Yawning at year's end, and hoping for the best

As a confirmed incrementalist, I''m not a great fan of the conventional occasions for summing up, asking where we are, and where we are going. As an Israeli plugged in to international networks, the obvious times for such stuff come as we approach January 1, or א'' בתשרי , i.e., Rosh Hashana.
Most things change slowly, incrementally, if at all. To be sure, every once in a while there is a dramatic change. However, there are so many possibilities that it is not wise to invest greatly in what others see as "sure things." Westerners who predicted an onset of democracy with Arab spring ought to be hiding themselves in the basement. Bashar Assad will leave office sooner or later, but perhaps not before thousands more die, and no one in their right mind should predict what comes next.
Whether the new year comes in January or Tishri, it is usually appropriate to say that the year passed without great changes, and that the new year will likely be the same.
  • The American election came and went. The results were within the conventional range, neither especially close nor a landslide. They hardly justify the money and energy spent, except for the individuals who enjoyed the action or profited financially.
  • Israel had another uptick in violence in the south, and ended it with an great imbalance in damage and casualties in our favor, but nothing close to a victory that will preclude another uptick sooner or later.
  • The Palestinians have achieved a symbolic and partial recognition of statehood in the United Nations, but without notable change on the ground.
  • In retaliation for Palestinian hutzpah, Israelis have proclaimed plans to expand building on land that others consider to be Palestinian, or subject to negotiations with Palestinians
  • Condemnations have come from the worthies of the West, but without threat of sanctions.
  • It is foolish to predict what Israel will actually do while we''re in the midst of an election campaign with yelling and screaming from all points on the spectrum.
  • My guess is that once the noise diminishes we''ll see construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the major settlements, but not in the most sensitive area E 1.
  • I doubt, as well, that the borders of the major settlements will expand beyond the point where they presently allow considerable room for more housing.
  • There will be protests as the work goes forward, some of it triggered by reports by Israeli leftists that Israel is once again violating international law and hindering a two-state solution, and threatening a one-state solution that will endanger the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
  • We know the rhetoric, can predict who will be saying what while representing Israeli leftists, Western governments and international organizations, and the Israeli authorities who are doing the building.
  • There has been an uptick in West Bank violence, perhaps in response to Palestinians'' declarations of victory in Gaza or the United Nations. So far, it is mostly young men throwing stones at soldiers.
  • The stone throwing comes along with pre-positioned photographers who take pictures of soldiers retreating before the stones, and Palestinians claiming victory.
  • Our impolitic chief diplomat, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has proclaimed that the soldiers should kill the stone throwers.
  • The IDF has reminded its soldiers about the rules for opening fire. Soldiers should not risk an intifada by killing Palestinians engaged in violence that does not threaten the soldiers'' lives, but are authorized to use live amunition to protect themselves if in danger. It''s up to the soldier, whether an 18 year old draftee or a 30+ reservist.
  • So far these events have ended with some embarrassing pictures of soldiers retreating before stone throwers, but nothing more dramatic.
This indifference to summaries on key dates and projections for what is coming does not lead me to deny the benefits of policy planning. There is no point in arguing against the inevitable, i.e., the temptation to predict, and the money to be made by claiming to be a futurologist. Moreover, governments must be aware of trends, and alert to the prospect of dramatic changes. For some centuries now, serious armies have planned for contingencies, the vast majority of which they are pretty sure will not happen. Planning is good training, and keeps officers out of the bars and brothels when they are not needed on an active battlefield.
Trends are consistent with incrementalism. We know from birth records how many kindergartens we''ll need five years from now, and high schools a decade after that. Demographers are wary about longer periods. Values, behaviors, and technologies change. The Reverend Thomas Malthus was long ago buried in what could have been marked with a stone carved, "Replaceable man."
Government budgets typically include funds reserved for unexpected contingencies, it is conventional to authorize special budgets mid-year for what had not been foreseen, and there are procedures to deal with budgeted moneys that have not been spent because of short-falls in expected activities.
The most exciting stuff is what falls outside of the routines, trends, or obvious expectations. Then it is appropriate to re-calibrate trends and expectations, use some of the reserve funds, or authorize even greater expenditures. It is then that well-ordered governments order the army to redo contingency planning and unleash its soldiers, put into effect planning for natural disasters or medical emergencies, and hope for the best.
Jews perhaps more than others know that true disasters occur. To the extent that Jews have known that for millennia, it contributes to the awareness of incrementalism, or what others call deja vu.