On My Recently Dashed Hopes For Sam Harris

I’ve been an admirer of Sam Harris for just shy of a decade. I’ve read most of his books and am looking forward to reading Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion when it becomes available. This admiration has, however, suffered some damage in recent years, and it’s fair to say this damage is in some significant sense a result of my own shifting of views on matters of religion and state power. I’ve held out some hope that Sam might experience a similar shift. I even had specific reason to hope for such a shift given the content of one of his blog posts where he references having watched Dirty Wars, the documentary by Jeremy Scahill and David Riker about US covert operations.

My original concept for this post, thought of a few months ago, was to explore the antagonism between Sam and a few of his most vocal critics: Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald, and Murtaza Hussain. I’m replacing that with a much more recent and more topical disappointment. Sam recorded a podcast (which he later transcribed and annotated) under the title ‘Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?’. Whether or not you believe me, I will tell you that nothing in his podcast surprised me in the least. I almost feel like I could have recorded it for him, without him even telling me its content beyond the titular question. And therein lie my dashed hopes.

What follows is a point-by-point criticism of his blog post. Don’t mistake any agreement on my part with any portion of his post an agreement with it overall. As an aggregate, it’s very disheartening.

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Donating Blood to the Inkwell of Lies

Earlier this evening Imraan Siddiqi posted a link to a tweet by Avi Mayer in which Mayer claimed:

This piqued my interest (to put it most mildly, rather I should say my mind was poisoned) and more tweets by Imraan and myself followed:

The only other sites I could find posting about the allegations of blood donation refusal were The Algemeiner and San Diego Jewish World, both of which simply repeat the jns.org text. Note that The Algemeiner is both the source of the profile of Avi Mayer and a reprint of the jns.org story about the alleged refusal of donated blood. Avi Mayer’s idea of “Multiple news outlets” is not very multiple, especially as regards independent sourcing.

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My translation of Darwish’s ‘I Love You More’

The author of the blog ‘In Gaza, My Gaza!’ translates a poem (with a little help from some friends) by the poet and Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish. It is the distilled, undeniable essence of the humanity and passion of the Palestinian people.

In Gaza, My Gaza!

‘I Love You More’

by:Mahmoud Darwish

Gaza, PAlestine Gaza, PAlestine

Rise! Rise!
No matter how neglectful you are,
You will remain in my eyes and flesh an angel.
And you remain as our love wants you to be:
Your breeze is amber, 
Your land bliss— 
And I love you more. 
Your hands are trees
But I do not sing
Like other nightingales.
The chains teach me to fight and fight,
Because I love you more. 
My singing is daggers of roses,
My silence the birth of thunder,
And a lily of my own blood.
You are the soil and the sky
And your heart is evergreen.
Your love when at a low ebb is a flow; 
How, then, can I not love you more?
And you are as our love wants you to be:
I am your beloved child;
On your sweet lap
I grow, and rise.

Translated with the help of 

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Eat a Peach For Palestine

In 1970, an interviewer named Ellen Mandel, working for Good Times Magazine, asked Duane Allman, “How are you helping the revolution?” Duane replied:

I’m hitting a lick for peace — and every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace. But you can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution. I understand the need for a lot of changes in the country, but I believe that as soon as everybody can just see a little bit better, and get a little hipper to what’s going on, they’re going to change it. Everybody will — not just the young people. Everybody is going to say, ‘Man, this stinks. I cannot tolerate the smell of this thing anymore. Let’s eliminate it and get straight with ourselves.’ I believe if everybody does it for themselves, it’ll take care of itself.

A year later, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. And one more year after that, some remaining recorded material he played on, studio and live tracks, would find their way onto an Allman Brothers Band album titled Eat a Peach.

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Those Explosions In Gaza Are(n’t) Special Effects

It should come as a shock to no one (certainly not those who know me) that I’m a fan of movies based on comic books. The films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been favorites of mine and I’m looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy with such anticipation I can hardly contain myself.

But I don’t watch these movies without a certain sort of largely subconscious reservation. Consider (for two minutes and thirty seconds) this trailer for The Avengers

Lots of explosions, CGI, some acting, fight choreography, and more explosions; just what we expect from the sort of movie The Avengers is.

