December 23, 2019

Is the US headed towards a civil war?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:15 pm

While the country’s media has been focused on the partisan spectacle of impeachment, and the Democratic debates, something far more serious has been taking place. Activist lawmakers in several US states have passed sweeping new laws about abortion and guns. In Virginia, Democrats are working to pass major new gun legislation that has angered conservatives. Some lawmakers and the Attorney General have threatened to call in the National Guard to enforce these laws if police won’t, which has triggered many gun-owning Americans to join together into people’s militias.

All across the US, paramilitary groups have begun to form in response to gun laws passed by State lawmakers in Virginia. Inspired by the sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce Federal laws against undocumented immigrants, counties in Virginia have started the “2nd amendment sanctuaries”. The movement has quickly gone mainstream, as 90% of the counties have declared themselves 2nd amendment sanctuaries. As of November 25th there were militias in 19 states. Perhaps the 2nd amendment’s “Well-Regulated Militia” clause will finally be considered seriously, but these groups do not necessarily answer to state or federal government.

The rise of these militias will trigger the state and federal governments to take various measures to combat them, not for owning guns, but for forming paramilitary groups. Virginia’s state attorney general has said that the “sanctuary counties” resolutions may be unenforceable and also said the militias may be illegal. Indeed, various states have laws that make such paramilitary groups illegal, and it is the triggering of these laws that can spark a civil war where the state and federal governments will be in a conflicted position to fire on their own people.

At the very least, this will test the control of the State governments of their own territory, similar to the “no-go zones” rumors about some European countries. The Federal government will be especially conflicted as many of the same people who form these militias strongly support Trump and his conservative government. It is not clear how the Federal government will act if states engage these 2nd amendment militias.

In every war, the claims on both sides about the atrocities and unfairness of the other are partially correct, and often serve to inflame tensions on both sides and escalate the conflict. In this case, the civil war would be fought between the people’s militias and the state and federal governments.

In the past few years, the FBI has considered right-wing extremism to be a far greater threat to national security than Islamic extremism. But in 2020, the tinderbox may be set to explode. Expect a far graver assessment about “right-wing extremists” from the FBI, which was for decades was very active in fighting “left-wing extremists and socialists” in the McCarthy era and through programs like COINTELPRO.

But things could be even worse. Consider the following scenario: Bernie or Biden wins the Presidential election in 2020 by a small margin. Donald Trump – as can be expected – will claim that the election was rigged, perhaps being tipped by some unspecified number of undocumented immigrants somehow being allowed to vote. This may lead to an unprecedented situation in US history, of a US president unwilling to leave office voluntarily. In the debates leading up to the 2016 election he already refused to state whether he will concede defeat if the results show he lost. Donald Trump is prone to saying things were rigged against him when he loses. He has publicly floated the idea of staying on for a few more years. He has already toyed with the idea of being President for life. Donald Trump may warn his base that this country is about to fall into the hands of socialists and baby-killers who will destroy it. And if this happens, many of the second-amendment militias around the country may come out to support Donald Trump, triggering a showdown with their state governments and the National Guard. Donald Trump has already embraced the label of Nationalist and there is a large overlap between his supporters and various feelings of nationalism, against the elites and globalists in the Federal government. If you think this is far-fetched, consider that protestors around the country already threatened violence if the Federal Government impeaches Donald Trump.

Hopefully I am wrong, and none of this comes to pass, especially not after November 9, 2020.

August 6, 2017

How the Women in Tech discussion promotes Corporatism

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:00 pm

A memo by a Google employee was recently published, which pushes back on new policies the company has adopted to increase diversity and inclusiveness for women. As expected, a lot of political debate ensued around this. However, I wanted to point out a different aspect of the larger discussion taking place around women in tech, and whether there is a pay gap between the genders.

The whole conversation usually takes place in the framework that the corporate world and career advancement through corporate, full-time employment, is the goal. I am not sure everyone should be promoting this as the goal for men OR women, but as usual we are given two paths to talk about, both of which lead to a fait accompli of an existing institution. Just like the net neutrality debate – Title I vs Title II – masking the fact that the USA is already under a large, consolidated too-big-to-fail Telco Cartel, and both one-size-fits-all options do nothing to fix that problem.

We often stick our kids in public school as a daycare center, and some people even send their parents off to nursing homes, just so both parents can advance in the corporate world. People now have a lot more money but less time, and divorce more often, in part to focus more on their career. The trend is very recent, and our ancestors throughout history had much different attitudes and priorities when it came to children and parents.

As technology changes, so does how how society treats men and women. When humans hunted for food, it’s very likely men were usually the hunters. For heavy labor requiring physical strength, such as working on buildings and infrastructure, men dominate the workforce even today. Many biological characteristics may have been selected for as a result of how society treats the sexes differently. For example, I read a very interesting theory that the greater biological preference of men for promiscuity is related to how men were more expendable in war, adventure etc. which was rational since they could have many more children and wives after the war, than if the women’s lives were risked. And even today a lot of the pay gap has to do with the expectations we have that a woman would be a primary caregiver for both children and elderly, especially in the case of a divorce etc.

However, technology is also changing our very institutions, and it is the institutions that often shape our cultural choices and debates. Corporations are large organizations and like any such organizations are governed in rigid ways, and driven by outside forces to set the policy. If you want more FREEDOM (of speech, of choice to commute or not, flexibility in hours) etc. you should consider self employment and changing your local community through your own business. Whether you’re a man, or a woman.

Why, indeed, does having a work-life balance be a thing studies show women do more than men? I, for one, would like to see more genders free and gainfully self-employed (or on a small, close-knit team) instead of cogs in a corporate hierarchy. When it comes to opting out of full-time employment in the corporate system, which is only about 100 years old, perhaps we should see it the reverse way: women are ahead of men in that department, the same way China is ahead of the USA in the payments department through never having widely adopted credit cards.

One day, automation will free people up from having to work, and will fund a universal basic income. But we can already frame the gender conversation the other way: why are women more often considered primary caregivers by our institutions? Are women’s brains simply better than men’s at being a loving parent or nurse? Most of the gender pay gap is due to women having to do “two jobs” when a child is born. Taking care of the child is more optional for the man than for the woman. So conversely, I think, throughout history, having a job to support the family was more optional for the woman than for the man. Most of the talk about women in tech ignores what happens in the home. But there are going to be a lot more conversations once people’s times get freed up from corporate jobs.

July 31, 2017

My analysis of the Ben Shapiro – Cenk Uygur debate at Politicon 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:33 pm

OK, so I never got my Bernie vs Trump debate so many people in the country wanted to see so badly. Maybe not the debate we deserved, but the one we needed. At least I got my Bernie vs Cruz debate later. And that drew a nicely sized crowd!

