Straight talk 4, overcoming ethnicity,
no joke. It can serve deadly ends

by  2009-07-12
this page is at

      Adolph Hitler was fixated on ethnicity. STOP! Before you read this essay, please see what my trusted friend Gordon Arnaut said, urging me not to post it. He wrote in part,

Subject: Re: Preliminary (NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION) draft of Straight talk 4, overcoming ethnicity, no joke. It's deadly!
From: gordon arnaut
Date: Tue, 30 Jun 2009 05:56:47 -0700 (PDT)

      . . . I have to tell you, as a friend . . . I think you are going too far. I don't think you can compare Zionists to Nazis. I hope to god you don't post this permanently because the pro-Israel camp will use it to discredit you as an anti-semite or a loony. You are simply giving them ammunition.
      While there is no doubt an element of racism in Israeli society, and even the body politic -- unfortunately -- there can be no comparison to the deeds of Israel and the deeds of Nazi Germany. Neither in scale of the horrors committed, nor in the intent of the policy, which in the case of the Nazis was to literally wipe out an entire ethnic group. Not just one actually -- the Serbs were also targeted for extermination by the Nazi Croats, for example, who managed to exterminate more than one million of them.
      As awful and outrageous as Israeli actions are, they are actually very close to what the white South Africans were doing with Apartheid. Sure this is bad, but it is not the degree of "bad" that Nazism was. In order to be taken seriously we must distinguish between degrees of evil. Gordon's thoughtful, reasoned warning against publishing my essay continues click here

Hitler addressing the Reichstag on 30 May 1935. William Blum
called my attention to this speech and provided the URL [1]
where the photo and the complete text are available.
      Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge that I think Gordon's fears that I will be misunderstood by partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict may well be justified. My hope is that people will recognize that I am not attacking Jewish ethnicity per se but rather the use of the very concept of ethnicity to separate groups of people into 'ourselves' and 'others', which can then serve, as it frequently does, as a basis for generating mutual antagonisms of each group towards the other. I agree with much of Gordon's statement, but there are some points where we disagree markedly. For example, he asserts, "The Jews deserve to be in Palestine also, that is a fact." I do not think that is a fact. I believe no one has a right to seize other peoples' territory and drive them out or kill them. Israel is striving to expel the entire Palestinian population -- using as much force, including murder -- as it dares as part of the 'incentives' to get them to leave.
      My reason for sticking to my original focus is that I think the issue of Israel's attack on Gaza is very much alive. The sense of global outrage is palpable, and growing. It's true of course that the scale of Israeli atrocities pales in comparison to that of the original Nazis, that of the Spanish Conquistadores in Latin America, the French in Haiti, the British in North America, and etc., but to me the murder of even a single person is intolerable. We ought to strive for a global society -- a true civilization -- in which murder has no role, and in which war, always involving mass murder, is regarded as totally illegitimate, a barbaric activity of ages past. Am I a dreamer? Of course, but hopefully a dreamer with my feet on the ground.[2]

      It's easy today to find many people who fall into two disjoint, mutually antagonistic camps: one which dismisses Hitler as simply a madman, not to be considered seriously, a group that of course includes the Zionist camp; and the other camp which believes Hitler was unfortunately thwarted in his effort to rid Europe of the truly evil Jewish drive for world domination, a group that of course includes virulent anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.
      The mutual hatred of these two extremist groups for one another is based fundamentally on their false conviction that the social behavior of the 'other' group is abominable because of its ethnicity, as though ethnicity is determined by genetics. Individual members of these two groups may be very well informed in many respects, specialists in cultural fields -- arts, literature, music -- trained in sciences and mathematics to think with logic and precision. But, if they fail to think critically about the meaning of ethnicity, they contribute to the great danger of wars, murder, and genocide by accepting as true that 'the other' is different in an ineradicable way. This supposedly immutable difference is then the logical prerequisite for downgrading the target group, eventually to a status of 'less than human'. The ruling German Nazis of the Third Reich and the dominant Israeli Zionists are two examples in which governing groups and their supporters went to considerable lengths to try (and the Israelis of course are still trying) to disguise with outpourings of 'legalities' their genocidal designs. Decent and aware Germans then and decent and aware Jews now have not been deceived.
      The Third Reich and Zionist Israel are not at all unique in dehumanizing a particular target population for political reasons. Every government in every war devalues the humanity of its 'enemies' of the moment: the U.S. in Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Mexico, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. -- Italy the Abyssinians, and so on. And many people, good and decent people, are deceived into supporting 'their' governments which are doing terrible things.

