Tuesday Reads: Remembering Robin Williams (and other news)

EXCLUSIVE:Robin Williams prepares for a bicycle ride around Central Park in NYC


Good Morning!!

Media reports (based on the Sheriff’s statement) on Robin Williams’ death are still saying the cause of his death is a “suspected suicide.” From the New York Times:

The Marin County sheriff’s office said in a statement that it “suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” An investigation was underway.

The statement said that the office received a 911 call at 11:55 a.m. Pacific time, saying that a man had been found “unconscious and not breathing inside his residence.” Emergency personnel sent to the scene identified him as Mr. Williams and pronounced him dead at 12:02 p.m.

I can’t help but be curious about this–does that make me a bad person? My mind keeps going over possible scenarios, wondering how he died and why it isn’t clearly a suicide. I hope we’ll eventually find out what happened, so I can stop having disturbing visual thoughts about it. As someone who has strugged with depression and addiction, I can understand the agony that must have driven Williams to take his own life, but I wish he had reached out to someone first.

The NYT article has some interesting background on Williams’ childhood that I had never heard before.

The privileged son of a Detroit auto executive who grew up chubby and lonesome, playing by himself with 2,000 toy soldiers in an empty room of a suburban mansion, Mr. Williams, as a boy, hardly fit the stereotype of someone who would grow to become a brainy comedian, or a goofy one, but he was both.

This morning the Detroit Free Press republished an article from 1996 in which Williams talks about his childhood home. The interview took place “before the release of the film “Jack.”

“It’s gone; it doesn’t exist anymore, ” says Williams, the winsome memory of his childhood sanctuary written all over his face. Of course, everything is written on Williams’ face: He might as well have a sign in his hair that says, “Post bills here.”

Williams plays an overgrown — and I mean way overgrown — 10-year-old child in “Jack, ” which opens Friday. He’s recalling his own childhood in Bloomfield Hills in a home at the corner of Woodward and Long Lake, which, in his memory, was little short of a fairyland.

“It was a giant, beautiful old mansion, with a gatehouse, an empty garage with room for 25 cars, barns, and there was a very wonderful old English man, Mr. Williams, who looked after the gardens, ” Williams says. He is looking out the balcony window of his Los Angeles hotel suite onto a busy street, but Williams clearly is visualizing the past.

“We didn’t own it; we just rented it, ” says Williams, whose father was an auto executive. “Then we moved to Chicago, and when we came back to Detroit a few years later, we just lived in an apartment. And it was very different, you know. But the first house, it was so wonderful, so peaceful. There was no one for miles around. Only this giant golf course with people named Tad whacking the old ball.”

It’s a nice interview; you can read the rest at the link.

Thinking about Robin Williams’ movies reminded me that my Dad and I went to see Robert Altman’s Popeye together in 1980 when I was home in Indiana for a visit. That was Williams’ very first film. We both really enjoyed it. Williams was perfect as Popeye and Shelley Duvall was a marvelous Olive Oyl. The New York Daily News has a nice list of Williams’ finest performances: From ‘Popeye’ to ‘Good Will Hunting,’ the actor’s most iconic roles.

Robin Williams bench

Of course Williams has a Boston connection too. He won an academy award for his role in Good Will Hunting. A great scene from the movie was shot on a bench in Boston Garden.

From The Hollywood Reporter: Robin Williams Memorial Pops up at ‘Good Will Hunting’ Bench.

The bench that helped Robin Williams earn an Oscar is now the site of an impromptu memorial for the late actor, thanks to a few fans in Boston.

Shortly after they heard of the actor’s death Monday, Nicholas Rabchenuk and his girlfriend headed to the Boston Public Garden bench Williams and Matt Damon made famous in Good Will Hunting.

“We went to the [Boston] Common, and I was really surprised there wasn’t anything there,” Rabchenuk tells The Hollywood Reporter.

They brought flowers and chalk, and found two fans already sitting on the bench. The four of them teamed up to write lines from Good Will Hunting on the ground, including “Sorry guys, I went to see about a girl” and “Your move, chief.”

The plan is to honor Williams’ body of work, not just Good Will Hunting.Hook has already gotten some love (Bangarang!).

“I hope it catches on,” says Rabchenuk, who would like to see similar memorials pop up at benches around the world, as well as at other Boston-area sites portrayed in the film.

You can watch the park bench scene at the link. Here’s another well-acted scene from Good Will Hunting. The sound is a little low, unfortunately.

Williams really was a fine dramatic actor. At Huffington Post, you can watch Williams’ Oscar speech. 

Good will hunting

Just one last link, from WBZ TV in Boston: Robin Williams Left Mark On City Of Boston, by Jim Armstrong.

Williams won an Academy Award for his role in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting.” Much of the film was shot in Boston and Cambridge, and while he was here, he made a big impression.

