China's President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing May 6, 2013 (Jason Lee/Reuters)
Solving the Israel/Palestine crisis has long been the holy grail of American foreign policy -- an elusive goal that each successive president has strived to achieve. Like moths to a flame, American presidents cannot resist the temptation to solve a problem from which so many other issues -- terrorism and Iran, notably -- seem to come from.
Could China, then, be stealing America's thunder? President Xi Jinping made waves last week by inviting both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to China, a diplomatic maneuver that elicited the attention (and approval) of the U.S. media. The ambitions for the visit weren't terribly ambitious; Netanyahu and Abbas never met, and Xi issued a bland "four-point plan" that reinforced existing norms for resolving the crisis. But the very fact that China thrust itself in the situation nonetheless was significant. Why, then, did China decide to do it?
There are two major forces at play. First, publicly claiming an interest in solving this crisis is consistent with China's new global approach to foreign policy. For years, China focused its attention primarily on its periphery, but as its economy grew Beijing needed to come up with a strategy to deal with the rest of the world, one that, at least, went beyond "just sell us natural resources and we'll let you do whatever you want to your people." Now, a strategy has emerged. On the United Nations Security Council China has formed a de facto alliance with Russia, using their respective vetoes to stymie American-led initiatives. Beijing has also flexed its diplomatic muscle through organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (a grouping of Central Asian republics plus China) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (which, though not a member, China exerts significant influence in). China may claim to be just a middle-income developing country, but in diplomatic terms it has become much more than that.
However, Beijing's involvement in the Middle East has as much to do with the United States than it does with China. Prospects for U.S. brokerage of Israeli/Palestinian peace are bleaker than they've been in a long time. President Obama's relationship with Netanyahu, to put it mildly, is not warm, and the continued split between Fatah and Hamas complicates matters further. The administration has also publicly signaled a "pivot to Asia", a declaration that foreign policy priorities won't be dominated by the Middle East forever. And when recently asked about the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry pessimistically gave the "two-state solution" a window of two more years. Clearly, Washington doesn't feel good about the situation.
So will China fill the breach? Beijing's involvement does offer a fresh dynamic to the region; whereas Washington is seen as a staunch Israel ally, China tilts much more toward the Palestinians. It wasn't a coincidence that it was Mahmoud Abbas, not Netanyahu, who was awarded full state visit honors in China. That said, China still lacks the clout to play more than a peripheral role in the Middle East peace process -- something Beijing surely knows. But by meeting with the two leaders, Xi Jinping served a timely reminder that his country, at the very least, wasn't going to sit this issue out anymore.
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
That's not a harsh assessment. It's just a fair description.
Millennial politics is simple, really. Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They're for smaller government, unless budget cuts scratch a program they've heard of. They'd like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn't run anything.
That's all from a new Reason Foundation poll surveying 2,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Millennials' political views are, at best, in a stage of constant metamorphosis and, at worst, "totally incoherent," as Dylan Matthews puts it.
It's not just the Reason Foundation. In March, Pew came out with a similar survey of Millennial attitudes that offered another smorgasbord of paradoxes:
Millennials hate the political parties more than everyone else, but they have the highest opinion of Congress.
Young people are the most likely to be single parents and the least likely to approve of single parenthood.
Young people voted overwhelmingly for Obama when he promised universal health care, but they oppose his universal health care law as much as the rest of the country ... even though they still pledge high support for universal health care. (Like other groups, but more so: They seem allergic to the term Obamacare.)
When people see themselves as self-made, they tend to be less generous and public-spirited.
I’m a lucky man. Perhaps the most extreme example of my considerable good fortune occurred one chilly Ithaca morning in November 2007, while I was playing tennis with my longtime friend and collaborator, the Cornell psychologist Tom Gilovich. He later told me that early in the second set, I complained of feeling nauseated. The next thing he knew, I was lying motionless on the court.
He yelled for someone to call 911, and then started pounding on my chest—something he’d seen many times in movies but had never been trained to do. He got a cough out of me, but seconds later I was again motionless with no pulse. Very shortly, an ambulance showed up.
Ithaca’s ambulances are dispatched from the other side of town, more than five miles away. How did this one arrive so quickly? By happenstance, just before I collapsed, ambulances had been dispatched to two separate auto accidents close to the tennis center. Since one of them involved no serious injuries, an ambulance was able to peel off and travel just a few hundred yards to me. EMTs put electric paddles on my chest and rushed me to our local hospital. There, I was loaded onto a helicopter and flown to a larger hospital in Pennsylvania, where I was placed on ice overnight.
A shepherd pulls a lamb into the sea in Gaza City, President Obama meets Prince George in London, the aftermath of Ecuador’s earthquake, and much more.
A shepherd pulls a lamb into the sea in Gaza City, President Obama meets Prince George in London, the aftermath of Ecuador’s earthquake, rescue operations in Aleppo, Syria, after increased airstrikes, NASA’s space shuttle external tank hauled through the Panama Canal, the “Solar Impulse 2” flies over San Francisco, and much more.
Borrowing from other cultures isn’t just inevitable, it’s potentially positive.
Sometime during the early 2000s, big, gold, “door-knocker” hoop earrings started to appeal to me, after I’d admired them on girls at school. It didn’t faze me that most of the girls who wore these earrings at my high school in St. Louis were black, unlike me. And while it certainly may have occurred to me that I—a semi-preppy dresser—couldn’t pull them off, it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t.