Israel Shamir, a man worth disagreeing with

      In my first paper on Shamir [3] I said, "A few weeks ago I'd never heard of Israel Shamir. Somehow or other his name came up . . ." The reason it 'came up', I was reminded the other day, was that my close friend Gordon Arnaut and Debbie Menon began to correspond, and at some point Debbie CC'd me, as one of the people with whom Gordon was in fairly close touch. I checked out one of her articles, "Americans victimized, by those who manage the system" and saw that we agreed on a good deal.[4] We then added one another to our mailing lists, but have not otherwise corresponded. Debbie's mailings invariably refer, and very favorably, to Israel Shamir. So I checked him out on Google, wrote him a note, and we were off and running. Soon it became evident that we disagreed on a good deal, which made the exchange very interesting.
      I've intended to continue pursuing our differing views on whether ethnicity is a 'good' or 'bad' concept. My discussion above shows why I think it is 'bad'. But it's only fair to Shamir to note that his more inclusive understanding of ethnicity takes in the entire natural mileau -- the forests, wildlife, geography, river systems, plants, weather conditions, and so on -- in which a particular group of humans live. All these factors influence the mode of life of the inhabitants. This aspect of what Shamir includes in ethnicity is of course not 'bad'. It consists of the totality of the natural environment for a human group living there. It's not 'good' or 'bad'. It simply is. This part of reality should not be confused with the social reality that either evolves within or is imposed upon a group of people, determining, by free choice or by coercion resectively, the group's behaior. That social reality, which differs from one human group to another, is what I have in mind by the term ethnicity. Let me turn to a specific example of its harmfulness.
      Debbie Menon, who first made me aware of Shamir, is one of his admirers. Each of the messages she sends to her list subscribers ends with a quote she uses as 'her signature', namely "I have compassion for Jews, and for Tutsis, and for nobility - but I do care more about the majorities they collectively disposessed." - Israel Shamir. Like Shamir and me, Debbie isn't shy about saying where she stands. So far so good. But her message on 22 June disturbed me. She started with a quote from a friend who had written: "Debbie, You are right about people like Chomsky, and the self-defeating attitude of Arab-Americans. Backing perpetual haters & losers won't get them very far. And in fact, most Vietnam-era vets like me (and all of the USS Liberty people, for example) totally loathe the likes of Chomsky -- Back then, he backed the guys we were fighting & who killed our friends, and instinctively the best way to make all of us back the Zionists would be to know that Chomsky & company backed the Palestinians. And you can pass that on to him for me, if you wish." After that paragraph, Debbie noted, (Bingo!)[5]
      My focus here is very narrow. I don't want to attack or defend any of the named individuals or Debbie's friend. My contention is simply that Debbie's friend, by accepting as legitimate the separation into Americans and 'others' (i.e. the deadly notion that populations of different ethnicity are really different), implicitly defines Vietnamese, "the guys we were fighting & who killed our friends" as his enemies. He allows the U.S. government to define, as I had done during World War II, a group of people, unknown to him individually, as his enemies, suitable to be killed. And Debbie shows with her (Bingo!) that she agrees with him. Shamir would argue that they aren't 'personal' enemies but ethnic enemies. My response is that when you pull the trigger the bullet doesn't ask whether your target is a personal enemy or an ethnic group enemy. On this point, Israel, I'm convinced that you're dead wrong in your attempted distinction between ones 'personal ethnic identity' and ones 'group ethnic identity'.
      Each of you is well enough informed to realize that the Israeli Zionists are the aggressors, without a shred of justification for their murderous efforts to conquer Palestine, and that the Palestinians are fully justified in trying to protect their lives and their possibility to live in their homeland in dignity and peace. It's abundantly clear to each of you, and to me (and to Chomsky I'm sure) that the moral responsibility of a decent compassionate human being, in the face of the ongoing tragedy in Palestine, is to support in every way the struggle of the Palestinians, in direct opposition to the imperial aims of the United States and Israel. There's no rational reason why any of us, including of course Debbie's Viet Nam Veteran friend, ought to have supported the imperial aims of the United States during it brutal assault on the Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian peoples.

The 'Shamir-inspired' correspondence and discussion continues
      26 (continued) Note numbered 26 (continued), about one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, Garry Trudeau, whose 31 May 2009 strip the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) immeditely objected to. Here's the 'offensive' cartoon:

      As it happens, I read in the Boston Globe of 2009-06-30 an article datelined NEW YORK - Despite his claims of contrition, Bernard L. Madoff was sentenced yesterday to 150 years in prison for a crime a federal judge called an act of "extraordinary evil." It's at
. The article says in part, "Whether he stole $13 billion or $65 billion - [no source of hard data given for these numbers]- Madoff took hundreds of millions to finance his own life of luxury, Chin [the federal judge who sentenced him] said, and paid friends and those who raised money for him billions more."
      The anger expressed towards Bernard Madoff does seem to confirm Reverend Sloan's closing comment about money lenders: "They do seem to set people off, don't they?"
      Two days later the ADL had reacted, as reported in the following, which is at:
Anti-Defamation League Accuses Garry Trudeau of 'Maligning Judaism'
By E&P [Editor & Publisher] Staff
Published: June 02, 2009 3:58 PM ET

NEW YORK The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday released the text of a letter it sent to cartoonist Garry Trudeau over his May 31, 2009 "Doonesbury" strip. Several of the comic's characters, including Sam and Rev. Sloan, are discussing Jesus Christ, and how the one time Christ "really only snaps once" in the Bible was "with the moneylenders." Which, apparently, was enough to spur the ADL into action. The letter follows:

Dear Mr. Trudeau:
      We agree with the numerous people who are contacting us that Sunday's Doonesbury misquotes the Bible, maligns Judaism, and promotes a Christian heresy, all within eight panels. It reinforces age-old stereotypes about Judaism that have been the cause of much suffering and pain over the centuries, and which have been rejected by a variety of Christian denominations over the last decades.
      Jesus' concern in the Gospels is with money-changers, not money-lenders. The money-changers converted the coins of the Roman Empire into the currency accepted by the Jerusalem Temple, as money-changers today convert dollars into Euros. To speak of money-lenders harkens back the stereotype of Shylock, when Jews were forced by Christians to engage in usury.
      Christian teaching is clear: the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. Doonesbury's Reverend Sloan is guilty of promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes and biblical illiteracy. He owes both Jews and Christians an apology.
      Founded in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League bills itself as the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.
      On Tuesday, the Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union for Reform Judaism weighed in on the comments section of Trudeau's site. "To be clear, I write as a fan," he states. "The strip, we hope and assume unwittingly, perpetuated centuries of anti-Semitic canards about Biblical-era moneylenders -- who were almost uniformly Jewish -- as the enemies of Jesus and the villains of the New Testament. As you know, similar caricatures have been used throughout the years to incite hate against the Jewish community and have cultivated and perpetuated offensive stereotypes."
      Others have weighed in as well. Check out the comments thus far, here [].
E&P Staff (

      The ADL, headed by Abraham Foxman, is perhaps the lead Jewish organization in efforts to impose censorship preventing open public discussion of the policies and actions of the Jewish State of Israel. The Univ of California at Santa Barbara was coerced by the ADL to investigate improper conduct by Sociology Prof William Robinson during the Israeli attack on Gaza, when he provided his students with information about those events. An account is in my posting at
On 27 June, almost a half year after the attack against Robinson began, I got an e-mail that began

From: Mary-Jo Nadeau
Date: Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 6:21 AM
Subject: F4P NEWS: Victory! University of California terminates case against Professor William I. Robinson; charges of "anti-semitism" unfounded
To see the full message with this report, go to
      I wrote a congratulatory note the same day, saying in part,
      The attack on Robinson was triggered by his reaction to the Israeli assault on Gaza . . . It appears to me from what I have seen on the website of the group of undergraduate and graduate students' Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB (CDAF-UCSB) that the two students were manipulated by the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to file complaints against Robinson .   .   . [A] glance at their complaints is enough to show the absence of any substantive grounds for their actions.
      Additional evidence of the unsavory subterfuge employed by the ADL is in a recent posting on the CDAF-UCSB site headlined, "BREAKING NEWS: UC-Santa Barbara faculty member goes public about ADL pressure, May 2, 2009. History professor attended meeting where Abraham Foxman pushed UCSB to act against sociology professor." Imagine Foxman, as dishonest as the ADL which he heads, using tax-exempt money of this 501-C3 coercion group to fly from Washington D.C. to Santa Barbara to pressure UCSB in a supposedly secret meeting to censor Robinson. No shortage of chutzpah there. This is an attack against the campus from an outside pressure group, and it appears that there is vigorous opposition to the UCSB administration's initial weak-kneed acquiescence to the ADL demand to investigate Robinson. Of course it is unacceptable that the Foxman outfit and his Israel-first cohort are able to harass Robinson, but if they are strongly repulsed it can serve to strengthen adherence to academic freedom at UCSB and elsewhere . . . (emphasis in this paragraph added)
      I hope the CDAF-UCSB and its allies will continue in forcefully pressing for full repudiation by the university administration of its improper actions, beginning with a complete apology to Prof. Robinson.
      Furthermore, I think it would be completely appropriate for the university to bring suit against the ADL to be reimbursed for all the damages caused by ADL's illegal actions, including slander, and to challenge the (501-C3) tax-exempt status of ADL, in light of its illegal, clearly political activities. (this paragraph emphasized here)

      A second piece of good news came in an e-mail the next day, 28 June. This has to do with censorship at the Univ of Ottawa, in Canada. Although it does not bear overt evidence of ADL involvement, I would not be at all surprised to learn that ADL and a similar Canadian organization are working together.

From: Claude Lamontagne
Date: Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Provincial offences prosecutor drops charges against cuffed and arrested professor
      OTTAWA, June 29, 2009 -- The provincial offences prosecutor investigated for five months and dropped all charges against former University of Ottawa physics professor Denis Rancourt on the second court appearance Thursday.
      The media reported in January that Rancourt was handcuffed, arrested, and charged for trespassing while attending a no-grades extracurricular course he hosted weekly on the university campus, while still a full and tenured professor at the school.
      Rancourt said: "The University of Ottawa knowingly gave the Ottawa Police incorrect information that I had no right on campus. The police then lied to apply a false charge of trespassing." "This is how our institutions of higher learning and that stand for civil protection treat free expression," he continued.
      Physics student Marc Kelly was also arrested at the same January event, while giving a talk as the week's invited speaker, and he was retained in jail for the night and released without charge, as was reported by A-Channel News.
      YouTube videos of the arrests have been seen by thousands of viewers.

