A short note on the riots in Jerusalem

Big, violent riots in Jerusalem (July 22-23 2017). Last week, three Arabs Muslims with Israeli nationality killed two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem. Reminder: All of Jerusalem is under the control of Israel, has been since 1967. Before that, under Jordanian rule, Jews were banned from the Old City. The broader city today has a diverse population that includes Jewish Israelis, Muslim Israelis, a few Christian Israelis, Palestinian Muslims, a handful of Palestinian Christians, plus a constant flow of visitors from abroad. In addition, most Palestinians from the adjacent West Bank are allowed to visit on a controlled basis, for religious purposes only.

Israel gained control of Jerusalem in 1967 the same way the Muslims did in the seventh century: Military conquest legitimized by Sacred Scriptures.

As we all know, Jerusalem is a sacred city to several religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam (by order of historical appearance). At the center of the preoccupations of the three monotheistic religions is a place called the Temple Mount. It’s the spot known as the last Jewish temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD (or “Common Era”). The supposed last vestige of the Jewish Temple standing is the Western Wall (also, “Wall of Lamentations” for Jews) where Jews from everywhere, including Israel come to pray. The Christian Gospels show Jesus visiting the same temple several times including shortly before his crucifixion. Muslims revere the area because the Prophet Muhammad is said to have started there his whirlwind “Night Visit” to Heaven. It’s so important to Muslims that they built there not one but two mosques after they conquered the city in 630. One of the two mosques, the Dome of the Rock, is supposed to have been established over the place where Abraham sacrificed his son (one of his sons, not the same son, depending on which religious tradition).

Now, Jews are forbidden by Israeli law as a well as by some rabbinical religious decisions to visit the area occupied by the mosques. It is administered jointly by a Muslim clerical organization and by Jordan (Reminder: Jordan is an Arab country with a peace treaty with Israel.) Two consequences. First, frictions between Jewish worshipers and Muslim worshipers in the area are rare although they pray within a stone throw of each other. (Metaphor not chose at random.) Second, the top of the Temple Mount, the largest part of the area where the two mosques stand, is very seldom visited by Jews at all. It’s overwhelmingly used by Muslims, day in and day out. Repeating: If you threw a stone in the air on an average day while standing in that area, it would fall down on a Muslim or on no one at all. (Christians seem to not be much interested in visiting that particular spot.)

Following the assassination of two of its policemen last week, Israel took common sense security measures against repeated acts of terrorism in the Temple Mount mosques area. By the way, the two Israeli policemen assassinated were not Jews. They were Druze, people whom some Muslims consider Muslim and many not. No one, at any rate, thinks Druze are Jewish. The fact is that the assassinated police officers were working security in or near an area frequented by devout Muslims, rather that one of the many more numerous Israeli Jewish policemen (or worse, policewomen). This suggests to me that official Israeli policy was reasonably alert to Muslim faithful’s sensitivities.

The Israeli authorities took two new security measures (amazingly late in the game, if you consider the volatility of the area). They installed both surveillance cameras and metal detectors on the access points to the mosques esplanade. That’s was precipitated the rioting and yet more deaths, plus, the formal declaration of the Palestinian Authority that it was stopping all contacts with Israel (of which, more later). Now, I can sort of understand the Palestinians’ objection to the cameras. Many must imagine that Israel will use the film to spy on them further although it’s difficult to see how or what that would accomplish beside identifying criminals after the fact. The metal detectors are the same tools in place in almost every airport in the world. They can help intercept guns and knives.

Refer back up to the description of who spends time in the mosques area: Muslims. So here you have it: Palestinians, who have to be almost all Muslims, are rioting violently to protest security measures that will protect…Muslims. What serves as their government, the Palestinian Authority, cuts off contact with Israel also in protest. But Israel acts as a customs office for the said Authority. It collects monies on its behalf and faithfully hands them over. Palestinians protest common sense Israeli action that protect them by making it even more difficult for their government to do its job. By doing so, they create more of a vacuum, that Israel will, of necessity, have to fill.

Some Palestinian leaders think that if they force others to shed Palestinian blood very publicly, the world is going to take pity and come and impose the kind of settlement they want. The calculus is going on seventy years old. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and it never works….

A personal note. I have had several Palestinian friends; they were easy to like for their warmth, for their courtesy, for their generosity. That’s on the one hand. I also think Palestinians are victims of history; that they have been paying for seventy years for the crimes of others. On the other hand, I have not much appreciated the Israelis I have known. They tend to have the smoothness of raw alligator skin, pretty much what you would expect of people reared in a garrison state. Politically, however, it’s very hard to be a friend of Palestinians. You try  and try, and then, they go and do something insane like this.

