Welcome to The Cruelest Day: October 17, 2023, and National Pasta Day. Try some bucatini, my greatest pasta discovery ever, thanks to a kind reader who sent me some. It’s thicker than spaghetti, giving you a more noodle-y experience, and there’s a small hole down the middle of each noodle, which helps absorb the sauce.
Here’s a plate of bucatini al’amatriciana:
Why is it the cruelest day? For the same reason T. S. Eliot described in The Waste Land:
April is the cruellest month, breedingLilacs out of the dead land, mixingMemory and desire, stirringDull roots with spring rain.
It’s also Four Prunes Day, so named “because it is believed that someone looking for digestive regularity will get it by eating between four and nine prunes in a sitting”, Black Poetry Day, Wear Something Gaudy Day, Forgive an Ex Day, World Trauma Day, and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the October 17 Wikipedia page.
*The far right Law and Justice party is out in Poland, with a better government (a coalition) in the offing.
Observers see little chance of the kind of insurrections that jarred Washington and Brasília. But Law and Justice, many argue — including some in the party itself — may not go that gently. Under Poland’s parliamentary system, a transition of power could be dragged out for two to three months, during which time Law and Justice, known by its acronym PiS, is likely to search for potential defectors in opposition ranks.
. . . With 100 percent of ballots counted, according to the Polish elections website, Law and Justice remained the top vote-getter, with 35.38 percent. But it appeared to fall well short of a governing majority, and without a path to a governing coalition. The opposition Civic Platform, although in second place with 30.70 percent of the vote, appeared to be in the far stronger position. It has two likely coalition partners — the Third Way and the Left party — which would help it achieve a comfortable majority.
My friends in Poland are very happy.
*More on the war from the NYT, including an increase in the number of hostages and a proposed visit to Israel by Biden.
President Biden on Monday weighed an extraordinary invitation to visit Israel — a grieving nation on the brink of invading territory that has fallen into a desperate humanitarian crisis, with two million people trapped and critical supplies dwindling.
A trip by Mr. Biden — after an invitation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the eve of a major escalation of the conflict in the Mideast — would be a remarkable gamble. To accept the invitation would demonstrate American solidarity with Israel, signaling to its rivals like Iran, Syria and Hezbollah that it has the power of the United States behind it at a time of increasing anxiety about a regional war. But it would also tie Mr. Biden, and the United States, to the bloodshed in Gaza.
The invitation came as Israelis learned more about the terrorist attacks that, nine days ago, killed more than 1,400 people, making them the deadliest in the country’s history. The military said it now believes 199 people were taken hostage by Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, nearly 50 more than previously thought.
Israel’s retaliation for those attacks has already surpassed the scope of past conflicts with Hamas, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group. Hundreds of airstrikes have pounded Gaza, and Israel says it has killed at least six senior leaders of Hamas so far.
But the strikes are exacting a growing toll on Gaza’s people. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Monday that 2,808 people have been killed and 10,850 wounded.
Remember that Palestine’s figures may be misleading, given that they don’t distinguish between civilians and terrorists in these reports.
Mr. Biden has sought to head off a wider conflict with both diplomacy and a show of military might. The Biden administration warned Iran against escalation through back-channel messages with intermediaries in Qatar, Oman and China, its point backed up by a pair of aircraft carriers heading toward the eastern Mediterranean. And the U.S. secretary of state returned to Israel for another round of talks in his marathon effort to broker deals — including getting U.S. citizens out of Gaza and aid into it for civilians.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Sunday that the Rafah border crossing with Egypt would reopen, raising hope that food and medicine could be brought into Gaza and foreigners could get out. The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem told American citizens in Gaza on Monday to “move closer” to the Rafah crossing if they believed it was “safe” to do so. But hours later, the scores of people who had gathered on the Gaza side of the crossing, toting what they could carry in suitcases, were stuck waiting as diplomatic efforts foundered.