      27 Note numbered 27 from Israel Shamir to me, written in response to an early draft of this posting.

Date: Wed, 1 Jul 2009 01:32:30 +0200
To: George Salzman, Gordon Arnaut, Debbie Menon, Noam Chomsky, William Blum

Dear George, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Surely I disagree with some of your positions, and with some positions of other participants, with all respect due.
(1) I think that Noam Chomsky was right when he supported the Vietnamese. The US went all the way to a far-away land and tried to keep it, and it was duly beaten. Rarely one meets today a Vietnam vet who still thinks it was a just war for the Americans. It was indeed an unjust war, as the US war against Mexico that was condemned by Thoreau or the US war in Philippines condemned by Mark Twain. There is no connection to ethnicity whatsoever - at least for Americans. Thoreau and Twain were as American as apple pie, so it is a mistake to connect or counterpoise anti-war stand with nationalism. Nationalism is often anti-war, and an American nationalist Charles Lindbergh - very much an anti-war hero - is an example. Buchanan - an American nationalist - is a more recent example of strong anti-war stand. David Duke (and I am aware of the opprobrium connected with his name) is surely a nationalist and an anti-war campaigner. On the other hand, non-nationalist, rather liberal America carried out too many wars in this century.
(2) Your own life denies your theses, George. You refer to the indigenous population in Mexico and support their struggle. But their enemies want to de-ethnisize them, and likewise in Palestine, the enemies of Palestinians want to de-ethnisize them, to turn them into "avak adam", "human dust" in Ben Gurion words.
(3) Enmity is not forever, even when dressed in nationalist or racist terms. People say so from time to time, at war, but they rarely mean it. Indeed, Iliya Ehrenburg called to kill every German, and there were Germans who wished to kill Jews, or Russians, but that was at war. Eventually, after the war, Germans and Russians, and Germans and the West made peace and now are in perfect relations.
(4) Punch line: people fight for interests, not for their ethnic or religious identity. These identities are extremely valuable part of their personae. If you want to de-ethnicize people, and wean them away from their faith, you actually want to kill them more finally, more thoroughly than with an A-bomb.
(5) Re remark of Wiliam Bloom [should be Blum]. This is not an unfrequent name, and I could not google it to get my backbearings. However, every second Jewish nationalist in Israel and in America compared Obama with Hitler after his Cairo speech. So, while it could be warning against deception, but it could be also a classic Jewish ethnic activism.
Regards, Israel Adam Shamir