In case you wonder: I am not Jewish, never have been. I was raised a Catholic and I have been religiously indifferent as far back as I remember. I know my Bible pretty well (Old and New Testament). I try to study the Koran. It’s tough going because I am usually told that the translation I can understand is not legitimate. I am familiar with the Hadith second-hand (like most Muslims actually because few know Arabic).  I listen to Tariq Ramadan, a cleric or a philosopher connected to the Muslim brotherhood who speaks beautiful French and who seems to have made it his mission to explain Islam to intelligent and educated infidels. (That would be me, for example.)

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BC’s weekend reads

  1. the Economist endorses the Liberal Democrats in UK election (in Europe, a liberal democrat is roughly the same thing as a libertarian in the US)
  2. One of the most important lessons of Trump’s success is that classically liberal rhetoric and positions were not very important to voters.
  3. It turns out that Westerners are rational, virtuous, and liberty-loving, while Orientals are irrational, vicious, and slavish.
  4. The West is indifferent to Afghanistan and Iraq’s world of terror
  5. Roman slavery, revolution, and magic mushrooms
  6. What the fuck?

Artificial Intelligence and Medicine

When teaching the machine, the team had to take some care with the images. Thrun hoped that people could one day simply submit smartphone pictures of their worrisome lesions, and that meant that the system had to be undaunted by a wide range of angles and lighting conditions. But, he recalled, “In some pictures, the melanomas had been marked with yellow disks. We had to crop them out—otherwise, we might teach the computer to pick out a yellow disk as a sign of cancer.”

It was an old conundrum: a century ago, the German public became entranced by Clever Hans, a horse that could supposedly add and subtract, and would relay the answer by tapping its hoof. As it turns out, Clever Hans was actually sensing its handler’s bearing. As the horse’s hoof-taps approached the correct answer, the handler’s expression and posture relaxed. The animal’s neural network had not learned arithmetic; it had learned to detect changes in human body language. “That’s the bizarre thing about neural networks,” Thrun said. “You cannot tell what they are picking up. They are like black boxes whose inner workings are mysterious.”

The “black box” problem is endemic in deep learning. The system isn’t guided by an explicit store of medical knowledge and a list of diagnostic rules; it has effectively taught itself to differentiate moles from melanomas by making vast numbers of internal adjustments—something analogous to strengthening and weakening synaptic connections in the brain. Exactly how did it determine that a lesion was a melanoma? We can’t know, and it can’t tell us.

More here, from Siddhartha Mukherjee in the New Yorker (h/t Azra Raza).

And, in the same vein, here are some thoughts on terrorism.

What’s happened tonight

Hello, dear community! I wasn’t able to write here for quite a long time, but what’s happened tonight changed my mind and I feel an urgent need to share my experience with you.

What is a peaceful living? Seems that majority’s answer is “to feel safe in your country, in your house, to have enough money for living and inspiration for self-realization, etc.”. Well, edge of a corner is a feel of safety. And I’ve lost it tonight.

Just imagine. It’s 3 p.m., you sleeping in your bed, watching 10th dream and declining internally start of a working week. And then suddenly you awaken by door bell, there’s a lot of police outside, an ambulance (accidental heart-attack of your neighbour), bomb-finding squad with trained dogs and around 300 people on the street, scared to death. Evacuation. In night, which’s dark as shit, soldiers trying to find bomb: somebody called to police hot-line and reporting a chance of terroristic attack on our building. It’s a phone terrorism – 3 years of a jail in Russia. They didn’t found anything, so we were able to move back in one hour.

But will you be able to sleep again? I wasn’t.

Two hours of total sleep, wasted day at work… And know what? It’s a PTSD – posttraumatic stress disorder. I’m afraid to go home. Afraid to sleep. Because I’ve lost that sense of safety in my own house. You can be killed on a street (optional joke about hard living in Russia), you can die in car accident or somewhere else. But your house – is your fortress. Fortress with paper walls.

Be safe.

Gun Control Works Just Fine in France

In semi rural Normandy, in France, a mass is interrupted by two young men who speak Arabic among themselves. They force the aged priest to kneel. They demand that some of the faithful present video the next scene. Then they cut off the priest’s head with a long knife. They don’t shoot him!

After this, they take several people hostage, injuring one seriously and they attempt to escape. The police are waiting for them outside and shoot the decapitators dead.

In this true story, only the police had guns just like liberals and President Obama want it to be the case in the US. The murderers almost did not commit their crime because they only had one gun that was not even functional, almost didn’t.

ISIS quickly claimed the crime as committed by some of its “soldiers” (brave soldiers, murdering an eighty-year old priest). One of the dead assassins was immediately identified as a local young man. He was on electronic bracelet parole after being arrested in Turkey and sentenced for trying to join Islamic State. The French authorities don’t joke when it comes to terrorism!

