Hague, Schmague

Published at 15:55 on 30 January 2024

The title of this post is what an Israeli cabinet minister said in response to news of the recent International Court of Justice genocide ruling.

And the minister is correct: If, as Israel is, one is the best friend of a superpower, the Court is fundamentally meaningless. It has no means of enforcing its decisions, and courts without power to enforce their rulings might as well not exist. International law is for lesser nations (i.e. non-superpowers and best friends of same). Anyone with any doubt of this should research The Republic of Nicaragua vs. The United States of America (1986).

The key problem is, most of the world doesn’t really give a shit about Palestine. Oh, favourable noises might get made on that issue from time to time, but when it comes to anyone with any sort of power making a significant effort to actualize anything, it almost never happens. And before you say “Houthis,” please watch this.

Basically, unless China and Russia decide their toast is buttered on the side of weighing in hard on the side of Palestine (and so far they have not), the Palestinians don’t really have much grounds for hope anytime soon. Nothing motivates like self-interest, and if China and/or Russia would decide to exploit this conflict to undermine US authority, the USA might be motivated (by the desire to not lose further prestige) to act in more humanitarian interests. But since the precondition for the latter is absent, it is unlikely to happen. So the near term is bleak.

In the longer term, the bloodshed in Gaza is likely to exacerbate and continue the long decline in the State of Israel’s reputation that began with its decision to colonize lands occupied in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War. Pair that with the growing trend towards right-wing authoritarianism in Israel, and you have a long-term vulnerability.

Those who care about Palestine would be wise to continue pushing on those vulnerabilities. Israel has done much to tarnish its own reputation, and that tarnish should be pointed out at every opportunity. The recent ICJ ruling, and Israel’s contemptuous dismissal of it, is part of that tarnish. That, and only that, is the significance of the ruling.

I was, for much of the 1990’s, involved in activism on the subject of East Timor, which was then considered to be the canonical lost cause. Indonesia, a US client state, had occupied the former Portuguese territory in flagrant violation of international law in 1975, and had waged a genocidal war in an attempt to subdue its population into accepting Indonesian rule. Attempts to resolve the issue went nowhere because Indonesia was a US client state. But, over time, the small group I was involved with managed to point out how tarnished Indonesia was as a result of its atrocities in East Timor, and Indonesia’s reputation began slipping in Congress.

Then the whole house of cards suddenly collapsed. Indonesia experienced a sudden economic crisis that revealed just how thoroughly corrupt the authoritarian government there was. Suharto, Indonesia’s dictator, went cap in hand to his superpower benefactor, but thanks to reputation damage, a prompt bailout was not forthcoming. The economic crisis then provoked widespread popular unrest that drove Suharto from power. The new government agreed to allow East Timor to become independent if it wanted, in return for much-needed economic aid.

The latter was only possible because of slow, patient, seemingly futile work for years prior. Reputation is just touchy-feely stuff that doesn’t much matter… until, suddenly, it does.

Is It Genocide?

Published at 13:17 on 29 January 2024

It has long been a protest chant that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Then the “genocide” rhetoric began leaking out of rallies in the streets. Early last month, Canadian MP Don Davies attracted a fair bit of attention when he tweeted:

You will note that I have posted that as a screen shot of a tweet, to which I have not linked. There is a reason for this.

Unfortunately for Davies, he really didn’t have much evidence to go on for those rather shocking assertions of his. He initially tried to pull a bait-and-switch by repeatedly posting excerpts from an (unreferenced) article talking about how “The [Israel Defence Force] Military Intelligence Directorate is using artificial intelligence and automated tools to ‘produce reliable targets quickly and accurately….'”

Sorry, no. So the Israeli military is selecting targets. Big surprise there. There is a war going on. In war, belligerents target each other, i.e. they select what to attack. The quotes merely support the claim that the IDF is engaged in target selection and that they are using artificial intelligence software in doing so. Nowhere are the criteria for target selection mentioned.

Jews were, of course, one of the main the victims of one of the worst (and certainly the most famous) genocides in history: the Holocaust unleashed by the Nazis. Part of the reason Zionism succeeded in its goal of creating a Jewish state was how this genocide showed the validity of the Zionist argument that Jews needed a state of their own to serve as a refuge during times of persecution. Plus, false allegations of Jewish atrocities against non-Jews served as pretexts for the Holocaust. As such, false claims of genocide really strike a nerve with many Jews.

