Readers continue the conversation over Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live:

Montaigne‘s near-death interval is very interesting – it makes me wonder how generalizable Dimethyltryptamine_27febhis description is to other peoples’ experiences. The pleasantness is an interesting surprise, because his physical behaviors manifest unpleasantness during this time. I can’t help but think of a friend of a friend, who, described the feeling accompanying beholding her newborn as “just like tripping on DMT.” There’s definitely some writing hypothesizing a connection between near death experience and DMT release; it does occur in some amounts in mammals. And it does seem that Montaigne‘s “out of body experience” allowed him to avoid the suffering associated with the experiences of the body at the time.

Another shares his own story:

What would someone 500 years ago, when people lived without indoor plumbing, have to say? And wouldn’t the writing be filled with difficult words, clumped together in long, montaigneflowery paragraph-free chunks? That’s what I thought, so before buying the book, I downloaded a sample and while reading it, remembered something I’d completely forgotten.

During sixth grade, I contracted Valley Fever. I was so sick for so long and nobody knew what was wrong with me. I found myself floating above myself, looking down, finally pain-free. I could hear the oldies (“These Boots Were Made For Walking”, “King of the Road”) playing on the radio that someone put beside my bed. But I simply let go and became more relaxed than anything I’d ever experienced in my uber-Protestant-work-ethic-running-around-in-circles-as-fast-as-you-can family. I knew I was close to death, but at eleven, what does that mean?

Montagne’s account of his own near-death experience brought this feeling back as if it were yesterday. The feeling of relief, of letting go, is beyond words, particularly when you are naturally tightly-wound. My adult kids hate it now when I tell them I look forward to death, as there is a peace you can never describe, and the opposite of competitive, hurry-hurry life trying to get ahead (of what?) in San Francisco. Fine, I tell them. They can join my parents in extreme FoxNews-like fear of death, which, when they talk about it, sounds more like they’re afraid of not controlling everything and everyone, and what will we do without that?bookclub-beagle-tr

Think I’ll share a little Montaigne, particularly the chapter entitled, “Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted.” It’s about as far as you can get from our family’s Mission Statement (“what are you doing reading when you could be doing something?”).

The book is available here if you’d like to join in. Think of it as a blast of sixteenth century sanity for a crazy 21st century world.

Next up: was Montaigne a closet atheist? Or a very modern kind of Christian? I’ll weigh in – but check out this Mark Lilla essay first.

(GIF of Dimethyltryptamine, aka DMT, via Wiki)

Small Arms, Big Problem

Jul 28 2014 @ 8:11pm

Apparently, we’re missing a lot of guns in Afghanistan and have no idea where they are:

“We’re not talking just handguns and M-16s and AK-47s,” [John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction] told TIME correspondents over lunch on Friday. “We’re talking some high-powered stuff — grenade launchers, RPGs, machine guns — anything that one person could use.” His new report says the U.S. recorded improperly, or simply failed to record, the serial numbers of 43% of the nearly half-million small arms the U.S. has supplied Afghanistan over the past decade. Sloppy U.S. record keeping is compounded by Afghanistan’s indifference to the congressionally mandated U.S. oversight of the weapons’ whereabouts.

Dana Liebelson has more on the inspector general’s report:

According to SIGAR, the US is also supplying Afghanistan with too many weapons.

Read On

Face Of The Day

Jul 28 2014 @ 7:42pm

Curfew In Saharanpur After Riots

RAF Jawans stand guard during Curfew at Ambala road after violence broke out between two groups who reportedly clashed over a patch of disputed land in Saharanpur, India on July 28, 2014. Curfew has been relaxed for a few hours today in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where three people were killed and 24 injured in riots two days ago. 38 people have been arrested and nine first information reports or FIRs have been registered at various police stations for rioting, arson and conspiracy. Local BJP and Congress leaders have accused each other for instigating mobs. By Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

While not all Jews support Israel’s actions in Gaza, some people – as previously discussed here – are holding all Jews responsible. Eli Lake spells out where he believes the line falls between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism:

The atmosphere in Europe since the beginning of the war has been so toxic that the foreign ministers of France, Italy, and Pro Palestinian Demonstrations Are Held Throughout EuropeGermany on Tuesday issued a rare joint statement condemning anti-Semitism at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

All of this presents a troubling paradox for Zionism. The state of Israel was founded in 1948 as a haven for Jews. But in 2014 Europe’s anti-Semites have attacked Jews for the deeds of the Jewish state. It is a classic anti-Semitic canard to punish any Jew for the perceived crimes of all of them. There is no evidence also to suggest that if Israel did not respond to rockets fired from Hamas, the Jews of Europe would be any safer or the continent’s anti-Semites would be any more tolerant. After all, some of the worst attacks on Jews in France occurred at a time of relative quiet in Israel.

