Hostage Release SCREENGRAB
Videos show civilian hostages released by Hamas
02:40 - Source: CNN

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CNN  — 

It was the night before Christmas in 1914 when British soldiers fighting along the Western Front heard holiday carols coming from the German trenches.

“The following day, British and German soldiers met in no man’s land and exchanged gifts, took photographs and some played impromptu games of football,” according to the UK’s Imperial War Museum. “They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts.” The truce lasted for only a few days — at most, a little past the start of the new year. And then it was back to war — a conflict in which some 8.5 million soldiers from all sides would ultimately die.

The timing of the Israel-Hamas truce that took effect Friday had nothing to do with a holiday. And the agreement to pause fighting for four days and exchange hostages and prisoners was negotiated over several weeks with the help of Egypt, Qatar and the US, rather than an impromptu occurrence. Hostages released by Hamas and prisoners freed by Israel joyously hugged their fathers, mothers and siblings, seven weeks after the terror attack on October 7 prompted the war.

By striking the deal, the two sides stirred hope for an eventual end to the bloodshed: the ceasefire can be extended if Hamas frees more of the people it is holding. But there is also the possibility that this truce won’t last much longer than the one in 1914.

“The deal arguably strengthens Hamas, allowing it to claim credit, catch its breath and regroup,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “Whatever Palestinians feel toward the organization that unleashed this round of fighting — and we will not hear many in Gaza now openly criticize Hamas — there’s little question that as long as this group remains in power, the future looks bleak for Gazans.”

“For Israel this deal is bitingly bittersweet. Negotiating with a terrorist organization that has just slaughtered and brutalized more than 1,000 of the country’s citizens and remains committed to Israel’s destruction —repeatedly confirming that goal — is not only hard to swallow, it’s a moral and strategic dilemma of the highest order.”

Two clocks

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, observed,There is little doubt that Israel and the US are operating according to two very different timetables. And these two clocks appear increasingly out of sync. Israel — committed to the destruction of Hamas’ military capacity and the end of its ability to govern in Gaza — appears to be in no hurry to declare mission accomplished…”

“It’s apparent that the US clock is ticking much faster, a direct result of growing pressure from its European allies, key Arab partners and a deeply divided Democratic Party … Even within the Department of State and among congressional staff, there has been opposition to the administration’s passivity in the face of Palestinian loss of life that’s unprecedented in recent decades. Indeed, (President Joe) Biden himself almost certainly has come to understand that, as greatly as he’s concerned about Israel, the devastation and death in Gaza demands attention for Palestinians, too.”

Biden’s “democracy vs. autocracy” foreign policy is a mistake that weakens the US while failing to promote global stability, argued Christopher McCallion, a fellow at the Defense Priorities think tank.

America currently finds itself embroiled in three major geopolitical crises … US forces are still on hand in the Middle East to deter Iran and Hezbollah from intervening against Israel in its war with Hamas, putting American troops at risk and threatening to pull the US into another major war in the region. American troops have already been targeted by dozens of drone and missile attacks from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and have conducted retaliatory strikes in response. In Eastern Europe, the US is essentially engaged in a proxy war with Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. In East Asia, the US risks a catastrophic showdown with China over the political status of Taiwan.”

Sheryl Sandberg wrote of the worldwide impact of the Israel-Hamas war. “People across the globe are protesting on all sides and shouting in the streets. But for one moment, I urge us to shift our focus from politics to humanity. … there is one opinion that everyone can agree on: Rape should never be used as an act of war.”

“On October 7, Hamas terrorists committed unspeakable atrocities that we must speak about — and speak about loudly. Numerous witnesses have testified that sexual violence was widespread on that day, according to reports by Israeli investigators….

“We have come so far in believing survivors of rape and assault in so many situations, yet this time, many are ignoring the stories that these bodies tell us about how these women spent the last moments of their lives.”

“The silence on these war crimes is deafening.”

For more:

Amy Klein: Taking a trip to the firing range was something I’d never do before October 7

Sam Altman is back

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The board of OpenAI gained sudden fame on November 17 for its shambolic ouster of CEO Sam Altman, who is now back in charge of the company and its hugely popular product, ChatGPT. For all the ridicule and protest following its abortive move, the board members may deserve some thanks for revealing more about the inner workings of the company, which is pivotal in the artificial intelligence revolution that’s just starting to reshape business and society.

As Jill Filipovic noted, OpenAI has “been developing new technologies at lightning speed, and sometimes sending them out to the public before some employees believed they were ready. The company has already reportedly invented an AI technology so dangerous they will never release it — but they also won’t tell reporters or the public exactly what it is…”

“AI is very exciting technology. But it is also a potentially very dangerous one, and not in the social media sense of ‘it may give us bad self-esteem and make us lonelier’ but in the sense of ‘it could break down human societies and kill us all.’”

“Given the life-altering potential of AI — that even if it doesn’t kill us all, it will almost certainly change human existence in unprecedented ways at unprecedented speed — we all have a stake in how it’s being developed.”

Rosalynn Carter

President Jimmy Carter talks with first lady Rosalynn Carter prior to signing an executive order establishing a Presidential Commission on Mental Health on February 17, 1977, in the East Room of the White House.

Former President Jimmy Carter described his wife Rosalynn Carter, who died last weekend at the age of 96, as “my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished.” They were married for 77 years, which is essentially the life expectancy of an infant born in today’s America, as Kate Andersen Brower noted.

“Jimmy Carter was the son of a peanut farmer with little name recognition outside of Georgia before he ran for president, and Rosalynn was his most ardent supporter. Ahead of the 1976 Democratic nomination a group of Georgia volunteers, known as the Peanut Brigade, campaigned door-to-door for him, while Rosalynn traveled to television and radio stations around the country, surprising them by offering herself up for interviews so that she could slowly, town by town, state by state, introduce voters to her husband.”