Not surprisingly, Davies’ responses flew about as well as the original claim did. He then deleted the original tweet, and made a fresh tweet with claims better supported by available evidence.

As the most famous genocide in history, the Holocaust colours the popular conception of what a genocide is. As such, that conception goes something like: “collecting as many members of an ethnic group as you can in ghettos and concentration camps, and then systematically murdering them.” If this is the definition of genocide, then clearly Israel is not committing genocide. Yes, Israel is reducing Gaza to rubble. The Allies reduced Germany and Japan to rubble in World War II, yet the Allies are not generally considered to be guilty of genocide as a result.

But that is a mere popular conception and popular conceptions have no legal standing. That is important, as the accusations of genocide have now made their way into the International Court of Justice. There, the case depends on how “genocide” is defined under international law. The relevant document here is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, commonly referred to simply as the “genocide convention.” That document defines the term thusly (all emphasis added):

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

It seems clear to me that what Israel is doing falls afoul of the first three clauses of the definition. Don’t blame me, I didn’t come up with the above definition. I am merely reporting its existence.

And this is why South Africa has been able to plausibly make its case in front of the ICJ.

Of course, what the Allies did to Japan and Germany would also easily qualify. And now we are back to popular conceptions again. Such conceptions may not have any legal standing, yet they still matter, as ultimately it will be public pressure that plays a key role in stopping the bloodshed currently going on in Gaza.

But then, we have this:

The New York-based CPJ said at least 68 journalists and other media workers had been killed in Gaza, Israel and southern Lebanon since the Hamas cross-border attack on 7 October and subsequent Israeli assault.

“More journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year,” it said.

“CPJ is particularly concerned about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military. In at least one case, a journalist was killed while clearly wearing press insignia in a location where no fighting was taking place. In at least two other cases, journalists reported receiving threats from Israeli officials and Israel Defense Forces officers before their family members were killed.”

Note that the CPJ is a pretty middle of the road press freedom organization that doesn’t generally take much of a side (besides that of protecting journalists) in any cultural or ideological struggles. So if they are willing to go out and accuse Israel of something like that, they must believe it has actually happened. What Israel is accused of is certainly pretty war-crimey, but is it genocide? Probably not, but it is finally some support for part of what Davies was alleging in his now-deleted tweet.

In contrast, this sounds a whole lot closer to both popular and legalistic definitions of genocide:

Aid organizations say all of Gaza’s universities have been partially or completely destroyed by the Israeli offensive, including the Islamic, Open Arab, and Al-Azhar universities.

Most recently, the Israeli military carried out the demolition of Al Israa University in southern Gaza with explosives Jan. 17. It was videotaped by the Israel Defense Forces and distributed to Israeli media, prompting the Biden administration to ask Israel for clarification for the reasons for its destruction.

The IDF said in a press statement this week that it was investigating the approval process for the demolition.

Going after the cultural institutions of a people like this is, after all, something the Nazis did to their victims. They burned synagogues, torched Jewish libraries, and levelled Jewish cemeteries. In Poland (the Nazis were anti-Slavic as well), the Nazi occupiers deliberately targeted Polish culture, dissolving universities and prohibiting Poles, under penalty of death, from acquiring more than the most basic of educations.

So yes, there probably is genocide going on in Gaza, and South Africa’s case has merit.

How likely any International Court of Justice ruling is to actually change anything will be the subject of a future post.

Buy a Condo? Probably Not

Published at 10:37 on 21 January 2024

Having been granted permanent residency in Canada, I will be selling my Bellingham condo soon. This whole move north has in some ways been fortuitous: there are not many condos available in Bellingham, and what is available is generally carpeted and with clauses in the deed requiring carpeting for its soundproofing qualities.