In a career that spanned decades, the time Williams spent in Boston seemed to have stuck with him as well.

L Street Tavern, the South Boston bar made famous in the film, still credits Williams and the crew for putting them on the map. When he accepted the Academy Award, he singled out Southie, telling the people of South Boston, “you’re a can of corn, you’re the best.”

Years later, while talking to WBZ-TV about the film “What Dreams May Come,” he was still cracking jokes about South Boston.

“You still a wicked pissah smart? How are ya, what are ya doing,” Williams said in a Boston accent during the 1998 interview. “Hello, all the folks at L Street. How ya doing?”

The L Street Tavern posted a statement on their Facebook page after learning of the actor’s death Monday night:

Rest Peacefully Robin Williams. You were a comedic genius and a friend to all here while filming Good Will Hunting. Thanks for recognizing South Boston in your Academy Award acceptance speech and the many fond memories at L Street Tavern and South Boston Bowl. You, too, are a “Can of Corn”.

Reminiscing endlessly about movies is easy for me, but I guess I should include some of the latest news in this post too.

Sigh . . .

In Other News . . .

Here in the U.S. the story that’s getting the most attention is the police shooting of an unarmed young African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown. The FBI has now stepped in to investigate the the shooting. From the New York Times: F.B.I. Steps In Amid Unrest After Police Kill Missouri Youth.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., outside St. Louis, on Saturday. (h/t NY Daily News)

Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., outside St. Louis, on Saturday. (h/t NY Daily News)

FERGUSON, Mo. — The F.B.I. on Monday opened a civil rights inquiry into the fatal shooting by a police officer of an unarmed black teenager here as protests bubbled into a third night in this St. Louis suburb….

On Monday night, police officers using tear gas and rubber bullets tried to disperse the crowd of mostly African-Americans, who had been gathering through the day under the hot sun. The protesters questioned the role that race — and simmering tensions between residents and the Police Department — may have played in the killing of Michael Brown, 18, who was to start college this week.

The standoff lasted for more than an hour, with about a dozen men approaching officers with their hands up saying, “Don’t shoot me.” At least 100 police officers were on the scene, shining bright lights into the crowd and telling people to return to their homes.

The article provides some important background on the racial situation in Ferguson.

Ferguson, a city of 21,000 northwest of St. Louis, has shifted substantially over the last decade, with blacks, once a minority, now making up two-thirds of the residents, after many white families moved out to surrounding suburbs. The town’s leadership and the police have remained predominantly white.

In 2013, the suspension of a black superintendent of schools by an all-white school board stirred protests. And the Justice Department has a continuing investigation into racial disparities in legal representation for juveniles in Family Court.

“The community is still highly segregated,” said Karen Knodt, interim pastor of the Immanuel United Church of Christ, whose congregation has 800 members, only four of whom are black. “The institutions of power don’t yet reflect the changing demographics of the county.” . . . .

Patrice McHaskell, a teacher at a nursery school, said that in a town where the police force is mostly white and residents are mostly black, police officers have acquired a reputation for frequently stopping young black men, often for trivial things.

The shooting has tapped into longstanding resentments, she said: “They’re just outraged and they’re tired of the police messing with them. It brought out all the anger and tension that everybody’s been holding in.”

Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, while mourning their son, asked supporters to remain peaceful. Credit Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, while mourning their son, asked supporters to remain peaceful. Credit Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Here’s hoping the FBI does a careful and thorough review of the shooting. I would also like to know why the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown has not been released. Brown’s family has hired Benjamin Crump, who previously represented the family of Trayvon Martin.

The situation in Iraq is still highly unstable. From The Guardian, Nouri al-Maliki forced from post as Iraq’s political turmoil deepens.

Iraq‘s embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, appeared to have lost his job on Monday, after the country’s president appointed a rival Shia candidate to form a new government in a bid to end the deadlock that has paralysed the Baghdad government while jihadists have swept through the country’s north.

Maliki had seemed to be clinging to his post, but he was abandoned by party allies and sidelined by religious and regional backers who no longer believe he can save the crumbling state.

His defiance sets the scene for yet another volatile period in Iraqi politics at a time when the Islamic State (Isis) jihadist group continues to rampage through the country, fast diminishing the authority of the central government. It also adds more uncertainty to a pivotal period in the modern history of the region, with the unitary borders of Iraq and its neighbours under mounting pressure to hold together.

Iraq’s military leadership was being closely watched by regional players on Monday. The US warned military officials not to get involved in the political process.

The article also mentions U.S. plans to aid the Kurds.

The US government said that it would arm Iraqi Kurdish militias to prevent the fall of the final bastion of pro-US territory in Iraq, while Britain is deploying RAF Tornado jets to provide greater surveillance in the north of the country.

