Archive for March, 2012

Saturday Song of the Week: Plan B’s ‘Ill Manors’. Also: thoughts on London Riots

Note: I have started to get a little tired with my music collection, so to overcome this I will be trying to post a different song every week for a while. Think of it as a highbrow version of friends of the blog One a Day (just kidding guys, love you).

I came across ‘Ill Manors’ recently while flicking through Vimeo (note: “manor” is slang for large tower blocks on “council estates” – British public housing). I have always been a fan of Grime – sub-genre of UK Hip Hop – but I have not been following it for the last few years (probably a consequence of my having grown up in London and then moved to Australia, one would think).

The song and the accompanying video (and upcoming album and movie by the same name) are about last year’s London riots. Rapping with spectacular energy over what I’m told is a Shostakovich sample, Plan B gets across the incredible rage felt by Britain’s underclass that resulted in the mayhem that we watched over the British summer. There is nothing quite like Grime’s staggered beats and quick staccato vocals to sound raw and angry in a way that American Hip Hop could never quite achieve. I always felt like there was something a little too Hollywood about the US “gangsters” and their overdone songs about parties and largess. Grime though? That’s just channeled rage.

The lyrics to the song enunciate stereotypes of poor, uneducated “chavs”, who live violent lives and have a particular resentment of those who are more fortunate, yet Plan B seems to embrace these tropes. The reality is slightly more sophisticated, as revealed by Dorian Lynskey, who reviewed the song for the Guardian;Plan B was making the point that the derogatory stereotypes are self-fulfilling as the dejected and marginalised youth are drawn to embrace them. Below is a quote from Plan B himself:

Why Plan B’s Ill Manors is the greatest British protest song in years | Music | guardian.co.uk.

For me that term [“chav”] is no different from similar terms used to be derogatory towards race and sex, the only difference being that the word chav is used very publicly in the press … When you attack someone because of the way they talk, the way they dress, the music they listen to, or their lack of education, and you do it publicly and it’s acceptable to do that, you make them feel alienated. They don’t feel like a part of society … For every person who uses the word chav there is a less educated person ready to embrace it. They say, well, look, I’m never going to change the way you think of me so actually I’m going to play up to it and fuel the fire. In essence that’s what Ill Manors is about.

Personally, I do not accept Plan B’s thesis entirely (for a more extensive version, see this TEDx talk). I was not completely surprised when the riots broke-out as I immediately saw an element of London’s youth culture that I recognised.

It may or may not be true that London’s poor embraced the stereotypes thrust on them by society and I was not around to see how the “chav” culture developed. What I did see was its explosion and its glorification; when I was a teenager in London, I witnessed the bizarre phenomenon whereby the most popular kids from the most privileged backgrounds at the most exclusive public schools (and that’s “public school” in the British sense) aspired to the ideal of living like their contemporaries in council housing.

To put that another way, they wanted to “act poor” – not through having less money, but by playing-out the stereotypes that Plan B so resents. Teenagers whose parents spoke with BBC-worthy received pronunciation were talking as if they had been born and raised in public housing and always lived on welfare benefits. The attendant fashion trend was truly bizarre – while actual chavs wore fake Burberry tartan hats and Nike tracksuits, unable to afford the genuine article, my schoolmates were wearing the real versions, but the ones that closest resembled the widely-available forgeries in order to imitate people who could not afford what they were wearing.

They were also failing at school and committing petty crimes like their idols were supposed to, listening to underground Garage and Grime music and hanging-out with kids from the state schools on weekends. Parties when I was growing up often resembled miniature versions of the London riots – especially when a “crew” like this managed to get to the house of a wealthy peer who they were not particularly friendly with.

This may even be the answer to the centuries-old left wing dream of downward mobility for the upper classes. I guarantee that my schoolmates with misdemeanour convictions and failing grades will not be replicating their parents’ success. So here’s the formula: in a society still flailing as it falls from power, make “poor” cool and watch a whole generation of middle-to-upper-class youth become welfare-dependent petty criminals like their glamorised idols. Good times.