Well, here comes the Ben Shapiro vs Cenk Uygur debate. Both are really smart guys, with different approaches to politics. Both have large followings, and yesterday didn’t disappoint in terms of turnout! However, in other ways, it was a mixed bag and disappointment. I wanted to share my thoughts on the first 15 minutes below:

Beginning: The crowd definitely has more fans of Ben than Cenk, as can be seen by the amount of people cheering and booing for the mere mention of their names or when they came out. As political debates usually go, the majority of the crowd is unlikely to change their mind in response to logical points, so we, the online audience will have to ignore the cheers and boos for the rest of the debate 🙂

4:50 Ben: “You can only have two of Affordability, Universality and Quality”. In Israel, for instance, they have all three. Quality of medicine is world renowned, and Israel has better health outcomes than the United States on many fronts. Wait times are much lower. And of course everyone in Israel has access to affordable healthcare – even a tourist like myself. And the country can afford it, which is true of every developed country around the world except the USA.

6:40 Cenk: “I really want to make sure Ben’s opinions are heard… and there’s an exchange of ideas. Believe it or not there are some things we agree on…” I applaud Cenk for saying this right at the outset. There is too much left vs right political bickering today, when the public agrees on so many things. I sent an email to Ben before the debate, asking him to emphasize just how much agreement both sides actually have on many issues. Too bad he didn’t read it.

7:10 Cenk: Actually answers the moderator’s question, invokes Ben’s own statements, and points out that Obamacare was based on Heritage foundation. Finally talks about public support for Medicare (77%), Medicare for All (60%), Federally Funded Insurance for All (61%) and ribs Democrats for not having the guts to support popular bills the people actually want. Finally explains that healthcare is different than sneakers and other goods.

10:30 Ben: “It is going to lead to a decrease in the number of people entering the medical profession, and decrease the level of care overall.” This is simply contradicted by data around the world. In many countries where there is universal health care (and in fact, single payer systems) there are MORE doctors per capita (not less as Ben’s theory predicts) and MORE hospital beds per patient, LOWER rates of infant mortality, HIGHER life expectancy. And BETTER health outcomes. And lower prices per capita, and lower growth of prices too. Around the world, the USA pays the most per capita for healthcare. Yet, its wait times were the among longest in the developed world even before ObamaCare (even ignoring the “infinite wait times” of those who can’t even afford basic healthcare). USA has been ranked dead last in certain cohorts.

Something that used to be a good in the past (let’s say, running water via aqueducts) became a right today (access to clean running water). And so forth. Believe it or not, something can be a good traded in the marketplace (fruits) and we can still try to make sure everyone has access to it (food stamps or UBI, or single payer systems).

I’m going to stop here because I can see where this is going, and if someone comments on my analysis above, they can actually address what I’m saying.

July 21, 2017

Putting Money where my Mouth Is

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:09 pm

Steven Pinker in “Better Angels of our Nature” remarks how humans have become less violent over every timescale (millennia, centuries, decades etc.) and proposes several reasons: better medicine, richer society, etc. But a major one is how we expand our notion of who we empathize with. It used to be the family, the tribe. Then it became the commonwealth, the country. Now it’s a globalized society, with facebook, etc. and we are debating animal rights, more people than ever are becoming vegetarian, etc.

What would it look like in a post-automation future, though? Capitalism drives technology ahead but creates externalities. People who are unemployed still need to eat. So a form of Basic Income / Single Payer is inevitable. But also, on the COMMUNITY level: entire communities can go bankrupt. Detroit and Puerto Rico are recent examples, with Illinois approaching bankruptcy. In Europe, the PIIGS countries had similar fates after joining the Euro. Why? In the case of Detroit, automation played a big role. But one thing common to all of these is that they can’t print their own currency. They don’t have control over their own monetary policy. But more than that, trade imbalances can carry dollars / euros away from the country, leading to more austerity / unemployment. Automation may exacerbate this if capital is concentrated in some sectors and not others.

I think that decentralization is a crucial component to making communities resilient. The Bristol Pounds currency is a big inspiration to me. They have their own local currency, that’s worthless outside Bristol. That means it circulates inside, and the community can’t run out of it. This makes it more resilient and vibrant. Oakland just opened its own bank to serve local businesses, becoming the first city in the country to do so.

If you think about where the value of money comes from, it’s the confidence of being able to trade it for something you want at the time. So, the more people accept it in your community, the more valuable it is to the community. This is a network effect, and really, *money is an app*, which can run on a community platform. So it makes it perfect for Qbix Platform.

Today with Etherium, new currencies can be produced that take advantage of a global consensus. But we don’t even need a global consensus within a smaller community. The Interledger Protocol enables payments across communities. Communities can have their own currencies, and there doesn’t have to be a global ledger or wasting energy for proof-of-work mining. This is a major breakthrough in decentralization. (In fact, peer-to-peer payments and Secure ScuttleButt Protocl are the next step in true decentralization.)

The Right Way to do Basic Income

I’ve spent years debating politics and economics with people across the political spectrum, and it’s paid off. In my other posts, I have explained how a Universal Basic Income is an inevitable outcome of automation and not just helps people survive, but helps both increase liberty and efficiency of labor markets. Now, I think I know exactly how to implement it.

It has to be built into the local currency.

Prices vary from place to place, but they are typically similar within a certain local community. People ask, “how can we afford a Basic Income, and who is going to pay for it”? They have in mind a progressive tax scheme, some sort of negative income tax where everyone files a tax return, etc. Libertarians object that force is involved when taxes are collected. But none of that has to happen. The community simply has a currency that almost everyone accepts, and this currency automatically prioritizes people’s basic needs before everything else. It’s built into the system.

Ultimately I’d like to see a currency which has the following properties:

  • It’s a cryptographically secure app run by a local community
  • There’s provably random polling of community people to see how much they spend on basic necessities
  • This determines the rate of inflation – which is linear like ETH and not exponential – and everyone in the community gets UBI this way.
  • (Optional) If the community wants to lower prices for e.g. food, it can implement a single payer system by having the first hop for each coin be earmarked for food, etc. and put pressure on the food vendors to keep their prices low for that hop. In any case, after it’s spent, the coin behaves like every other.

This seems to me to capture the right model for everyone. Money stays in the community. Everyone needs to eat / have health insurance / etc. anyway, and there is no free lunch: everyone has to pay for these things anyway without or without wealth redistribution. So the living wage is built into the currency itself, with the option to collectively bargain for the basics. No one is taxed to pay for the basic income, there are no political decisions around that. The inflation is managed proportional to the cost of basic living. And even the voting is replaced by random polling, to minimize problems associated with voting (which I wrote about before).

The only political decisions would be around who to accept into the community, basically guests could “immigrate” and receive the UBI, or just visit.

February 24, 2017

Binary Sync

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:29 pm

If you’re writing software that works across more than one computer, you often run into situations where you want to sync things. I certainly did, and I came up with a way of thinking about sync that I want to share.

Sync Can Be Easy

Some scenarios are actually easy to sync. For example, if you have associations between any two classes of things, like Contacts and Labels. Imagine a spreadsheet where Contacts are rows and Labels are columns. In each cell, you store a 0 if there is no association, or a 1 if there is.

Let’s also assume that at some point the spreadsheets on both computers have been synchronized. Since that point, they have diverged: some 0s have changed to 1s, and some 1s have changed to 0s. New rows or columns can be thought of as putting 1s where “virtual” 0s were previously in the synced spreadsheet, and deleted rows or columns are thought of a putting 0s in the corresponding cells.