Also from the Guardian: John Kerry insists any US moves in Iraq will not involve combat troops.

Kerry said the government in Iraq needed to create circumstances where the “forces of Iraq are not a personal force defined by one particular sect and sworn to allegiance to one particular leader, but .. truly represent Iraq”. With a new “inclusive, participatory” government in Baghdad, the US would “absolutely look to provide additional options” to help stabilise the country.

Kerry made it clear this did not mean a return of US combat troops.

“There will be no reintroduction of American combat forces into Iraq,” he said. “Nobody, I think, is looking forwards to a return to the road that we’ve travelled.

“What we’re really looking for here is a way to support Iraq, support their forces with either training or equipment or assistance of one kind or another, that can help them to stand on their own two feet and defend their nation.

I have to wonder if that is a realistic goal, after all these years of the U.S. supposedly training Iraqi troops. There’s a long article about this by Micah Zenko at Foreign Policy, The Slippery Slope of U.S. Intervention. Here’s Zenko’s conclusion:

When you listen to administration officials today, assume that their claims of a limited, relatively short, and narrowly scoped intervention will turn out to be false. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that, in reversing the threat posed by the Islamic State militants, “The president has taken no option off the table.” Meanwhile, an anonymous official stated that White House conversations have focused on limiting the intervention, because, “[Obama] did not want to create a slippery slope.” But, when the United States intervenes militarily in another country it does not have control over the decline or slipperiness of that slope. The two most likely outcomes of the most recent U.S. attacks in Iraq are that the lives of some civilians will be saved in the near term, and that there will be a military commitment larger and longer than what administration officials presently claim.

domestic cat

Finally, a science story from io9: The Domestic Cat Genome Has Been Fully Sequenced, and It’s Fascinating.

The Felis catus genome has been fully sequenced and annotated, which means your pet kitty is about to give up its genetic secrets to science….

Now that we have this complete, annotated genome sequence, scientists will be able to analyze cat genetics much more effectively. Cats suffer from many of the same diseases as humans, including versions of leukemia and AIDS, so the cat genome may help us understand the development of these conditions better. Don’t worry — that doesn’t mean scientists will be experimenting on kitties. It just means that we can compare their genomes to ours to see whether there are similarities that shed light on why we are vulnerable (or not) to the diseases.

Cats also have what biologists call “a highly conserved ancestral mammal genome organization,” which means that many stretches of their genome haven’t changed much over evolutionary time. Put simply, domestic cats haven’t changed much since they first evolved. This could allow us to understand mammal evolution better. It could also answer a question that remains a mystery: why did dog domestication change canines so much, whereas cat domestication didn’t change cats much at all?

You can read the preliminary report (pdf) here.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!

65 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Remembering Robin Williams (and other news)”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Bernie Sanders is not ready for Hillary.

    From Politico, Bernie Sanders: Don’t ‘anoint’ Clinton yet

    “I’m not quite sure that the political process is one in which we anoint people,” the Vermont senator said when asked about Clinton in a Yahoo News interview with Jeff Zeleny published Monday.

    When pressed on whether the former secretary of state would make a good president, Sanders said he didn’t know, noting that she hasn’t made her platform known. “What is her agenda? I don’t know. You don’t know. She hasn’t said,” the senator responded.

    Maybe that’s because she hasn’t even said she’s running, Bernie.

    • Fannie says:

      Take a leap of faith Bernie, it’ll help you feel better.

      • RalphB says:

        Bernie’s taken a leap of faith that because some msnbc hosts like him, everybody will love him. A lot like Saint Doctor Jill Stein in the past. 🙂

    • NW Luna says:

      “I’m not quite sure that the political process is one in which we anoint people”

      Obviously Bernie Sanders must have slept right through the political process in 2008.

    • newdealdem1 says:

      This guy has more stupid balls than any human being should be allowed to carry around. I never understood the idolization of Bernie by the usual suspects. If Clinton doesn’t have an “agenda” (which isn’t true: you just have to be paying attention, it’s not completely formed, it’s way too early but a clearer picture is beginning to take shape). What I would love to know is what the hell does Bernie stand for except for economic issues which are on the top of my list of issues we need to address but that is it. I had no clue he was head of the Veterans Affairs Committee until Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) called him an ineffective leader.

      His response when some reporter asked his opinion of the Israel/Palestinian war was this clueless, harsh and just plain embarrassing answer: “I have a lot on my mind and I haven’t given it much thought.” Now, there’s a profile in courage, hey? And, he gets away with such an answer because his far left following let’s him get away with it and the goes for the drooling DC press.