Remember, the Sun never sets on the British Empire.

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Peak oil is inevitable

And the free market is bringing it. Nuts to you, Bob Brown.

Amory Lovins in Foreign Affairs:

A Farewell to Fossil Fuels | Foreign Affairs.

U.S. gasoline demand peaked in 2007; the oil use of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development peaked in 2005. With China and India pursuing efficient and electric vehicles, Deutsche Bank forecast in 2009 that world oil use could begin to decline after 2016. In fact, the world is nearing “peak oil” — not in supply but in demand. Oil is simply becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices.

I also want to throw in this story, for good measure:

In 1850, most U.S. homes used whale-oil lamps, and whaling was the country’s fifth-biggest industry. But as whale populations dwindled, the price of whale oil rose, so between 1850 and 1859, coal-derived synthetic fuels grabbed more than five-sixths of the lighting market. In 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil, and kerosene, thanks to generous tax breaks, soon took over. Whalers, astounded that they had run out of customers before they ran out of whales, begged for federal subsidies on national security grounds, but Thomas Edison’s 1879 invention of electric lighting snuffed out their industry. Whales had been accidentally saved by technological innovators and profit-maximizing capitalists.

Energy efficiency is strategically important, but it also saves money. There is no need for Government to start saving the world here, human innovation is doing it just fine, thank you.

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Need to move beyond conflict

Manuel Trajtenberg conducted an extensive inquiry into Israel’s economy and made recommendations on how to reduce the retrenched inequality and growing plutocracy in Israeli society.

Manuel Trajtenberg Starts Up Start-Up Nation – by Morton Landowne – Tablet Magazine – Jewish News and Politics, Jewish Arts and Culture, Jewish Life and Religion.

Prior to last August, according to Trajtenberg, the country’s “left-right divide” referred to how one viewed the Palestinian conflict. “Last summer, for the first time,” he said, “social and economic issues prevailed over the conflict.”

I have made this point a number of times, but not yet on this blog (I think). I dislike the “left” and “right” labels at the best of times, but Israel is really an anomaly in the way its parties are labelled. If we ignore anything involve Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims, Yisrael Beitenu are not exactly a far right party, but more of a leftist/authoritarian party. Similarly, Kadima do not exactly represent the left on most issues, yet their stance on the Palestinians puts them there insofar as Israel is concerned.

The Israeli debate is completely skewed by — and solely focussed on — the conflict. This means that Israel is essentially running a 1960s-style protectionist welfare state while Israelis do not even realise why all their institutions are so corrupt, their salaries are so low and wealth is so concentrated.

Ironically, the person who was turning that around was Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu, right up to the time Sharon split from Likkud to form Kadima. Now, Bibi can’t get any serious economic reforms through cabinet because the other parties in his coalition keep blocking them. Perhaps with Mofaz leading Kadima and Bibi set to win the next election in a landslide, he may finally get a mandate next year to start running the country rather than tread water while he negotiates with idiots like Lieberman.

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Applauding JAA for supporting Sudan

MK has been on the support Sudan bandwagon for a while now, and so have our friends over at Jewish Aid Australia. JAA CEO Gary “Samo” Samowitz has written a column in this weeks Australian Jewish News about the need to help Sudan and the lessons that we should take from Pesach and apply to the world today.

This is a very important idea and not dissimilar from the one I had when writing about the relevance of “never again” to preventing current genocide rather than just commemorating a past one. I am going to do something that I do not often do and quote myself:

What is happening in Sudan is no Holocaust, it is not nearly as industrialised or systematic as the Nazi genocide. The Nazis aimed to eradicate the Jews from the planet, whereas the Sudanese Arabs are more showing callous indifference to a group of people of a different race who live on land that they want for themselves. That said, there are few arguments to make that eradicating the black Africans living on valuable land in Sudan does not amount to genocide. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was indicted for genocide by the ICC in 2009 and has been flaunting this indictment ever since.