The problem with carpet is allergies; there are two types of carpeting:

  1. Old carpet full of dirt and allergens.
  2. New carpet that outgasses toxic chemicals.

I began my ownership with the condo in the first state, and two years ago invested in bringing it to the second state. I did a significant amount of research in trying to select carpeting that outgassed less. It didn’t matter: it still outgassed to an excessive degree. Fortuitously, it was about two years ago that I got my job offer in Canada, so I never had to deal with what to do about the whole situation (absent the job offer, there were no good solutions).

Now, there is an excellent solution: Just sell it. Pristine carpeting will be a selling point.

That begs the question of whether or not to use the proceeds to purchase a condo in the Vancouver region. The answer is probably not, at least not now.

It’s sort of ironic, as the big problem with condos in Bellingham is not so much of an issue here; carpeting just isn’t as popular in Vancouver. I think this has to do with the high proportion of immigrants in Vancouver; carpeting is not as popular outside of North America, and the market is simply catering to overall demand.

Alas, there are other problems with the condo market here.

Money is probably the biggest one. If you divide the list price of a condo by the yearly rent of an equivalent apartment, you get about 29. The rule of thumb is home ownership seldom makes economic sense unless that ratio is 15 or less.

So absent a strong economic case, some other case must be made. Several possible cases exist:

Stability in general
It is hard to be evicted from a property you own. Unfortunately for this argument, British Columbia has strong tenant protection laws: it is hard to be evicted from a rental. Easiest way for my landlord to push me out would be if he wants to move into my unit himself or move an immediate family member into it. My unit is so small that he and his wife are unlikely to want it. It contains stairs, so it is unlikely to be appealing to an elderly parent. In other words, I am likely to be able to stay here indefinitely long.
Price stability
On top of that, one of those tenant protections is rent control. By contrast, Canada lacks long-term mortgages, for the simple reason that the federal government here has never taken the sort of policy to create them (long-term loans like 30-year mortgages are something a market will never create on its own. So any financing I undertake will be limited term, and have to be renewed (typically, after five years), possibly at a much higher interest rate.
My current rental is a so-called laneway house, a small, detached dwelling unit behind the main house. I share no common walls with anyone. I am in a completely residential area on a quiet side street. The only way to do as good as this with a condo would be to find one in a cottage development, but such developments are extraordinarily rare here.
Ham radio aspects
It would be nice if I could erect a few antennas. I have done that in other condos by hiding antennas in the attic space. Another alternative would be a penthouse condo with a roof I could climb up to from my deck. Both of these are in the strict sense forbidden, but if one is discreet about it, one can in my experience get away with it. The sort of tower developments popular here mean only a minute fraction of units are top floor units, and that those units sell at a disproportionate premium. (Being on the top floor is also critical from a quiet standpoint; I have lived under simply too many people who apparently keep a pet rhino that they attempting to teach how to tap dance.)

The bottom line is that a condo purchase could make sense if I find something reasonably-priced on the top floor with some sort of roof or attic access. Such units do exist, but they are almost always in older buildings, and these have several problems:

Before the 2000’s, it was unusual for condos to restrict smoking. Condos are not airtight. Have a smoker as a neighbour and it is likely that their stink will intrude your unit. In my case, this raises allergy issues.
Older condos tend not to have in-unit washers and dryers. I am allergic or sensitive to most scented laundry products, which makes wearing clothes washed in shared machines problematic. Yes, even the residue from a previous usage can make clothing effectively unwearable to me, causing itching, rashes, and migraines. This has caused me significant issues when I have had to contend with shared laundry facilities, to the point that the only reasonable conclusion is that having my own private laundry facility a must.
The exterior building envelope
There was a huge spate of shoddy condo designs built in the late twentieth century in British Columbia, to the point that the leaky condo crisis has at times been a significant political issue here. Buying an older condo that has not already been renovated to correct this issue is taking on a significant risk.

The bottom line is that the available facts seem to indicate that owing my home simply does not make much sense in this region.

This may change in the next five years or so, however. A number of of zoning changes have been made or are underway that make it reasonable to suspect that a batch of smaller condo developments are about to be built in residential areas, and that some of these will take the form of accessory dwelling units (like the one I currently inhabit) being offered for separate purchase. That would change the calculus significantly. Such changes are, however, at this point only theoretical.

So unless I really get lucky, the best answer for the time being is almost certainly to continue renting.