a genocide is happening right now and nations are doing nothing to stop it

Right now the State of Israel is committing genocide against the people of Gaza. Many humans around the globe are horrified, grieving, raging. But people with the power to stop it are either defending it or remaining silent. And as we know, silence equals complicity.

In this post, I have collecting my Facebook posts from the past weeks, saving them here for my own reference, in reverse chronological order. 

I have turned off commenting on this post. 

29 October

Blaming victims for their own deaths is different than seeing actions in context. Or: providing political context is not victim-blaming.

"The left" was supposedly insensitive and morally bankrupt about the deaths of the Israelis terrorized and killed on October 7. I can't speak for "the left" (obviously), but I can say this. What happened on October 7 was mind-boggling, terrorizing, murderous, horrendous, and absolutely undeserved -- because no human beings deserve to be slaughtered. And I can say that Israeli apartheid, imperialism, and the continuing subjugation of Palestinians stoked Paliestinian hatred, put Israelis at risk, and led directly to terrorist violence. Both of these things are true.

I don't see anti-Semitism in that sentence, and the idea that there's a "fine line" between denouncing apartheid and hating Jews is bullshit. Maybe some who speak out against apartheid do hate Jews -- I've never encountered it, but of course it may exist, since Jew-hating is a popular pastime -- but that doesn't mean the two are the same or even similar. (I've encountered plenty of antisemitism, but none of it was connected to the anti-apartheid movement.)

It's important to write and talk about these things, and I'm glad that is happening, but meanwhile the world is debating these concepts WHILE GENOCIDE IS TAKING PLACE.

* * * *

Between 200 and 300 people were arrested in Grand Central Terminal two days ago, in a demonstration organized by Jewish Voices for Peace. I know that there were huge protests all over the world, but this, in my hometown, from Jewish people... it makes me weep. A feeling so profound, I cannot name it.

28 October

My friend Beth reports: 

There is now no land or cell phone service in Gaza, no power, no water, no internet.  Henceforth the people can be obliterated in a vaccuum.  And no government cares.

Jews who have wondered how the world let the Holocaust happen, where are you now?? What can possibly justify this slaughter???

This was taken in Grand Central Terminal, NYC, on Friday October 27. Lots of arrests. I'm heartened to see so many people willing to get arrested for peace.

27 October

Join Amnesty, the world's conscience, in demanding a ceasefire.

From The Globe and Mail:

Aid convoys to Gaza were ‘set up to fail,’ UN official says, as humanitarian crisis worsens

By Geoffrey York, Mark MacKinnon

With aid convoys stalled and dwindling, and Gaza on the verge of civil disorder, a senior United Nations official says the Palestinian territory and its humanitarian workers are victims of a system that was “set up to fail.”

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, told The Globe and Mail that some of Gaza’s two million people will soon be dying from Israel’s siege of the territory, not just from the relentless bombardments that have reportedly killed thousands. Water, food, fuel and medicine are all nearly exhausted.

Mr. Lazzarini described a riot that erupted Thursday in a southern district of Gaza after people were falsely told in text messages that the UN would be distributing food there. “Civil order is breaking down,” he said. “People are just completely desperate.”

Aid agencies were able to get 40 trucks of relief supplies into Gaza from Egypt last weekend, and Western leaders said that was just the beginning, with an increase in the daily number of trucks expected. Instead, the number has dropped, with only 34 trucks entering the territory over four days this week. Aid trucks have routinely been held for many hours at Israeli inspection zones, with Israel saying it must ensure that no weapons or fuel are reaching Hamas fighters.

Before this war, Mr. Lazzarini noted, Israel was able to inspect about 500 trucks daily at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza. “So why does it take so long now for a handful of trucks?” he asked.

“It’s a very good question. There is certainly a lack of will. If there was a will, we would have much more. … The system in place today is set up to fail.”


“Everything is crumbling and collapsing,” Mr. Lazzarini said. “People are struggling the entire day to try to find some clean water. Sooner or later, under our watch, we will see people dying not just because of the bombardment but also because of the impact of the siege being imposed on the population of Gaza. How is this possible, when this is unfolding live, 24 hours a day, on all possible media, social media and television?”

The world’s focus on a small number of aid trucks is “almost disgraceful” when it is abundantly clear that the convoys are a tiny percentage of what is needed to avert deaths from starvation or dehydration, he said. The siege has resulted in the “collective punishment of an entire population.”

“You have a weakened community of the people. They are completely exhausted after two weeks of war. Many of them are displaced two or three times. They don’t find clean water or proper food.”

UNRWA had warned that it would have to halt its humanitarian operations in Gaza if it did not receive fuel supplies by Wednesday night. It was able to push the deadline back by tightly rationing its use of fuel, he said.

“We have given less to hospitals, given less to bakeries, and that has allowed us to go one or two more days. Maybe we will decide not to go to our shelters every day, just to add one day or two. But we are coming to the end. We’ve done all possible to ration our limited remaining resource. We have agonizing decisions all the time. We are on the edge of a breakdown of our operations.”


He added that the situation in the West Bank, the other half of the Palestinian Territories – which he characterized as “already boiling” before Oct. 7 – was also deteriorating rapidly. He described a dangerous mix of economic pain, as Palestinians who work in Israel have lost their jobs since the Hamas attacks, alongside a rising number of attacks on Palestinians being carried out by Jewish settlers who live in illegal settlements in the occupied territory.

“All this is a recipe for more violence,” Mr. Lazzarini said, pointing out that October has already seen the highest death toll among Palestinians in the West Bank in two decades, since the height of the last intifada. More than 90 West Bank Palestinians have died in clashes with Israeli security forces since the start of the war in and around Gaza.


Mr. Lazzarini said the hardest part of his job has been managing the organization while 43 of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff members have been killed over the past three weeks, a number he said roughly correlated with an overall situation that has seen more than 7,000 Palestinians killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Just like the rest of Gaza, UNRWA staff have lost homes and families, and many have become aid recipients themselves.