Of course, none of this raises an eyebrow because, as I have written before, the world does not care about black Africans. They fall at the bottom end of the spectrum in terms of value of human life. If Jews are really serious about “never again”, this is not a situation that we can ignore in good conscience. Don’t let the world stand by as the Sudanese genocide continues.

Unfortunately, the AJN seems determined to plummet into irrelevancy and so it has almost no online content aside from a Godawful iPad app that was out-of-date before the iPad was even made. Therefore, I can’t link to Samo’s column directly and you will have to make do with this crappy photo (click to enlarge):

N.B. For a great background on the current siege of South Kordofan and the campaign against the Nuba people, see Akbar Ahmed here.<

Also, here’s a Foreign Affairs interview with New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof on his experiences in the Nuba Mountains:

(via Foreign Affairs)

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Ibish attacks Stephens attacks Beinart

Only because I know you’re not sick of all this Peter Beinart business yet (I’m sorry), I just felt the need to point out that Hussein Ibish — defending Beinart against Wall Street Journal editor Brett Stephens — seems to have completely missed the point of what Stephens was saying.

Ibish:

Bret Stephens’ Crisis of Empathy – The Daily Beast.

Sometimes crude binaries can be instructive, and it’s possible to distinguish two different types of people: those who seek out generous and universalist empathy with others, and those who prefer the warm cocoon of tribal solidarity.

In his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart very much places himself in the first category, while in his review of it for Tablet, Bret Stephens, unfortunately, demonstrates that he squarely belongs in the second. Stephens’ angry, mean-spirited tirade against Beinart begins with a frank display of this mentality. He opens his lengthy denunciation of Beinart by angrily condemning him for daring to imagine that a young Palestinian boy called Khaled Jaber “could have been my son.”

Beinart writes that the evolution of his views on Israel and its occupation was kick-started by watching a video of the child crying out in horror as his father was being hauled away by Israeli occupation forces for “stealing water.” Beinart’s innate decency and humanity were, for whatever reason, deeply touched by this highly affecting scene…

But Stephens is having none of it. How, he asks indignantly, could “someone named Khaled Jaber…have been Beinart’s son?” The answers are so simple and fundamental that they are embarrassing to posit. He could be his son because all people are brothers and sisters, and we all can and should identify with each other across ethnic, racial, religious and cultural divides. Beinart can do this. Stevens, apparently, can’t, and indeed is offended when others do. Read the rest of this entry »

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The real crisis is the America-centric Zionism

Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.

Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).

This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality.  He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:

Diaspora Divided > Jewish Review of Books.

Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”

Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »

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Olmert Rebukes J Street at their own Conference

Anyone else who just watched Ehud Olmert addressing J Street saw a great performance from the former Israeli Prime Minister. I have a feeling that it was not quite what the organisers of the conference had envisioned when they organised for him to give the keynote address at their conference.

Olmert did criticise the current Israeli Government (he is from the opposition party after all) and he did laud J Street as a legitimate pro-Israel organisation, but he made a lot of points that run counter to J Street’s narrative and policy platforms.

For instance, he spoke about the Iranian threat to Israel and made it clear that the military option, while a last resort, is on the table in order to prevent a nuclear Iran. Also, after speaking at length about the need to make peace and how the current Israeli Government is not moving towards peace (which I don’t entirely disagree with), he very bluntly stated that Palestinians have responsibilities and they do not always meet those responsibilities — proceeding to detail the generous proposal he made to Mahmoud Abbas and how this was walked away from.

(I will note that he spent a while heaping praise on Abbas and explaining that Abbas does not support terrorism and is a partner for peace. My feeling is that this may be true, but Abbas faces a lot of internal opposition in Fatah.)

