Can Kerry Fix The Gaza Mess?

Jul 22 2014 @ 2:58pm

John Kerry rushed off to Cairo last night to try and broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but it’s not at all clear that he can get the deal he wants:

Kerry reiterated Sunday what Obama told Netanyahu on Friday: that the US supports a return to the 2012 cease-fire that halted rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. Hamas says Israel did not hold up its side of that agreement. And the militant group that governs Gaza is also deeply suspicious of the Egyptian government, which – since the 2012 cease-fire – has banned the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But just returning to the 2012 agreement is unlikely to happen, says WINEP’s [Eric] Trager. “Egypt today is not going to accede to anything that would allow Hamas to come out of this strengthened,” he says. Egypt is also not likely to accept opening the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah, another Hamas demand.

As of this writing, the Cairo visit has produced no breakthroughs. Steven Cook argues that Egypt is a terrible interlocutor, given that Sisi’s regime actually benefits from the conflict:

The Egyptians seem to believe that a continuation of the fighting — for now — best serves their interests.

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Last week, in response to me, Douthat kicked off a conversation about reform conservatives’ foreign policy views. Ross, for his part, advocates for a “kind of unifying center for conservatives weary of current binaries (Tea Party versus RINOs in the domestic sphere, ‘isolationists’ versus ‘neocons’ in foreign policy), which would internalize lessons from the Bush and Obama eras (especially lessons about the limits of military interventions and nation-building efforts) without abandoning broad Pax Americana goals“:

I liked Ben Domenech’s way of framing this point, when he wrote [last week] in the Transom that the Republican Party “has always burke.jpgincluded realists and idealists, and there was in the past a degree of trust that elected leaders could sound more like idealists but govern more like realists.” It’s that trust that was forfeited by some of the Bush administration’s follies, and that needs to be recovered if the G.O.P. is to deserve anybody’s vote. But because it’s a trust, ultimately, in competence and caution, it’s a bit hard to say exactly what this kind of “new realism” or “realist internationalism” or “chastened idealism” (or whatever phrase you prefer) would look like case by case … beyond, I suppose, saying “let Robert Gates drink from the fountain of youth, and put him in charge of Republican foreign policy forever,” which is certainly an idea, but probably not a sufficient foundation for an actual agenda.

Justin Logan argues that a “big part of the problem here is the conservative donor class”:

To put it bluntly, the portion of the GOP donor class that cares about foreign policy is wedded to a militaristic foreign policy, particularly in but not limited to the Middle East. Tens of millions of dollars every year are pumped into an alphabet soup of magazines, think tanks, fellowships, lobby groups and other outfits in Washington to ensure that conservative foreign policy stays unreformed.

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The View From Your Window

Jul 22 2014 @ 2:22pm


Tromsø, Norway, 12.23 am. The reader writes:

Tromsø is 70 degrees north in the Arctic circle, and it never goes dark during June and July. I’ve been in Norway just a few weeks now and predictably haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since I got here. Still, Norway is such a happy wonderful country and I feel lucky to be here during such weird and sad times. Wishing you the best; I remain a subscriber, admirer, & c.,

100 Percent Efficacy

Jul 22 2014 @ 1:58pm

That’s the effectiveness of Truvada in preventing HIV infection in the latest large study just unveiled at the AIDS conference in Melbourne:

PrEP had no significant efficacy in people who took fewer than two doses a week. However, the efficacy of PrEP was 84% in people who took 2-3 doses a week – there was only one infection in this group – and no infections at all were seen in people taking at least four doses a week. This 100% efficacy translates into a minimum efficacy of 86% if the statistical uncertainty of the result is taken into account.

Did they all throw condoms away?

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The Last Great English Romantic

Jul 22 2014 @ 1:43pm

Reviewing Oakeshott’s recently published Notebooks, John Gray sketches a charming portrait of the idiosyncratic philosopher:

When I knew him towards the end of his life, the impression he made was of a Twenties oakeshottoutsidecaius.jpgfigure, whose values and attitudes – notably an uncompromising commitment to personal authenticity – echoed those of D H Lawrence, so I was interested to find a number of references to Lawrence in the notebooks. O’Sullivan comments that Oakeshott ‘was really the last great representative not only of British Idealism but also of English Romanticism’. It is a shrewd observation. Where he differed from Lawrence was in not expecting, or wanting, any wide acceptance of his view of things. Here Oakeshott’s aestheticism may have been important: if he praised and defended conventional morality, one reason could have been that he enjoyed contemplating a world composed of people unlike himself.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a figure like Oakeshott in academic life at the present time. For one thing, he had a wider experience of the world than most academics nowadays.