“It’s deeply distressful to see so many colleagues, not just our staff [who have died] but all the other staff who have lost kids, have lost relatives. It’s just endless,” he said. “You feel powerless. Your word is not enough any more. Being UN is not enough any more to bring safety. You feel that Gaza is definitely a place where there is no safe place for anyone.”

* * * *

25 October

Please read this powerful, honest, heartbreaking essay by Hala Ayan, a Palestinian American writer, psychologist, and professor. 

Why Must Palestinians Audition for Your Empathy?

Oct. 25, 2023 

By Hala Ayan

I’ve moved back to the United States twice since my birth. Once as a child, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Then again for graduate school. I’d had the privilege of a youth — adolescence and young adulthood — in countries where being Palestinian was fairly common. The identity could be heavy, but it wasn’t a contested one. I hadn’t had to learn the respectability politics of being a Palestinian adult. I learned quickly.

The task of the Palestinian is to be palatable or to be condemned. The task of the Palestinian, we’ve seen in the past two weeks, is to audition for empathy and compassion. To prove that we deserve it. To earn it.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched Palestinian activists, lawyers, professors get baited and interrupted on air, if not silenced altogether. They are being made to sing for the supper of airtime and fair coverage. They are begging reporters to do the most basic tasks of their job. At the same time, Palestinians fleeing from bombs have been misidentified. Even when under attack, they must be costumed as another people to elicit humanity. Even in death, they cannot rest — Palestinians are being buried in mass graves or in old graves dug up to make room, and still there is not enough space.

If that weren’t enough, Palestinian slaughter is too often presented ahistorically, untethered to reality: It is not attributed to real steel and missiles, to occupation, to policy. To earn compassion for their dead, Palestinians must first prove their innocence. The real problem with condemnation is the quiet, sly tenor of the questions that accompany it: Palestinians are presumed violent — and deserving of violence — until proved otherwise. Their deaths are presumed defensible until proved otherwise. What is the word of a Palestinian against a machinery that investigates itself, that absolves itself of accused crimes? What is it against a government whose representatives have referred to Palestinians as “human animals” and “wild beasts?” When a well-suited man can say brazenly and unflinchingly that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people?

It is, of course, a remarkably effective strategy. A slaughter isn’t a slaughter if those being slaughtered are at fault, if they’ve been quietly and effectively dehumanized — in the media, through policy — for years. If nobody is a civilian, nobody can be a victim.


In 2017, I published a novel about a Palestinian family. It was published by a respectable publisher, got a lot of lovely press, was given a book tour. I spoke on panels, to book clubs. I answered questions after readings. There was a refrain that kept coming up. People kept commenting on how human the story was. You’ve humanized the conflict. This is a human story.

Of course, literature and the arts play a crucial role in providing context — expanding our empathy, granting us glimpses into other worlds. But every time I was told I’d humanized the Palestinians, I would have to suppress the question it invoked: What had they been before?

A couple of weeks ago, in a professional space, someone called Palestinians by name and spoke of the seven decades of their anguish. I sat among dozens of co-workers and realized my lip was quivering. I was crying before I understood it was happening. I fled the room, and it took 10 minutes for me to stop sobbing. I didn’t immediately understand my reaction. Over the years, I’ve faced meetings, classrooms and other institutional spaces where Palestinians went unnamed or were referred to only as terrorists. I came of professional age in a country where people lost all sorts of things for speaking of Palestine: social standing, university tenure, journalist positions. But in the end, I am undone not by silence or erasure but by empathy. By the simple naming of my people. By increasing recognition that liberation is linked. By spaces of Palestinian-Jewish solidarity. By what has become controversial: the simple speaking aloud of Palestinian suffering.

These days, everyone is trying to write about the children. An incomprehensible number of them dead and counting. We are up at night, combing through the flickering light of our phones, trying to find the metaphor, the clip, the photograph to prove a child is a child. It is an unbearable task. We ask: Will this be the image that finally does it? This half-child on a rooftop? This video, reposted by Al Jazeera, of an inconsolable girl appearing to recognize her mother’s body among the dead, screaming out, “It’s her, it’s her. I swear it’s her. I know her from her hair”?


Take it from a writer: There is nothing like the tedium of trying to come up with analogies. There is something humiliating in trying to earn solidarity. I keep seeing infographics desperately trying to appeal to American audiences. Imagine most of the population of Manhattan being told to evacuate in 24 hours. Imagine the president of [ ] going on NBC and saying all [ ] people are [ ]. Look! Here’s a strip on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s Gaza. It is about the same size as Philadelphia. Or multiply the entire population of Las Vegas by three.

This is demoralizing work, to have to speak constantly in the vernacular of tragedies and atrocities, to say: Look, look. Remember? That other suffering that was eventually deemed unacceptable? Let me hold it up to this one. Let me show you proportion. Let me earn your outrage. Absent that, let me earn your memory. Please.

I don’t hesitate for a second to condemn the killing of any child, any massacre of civilians. It is the easiest ask in the world. And it is not in spite of that but because of that I say: Condemn the brutalization of bodies. By all means, do. Condemn murder. Condemn violence, imprisonment, all forms of oppression. But if your shock and distress comes only at the sight of certain brutalized bodies? If you speak out but not when Palestinian bodies are besieged and murdered, abducted and imprisoned? Then it is worth asking yourself which brutalization is acceptable to you, even quietly, even subconsciously, and which is not.

Name the discrepancy and own it. If you can’t be equitable, be honest.

There is nothing complicated about asking for freedom. Palestinians deserve equal rights, equal access to resources, equal access to fair elections and so forth. If this makes you uneasy, then you must ask yourself why.


Here is the truth of the diasporic Palestinians: They are not magically diasporic. Their diaspora-ness is a direct result of often violent, intentional and illegal dispossession. One day a house is yours; one day it is not. One day a neighborhood is yours; one day it is not. One day a territory is yours; one day it is not. This same sort of dispossession is grounded in the same mind-set and international complicity that is playing out in Gaza.

I’m a poet, a writer, a psychologist. I’m deeply familiar with the importance of language. I’ve agonized over an em dash. I’ve spent afternoons muttering about the aptness of a verb. I pay attention to language, my own and others. Being Palestinian in this country — in many countries — is a numbing exercise in gauging where pockets of safety are, sussing out which friends, co-workers or acquaintances will be allies, which will stay silent. Who will speak.

Here’s another thing I know as a writer and psychologist: It matters where you start a narrative. In addiction work, you call this playing the tape. Diasporically or not, being Palestinian is the quintessential disrupter: It messes with a curated, modified tape. We exist, and our existence presents an existential affront. As long as we exist, we challenge several falsehoods, not the least of which is that, for some, we never existed at all. That decades ago, a country was born in the delicious, glittering expanse of nothingness — a birthright, something due. Our very existence challenges a formidable, militarized narrative.

But the days of the Palestine exception are numbered. Palestine is increasingly becoming the litmus test for true liberatory practice.

In the meantime, Palestinians continue to be cast paradoxically — both terror and invisible, both people who never existed and people who cannot return.

Imagine being such a pest, such an obstacle. Or: Imagine being so powerful.

Hala Alyan is a clinical psychologist and professor in New York City. She is the author of the novels “Salt Houses” and “The Arsonists’ City,” and several collections of poetry, including the forthcoming “The Moon That Turns You Back.”

* * * * 

21 October

20 October

Headline of Nicholas Kristof's column: "We must not kill Gazan children in order to protect Israel's children." I'm glad he's writing this but WHY DOES THIS EVEN NEED TO BE SAID????? WTF people??? And seriously, if you believe for one moment that Israel did not bomb that hospital, you need a crash course in the history of imperialism.

* * * *

The Onion: Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words to Condemn Hamas

19 October

Gabor Mate: The Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become a Nightmare

As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth.

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

“People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,” in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded. Netanyahu has his reasons. Harper and Obama have theirs.

And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

A few days ago I met with one of my dearest friends, a comrade from Zionist days and now professor emeritus at an Israeli university. We spoke of everything but the daily savagery depicted on our TV screens. We both feared the rancour that would arise.

But, I want to say to my friend, can we not be sad together at what that beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to? Can we not grieve the death of innocents? I am sad these days. Can we not at least mourn together?

* * * *

Bomb and death threats prompt major Muslim group to move annual banquet

A national Muslim civil rights group said Thursday it is moving its annual banquet out of a Virginia hotel that received bomb and death threats possibly linked to the group's concern for Palestinians caught in the Israel-Hamas war.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, canceled plans to hold its 29th annual banquet on Saturday at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The group, which has used the hotel for a decade, will imove the banquet to an undisclosed location with heightened security, the group's statement said.

* * * * 

18 October

You claim your point of view is righteous and just. Then why is it necessary to silence opposing views? Job offers pulled, academic admissions rescinded, books removed from prestigious conference. Hiding behind specious claims of anti-Semitism -- while pretending that all Palestinian people are terrorists. Jewish people should know better, and should do better.

* * * * 

Canadians, you can make tax-deductible donations to humanitarian aid to Gaza through the CJPME Foundation

As I'm sure you know, Facebook posts are being blocked, job offers are being rescinded, people have been fired, novels (longlisted for the Booker Prize!) dropped from international book fairs -- all for showing support to the Palestinian people. And in at least one instance, for being Palestinian. 

This week Israel dropped bombs on a hospital -- and we're being censored for supporting the victims. 

17 October

I hope American Jews who are still defending Israel's actions in Gaza will read and heed this column by Michelle Goldberg. She is a Jewish person who supports Israel and who sympathizes with Jews who equate Hamas' attacks in Israel with genocide. I hope that any of my American Jewish friends who are still seeing my feed (i.e. have not yet un-followed me) will read and share this with their own communities.

Piling Horror Upon Horror

Michelle Goldberg
New York Times
October 16, 2023

Watching from afar as people race toward an abyss, I find it hard to know what to write except “no,” over and over. In the face of massacres that for Jews around the world brought back memories of genocide, the language of some Israeli leaders has, in turn, become murderous. On the cusp of a likely ground invasion of Gaza, many people I’ve spoken to, Jewish and Palestinian alike, are terrified that this rhetoric will become reality.

Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president, said that the “entire nation” of Gaza was “responsible” for the attacks at a news conference on Friday, telling reporters, “It is not true, this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved.” Herzog later clarified that civilians are not legitimate targets, but his words, coming from a member of Israel’s center-left Labor Party, were still chilling, suggesting a broad political consensus that Gazans are collectively to blame for the horror that befell Israel. “All gloves are off,” Ron Prosor, a distinguished Israeli diplomat, told Politico.

In such an environment, the ruling Israeli right, some of whose members spoke of forcing Palestinians out of Israel even before Hamas’s latest rampage, has little to restrain it. Tally Gotliv, a member of the Knesset from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, urged the use of “doomsday weapons” on Gaza. Another member of Likud called for a second nakba, the Arabic word referring to the mass expulsion of Palestinians at Israel’s creation in 1948.

I can empathize with liberal Jews both in Israel and throughout the diaspora who feel too overwhelmed, at this moment of great fear and vulnerability, to protest the escalating suffering inflicted on Palestinians. It is not fair that events are moving too quickly to give people time to grieve the victimization of their own community before being asked to try to prevent the victimization of others. Nevertheless, as atrocities are piled on atrocities, I hope Jews will attend to what is being threatened in our name. And all Americans should pay attention, given how much our country underwrites Israel’s military.

In Gaza, mass death has already begun. Last week the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, announced that Israel was cutting off Gaza’s water, electricity, food and fuel. There was hopeful reporting over the weekend that at the urging of President Biden’s administration, water to a town in Gaza’s south had been turned back on, but for many, drinking water is still unavailable. The Associated Press reported on Sunday that clean water has run out in U.N. shelters across Gaza. On Saturday, UNICEF reported that, according to local sources, more than 700 children in Gaza had been killed. The number by now is surely higher.

Some readers, I suspect, will respond that while this is all terrible, it is also all Hamas’s fault. In many ways, I agree. Hamas’s terror is clearly the immediate cause of the hell raining down on Gaza; most countries attacked as Israel was attacked would respond with war. That does not, however, license Israeli indifference, or worse, to the lives of civilians. Israelis have a right to their rage; I imagine that if I were Israeli, I would share it. But incitement against Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of whom have nothing to do with Hamas terrorism, is leading us toward somewhere even darker than where we are right now.

