In the hills of Emilia-Romagna I fell in love with a donkey. I've forgotten the name of the donkey -- but what's a name -- and the plan is to go on pilgrimage with the donkey and owner of the donkey.




Amos Harel on the question "why now?" and some other issues:

'The immediate question posed by the special forces operation Sunday is, why now? The operation took place in the midst of prolonged efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at an important diplomatic conference in France and only a few hours after he, in a long and persuasive speech at a press conference, explained why he thought every effort should be made to reach an agreement in the Strip and avoid war.

The initial Palestinian reports claimed the Israeli operation was an attempt to assassinate or to abduct a senior commander in Hamas’ military wing. Israel’s official response was delayed for many hours, but on Monday morning the picture gradually became clearer: It was not a liquidation attempt, but rather a special forces operation. It is doubtful whether taking out a Hamas battalion commander could justify a return to the policy of assassinations. In any event, if this was want Israel wanted to do, there are enough ways to do it without putting a ground force at risk in the heart of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu has been seemingly too invested in efforts to reach a deal with Hamas to approve such an operation. The Israel Defense Forces is not providing many details, but the operation appears to have been an intelligence-gathering maneuver, possibly connected to Hamas’ military infrastructure (the tunnel network or its weapons development system). In the recent years of the interwar period, Israel has been exploiting the chaos in the Arab world to conduct many similar cross-border operations. The vast majority of these maneuvers are kept secret.
The discovery of the fighters was an operational hitch that will require an in-depth investigation within the military. Was there something about the force’s conduct, or in the preparations for the operation, that revealed the fighters’ identity to Hamas, even though according to reports they were dressed like Arabs? Still, the fact that the operation ended with only killed and one wounded, and that the other members of the unit were rescued without anyone else being injured or — no less important — abducted, is admirable. It’s clear that a lot of resourcefulness and coolheadedness was needed to extract the force from a location three kilometers into built-up enemy territory.

The information about the operation that Haaretz was able to obtain indicates that the fighters from an elite unit were identified by a Hamas security force in the village of Abasan, in an agricultural area on the eastern outskirts of Khan Yunis. IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said the force had been in the midst of a “prolonged activity.” The commander of the special forces unit, who has been identified only as Lt. Col. “M.,” was killed in the initial exchange of fire. His next-in-command, a captain in the reserves, suffered gunfire injuries but managed to lead the rest of the fighters out until they met the rescue forces.

Israeli forces in the area returned fire, injuring a number of Hamas militants. The forces withdrew under air cover, which attacked many targets in the area. Palestinian sources claimed the soldiers left the Gaza Strip by helicopter and that the IDF bombed the vehicles they had left behind. There were pictures and videos from the Strip off two burned vehicles.
The wounded officer was hit by a bullet that penetrated his lower back and hit his groin, near a major artery. It was difficult to bandage him in the field and he lost a lot of blood, but the quick evacuation helped save him. He was taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where he underwent surgery. His condition was upgraded to moderate. He was conscious and able to speak with members of his family.
The IDF breathed a sigh of relief at the end of Sunday night for two reasons: the fact that the wounded man’s life was saved and that there were no more casualties. A bigger mess-up, with lots of casualties or an abduction, would be considered a strategic event that would lead to a major escalation. Israel has already been dragged into such a situation in the past, when within a month in the summer of 2006, Gilad Shalit was abducted and then reservists were kidnapped in the north, leading to the Second Lebanon War. The kidnapping of a fighter in an elite unit would have exacerbated the consequences, given the intelligence risks involved.
Security sources said Monday that the rescue of the force was “hair-raising” and that only the courage of the fighters and the rescue squad prevented additional casualties. No less fascinating are the identities of the dead and wounded officers, which, unusually, remain classified by the censor. When one combines the details of the incident with the personal backgrounds of the two, one gets a scenario that television executives would reject as being too extreme and unrealistic.'

Read the article here.

Or these kind of activities take place regularly, this botched attempt was just a result of bad luck and/or strategical failures.
The other possibility is that the operation was a political maneuver to provoke the different fractions in Gaza.

Whatever the answer, I guess that also this time both parties will after some exchange of fire (and wounded and killed civilians) opt for a return to negations, knowing that they have not much too gain from war, the status quo appears to be more attractive.

As to the scenario that television executives would reject as being too extreme and unrealistic, one can only guess. What on earth could a television executive deem too extreme and unrealistic?




