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Feature

Why Israel Won’t Listen to Critics

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

At the end of weeks of fighting in Gaza, international condemnation for Israel’s conduct has been increasingly harsh with each passing day. With the toll of Palestinian casualties rising to nearly two thousand at press time, and with Israeli fatalities still only several dozen and most of them soldiers, the Jewish state faces fresh opprobrium from the press as well as even senior figures in the Obama administration as combat in the densely populated strip yields new horrors.

But Israel’s resolve remains remarkably cemented, its people self-assured, as I observed personally during the opening weeks of the fighting. In virtually every other conflict in which Israel has been engaged in the decades since it came into possession of the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the Six Day War, public opinion has faltered. This stands as an exception. A country whose politics are generally characterized by bitter ideological divisions and whose elections have almost never yielded a majority to any party suddenly finds itself more united now than at any point in recent memory.

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The Dnieper and the Lethe

By From the July/August 2014 issue

The silver thread of the Dnieper stitches a winding seam through the fabric of the Ukrainian steppes, binding together a variegated national patchwork. Its dark-rolling waters “pierce the stone hills,” as the ancient Tale of Igor puts it, irrigating Ukraine’s countryside while nourishing its spirit. So central was this river to the medieval castellans of Kyiv that their territory was properly known as Poddnieprska Ukraina, or Dnieper Ukraine, and so significant was this river to the serf-born Romantic writer Taras Shevchenko that he asked to be buried on its dark shore,

In a place from where the wide-tilled fields
And the Dnieper and its steep banks
Can be seen and
Its roaring rapids heard
When it carries off
The enemy’s blood from Ukraine
To the deep blue sea.

This, Europe’s third largest river, would become the very embodiment of a nation caught between powerful geopolitical forces.

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Teepee Populism

By From the July/August 2014 issue

If Elizabeth Warren ends up being the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2016, don’t be surprised if she runs as a centrist, or even as a cultural conservative. The senator from Massachusetts and Harvard Law School professor known as the scourge of the banks and the inventor of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will talk about her lesser-known roles as a Sunday school teacher, devoted grandmother, and loving dog-owner. She’ll talk about how she enjoys drinking beer and eating fried clams, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Mounds chocolate bars. She’ll talk about her Air Force pilot Vietnam veteran brother and about baking “four trays of peach cobbler” and cleaning up the dishes afterward while wearing her “long white apron.”

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Summer Books & Drinks

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Helen Andrews

European history is easily tailored to suit the seasons: France in spring, the Balkans in winter, German-speaking nations in autumn, and in summer, Greece. I therefore held off reading Roderick Beaton’s new history of the Greek War of Independence, Byron’s War, until the sun was shining bright enough for me to imagine myself on the Kalamata waterfront, dragging a café table into the knee-deep waves like Patrick Leigh Fermor, who pioneered this dining arrangement in the 1950s in cooperation with a singularly unflappable Greek waiter.

Alas, in Beaton’s book the high adventure of the Philhellenes’ story is crowded out by a great deal of close analysis of Romantic poetry. A far better book is William St Clair’s That Greece Might Still Be Free: The Philhellenes in the Greek War of Independence (1972). St Clair relegates Lord Byron to the walk-on role he deserves compared with the more active members of the London Greek Committee, who far from being Romantics were radical Benthamites almost to a man.

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The Foul Tornado

By From the July/August 2014 issue

To say that that the First World War was the greatest cataclysm in human history since the fall of the Roman Empire is to put it mildly. The war destroyed so many good things and killed so many good people that civilization has not recovered and probably never will. Long after it officially ended, it continued to cause millions of deaths and tragedies, most obviously during its encore performance of 1939-45. But it did not stop even then. Many of its worst consequences came during official periods of peace and are unknown or forgotten, or remain unconnected with it in the public mind.

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The Ad Man Goes to War

By From the June 2014 issue

Imagine if you’d turned on your TV a few months after 9/11 and seen a car ad that showed a man in a uniform, tossing the keys to his girlfriend while the announcer intoned the copy: “He’s been called up. He thought he might. He’s looking forward to the day when he comes home, knowing he did his part to make sure Islamist terrorism doesn’t threaten the world anymore. He’s imagining turning the key and hearing that motor purr. Sure, it’ll run. No doubt. Ford and America: Built for the long haul.”
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Father’s Days

By From the July/August 2014 issue

One summer in 1953, seven years before his death, my father and I went on an unlikely coast-to-coast odyssey. The first I heard of our journey east by train was a night in early May when I noticed him at the dining room table, his downstairs desk. He was bent over a sheet of graph paper on which he had written out an “itinerary,” a new word to me, for our trip.

Methodically, he had listed the names of all the cities we would visit in his distinctive, neat, squared-off lettering, like words on a blueprint. He wrote with a big pencil from the furniture store he worked at, E. Bercovich & Sons. 

On that sheet of graph paper, which I still own, he inscribed the cities and the mileage between them, and the days and times of our arrival. We were to begin June 14, a week after school let out, and return July 30, a day before my mother’s forty-first birthday. 

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When the Cold War Cooled Down

By From the June 2014 issue

Thursday, October 9, 1986
Keflavik International Airport, Iceland, 7:00 p.m.

In the chilly twilight of an autumn evening, Air Force One touched down at Keflavik International Airport, on the coast some thirty miles west of Reykjavik. Keflavik did double duty as Iceland’s main commercial airport and as an American-run NATO air base where three thousand airmen and women serviced jets flying north to track Soviet planes coming over the Arctic Circle. Before going there, Eduard Shevardnadze quipped that Iceland had been selected partly because its NATO base assured Russian leaders of their safety.

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Chasing Down the Ghost in the Machine

By From the June 2014 issue

Writing The Principles of Mathematics in the spring of 1901, Bertrand Russell got stuck on a simple problem in the theory of classes (we would nowadays say “sets”): “Whether the class of all classes is or is not a member of itself.” In his autobiography Russell recalled: “It seemed unworthy of a grown man to spend his time on such trivialities, but what was I to do?…Trivial or not, the matter was a challenge.”

I feel the same way about my own interest in Consciousness Studies. Surely I have better things to do than ponder Philosophy of Mind, a topic only properly of concern to salaried academics, and in which I am now much too far along in life to acquire any real expertise. Well, yes; but like the problem that snagged Russell’s attention, understanding consciousness is a challenge—a challenge, I should think, to any reflective person. 

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The GOP Needs Real Heroes

By From the June 2014 issue

The media reports these days make conservatives look like a fractious bunch—as indeed we sometimes are. I am deeply informed about grumpy conservatives and paranoid libertarians, bellicose neocons and navel-gazing paleocons. What I know as a matter of basic political arithmetic, however, is that we will need all of these groups—and more—if we are to restore some semblance of conservative governance. The path to that convergence, if not all the way to civility, is not only rhetorical but also doctrinal. We should start with the latter challenge, which lies, most consequentially, in the field of international affairs.

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