Influential voices in America are intensifying the bloodthirsty atmosphere. Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” the Republican senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas dismissed worries that mass civilian casualties in Gaza will work to Hamas’s advantage on the world stage. “As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza,” he said. That phrase, “bounce the rubble,” is a reference to a Winston Churchill quote about apocalyptic military overkill. To Cotton’s right, the language is even more incendiary. “If it comes down to ethnic cleansing — you want to cleanse my people, I’ll cleanse yours first,” said Joel Pollak, a senior editor at large at Breitbart News, on the webcast of the leading young conservative Charlie Kirk.

We can already see where the total dehumanization of Palestinians leads. This weekend, a 6-year-old boy in Illinois was allegedly stabbed to death by his landlord, who is also accused of gravely injuring the boy’s mother. According to the local sheriff’s office, the victims were targeted “due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”

If this is the atmosphere in parts of the United States, it is exponentially more fevered in Israel. On Monday morning I spoke to Diana Buttu, a Canadian Palestinian lawyer in Haifa who once served as a legal adviser for the Palestine Liberation Organization. “I can understand what my grandmother felt in 1948 when she fled” from a town near Nazareth, Buttu said. “Because it’s a climate of total fear that you’re next. And this isn’t just in the Gaza Strip; it’s also spread to the West Bank.” Already, according to Al Jazeera, at least 55 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed, some by soldiers and others by settlers. Haaretz reported that five Palestinians were shot dead by settlers in the village of Qusra. A message to the village on WhatsApp said, “We have no red lines. We’ll punish you in order to make an example out of you.”

Buttu sent me a link to a mostly Hebrew-language Telegram group with over 82,000 subscribers in which people had posted celebratory photographs of dead and injured Palestinians. “The people of Gaza are not innocent!” said an introductory message for English speakers. If and when those who believe this act on it, we can’t pretend we weren’t warned.

16 October

I stand with Fred. I stand for peace and justice for all people, including Palestinians. I also believe in the right of every person to express their views. Thank you Fred Hahn for being a voice for truth and justice. Please share and tag CUPE Ontario.

13 October

"Israel has a right to defend itself." That's what the Zionists say. 

Any Jewish person who defends or rationalizes this has lost their way.

12 October

As per usual, anything less than 100%, unequivocal, lockstep support for Israel meets accusations of antisemitism and support of terrorism. I am so friggin sick of that. I hope Fred Hahn does not apologize for anything he has said.

Sharing this oldie but goodie from wmtc (with all the great comments gone: a simple lesson: how to tell the difference between hatred of a people and criticism of a nation's policies

11 October

Here's something to think about. Every Israeli attack on Gaza -- every single bomb, every blockade, every shooting, every bulldozing, every siege -- and there have been many -- for years and for decades -- have been attacks on civilians. ALL OF THEM. This does not justify the Hamas attacks in any way. It does, however, make me wonder at all the horror and sadness being poured out for Israeli dead -- all the shock over civilian targets. I've never heard that kind of shock and horror when Israeli bombs drop on the civilians of Gaza.

Is it really so shocking that after a country isolates, abuses, and subjugates a people, that some of those subjugated people will strike back with violence? Is it shocking that Israel's imperialism has put its own people at risk? Not only isn't it shocking, it's inevitable.

10 October

Does "Never Again" mean never, for all the world's peoples, or does it only mean never again *to us*? Because if you don't support freedom and independence for Palestine, if you support Israel's apartheid state, you're not concerned with humanity. You're only concerned with your own kind. How does that square with the rest of your values? 

Hearts are breaking for the deaths of Israelis, and rightly so. But for the deaths of Gaza? Silence.

Israel Can’t Imprison Two Million Gazans Without Paying a Cruel Price

Gideon Levy

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Oct 9, 2023

Behind all this lies Israeli arrogance; the idea that we can do whatever we like, that we’ll never pay the price and be punished for it. We’ll carry on undisturbed.

Behind all this lies Israeli arrogance; the idea that we can do whatever we like, that we’ll never pay the price and be punished for it. We’ll carry on undisturbed.

We’ll arrest, kill, harass, dispossess and protect the settlers busy with their pogroms. We'll visit Joseph’s Tomb, Othniel’s Tomb and Joshua’s Altar in the Palestinian territories, and of course the Temple Mount – over 5,000 Jews on Sukkot alone.

We’ll fire at innocent people, take out people’s eyes and smash their faces, expel, confiscate, rob, grab people from their beds, carry out ethnic cleansing and of course continue with the unbelievable siege of the Gaza Strip, and everything will be all right.

We’ll build a terrifying obstacle around Gaza – the underground wall alone cost 3 billion shekels ($765 million) – and we’ll be safe. We’ll rely on the geniuses of the army's 8200 cyber-intelligence unit and on the Shin Bet security service agents who know everything. They’ll warn us in time.

We’ll transfer half an army from the Gaza border to the Hawara border in the West Bank, only to protect far-right lawmaker Zvi Sukkot and the settlers. And everything will be all right, both in Hawara and at the Erez crossing into Gaza.

It turns out that even the world's most sophisticated and expensive obstacle can be breached with a smoky old bulldozer when the motivation is great. This arrogant barrier can be crossed by bicycle and moped despite the billions poured into it and all the famous experts and fat-cat contractors.

The Gaza Palestinians are willing to pay any price for a moment of freedom. Will Israel learn its lesson? No.

We thought we’d continue to go down to Gaza, scatter a few crumbs in the form of tens of thousands of Israeli work permits – always contingent on good behavior – and still keep them in prison. We’ll make peace with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinians will be forgotten until they’re erased, as quite a few Israelis would like.

We’ll keep holding thousands of Palestinian prisoners, sometimes without trial, most of them political prisoners. And we won’t agree to discuss their release even after they've been in prison for decades.

We’ll tell them that only by force will their prisoners see freedom. We thought we would arrogantly keep rejecting any attempt at a diplomatic solution, only because we don’t want to deal with all that, and everything would continue that way forever.

