

This won’t do. That is why I promise my readers, however few or many they may be, one thing: namely, to go on writing about anything I please and go on speaking the truth as I see it. The English poet W. H. (Wystan Huge) Auden, 1907-1973, might have been referring to blogging when he wrote:

I want a form that’s large enough to swim in,

And talk on any subject that I choose.

From natural scenery to men and women

Myself, the arts, the European news.

No Exit

As some readers will know from some of my previous posts, I have been interested in the future and, even more so, the methods people of various times and places have developed in their attempts to predict it. One day, perhaps, I shall write a book about that endlessly fascinating topic. Until then, here are some preliminary reflections on it.

* Attempts at prediction are as old as humanity. As far as we can make out, Stone-Age hunters going on an expedition used to ask their shaman whether they would return alive, return loaded with quarry, and so on. We today are always looking for some device that will enable us to see where the stock exchange is heading.

* We today tend to see prophecy, astrology, divination, and similar practices as leftover from former, less sophisticated times. However, Cicero’s brother Quintus, took the opposite view: he held that only civilized societies could bring them to perfection.

* Historically, predictions have often taken poetic form. To this day, no one has been able to improve on the Old Testament in this respect. Or on good old Nostradamus (1503-66), perhaps the most famous seer who ever lived, whose quatrains (four-lined poems) have been read, interpreted, and believed by immense numbers of people over four and a half centuries. But no longer. Present-day “scientific” forecasts tend to consist of prose texts illustrated with the aid of tables and graphs.

* It used to be that practically all attempts to look into the future involved some kind of divine assistance. The old Hebrew prophets claimed that God had got hold of them—on occasion, as with Jonas, even against their will—and spoke through their mouth. So did St. John. At the Oracle in Delphi, supposedly it was Apollo who gave his advice by way of the Pythia. As Nostradamus put it, without religious faith even mathematical calculations, which he and others used to cast horoscopes, did not work. That, however, no longer applies. Regardless of whether it takes the form of mathematical modeling, or surveys, or “data mining,” most “serious” attempts at prediction have become strictly secular.

* Prophecy used to be closely linked with madness. The abovementioned Pythia uttered her prophecies while seated on a tripod positioned over a deep split in the ground from which emerged some kind of gas—said to be Apollo’s breath—which befuddled her. Casandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy who was cursed in that no one ever believed her (quite accurate) predictions, was often portrayed as incoherent and half mad. When Saul, the future King of Israel, went chasing his lost she asses and suddenly found himself prophesizing, people thought that he had gone off his rocker. That, too, no longer applies. Looking into the future, or trying to do so, is now often considered a rational, quite sober, activity. One on which billions are spent and on which some of the best minds, from that of computer guru Ray Kurzweil down, are engaged. By contrast, modern psychiatrists would like nothing better than to consign those who try to predict the future on the base of ecstasy to the loony bin. As, in fact, they not seldom are.

* Except when it was used in astrology, past attempts to look into the future seldom involved mathematics. Even as late as the early years of the twentieth century, it never occurred to the famous British science fiction writer H. G. Wells that models might have something to do with it. Basically all the tools he had were his knowledge of some recent inventions, a few rather simple trends, and his own extraordinarily fertile imagination. That is no longer true. To the contrary: the more mathematics such an attempt involves, and the fewer therefore the people who understand it, the better.

That said, there are also some things that have not changed:

* Some of the oldest methods, astrology in particular, are still in use. True, they have been pushed off center stage by supposedly better, more rational and more sophisticated, methods employed by economists e.g. As newspaper and magazine columns confirm, however, that does not mean many people do not take notice of them and are not interested in them.

* Many prophecies used to be rather obscure, often deliberately so. To adduce but one famous example, the Pythia told King the envoys of Croesus that, if he went to war with neighboring Persia, he would bring down a great kingdom. He believed her, took the offensive, and was defeated. The explanation? The Pythia had not said which kingdom would be destroyed.

Similarly, many of today’s forecasts are “probabilistic.” Meaning that, instead of providing yes/no answers, all they yield are estimates of the chances of this or that happening. From the point of view of those who make them, of course, such forecasts have the advantage that they are always right.

* To pursue this thought, here is a story that used to be told about a former Israeli chief of staff, General Rafael Eitan (served, 1978-83). One day he was asked to approve some operation the air force was preparing. When he asked about the weather, he was told that there was a twenty percent chance of rain. “Wrong,” he said. The correct answer is fifty percent. Either it will rain, or it won’t.” He had a point, didn’t he?

* The use of computers, models and mathematics notwithstanding, to date there is not a shred of evidence that we secular, supposedly rational, moderns are one bit better at looking into the future than, say, Babylonian astrologers exercising their craft four thousand years ago used to be. If the book of Genesis may be believed, the seven good and seven lean years which Joseph, on the basis of Pharaoh’s dream, predicted did not come as a surprise as much as the 1929 and 2008 depressions did. Or, for that matter, as the boom of the Clinton years.

But suppose, someone might say, we had been able to accurately predict the future; what then?

* If it happens, it will probably form the most important “singularity” ever, far eclipsing anything those who so often play with that concept have come up with. More important, say, than the development of artificial superintelligence which Ray Kurzweil has been trumpeting. And more important than meeting with an ex-terrestrial civilization.

* Such a world would require that all information at the predictors’ disposal be correct, accurate, and comprehensive. Right down to what is happening in each one of the hundred billion or so cells and trillions of connections (synapses) which make up the brain of each and every one of us. All causes and all effects would have to be known and perfectly understood.

* In such a world movements and impacts would still be possible, as they are e.g. in the atmosphere or in the heavens. However, those movements and those impacts would be blind, occasioned solely by natural laws. The reason is that such a world would have to do without intentionality, because intentionality is the greatest obstacle to certainty of all. But beware. No intentionality, no feelings to choose the objectives we are aiming at; nor thought about the best way of achieving them. In other words, no conscious life, either emotional or intellectual. Purely physical phenomena apart, such a world would be frozen in concrete. With no exit.

Make up your own mind, if you can, whether you would want to live in such a world.