      I’ve never heard Bernie speak up as a separate and vitally important issue to American women about the seemingly never-ending rabid and continued attack on women’s rights by the far right. Or, on voting rights. Or on what his plan is to address immigration or the children refugees from Central America. Or on a host of issues. I’d love to see him spend 8 hours filibustering on the floor of the Senate when legislation is brought up that does harm to women, minorities, immigrants, child refugees, etc. And, speak about these things with at least 10% of the passion he spends on economic issues/jobs (which as I said are vitally important). But, crickets on most other issues that matter to Americans.

      So, before he makes any criticism of Clinton and her agenda, how about he prepares his own and starts to tout that so we can see what he’s all about except for being a one trick mule.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Also from Politico, apparently David Gregory is “widely disliked” at NBC News.

    For well over a year now, NBC News executives have been trying to come up with a solution to what sources there referred to as “the David Gregory problem.” The host had driven NBC’s once-dominant Sunday show to the bottom of the ratings race. He was widely disliked within the organization and his ambition and vanity rubbed important colleagues at NBC the wrong way. Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t seem all that engaged with politics and policy, the bread and butter of Sunday public affairs programming.

    • RalphB says:

      What? None of those Sunday show people give a shit about policy. It’s all beltway politics.

      • bostonboomer says:

        The bosses do though. They want whatever Comcast wants. I think what that means is that Gregory comes across as lethargic, and that turns off the audience. Or something. I never could understand why he got the job in the first place. What do I know. I thought Tim Russert was horrible, yet so many other people seem to remember him fondly.

        • RalphB says:

          Russert was absolutely terrible! Yuck.

          • newdealdem1 says:

            Totally agree with you BB and Ralph about Russert. What an overindulged brat who had the unwavering support of that right wring SOB from GE, when GE had majority control over NBC, Jack Welch. As did drooling Matthews. Both behaved like the goons they were/are and got/get paid millions of buckeroo’s for their loyalty to Welch. And, now Comcast.

            Gregory was a mess. I watched MTP when he “anchored” it a couple of times and I just couldn’t stand what it turned into: GOP dreck. I watched MTP way before the Russert reign and remember how good a informative *news* program it was and is now unwatchable.

            I do consider Todd a bit of a step up from Gregory but that’s not saying much. MTP lost me a long time ago and changing anchor chairs from Gregory to Todd won’t get me back.

            And, it’s true, BB and Ralph, except for the Comcast bosses, the DC “punshits” who they invite on that program are nothing more than horse race bookies and could care less talking about policy which they find boring (which is one reason they shit on HRC’s “Hard Choices” because it’s all about policy and is what they dissed her for talking about in the 2008 primary).

  3. Fannie says:

    BB, thanks so much for this morning’s read on Robin Williams. I didn’t sleep very good last night. Think I will get some chalk and find a bench.

  4. Beata says:

    Thank you for the post, BB.

    I can’t seem to get the death of Robin Williams off my mind. I admired his dramatic work very much. He was one of those actors who, like Marilyn Monroe, was in exquisite touch with all his emotions. In his work, those emotions were present for everyone to feel and see with no filters whatsoever. A rare gift to the world.

    Reaching out to someone else when one is in the throes of depression has its limitations. It can be helpful but will not necessarily prevent suicide. Sometimes the abyss is just too deep.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yes, that’s true. It seems he was still struggling with addiction too. I feel so badly for his children.

    • RalphB says:

      Original article from Politico…

      Saving Syria Is No ‘Fantasy’

      • NW Luna says:

        “Doing nothing” does not leave the scene neutral. It may allow the occurrence of events far worse than
        the initial presentation. Interesting articles, Ralph, thanks for posting the links.

        Sigh. Noticed on the site of that Politico article there was an article about Hillary — suggesting that she could be “disloyal” to Obama for disagreeing with him over earlier intervention in Syria. Certainly for my taste she is too hawkish but there are good arguments for not ignoring what’s been happening in Syria.

  5. RalphB says:

    Washington Monthly: There is No American Strategy in Kurdistan

    … Security is the most obvious area where American soft power has failed. For months now the Kurds have been lobbying for a more coordinated approach against ISIS, and they have gotten the cold shoulder over and over. The Obama team was content to arm a disloyal and unreliable Iraqi Army, and they were perplexed when those heavy weapons ended up under ISIS control. But they refused to coordinate significant weapons procurement for the Peshmerga, despite increasingly desperate appeals, until the ISIS rampage forced them to change tack this past week.

    Obama likes to claim he’s a supporter of American soft power. He stresses that military action is a last resort. In Kurdistan it’s been the only resort. American soft power, through obtuse policy and simple negligence, has been working for the other side. For Obama’s inner circle the priority has been the concept of Iraqi unity, not the empowerment of people in that country who are actually friendly towards Americans. This is anything but enlightened realism. Rather there’s cynicism and wishful thinking in equal measure. It’s not too late for Obama to change course, but the air strikes themselves do not indicate such a change. Rather they are further evidence that during the past few months there has been no American strategy for Kurdistan other than emergency response.