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Book Club: A Guide To Living

Jul 22 2014 @ 1:19pm

The stroke of genius in Sarah Bakewell’s book about Montaigne is that she framed his biography as a guide to life. You could justify this as a way to appeal to a distracted 21st Century audience otherwise highly unlikely to read about a sixteenth century French essayist, but she makes that entirely unnecessary. What she shows is why Nietzsche had such a fondness for the diminutive and inquisitive skeptic: everything he wrote was really about his own life, and how best to live it, and he does it all with such brio and detail and humanity that you cannot help but be encouraged to follow his lead. He proves nothing that he doesn’t simultaneously subvert a little; he makes no over-arching argument montaigne.jpgabout the way humans must live; he has no logician’s architecture or religious doctrine. He slips past all those familiar means of telling other people what’s good for them, and simply explains what has worked for him and others and leaves the reader empowered to forge her own future – or, rather (for this is Montaigne), her own present.

It’s a philosophy rooted in the most familiar form of empiricism. It is resolutely down to earth. You can see its eccentric power by considering the alternative ways of doing what Montaigne was doing. Think of contemporary self-help books – and all the fake certainty and rigid formulae they contain. Or think of a hideous idea like “the purpose-driven life” in which everything must be forced into the box of divine guidance in order to really live at all. Think of the stringency of Christian disciplines – say, the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola – and marvel at how Montaigne offers an entirely different and less compelling way to live. Think of the rigidity of Muslim practice and notice how much lee-way Montaigne gives to sin. This is a non-philosophical philosophy. It is a theory of practical life as told through one man’s random and yet not-so-random reflections on his time on earth. And it is shot through with doubt. Even the maxims that Montaigne embraces for living are edged with those critical elements of Montaigne’s thought that say “as far as I know” or “it seems to me” or “maybe I’m wrong”. And of course it begs the question that Pascal posed: how can skepticism not be skeptical about itself? Is it, in fact, a self-refuting way of being?

Logically, of course it refutes itself. And you can easily torment yourself with that fact. When I first tried to grapple with philosophy, the need to force every text I read into the rubric of “is this the truth about the world?” dominated everything. And in retrospect, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you do not have a desire to figure out the truth about the whole, you’ll never start the philosophical project at all. And you can find in philosophy any number of clues about how to live; you can even construct them into an ideology that explains all of human life and society – like Marxism or free market fundamentalism or a Nietzschean will to power. But as each totalist system broke down upon how-to-live-sdmy further inspection, I found myself returning to Montaigne and the tradition of skepticism he represents (and that reached one of its modern high points in the thought of Michael Oakeshott). Maybe we need to start with what little we actually do know – through experience, narrative, anecdote and conversation.

And here’s what we do know. We are fallible beings; we have nothing but provisional knowledge; and we will die. And this is enough. This does not mean we should give up inquiring or seeking to understand. Skepticism is not nihilism. It doesn’t posit that there is no truth; it merely notes that if truth exists, it is inherently beyond our ultimate grasp. And accepting those limits is the first step toward sanity, toward getting on with life. This is what I mean by conservatism. You can see why it has scarcely any resemblance to the fanatics, ideologues and reactionaries who call themselves “conservative” in America today.

But what Bakewell helped me see better is that Montaigne’s Stoic disposition really was influenced by a couple of epiphanies. The first was the loss of his dear friend, Etienne de la Boétie. The second was his own near-death experience in a riding accident. What he’s grappling with in both cases is loss. And what he seeks to do with his friendship is to understand what he lost more completely, which makes his essay “On Friendship” the greatest treatment of that theme ever penned. But his near-death experience – which he subsequently wrote down with eerily modern skills of careful observation – could be seen as the window onto his entire body of work. He works back from this reality – our inescapable finitude – to construct a deeper and more humane understanding of what life is for. By seeing the limits, he seems to say, we actually live more vividly and well and can die at peace with the world.