Most importantly, he said that he will not ask J Street to go to their government and ask them to pressure the government of Israel. As he said, “is this an American problem?” This is exactly the argument I have been using against J Street’s methodology. Israeli government policy is an Israeli problem, it is not America’s place to pressure them one way or the other and doing so often backfires — creating resentment for America in Israel, winning sympathy for the more extreme elements of Israeli society and generally hardening the Israeli mindset against America’s agenda.

Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission at Israel’s Washington embassy, made a similar point when he addressed the conference. I hope (but don’t expect) that J Street’s leaders will take this on board and start re-evaluating their raison d’etre. There are a lot of more productive uses of their time than lobbying Congress.

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In defence of skepticism on climate change

Reviewing the “Heartland affair”, Robert Murphy notes how one climate scientist did not think that the actual evidence against Heartland was enough and decided to forge a more “damning” document; and how gleefully the rest of the climate change movement began adopting this clearly forged document with no skepticism whatsoever:

Diminished Climate Alarmism: Lessons from L’Affair Heartland — MasterResource

Now to be sure, climate science isn’t the same thing as politics and the blogosphere. Just because these climate alarmists showed ridiculously bad judgment when it came to the Heartland affair, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong about the trajectory of global temperatures in the absence of mitigation strategies.

However, I do think this episode—and the reaction of the skeptic community during Climategate—are quite illustrative of the two camps’ approaches to the actual science. Back when the Climategate emails were first spreading around the Internet, I distinctly remember many people in the comments at blogs such as ClimateAudit warning their peers by saying things like, “Guys, remember, we’re skeptics. This is too good to be true. Let’s not jump up and down on this, because it might be a trap to make us look gullible.”

In contrast, the major players on the other side—when Heartland was “caught” saying things that were far more absurd than what the Climategate emails revealed—jumped with glee. For example…

Walter Russell Mead posits his analysis of the incentives leading to distortions in the climate debate:

How Green Gullibility, Hyperpartisanship Are Wrecking The Climate Movement | Via Meadia.

  • The climate movement’s proposals (above all, the global carbon treaty that in theory will subject the economic output of  every country on earth to global controls) are radical, costly and virtually certain to fail.
  • To be enacted, these unpromising measures require an unprecedented degree of consensus, as every major country on earth would have to accept, ratify and then enforce the climate treaty the movement seeks.
  • The climate movement must therefore be, in Dean Acheson’s words, “clearer than truth” in order to stampede public and elite opinion around the world into a unique and unparalleled act of global legislation.
  • Because many in the climate movement believe that this treaty is literally a matter of life and death for the human race, the moral case both for stretching the evidence and attacking critics of that agenda as aggressively as possible looks strong to weak minds.
  • The absence of any central authority or quality control in the climate movement (and the tendency of unbalanced foundation execs and direct mail contributors to provide greater support to those ready to take more aggressive action and espouse more alarming ideas) gives more radical and less responsible voices undue prominence and entangles the whole movement in dubious claims.
  • The increasing obstacles encountered by such a poorly conceptualized and poorly advocated agenda cause the embittered and alarmed advocates to circle the wagons and become both more extreme in their rhetoric and less guarded in their claims when precisely the opposite approach would work better.

I must say that I have a lot of sympathy for this position, although I do not think the phenomenon is limited to the “the world is ending” side of the debate; the other side is just as irrational and just as selective in its facts/deliberately deceptive for policy reasons.

What we essentially have is a political debate posing as a scientific one. The best example of this is the fact that the most commonly cited reason to believe in the climate change alarm is the supposed “scientific consensus” shown through petitions like this one — the idea being that if 31,487 scientists agree with something, it can’t possibly be wrong.

The very idea makes a mockery of Read the rest of this entry »

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Today in the annals of “WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME ISRAELIS?!?”

I was very happy last night when the Israeli High Court rejected the Government’s compromise on the Migron settlement and upheld their previous decision that building settlements on privately-owned Palestinian land is illegal under Israeli law, therefore Migron should be demolished.

