Posting may be light today because the hotel internet is wonky. Bear with me; I’ll do my best.
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the November 13 Wikipedia page.
*I was at the Paris March against antisemitism yesterday; and it was quite a crowd; estimated at about 105,000 (I’ll post pictures later).
More than 100,000 demonstrators in Paris and cities across France took to the streets on Sunday to show their solidarity with the country’s Jews and to deplore antisemitic acts that have multiplied across the nation since Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
The marches were called by the leaders of both houses of the French Parliament, the Senate and the National Assembly, and unfolded under gray skies mostly without incident, with 3,000 police officers in Paris alone patrolling the route. The marches in France came a day after a huge pro-Palestinian protest in London that police said involved about 300,000 people.
French presidents typically do not participate in such marches, and Mr. Macron said that while he would not be present, he would be there “in my heart and in my thoughts.”
But there were a lot of big names there. A photo from the NYT:
The president of the Senate, Gérard Larcher, and the National Assembly leader, Yaël Braun-Pivet, said the march was not intended to be a political statement about the war, over which political parties in France have clashed in recent weeks.
Instead, Ms. Braun-Pivet, who herself has been the target of antisemitic threats and is under police protection, said the march was an appeal for French citizens to show one another and the world “what France is today.”
The fact so many people participated in a march organized only six days ago — according to the Interior Ministry, more than 182,000 people marched across France, including 105,000 in Paris alone — showed that the French were “capable of assembling rapidly, reuniting around our values, our history, and what I’m sure will be our future,” she said.
Several former presidents joined the march in Paris, including François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as five former French prime ministers. Cultural figures attending included the actresses Natalie Portman and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
All I’ll say now was that there was a great feeling of solidarity among the demonstrators, many of whom were wearing the French tricolor or waving small French flags. It really did feel like France coming together against antisemitism or bigotry of all sorts.
*According to the Washington Post, the war in the Middle East just escalated a bit, putting the U.S. more at odds with Iran:
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that these latest strikes had been carried out in eastern Syria on facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and groups affiliated with it. They hit a training facility near the city of [Bukamal] and a “safe house” near Mayadin, he said.
President Biden directed the operation, Austin added,“to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests.”
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary assessments following the strikes, said the training facility in Bukamal also was used to store weapons and that secondary explosions were observed.
One wonders if, at the end, we’ll be at war with Iran.
*Over at the Free Press, Bari Weiss put up a 64-minute podcast by Sam Harris about the war, along with an edited transcript of that conversation. For the full edit, though, go here. Here’s the last bit of Sam’s monologue, which is largely about how radical Islamists behave as they do because they really believe their religious doctrine, something that many Americans don’t seem to believe. Here’s the ending:
Just think about what happened at the Supernova music festival: At least 260 people were murdered in the most sadistically gruesome ways possible. Decapitated, burned alive, blown up with grenades… And from the jihadist side this wasn’t an error. It’s not that if they could have known what was in the hearts of those beautiful young people, they would have thought, “oh my God, we’re killing the wrong people. These people aren’t our enemies. These people are filled with love and compassion and want nothing more than to live in peace with us.” No, the true horror is that, given what jihadists believe, those were precisely the sorts of people any good Muslim should kill and send to hell where they can be tortured in fire for eternity. From the jihadist point of view, there is no mistake here. And there is no basis for remorse. Please absorb this fact: for the jihadist, all of this sadism—the torture and murder of helpless, terrified people—is an act of worship. This is the sacrament. This isn’t some nauseating departure from the path to God. This isn’t stalled spiritual progress, much less sin. This is what you do for the glory of God. This is what Muhammad himself did.
There is no substitute for understanding what our enemies actually want and believe. I’m pretty sure that many of you listening to this aren’t even comfortable with my use of the term “enemy,” because you don’t want to believe that you have any. I understand that. But you have to understand that the people who butchered over 1400 innocent men, women, and children in Israel on October 7th were practicing their religion, sincerely. They were being every bit as spiritual, from their point of view, as the trance dancers at the Supernova festival were being from theirs. They were equally devoted to their highest values. Equally uplifted. Ecstatic. Amazed at their good fortune. They wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone. Let this image land in your brain: They were shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) all day long, as they murdered women and children. And these people are now being celebrated the world over by those who understand exactly what they did. Yes, many of those college kids at Harvard and Stanford and Cornell are just idiots who have a lot to learn about the world. But in the Muslim community, and that includes the crowds in London, and Sydney, and Brooklyn, Hamas is being celebrated by people who understand exactly what motivates them.
