Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere. So let’s just not.
In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion. In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.
I was recently delighted to discover that Daniel Harbour, one of the linguistic theorists I’ve most enjoyed reading, has a blog – about language and also other interesting topics. It’s called the “because” charade, and here’s how he explains that curious name:
My blog is called the “because” charade because what follows the word because (in a lot of discussion of science, ethics, politics, religion, …) is rarely a reason, or reasonable, or rational. And I believe that we’d all be better off if reason(ableness) played a bigger part in public life.
Recent topics have included the Pirahã controversy – an important linguistic debate, which he explains in terms a layman can understand – and the theory of evolution. A pleasure to read!
There are photos on Facebook proclaiming that “THERE IS A GENOCIDE IN SYRIA”.1 The Assad regime is, no doubt, committing mass atrocities2 for which there can be no forgiveness, and for which those responsible must be brought to justice. And it is admirable that people on the Internet are trying to raise awareness of the situation there. However, the use of the word “genocide” to describe these crimes against humanity is a dangerous inaccuracy. Continue reading There’s a genocide going on in Syria?→
I really didn’t expect to be posting anything today, certainly not this, but it seems to be quite urgent, so here I am. Google is planning to (finally) give Google Reader an overhaul. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been looking forward to that for a long time. But what I didn’t expect is that instead of integrating gReader’s social functions with G+, they’re replacing the former with the latter. No more “people you follow” feed, no more “comments view”, no more of my little clutch of gReader buddies, formed around the mutual opinion that each of the others shares interesting stuff. These people have introduced me to some of the most interesting pieces of reading I’ve come across, many of which have ended up linked to on this blog or influencing my thinking and writing.
Here are some of the posts about the shuttering that have come up (in “people you follow”, of course):
I’ve mentioned in a recent comment that I’ve slowly started reading less on Google Reader because I can’t keep up with everything. Well, the one area that is consistently 90% read-worthy is “people you follow”. Killing the social part of gR will kill the whole service for me, I’m afraid.
Don’t get me wrong: I like Google+, I like it when social networks get an overhaul, even when it forces me to change how I use them. I’m the guy who can’t wait to see the new Facebook newsfeed, not the guy who shakes his fist at Zuckerberg every time the interface is improved. Heck, I’ve specifically been waiting impatiently for a new gReader interface ever since I saw the Preview theme on Gmail. But moving the social features out of gReader will make me very sad.
Remember Eden Abergil, the young Israeli woman who became an instant Internet meme after posting photos from her army days in which she poses with bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees? (If not, Google her.)
Ido Kenan over at Room 404 brings us some news from the famous Facebook profile. The Itamar massacre has prompted her to re-post one of the most memorable photos from, as the album was called, “the most beautiful time in her life” and spew some fresh unreflected racist hatred into the net.
Seen on the right, we have, from top to bottom, a video of (reportedly) soldiers abusing bound detainees, with the charming caption “death to the Arabssssssss”; then the picture that made Abergil famous with the caption of, roughly, “fuck you, stinking Arabs!!!”; and finally a video of images from the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar with the caption “let’ssssss do a Holocaust for the Arabs nowwww and immediatelyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!”.
Kenan reports that when a friend half-jokingly warned Abergil this all might wind up on TV, she replied “Death to the Arabsssss!!!! Let it show up!!!”
It’s worth noting that back after her “beautiful” pictures originally surfaced, she apologized.
H/t to Itamar Sha’altiel. This post is not a direct translation of Ido Kenan’s post, but still mainly reproduces the information he posted, in English. Credit is due to him, I just thought this worth sharing in a way accessible to non Hebrew-speakers.
So, the EUDEC Council meeting has been over for almost a week, and until yesterday I was on self-enforced vacation, which went very well. Chloe Duff and Or Levi — who are organizing the IDEC@EUDEC 2011 Conference — were here, and a great time was had by all.
Anyway, some of has felt that during this Council meeting we reached a whole new level of effective collaboration. There are many different aspects to this and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. We spent a lot of time developing our methods, and in this post I want to share a few of the ways the Internet has become a vital part of how we work in Council. Perhaps some of you will find them useful.
What it all boils down to is simultaneous collaborative use of Google Docs, with each member working on their own laptop and the meeting moderator selectively using a projector.1
Here are the main ways we use GDocs. Some or all may be relevant to other organizations or endeavors. Scroll through until you find something you like, and let me know if you have any more ideas or any questions in the comments below!
Collaborative text editing
When Council has to create a text and we decide everyone should work on it together, we just put the text in a document, all open it, and start carefully going through it. We can add comments or make changes and everyone else sees them live. Whenever anyone wants to try something out, they can do it right away and we can discuss it immediately. It works surprisingly well, especially for putting the final touches on something that’s basically done. I would generally recommend not trying to edit any text in a group of more than three people unless you’re sure it’s very near done.