Now, to sync, all you have to do is find out the cells that have changed on either side since the sync, and use the new values. You can actually represent all the cells as bits in a long string and do the sync in just four bitwise operations on all the bits in parallel:

sync = ((original xor versionA) or (original xor versionB)) xor original

And just like that, all the new changes have been incorporated. I’m sure this has been rediscovered again and again by various people, but since I haven’t seen it described anywhere, I’m writing it up here and calling it the Binary Sync.


The binary sync is easy to implement and understand. It works because whenever there is a change from the original, it either happens in one or both copies, there are no other possibilities. It also works for syncing N devices at the same time. However, to use this sync, each device needs to store a copy of the last sync result that was performed.

Although the sync produces a useful result, there is a caveat. The result depends on when you sync. If since the last sync, one device makes a change and reverts it, and the other makes the same change but don’t revert it, then the sync reflects the change. However, if there was an intermediate sync after the change was made, then the sync reflects the reversion. If you want full consistency among N participants, you have to have a consistency protocol in conjunction with the binary sync protocol.

More Complicated Sync

The binary sync is easy to implement and understand, and it works for a great variety of cases to produce useful results. As I mentioned earlier, associations between members of sets X and Y are a prime candidate for this type of sync. This means it’s also good for symmetric graphs (which can be represented as tuples) or directed graphs (which can be represented as triples). Triples can represent predicates in RDF, and many other things. Any time you “add and remove connections” between things, you can use this sync.

Another benefit of the binary sync is theoretical: by expressing non-binary sync in terms of binary sync, you can see the trade-offs in various syncing strategies! For example, operational transformation and modern multi-client sync strategies are designed to handle things like trees where children may be re-ordered besides simply added and removed. All the changes between nodes and edges can be done with the binary sync, but the changes in ordering between edges of a node must be done in some other, separate algorithm.

Even this other algorithm, can sort of be analyzed in terms of the binary sync. For example you can express it as storing an ordinal along with each triple, making it a quadruple. Now two different devices do two different permutations on the order of children of a certain node, changing fourth member of the quadruple of some/all of them. You can do a binary sync and then apply some operation to “flatten” or “project” the quadruples into some canonical ordering.

Beyond Sync

Once you start wanting to synchronize multiple clients editing a single document, you may want to consider simply storing the operations that were done, in order, and then sync will consist of trying to do as many operations as possible until you get stuck. That’s the approach we take at Qbix for arbitrary multi-user “streams” and “messages”.

But if all you want to do is synchronize some associations between contacts and labels, consider binary sync 🙂

January 22, 2017

The Danger of Drones

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 2:45 pm

As you know, one of the major themes of this blog revolves around the effect that design of technology and control of information has on society. I’m a big proponent of decentralization in computer networks and run a company that’s been working to achieve it, but at the same time I’m always interested in understanding the trade-offs between centralization and decentralization.

When it comes to drones, there seems to be an unprecedented combination. For the first time, autonomous robots with increasing intelligence will have ready access to public spaces. Self-driving cars are another example, but they are expensive to produce. But because of how cheap it will be to produce programmable drones, this can create a serious problem for society.

Our social systems aren’t designed to cope with AI, and many rely on inefficiency on the part of current actors, or “security through obscurity“. When a driver does a hit-and-run, we at least have a lead (the car, the human) and can set up some sort of retaliatory mechanism as a deterrent. Terrorism is largely a problem of technology (e.g. swords vs the gunpowder plot vs 9/11). When drones produced by no-name manufacturers are programmed and dispatched by anonymous individuals, they can wreak all kinds of havoc, without any repercussions. It takes 1 out of 10,000 rogue actors (whether nutcases, terror cells, other countries, etc.) to do something. If Amazon has its way and drones are legalized, whatever framework we adopt, what is to prevent a drone from taking off and doing damage anonymously? Even with zero malicious intent, an increase in heavy drone traffic raises chances of death by impact. But having anonymous drones equipped with bombs or things like this seems like a real danger. It seems to be an arms race that’s coming up faster than the AI arms race that lots of people are concerned about.

And yet there is no way to stop the progress of technology. This is one place where decentralization may not be such a good thing. What can we do?

November 8, 2016

The Alternative Vote

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 12:48 pm

I’ll tell you all what I really think. The problem in this election isn’t Trump or Hillary. The fact that you have only two choices is just the symptom of the problem. The real problem is the VOTING SYSTEM.

The real reason billionaire Mike Bloomberg didn’t run for President was because he was afraid to take more votes from Hillary so his run would make Trump or Cruz more likely to be elected.

The only reason Bernie didn’t run as a third party candidate was that he was afraid to split the liberal vote with Hillary. Many of his supporters are struggling with having to “hold their nose” and vote for her.

So many people are afraid of voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein because they’d be “wasting their vote” and helping the other guy they are so afraid of.

ALL THESE PROBLEMS can be fixed by a simple change in the voting system. This change can be implemented state by state, county by county. Want to improve your country? Change your local system to use the Alternative Vote!!!

In the Alternative Vote, you can indicate more than your top preference – you can rank people in order, thereby putting your favorites on top and your least favorites on the bottom. Bernie could run without hurting Hillary. Voting Johnson could be done with a clear conscience. Just put eg 1: Johnson 2: Bernie 3: Hillary 4: Jill Stein and Last: Trump!

This system is already used in Australia, India, etc. In the USA your lack of choice happens because everyone knows they can ONLY indicate their top choice and there is NO WAY to indicate preferences among the other candidates. This leads all this perversion.

Does the Alternative Vote system have some issues? Well it has better statistical properties than our current First-Past-The-Post system, on almost every measure. No voting system is perfect, but if our country used the Alternative Vote we wouldn’t be so divided, hateful of the other side, fearful that voting for someone we truly believe is the best is only going to help the person we really don’t want. It’s sad to see my country so torn over such a simple root cause. All this anguish over the last year and all this money spent, could have been spent on reforming the voting system. It doesn’t take that much. We can start in our local communities, and next time, we can be more united as a country, and have more choice!

June 24, 2016

The New Nationalism!

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 3:41 pm

I often write about the benefits of decentralization, when it comes to computer platforms like Facebook and Google. Today I want to talk about a different kind, that’s happening right now “in the real world”.


Donald Trump ran on a campaign that “we don’t win anymore”, and on starting a trade war with China and Mexico. He spoke forcefully against illegal Mexican immigrants, and “putting a stop to” immigration of Muslims. Now, he is the nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States. The not-so-secret reason this is happening is because a populist Nationalism has become a growing movement, fed by years of fear-mongering about “the others” – whether it is other countries unfairly trading, immigrants stealing our jobs, or refugees raping/attacking our people. In the USA, this was done by conservative news outlets.

In the UK, there has been a growing nationalism as well. The counterparts to Donald Trump over there would be UKIP and Boris Johnson, who may be next in line for Prime Minister of the UK after Cameron, who has just announced his impending resignation. While certainly more measured than Trump, Johnson’s bravado, hair and general appearance bear a certain resemblance to Trump’s. I think it’s more than mere coincidence.

There is nothing new under the sun, however. Liberals and human rights activists throughout the world had better be vigilant. History will judge how all this New Nationalism will turn out. For a history lesson of what unrestrained right-wing conservative nationalist rhetoric can lead to, read about the Stabbed-In-The-Back myth that planted the seeds for the rise of the Nazi party a decade later. Back then, the villains were communists, Jews, and “others” who did not belong to the nation.

