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Sept 4, 2013

The Syria vote in Congress


Stephen Walt - Arguments against going to Syria


Facebook is bad for you


THOSE who have resisted the urge to join Facebook will surely feel vindicated when they read the latest research. A study just published by the Public Library of Science, conducted by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and Philippe Verduyn of Leuven University in Belgium, has shown that the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he is with life.

What neither study proves is whether all this is true only for younger users of Facebook. Older ones may be more mellow, and thus less begrudging of their friends’ successes, counterfeit or real. Maybe.

Nokia is dead - Sold to Microsoft


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Re: News of the day

Politics of the week

The American administration signalled that it was likely to bomb Syrian military facilities. It blames President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on August 21st, leaving more than 1,000 people dead, according to the rebels. Mr Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies denied that the regime had been responsible, and warned America and its allies against launching an attack. See article 

Sectarian bombings persisted in Iraq, with at least 70 people reported to have been killed in a series of attacks, mostly in Shia areas of Baghdad, the capital, on August 28th.

A beefed-up UN force fought against rebels in north-eastern Congo belonging to a group known as the M23, thought to be backed by neighbouring Rwanda, to prevent them from taking over Goma, the region’s main town. Fears grew of a confrontation between the Congolese and Rwandan armies. See article

At least ten people were killed in fighting in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, between members of the rebel group that took over the country five months ago and fighters loyal to its overthrown president, François Bozizé. See article

With the benefit of hindsight

Angela Merkel, who is running for re-election as Germany’s chancellor on September 22nd, told a rally that Greece should not have been allowed to join the euro. Opinion polls give her a strong lead over her SPD challenger, Peer Steinbrück. See article

Croatia relented and said it would fully comply with the European Union’s extradition law, after it was threatened with legal action for changing its domestic extradition rules just days before joining the EU on July 1st. The changes Croatia made would have protected a former intelligence boss who faces charges related to the murder of a dissident in West Germany in 1983.

Belarus invited a senior Russian businessman to visit and then arrested him, in a row over the breakdown of a potash cartel. Russia ordered a cut in oil deliveries in response.

After markets wiped €150m ($200m) off the value of Mediaset, Silvio Berlusconi’s company, the former Italian leader withdrew his threat to pull his party out of the governing coalition if he is banned from public office.

The backlash

Thousands of teachers blocked streets in Mexico City, temporarily restricting access to the airport and to the Congress and preventing a vote on a proposal to prise control over hiring and firing away from the teachers’ union. The teachers’ action is likely to merge with protests against a measure to allow private investment in oil, a main plank in the reformist agenda of the president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Brazil’s foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, was sacked after one of his diplomats drove a Bolivian opposition politician, who last year had sought asylum in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz, to safety in Brazil. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, was annoyed; so was his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, who ordered Mr Patriota to swap jobs with Brazil’s ambassador to the UN. See article

Colombia’s FARC guerrillas resumed peace talks with the government after briefly breaking them off when the president, Juan Manuel Santos, asked Congress for a referendum to ratify any deal. Mr Santos said he was “ready” to open talks with the ELN, a smaller guerrilla group. Meanwhile, farmers and truckers in Colombia set up blockades to protest against free-trade agreements with America and the European Union. See article

Courtroom drama

The trial of Bo Xilai, a former Chinese Politburo member, ended in the city of Jinan. Mr Bo is accused of corruption and covering up a murder committed by his wife. He put up an unusually feisty defence, but is expected to be given a lengthy prison sentence. See article

State-run media in China announced plans to send the country’s first unmanned space probe to the moon later this year. China has ambitions to put a man on the moon.

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, blamed the Taliban for two attacks that killed 12 civilians. He also accused the Pakistani government of failing to use its influence to bring the Taliban into peace talks. Mr Karzai had just returned from a two-day visit to Pakistan where he held talks with Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister.

Police in India arrested Yasin Bhatka, the supposed head of India Mujahideen, a group thought to be behind several bomb attacks in Indian cities over the years. In a curious coincidence he was allegedly found on the Nepal border, just as Tunda, a Pakistan- based terrorist, was apparently found a couple of weeks ago. 