And then there’s reality.

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Human Shield / Rhetorical Sword

Gaza—a piece of old Palestine which Israel has turned (and continues to turn) into brutal, hellish combination of open-air prison and live fire exercise—burns.

A model of the Gaza siege

According to Benjamin Netanyahu, “It’s only a model.”

As one might reasonably expect, the propagandists government, press, military, and some so-called “rights” organizations, have put fresh shoes on an old horse and trotted out that tired phrase “human shields”. They refer, of course, to Hamas, and their belief that Palestinians would callously use other Palestinians as meat to absorb the slashings of Israeli shrapnel, the concussive force of Israeli bombs. A couple of samples:

The Twitter account of the spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Force (an Orwellian name if ever one existed) posted this:

Imraan Siddiqi followed with:

to which I replied:

And it seems like an obvious enough way to state the problem with the phrase “human shields”. Palestinians are human when it’s convenient for the propagandists, and, to those same propagandists, wasted flesh when simply trying to live.

But maybe warning shots work to, “scatter the roaches,” as so perfectly stated by the fictional but apropos Colonel Miles Quaritch (in the film Avatar). An article in Haaretz suggests otherwise: Israeli army says the killing of 8 Gazan family members was in error. That headline and the article which follows is as close to insanity as anything I’ve ever read, and I don’t blame Haaretz. How could such an “error” be reported, spun left, right, or wiffle ball, and not be something out of the realm of nightmare?

We’re told Hamas uses human shields. Have you ever been told Israel uses human shields? Have you ever been told that Israel uses Palestinians as human shields against other Palestinians? (More from I Stand With Palestine and Amnesty International.)

The phrase “human shields” is a rhetorical sword, a weapon in the arsenal of the propagandists. Its use makes the enemy seem savage and immoral, while its wielder appears honorable and upright. It is a phrase hidden in a fold in the Newspeak dictionary, its meaning obvious, its twisting of our minds disguised.

Do I think Hamas uses human shields? My doubts are great. Do I think the Israeli government, military, and their Zionist supporters really care that Hamas might use human shields? No, not at all. One more dead Palestinian is nothing more than progress toward a greater Israel, as far as they are concerned.

(If you’re viewing this post via a method that shows the ‘Continue reading’ link below, click through to see addenda to this post containing links to an assortment of articles concerning human shields, warning shots, etc.)

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An Anti-Zionist Poem By An Austrian Jew

In lieu of original content (which I’m sure I will concoct sometime soon) I offer a poem I stumbled across looking for other things. Erich Fried was an Austrian Jew, a poet, writer and translator, who was vehemently anti-Zionist. In 1988, the last year of his life, he wrote this:

A Jew to Zionist Fighters

What do you actually want?
Do you really want to outdo
those who trod you down
a generation ago
into your own blood
and into your own excrement
Do you want to pass on the old torture
to others now
in all its bloody and dirty detail
with all the brutal delight of torturers
as suffered by your fathers?

Do you really want to be the new Gestapo
the new Wehrmacht
the new SA and SS
and turn the Palestinians
into the new Jews?

Well then I too want,
having fifty years ago
myself been tormented for being a Jewboy
by your tormentors,
to be a new Jew with these new Jews
you are making of the Palestinians

And I want to help lead them as a free people
into their own land of Palestine
from whence you have driven them or in which you plague them
you apprentices of the Swastika
you fools and changelings of history
whose Star of David on your flags
turns ever quicker
into that damned symbol with its four feet
that you just do not want to see
but whose path you are following today.

In the wake of finding that I also had a serendipitous encounter with another anti-Zionist poem posted by LiveJournal’s duathir, Felicity Currie’s Once more unto the breach…

To Those Who Would Cast Down the New Colossus

The Statue of Liberty as seen in the film Oblivion

The future of the Statue of Liberty as seen in the film Oblivion, or a metaphor for the present…

This is about Murrieta, and all the Murrietas past and future.