Rosalynn Carter was an outspoken advocate for improving mental health care. “After the Carters left the White House in January 1981, they made the unusual decision to return to their hometown, where they embarked on the longest, most ambitious, and most successful post-presidency in American history,” wrote Brower.

Saving too much?

When people talk about saving for retirement, it’s almost always in the context of the struggle to save enough to support a worry-free lifestyle. Yet entrepreneur Bill Perkins, author of “Die With Zero,” argued that there’s another risk worth considering that applies to some Americans: saving too much.

“I know it sounds strange to call that a ‘risk,’ as most people don’t think of accumulating wealth into old age as a negative, but that’s exactly my point: People need to realize that saving for too long is a waste if you delay gratification to the point where there is little to no gratification to be had.”

“Federal Reserve Board data shows that US households’ median net worth peaks when the head of the household is between the age of 65 and 74. That tells me that many people will die before they get to spend all the money they’ve given their life energy to acquire. These big savers will be rich in dollars, but poor in what the dollars are actually there for: acquiring positive life experiences.”

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    Opening up about money is vital, wrote Sara Stewart. “When comedian Maria Bamford was writing her memoir, she wanted to pack it with as many financial details about herself as possible. ‘As a Minnesotan, I am ashamed to admit that I love money. I love a fair exchange of goods and services, and I love full disclosure,’ she said in a commencement speech quoted on NPR’s “Planet Money,” as part of an interview in which she delved into details about her philosophy that we should all get more comfortable talking about one of the most awkward subjects ever…”

    “Bamford is one of a growing number of people advocating for radical transparency around money. It’s heartening to see that talking about what we earn — and don’t  — is perhaps on track to being normalized in a new way. The more we talk, the less shame, stigma and taboo can cling to issues around finances.”

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    Trump means it

    In his four years in the White House, Donald Trump shattered many presidential norms but was often stymied by powerful institutions in Washington, including career government officials in the executive branch and senior members of Congress. As he runs for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Trump is already planning to reshape the government in his image if he is elected, vastly expanding the powers of office, Julian Zelizer warned.

    “Trump has been working with the Heritage Foundation to map out a plan for filling key agency positions with loyalists. Part of the goal is to screen tens of thousands of individuals to make sure that they would follow his orders as president. … While presidents from both parties have deployed executive power, not all presidents have intentionally mapped out plans to go after their enemies without any legal justification. This is what Trump has in mind and it’s downright Nixonian. It’s also why he represents a threat to the Oval Office that goes beyond the typical issue of consolidating power.”

    “Trump has shown quite clearly how he is willing to ignore any institutional or normative guardrails that have been in place…”

    For more:

    Dean Obeidallah: What this judge said about Trump is bone-chilling

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    The pulse of the Earth

    New lava at the eruption site of volcano Fagradalsfall on Reykjanes peninsula. Europe, Northern Europe, Iceland. (Photo by: Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

    Iceland’s treasure, the unique landscape that is partly the result of its location on the edge of tectonic plates, may also be its greatest vulnerability, as the now-evacuated residents of the small town of Grindavik no doubt realize.

    Catharine Fulton, a Canadian journalist who lives in Reykjavik, recalled the first time she saw an active volcano. “It was the eruption of Fimmvörðuháls in March 2010; the precursor to the infamous Eyjafjallajökull eruption that began just a month later, spewing forth ash and memes about its impossible-to-pronounce name in equal measure.”

    “In what seems like a daydream to think back on now, I donned a snowsuit, boots, balaclava and helmet and rode a snowmobile over the crunching, crackling, crevassed surface of Sólheimajökull glacier as the sun set to witness a fissure vent spewing glowing fountains of liquid magma high into the air, while a lavafall cascaded down the soot-black side of the newly formed crater.”

    What she witnessed was “magnificently multisensory. The glow of the lava against the night sky, the waves of heat from the eruption lending an intermittent reprieve from the paralyzing cold atop the glacier, the sound of the earth churning. That sound remains the most vivid memory — the sound of the Earth’s pulse.”

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    Peniel Joseph: Three days in 1963 that are still changing America

    Danielle Campoamor: An 11-year-old who survived Uvalde says he and his friends will ‘never be the same’


    Napoleon’s hubris

    Joaquin Phoenix appears as Napoleon.

    Ridley Scott, director of the new film, “Napoleon,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, has mixed feelings about the long-dead French emperor, wrote Noah Berlatsky. “Even as Scott deplores Napoleon’s grotesque hubris, he’s also clearly fascinated by it, and enjoys the opportunity it gives him for sweeping spectacle and Hollywood mythmaking. The movie is both a warning about our own populist gasbags and an object lesson in our media culture’s feckless enthusiasm for ‘big characters.’

    “Early in the film, his stoic mien, boundless self-confidence and sweeping success, not to mention his personal bravery in battle, give him the glamour of a standard Hollywood action hero,” Berlatsky observed. “You could be watching ‘Top Gun’ or ‘Die Hard’ with their dashing, mavericky, righteous protagonists fighting onward toward the inevitable raffish grin of victory…”

    Yet as the film proceeds, the viewer finds that “the private Napoleon is ridiculous; the public one, it’s eventually clear, is a monster. His genius as a general is real — or at least it is until he starts to believe in it a little too fervently. In the latter half of his career, he consistently underestimates his opponents and leads his men to disaster because he won’t acknowledge setbacks or call for strategic retreats … The film concludes with a final text screen that says that 3 million people died in Napoleon’s wars.”