The main French imam condemned the crime immediately and in the most vigorous terms. He did not comment on the mode of the assassination, beheading. He did not speculate whether this could have some cultural resonance for some Muslims, given that the Prophet Mohamed himself demonstrated a certain preference for beheading as a way to dispatch his enemies. (References on request.)

The French are brain frozen. No one in France has wondered publicly about what would have happened if one of the faithful at mass had carried a hidden handgun.

The Nice Massacre

Following the massacre in Nice yesterday, I am hearing comments on radio that, together, would have one believe that it could not happen here, that it’s somehow the fault of the French themselves. I think that’s a dangerous dream.

Americans have to get past the Irma la Douce fantasy about France that many still shelter in their hearts. The French do not wile away their days at sidewalk cafes terraces brimming with insouciance. (That means a “devil-may care” attitude.) France is an industrial society pretty much like the US though without most of the inventiveness. Its economic policies for the past twenty years have been stinky. The causes of the French stagnation would sound familiar to any Bernie Sanders supporter. The current government of the Socialist Party differs from the Obama administration in matters of degree only. The same la-la-la Land dream occupies the minds of most of the French Left as of most American liberals. If anything, the French tend to be more realistic because they have had more experience of its failures.

It’s not the case that France has had an open borders policy as I have heard say on conservative radio today. Nevertheless, for historical reasons, France probably has many more Muslims proportionately than the US has. “Probably” because no one knows who is really a Muslim; no one really knows who is really a Catholic. The only thing that’s more or less known is the number of Muslims names. There are many. Most are French citizens by birth.

The current French Minister of Labor has a Muslim name. People with Muslim names are present throughout all levels of French society. They are in banking, in entertainment. The most popular French citizens probably have Muslims names; they are in sports. By and large, such people are well integrated within a mostly religiously indifferent French society. That is, as well as can be done within an economically stagnant society with a permanent unemployment rate of 10%, 20% for the young. How much discrimination there is against people with Muslim names is anyone’s guess. The fact is that immigrants with Muslim names keep trying hard to move to France. Not many try to move to Egypt or even to Saudi Arabia, for example, where the fate of immigrants may be even worse.

This large population with Muslim names is seen from the US as providing a bottomless pool of jihadist recruits. That’s true but it should also be an asset in combating violent jihadism. Thousands of French police personnel have Muslim names. (The police officer murdered outside Charlie Hebdo was one such.) Hundreds if not thousands of police and other security personnel are fluent in diverse dialects of Arabic. This is more, of course, than can be said of their American counterparts.

The French intelligence services have earned the respect of their allies. The country was not caught sleeping after the Bataclan slaughter. It had been under a state of emergency lightly suspending some personal rights. The state of emergency was slated to be removed in the coming days. Perhaps, someone did not want it to stop although it’s hard to believe given how light it was.

As I write on July 15th, there has been no claim by any Islamist organization. The only thing known is that the driver of the truck, the murder weapon, was a person of Tunisian origin who was probably a French citizen. That’s not enough to prove a link to Islamist terrorist organizations. The man was known to the police as a petty criminal (a familiar story). Note that a petty criminal is one who is not very successful, one at the bottom of the criminal pecking order. He was also undergoing a difficult divorce. I speculate that jihadist organizations provide people of Muslim origin undergoing personal difficulties a high-sounding excuse for venting their anger on the innocent many.

If there was indeed an involvement of ISIS or Al Qaida, no reason for the attack on civilians need to be found. They hate Westerners, irrespective of what Westerners actually do. The fact that France has been publicly involved in fighting Islamist terrorism in two theaters – in Iraq next to the US and in Mali may have made it a priority target for jihadists.

With this group assassination the lack of scruples of violent jihadists is confirmed again. Given the number of victims, the circumstance and the location of the crime, there is a 100% certainty that some of the victims have Muslim names. (By the way, the best video of the event was supplied by an Egyptian tourist.) I wonder if this is going to prompt Muslim organizations everywhere, including in the US, to do more than passively deplore the crime. I wonder if this is going to lead to request for energetic surveillance measures involving the breeding marshes of violent jhadists, which are not Lutheran seminaries or Buddhist monasteries. I ask because, under Obama, in this country, we are paralyzed by political correctness as if avoiding bruising the feelings of some was well worth a few hundred blown up civilians here and there.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Freedom of the Athenians (book review)
  2. The Myth of the Myth of Barter
  3. Trade Liberalization and Growth: New Evidence (pdf)
  4. From West Philly to Gulshan e Iqbal and Back
  5. Obama’s Witness for the Prosecution
  6. When Your Dream Lovers Die