Thanks to a friend I stumbled upon this review in The Economist on John Gray's "Seven Types of Atheism":

'In “Seven Types of Atheism” Mr Gray neatly recapitulates his arguments, combining them with a whistle-stop tour of modern unbelief from the Marquis de Sade through to Friedrich Nietzsche and Joseph Conrad. He gives Christianity its due, conceding that not all enlightenment began at the Enlightenment and pointing out the imperfections of that era’s heroes—the racism of Hume, Kant and Voltaire, for instance. Many of the saints of modern liberalism were not as secular as they might seem, he suggests. John Locke’s liberalism is indebted to Christianity at every point; John Stuart Mill’s insistence that morals did not depend on religion “invoked an idea of morality that was borrowed from Christianity”. The new orthodoxy Mill founded was deeply rooted in Christianity, Mr Gray says: “the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”'


'Mr Gray’s provocative, frank approach has three main drawbacks. The first is that the God he says does not exist cannot be recognised as the Christian God. He suggests that it was the apostle Paul and Augustine of Hippo who invented Christianity, turning a local Jewish movement into a universal one that Jesus never intended, and turning Jesus himself from a prophet into “God on earth”. Naturally this disregards the Bible’s account of Christ’s teaching about his identity and purpose. But it also contradicts recent scholarship that sees Paul less as a Roman who created a new faith than as a Jew who thought he was witnessing the long-expected fulfilment of Judaism. It is ironic that, having spent his career denouncing outmoded orthodoxies, Mr Gray rests his critique of Christianity on outdated perceptions.

The second weakness lies in his view that progress is an illusion: “you will find it hard”, he contends, “to detect any continuing strand of improvement” in human society. You don’t have to be Pangloss (or Steven Pinker) to demur; a glance at the history of medicine is ample evidence to the contrary. But the biggest problem is the void to which his skilful demolitions lead. What ought to be the basis for Western civilisation after the decline of religious faith? Mr Gray never proposes nihilism, hedonism or suicide, and seems (like Mr Dawkins) to believe that peace, prosperity, honesty and common decency are good things.'

Read the review here.

Yes, but the assertion that 'the belief in improvement is the unthinking faith of people who think they have religion' rings true. And certain acts of intolerance in (and outside) academia by people who believe they are free of religious bigotry are certainly deeply religious, albeit God is absent.

And yes, there is improvement, just compare your dentist with the dentist two centuries ago, but that's not necessarily the same as moral improvement.

There is a human longing for meaning that is I'm afraid an illness, a fever.



Imagined past

An analysis by David Runciman in LRB on the elections, recommended:

"In Texas, Beto O’Rourke came within three points of capturing Ted Cruz’s state Senate seat. The excitement generated by his campaign may have made this loss seem like a heavy blow to his supporters, but he did remarkably well to get so close. His strategy, which was to concentrate on turning out ‘natural’ Democrats – the young, the college-educated, the metropolitan, the non-white – in sufficient numbers to overwhelm his opponent, was probably always destined to come up short against a well-oiled Republican machine. But demographic destiny appears to favour the Democrats in the South. The young will age without necessarily changing their more liberal attitudes. The white majority will progressively shrink. The cities will continue to swallow up the countryside. It is only a matter of time.

Yet there lies the trap that Trump has set. Democrats are waiting for the future. In the meantime, Trump defines it. Ask yourself this: can you imagine what the world will be like in ten or 15 years’ time if the president’s agenda remains in force? It isn’t hard, though it isn’t pretty either. It would be more protectionist but less regulated, more nationalist but less collaborative; work would be plentiful but much more precarious, public discourse coarser and a lot more violent; international institutions weaker and international relations on a knife-edge; the political landscape of America would be fractured as states got to do their own thing (including on abortion). What, though, would a world run by Democrats be like? I can offer some generalities: more civil, maybe, or at least more insistent on certain civilities; more tolerant, perhaps (or perhaps not); more concerned with justice; more environmentally friendly; better, somehow. But it’s fuzzy, where Trump’s world is in focus. And in politics, something still beats nothing.

The problem for US Democrats, and more generally for social democrats around the globe, is that at a time of rapid and alarming change they don’t have as sharp a vision of the future as the people who want to go back to an imagined past. The centre-left can provide better policy prescriptions, but policy is never enough to produce a clear picture of politics. All the vivid images are coming from the populist fringes. Promising a world without Trump is the best the Democrats have to offer. They are the anti-matter to Trump’s matter.

Whether Trump has been normalised or normality has been Trumpified, the prognosis looks the same. Presidents who lose their first midterms tend to go on to win a second term. It happened to Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. Truman and Johnson didn’t try. Kennedy didn’t get the chance. Only Carter and George H.W. Bush failed. Incumbents still have huge advantages under the American system, because the opposition doesn’t get a leader to set its presidential agenda until very late in the day. That’s why it is so hard to defeat a party after one term in the White House but relatively easy after two, when the playing field has been levelled again. Trump could still destroy himself by some act of hubris. A severe economic downturn could yet wreck his chances of re-election. But we are left waiting on his next move."

Read the article here.

I'm afraid that normality has been Trumpified, not only in the US of course, and the discussions whether there was a blue wave last Tuesday or not (yes, there was) are merely distractions.