    Jonathan Dworkin, a doctor who knows Iraqi Kurdistan well, is not a fan of Obama foreign policy. Apparently a lot of liberals have had issues that way.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Apparently, Obama f’d this up badly. Hillary seems to think so.

      • RalphB says:

        The guy who wrote the Politico article I put above thinks so and he was the administration’s man on the ground in Syria with those rebels. Apparently Obama is the only senior person who thinks criticism is horseshit.

  6. RalphB says:

    Liberal dudebros are supposed to like this ass? He just males it up as he goes along,

    Rand Paul on abortion: Civilization will collapse unless fetuses get personhood rights

    • NW Luna says:

      Hey Rand! Why aren’t you out there advocating for universal health care and living-wage jobs & secure retirement for all us post-fetus persons!

      Rand Paul’s ego will collapse if he ever wakes up to his ludicrousness.

    • bostonboomer says:

      More likely the other way around. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if fetuses suddenly became persons with inheritance rights, etc.?

      • RalphB says:

        A lot of settled case law would be blown sky high in all kinds of areas, both civil and criminal..

  7. bostonboomer says:


    Actor Robin Williams died of asphyxia by hanging: coroner


  8. bostonboomer says:


    U.S. could announce more troops to Iraq: officials (they’ll be called advisers)


    • RalphB says:

      Fuck! I’m getting a distinct feeling of deja vu here.

    • NW Luna says:

      Didn’t we already do this a couple of years a few years back? Or was that Afghanistan? That did not seem to work very well. And call ’em “advisors” or whatever, too many are still coming back with head injuries and missing body parts.

      Deja vu from hell.

  9. bostonboomer says:
  10. bostonboomer says:

    TPM: Hillary Clinton called President Obama to tell him she wasn’t trying to attack him in her recent Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.

    The interview garnered significant press attention for Clinton’s comments in which she seemed to disparage Obama’s guiding foreign policy principle: “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Some top Obama advisers subsequently responded to Clinton’s comments publicly. Progressive groups issued critical statements.

    The Clinton spokesman noted that Clinton and Obama had “honest differences on some issues” while she was serving in the Obama administration. He noted that the pair would see each other Wednesday night during a social gathering in Martha’s Vineyard.

    “Some are now choosing to hype those differences but they do not eclipse their broad agreement on most issues,” the Clinton spokesman said. “Like any two friends who have to deal with the public eye, she looks forward to hugging it out when she they see each other tomorrow night.”

  11. bostonboomer says:

    People freaked out when they saw the militarization of police in reaction to the Boston bombing. What about Ferguson, MO.?

    This Is The Terrifying Result Of The Militarization Of Police

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/police-militarization-ferguson-2014-8#ixzz3AD6t5SmR

    • NW Luna says:

      Admirable women! No wonder they want to fight IS — women are terribly oppressed and abused under it. Glad to have read that article; I would not have thought women’s battalions would be accepted and so integrated into the resistance military structure.

  12. bostonboomer says:

    Former NSA analyst and Snowden critic John Schindler has been forced to resign his position as professor at the Naval War College after an investigation into his tweet showing his penis.

  13. dakinikat says:

    Talking Points Memo ‏@TPM 45s
    GOPer deletes tweets that used Robin Williams’ death to promote candidate http://bit.ly/Y1PifG

  14. bostonboomer says:

    Obama released a statement on the Michael Brown shooting.

    FERGUSON, Mo. — President Obama on Tuesday offered his “deepest condolences” to the family and community of Michael Brown, an unarmed black Missouri teenager who was shot to death by police Saturday.

    In a statement, Obama said that the 18-year-old’s death has “prompted strong passions” but urged people to remember Brown, through “reflection and understanding.”

    “I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama said. “We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”

    Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Department of Justice is investigating the shooting. Obama said the administration will “continue to direct resources to the case as needed.”

  15. bostonboomer says:

    Chris Hayes is doing a good job of covering the situation in Ferguson, Mo. I haven’t watched him in a long time.

  16. bostonboomer says:
  17. bostonboomer says:

    A Woman Has Won the Fields Medal, Math’s Highest Prize, for the First Time


  18. List of X says:

    I apologize for taking a long time to finish the promised follow up on Gaza-Israel conflict, but here it is, finally. I wrote this one as some sort of an FAQ about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general.

    “Israel has military superiority and therefore is responsible for ending the conflict”. There is no doubt that Israel has military superiority far beyond that of Hamas, and Hamas cannot possibly destroy Israel militarily. And Israel can pull IDF out of Gaza and end the strikes against Gaza, and that will stop the casualties in Gaza – which I think Israel partially has done already. The problem is, that’s not going to end the conflict. In order for any conflict to end, one side has to defeat each other decisively (which isn’t going to happen since Hamas is too weak to win but too entrenched in Gaza to lose), or both sides have to be interested in peace. But…

    “Palestinians just want peace, while Israel doesn’t”. Most Palestinians want Israel gone, actually. But most of them want to attain this goal without violence (good luck with that) so with some minor twisting of this date you could say that most of the Palestinians do want peace. But they are not the ones running Gaza – Hamas is. If this were a normal conflict, we would expect that Hamas, facing a far superior military opponent, would be one asking for peace already. But who said this was a normal conflict? Just because Hamas’ chances to destroy Israel are miniscule, it doesn’t mean that it would stop trying, especially since they see it as their holy duty to kill the Jews whenever possible (again, I refer you to the Hamas charter), and you really not supposed to shirk your holy duty.  So Hamas is interested in continuing the conflict, not achieving peace – and when one side doesn’t want peace, it no longer matters whether the other side wants peace or not. The best short-term outcome is a ceasefire, of which there have been a few, and depending on when you read this, the sides will have either arranged for new one or will have broken the one previously arranged. However, since the primary reason for the conflict is that Hamas wants to destroy Israel and it’s not resolved whether or not Israel ends its operation, the conflict is just going to move into low-burn stage where Hamas is shooting rockets and Israel is responding with occasional air and artillery strikes. That is, until Hamas gets lucky and one of its rockets or other attacks kills a large number of civilians, and Israel goes back in to Gaza to retaliate – and the question is when that happens, not if. I’ll assume you allow Israel the right to defend itself. Except…

    “Israel has a right to defend itself, but their response is disproportionate”. This sound bite, while appearing on the surface to be somewhat rational, makes very little sense if you look at it closely. First of all, no one ever offers any definition of what a “proportional” conflict is, but if even you count WWII as more or less proportional conflict, just the US has been in about 10-15 conflicts and wars since then, none of them meeting any reasonable definition of “proportional” – yet it is mainly the Israel-Palestine conflicts that disproportionately earn the “disproportionate” label. Second, how exactly Israel is supposed to defend itself proportionally? Does that mean that a Jew should suicide-bomb a Palestinian town for every suicide bombing by Palestinians, and that IDF should launch a rocket somewhere into Gaza for every for a rocket that flies out of Gaza? Or does “proportional” mean that Israel should execute and injure the same exact number of randomly selected Palestinians for every Israeli wounded or killed? Somehow, I don’t think that the “proportionate response” proponents would be happy with that either.  It must be that the expected proportional response from Israel would be to just relax and enjoy the rockets, because…

    “Gaza rockets are homemade and don’t kill any Israelis (or hardly ever kill anyone)”. First, they do kill, and it’s really not that difficult to find this information. Second, the rockets may once have been homemade, but today Hamas also uses Iranian Fajr-5 rockets (about 45 miles range and carrying 200lb of explosives), Grad rockets with 20+ mile range, and Katyusha rockets that are smaller, but they still used to terrify German soldiers more than any other Soviet or Allied weapon in early WWII. And even those “homemade” Qassam rockets aren’t exactly 3rd grade science fair stuff, since they carry 10 to 40 pounds of explosive and shrapnel over a range of 3 to 10 miles. Or, taking this argument at face value, if Hamas’ rockets “don’t kill anyone”, why bother launching them? Strictly hypothetically speaking, why doesn’t Hamas just stop wasting its valuable time and energy on these rockets, if its rocket attacks are supposedly so ineffective? Unless, of course, the whole point of the exercise is to get Israel to retaliate, and then use the dead women and children as props for the journalists, all the while explaining that…

    “People in Gaza don’t leave their homes have nowhere else to go”. But do you know why people in Gaza have nowhere else to go? Because Hamas never bothered to build any bomb shelters for them. Sure, Hamas has built a lot of underground structures, just not any meant for protecting the lives of Gazans – who elected Hamas, in part, to protect them. If just half of the digging Hamas had done was used to build bomb shelters, there would have been bomb shelters for hundreds of thousands of people. Instead there are only these tunnels. And did you know that 160 Palestinian children died while building these tunnels? But no one is holding protests for these children, because it wasn’t Israel who killed them. And…

    “These tunnels were built only because of the blockade and are used only for smuggling food and other necessities”. There are tunnels and there are tunnels. Gaza has a land border with Egypt in the south, and the tunnels under Egyptian border are the ones used for smuggling the necessities like food, car parts, and those very rockets launched at Israel. Egyptian army has destroyed over 1,000 of those tunnels. But the tunnels into Israel are different. It’s really hard to fathom how tunnels coming to the doorstep of an Israeli kibbutz near one of the world’s most-watched borders could be intended for transporting large quantities of contraband. This makes as much sense as a Mexican drug cartel building a drug-smuggling tunnel exit right in front of the Border patrol headquarters in Texas. But it makes much more sense if these tunnels are to be used for attacking these Israeli kibbutzes – and these tunnels already have been used to launch at least four attacks during July 2014. But…