Once again it was proved that this isn’t how it is. A few hundred armed Palestinians breached the barrier and invaded Israel in a way no Israeli imagined was possible. A few hundred people proved that it’s impossible to imprison 2 million people forever without paying a cruel price.

Just as the smoky old Palestinian bulldozer tore through the world’s smartest barrier Saturday, it tore away at Israel’s arrogance and complacency. And that’s also how it tore away at the idea that it’s enough to occasionally attack Gaza with suicide drones – and sell them to half the world – to maintain security.

On Saturday, Israel saw pictures it has never seen before. Palestinian vehicles patrolling its cities, bike riders entering through the Gaza gates. These pictures tear away at that arrogance. The Gaza Palestinians have decided they’re willing to pay any price for a moment of freedom. Is there any hope in that? No. Will Israel learn its lesson? No.

On Saturday they were already talking about wiping out entire neighborhoods in Gaza, about occupying the Strip and punishing Gaza “as it has never been punished before.” But Israel hasn’t stopped punishing Gaza since 1948, not for a moment.

After 75 years of abuse, the worst possible scenario awaits it once again. The threats of “flattening Gaza” prove only one thing: We haven’t learned a thing. The arrogance is here to stay, even though Israel is paying a high price once again.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bears very great responsibility for what happened, and he must pay the price, but it didn’t start with him and it won’t end after he goes. We now have to cry bitterly for the Israeli victims, but we should also cry for Gaza.

Gaza, most of whose residents are refugees created by Israel. Gaza, which has never known a single day of freedom.

9 October

I can see how if a person sees only US or Canadian mainstream sources, it could seem like Hamas attacked Israel out of the blue, unprovoked. That's how one-sided the coverage is. There's no context. Occupation, pogroms, blockades, deliberate power and water outages, settlers claiming more and more land, a denial of the very right to exist. The daily brutality that Americans and Canadians are rarely, if ever, exposed to. When a colonized people lash out, it is never out of the blue.

8 October

When the oppressed rise up against their oppressor, they are not starting a war.

Israeli lawmaker blames pogroms against Palestinians for ‘terrible’ attacks

Ofer Cassif says he warned the situation would ‘erupt’ if Israel did not change its treatment of Palestinians.

By Eliyahu Freedman

8 Oct 2023

An Israeli lawmaker has told Al Jazeera that his party warned about events like Saturday’s Hamas attack on Israel if the country’s government continued its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Hamas launched a multipronged assault at dawn on Saturday with thousands of rockets fired at Israel, and the Gaza-based group’s fighters infiltrating Israeli towns and illegal settlements.

The attack left at least 600 Israelis dead, including dozens of soldiers, with bodies strewn on roads. Meanwhile, at least 313 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,700 others wounded in Israeli bombardments of the besieged Gaza enclave.

Ofer Cassif, a member of the Knesset and leftist Hadash coalition, said he warned the situation would “erupt” if the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not change its policies towards Palestinians. Hadash has four seats in the 120-member Knesset.

“We condemn and oppose any assault on innocent civilians. But in contrast to the Israeli government that means that we oppose any assault on Palestinian civilians as well. We must analyse those terrible incidents [the attacks] in the right context – and that is the ongoing occupation,” Cassif said.

“We have been warning time and time again… everything is going to erupt and everybody is going to pay a price – mainly innocent civilians on both sides. And unfortunately, that is exactly what happened,” he said.

“The Israeli government, which is a fascist government, supports, encourages, and leads pogroms against the Palestinians. There is an ethnic cleansing going on. It was obvious the writing was on the wall, written in the blood of the Palestinians  – and unfortunately now Israelis as well,” he added.


what i'm reading: for the win + labour book club update

Cory Doctorow's novel For the Win may have been the most unexpected title on my Labour Book Club booklist. It's kind of science fiction (but not really), kind of YA (but not), and it doesn't show up on most "books about unions" lists. But it is most definitely a book about workers, exploitation, unions, and solidarity, from a strongly sympathetic point of view.

For the Win was the only book our group read that addressed the issues of workers in the global economy, including the digital economy -- where workers are invisible to the outside world. 

Much of the action in For the Win revolves around the world of massive multiplayer online role-playing games, known as MMPORGs. Millions of people play these games, so they are -- of course -- giant businesses with correspondingly giant profits to be made. 

I'm sure some wmtc readers need some background info in order to understand this. I sure did! So here's my explanation; hopefully it's not too awkward.

In a MMPORG, a player assumes the role of a character, often in a fantasy context, and controls that character's action. Huge numbers of people play the game at the same time, and because players are all over the world, the game goes on 24/7/365. The most well-known MMPORG is probably World of Warcraft. It's estimated that 1,200,000 people are playing WOW on any given day, and that more than 10 million people play it altogether. It's estimated that the game's annual revenues are more than a billion dollars. 

And that's just one game. 

Now, within the MMPORG world, there is something called gold farming. When I read FTW, I assumed gold farming was a fictional concept, and was amazed to learn it is very much a Real Thing. I'll let Wikipedia explain.
Gold farming is the practice of playing a massively multiplayer online games (MMO) to acquire in-game currency, later selling it for real-world money.

. . . gold farming is lucrative because it takes advantage of economic inequality and the fact that much time is needed to earn in-game currency. Rich players from developed countries, wishing to save many hours of playing time, are willing to pay substantial sums to gold farmers from developing countries. Gold farming has also been linked to credit card fraud, with game accounts used for gold farming being paid for with stolen credit cards.

. . . . 2001 reports describe Korean cybercafes being converted into gold farming operations to serve domestic demand. This model, with full-time gold farmers working long hours in cybercafes, was outsourced to China and initially served demand from Korean players. Gold farming in China was experiencing swift growth c. 2004. Cheap labor from inland provinces had washed into more cosmopolitan cities, and these real-life farmers were promptly pressed into service farming gold. In 2011, The Guardian reported that prisoners in some Chinese re-education camps were forced to engage in gold farming for the benefit of prison authorities.
Many characters in FTW are working as gold farmers. These are young people with a great deal of technical skill, working under brutal conditions in internet cafes which essentially function as sweatshops. It's a very shady business, with brutal subcontractors who take advantage of the players' precarious positions to exploit and abuse them.