The Indian government approved $28 billion-worth of infrastructure schemes to try to fire up the cooling economy. Railway, road and energy projects that had been postponed were among those given the go-ahead.

America said it would send an envoy to North Korea to request a pardon and amnesty on humanitarian grounds for Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who is in jail there.

A stone of hope

Tens of thousands marched in Washington on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, a watershed moment in the civil-rights movement. Barack Obama led the speechifying this time around, which also took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Nidal Malik Hasan was sentenced to death for murdering 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. An army psychiatrist at the time who turned against the war in Afghanistan, Major Hasan’s trial in a military court found he had tried to shoot as many soldiers as he could. He had earlier contacted a radical cleric in Yemen for advice on what American Muslims could do to wage jihad. No one in the armed forces has been executed since 1961.

A wildfire covering 300 square miles (780 sq km) in California advanced on Yosemite National Park. Although it is almost 200 miles (320km) from the fire, an emergency was declared in San Francisco, which gets a lot of its electricity from dams and power lines in the scorched area.

Bob Filner resigned as mayor of San Diego after 18 women, starting with one of his senior aides and including a retired navy rear-admiral, accused him of sexual harassment.

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The most obvious beneficiaries of leaning back would be creative workers—the very people who are supposed to be at the heart of the modern economy. In the early 1990s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, asked 275 creative types if he could interview them for a book he was writing. A third did not bother to reply at all and another third refused to take part. Peter Drucker, a management guru, summed up the mood of the refuseniks: “One of the secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take care of all invitations such as yours.” Creative people’s most important resource is their time—particularly big chunks of uninterrupted time—and their biggest enemies are those who try to nibble away at it with e-mails or meetings. Indeed, creative people may be at their most productive when, to the manager’s untutored eye, they appear to be doing nothing.

I don't agree with everything here but this part is really important.

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The Suicidal tendencies of suicide bombers

Although suicide bombings have become a disturbingly regular occurrence over the past decade, with more than two thousand occurring since 2003, we still have only a limited understanding of why people commit them. In the years since 9/11, it has become clear that suicide strikes are more common in countries under military occupation or with high male-female population ratios; that terrorists are most often recruited by their friends; and that suicide bombing is not correlated with poverty. Those findings can be and have been useful in predicting where suicide bombings are likely to occur. But they do not offer much insight into suicide bomber psychology -- what exactly motivates someone to volunteer for martyrdom in the first place.

Indeed, one of the most impressive recent considerations of that question is not an academic study but a feature film. Ziad Doueiri’s riveting and courageous new movie The Attack serves as an unflinching case study of the mysteries surrounding a single suicide bombing.

The film, which is loosely based on a novel by the same name, tells the story of an upper-middle-class Israeli-Arab couple living a charmed life in a fashionable part of Tel Aviv. Amin Jaafari is a secular, apolitical surgeon from a Muslim family, celebrated for his skill and popular among his Jewish colleagues. His wife, Siham Jaafari, is a hauntingly beautiful, mysterious woman whom the audience barely gets to know, aside from the fact that she seems deeply in love with her handsome and talented husband -- a little bit of her dies every time they part, she tells him.

One evening, after Amin receives a prestigious award, he discovers that his wife is among those killed in a suicide attack on a busy Tel Aviv café. Although he tries to cling to the belief that she was an innocent victim, the doctor eventually accepts that Siham was the perpetrator -- the person who shattered his life and the lives of many others. But knowing she is guilty of the crime is not enough: he is determined to unravel what he now understands was her secret life. What led her to choose this path? Why did she do it?

As pressing a problem as suicide terrorism is, we still know surprisingly little about the individual-level risk factors that make one family member become a “martyr” and another a doctor, even when both grew up in the same political environment.