Peaceful break-ups

England had just voted to secede from the European Union, becoming the first country to ever do so. In a close national vote, 52% of the country lodged an arrow in the heart of the dream of a “unified Europe”. Now there is talk of whether any other countries will follow suit. Almost immediately, the nationalist factions in France and Austria renewed calls for their own referendum. This is especially interesting news for Russia, whose news outlets joined the chorus of voices asking whether the end of the EU has come.

But the UK faces a more imminent danger of staying intact. Despite the name “United Kingdom”, the vote showed just how divided the British public is when it comes to membership in the EU. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to “stay” in the EU, as did London elites, yet were beat out by the “leave” throughout the rest of England and Wales.

Less than two years ago, Scotland held its own referendum on separating from the UK, which lost in a 45%-55% vote. The Scottish National Party, the largest political party in Scotland, has said in their manifesto that it would call for another referendum if the UK leaves the EU. Well, that has just occurred.

If Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar leave the UK and rejoin the EU, England will become politically isolated even within on its own island. My personal feeling is that, when the next steps play out over the next few years, the primarily English decision to leave the EU may have turned out to the most short-sighted national democratic decision since the Palestinians voted Hamas into power in 2006. Still, it is the will of the People, and at the end of the day, we are talking about large, wealthy nations, so things are probably going to be okay either way.

Adjusting the map

The UK is not made of colonies, nor even countries in its orbit, as the US might consider many Caribbean countries. Rather, it is a United Kingdom of countries that currently enjoy great unity but share an uneasy history of political unificationwars for independence, and cultural imposition. It is closer to the USA in its unity. Yet, unlike the USA, it has peaceful, political provisions for secession. This allows the Kingdom to break up.

Not many people know that the USSR was a federation whose Constitution allowed for secession, and which led to its peaceful break-up and dissolution, following the secession of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The EU and UK have provisions for peaceful secession.

On the other hand, when the Constitution of the USA replaced Articles of Confederation, it effectively outlawed secession, transferring ultimate national sovereignty to “We the People” of the entire USA. The largest attempt to secede led to a bloody Civil War to preserve the union. Neither does Ukraine have a provision for a province to secede unilaterally, which is why the referendum in Crimea was never recognized and why and it waged a war for unity in the East despite bootleg referendums of Donbass.

The fate of empires

Over the last several hundred years, England’s colonies around the world gained full political independence, some through violent revolutionothers peacefully. Every empire has countries that hate it after it breaks up. The USSR vilified to this day by Hungarians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and many Ukrainian nationalists, who now want to eradicate traces of Russian cultural influence. Many Kurds, Greeks and Armenians have traumatic memories of the Ottoman empire, the latter two having been systematically attacked and tortured by Turks. But time and distance heals wounds, so the English-speaking countries are great friends today.


Many articles have dealt with the possible economic issues surrounding the Brexit. I wanted to cover the political issues. In short, we are living in a world that would have seemed surreal to liberal democrats trying to build a unified, globalized world. A counter-movement of right-wing nationalism is now leading to possible trade wars and breakups of the EU and UK. This decentralization may not be bad in an of itself, but it challenges the new globalized status quo that we have become so accustomed to in the last 30-50 years. A status quo which represents stability, cooperation, and most of all, the best way to prevent massive war through economic ties. It was, indeed, those economic ties that prevented a repeat of WW2.

We are now entering uncertain times, both economically and politically. We must not merely hope, we must be vigilant. The former US secretary of defense has just written a book warning of nuclear war. On the other hand, the secession of the UK and election of Donald Trump may actually work to normalize relations between Russia both for the US and the UK, putting to an end another dangerous trend: the expansion of NATO’s nuclear bases.

In short, because of the New Nationalism, everything you know about the current geopolitical status quo might soon change.

May 22, 2016

If Steve Jobs still ran Apple

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:07 am

What would Apple look like if Steve Jobs was still at the helm?

I pondered this question recently after another iOS bug surfaced rendering all links useless in Safari. It seems Apple’s software, once touted as “It Just Works”, has become increasingly known for bugs and unreliability. Even respected members of the Apple community pointed out with sadness the plummeting quality and major regressions. Witty criticisms from many of the Mac vs PC ads now apply more to MacOS X than to Windows.

For a company with a war chest of $203 billion liquid dollars, it’s strange why more wasn’t done to reverse this trend in declining quality and protect Apple’s longstanding reputation from taking further hits. After having become the world’s most valuable company under Steve Jobs, Apple’s market cap was now being overtaken by its rival, Google.

Under Jobs, Apple developed its iconic status as the undisputed leader in user-friendly interfaces, but since his passing, Apple has gradually become a follower. The company’s knack for user interface design, once considered the pinnacle of user-friendliness, has radically changed in favor of a Bauhaus minimalism with hidden gestures and thin typefaces. User interface experts who once praised it now say Apple is giving design a bad name.

How did this happen?

The Shakeup

Until Steve’s passing, the user interface of iOS, Apple’s fastest-growing and world-changing product, was overseen by Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall. Steve heavily promoted interfaces that felt natural and familiar, by evoking real-world objects, and Forstall shared this mindset. This was part of the “magic” that gave Apple’s software its distinctive look-and-feel, and Steve was very proud of it. The hardware’s design, on the other hand, was overseen by the talented Jony Ive, a big fan of minimalism in industrial design, who successfully turned out hits from the iPod to the iMac to the MacBook and beyond. Ive was an incredible hardware designer who left his mark on the world. But he would soon leave his mark on the software world, too.

Right after Steve Jobs left, the company was reorganized. Google and Apple had just had a big split under Jobs, and the Apple had developed its own Maps product to compete with Google. However, Apple Maps had been a big fiasco and heads were going to roll. Scott Forstall, who was in charge of that project, was fired after refusing to apologize. Jony Ive, who had been at loggerheads with Forstall over the direction iOS design was headed, was placed at the helm of both the hardware and software human interface design.

The New Normal

With both Jobs and Forstall out of his way, Ive moved quickly to remake the software interface in his own image. Everything was to be flat, minimal, and follow the same design ideology as the hardware. Everything else was dubbed skeumorphism, on which an open and public war was declared. Textures would be replaced with translucent layers. Visual controls would be reduced in favor of secret gestures. Everything would be flattened and replaced with minimal text and colors. A single talking point was developed to defend this design direction:

“When we sat down last November (to work on iOS 7), we understood that people had already become comfortable with touching glass, they didn’t need physical buttons, they understood the benefits,” says Ive. “So there was an incredible liberty in not having to reference the physical world so literally. We were trying to create an environment that was less specific. It got design out of the way.”

Jobs himself was publicly named the biggest culprit behind of the old, “kitschy” design that separated the iPhone from everything else. By switching, Apple’s design would become like Android and the new Microsoft phone, whose design Steve Wozniak had just praised over the iPhone. Apple had become a follower of “flat” design.

So, where would Apple be today if Steve Jobs was still running the place?