Live collaborative minute-taking
We noticed during our weekly VoIP conference calls that we can use Google Docs to take minutes live, which lets everyone contribute and improve the minutes, and saves us the bother of approving last meeting’s minutes every week. When everyone can give their input as the minutes are being written, they always end up better reflecting the collective understanding of what was discussed and decided. In this last live meeting we took all minutes this way from the start, and it worked great.
The live workplan
This one’s a tiny bit trickier to set up and makes use of spreadsheets rather than just plain documents. The live workplan is a spreadsheet in which each sheet is a day of sessions, and each row lists the title, moderator, goal, starting time, duration and ending time of an agenda slot, break or other activity. The columns where time is kept are set up so the starting time (except for the first slot) is set by the end of the previous slot, and the end of each slot is calculated from the starting time and the duration (in minutes). This means you only have to set the starting time of the first session for each day
We originally used this format2 to just create a plan for how we’ll use our time, but it eventually evolved into a live workplan, in which we can extend a session ad hoc and immediately see what that means for later sessions. This means we can be flexible about time and take extra time when we need it, but we can also tell when we’re taking too much time and starting to push important sessions off the back end of the schedule. It’s especially good to combine this system with “open work sessions” — slots at the end of a day where sit together and work on different things separately or in small groups and talk freely. These are useful if the time remains available, but not crucial when the time gets eaten up by earlier sessions.
It’s usually too complicated to start really moving things around in a full discussion, so whenever things got complicated we just decided on the immediate change or extension and one or two of us worked out the rest of the details during the next break or meal-time.
The virtual WHITEBOARD
This document is perhaps the coolest of our tools. It starts as just an empty document which we can all use for jotting down ideas and thoughts. During difficult discussions, it’s often the document we beam on the wall. The moderator can use it to write up the points we should be focussing on, adding details as they come up.
We also use the whiteboard to collaboratively keep a speakers’ list. People can add and remove themselves independently, meaning the moderator can better pay attention to the discussion itself. Having the list in a place where everyone can see it also means nobody is ever stuck wondering when it’s their turn, and any mistake made when adding people to the list (wrong order, wrong name, etc.) can be corrected without losing a moment of discussion.
We started using the whiteboard in live meetings and have just figured out they would be equally useful for our weekly “chat”. I look forward to trying it out there for the first time tomorrow.
Of course, other tools, like Etherpad or whatnot, can be used instead. I like Google Docs and it seems to suit Council’s needs very well, but that’s not what this post is about. [↩]
We got this format from either Leslie Ocker or Christel Hartkamp, I can’t remember who [↩]
The Enlightenment achieved many things, some good, some bad. About a year ago, in a conversation, I realized that one of the good things was eliminating the role of religion in public discourse and policy in Europe. One of the bad things, perhaps, is stigmatizing spirituality in the personal sphere, an unfortunate side-effect of its elimination from the public sphere.
You see, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people having faith in something supernatural, so long as they know their belief is their own business. In Israel, the Jewish religious establishment tied in with the state has never internalized the Enlightenment. The establishment, and the mainstream Judaism to which the secular majority belongs (together with some of the orthodox minorities) rejects the Enlightenment outright, denouncing it as “Hellenizing” and foreign.1
This is no accident, of course, as religion provides some of the classic arguments for the Zionist project and the resulting existence of the state. And indeed, when one views Israel through a naive Judeochristian lens, it’s really pretty amazing that a Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem exists today. This fact, particularly in isolation, has tremendous emotional power, and the state clearly cannot afford to shut up about that kind of thing.
The problem is that religion-oriented political discourse has been losing currency in the developed world for a couple of centuries now. In most of Europe it’s a thing of wacky backwards foreigners and the crazy past. That the United States re-elected George W. Bush seven years ago is evidence that in America this is still a divisive issue.
Israel is swimming backwards in this current. Where the founding generation’s Judaism was a secular nationalism with some religious symbols, religion has been creeping into politics for decades. In recent months it’s been getting positively scary. As such, it’s probably too much to hope that Israel will realize sometime soon that in today’s world, you sound like a crazy person when you claim the Bible as an authority in your favor in a dispute over land.2
And as long as hasbara goes back and forth from sounding like an attempt to change the subject to sounding like the politics of a time predating the invention of the airplane, Israel will not convince the world of anything.
I remember there used to be a load of public outcry amongst the Israeli secular and reform regarding religious coercion (kfiya datit). What ever happened to that? Is that simply a battle we’ve already lost?
Ironically, certain well-known European fascists called the Enlightenment a Jewish plot. All nationalist projects need an outside force to associate universalism and humanism with, so that they may be rejected. One cannot see all human beings as equal and at the same time consider one’s own nation especially important. [↩]
Consciously or not, this is using an excuse that has little direct bearing on most people’s current reality but is used to justify gross injustice towards large groups of people. As such, it is morally reprehensible and should be rejected outright. [↩]
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