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Robert Lipsyte, What Kind of Jew Am I?

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I grew up in the least-Jewish Jewish family around in the 1950s. We celebrated Christmas every year in a big-time fashion: tree, decorations, and all. And despite the desires of my dear grandmother, there would be no temple, no Sunday Hebrew school, no religion of any sort. I actually went to a Quaker school and I suspect that the first temple I ever entered was at 13 for a friend’s bar mitzvah. I did have one Israeli buddy for a few years, a neighbor who got a black-and-white TV before we did and so I spent as much time as I could in his apartment until his family went back to the Middle East. Yes, sometime in those early years, I was on the street with my own father when a passing stranger made an antisemitic slur and, being a tough, no-nonsense guy (“Major” Engelhardt as he liked his friends to call him from his years in World War II), my dad went right after him. And yes, one of my first roommates at Yale (which had only removed its Jewish quotas a year or two before I arrived in 1962), someone I grew to like, later told me that his dad, undoubtedly a Yale alumni, had specifically warned him to watch out for any Jew at Yale whose father was in the insurance business. (Consider that a knife through the heart!)

And none of that has ever changed. I married an ex-Catholic, brought my kids up without religion, and though there’s a temple catty-corner to the apartment building I’ve lived in for almost the last half-century, I’ve only been inside it once (for a Pete Seeger concert). And yet, explain it as you will, I take what Benjamin Netanyahu and crew, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, are doing in Gaza in a strangely personal fashion. Yes, I was horrified when Hamas committed its grim crimes on October 7th, but somehow, somewhere deep in my heart, I never thought that the Israelis would respond not just in kind but in a fashion even more horrifying and without end.

I mean, honestly, given the historic suffering of Jews, who the hell kills untold thousands of children in a 25-mile-strip of land; attacks every hospital in sight; instantly cuts off food, fuel, and water to more than two million people; causes massive deaths (a daily toll higher than any other significant twenty-first-century conflict); destroys more than half of that area’s housing; and leaves untold thousands of Gazan civilians starving to death and with untreated illnesses of all sorts — and, after all of that, still isn’t faintly done? Somehow — yes, call it the hidden Jew in me — I take offense at that. And in that context, let me turn to TomDispatch regular Robert Lipsyte who offers his own very personal look at what being Jewish has meant to him and means to him now in this all-too-hellish world of ours. Tom

I’m Heartbroken by the War in Israel

But I Know What Eyeless in Gaza Means

Long ago, I came to believe that being a Jew, even a secular one like me, entailed certain responsibilities. A people who had suffered so much yet survived were obligated, if not honored, to serve as witnesses and supporters of other oppressed people and to live in the public interest, to model ethical lives. Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, and Sandy Koufax all made me proud, while I felt ashamed of Roy Cohn, Alan Dershowitz, and Henry Kissinger.

I never reached such lofty, self-righteous, or even chauvinistic heights or depths, but such figures, positive and negative, offered a comforting structure for my casual, shallow life as a Jew. I rarely observed high holy days. My children were neither bar nor bat mitzvahed. I have lived in a space somewhere between my immigrant grandmother’s anxious response to all current events -- “Is it good or bad for the Jews?” -- and my father’s snarky yet philosophical “Judaism would be a great religion if you got God out of it.” In my overall indifference to my Jewishness and my unsureness about what it meant to me lay, I thought, a kind of worldliness and emotional integrity. It was enough to attempt to live a decent life, be a sportswriter for the New York Times, write books for adults and children, try my best to do some good works.

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Michael Klare, Swarming Our World

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Make no mistake, artificial Intelligence (AI) has already gone into battle in a big-time way. The Israeli military is using it in Gaza on a scale previously unknown in wartime. They’ve reportedly been employing an AI target-selection platform called (all too unnervingly) “the Gospel” to choose many of their bombing sites. According to a December report in the Guardian, the Gospel “has significantly accelerated a lethal production line of targets that officials have compared to a ‘factory.’” The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claim that it “produces precise attacks on infrastructure associated with Hamas while inflicting great damage to the enemy and minimal harm to noncombatants.” Significantly enough, using that system, the IDF attacked 15,000 targets in Gaza in just the first 35 days of the war. And given the staggering damage done and the devastating death toll there, the Gospel could, according to the Guardian, be thought of as an AI-driven “mass assassination factory.”

Meanwhile, of course, in the Ukraine War, both the Russians and the Ukrainians have been hustling to develop, produce, and unleash AI-driven drones with deadly capabilities. Only recently, in fact, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky created a new branch of his country’s armed services specifically focused on drone warfare and is planning to produce more than one million drones this year.  According to the Independent, “Ukrainian forces are expected to create special staff positions for drone operations, special units, and build effective training. There will also be a scaling-up of production for drone operations, and inclusion of the best ideas and top specialists in the unmanned aerial vehicles domain, [Ukrainian] officials have said.”