The Interface

First of all, Apple’s visual interface would still be distinctive today, making both the Mac OS and iOS feel “polished” and “friendly”. Textures would still allow users to quickly distinguish between the content and the buttons. Steve would never allow the iOS interface to “descend” to the same playing field as the other platforms, especially at the cost of a visually painful transition in the app store as app developers played catch-up for years. Steve Jobs knew something that Walter Gropius missed: easy-to-use does not simply boil down to minimalism, it’s about naturally fitting what a person wants to do.

The Mac App Store

After being proudly introduced by Steve Jobs on stage, the Mac App Store has been severely neglected by Apple after his death. Such was the extent of the neglect that the company forgot to renew the digital certificate for the whole store last year, preventing most purchased apps from starting with a scary message about being “damaged”. Earlier this year, they did it again, with the following message for developers:

Mac App Store customers running OS X Snow Leopard (v10.6.8) will be unable to purchase new apps or run previously purchased apps that utilize receipt validation until they install the Mac App Store Update for OS X Snow Leopard which is available via OS X Software Update.

Under Jobs, the Mac App store would have received much greater attention. Apple has been releasing great stuff for Mac developers, including Swift and Grand Central Dispatch, but Steve was always focused on making a platform on which developers can actually sell their apps.

The iPhone

Steve Jobs famously defended the form factor of both the iPhone and the iPad when they were unveiled. The original iPhone’s size, he claimed, was perfect for the range of thumb motion. A year after Steve’s death, a larger iPhone was unveiled, with the screen taller but the width remaining the same. This time, video ads showed the same “thumb argument” but now with the larger size being perfect. A couple years later, though, Apple gave in and made larger phones. These days, both versions of iPhone 6 are so wide that one can’t comfortably grip them with one hand and use their thumb as before. Apple’s “thumb commercials” were right about phones being too big to be comfortable, and under Steve Jobs, the width of the iPhone would still be the same as the original.


According to his authorized biography, Steve Jobs never really tried Siri. He was handed the iPhone 4s a day before he retired, and he was less than impressed after playing with it briefly. Sure, Steve would have wanted the iPhone to have a digital assistant, but he wouldn’t let Apple release a mediocre feature that Google and Microsoft would easily compete with. No, not the man who famously introduced Macintosh by letting it say hello. Just to give you one example from beginning to end, here is what I think Steve would have done:

  1. Form a team to find and fork the best open source voice recognition software project, like they did with WebKit
  2. Implement voice recognition entirely on the iPhone, in all languages, eliminating the need for an internet connection
  3. Oversee the design of a new “voice” platform allowing apps to hook a unified spoken “command line” and carry out actions that the user wants, with full access to the context (contacts, calendars, previously spoken lines) and ability to cooperate on different parts of a complex command (like intents / extensions do now).
  4. Direct the iOS teams to integrate all native apps with this command line
  5. Patent the crap out of it
  6. Start integrating it into a voice interface for drivers, patent the crap out of that as well
  7. Introduce it on stage with references to the Star Trek Computer.

Intellectual Property

Steve Jobs was mildly upset when he found out Microsoft released Windows. But when he learned that Android would copy the iPhone’s features, he felt betrayed and ready to go to war:

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong… I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

After his death, Apple and Google settled their patent battle over smartphone technology, ending one of the highest-profile lawsuits in tech. Their joint statement following this amicable outcome also said the two companies “have also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform.”

The Road Ahead

For the first time in 13 years, Apple’s stock has experienced its first quarterly decline. This has also been the first year that iPhone sales have declined.  Apple is likely to begin using its $200+ billion war chest to acquire overseas companies in new markets, and branch out into cars and home automation. One such acquisition is its $1 billion acquisition of Didi, a Chinese competitor to Uber. Since the company faces a large tax burden if it ever moves the money into the US under the current regime, Apple’s acquisitions will probably continue to come from overseas. However, perhaps one day it will acquire Tesla.

What’s next for Apple? Can the company still make insanely great things? Berkshire Hathaway thinks so – but, notably, not Warren Buffett, who was famously averse to investing in tech companies. It was, instead, two guys he brought on to help manage the company. Who knows what will happen to Berkshire after Warren Buffet?

January 3, 2016

A History of Foreign Meddling and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:04 am

Welcome to 2016. As many of us celebrate the new year with hopes for a better future, conflicts rage on in the Middle East, Israel, Syria and Ukraine. To achieve a better future, we have to make sense of the past and what’s still going on today.

This perspective is meant to wake you up from the Matrix. Regional differences and struggles that have been going on without huge violence, sometimes for hundreds of years, have been exacerbated by foreign intervention, funneling money and weapons to a region, paying lip service to the actual concerns of the regular people, but nearly always to further their own foreign interests — sometimes perversely and shortsightedly — but that’s just how rich countries come to operate at scale. I will give some examples of foreign meddling, and maybe you can notice a pattern.

Regional Conflicts

I’m sure you have encountered the “Zionists” being compared to “Nazis” without any irony by people passionate about “Justice for Palestinians”. The Poroshenko government in Kiev and the Rada are openly called “fascists” and a “junta” by the Russians, making references to things like Bandera, a Nazi collaborator in World War 2, etc. Assad is called a “brutal dictator without popular support” by the USA, making reference to his human rights violations. But the reality is, all of this is propaganda — it certainly has elements of truth, but ignores comparisons to other countries to avoid highlight a double standard. The “Fascists” label is designed to give legitimacy to any actions by Russia in backing rebels in Eastern Ukraine or unilaterally taking Crimea from Ukraine. The “Assad is a brutal dictator” gives legitimacy for the USA arming “moderate rebels” to fight against and destabilize yet another government. And the slogan, “Zionism is Imperialism” among others were used by the USSR to justify training and funding the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Do Palestinians have legitimate grievances, as do Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, and many others? Sure. And, if left free from meddling by foreign powers, it’s very likely that Jews and Arabs could have resolved their political issues by now. But this whole “Anti-Zionism” ideology actually hurts both sides, and prevents any local political solutions from happening. If you step back you’ll see it hasn’t worked to help Palestinians for decades, but like any ideology it’s always tried no matter how many times it fails, because it propagates itself as a meme. It is a leftover of a successful operation by the KGB. Ion Michai Pacepa, the highest ranking intelligence defector from the USSR, wrote a tell-all expose in 2003. The KGB trained leaders to put pressure on a government and to topple it — in this case the PLO was funded to topple the government of Israel, after it became clear Israel would not be Stalin’s darling socialist country in the Middle East, as it entered the USA’s sphere of influence instead. Palestine Liberation Organization is also very similar to the Liberation Theology efforts that KGB was pushing in South America. In fact, Arafat and the rest of the PLO made no secret that this was, indeed, their goal. It is only a question of how sincere his change was when they recognized Israel’s right to exist, and met with Clinton.

Nicolae Ceausescu, the head of state of Romania (Communist at the time, part of the Warsaw Pact) met with Carter and vouched for Arafat as someone who would make peace with Israelis, despite his rhetoric at the time. This led to Arafat’s relatively pragmatic “10 point program” , of which section #8 stated:

“Once it is established, the Palestinian national authority will strive to achieve a union of the confrontation countries, with the aim of completing the liberation of all Palestinian territory, and as a step along the road to comprehensive Arab unity.”