    “Hamas has a right to attack Israel, because Israel blockaded Gaza from land, air, and sea and turned it into world’s largest open-air prison”. This seems to be a classic case of mixing up the cause and the effect, because Gaza was fighting against the blockade before there even was a blockade: Israel withdrew from Gaza in September 2005 and handed the full control of the territory to Fatah/PLO. There was a border, but there was no blockade of Gaza until 2007 when Hamas, a terrorist organization, won the election and consolidated its hold on Gaza by hunting down the rivals from Fatah. Around 800 rocket and mortar shells were shot from Gaza into Israel in 2005, 1,200 in 2006 and nearly 3,000 in 2007, so as much as Israel might have wished to allow Hamas unfettered access to rockets and other ammunition, the lives of Israelis eventually had to be protected. Today, Israel is continuing its blockade while Hamas’s continuing rocket attacks while hiding behind the civilian population, so a more accurate description of Gaza would be the “world’s largest hostage situation”. Actually, it’s not even just Israel that has blockaded Gaza: Egypt has joined the blockade, too. Yet, even though both Israel and Egypt participate in the blockade, Hamas isn’t shooting any rockets into Egypt.

    “Benjamin Netanyahu wants war, so he has to be replaced for peace to happen”. I can’t peer into Bibi’s mind, so I can’t comment on what he wants or doesn’t want, but I can tell you a little about how his government works, and how it affects what Bibi does. Unlike the US, Israel has a multitude of parties, and hardly ever one of them wins a large enough majority to run the county by itself, so it has to form majority coalitions with other parties in order to form a government. In current government, Bibi’s party has just 20 seats of 120-member parliament, and rules as a coalition of 6 parties holding 68 seats in total. If a party leaves the coalition over a certain issue, the government falls apart and a new coalition (and new government) has to be formed – or a new election is called. There is no set term where a government is elected and has a carte blanche for, say, four-five-six years to do whatever it wants until the next election. So any action Netanyahu (or his successor) wants to take on Gaza or West Bank has to be supported by all coalition partners with their differing agendas, otherwise coalition falls apart. And since Israel is a democracy, the parties in the coalition and in opposition are elected by the voters, most of whom don’t enjoy being the target of rocket attacks. So every time Hamas launches a rocket at Israel and sends Israeli voters running for the bomb shelters, that probably isn’t helping to soften the approach towards Hamas by the next ruling coalition, no matter who runs it. But maybe the solution is…

    “If Israel ended the occupation, there would be peace”. If only that were true. Palestinian Liberation Organization has began fighting “the occupation” since 1964, years before West Bank and Gaza were actually occupied by Israel. And just when PLO seemed to have come to the realization that it may have to settle for West Bank and Gaza rather than  (or just decided to be more subtle about it), Hamas has stepped up to the plate, and picked up the fight to “liberate” all of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Haifa. And even if Hamas does mellow out like PLO did, there is still enough popular support in West Bank and Gaza for the notion that word “occupation” means “Jewish control of any area between Mediterranean and Jordan river” (60% of all Palestinians, according to a poll I quoted in the previous comment), and enough splinter groups (Islamic Jihad, al-Qassam Brigades) to pick up the fight once again. So before you agree with the Palestinian demand to end the occupation, you really should ask what exactly they mean by “occupation”. Because the clarification you’d hear would probably include something like…

    “Those Zionists should have never come to Palestine in the first place”. What this means is that all those Jews who came to Palestine should have instead stayed put in where they come from, which was mostly Europe. Except, a problem with that was that the Nazis killed 60% of those who did stay in Europe – so assuming that, say, 80%-90% of 500,000 Jews who lived in Palestine in 1945 stayed in Europe instead, the flip side of this argument is basically suggesting that 250,000 more Jews should have been killed in the Holocaust. Another, more technical problem with that assertion is that when Zionists came to Palestine, it wasn’t a land belonging to any kind of Palestinian state. It was the land controlled by the Ottoman empire up to World War I, and then by British empire, so you’d have to take it up with the Turkish and British authorities. (To their credit, the British did try to stop the Jewish emigration escaping the aftermath of the WWII genocide). And speaking of genocide…