Over the course of the film, the audience is shown the shocking disparities in wealth between Amin’s life in Israel and that of his family living in Palestine under occupation. The movie also introduces us to the painful humiliation of Palestinians at the border crossing and gives intimations that Siham took this political situation to heart. In one flashback, we learn that she refused to have his child, because, as an Israeli Arab, the child would have no homeland -- reason enough, she claimed, for the couple to remain childless. We also learn that Siham witnessed the aftermath of the Israeli attack of Jenin, which occurred at the height of the second intifada, in 2002. But Siham’s decision is never reduced to her political circumstances. The lack of a Palestinian homeland, the militarized border, the disparity of wealth -- all played a role in her decision, it seems, but they are presented as partial and insufficient explanations.

Instead, Amin sifts through evidence of a more personal and intimate nature. He recalls scenes from their marriage, some of which make clear that the relationship between the surgeon and his wife was less perfect than he (and we) believed. He is haunted by the fact that Siham scheduled the final preparations for her suicide attack for the very evening that he was receiving his award. (Her stated reason for not attending the ceremony was that she was going to visit her grandfather.) Was the attack an expression of anger, or of envy at her husband’s professional achievements?

The film ultimately paints a portrait of a woman, who, whatever her political beliefs, was unhappy with her life. That portrayal corresponds to academic research done by a handful of researchers. The American psychiatrist Jerrold Post argued that the essence of terrorist violence is not its ostensible political motives but the violence itself. Terrorists are people who feel “psychologically compelled” to commit violent acts; the political objectives they espouse are only a rationalization. Ariel Merari, a widely respected Israeli terrorism expert, worked for 12 years interviewing 15 failed suicide bombers. Comparing them with a control sample of militants, he found evidence of depression in the first group.


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Is The Economist left- or right-wing?

SOME readers, particularly those used to the left-right split in most democratic legislatures, are bamboozled by The Economist’s political stance. We like free enterprise and tend to favour deregulation and privatisation. But we also like gay marriage, want to legalise drugs and disapprove of monarchy. So is the newspaper right-wing or left-wing?

Neither, is the answer. The Economist was founded in 1843 by James Wilson, a British businessman who objected to heavy import duties on foreign corn. Mr Wilson and his friends in the Anti-Corn Law League were classical liberals in the tradition of Adam Smith and, later, the likes of John Stuart Mill and William Ewart Gladstone. This intellectual ancestry has guided the newspaper's instincts ever since: it opposes all undue curtailment of an individual’s economic or personal freedom. But like its founders, it is not dogmatic. Where there is a liberal case for government to do something, The Economist will air it. Early in its life, its writers were keen supporters of the income tax, for example. Since then it has backed causes like universal health care and gun control. But its starting point is that government should only remove power and wealth from individuals when it has an excellent reason to do so.

The concepts of right- and left-wing predate The Economist's foundation by half a century. They first referred to seating arrangements in the National Assembly in Paris during the French Revolution. Monarchists sat on the right, revolutionaries on the left. To this day, the phrases distinguish conservatives from egalitarians. But they do a poor job of explaining The Economist’s liberalism, which reconciles the left’s impatience at an unsatisfactory status quo with the right’s scepticism about grandiose redistributive schemes. So although its credo and its history are as rich as that of any reactionary or revolutionary, The Economist has no permanent address on the left-right scale. In most countries, the political divide is conservative-egalitarian, not liberal-illiberal. So it has no party allegiance, either. When it covers elections, it gives its endorsement to the candidate or party most likely to pursue classically liberal policies. It has thrown its weight behind politicians on the right, like Margaret Thatcher, and on the left, like Barack Obama. It is often drawn to centrist politicians and parties who appear to combine the best of both sides, such as Tony Blair, whose combination of social and economic liberalism persuaded it to endorse him at the 2001 and the 2005 elections (though it criticised his government’s infringements of civil liberties).

When The Economist opines on new ideas and policies, it does so on the basis of their merits, not of who supports or opposes them. Last October, for example, it outlined a programme of reforms to combat inequality. Some, like attacking monopolies and targeting public spending on the poor and the young, had a leftish hue. Others, like raising retirement ages and introducing more choice in education, were more rightish. The result, "True Progressivism", was a blend of the two: neither right nor left, but all the better for it, and coming instead from what we like to call the radical centre.

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