Other characters in FTW toil away in more traditional factories, making plastic parts for plastic toys to be shipped to the other side of the world. They also work under brutal, dangerous conditions for very little pay, and they face nearly constant sexual harassment. 

Meanwhile, in the western world, another game is being played: arbitrage. You may remember reading about arbitrage during the 2008 global financial meltdown. It involves traders moving money around in arcane, convoluted ways, taking advantage of small fluctuations in currencies. Arbitrage traders create nothing. They add no value to the world. They just make, lose, and remake their own fortunes -- while the impacts of their wins and losses are felt globally, by people who lose their jobs, their homes, and their retirement savings.

Parallel worlds

In FTW, Doctorow creates a world of parallels. 

MMPORGs are games, but they are big business. Arbitrage is also big business, and it is also a gambling game. The world of arbitrage resembles the MMORPG world -- both complicated, opaque, and hidden from public view. Both are often exploitive.

The issues faced by the gold farmers and by factory workers are nearly identical. 

As the workers organize, strategies they use in their gaming world are echoed in their organizing. In the online games, characters can virtually die in myriad ways. In union organizing, real people are beaten by thugs, shot by police, rounded up and sent to work camps. 

Employers close up shop and move to new locations. Union organizers and pirate radio broadcasters are always moving to new locations to avoid detection. 

And so on. 

Great characters and a lot of action

There are some great characters, especially great female characters. I find this heartening, given the struggles of women for visibility and recognition in both tech and gaming. 

Mala and Yasmin are both powerful leaders, strategizing amid the teeming crush of poverty in Dharavi, India. Matthew and Lu are organizing exploited tech workers in Shenzhen, China. Big Sister Nor is working out of Singapore. Jie, a pirate radio broadcaster and organizer extraordinaire, and the best character in the book, is everywhere and nowhere.

In the midst of a book full of characters and a lot of action, every so often the story stops for a didactic set-piece: on unions, arbitrage, the currency system, inflation, and other topics. I found these interludes boring and mansplainy -- but one member of our Labour Book Club enjoyed the digressions and felt they were the best part of the book. 

Solidarity must be global

At bottom, For the Win illustrates how workers everywhere face the same issues. Labour transcends borders, transcends language, transcends the specific nature of our work. Everywhere, capital exploits workers the same way. And everywhere, only solidarity can win. FTW is about the need for solidarity beyond nations, immigration status, age, ethnicity, gender. We may be many things, but when it comes to how we earn a living (or don't), we are workers first. 

A character says:
We come to Guangdong province because they say that we will be rich. But when we get here, we have bad working conditions, bad pay, and everything is stacked against us. No one can get real papers to live here, so we all buy fakes, and the police know they can stop us at any time and put us in jail or send us away because we don't have real documents. Our bosses know it, so they lock us in, or beat us, or steal our pay.
I have been here for five years now, and I see how it works: the rich get richer, the poor get used up and sent back to the village, ruined. The corrupt government runs on bribes, not justice, and any attempt by working people to organize for a better deal is met with violence. The corrupt businessmen buy corrupt policemen who work for corrupt government. I've had enough! It's time for working people to organize -- one of us is nothing. Together we can't be stopped.
China's revolutions have come and gone, and still the few are rich and the many are poor. It's time for a worldwide revolution: workers in China, India, America -- all over -- have to fight together. 
Doctorow very consciously links these current struggles to labour history: the organizing gamers call themselves International Workers of the World Wide Web (IWWWW), using the nickname “Webblies,” in tribute to the old IWW’s nickname, “the Wobblies”. So many of the books we read for Labour Book Club featured the Wobblies. The IWW will always be the movement that is closest to my heart -- so this detail really struck a deep chord for me.

For the Win is an ambitious book. Doctorow is trying to do many things at the same time, with uneven results. But at its core, this is an inspiring story of young workers organizing. In that it succeeds brilliantly. All the workers of the world can read this book and be inspired.

* * * *

Labour Book Club ends in November with Gilded Mountain by Kate Manning. After that, I'll post our reading list and reflect on the experience.


national truth and reconciliation day 2023: blankets, and an apology

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Port Hardy was especially meaningful this year. Not quite as many people joined the walk as in the previous two years, but there was still a good-sized crowd of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Totem pole at Port Hardy Secondary School
In Port Hardy, NDTR begins with a gathering at the high school, where this a magnificent totem pole, and a drum and song blessing. Then everyone walks (elders ride) to Carrot Park, on the bay, for a ceremony. In the park, folding chairs have been set up, and food is being prepared under a huge tent.  

Elders sit in the front row, and most non-Indigenous people wait to be invited to sit if they choose. The emcee always encourages everyone to sit; clearly they know that the settlers present don't want to presume. There are many families there, both First Nations and settler -- although not as many non-Indigenous children as I think should be there (as in, everyone). 

After the ceremonies, elders are served lunch in their seats, and everyone is invited to partake. I've never stayed for food; it just feels wrong to me. I'm here to witness this catastrophic trauma in your community, now please feed me? I'm sure our Indigenous hosts would insist that I eat -- I've never been to a First Nations event that didn't include food -- but I don't feel right, so I don't. I also don't bring a camera or use my phone for photos or videos. 

NDTR 2023

This year's ceremony included two pieces that were especially meaningful.

The emcee invited two people to the mic, people who are employed by Island Health, our health authority. I know them to be the director and manager of mental health and addiction services in our region.

The spokesperson from Island Health acknowledged the historic and systemic racism that caused Indigenous people to go without appropriate care, and the actions disguised as care that actively caused harm. They called all Island Health workers who were present (many of whom I recognized from my community connections) to come up. 

As all stood facing the assembled crowd, the speaker apologized for these past wrongs, and pledged to move forward as partners with the Nations in timely, appropriate, and culturally safe care. They announced the opening of a new local health resource. It was a huge piece to witness.

Naturally, the emcee and the local chiefs talked about the residential "schools," and the impacts of intergenerational trauma. The speaker asked survivors of the schools to stand. Members of the Nation came out with brightly coloured blankets and wrapped each of them in a blanket, standing and holding these elders in a tight, blanketed embrace. It was deeply moving. 

I recognized several regulars from our library. I knew they had been affected by residential school trauma, but did not know they themselves were survivors. I'm glad to know this about them.

Never assume

We left shortly after, stopping at a food truck for something to eat. There, I saw a lovely library customer I know, and her husband. She told me that he is Métis, and a residential school survivor himself. She told me she is also mostly First Nations, but her family somehow escaped this fate. 

I didn't know this about her or her husband, and never could have guessed based on their appearance. This conversation was a perfect example of something I frequently encounter. You never know. You never know someone's background or their experience. You cannot make assumptions.

A few days later, at the library, I received an invitation that read, in part:

We invite you to celebrate with us and witness the cedar blessing of the opening of the Port Hardy Primary Care Centre's A’ekaḵila’as Room One—a welcoming, culturally-safe space for our Indigenous Community Partners, our patients and their families. We invite you to share with us how you see the space evolving over time. It is a meeting space, a place for care and a sacred space that we hope you will call your own.

This must be the health resource mentioned in the ceremony. There's an open house that I look forward to attending.

When I think about what Canada and the Church did to Indigenous people, I wonder how there can ever be justice, and I despair. And when I witness the spirit and resiliency of the Nations and their peoples, and I connect with all the non-Indigenous people who want to help the healing, I have hope.

a trip to victoria: beyond van gogh, puzzle lab, library... and food. lots of food.

I had two recent experiences that I want to preserve on wmtc -- a trip to Victoria, and this year's National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Port Hardy.

* * * *

Victoria is a lovely small city that's perfect for us for a relatively inexpensive urban fix. I once imagined that we'd visit Vancouver that way, since Port Hardy has an airport, and Vancouver, the air travel hub, is a puddle-jump away. That was before I knew how expensive that puddle-jump is. If we're en route to anywhere else, the price of the flight from Hardy to Vancouver can easily be twice or three times as much as the long-haul flights we're connecting to. Plus, there are only two or three flights a day, so flying anywhere usually means an overnight in Vancouver. This makes "off-Island" travel a very expensive proposition. 

Victoria, on the other hand, is only a six- or seven-hour drive -- the other end of the only "highway" on the island. (Highway: a beautiful, scenic drive, one lane in each direction.) Victoria is nowhere near the size and variety of Vancouver, but there are lots of restaurants, a smattering of cultural activities, good hotels, nice neighbourhoods to explore, and enough variety to give me the little break from small-town life that I need once in a while. 

Victoria is also a short ferry ride from Washington State. Much of our family now lives in Oregon and California, so Victoria is a natural stop when we're doing a family road trip. On this last trip, our friends M&M (a/k/a my brother and sister-in-law) arrived by ferry, and we drove down to meet them. We rented a lovely VRBO in a great location, and had a really good time.

The trip included Allan's special birthday present, referenced in this post: too much honesty can be a very bad thing: a story about a birthday present.

By wonderful chance, the "Beyond Van Gogh" exhibit was in Victoria when we were. I had read about this, but never expected to see it, so I was thrilled at this coincidence. If you have a chance to see it, go. It was extraordinary. 

Of course, nothing compares to seeing art in person. If you're ever in New York City, "Starry Night" lives in MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, and there are several Van Goghs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And of course there is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. But even if you are fortunate enough to experience either or both of those, Beyond Van Gogh is more than just an accessible substitute.

The exhibit is a celebration of Vincent Van Gogh's life and his work -- an art-history lesson, an insight into the mind of a unique genius, and a celebration of art and beauty.

These images from the show cannot capture the breathtaking feeling of being surrounded by this beauty, along with well-chosen music and voice-over narration. The narration is excerpts from Van Gogh's diaries, and from his correspondence with his beloved brother Theo, who was his lifelong, stalwart friend and champion.

I have only one criticism of Beyond Van Gogh, and my colleagues and co-workers would know instantly what it is, if they saw this.

Much of the textual information in this show was not visually accessible. Text placed over an image is very difficult for many people to read. People with visual or print disabilities may not be able to read this at all. This is a design challenge, easily resolved -- if the designer is aware of it. The curators and designers of Beyond Van Gogh obviously were not. This is especially sad in an exhibit that is fundamentally about making art accessible to more people.

* * * *

Poking around downtown Victoria, we found this unusual store: puzzle lab. Puzzle lab sells wooden jigsaw puzzles, handcrafted with unique shapes, featuring images by local artists. Artists actually see royalties from their work sold at puzzle lab, which is practically unheard of. 

This is from their brochure.

I love doing jigsaw puzzles. (I share pics of my completed puzzles on Facebook, but have kept them off wmtc.) I was very excited to buy something from puzzle lab, but even the smallest puzzles were well out of my price range. I hope they can sell enough expensive puzzles to stay in business.

We also drove out to Sooke to visit the beautiful new library branch there, and a lovely colleague of mine gave us a tour. It's an incredible space, with amazing resources. It made me envious, both of the size of the branch and the staff complement. I wish so much that my community was receiving resources on that scale. 

One of the things we did most in Victoria was eat. There are very few restaurant options in our area, so when we are out of town, eating good food is a high priority. In Victoria, we are very partial to Jam for breakfast/brunch and Ebizo for amazing sushi. (There are actually two sushi restaurants in Port Hardy! But neither comes anywhere close to Ebizo.) On this trip we also discovered great pub food at Spinnaker's, where we connected with a friend from Ontario who was in town.


what i'm reading: delusions of gender: how our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference

When I was in library school, much ink was spilled discussing a "crisis" of "boys not reading". Countless articles were written, studies were launched, hands were wrung. How do we get boys to read???

For a paper I was writing, I dug up the original study that launched this literacy catastrophe. Any guesses on what I learned?

The percentage of boys who self-reported not reading was only marginally larger than the percentage of girls who didn't read -- barely statistically significant. In other words, lots of girls also were not reading. But apparently this was not worth mentioning.