My comments. Oaxaca, Thursday 2 July 2009
Dear Israel, In some ways I envy, and admire your agility and imagination, in comparison to which I feel slow and plodding. But I also have the sense that your speed and striking ability to encompass a lot of information enables you to glide over ideas that run counter to your impulses, without giving them the thought they may deserve. Consider for example your point (3) above. You state that enmity is not forever, claiming that people at war express it from time to time, but rarely mean it. After the war, you say, they eventually regain "perfect relations" with one another. Why do you not ask what motivates them to kill one another, even though, according to you, they rarely hate their designated 'enemies'? I think that's a fair question. We ought to understand the psychological state of someone who is in the act of committing murder -- of willfully destroying the life of another human being -- as for example in hand-to-hand combat.
      I'm sure that psychological questions interest you -- your enthusiasm for Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which I read twice in a futile effort to untangle and understand -- shows that you are not disinterested in psychology. And yet killing in war seems to evade your critical scrutiny. Your escape hatch from facing this question -- your 'punch line' as you call it -- is simply to declare, in (4), that "people fight for interests, not for their ethnic or religious identity." But that's hardly adequate, attributing an act of paramount violence to their neutral-sounding 'interests'. What 'interests' do you have in mind? Do you think a husbsbandman -- a man who humbly tills the soil, or a cobbler who repairs boots or a man who weaves cloth or builds wooden implements to gain his and his family's livelihood sets about killing other men in order to preserve his 'interests' in capitalism, or the banking system, or the monopolization of seed varieties by Monsanto and other transnational giant robbers, etc.? No, of course you don't think that. I believe you would have to admit, if you thought about it, that he goes off to murder because he has been psychologically manipulated, propagandized to believe, even if not very deeply, that the 'interests' of the ruling class are also his interests, 'his' national interests. In fact he is fooled into fighting against his own personal well being, his own real interests. It is not 'his' nation in whose military he serves, but a 'nation', so-called, an illegitimate social organization that belongs to the super weathy. He is persuaded to fight under the banner of this institution - this nation-state - that deprives him of his humanity.
      You have 'glided over' the all-important distinction I made between two very different aspects of ethnicity. I'm happy to accept your understanding of ethnicity to mean the totality of habitual, customary activities, values -- everything that impacts the behavior of a group of people living in a particular geographical locale. As I acknowledged earlier in this essay, your inclusive understanding of ethnicity encompasses the total natural environment -- the forests, wildlife, geography, river systems, plants, weather conditions, and so on -- in which a particular group of humans live. All these factors influence the mode of life of the inhabitants. This aspect of ethnicity, the totality of the natural environment for a human group living in a particular locale is neither 'good' nor 'bad'. It simply is. The other aspect of ethnicity, the one I insist is frequently used for 'bad' purposes, is the social structure which governs and can (as it often does) enforce the ideological belief that 'our ethnic group' is irrevocably different than 'their ethnic group', i.e. that the us/them dichotomy is not artificial but real and permanent, as rigidly frozen as our human genetic makeup which differentiates us, for example, from baboons.
my ethnicity
      Before disclosing some personal details I'd like to remark that a few people have asked for personal anonymity, three of them for fear of retaliation by pro-Zionists in their communities. There may be others who have chosen to stay out of the discussion because they too feel vulnerable. We need to recognize that not only do people feel vulnerable but not infrequently their feelings are justified. They are vulnerable. Feeling vunerable is not 'just' a personal problem. Its social impact is to hinder the formation of groups that can engage in open, honest discussion of important issues. As a widepread impediment to dissemination of the truth, as is the Zionist effort to censor criticism of the Israeli state's policies, it can contribute substantial harm. A good society would be one in which no one is vulnerable. That must be part of our utopian goal. I'll leave discussion of that for another time. The reason Shamir and I can correspond comfortably in spite of our considerable disagreements is precisely because neither one of us feels vulnerable.
      My father Joseph, third of five brothers (no sisters), was born on 3 May 1901 in Taganrog, a Russian seaport on the north shore at the eastern end of the Sea of Azov. His father was a well-to-do exporter, principally of fish and caviar to Moscow. Despite the restrictions on Jews entering the gynmasium (secondary school) my grandfather, through lavish gifts, was able to register all five sons as students. My father loved sailing vessels. He had (or had the use of) one during his youth. During the Russian Revolution he was in the Tsar's army, which was routed by the Bolsheviks and evacuated on Allied ships headed for the Mediterranian. His father, also in the military I think, contracted Typhus fever and died at home. My father jumped ship at Constantinople, spent about a year there and managed to get passage to New York. His life in America contrasted sharply with his dreams, in which his birth into an upper class family by rights entitled him to an aristocratic life. He struggled, especially during the great depression, from which he emerged as a self-employed supplier of clean linens to restaurants and food caterers. He drove the small truck on his route to each customer, delivered clean tablecloths, napkins, towels, aprons, etc. in exchange for bags of soiled items, which he took to a laundry. Scrupulous to a fault, during World War II when he applied for gasoline rations to operate his tuck, he calculated his exact route as he did his regular circuit. If one of his customers ran out of supplies early and telephoned for more tablecloths or whatever ahead of the regular delivery, there was the question, Is there enough gasoline? Far too honest to ever be a successful businessman, he substituted labor for the shrewdness and readiness to 'cheat a little' and 'cut corners' that he lacked.
      Though long an American citizen, he enjoyed his Russian identity, preferring to be seen as Russian rather than Jewish. My mother, born Jessie Liss in the Bronx on 18 August 1899 to an immigrant Jewish couple from the so-called Pale (eastern Poland or western Russia) did not share my father's social pretensions, although her parents did for some years become quite wealthy through business and real estate ventures before losing most of it to 'smarter business people'. The oldest of nine siblings, four of whom died before reaching adulthood, she contracted spinal meningitis at an early age, from which, contrary to physicians' certainty that it would be fatal, she recovered, but with permanent paralysis of the left side of her face, a terrible psychological burden she carried the rest of her long life (died 13 Feb 1995). She grew up monolingual, although she understood Yiddish, the traditional language of her parents, uncles and aunts. To my father, whose family spoke Russian, Yiddish was foreign, I remember that he occasionally scoffed at its sound.
      To both parents I owed probably the greatest gift a child can get from adults, unshakeable respect for the youngster as a full human being, from the youngest age on. I never felt that I had to earn their respect. The self-respect nurtured in me by their respect for my personhood remained unbroken through the many years of academic striving in intensely competitive, psychologically destructive environments in which I was far less gifted than many of my fellow students, and later than my colleagues. I'm quite sure those formative very early years were the basis for my never having felt that my personhood was vulnerable. This is not to say I was not punished, but I did not fear physical punishment by either parent. To the best of my memory my father never struck me, and my mother only very rarely slapped me, in moments of extreme exasperation. It's evident to me that their treatment of me was not something they thought a good deal about. I'm sure they didn't read books on child psychology or on rearing children to guide them. They were not to any degree what I would call intellectuals.
childhood and ethnicity
      Ethnicity, understood as encompassing the behavior, habits and ideology that characterize a particular group of people living in a specific geographical region, includes the way that childhood is experienced. My parents were of course products of their own ethnicities. They may well have been influenced by fears of possible pregnancy problems due to my mother's early severe illness and partial paralysis. They must have been overjoyed when she had a normal pregnancy and the birth of an apparently healthy child. No doubt these factors influenced their behavior towards me. It's apparent that early childhood can vary markedly from one ethnic group to another. I lived with my wife and two young daughters in Geneva, Switzerland for a year (1958-59) and in Rome, Italy one year (1961-62). Our older child attended a neighborhood public school in Geneva at age 4, and in Rome at age 7. The custom in Geneva was for each child to bring a snack (bread and chocolate) for dix heures, the 10am break when the children also went into the playground to relax from classroom discipline. I remember Amy being fearful that she would be hit by one of the boys during this unsupervised or lightly supervised period.
      From what I saw three years later in Rome, it seems to me the children there were, generally speaking, not nearly as aggressive towards one another as in Geneva, and not infrequently exhibited warmth and gentleness towards younger, more vulnerable youngsters. Here in Oaxaca the behavior of even quite young children towards their infant siblings, particularly noticeable among poor and indigenous families, is to me quite heartwarming to see. They behave with the care and tenderness of parents towards their tiny brothers and sisters. It is also evident that they are expected to fulfill that role. Probably in many instances the caregiving children are overburdened by their responsibilities, but that is a different matter. If I were to attempt a generalization it would be that indigenous cultures, which tend to incorporate the entire population into the daily activities needed to sustain the group, do not formalize work and play, nor arrange to separate these activities as do so-called modern societies. I've seen, in small Oaxacan communities remote from Oaxaca City, indigenous peoples who indeed work hard at physical labor but at the same time interspersing that activity with 'just having fun'.
      Even here in the city, which is fairly urbanized, the penetration of the cult of 'productivity', as symbolized by the F. W. Taylor time-and-motion studies that excited the admiration of Henry Ford, have not made noticeable impact on the way most people work. I go walking just about every day, often encountering one or another work crew busy shoveling gravel, cement, debris, or whatever. If I stop to observe and ask a question or make a comment, no one hesitates to interrupt his work and talk, no one is impatient with me, eager to return to his shoveling. It's very much ingrained in the culture. There may be a boss, a jefe overseeing the job, but he too is relaxed. Quite different than in the U.S. Surely the ideas in a note I came upon, "The Science of Shoveling", would be foreign to them. The note, in, reads "In [his] study of the 'science of shoveling', Taylor ran time studies to determine that the optimal weight that a worker should lift in a shovel was 21 pounds. Since there is a wide range of densities of materials, the shovel should be sized so that it would hold 21 pounds of the substance being shoveled. The firm provided the workers with optimal shovels. The result was a three to four fold increase in productivity and workers were rewarded with pay increases. Prior to scientific management, workers used their own shovels and rarely had the optimal one for the job."
      The entire tempo of life here contrasts sharply with the interminable frenetic activity of 'productivity-driven' American workplaces. Naturally people indulge themselves by 'slowing down', and, I believe, end up enjoying their lives more than most American workers. When we came to Oaxaca, in September 1999, we rented an apartment in a small complex of units owned by a oaxacan woman. Her companion, call him Federico, did much of the maintenance and repair work, in some of which the landlady also participated. A friendly person, Federico and I would often talk after he finished his immediate task, sometimes over a beer that I offered him. I recall him once saying to me, Nuestros mexicanos somos chingados pero felices. We Mexicans are fucked but happy. I think there was a lot of truth in that short declaration. He understood that Mexicans were not well treated by the global powers (mostly by the Colossus of the North), but they were making the most of their lives, within the existing constraints.
      28 A brief exchange numbered 28 initiated by an e-mail from Israel Shamir with a new essay in defense of Barack Obama.