It’s disgusting and wrong. It’s worth noting, however, that Netanyahu’s blanket condemnation of all of Hamas for one lone, renegade cell – and the brutal collective punishment of Gazans – including ten dead children today – doesn’t help matters. Lake quotes a former IDF intelligence official as saying that rising anti-Semitism in Europe ends up fueling emigration and thus aiding Israel. Elliott Abrams believes this is happening in France:

Read On

Obama’s Border Crisis Plan

Jul 28 2014 @ 6:40pm

Late last week, Obama rolled out a proposal to start processing refugee status applications from young, would-be migrants in Honduras before they make the treacherous northbound journey (NYT). The pilot plan, which could be expanded to El Salvador and Guatemala, envisions receiving around 5,000 refugee applications and accepting 1,750 of them over the first two years, at a cost of $47 million. Alec MacGillis applauds:

There is no shortage of questions that immediately spring to mind. Doesn’t 5,000 applicants seem awfully low, given that since October 1 more than 16,500 minors have traveled to the U.S. border from Honduras alone? How would the U.S. personnel at the embassy in Tegucigalpa decide which young applicants were so threatened by gang violence that they qualified for the coveted status and entry to the U.S.? What would this new approach mean for the young Central Americans who already made the risky journey to the U.S. in recent months?

But the proposal comes with two clear benefits, one substantive and one political. First, it is a big step toward addressing the immediate humanitarian crisis: It will deter at least some young people from making the dangerous trip, thereby reducing demand for the migrant traffickers who are profiting off the children’s desperation. … Shifting the entry point for at least some of the young Central Americans to their countries of origin will hopefully redefine the problem as what it is: a challenge to our country’s laws and policies on asylum, which as now written do not directly address the plight of young people in gang-ravaged societies; and, more broadly, a reckoning with our responsibility to our southern neighbors.

But Roberto Ferdman outlines why the proposal won’t be enough on its own and could have unintended consequences:

Read On

The Passion Of The Israeli Liberal

Jul 28 2014 @ 6:14pm

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

Jonathan Freedland senses “a weariness in the liberal Zionist fraternity,” as the Gaza war once again forces the Israeli left to wrestle with the dissonance of their principles and their loyalties:

But underlying this fatigue might be a deeper anxiety. For nearly three decades, the hope of an eventual two state solution provided a kind of comfort zone for liberal Zionists, if not comfort blanket. The two-state solution expressed the liberal Zionist position perfectly: Jews could have a state of their own, without depriving Palestinians of their legitimate national aspirations. Even if it was not about to be realized any time soon, it was a goal that allowed one to be both a Zionist and a liberal at the same time.

But the two-state solution does not offer much comfort if it becomes a chimera, a mythical notion as out of reach as the holy grail or Atlantis. The failure of Oslo, the failure at Camp David, the failure of Annapolis, the failure most recently of John Kerry’s indefatigable nine-month effort has prompted the unwelcome thought: what if it keeps failing not because the leaders did not try hard enough, but because the plan cannot work? What if the two-state solution is impossible? That prospect frightens liberal Zionists to their core. For the alternatives to two states are unpalatable, either for liberal reasons or for Zionist reasons.

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin believes Netanyahu’s decision to reject the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement was a mistake:

Read On

The Color Of Homeownership

Jul 28 2014 @ 5:45pm

Kriston Capps notes a new study indicating that recent changes in the housing market “essentially wiped out the gains made by black homeowners since the 1970s”:

Read On

Best Cover Song Ever?

Jul 28 2014 @ 5:11pm

A reader recommends an extreme genre-bender:

Great contest. Let me nominate an unconventional, but brilliant, submission by Girl Talk. You want genre mixing? How about something that includes parts of Black Sabbath, Ludacris, Dorrough, the Ramones and Missy Elliot, among others (plus equally amazing video):

Is it a traditional cover song? No, but if this is the future of the cover song, we are in extremely good hands …

Previous coverage of the Dish’s favorite mashup DJ here. Another reader:

I can’t be the first to submit Cowboy Junkies covering Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”. This version is so good Reed himself changed the way he performed the song live:

Read On

More Block Than Grant?

Jul 28 2014 @ 4:45pm

Josh Voorhees spells out his main concern with the Ryan plan, i.e., that the block grant mechanism he proposes for assistance programs like SNAP will result in benefit cuts:

Under the current setup, any American who qualifies for SNAP benefits receives them, regardless of how much money Washington has already spent on the program that year. But switching to a block grant would effectively set a cap on SNAP spending by stopping the program from automatically increasing along with need. That, critics warn, could leave the program unprepared and underfunded when the next economic downturn sends more Americans than expected scrambling to put food on the table.

The best case for those who want to protect SNAP and other social welfare funding would be for Congress to freeze current funding levels for the foreseeable future. That technically wouldn’t be a reduction in funding, but inflation would tell a different story. That’s what happened to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program during Washington’s last attempt at major welfare reform. Since that program was block-granted in 1996, funding has remained pretty much flat at $16.6 billion per year while the program has quietly lost nearly one-third of its spending power to inflation. Under Ryan’s proposal, food stamps would risk a similar fate.

To illustrate this point, Andrew Flowers imagines that the Ryan plan had been in place during the recession that began in 2007 and calculates how big a hit the program would have taken:

At the end of 2007, the number of SNAP recipients totaled more than 26 million, with cumulative expenditures at more than $33 billion. By 2013, expenditures had more than doubled to nearly $80 billion, with recipients surging to about 47 million. If funding had remained constant, the average monthly benefit would have fallen from $133 (its actual number in 2013) to about $53.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Jul 28 2014 @ 4:20pm

Puppies on a roll: