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.
Quiet
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:

Smoking
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.
Laundry
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.

Mouse Update

Published at 11:35 on 22 December 2023

When I wrote this, I had not, in fact, caught all the mice.

Signs of mouse activity quickly resumed. Then began the game of strategically redeploying traps in an attempt to catch the other ones. A week later, I caught one in a trap baited with a piece of a walnut. Then began a further week with continued high mouse activity and no caught mice.

Eventually, the idea to try a different sort of bait occurred to me: something savoury, greasy, and meaty. I had heard that sometimes mice go for such things, so I borrowed a handful of dry dog food from a friend and left a piece of kibble out in an area of the kitchen with particularly high mouse activity. Within four hours, the kibble was gone.

So I promptly re-baited two traps with dog kibble that had been baited with Tootsie Roll (of which I had read can attract mice, but which these mice showed approximately zero interest in). The traps were ignored. So I made a trail of kibble bits leading to one of the traps. The mouse ate the trail and left the trap alone. So I left another trail, this time ending closer to the trigger. The same thing happens. Try a third time, this time ending under the trigger, since that type of old-fashioned snap trap can be tripped by lifting the trigger as well as depressing it. The trail gets eaten except for that last little kibble bit under the trigger.

It was at this point I nicknamed the offending mouse “Einstein,” because it had apparently managed to learn how mousetraps work. I complain to the landlord and get him to redouble his efforts at sealing off all entrances, and to seek the services of a professional exterminator.

A few days later, I get the idea of swapping out the bait in another trap in another area with high mouse activity for a piece of dog kibble. This is also wooden snap trap but it has a wide plastic trigger instead of a traditional metal one. Because there is no easy way to tie bait to this trigger with a piece of wire, I just place the kibble atop the trigger. Einstein promptly steals the bait, leaving the trap untripped.

So I try again, this time hot-melt gluing the bait onto the trigger. If you have ever observed a small rodent eat, you will notice that they prefer to do so by standing on their hind legs and holding the food in their front paws while they nibble on it. I figure the mouse will want to do that, which will lead to tugging on the stuck bait and a hopefully sprung trap.

And at long last, my newfound optimism at a new strategy is borne out. The same night that happens, a second mouse visits one of my other traps baited with walnut and gets caught by it. So I go from a week with no success to two dead mice in a single night.

That was now a little over a week ago, and there has been no sign of any new mouse activity since then. So I now feel reasonably safe concluding that my mouse problem is probably over, at least for this season.

Some takeaways:

  • Peanut butter is not always best. It is reputed to be the best bait, and virtually every source out there about dealing with mice recommends it highly. Well, these mice showed exactly zero interest in peanut butter. If, after a few days, you have no success with peanut butter, it is probably best to start considering other bait types.
  • Watch what they nibble on. One of my catches was in a trap baited with granola, since I had noticed an old, reused granola bag get nibbled on by a mouse.
  • Try similar baits. Peanut butter never worked, but that got me to try another type of nut butter (sunflower). That didn’t work, either, but it led me to try walnuts. Half of the mice I caught were in traps baited with walnut pieces.
  • Try dog food or jerky. Some mice like meaty, savoury things. A mouse that showed zero interest in any other type of bait came for dog food.
  • Multiple traps are good. Anywhere you see signs of mouse activity is a good place for at least one trap. No area with signs of mouse activity should be more than a few feet from a trap.
  • Multiple types of trap are good. These mice never came to any of those newer-style “improved” plastic traps, ever. The only traps that caught mice for me were old-fashioned wooden traps. Of those, Victor makes some with a new-style wide plastic triggers. Those were by far the most successful type, catching three of the four mice. I would have never learned this, and would probably still be struggling with a mouse infestation, had I not been willing to try different trap types.
  • When using old-fashioned wooden traps, leave nothing to chance. The disadvantage of these traps, and the motive for most improvements on them, is that if the mouse approaches from the back and sometimes the side, it will evade the kill zone even if the trap goes off. Such traps must be placed inside a little box, or between objects arranged so as to guide the mouse into the kill zone, to maximize their chance of success. Likewise, solid baits should be affixed to the trigger by gluing or tying with fine wire to promote tugging and minimize the chance of bait theft.
  • Incrementalism can be helpful. I never caught Einstein until I first baited a trap with a new bait and did not secure the bait. This probably taught the mouse the lesson that it was possible to steal from a trap of this design with this bait. On the second visit, when the mouse’s guard was down, the bait had been glued to the trigger. No more easy lifting. Snap!
  • Exclusion is key. I do not think it is a coincidence that I caught two mice in one night right after the landlord redoubled his efforts at closing all possible avenues of rodent ingress and egress. I believe this trapped two mice inside, and once they realized they could no longer go outdoors to feed on garbage (I have been meticulous about cleaning up crumbs), there was no ready food source left for them save the bait on my traps.

Israel’s War Crimes

Published at 10:25 on 21 December 2023

The verdict is out (as much as there can be such a thing), and Israel almost certainly committed war crimes in its attacks on al-Shifa, which were not justified.

Yes, there was some evident Hamas tunnel infrastructure found on the hospital grounds, as I mentioned here about a month ago. However:

  • Contrary to Israeli and US claims, it was not located beneath any hospital buildings. The entry that was in a building, was in an outbuilding near the edge of the hospital grounds, which was not being directly used for medical purposes.
  • Contrary to Israeli and US claims, the infrastructure was of limited size, far less extensive than the sort of major command centre that was alleged to be there.
  • There is no evidence that the Hamas infrastructure was actively being used at the time.

The article referenced in the initial link here goes into the details.

Finally, this is precisely the sort of war crime one would expect Israel to commit, based on past behaviour patterns. Israel did not know for certain that the hospital was being misused for military purposes (if they actually had better evidence going in, we would now have abundant evidence of a major command centre beneath the hospital buildings). Rather, what happened is that Israel decided to take risks based on scanty evidence with the lives of a people that it has already decided are basically expendable. It is not deliberately intending to massacre civilians, but the end result tends to be substantially the same.

Comparing the war crimes of the two sides is a bit like comparing apples and oranges: they are fundamentally different, but both are still of the same general category.

A Revealing Story

Published at 23:28 on 16 December 2023

So, Israeli soldiers shot and killed three hostages who were trying to surrender, waving a white flag. It has now emerged that, moreover, the hostages were shirtless. In other words, clearly unarmed.

Shooting an unarmed group of people waving a white flag is, of course, a flagrant and blatant war crime.

It gets worse when one asks why they did it. The most logical explanation is that they didn’t realize they were shooting Israeli hostages. This is so obviously axiomatic that I feel a bit silly typing it.

So in other words, they did it because they thought they were shooting unarmed Palestinians.

Which, of course, begs the question of how many other war crimes are being committed. The number is likely to be significant.

Caught the Mouse

Published at 14:11 on 30 November 2023

For about the past fortnight, there has been an unwanted house guest living on my first floor.

Late this morning, returning from an errand, I finally was greeted with the sight I have been hoping to see for all too long: a sprung mouse trap with a dead rodent in it. As luck would have it, part of the errand was procuring a live-catch trap (since I was having zero luck with the snap traps, and have read that the live-catch traps have a higher capture rate).

Regarding the latter point, this mouse evaded capture in a snap trap not once, not twice, not thrice, but a total of four times. I guess the critter finally let its guard down enough to let one of my traps catch it.

At least, I sure hope I caught the mouse. I.e., that there is not more than one furry little home invader to deal with. The new morning ritual of cleaning up the mouse poop has gotten very old. I am going to play it safe and hold off on returning the live-catch trap unused until at least a week passes with no sign of mouse activity.

On a related note, I have finally stopped getting nothing but the silent treatment out of the various job applications I have been sending out. Hopefully catching the mouse is a good sign that my luck has turned and I will catch a job as well. We shall see. It won’t ruin my life for this to be false optimism; I have enough saved up to be able to go without a job for a while, and the time off will be a good way to recharge.

At Last, Some Hamas Infrastructure

Published at 10:54 on 23 November 2023

I really can’t think of any other explanation for there being something like this underground.

Whether or not it qualifies as a command centre is a different matter, but again, it’s obviously there for military purposes. A civilian home would not be constructed so far underground (costly, no light, bad ventilation). A civilian bomb shelter for the hospital would be far larger.

Time’s Up; Attacks Were Unjustified

Published at 08:37 on 18 November 2023

No more evidence from al-Shifa Hospital has been presented. Domestic US media have now moved on to other subjects. Most tellingly, claims about hospital being misused for military purposes have now mysteriously vanished from the main IDF press release page about the war.

This is all precisely the behaviour one would expect when Israel is caught committing a war crime by attacking a hospital. As such, I feel safe concluding that this is what just happened.

What other war crimes are taking place? What other civilian targets are being attacked on false pretenses or inaccurate intelligence?

Update

Independent reporters have now visited a tunnel entrance near (not in) the hospital. It is actually a hospital complex of multiple buildings, and the shaft was found near its edge. Tunnels in and of themselves are not unusual in multi-building complexes; they are often constructed for purposes of running utilities between the various buildings. So the mere existence of such a thing proves nothing. The shaft was uncovered as part of other military operations, and the IDF is not allowing reporters to enter it, claiming concerns about booby traps (which, given the overall situation, is plausible).

In other words, what may eventually turn out to be preliminary evidence of hospital misuse has finally emerged, but as of now what is known is far from constituting such evidence.

Tick-Tock… Still No Evidence

Published at 12:25 on 17 November 2023

Sorry, a few random small arms don’t cut it. The reason is rather simple: it’s a hospital in a war zone. Of course there are going to be combat casualties coming there for medical treatment. Of course those casualties will sometimes have weapons on them. What is the hospital to do, put the weapons into a magical teleportation pod to get rid of them instantly? Here on Planet Reality, such weapons will end up getting stored at the hospital until someone comes to collect them.

So what has been shown so far is precisely what one would expect to find at a hospital in a war zone that is not being used illegally for military purposes. No, providing care to wounded combatants is not considered a military purpose. Sorry.

Perhaps most tellingly, the traditionally pro-Israel US media are acting pretty much as one would expect them to, assuming these attacks were unjustified: for the most part dropping the matter and hoping people will forget it.

Maybe I’m all wet and some truly damning evidence is on its way out right now. If so:

  • I will of course revise my beliefs in light of the new evidence.
  • The time window in which to produce sufficient and credible evidence is rapidly closing.

I mean, the place was supposed to have a whole command centre below it. Surely, something that large would be difficult to hide. It’s already straining credibility that it might have so far escaped detection. Another 24 hours and I don’t think there will be much reason for doubt at all: it was just a hospital, not a command centre.