What's Really at Stake in the Syria Debate

Good essay from someone who actually studies these kinds of things:

The collapse of U.S.-Russian diplomacy and the escalating atrocities in Aleppo have once again opened the floodgates for ideas on how to intervene in Syria. These ideas are all familiar: typically some combination of no-fly zones, air strikes, and arming the opposition. The goals range from civilian protection, to evening the balance of power to facilitate diplomacy, to toppling the Assad regime by force. It may seem odd that these proposals have changed so little over the years despite having failed to persuade previously and despite the dramatic evolution of the Syrian conflict.
This is confusing only if evaluated from the starting point that the purpose of these ideas is primarily to end the Syrian war or to reduce human suffering.  For the most part, it is not.
The air of surreality and endless repetition around much of the Syria debate emanates from the mismatch between stated and actual goals. In fact, both advocates and critics of these interventionist ideas generally understand that the limited measures being proposed have virtually no chance of changing the strategic trajectory of the war.  The real argument is not over saving lives or even about removing the Assad regime, as laudable as such goals might be.  It is over the extent to which the United States should be involved in the war, regardless of whether or how the war ends.
While some surely believe that intervention would reduce the immediate killing or force the Assad regime to engage in more serious negotiations, this is a far cry from ending the war. Limited intervention will run aground of the war’s basic strategic structure...
The cost of this stalemate is an estimated half million dead and over 10 million refugees and displaced. But little has been achieved at this horrifying cost...

This grim logic was obvious quite early on in the war.  Once it became clear that early optimism over Assad’s imminent fall had been misplaced and this strategic stalemate set in, diplomacy had to begin from the premise that neither side could win and neither side could lose.  Political science studies of civil wars tell us that wars of this type tend to last approximately a decade, and that the number and contradictory preferences of both internal and external actors in Syria make it an extreme version of this type of war.  Syria’s war has not been ripe for resolution, either military or diplomatic, and will not be for years to come.

The limited American intervention options on offer over the last few years could never have changed this logic. These proposals, such as no-fly zones or air strikes, would have done little more than move the war more quickly up the escalatory ladder...

The Perpetual Panic of American Parenthood

What we do get is a pervasive national angst. A forthcoming study in The American Journal of Sociology finds that Americans with children are 12 percent less happy than non-parents, the largest “happiness gap” of 22 rich countries surveyed. The main sources of parents’ unhappiness are the lack of paid vacation and sick leave, and the high cost of child care, the authors said.
I might have thought America’s parenting misery was inevitable if I hadn’t moved from the United States to France (where parents are slightly happier than non-parents). Raising kids is consuming here, but not overwhelming: The government offers high-quality day care, billed on a sliding scale, and free preschool for children 3 and up. Older kids have subsidized after-school activities and summer camps. On average, college costs less than $500 a year.
Leaving America for Paris had the opposite effect. Suddenly it wasn’t all on me. I gradually understood why European mothers aren’t in perpetual panic about their work-life balance, and don’t write books about how executive moms should just try harder: Their governments are helping them, and doing it competently.

We Must Address Gerrymandering

The United States is an outlier in the democratic world in the extent to which politicians shape the rules that affect their own electoral fortunes. Federal campaign finance policy is administered by a feckless Federal Election Commission, whose three Democratic and three Republican commissionersroutinely produce gridlock instead of effective implementation of the law. The conditions under which election ballots are cast and counted—from registration to voting equipment, ballot design, polling locations, voter ID requirements, absentee ballots and early voting—are set in a very decentralized fashion and prey to political manipulation to advantage one party over the other. And while most countries with single-member districts (such as Canada, Britain and Australia) use nonpartisan boundary commissions to redraw lines so they reflect population shifts, in America, most state legislatures create the maps for both congressional and state legislative districts through the regular legislative process. They make their own luck.
Gerrymandering—the manipulation of district boundaries to protect or harm the political interests of incumbents, parties and minorities—began in the early years of the republic and has been a source of controversy and criticism throughout American history. Setting and following appropriate standards—such as contiguity, compactness, equal population, adherence to local political boundaries, respect for communities of interest and neutrality with regard to any political party or candidate—has proven much more difficult than it might appear...
Eliminating gerrymandering would not by itself dramatically increase the competitiveness of House and state legislative districts and reduce the historic level of polarization between the two major political parties. The roots of safe seats and partisan polarization go much deeper than the political manipulation of redistricting. These include the racial realignment of the South, the ideological sorting of the two parties, the geographical clustering of like-minded voters and an increase in party-line voting. That said, there are two compelling reasons for citizens to demand a reform of our gerrymander-prone redistricting system.
The second reason is that partisan gerrymandering reinforces the hyper-partisanship that paralyzes our politics and governance...