Subject: Obama Lynching Party, By Israel Shamir
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2009 16:38:58 +0200
To: Ken Freeland,,
CC: Maria Poumier, Marcel charbonnier, George Salzman
Obama Lynching Party
By Israel Shamir
      The honeymoon President Barack Obama has enjoyed with the media since his inauguration was abruptly over -- after the Cairo Speech. After his promise of peace with the Islamic world, in no time this savior of America, the man who said Yes, We Can became increasingly lonely and besieged by an unlikely coalition of Zionists, the loony left and right-wing racists.
      Barack Obama has become the bane of Israeli Jews, wrote the Jewish Forward's Nathan Jeffai. Only 6% of Jewish Israelis consider his views pro-Israel, while over 50% see him as pro-Palestinian and about 30% consider him neutral. This President is lethal for both Israel and the free world, exclaimed the starry-eyed British Zionist columnist, Melanie Phillips. Obama, she said, is destroying "the security not just of Israel but the world through his reckless appeasement of Iran". He "has actively undercut the Iranian democrats . . . Obama has decided America will 'live with' a nuclear Iran. Which leaves Israel hung out to dry". There are hundreds, nay, thousands of such pieces, relentlessly attacking the President for trying to stop Israel's abuse of Palestine. They turn the man who received some 80% of the Jewish vote into a black monster craving for Jewish blood.
      The Israel Lobby's hatred of the president became a new secret taboo never to be spoken of, just silently acknowledged -- like the Israel Lobby's drive for the Iraq war and for a bombing of Iran . . .

Subject: [Fwd: Obama Lynching Party, By Israel Shamir]
Date: Sun, 05 Jul 2009 11:21:46 -0500
To: William Blum

Hi Bill,
      This piece just came in from Israel Shamir. He refers specifically to you, in a critical vein. I'm still immersed in my essay [this one]. For me Shamir presents quite a challenge. Many of the things he says are evidentally correct, but I have trouble with his basic assumptions. For example, the use of violence is something he seems quite comfortable with.
      I had forgotten about the 4th of July. Thanks for reminding me. This morning Nancy and I went to vote for a local man who's running to be a federal deputy. A way of rejecting the whole party system. I was going to write in APPO [Popular Assembly of the People of Oacaxa] on my ballot until the man from the mountains who comes into Oaxaca City each Friday to sell his organic shade-grown coffee came by day before yesterday and suggested to Nancy this local candidate as an alternative way to reject the system. Some anarchist, casting a ballot.