If I were to single out one theme of Montaigne’s work that has stuck with me, it would be this staringbookclub-beagle-tr-2 of death in the face, early and often, and never flinching. It is what our culture refuses to do much of the time, thereby disempowering us in the face of our human challenges. I was lucky in some ways – and obviously highly unlucky in others – that I experienced something like this early in my life as well: the prospect of my own imminent death and the loss of one of my closest friends and soulmates to AIDS. There was Scripture to salve it all; there was friendship to shoulder it all; there was hope to sustain it all. But in the end, I found myself returning to Montaigne’s solid sanity, his puzzlement and joy at life’s burdens and pleasures, his self-obsession that never somehow managed to become narcissism.

Is this enough? Or is it rather a capitulation to relativism, a manifesto for political quietism, a worldview that treats injustice as something to be abhorred but not constantly fought against? This might be seen as the core progressive objection to the way of Montaigne. Or is his sensibility in an age of religious terror and violence and fanaticism the only ultimate solution we have?

Email your thoughts to You can still buy the book here and join the conversation (or use the public library here). Update from our first participant:

As Sarah Bakewell points out in her wonderful book, people don’t just “read” Montaigne; they “meet” him. He’s not a classic author to tick off a personal must-read list but more like a good friend. Though I’ve never laid eyes on a word of his Essays, he has been my companion, my guru, my pal, my virtual best friend. My Michel has the friendly, bracing, comforting voice of an actor named Christopher Lane on my 49 hour, 39 minute audio book. For two months last year, Montaigne was alive, talking quietly to me, confiding in me his thoughts as I walked, drove, did household chores, rode the bus, and saw all my own fears and thoughts and immediate surroundings through his eyes.

I spend a great deal of time walking through Chicago with my son Walker, who has autism.

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Sherlock Holmes writes:

I’m gonna go with … America.

Another gets more specific:

Outskirts or small old town enveloped by Pittsburgh.

Another questions our motives:

Okay, you know you set me up. Sports Authority and Home Depot in the same center … should be easy, right? After screening out obvious “not possible” states: Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, etc, I concentrated on all the others and did a Google Street view of each Sports Authority (they have fewer stores) and could not find one single match. I’m betting that was a red herring because you would never make it that easy …

Another also ended up empty-handed:

I thought I had a chance this week. Not to win, but at least, maybe, to get a location right and build up my credentials. I knew everyone would froth at the bit this week. So many clues! I started with the Sports Authority website and either cross referenced the location with Home Depot, or later, just started looking up the Sports Authority addresses on Google Maps. Do you know how often they are practically right next to each other like in your photo? Too many. Of course, none of those were the contest site. And FYI, other places that Sports Authority likes to cozy up next to are Best Buy and Target.

In the end, I failed. I couldn’t find it. Not even with all those clues. I must have missed one. The right one. But I bet you get a lot of right answers this week. Just not mine.

Another yawns:

The Home Depot, Sports Authority, Exxon? Really? Seldom have I been less inspired to make even my standard random guess.

But this one gets pretty close:

I was convinced this was in eastern Canada – an Esso gas station, deciduous trees, a one-way sign (so not Quebec). But a few searches convinced me Home Depots in Canada are built in sprawling power centres with no trees anywhere. And maybe that is an Exxon sign. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the New England, an industrial-ish town, near a canal, in a place long-enough established to have an old stone church. Massachusetts.

It’s a beautiful day here in Montreal. I’m going for a walk.

Another nails the right city:

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Putin Creates His Own Reality

Jul 22 2014 @ 12:45pm

The Russian leader continues to deny any wrongdoing:

Putin’s government also held a news conference [yesterday], in which it denied that Russia had supplied the separatists with a BUK missile system “or any other weapons,” and suggested that the Ukrainian government is the prime suspect in the crash. Air Force Lieutenant General Igor Makushev said that Russian radar detected the presence of Ukrainian fighter jets close to the Malaysian flight, suggesting that one of them may have shot down the airliner.

Margaret Hartmann unspins Russia’s spin:

Unfortunately for Russia, the scant evidence available doesn’t appear to support its fighter-jet theory. Photographs of wreckage riddled with holes have begun surfacing on social media, and experts say that suggests the plane was targeted by a missile that exploded nearby. After analyzing photos taken by New York Times reporters, IHS Jane’s, a defense consultancy, concluded that the damage was consistent with that caused by a Buk system. The missiles are designed to explode below a target, increasing the likelihood that a fast-moving Western military aircraft will be damaged even if it avoids a direct hit.