Even so, various factions in the PLO would not accept such “moderation” and broke away to form the PFLP and other organizations. Which would mean that America’s blocking of democracy among the Palestinians, all the way to Clinton’s efforts at Camp David, were futile attempts to establish a two state solution with a terrorist organizations who would never accept a Jewish Israel side by side with his state.

Now, when I say terrorist, I say so advisedly. It is not simply that the PLO adopted the KGB’s ideas about hijacking planes, or invented the suicide bomber, though these are indeed widely acknowledged acts of “terrorism” for political gain. It’s that this pattern is part of a larger narrative which repeats itself around the world: USSR or USA or Saudi Arabia or Iran sponsor and “fund rebels” on the one hand, and “prop up leaders” on the other. The big losers are always the local population. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and going on today: Ukraine, and Syria, which are funded by a triangle of Russia, USA and Saudis, among others (Qatar, Turkey, etc.). The pattern is: a country trains and funds their favored leaders among separatist rebel groups in a country that has left their sphere of influence, in order to involve the other country / ideology in a proxy war, and hopefully replace the rulers with a regime friendly to them. The most effective such leaders are usually ideological (Muhajideen, Muslim Brotherhood, Viet Kong, etc.) who can inspire masses of regular people into a frenzy, but then turn out no better than the regime they replace. (Sometimes the funds come indirectly from the private sector, because of ideology the government promoted for years.) Meanwhile, the opposing countries prop up a existing regime and funnel weapons to them, making the whole region more violent. The terror group is passed off as a “government in exile” of the oppressed people, who wind up being the biggest victims of the conflict, as Ukrainian army batters Donetsk, Assad’s forces shell Darmouk, or Israeli forces attack Gaza. I should mention, though, that Hamas was funded primarily by Gulf states and Iran, not by USA or Russia (if we ignore stealing international aid from the people they claim to represent). The lack of democratic elections in the PLO and the amassing of wealth by Arafat, Mashal, Yanukovich, and others, fits a familiar pattern too.

At the end of the day, if this leads to the collapse of the state, often the situation is worse, in absolute numbers, than it ever was before foreign involvement. The heads of the foreign countries publicly regret it sometimes, after the fact sometimes, after the fact. But even when they promise that they won’t do it, they still go ahead and do it.

The British Mandate

This is a major element in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In the beginning, when the British made some disastrous mistakes in administering their Mandate in Palestine, the worst being the maneuvering of Amin al-Husseini to the position of Grand Mufti, the President of the Muslim Supreme Council and ultimately resulted in him leading the Arab Higher Committee in Palestine. With a seething hatred of Jews, Husseini is probably the figure most responsible for the breakdown of good relations between Muslims and Jews in Palestine. Had it not been for British machinations, it’s likely that the rival Nashashibi clan been elected to represent the Arabs of Palestine, being both more popular and quite more moderate towards the Jews and willing to work with them. Instead, the resulting conflict provided more fuel to the more violent elements from both Islam and Zionism. The fuse was lit and what could have been a peaceful collaboration in building a country failed:

Samuel tried to establish self-governing institutions in Palestine, as required by the mandate, but was frustrated by the refusal of the Arab leadership to co-operate with any institution which included Jewish participation. – Wikipedia

The point of no return was probably the massacre of Jews living in Hebron in 1929. From then on, the Jews expanded their own paramilitary organization Haganah, which later formed the core of the IDF. The Haganah was the “moderate” Jewish army, as opposed to more violent organizations. The Labor Zionists that were the dominant faction among Zionists, were moderates and abhorred Revisionist Zionism and Menachem Begin, leader of the violent Irgun organization. On the other hand, Husseini gladly collaborated with Al Qassam, a charismatic preacher who personally founded the Black Hand. Both terrorist groups also targeted the British authorities, waging bloody battles and famously bombing civilians. Husseini was later exiled by the British, and went on to join Hitler and exhorting Arabs to kill Jews:

Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you.

The figure of Al Husseini is perhaps most responsible for the breakdown of Arab-Jewish relations in the region. In 1938, a British Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by William Peel found that the mandate had failed and recommended partition. It would be natural to expect that, after the British troops left, there would be some conflict and population transfer as happened in India and Pakistan. But this was considered the only way forward. In 1947, the United Nations put forth its partition plan for Palestine, a recommendation with a 72% vote in favor, which the Jewish population eagerly accepted but which was rejected by all Arab states, arguing that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter which granted people the right to decide their own destiny.

The Jewish State

This is where the vacuum left by the British began to be filled with new foreign players, with their own interests. Stalin and the USSR believed that the new Jewish state would be a friendly socialist country and would help speed the decline of British influence in the Middle East. They voted in favor of the UN resolution and helped the Jewish Agency (about to become the Israeli government) purchase military weapons from Chezchoslovakia, allowing the reorganized army to defend a Jewish state.

The day after Israel’s declaration of Independence, three members of the Arab League – Transjordan, Syria and Egypt – took control of Palestinian Arab areas and immediately attacked Israeli forces and several Jewish settlements, sparking a war. United by Pan-Arab ideas, they were drawn in to a civil war that was once again incited by Al Husseini, from his Egyptian exile. His nephew, Abd al-Qadir al Husseini led the Arab Higher Committee’s Army of the Holy War while Syria helped organize the Arab Liberation Army, a force bankrolled by five Arab states, including Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Self-determination, in their view, extended only to the Arab residents of Palestine, and the Jews were not viewed as part of the native population that had a right to self-determination after the British mandate. Leading up to the war, the Arab League’s secretary-general said:

“Personally I hope the Jews do not force us into this war because it will be a war of elimination and it will be a dangerous massacre which history will record similarly to the Mongol massacre or the wars of the Crusades. I think the number of volunteers from outside Palestine will exceed the Palestinian population.”

On the other hand, Transjordan’s King Abdullah, who was hostile to Palestinian nationalism, made secret arrangements with the Jewish Agency and Golda Meir to thwart Husseini’s and annex / federate the West Bank with Transjordan. However, learning about this, Egypt and Syria, after seeing that they could not overcome the new Jewish state, formed the All-Palestine government in Gaza, with al Husseini nominally at the head of it.

Ideologies of the war from the Palestinian Jewish side are well-known: various forms of Zionism, religious aspirations about returning to the land, secular socialism etc. and of course the practical necessity of Jewish survival and self-defense. Ideologies from the Palestinian Arab side were quite varied. They ranged from Palestinian nationalism to Pan Arabism, but also Islamic religious ideas about a holy war of a religious character. The former was claimed as the reason to oppose the UN resolution, but the latter two ideologies dragged Arab countries into a conventional military war in Palestine, exacerbating the situation that led to the Nakba — the flight of 700,000, or about 80%, of Palestinian Arabs from their homes in the region, in the ensuing war between Jewish and Arab armies.

The Israeli-Arab war took a terrible toll on the local Arab populations. Out of the Nakba, about 10% were expelled from the towns of Lydda and Ramle, following an order signed by Itzhak Rabin after a brief truce when fighting resumed. This was a tactical maneuver by the IDF, who had run out of steam: from the Israeli perspective, the operation averted an Arab threat to Tel Aviv, thwarted an Arab Legion advance by clogging the roads with refugees, forcing the Arab Legion to assume a logistical burden that would undermine its military capacities, and helping demoralize nearby Arab cities.