This last bit ticks me off. There is STILL no water to Gaza delivered by Israel, despite the siege for water, food, and medicines being lifted, and the border with Egypt still isn’t open. I can (barely) understand why trucks bringing relief supplies to Gaza must be inspected for weapons, but I don’t understand why people with an American passport can’t get out.
* Thomas Warrick, identified as “”a nonresident senior fellow with Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council [who] served in the U.S. State Department from 1997 to 2007.” has written of the lessons the U.S. should draw from the problems we had after defeating Iraq. His NYT op-ed is called”I saw what happened to America’s postwar plans for Iraq. Here’s what Israel should plan for Gaza.” There’s a lot f advice, but here’s six bullet points he proffers:
1. End Hamas’s culture of economic corruption in Gaza. Corruption is at the heart of what Hamas uses to keep the Gazan people in line. This needs to end. You may have a chance to put in place once-in-a-generation root-and-branch reforms in public integrity in government contracting, civil service hiring and business practices in Gaza.
How exactly, is Israel going to do that? It’s not the rules, it’s the culture!
2. Listen to what Gaza’s residents want. Ordinary Gazans must have a say in their future.
3. Change the educational curriculum. This has been Hamas’s basis for ensuring enduring hatred of Israel. But don’t listen to the equally poisonous voices in Israel that would overplay your hand and undermine lasting educational reforms that would work for Gaza. There are many experts today in the Middle East and outside it who have constructive ideas for an educationalcurriculum that is true to Palestinian history and in the best interests of lasting coexistence.
That’s fine so long as they don’t fan the flames of Jew hatred.
4. Find a path for Gazans to write a constitution that will lead toward a more democratic state that can live in peace side by side with Israel. Israel needs to demonstrate that it is committed to a two-state solution. This is one way to do that.
Sounds good, but there cannot be Hamas, or any other terrorist group, in charge. There must be honest brokers on both sides. And I fear this suggestion is too late. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians want a two-state solution, and most Palestinians want Israel erased. Will a new constitution fix that?
5. Show Gazans that Israel is prepared to help Gaza rebuild economically. This close to Oct. 7, Israelis cannot readily conceive of committing to a Marshall Plan for Gaza. But Israel needs to think through what conditions would make this the right thing to do.
The money should be left to the other Arab states, which have plenty and have already given plenty (much of it used for terrorism). It’s not Israel’s responsibility to fund Gaza’s resurrection, though they can provide technical advice and cooperation.
6. Border security for Gaza that Israel can live with — not a siege — is vital. . . . It is obvious that the measures Israel has had in place since 2007 have not prevented Iran from funding, arming and helping train Hamas. Israel needs now to do better. Even when Israeli ground forces ultimately pull back from Gaza and Gazans start to provide their own police force, Israel will want to ensure for at least three decades, as unobtrusively as possible, that neither Iran nor anyone else has the ability to smuggle into Gaza the means of waging war. At the Department of Homeland Security, I helped draft this kind of plan for Israeli-Palestinian border security that could be retrieved from storage and updated — and to be made real.
This is totally unrealistic, particularly in light of the money Iran has given to Palestine over the past decade. Warrick means well, and seems to have the chops, but this seems like a big fat pie in the sky.
*Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal tells us how “The Israel-Hamas War is tilting the global power balance in favor of Russia, China.” So many pundits and so little time!
But, for now, the war launched by Hamas on Oct. 7 with a brutal attack on Israeli towns and villages that killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, is proving a boon for America’s main geopolitical rivals. China, Russia and Iran have long sought to undermine the U.S.-backed international system and are now taking advantage of America’s distraction.
“What we are seeing is part of a shifting and moving world order,” said former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, who is currently running for Finland’s presidency. “When the U.S. leaves power vacuums, someone is going to fill those vacuums.”
To be sure, the U.S. is already back in the Middle East, showcasing its role as the indispensable partner for Israel and key Arab nations with shuttle diplomacy and military deployments—an engagement that enjoys bipartisan support and dissipates some of the isolationist sentiment that has been gaining ground in recent years.