    “Israel is engaged in genocide against Palestinians”: The fact that Palestinian civilians have been killed has been offered as proof of Israeli genocide against Palestinians at least a few million times (That’s not exaggeration – there are 14,000,000+ search results in Google for “Israel genocide against Palestinians”). However, the definition of genocide requires that the action is deliberate and systematic, and on both counts, Israel fails horribly. Just giving one example, “deliberate” just doesn’t go well with warning civilians by leaflets and text messages that they should get out of the area that would be bombed, or declaring ceasefires unilaterally. That’s exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed do if your goal is to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. If that’s “deliberate” killing of civilians, then “deliberate” killing of civilians occurs in every single armed conflict – especially because trying to warn civilians to get out of harm’s way just isn’t a standard procedure for 99% of these conflict. And as far as “systematic” goes, here are some further examples of genocidal acts of Israel: providing Gaza with at least some electricity (for which Hamas hasn’t been paying, because war – but neither, war or unpaid bills, apparently give Israel an excuse to cut the power), sending food and medical supplies into Gaza – even during the war, providing medical treatment to Palestinian patients – again, even during the war. Can you imagine Gazans providing medical help to wounded Israelis? I can’t. Well, I can, in theory, Palestinians are people too, but as a Hamas-instituted policy, I simply can’t. And just going by numbers, Muslim population of Palestine increased from about 1 million in 1948 to over 4 million in 2014. Life expectancy in West Bank is 75 years, which is exactly the same as in Mississippi. Life expectancy of Gaza is 72, which is still much better than that of Russia, India, or Pakistan. (Additional discussion of Israeli “genocide can be found here, for example). To rephrase John Kerry’s now famous remark, it’s one hell of a genocide operation. So maybe it’s not genocide, but at least…

    “Israel instituted a system of apartheid against Palestinians”. Before we get into that, let’s remember that there are actually 4 distinct groups of Palestinians: a) Arabs with Israeli citizenship, b) Palestinians in West Bank c) Gaza and d) Palestinians in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. Israeli arabs have pretty much the same rights as Jews (they are not allowed to bring spouses from West Bank, but exempted from serving in the IDF). They have freedom of worship, they can elect Arab mayors and Knesset members – except as holders of Israeli passports, they aren’t allowed to enter about 20 Arab and Muslim countries. But the Palestinians in West Bank have restrictions on travel between West Bank areas, have no citizenship rights and are separated from Israel by a concrete wall, but they still have it better than Palestinians living in the cramped refugee camps abroad who face as many, if not more restrictions than in the West Bank. So there are elements of apartheid against Palestinians in West Bank and in Lebanese and Syrian refugee camps, but not in Israel itself. And finally, there’s Gaza, where inside the blockade, Hamas runs the territory, and executed people on the suspicion of working for Israel, killed its election opponents, arrested people without warrants and tortured them, and imposed many restrictions on women that are the standard fare of many Arab countries: this is what Palestinian life without apartheid looks like. And, as it seems to be understood without saying is that when the Arab Palestinian state is created, there wouldn’t be any Jews in it; otherwise “Jews stealing Palestinian land” wouldn’t be a point of contention if it was assumed that Jewish settlements would become a part of the Arab state.

    I cannot possibly cover everything on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a final note, I should add the following: when you read the reports from Gaza, you really have to take the information with a grain of salt – or, better yet, with one of those salt boulders laying around the Dead Sea. Because journalists in Gaza are only allowed to report what Hamas tells them to report – which is pictures of dead children and armed IDF soldiers. Only when these reporters leave Gaza they get to show, Hamas rocket launchers 50 meters from the hotel where international reporters are staying, and 100 meters from a UN building. And it is very likely that Hamas overstates the number of civilian casualties and understates the casualties of its fighters by reporting them as innocent civilians. As TIME article noted, for “indiscriminate fighting”, the number of casualties of males between ages 17 and 39 (representing 57% of all Gaza casualties as of the article date) is way too high to be believable, and how after during 2009 war Hamas has suddenly tripled their fighter casualties count to about the same estimate as IDF originally made. (More in-depth statistical analysis of Gaza casualties by age and gender, showing that the fighter:civilian casualty ratio is closer to IDF’s 1:1 estimate than to Hamas’ 1:4 estimate).

    Final final note… In 2012 election, just as in 2008, I voted for Barack Obama. I did not vote for him because I thought he was the savior, or because I agreed with each policy he has advanced, or with every tactic he used. I voted for him in 2012 because, to me, the alternative offered was ten times worse. And in this conflict, in case I have not made this clear, I am not supporting Israel because I think it is perfect or its existence is some sort of prophecy to be fulfilled. I am supporting Israel because the other side in the conflict, Hamas, is a terrorist organization without any redeeming qualities committed to destruction of Israel and genocide, without regard to how many Palestinians and Israelis have to die during Hamas’ march to this, hopefully, unattainable goal.

  19. List of X says:

    I just posted my follow up on Israel/Gaza, and once again it landed in moderation due to having more links than 90% of spam comments. 🙂