Again, watch “Hotel Mumbai” or read a book about the Islamic State so that you can see jihadism in another context—where literally not one of the variables that people imagine to be important here is present. There are no settlers, or blockades, or daily humiliations at check points, or differing interpretations of history—and yet we have same grotesque distortion of the spiritual impulse, the same otherworldliness framed by murder, the same absolute evil that doesn’t require the presence of evil people, just confused ones—just true believers.
Of course, we can do our best to turn the temperature down now. And we can trust that the news cycle will get captured by another story. We can direct our attention again to Russia, or China, or climate change, or AI alignment, and I will do that on this podcast, but the problem of jihadism and the much wider problem of sympathy for it isn’t going away. And civilized people—non-Muslim and Muslim alike—have to deal with it. As I said in a previous podcast on this topic: We all live in Israel now. It’s just that most of us haven’t realized it yet.
*The Associated Press discusses how Biden’s initial enthusiastic backing of Israel has weakened as world opinion turns against Israel and towards Palestine.
In the early days and hours after the horrific Hamas attack on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, President Joe Biden spoke with stark declarations and unqualified support for the longtime U.S. ally.
Now, a month on, that unambiguous backing has given way to the complexities and haunting casualties of the war, and the Biden administration is imploring Israel to rein in some of its tactics to ease civilian suffering in Gaza.
As condemnation of the conflict has grown around the world, stoking anti-Israel sentiment, the president is also confronting the limits of the U.S. ability to direct the outcome — not only about the war, but what comes after it.
“There’s no going back to the status quo as it stood on October the 6th,” Biden said three weeks after the attack. But even if Israel is successful in crippling or eradicating Hamas, there will also need to be a shift in Washington, where successive U.S. administrations have sought to manage the Middle East conflict and where the political will has been lacking to devise ways to end it.
And yet the path forward is uncertain, at best. “It’s entirely unclear if there is a ‘morning after,’” said Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. He noted this could be “an extended period of violence at a different scale for many, many months or years to come.”
“But if there is something possible, they can’t just put a plan on the table,“ he added. “They have to take new American positions of their own, that are transformative, that are different, that are like something we have not seen.”
Telhami said after his staunch support for Israel, the president would need to take equally dramatic steps to secure buy-in from Palestinians to bring about a political resolution to the conflict, starting with reining in Israeli settlements in the West Bank that Palestinians view as infringing on their future state.
And that last part is the hard part. If we’re really going to have two states, without terrorism pervading Palestine and leading to attacks on Israel, we need honest brokers on both sides, and that can’t be Netanyahu, Hamas, or the Palestinian authority. Mahmoud Abbas is as corrupt as they come, rich with funds appropriated from the world’s donations to help Palestinians, and so we’d have to have leaders emerge on both sides that can confect a lasting peace. I can’t see how that’s happening, and it puts Biden in a tough spot. I’m confident he’ll still back Israel in trying to prevent a wider war, but eventually he’ll have to lean on both Israel and Palestine to create what seems impossible, the once-vaunted “two-state solution.”
*Michael Shermer has written a long response, called “Why I am not a Christian,” to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s declaration that she gave up atheism for Christianity. (His title of course comes from Bertrand Russell’s famous essay.) It’s an excellent riposte that, while deeply respectful of Hirsi Ali’s accomplishments, takes apart her declaration that only adopting Judeo-Christian principles can save the world. Like Steve Pinker, he declares that what made the modern world “modern” in its morality was not adherence to religious ethics but to the humanistic values embodied in the Enlightenment:
In my books The Moral Arc and Giving the Devil His Due I show that it isn’t atheism bending the arc of justice and freedom, but Enlightenment humanism—a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on human and civil rights, individual autonomy and bodily integrity, free thought and free speech, the rule of law, and science and reason as the best tools for determining the truth about anything. It incorporates scientific naturalism, the principle that the methods of science operate under the presumption that the world and everything in it is the result of natural processes in a system of material causes and effects that does not allow, or need, the introduction of supernatural forces. By extension from above, if God is a supernatural being outside of space and time and therefore unknowable in any rational or empirical manner, it is not possible for natural creatures like us to understand a supernatural deity.