I’m greatly bothered by the possibility that posting the most famous poem Emma Lazarus ever wrote will seem merely trite to some, and worth ignoring by others. If you are an American and these words are not imprinted on your heart—if you can easily put aside the promise our nation has offered to the world; if you cling so dearly to “security” that you would deny children an escape from a hell of our own creation; if you would strip people of humanity, declaring them disease-ridden, criminal, lesser for being born in a land distant from your own, or even the nation next door—then I must question whether you have a heart.

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I also wish it known that if anyone invokes Constantine Cavafy’s Thermopylae in honor of those demonstrating against the immigrants, I will become inexpressibly angry.

Ersula Ore and a Camera’s Imprisoning Eye

Given the viral nature of the recent release of footage from a police cruiser dash camera, I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the case of Ersula Ore, a professor at Arizona State University whose misfortune on the night of the 20th of May was to jaywalk across a street in the university district in front of a pair of cops. (Adding the phrase “while black” to the end of the prior sentence may be relevant.) If you’re not, an article at HuffPo offers a good primer.

Before I get to my point, let it suffice to say I put the blame for both the initial development and the escalation of the incident squarely on the shoulders of the police officers involved. In an attempt to cite someone for a violation of a public safety ordinance they made the immediate environment less safe by parking in the middle of the road.

“There were three of them, three police cars left askew across the road in a way that transcended mere parking. It sent out a massive signal to the world saying that the law was here now taking charge of things, and that anyone who just had normal, good and cheerful business to conduct in Lupton Road could just fuck off.”
― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

They then failed to move the encounter outside their vehicle to a safer area like a sidewalk. They failed to defuse the situation verbally by lowering the pitch of the encounter, instead confronting verbal force with more verbal force, escalating to the point where physical violence became the “solution” sought by the primary officer. I fail to grasp how it could be rationalized that a jaywalking violation could reasonably escalate to a takedown attempt preceded by a threat to slam someone into a vehicle. (The statement by ASU on the incident tries to rationalize it, and not so admirably.)

But that constitutes what I think are the obvious concerns. I’m more troubled, probably due to the seeming novelty of the idea, by the fact that this was all caught on camera in the first place.

Cameras, typically mounted on police cruiser dashboards but also found attached to rifles, helmets and other tools of the law enforcement trade, are becoming, dare I say, ubiquitous. Conventional wisdom suggests the presence of cameras is a good thing as police, knowing they’re being taped, are presumed likely to act with greater restraint than they might if they could engage in malfeasance absent the burden of a prying electric eye. This wisdom has proven repeatedly to be without foundation, as cameras operating as part of police policy capture footage ranging from that taken of the encounter described above to an Albuquerque policeman with a camera mounted on his rifle shooting a homeless man.

Earlier I noted, “They then failed to move the encounter outside their vehicle to a safer area like a sidewalk.” Why did the officers remain in front of their cruiser? Aside from the safety issue, another means of verbally defusing the situation might’ve been to offer to escort Ore to the sidewalk. There’s no indication I’m aware of that any such suggestion was made. What appears to be the case is that every effort was made to keep the encounter in front of the camera, up to and including physically restraining Ore in a position where she and the officer pressing the engagement would remain in view.

Does the ASU police department have a policy concerning use of video cameras by police, and does that policy require an encounter to remain in view of a camera whenever possible? If that question can be answered affirmatively, is it then possible such a policy could have contributed to the escalation of this incident, given an imperative to keep the activity in frame? Confining the encounter to a specific area, even one without obvious physical barriers, may have contributed to the anxiety felt by Ore during the encounter and expressed in her resistance to the officers’ ministrations

If, having gotten this far, you’re questioning the efficacy of cameras operated by the police, consider this: The original reality show was Cops. In a move worthy of the fiction of Aldous Huxley, police work became entertainment. For some, (or perhaps too many) a video of a college professor being roughed up by a couple of bad boys is no more than an addendum to any given episode of a show devoted to exploitation disguised as hero worship.

I’ll leave you with another take on Ersula Ore’s encounter with Tempe’s Finest…

Addendum, 21 July 2014: Aside from the “being a cop” part, apparently being an Eagle Scout and engaging in volunteer work operates as justification for assaulting a woman over jaywalking.

Addendum, 24 July 2014: A tangentially related article on the Power of Vulnerability.