Still, as Washington’s attention focuses on the Middle East, Russia is probably the clearest beneficiary of the spreading upheaval. Pointing at the mounting Palestinian deaths—around 2,750 by the latest count—Moscow revels in what it calls the hypocrisy of the Western governments, which have roundly condemned Russian massacres of civilians in Ukraine but offer only mild, if any, criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza.
China, too, has embraced the Palestinian cause in a way it hadn’t done in decades. Its once cordial ties with Israel are in tatters. Despite Beijing’s repeated invocations of the need to combat terrorism as it repressed Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, China has pointedly refrained from using the word “terrorism” as it described the Hamas attack, much to Israel’s dismay—even though there were four Chinese citizens killed by Hamas and three more taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.
“The crux of the matter is that justice has not been done to the Palestinian people,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday, in his first public remarks since the Hamas invasion triggered the war.
Had enough punditry? I have!
*Marc Rowan, chief of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School’s board of advisers, has announced that, in light of the school’s ideological capture by activists and its “repulsive moral equivalence between victims of terror and the perpetrators of that terror”, he will no longer donate to the school. (As CEO of Apollo global management, he donated $50 million to the school in 2018).
A debate over how universities should address the Israel-Hamas war has compounded one of the most emotionally charged board fights in years.
It involves two of the most prominent modern figures in finance: Marc Rowan, the chief executive of Apollo and chair of the board of advisers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Scott Bok, the chief executive of Greenhill and chair of Penn’s trustees.
After Hamas’s terrorist attack last Saturday, Rowan called for Bok and Penn’s president, Elizabeth Magill, to resign. Rowan denounced, among other things, the school’s decision to allow on campus, two weeks earlier, a Palestinian literature festival that he said had hosted speakers who presented antisemitic ideas. He believes the school, his alma mater, has an inconsistent approach to the values of free speech.
“Words of hate and violence must be met with clear, reasoned condemnation, rooted in morality from those in positions of authority,” Rowan wrote in an opinion piece submitted to, but not published by, Penn’s student newspaper this week.
“The academic, moral and objective truth of our elite institution was traded for a poorly organized pursuit of social justice and politically correct speech.”
Rowan told CNBC the day after his opinion piece became public that the school had asked three trustees to step down for “publicly disagreeing” with university leaders. He said he had been subtly encouraged to do the same.
Donors are responding big time, sending in only one measly buck until Bok resigns. Now I don’t know the political climate at Wharton or the University of Pennsylvania, but, like college presidents themselves, trustees should be politically neutral in their public statements. If Bok has, however, made Penn overly woke, and has issued public staatements, he should either leave or adopt Chicago’s three foundational principles (Kalven, the Shils report, and the Principles of Free Expression). See also Jacob Savage’s new Free Press article, “Can a donor revolt save American Universities?”
*Japan is now allowing legal sex (i.e., gender) changes without surgery (they don’t say anything about whether other medical treatments can be dispensed with; see below.
A court in central Japan ruled Thursday that it is unconstitutional to require a transgender person to undergo surgery to remove their current reproductive organs in order for them to receive documentation under their new gender.
The verdict in Shizuoka family court upholds a transgender plaintiff’s request to change their gender from female to male without having surgery, a decision that was hailed as a landmark by LGBTQ+ advocates. The verdict sets only a limited precedent, but a similar case before Japan’s Supreme Court could set legal precedent nationally.
Gen Suzuki, 48, filed a lawsuit in 2021, seeking a court decision to allow a change of his biologically assigned gender of female to male to match his self-identity without an operation. He said the requirement to undergo surgery was inhuman and unconstitutional.
On Thursday, the Shizuoka family court upheld his request, saying that surgery to remove sexual organs would cause an irreversible loss of reproductive functions, and that to require the surgery “raises a question of its necessity and rationality” from medical and social perspectives.
The decision comes at a time of heightened awareness of issues surrounding LGBTQ+ people in Japan.