Subject: Re: [shamireaders] Obama Lynching Party, By Israel Shamir
From: John Spritzler
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2009 13:20:23 -0400
To:,, Ken Freeland,
CC: George Salzman, Marcel charbonnier, Maria Poumier

Dear Israel,
      If President Obama were on the side of ordinary people instead of the American plutocracy, then at the very minimum, notwithstanding all of the limits to his power in a world of the possible as opposed to the ideal, he would tell the American people the truth about Israel--that it is based on ethnic cleansing, which is morally wrong, that the Palestinians' grievance against Israel is that it denies them their right to return to their homes and villages and to live as the equals of Jews under the law, that most Palestinians do not object to Jews living as their legal equals in Palestine, and that if the Israeli government stopped denying basic human rights (like the right of return and the right to be equal under the law) to Palestinians then the conflict would end in a heartbeat and any organization that continued to advocate ethnic violence would see whatever support it had vanish. President Obama refuses to speak the truth on this issue, which shows that he is on the side of the American plutocracy, who support Israel in order to foment ethnic conflict and make people easier for them and their fellow ruling elites to control.
      It is understandable why one would grasp for reasons to have hope that Obama, unlike every previous American president since WWII, will side with ordinary people against Zionism. Wishful thinking is a natural human trait. But it can be deadly. If one does not accurately distinguish friend from foe, one is doomed to defeat. Please reconsider your estimate of Obama as a friend.

Subject: Re: [Fwd: Obama Lynching Party, By Israel Shamir]
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2009 14:45:44 EDT

Thanks for sending me this.
      <<This piece just came in from Israel Shamir. He refers specifically to you, in a critical vein.>>
      His criticisms are . . . incorrect and miss my points by . . . a large margin . . . Normally I'd write and point out his errors but he's so offbase about me it would take too much time and effort.

From: George Salzman
Date: Sun, 05 Jul 2009 13:43:45 -0500
To: John Spritzler
CC:, readers, Ken Freeland,, Marcel charbonnier, Maria Poumier

Hi John,
      There is a point Shamir makes that you didn't address, which I believe is critically important, namely the effectiveness of the media, which in the U.S. is very decidedly influenced by people of Jewish ethnicity (as they see themselves) and inordinate wealth, to shape public perceptions. On the other hand he does not in my opinion give enough weight to the institutionalized structures, which he does acknowledge, and persists in hoping that Obama will be able, little by little, to alter the course of this Titanic nation-state. In this regard I think William Blum's perception is far closer to reality. I am still working on my response to Shamir's e-mail that he wrote in response to an early draft version of this essay . . . The part with Shamir's comments and my response so far is here.
      27 Note numbered 27 from Israel Shamir to me, written in response to an early draft of this posting.
Date: Wed, 1 Jul 2009 01:32:30 +0200

Subject: Re: [shamireaders] Obama Lynching Party, By Israel Shamir
From: John Spritzler
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2009 15:47:18 -0400
To: George Salzman
CC: Maria Poumier, Marcel charbonnier,, Ken Freeland, readers,

Hi George,
      What is the connection between the effectiveness of the Jewish-influenced media and the conclusion I drew about Obama--that his failure to tell Americans the truth about Zionism shows he is on the side of the plutocracy?
      Is your point (I'm guessing now) that Obama cannot tell Americans the truth because the media wouldn't broadcast his weekly speeches or press conferences if he did? If that is your point I will have something to say about it, but let me find out first if it is. --John

Subject: Re: [shamireaders] Obama Lynching Party, By Israel Shamir
From: George Salzman
Date: Sun, 05 Jul 2009 16:08:10 -0500
To: John Spritzler
CC: Maria Poumier, Marcel charbonnier,, Ken Freeland, readers,, William Blum

OK John,
      My real point is that you and Shamir were talking past one another. You said nothing about the power of the mass media to shape and control public opinion, and he gave inadequate consideration to the major role that U.S. imperialism plays in Obama's actions. I'm afraid that he is mistaken in focussing so much on Obama as a savior figure, in the same way that the committed Zionist Two-Stater Uri Avnery does. No American is going to save Israel from itself, from the disaster it is creating. I personally believe, as you do, that Obama is "on the side of the plutocracy". If he were not and wished to, he could initiate a series of FDR-style fireside chats in which, unlike Roosevelt, he could speak truthfully to the American people (and the world) and of course the media would broadcast it. I think Shamir's comments about William Blum are glib, revealing very little understanding of Blum's solid record. I hope that clarifies my view somewhat.
John's response: Hi George, OK here too; that clarifies things. Thanks. --John