Have you ever wondered how much energy you put in to avoid being assaulted? It may shock you

The short moments when women are alone in public space, away from commitments at home or at work – the only moments many people have to themselves – are disrupted.
It’s not just the overt approaches from men making comments about what they’re wearing and asking where they are going or what they’re doing. It’s that women are routinely pulled out of their own thoughts in order to evaluate their environment. They are less free to think about the things they want to think about because of the extra effort they have to put in to feel safe.
This kind of safety work goes largely unnoticed by the women doing it and by the wider world.
The vast majority of this work is preemptive. It’s the subconscious attempt to evaluate what one of my participants called “the right amount of panic” – never quite knowing if a behaviour is an overreaction of if that reaction is actually the reason they avoided an encounter.
The trouble is, women are only ever able to count the times when such strategies don’t work – when they are harassed by a man, or assaulted. The work put into the successes – the number of times women’s actions prevent men from intruding – go unnoticed.
All this in turn keeps us underestimating the scale of the problems women face in everyday life. Estimates on the prevalence of sexual harassment in public are unable to account for all the times instances are blocked. And survivors of sexual assault are blamed for not preventing it when their safety work fails them.

The Free-Time Paradox in America

...It is a relief to know that one can be poor, young, and unemployed, and yet fairly content with life; indeed, one of the hallmarks of a decent society is that it can make even poverty bearable. But the long-term prospects of these men may be even bleaker than their present. As Hurst and others have emphasized, these young men have disconnected from both the labor market and the dating pool. They are on track to grow up without spouses, families, or a work history. They may grow up to be rudderless middle-aged men, hovering around the poverty line, trapped in the narcotic undertow of cheap entertainment while the labor market fails to present them with adequate working opportunities.
But when I tweeted Hurst’s speech this week, many people had a surprising and different take: That it was sad to think that a life of leisure should be so scary in the first place. After all, this was the future today’s workers were promised—a paradise of downtime for rich and poor, alike.
In the classic 1930 essay “Economic Possibility of Our Grandchildren,” the economist John Maynard Keynes forecast a future governed by a different set of expectations. The 21st century’s work week would last just 15 hours, he said, and the chief social challenge of the future would be the difficulty of managing leisure and abundance.
Here is the conundrum: Writers and economists from half a century ago and longer anticipated that the future would buy more leisure time for wealthy workers in America. Instead, it just bought them more work. Meanwhile, overall leisure has increased, but it’s the less-skilled poor who are soaking up all the free time, even though they would have the most to gain from working. Why? ...

Religion in US 'worth more than Google and Apple combined'

Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study
The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.
The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.
Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the US collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services.
More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organisations on social programmes have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9bn.

How Colombia's Voters Rejected Peace

...Last Monday, September 26th, in an elaborately staged treaty-signing ceremony in Cartagena de Indias, a colonial-era Caribbean city, President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias Timochenko, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or farc, declared that the country’s fifty-two-year civil war was over. Dozens of V.I.P. guests, including John Kerry, King Juan Carlos of Spain (the former monarch, who abdicated in favor of his son), the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cuba’s Raúl Castro, and other heads of state, were in attendance. Then, in a plebiscite held on Sunday in Colombia, a majority of voters rejected the peace deal, by a margin of sixty-three thousand ballots out of thirteen million cast. The victory of the 'No' side has triggered a political crisis of unforeseeable proportions in Colombia. Nobody knows what will happen next.
That plebiscite was the vote held Sunday, after which everything that was celebrated in Cartagena was thrown into an anxious limbo, including the major question of whether the current ceasefire, which has been in place since late July, will hold, or if the war will resume. During the talks, both sides had sought to reduce the fighting, and the death toll had fallen to its lowest level by far in years. In a country where seven million people have been displaced and at least a quarter of a million killed, possibly many more, this had been the main reward of the peace talks thus far. The plan had been for thousands of farc guerrillas, who remain armed, to gather in twenty mustering points and demobilize in the coming months under the auspices of U.N. peacekeepers; thanks to the No vote, there is now no legal authority for that to happen.