The majority of Palestinian Arabs during the war had been anxiously following announcements and news about the ongoing hostilities. Radio broadcasts from the Arab Higher Committee continually urged local residents to leave ahead of the advancing Arab armies. Historian Benny Morris writes:

Arab officers ordered the complete evacuation of specific villages in certain areas, lest their inhabitants ‘treacherously’ acquiesce in Israeli rule or hamper Arab military deployments.” He concluded, “There can be no exaggerating the importance of these early Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations.

Contemporary reporting from The Economist and New York Times in 1948 seems to confirm this phenomenon. Arabs who remained in Israel and, thus, acquiesced to its sovereignty, were considered “traitors” to “the Arab cause”, an offense to both Islamic and Pan-Arabist ideology. In this way, Haifa was largely evacuated of 90% of its Arab residents, despite the pleas of the Jewish mayor to stay.

Jaffa, an old city that borders Tel Aviv, actually fought the Jewish paramilitary, and in the end many Arab residents were evacuated. After the war, the Israeli leadership was loath to allow all the refugees to return, having just fought a war against a combined Arab force that aimed to drive them into the sea.  Ben Gurion said:

We must start working in Jaffa. Jaffa must employ Arab workers. And there is a question of their wages. I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has also the right to be elected president of the state, should he be elected by all. If in America a Jew or a black cannot become president of the state—I do not believe in the quality of its civil rights. Indeed, despite the democracy there, I know that there are plots that are not sold to Jews, and the law tolerates this; and a person can sell his plot to a dealer on condition that it not be bought by a Jew … Should we have such a regime—then we would have missed the purpose of the Jewish State. And I would add that we would have denied the most precious thing in Jewish tradition. But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war. Jaffa waged war on us, Haifa waged war on us, Bet She’an waged war on us. And I do not want them again to make war. That would be not just but foolish. This would be a “foolish hasid.” Do we have to bring back the enemy, so that he again fights us in Bet She’an? No! You made war [and] you lost.

Today, Arab Israelis make up half the residents of Jaffa.

Pan-Arab feelings of solidarity also precipitated another large exodus – the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. While in some countries, such as Morocco and Tunisia, Jews left willingly and often with Zionist aspirations, other countries such as Egypt made it clear that this was a consequence of the formation of the Jewish state. As the UN partition plan was being debated, the heads of the Egyptian delegation warned:

the lives of 1,000,000 Jews in Moslem countries would be jeopardized by the establishment of a Jewish state… if the U.N decide to amputate a part of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state, … Jewish blood will necessarily be shed elsewhere in the Arab world … to place in certain and serious danger a million Jews.

and Egypt’s UN representative said:

Imposed partition was sure to result in bloodshed in Palestine and in the rest of the Arab world.

In the end, 900,000 Jews left Arab countries, most going to Israel, a quarter going to France, and others going to the USA, etc. While this was not the first time Jews had been expelled from countries, it was one of the most sizable migrations, and a result of the formation of the State of Israel. Just as with Palestinian Arabs, in many cases the Jews and their families were not able to take much with them, and left everything they had built behind.

The Diaspora

While Israel, France, the USA and other countries absorbed and granted citizenship to these newly displaced 900,000 Jews, the Arabs displaced from Palestine did not fare as well. Both populations consisted of people who made a decision to leave, as well as those who were forced to leave. However, the prevailing sentiment among Arab countries was that Palestinians will one day return, and they remained in a state of war with Israel. Refusing to recognize it, they simply referred to the new Jewish state as the “Zionist regime”. This policy would have tremendous implications for the region, the Palestinian refugees, and their descendants. With the exception of Transjordan, no Arab country would offer Palestinian refugees a home on a permanent basis, whether as permanent residents or citizens. Various other countries did, among them Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Brazil, USA, Germany, Sweden etc, and today a combined 1.5 million Palestinians enjoy security and opportunities. Meanwhile, 3 million Palestinians today live in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Kuwait, in various conditions of uncertainty. In Israel, 1.6 million people live as Israeli Arabs and full citizens.

In line with its aspirations, Transjordan peacefully took control of the West Bank after the Jericho Conference where Palestinian leaders recognized Abdullah as their king, and in 1950 formally annexed the West Bank of the Jordan river and became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. All Palestinians absorbed by Jordan were immediately given Jordanian citizenship. Al Husseini protested from Gaza, but no one listened. The United States extended recognition to both Israel and Jordan on the same day: January 31, 1941. The matter of partition would have seemed to be resolved in a satisfactory manner, with two new states controlling territory of the Mandate of Palestine. From Wikipedia:

The 1950 State Department Country Report on Jordan said that King Abdullah had taken successive steps to incorporate the area of Central Palestine into Jordan and described the Jordanian Parliament resolution concerning the union of Central Palestine with Jordan. The report said the US had privately advised the British and French Foreign Ministers that it had approved the action, and that “it represented a logical development of the situation which took place as a result of a free expression of the will of the people. The major problems of concern to the United States were the establishment of peaceful and friendly relations between Israel and Jordan and the successful absorption into the polity and economy of Jordan of Arab Palestine, its inhabitants, and the bulk of the refugees now located there.

But stability was not to be. While Jordan’s Hashemite rulers were pragmatic, there remained of course Palestinian nationalist factions within the new country that wanted to “liberate all Palestine through armed struggle”. The Palestinian Fedayeen were terrorists attacking Israeli civilians, and Israel responded with reprisals to create deterrence and prevent further attacks. Meanwhile, in Jordan, Abdullah’s son Hussein declared East Jerusalem to be the alternative capital of the Hashemite kingdom, and a program of systematic Islamization and Arabization was imposed, in which Christian ability to buy land was restricted, all Jewish residents were forcibly expelled, 58 synagogues were descrated and demolished, 38,000 Jewish graves were systematically destroyed on the Mount of Olives, and Jews were not allowed to be buried there. Jews were barred from visiting Jerusalem. Thus, both Jews from Jordan and Arabs from Palestine were now expelled and denied the ability to return. Each wanted to retake land they had previously inhabited: Palestinian nationalists wanted to retake all Palestine, and religiously motivated Zionists wanted to take Jerusalem, Hebron, etc. in the West Bank.

The rest of the Arab League condemned Jordan’s annexation, instead considering al Husseini’s “All Palestine Government” in the Gaza as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people”. So what happened with Husseini and the “All-Palestine” government? According to historian Avi Shlaim:

The contrast between the pretensions of the All-Palestine Government and its capability quickly reduced it to the level of farce. It claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Palestine, yet it had no administration, no civil service, no money, and no real army of its own. Even in the small enclave around the town of Gaza its writ ran only by the grace of the Egyptian authorities. Taking advantage of the new government’s dependence on them for funds and protection, the Egyptian paymasters manipulated it to undermine Abdullah’s claim to represent the Palestinians in the Arab League and in international forums. Ostensibly the embryo for an independent Palestinian state, the new government, from the moment of its inception, was thus reduced to the unhappy role of a shuttlecock in the ongoing power struggle between Cairo and Amman.