Which makes the entire spectacle riveting. What happens when a Tsar’s propaganda becomes completely untenable in a porous media world? What he can get away with at home is not as possible when your drunken proxies take down a plane from the civilized world? Watching that video statement from Putin in the early hours of the morning gave me some solace. Just look at the body language, the deflected gaze, the nervousness:

A Tsar never had to do this, or felt compelled to. He’s hanging by a thread, and we should take some pleasure in watching him struggle. Alex Altman examines Russia Today’s absurdist coverage:

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Why Russia Wants A Cease-Fire

Jul 22 2014 @ 12:20pm

It’s a tactical move Russia has used before:

Putin supports a cease-fire, as he has all along, because that leaves the Russian-sponsored forces in control of Ukrainian territory, a status quo that suits Russian interests. This is precisely why the Ukrainian authorities originally ended the cease-fire, and why they have continued operations even after the downing of the aircraft. They suspect that the longer the territory remains in Russian hands, the more likely it is that it will never be returned.

To see why a cease-fire works to Russia’s advantage, the Ukrainian leadership need only look to Ukraine’s western border, where a slice of its neighbor Moldova known as Transnistria has been occupied by pro-Russian forces since 1992. The conflict began when a group that did not want Moldova to secede from the Soviet Union took up arms, with extensive support from the Soviet/Russian military. A cease-fire was declared in July 1992, and the conflict has remained “frozen” ever since.

Anna Nemtsova reports that fighting in Donetsk has heated up:

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Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini scrutinize the logic by which Israel treats virtually any building in Gaza as a legitimate target and any civilian killed as a “human shield”:

All civilians in Gaza are being held hostage by Hamas, which is considered a war crime and a gross violation of international law governing armed conflict. This, then, provides legal and moral justification against the accusation that Israel is the one killing civilians. Presumed human rights violations carried out by Palestinians against Palestinians – taking hostages and human shielding – thus become the legitimization of lethal and indiscriminate violence on the part of the occupying force. Hence, the use of human shields is not only a violation. In contemporary asymmetric urban wars, accusing the enemy of using human shields helps validate the claim that the death of “untargeted civilians” is merely collateral damage. When all civilians are potential human shields, when each and every civilian can become a hostage of the enemy, then all enemy civilians become killable.

And, critically, Israel is absolved of any moral responsibility for any of it. That’s what worries me. When military might is expended on crowded civilian areas and all civilian casualties are presumed the responsibilities of others … you get well over 500 dead, including countless women and children, including attacks on hospitals and families breaking the Ramadan fast in their own home. You get this:

Monday morning, the Abu Jameh family pulled 26 bodies, 19 of them children, from the rubble of their home near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, the largest toll from a single strike since the battle began July 8. Four people were killed at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, the main one serving the center of the crowded coastal enclave. An airstrike Monday night destroyed the top five floors of an apartment building called Al-Salam — the Peace — in central Gaza City, an area that had been seen as a safe haven, killing 11.

And yet some even argue that this horrifying spectacle is actually a moral necessity:

The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve victory over those who try to fight morally. It is the protection of that world, one in which moral soldiers still have a fighting chance, that justifies Israel’s operations against Hamas today. And it is that greater cause that decisively outweighs the terrible toll in innocent life.

When you are killing scores of children, it is not enough to argue self-defense (even though the Iron Dome has given Israel about as robust a defense against home-made rockets as you can get). You have to argue for something grander to nullify the corpses of children. And the dehumanization of those living in Gaza – to the point at which spectators with popcorn cheer their deaths – has led to Israeli indifference to the deaths of human beings that, if they were Jews, would be regarded as the harbinger of calamity. Can you imagine the response in Israel if over 200 Israeli children were killed by a rocket attack by Hamas? Can you imagine anyone saying that the Israelis did this to themselves? That tells you everything about how deep the moral rot has gone, how this kind of zero-sum war and brutalizing occupation over decades cannot but destroy a country’s soul.

Larison, meanwhile, tackles the trope that Gazans forfeited their right to be treated as innocent civilians by voting for Hamas and allowing the group to operate in their communities:

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