Gordon Arnaut's caution continued
      I think we should not concentrate overly on the Palestine question. There is lots more going on in the world right now. Look at the coup in Honduras, for example, where the leftist and progressive president was removed by the military and business elites -- only for the reason that he was seeking to follow in the path of Chavez, Morales and Correa and deliver some long overdue social justice to the impoverished people, many of whom are aboriginals.
      The big question is whether our saintly Barack Obama green-lighted this coup? As the US has done with every other coup against progressive and democratically elected leaders in the Western hemisphere. I feel just as bad -- if not worse -- for the people of Honduras and the rest of the millions of dispossessed indigenous peoples of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and throughout Latin America as I do about the Palestinian plight. There are many more humans suffering right in our back yard, we do not have to go to Palestine.
      George I think you should let the Palestinian question rest for a while and turn your considerable energies and compassion to such other matters. I am only saying this as a friend because I know how vexed you are by the injustice that is being committed in Palestine. You feel helpless, as do I, and everyone else, so you become angrier and angrier.
      Let us not forget that it was not so long ago that being Jewish meant being herded up like cattle and led off to slaughter. Even Zionism, which we now think of in a very negative way, started as a simple longing for a long-lost homeland for European Jews who had suffered centuries of abuse. The Jews deserve to be in Palestine also, that is a fact.
      What needs to happen is either a one-state solution, which was actually an option for which a number of UN member states voted back in 1947, including most of the non-aligned states. Or a two-state solution, based on the UN-recognized borders of pre-1967, along with refugee right of return.
      The only thing that is preventing either of these from happening is the US, not Israel. If the US wanted to do this it would happen tomorrow, so why harp on about Israel and Jews? It makes no sense. The fact of the matter is that the US evil empire has created Israel as a garrison outpost for its own colonialist program. This frontier mentality is also what has infected the Jewish population there and is feeding the racism. If you still want to read George's essay, click here.

[1] William Blum, a guardian against deception. Blum's determined effort to not believe politician's pronouncements simply because he wishes they were true extends to the Obama regime. With Obama's pronouncements as background, Blum calls our attention to a speech Adolph Hitler gave at a time when Germany was reeling in the aftermath of World War I, and then pointedly asks, "How many people in the world, including numerous highly educated Germans, reading or hearing that speech in 1935, doubted that Adolf Hitler was a sincere man of peace and an inspiring, visionary leader?" The entire speech is at: See also The speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, which is an English translation of representative passages of Hitler's speeches, arranged under subjects and edited by Norman H. Baynes, first published in 1942.

[2] On dreamers. David Graeber's Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, 2004, begins with a bit of Peter Kropotkin from his famous 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica article, and then a short funny quote from Jonothon Feldman in Indigenous Planning Times, who declared: "Basically, if you're not a utopianist, you're a schmuck". A cute quip, but unfortunately it does not imply that a utopianist is not a schmuck.

[3] Straight talk with Israel Shamir, at

[4] Americans victimized, by those who manage the system. Debbie's article is at

[5] Debbie Menon's e-mail of 2009-06-22. The first part of her message, responding to her friend, with her comments indicated in boldface red, follows:
Subject: Hi! ALL
From: Debbie Menon
Date: Mon, 22 Jun 2009 21:06:48 +1000

A friend writes to me:
      Debbie, You are right about people like Chomsky, and the self-defeating attitude of Arab-Americans. Backing perpetual haters & losers won't get them very far. And in fact, most Vietnam-era vets like me (and all of the USS Liberty people, for example) totally loathe the likes of Chomsky -- Back then, he backed the guys we were fighting & who killed our friends, and instinctively the best way to make all of us back the Zionists would be to know that Chomsky & company backed the Palestinians. And you can pass that on to him for me, if you wish. (Bingo!)
      But, for the rest, I think you are wrong, and letting your own good intentions & hopes drive your analysis, (Score: 10) principally because you are not "inside" the American political culture. (Um-m-m, perhaps) For instance, AIPAC and company preferred Obama to Clinton, because Clinton (through her husband & her own position) had an independent and very strong political base, and Obama did not. She might have been less likely to do a Cairo speech than Obama, BUT if she did, Netanyahu would have thought ten times before hemming & hawing about his response.
      No previous president has had an Emanuel as his chief of staff. Remember what I wrote you six months ago about that. The only thing worse would have been for Obama to have asked Netanyahu to have moved into the Oval Office, or given him an office in Jerusalem. Obama and his Administration don't want anything. Obama would like to see an end to this cycle of wars so he can get on with the real business of salvaging the US economy and thus his re-election, but his Administration has even more Jews than Bush's did, because the Democratic party is the voting home of 80% or more of American Jews.
      And last, you CANNOT have a Palestinian state when the more populous part is a besieged, impoverished ghetto and the larger part has a half-million Jewish settlers, a wall, the IDF, and no economy. Call a jackass a lion, and guess what? It is still going to be dinner to the first lion that comes down the trail. Ditto for a Palestinian -- either there is one state, majority-rule, or that jackass has a better chance than some bullshit Palestinian state would have. That is reality, and wishful thinking won't change it -- although I wish it could.
      You know, as a pragmatist, I gain a lot of respect for my friend as I read this stuff. We may not agree on every detail, but in his overall perception of the situation and the people involved in it, he is placing his shots close to where I see the bullseye!
      But, YOU do not need his or my opinions or advice if you learn to figure it out for yourself. Get rid of, or leave your own biases, hopes, dreams and fears outside the lab when you come in here to study, and you discover, see the purity and science of clear study and thinking. It is lesson number one, in intellectual freedom thinking 101.

George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.
All comments and criticisms are welcome.

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