Activists have stepped up efforts to pass an anti-discrimination law since a former aide to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in February that he wouldn’t want to live next to LGBTQ+ people and that citizens would flee Japan if same-sex marriage were allowed. Japan is the only Group of Seven country that does not allow same-sex marriage.
Suzuki has had a double mastectomy and hormone treatment, so this appears to be about reproductive organs alone. Japan appears to be behind the times with regard to same-sex marriage, but I’m not sure what should be the requirements for any country to permit a legal change of “gender” (they mean “sex” as indicated on documents). I’m surprised to realize that I haven’t thought about this issue in any depth. What do readers think?
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is being a home inspector again:
Hili: A ruin.A; Where?Hili: Another two tiles fell off
Hili: Ruina.Ja: Gdzie?Hili: Tu, znowu dwie płytki odpadły.
From Mark. Do you get it? If not, go here.
From a Buzzfeed collection of funny signs,
An excellent cartoon by Guy and Rodd from Jesus of the Day:
From Masih: Iranian women remove their hijabs and send the videos to Masih. Discontent is rife!
“Every day when we go out without hijab we’re not sure if we will be back home or get beaten by morality police.”
Physical violence against unveiled women increased in Iran, but women are resisting by removing forced hijab in public.#WalkingUnveiled is a crime in 21st-century. pic.twitter.com/ma5ZSOF2Xh
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) October 16, 2023
Northwestern joins three other schools in trying to do damage control by insisting that yes, they really do think that what Hamas did was bad. They should all adopt Chicago’s principle of institutional neutrality.
New statement from @NorthwesternU President Michael Schill after his attempt to maintain institutional neutrality for the first time didn’t go well:
“Among the values at Northwestern that we all share and embrace individually and collectively are commitments to free speech,… pic.twitter.com/Rin1Al7ufR
— Steve McGuire (@sfmcguire79) October 15, 2023
Simon’s favorite tweet. Good lord!
The moment you're almost getting into the water and the jaws of a 5 meter long tiger shark suddenly pop up in front of you
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) August 14, 2023
From Michael Shermer via Barry. I’m not sure that one can blame it all on religion if Israel has tendered several sincere and general peace offers that were rejected:
I was just wondering what Hitch would say in these troubling times in the Middle East. Perhaps it would be something like this…https://t.co/oqAFK5g6Su
— Michael Shermer (@michaelshermer) October 16, 2023
From Jez, who calls this “an astonishing video of a Palestinian letting rip at Hamas and the Palestinian Authority”:
🚨🚨🚨A man who grew up as a member of Hamas TORCHES Hamas.
"You kidnap students. You torture your political rivals. The suffering of Palestinians is the outcome of your selfish political interests. If Israel didn't exist, you'd have no one to blame!"
— Kat Kanada (@KatKanada_TM) October 15, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial: A survivor who died in 2005. Read about him here.
14 October 1913 | Pole Józef Garlinski was born in Kyiv. A lawyer. He served in the counterintelligence of the Home Army.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) October 17, 2023
Tweets from Professor Cobb. The first one is like getting a shower while you’re napping:
A sea turtle taking a nap on the ocean floor while fish clean its shell.
📽: Drew Sulockpic.twitter.com/6hoIiQpJ9f
— Wonder of Science (@wonderofscience) October 15, 2023
A visit to the hidden chambers underneath Tower Bridge. Sound up, though there are captions.
Underneath Tower Bridge are two huge chambers. I went inside one… 👇 pic.twitter.com/aA1P4C5oYV
— Living London History | Jack Chesher (@livinglondonhis) October 15, 2023
A great view of the eclipse the other day:
Emerging at sunrise over the N. Pacific, the Moon's shadow speeds towards sunset over the S. Atlantic!
The video covers from 2pm until 8:30pm UTC. pic.twitter.com/7otsa5u3Xn
— Simon Proud (@simon_sat) October 14, 2023