And all of this is just the beginning when it comes to war, AI-style, which is going to include the creation of “killer robots” of every imaginable sort. But as the U.S., Russia, China, and other countries rush to introduce AI-driven battlefields, let TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, who has long been focused on what it means for the globe’s major powers to militarize AI, take you into a future in which (god save us all!) robots could be running (yes, actually running!) the show. Tom

“Emergent” AI Behavior and Human Destiny

What Happens When Killer Robots Start Communicating with Each Other?

Yes, it's already time to be worried -- very worried. As the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have shown, the earliest drone equivalents of “killer robots” have made it onto the battlefield and proved to be devastating weapons. But at least they remain largely under human control. Imagine, for a moment, a world of war in which those aerial drones (or their ground and sea equivalents) controlled us, rather than vice-versa. Then we would be on a destructively different planet in a fashion that might seem almost unimaginable today. Sadly, though, it's anything but unimaginable, given the work on artificial intelligence (AI) and robot weaponry that the major powers have already begun. Now, let me take you into that arcane world and try to envision what the future of warfare might mean for the rest of us.

By combining AI with advanced robotics, the U.S. military and those of other advanced powers are already hard at work creating an array of self-guided “autonomous” weapons systems -- combat drones that can employ lethal force independently of any human officers meant to command them. Called “killer robots” by critics, such devices include a variety of uncrewed or “unmanned” planes, tanks, ships, and submarines capable of autonomous operation. The U.S. Air Force, for example, is developing its “collaborative combat aircraft,” an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) intended to join piloted aircraft on high-risk missions. The Army is similarly testing a variety of autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), while the Navy is experimenting with both unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned undersea vessels (UUVs, or drone submarines). China, Russia, Australia, and Israel are also working on such weaponry for the battlefields of the future.

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Joshua Frank, Waters of Conflict

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All of us now live on one hell (and I do mean hell) of a planet. Just imagine this: June, July, August, September, October, November, December — each was a record-shattering month of heat in 2023, which, not surprisingly, proved to be a record-shattering year. Month by month, humanity had never experienced the likes of it. And January 2024 set the latest monthly heat record not just for the land, but for the oceans, too.

Now, let me go Trumpian for a moment and replace his “drill, drill, drill” (on Day 1 of his future “dictatorship” — oops, sorry, I meant presidency) with “heat, heat, heat.” Of course, were he to win the upcoming election, he undoubtedly would do his damnedest to turn this world of ours into an all too literal hellhole of fossil-fuel use.

Unfortunately, despite its recent record extremes, climate change is, in a sense, hard to take in. It’s a remarkably ongoing global phenomenon that doesn’t tend to bombard us with headlines like the nightmare in Gaza or Joe Biden’s “well-meaning, elderly” charm or Donald Trump’s potential offer to the Russians to do “whatever the hell they want” when it comes to certain countries in Europe. It’s generally in the background, even as records are broken, then broken again, and again and again and… well, you get the point. After all, for the first time ever, last year’s global heat may even have breached the barrier set up in the 2015 Paris climate accord of 1.5 degrees Centigrade above the pre-industrial average. (If not, it came awfully close.) Meanwhile, from unparalleled rainstorms and floods to unparalleled fires, this planet and all of us on it are experiencing something new.

In the context of that newness — in a world where rivers are drying up — things that once were a given no longer are. In today’s case, let TomDispatch regular Joshua Frank, author of Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, help us think about what it means to build giant dams across the planet. And while you’re at it, keep in mind that we’re all now living in a world that, not so long ago, would have seemed unbelievable — and that in some cases, like drill, drill, drill, build, build, build may not be the dream formula it once was. Tom

Dam, Dam, Dam!

Is There a Place for Hydropower in a Warming World?

We live in a world of dangerous, deadly extremes. Record-breaking heat waves, intense drought, stronger hurricanes, unprecedented flash flooding. No corner of the planet will be spared the wrath of human-caused climate change and the earth's fresh water is already feeling the heat of this new reality. More than half of the world’s lakes and two-thirds of its rivers are drying up, threatening ecosystems, farmland, and drinking water supplies. Such diminishing resources are also likely to lead to conflict and even, potentially, all-out war.

“Competition over limited water resources is one of the main concerns for the coming decades,” warned a study published in Global Environmental Change in 2018. “Although water issues alone have not been the sole trigger for warfare in the past, tensions over freshwater management and use represent one of the main concerns in political relations between... states and may exacerbate existing tensions, increase regional instability and social unrest.”

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