The coverage appeared to follow a predictable,  maddening pattern. First the data from the original study was cherry-picked and interpreted with a great deal of bias. Then educators and journalists read that badly-reported interpretation, never bothering with the study itself, and reported the researcher's biased conclusions.

I thought of this often as I read Cordelia Fine's persuasive, powerful, and often amusing Delusions of Gender. (The book has been published with two different subtitles.)

Neurosexism: a cottage industry

There are whole shelves of books that purport to explain that differences between men and women are innate, hard-wired, and immutable, rather than the result of upbringing, education, and social conditioning. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is perhaps the most famous title of a subgenre that includes The Female Brain, The Essential Difference, Why Gender MattersWhat Could He Be Thinking?, and my personal favourite title, Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. Seriously. This is the title of a published book.

These books claim to demonstrate the definitive resolution in the age-old nature/nurture debate -- which has not really been a debate in several decades, as it is widely acknowledged that human behaviour is affected by myriad influences, and that these two oversimplified, supposedly irreconcilable explanations actually engage in many complex, little-understood interactions. And, at least regarding gender, this supposed debate has been solved by... science! The neuroscience is there! We have the data to prove it!

Or not.

Cordelia Fine demonstrates how the studies cited in these books are:

-- tiny: five people here, seven people there; 

-- deeply flawed: based on false assumptions, grossly open to interpretation, not scientific in any way; and even still,

-- do not even demonstrate what authors claim they do.

These unscientific, flawed, and in many cases, fake studies are used in service of political ends, by people telling other people what they want to hear: that modernity is a scourge, and if we could just turn back the clock, we'd all be so much happier. 

Or by people who want to blame relationship issues on something immutable, thereby absolving them of the hard work of empathy, communication, and intimacy. 

And most often, it seems, this specious data is used by people who believe their privilege is threatened and don't want their dominant worldview challenged. 

Tl;dr: all the world's evils are caused by feminism.

Even the neurosexists can't keep their stories straight

Of course, people have long claimed that differences in gender -- that is, the mainstream differences seen in the dominant culture -- are innate. But the reasons have changed over time. 

For example, in the nineteenth century, when the seat of the intellect was thought to reside in the frontal lobes, careful observations of male and female brains revealed that this regional appeared both larger and more complexly structured in males, while the parietal lobes were better developed in women. Yet when scientific thought came to the opinion that it was instead the parietal lobes that furnished powers of abstract intellectual thought, subsequent observations revealed that the parietal lobes were move developed in the male, after all. 

. . . . Of course, there's nothing wrong with changing your mind in the light of new evidence about the sexes. But those who are tempted to play this game, by claiming that sex differences in the structure of the brain yield essentially different kinds of minds, should be aware that this sort of flipping seems to be a common part of the process. 

Beware of brain blobs

In the neurosexist world, it's common to show images of the brain, taken through PET scans or MRIs, as proof of the gendered brain. The thinking goes like this: this portion of the brain is responsible for x behaviour. When we give people task x, the portion that lights up in women's/men's brains is bigger/smaller that the portion that lights up in the other gender's brains, therefore men/women are better/worse at this behaviour.


Take, for example, a study that supposedly proves that males have a greater aptitude for mathematics than females.

First, the researcher posits a concept called "systemizing". Systemizing is loosely and vaguely defined. 

Next, we are told that systemizing is correlated with an aptitude for math. This is stated but unproved. 

Next, the researcher says that a certain task, such as how quickly one can group images into categories, is proof of good systemizing skills. This is also an unproven assumption.

And then we told that a brain scan (either fMRI or PET, both used to measure brain activity) shows a portion of the brain "lighting up" more in men than in women during this task proves that men are better at systemizing, and therefore, people with penises have a greater aptitude for math than people with vaginas.

Not only don't we really know what systemizing is, nor do we know how systemizing relates to mathematical aptitude, nor do we know that the ability to complete the assigned task is proof of a systemizing mind. It turns out that the colours shown in the scans don't prove anything! The colours do show brain activity, but what relationship that activity bears to the task at hand is mostly unknown.

This is because very little is understood about the relationship between the physical brain and the human mind. If there is a correlation between certain aptitudes, thoughts, or feelings and brain activity as shown in a scan, there is no clear interpretation of what that correlation is. As Fine writes:
There just isn't a simple one-to-one correspondence between brain regions and mental processes, which can make interpreting imaging data a difficult task. As Jonah Lehrer recently explained in the Boston Globe

One of the most common uses of brain scanners -- taking a complex psychological phenomenon and pinning it to a particular bit of cortex -- is now being criticized as a potentially serious oversimplification of how the brain works. . . . Critics stress the interconnectivity of the brain, noting that virtually every thought and feeling emerges from the crosstalk of different areas spread across the cortex.

. . . Then, there is the sad fact that, at its most precise, functional imaging technology averages over a few seconds the activity of literally millions of neurons that can fire up to a hundred impulses a second. (For PET the time-scale is even longer.) 'Using fMRI to spy on neurons is something like using Cold War-era satellites to spy on people: only large-scale acivity is visible,' says Science journalist Greg Miller. This severely limits the interpretations that can be made about brief psychological events.  

In fact, the "familiar spots of colour on brain activation maps" are so vague and misleading that that neurosexism skeptics have a name for it: blobology

So what does it all mean?

So what is known about the science behind differences in gender? An incomplete, confusing, ever-evolving jumble that true scientists are unable and unwilling to draw conclusions from. Which is a very flimsy foundation on which to build university admissions policies, hiring practices, social policy, or relationship advice. 

Because I read a lot of social history, I come across proclamations, made over the centuries, of what girls and women supposedly aren't capable of by virtue of their gender. Higher education. Running a business. Understanding politics. Driving. Performing surgery. Managing money. Enjoying sex. 

Then there are all the behaviours that men are supposedly incapable or barely capable of. Empathy. Nurturing. Nonviolence. Keeping an orderly home. Caring for children. 

These sexist assumptions were all supposedly based on science. 

Now the current interest in neuroscience has provided bigots with the perfect cover for their agenda. It's still the same old sexism, in a new, pseudo-scientific package.