Instead of a stable resolution, it was this kind of “government” that was favored by the Arab League. In 1952, the Egyptian military overthrew the monarchy in Egypt and established a republic, of which Naguib and Nasser became the first two presidents. Both were pan-Arabists, but Nasser was the most ambitious, establishing the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria, in which the Gaza strip was simply annexed. This “republic” was quite authoritarian, dominated by Egyptians and purged Communists and Syrian Ba’athists. Soon afterwards, a military coup in Syria put an end to the unity and restored Syrian independence.


Nasser’s relationship with Israel is a striking example of how ideologies lead countries to sponsor terrorism. Unlike Jordan, Nasser’s government actually sponsored Fedayeen to go attack Israeli civilians, in an effort to show leadership over the Arab world by being the foremost Anti-Zionist state. Despite UN security council chastisement, Nasser ignored the resolution and continued to prevent ships bound for Israeli ports from passing through the Suez canal. The USSR, disillusioned with Israel for leaving its socialist sphere of influence, switched to arming its enemies: Egypt and Syria. Israel, meanwhile, made alliances with France. This led to an arms race where France shipped arms to Israel, and USSR shipped arms to Egypt. Americans completely failed trying to broker a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, and Nasser rejected all Israel’s proposals for direct talks. The nationalization of the Suez canal in 1956 pissed off the Britain and France, and Israel joined in the military operations against Egypt.

Forced to choose, the USA sided with Egypt against Britain-France-Israel. The USSR came out the big winner, though, as Nikita Khruschev threatened Britain and France with a nuclear holocaust if they didn’t stop immediately. This decisive brinksmanship caused the USSR to gain influence in the middle east, which would play a major role for the Palestinians.

The Resistance

The PLO was established by Nasser in the aftermath of the failed United Arab Republic. It was through this organization that “Arabs of Palestine” came to be known as “Palestinians”. Despite most of the Palestinians already living in Jordan, the aim of the PLO was to become “the sole representative of the Palestinian people”. Its stated goal was the destruction of the state of Israel, called “liberation of Palestine through armed struggle”. The basic idea in the PLO’s ideology was that Zionists (without distinction) had unjustly expelled the Palestinians from Palestine, and established a Jewish state in place under the pretext of having historic and Jewish ties to Palestine.

Much like the “All Palestine Government” in Gaza, the legitimacy of the PLO as the “sole representatives of the Palestinian people” was established by jockeying of foreign governments. Egypt, with their USSR allies, threw all their weight behind the new organization. Syria, on the other hand, still considered Palestine as part of their historic land, and said as much to the PLO in the 70s.

Hussein, on the other hand, was interested in keeping the West Bank territory, including Jerusalem, under his control. The PLO under Arafat represented the majority Palestinian population in Jordan, created a “state within a state” in Jordan, and tensions grew between the Egypt-USSR-backed PLO and the Western-backed Hashemite government. These tensions culminated in Black September, a civil war that began in September 1970 and lasted 10 months. External governments, including the British, refrained from coming to the aid of the Jordanian crown, because they were under the impression that Palestinians would take control of Jordan. It was only to the poor discipline and lack of central coordination that the PLO lost. Although Hussein described the civil war “life and death” for Jordan, after winning he reacted quite moderately, signing a five point plan for Palestinian factions to honor Jordanian laws. More radical Palestinian factions, however, the PFLP and DFLP refused, and continued the civil war in order to prevent any peace agreement between Jordan and Israel. This led to the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan the following year. In 1972, King Hussein of Jordan floated the idea of the United Arab Kingdom, a federation that would have given the Palestinians the whole West Bank, unity with Jordan, and control of Jerusalem. Israel rejected the proposal straight away, as that would have meant giving up their territory and Jerusalem. But it is interesting that the PLO rejected it with extreme language, and continuing to call for the overthrow of the Jordanian crown.

It’s not that the PLO did not want to unite the West and East banks of the river. They simply wanted one thing first: to rid Palestine of the Jews and their state. If it meant destroying the Jordanian government in the process, they’d do it. One PLO spokesman said:

The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.

The USSR under Khruschev got adept at training and funding a number of liberation revolutionaries to effect regime change, such as Che Guevara and the liberation of Cuba. The highest ranking KGB defector, Ion Mihai Pacepa, described the training and funding of Arafat and the PLO in several prominent articles. Given the collaboration of USSR and Egypt, at the time, such a collaboration make sense. More evidence is that Arafat put a $1 million bounty on Pacepa’s head when he defected. Pacepa’s activities unraveled the intelligence network of communist Romania, and revealed the dealings of Nicolae Ceaușescu, its leader. It was Ceaușescu who introduced Arafat to Jimmy Carter as a potential peace partner for Israel. However, US policy, as formulated by Henry Kissinger in 1975, was that the United States:

will not recognize or negotiate with the PLO as long as the PLO does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Most of the anti-Zionist narrative we hear today is the result of refinement and promotion by the PLO, and its various factions. The distinctiveness and nationhood of Palestinians is affirmed as the ultimate basis for their claim to “all of Palestine.” By contrast, Jews are depicted as “European invaders” who, while sharing a common religion, are not even a nation. In anti-Zionist circles, Jewish ties to Israel are delegitimized through, for example, the Khazar theory of Ashkenzi ancestry that has been generally debunked through genetic studies as well as historical reality. The nationhood of Jews is routinely denied, especially citing Shlomo Sand’s book, The Invention of the Jewish People. To Muslims around the world it sounds reasonable: Judaism is a religion, the Palestinians are a people. To Jews, on the other hand, who have kept their national identity throughout their diaspora, wherever they lived, that sounds preposterous.

What constitutes a national identity is a large subject for another time, but I will say that there is no larger “nation” that Jews are a part of, whereas Palestinians are often described as, and readily admit, being part of a larger Arab nation. One of the purposes of nation-states is serving a sovereign nation, and providing a home for its members.

Today, we have ideologies on both sides which carefully curate the narrative and the materials one is exposed to. Among Israeli historians, the Zionist side reads Palestine Betrayed by Ephraim Karsh, the Anti-Zionist side reads The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe. Both have been criticized as being biased, with Benny Morris somewhere in the middle.

The takeaway

The history of the Jewish-Arab conflict is long and detailed. Books like this one by Mark Tessler present a relatively balanced account of both sides. But it is under-appreciated just how much meddling by foreign powers became the dominant factor, filling the power void after the end of the British colonial influence. Today, millions of Palestinians are stateless in many different countries, and Anti-Zionism still provides an excuse for every country except Israel to continue this situation indefinitely.

The term useful idiot is a term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause. All of us are generally guilty of it in one form or another. But when we study just how much foreign meddling caused the local people involved to suffer, we realize how the phrase “X are Nazis” might be a symptom of that. The hardest part is realizing that lofty concepts like “Justice” and “Liberty” have in fact been hijacked by rich countries, centers of ideology, to motivate regular everyday people like us into taking up arms instead of living side by side. Perhaps in 2016 we can wake up and actually start to take a hard look at the role of foreign meddling on *both sides* of a conflict, and what does to the regions involved.

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