. . .The answer is that it is in human nature to struggle to survive and flourish in the teeth of nature’s entropy, and having the freedom, autonomy, and prosperity available in free societies—built as they were on the foundation of scientific naturalism and Enlightenment humanism that seek to discover the best way for humans to live— enables individual sentient beings to live out their evolved destinies. This is moral realism, and it doesn’t require a deity to justify its validity. Steven Pinker explains the logic:
If I appeal to you to do anything that affects me—to get off my foot, or tell me the time or not run me over with your car—then I can’t do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours (say, retaining my right to run you over with my car) if I want you to take me seriously. Unless I am Galactic Overlord, I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can’t act as if my interests are special just because I’m me and you’re not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.
This is the principle of the interchangeability of perspectives (developed in Pinker’s 2018 book Enlightenment Now), which is the core of the oldest moral principle discovered multiple times around the world throughout history: the Golden Rule. Pinker notes that it also forms the basis of “Spinoza’s Viewpoint of Eternity, the Social Contract of Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke; Kant’s Categorical Imperative; and Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance. It also underlies Peter Singer’s theory of the Expanding Circle—the optimistic proposal that our moral sense, though shaped by evolution to overvalue self, kin and clan, can propel us on a path of moral progress, as our reasoning forces us to generalize it to larger and larger circles of sentient beings.”
. . . Atheism isn’t the alternative to the Judeo-Christian worldview, Enlightenment Humanism is. We can ground human morals and social values not just in philosophical principles such as Aristotle’s virtue ethics, Kant’s categorical imperative, Mill’s utilitarianism, or Rawls’ fairness ethics, but in science as well. From the Scientific Revolution through the Enlightenment, reason and science slowly but systematically replaced superstition, dogmatism, and religious authority.
Read it. I’ve received many emails despairing of Hirsi Ali’s deconversion back to Christianity, and although she may have found peace in that faith, one can argue strenuously against the reasons she gives for accepting it. Read the comments following my piece (and of course read Hirsi Ali’s piece).
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is in her usual state:
Hili: I’m meowing in an important cause.A: What cause?Hili: I’m dying of hunger.
Hili: Miauczę w ważnej sprawie.Ja: Jakiej? Hiii: Umieram z głodu.
Two from the Absurd Sign Project 2.0:
The plot to kidnap Masih, as told to Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes”:
Women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, who fled Iran and moved to Brooklyn, becoming a U.S. citizen, was told by the FBI that Iran plotted to kidnap her and take her by speedboat to Venezuela. https://t.co/Yh6T7iHljI pic.twitter.com/hxuixiBjMm
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 13, 2023
From my “home” Twitter (“X”) feed. This is ineffably sweet:
Cat introduces her kitten to a little girl..🐈🐾👧🥰 pic.twitter.com/uLFUuuHXFq
— 𝕐o̴g̴ (@Yoda4ever) November 12, 2023
A very savvy elephant:
Smart elephant tests electric wired fence before taking it down to cross the road
[📹 cp wild Lanka]pic.twitter.com/NNOAuQrpxc
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) November 12, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial, a two-month old infant gassed upon arrival:
13 November 1943 | Dutch Jewish boy Ivor Arnold Troostwijk was born in Den Bosch.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 13, 2023
From Matthew, who’s back sending tweets. First, spawning echinoderms. It’s amazing that the gametes can find each other in the ocean, which required absolutely precise release of gametes. This is coordinated by environmental factors like temperature and daylight.
— The Unknown Explorer (@TUExplorer1) November 13, 2023
Kitten sees birds for the first time, frantically makes biscuits:
Kitten's reaction to watching birds for the first time..🐈🐾🐦😅 pic.twitter.com/gxoWOkzMBZ
— 𝕐o̴g̴ (@Yoda4ever) November 11, 2023