Good news for once, no? Well…

Rivlin agrees to hold Knesset ses… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics.

In light of Sunday’s court ruling, however, MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said, “there is no option but to advance legislation that would give Migron legal standing at its present site without any relocation or evacuation.”

… MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) said that from the start it had been clear to him that the only solution to Migron was legislation.

The government should not destroy any community it helped to create, he said.

“There is no reason why Jews should be evacuated from their homes under a Likud government,” said MK Danny Danon (Likud). “We must make use of the responsibility given to us by the people to lead the nation and the settlements in Judea and Samaria according to the values of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and [former prime minister] Menachem Begin.”

… MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said that “the court proved today that it preferred Arab interests over Jewish settlement even at the expense of spilling blood. If blood is spilled in Migron it will be on the heads of the court justices.”

Likud activist Moshe Feiglin warned that parliamentarians who opposed the legislation would lose his support and that of his followers in the next election.

… “The High Court justices could have made a decision to avoid conflict in Israeli society,” said Forum director attorney Nachi Eyal. “Clearly the court thinks human rights are only for Palestinians, not for Jews.”

“What do you expect from a panel containing a justice who won’t sing Hatikva?” Eyal added, in a dig at Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, who declined to sing the national anthem at Supreme Court president (emeritus) Dorit Beinisch’s retirement ceremony.

Ugh.

Let’s start with Danon: so this is against the spirit of Begin and Jabotinsky?!?! That would be the Begin who gave away the entire Sinai Peninsular – three times the six of Israel plus the West Bank plus Gaza? The Begin who sent a young Ariel Sharon to literally hose people off the roofs of the Sinai settlement of Yamit? And his mentor, Jabotinsky, the secular nationalist who never expressed much support for the Religious-Zionists who are trying to grab their “God-given land”?

Fortunately, Likkud stalwarts who do follow the Begin/Jabotinsky tradition of Revisionist Zionism are keeping to its ideals of a Jewish state that is secular and democratic by blocking everything the assholes quoted above are trying to push through. That said, Danon is the chair of World Likkud, he has a lot of power inside the party and is definitely getting more of his supporters onto the Knesset ticket. I am very worried for the future of Likkud if this continues, I have no doubt that he would do to Likkud what Barak did to Avoda.

Fortunately, there is still some integrity/competence in Likkud’s leadership, as evidenced by Bibi’s statement on the issue:

PM on Migron deal rejection: The … JPost – Diplomacy & Politics.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday reacted to the High Court’s rejection of a state request to delay the evacuation of the Migron Outpost until 2015, saying that “the government of Israel, along with its citizens, respects the court and acts according to the nation’s laws.”

And the guy who spoke about Joubran not singing Hatikva? Even Isi Liebler disagrees with him! There is pretty well a consensus in Israel that it is understandable for a non-Jew to feel uncomfortable singing about a “Jewish heart” yearning to be “a free people in our own land”. He stands for the anthem respectfully, but does not sing it – that is good enough for everyone else. What the hell is the ‘Legal forum for the Land of Israel’ anyway? And why are the Jerusalem Post paying them any attention?

As for Habayit Hayehudi and Halchud Leumi… well… we always knew they were nut-jobs.

I only hope that they get marginalised at the elections next year…

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Quote for Sunday

I have nothing against super-sexual fashion. What I am against is being a victim of it. To have to be sexy? That I hate. To be outrageously sexy? That I love.

Miuccia Prada, profiled in the New Yorker by Judith Thurman.

Things I didn’t know about Prada: she has a PhD in political science, she was once a member of the communist party in Italy and handed out pro-communism flyers while wearing YSL dresses and she refused to run for Italian parliament because she did not think that it would be fair for a woman as wealthy as she is to claim to represent the working class.

I think I have a new favourite designer.

Worth a read.

Schiaparelli and Prada, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art : The New Yorker.

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