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In recent months the American Secretary of State John Kerry has chalked up an extraordinary number of airmiles toing-and-froing between Washington and Israel. On returning to his plane after one recent trip, and having claimed to have got Israeli and Palestinian leaders to agree to direct negotiations, he was apparently applauded by his staff. What a disgusting image — all those employees applauding their own boss while he pulls some "aw-shucks, guys" face. While wishing the talks well, though believing them doomed, I remain bewildered by the impetus and urgency.

I recently did some rather bleak sums. If you add up the most inflated death tolls claimed by every side in every war involving Israel since — and including — 1948 you get somewhere in the region of 60,000 deaths. That is a lot of death and a lot of grief for a lot of families over the course of almost seven decades. Yet when I check the death tolls in the Syrian civil war I see that around that same number of people have been killed there in the last year alone and almost double that in the last two years.

So why is Kerry's plane making all those flights to Tel Aviv? Oughtn't the more pressing policy be to try to stop the killing in Syria? Or, now, Egypt? Everyone used to say that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was the toughest problem in the world to crack. But it surely can't be as hard as Syria since the US is not even attempting to do anything there. Perhaps we might encourage Kerry to consider how loudly his own staff might applaud him were he to arrange direct negotiations between President Assad and the Syrian opposition.


Spending August in deep countryside, I have the unimprovable company of Boswell's Life of Dr Johnson. As I have never read it all the way through before, the days pass joyously in the company of this most wonderful of men.

I do not miss the news from town. When it arrives it is all about Twitter. As I understand things, around  half of the British public spent the summer threatening to rape and murder the other half. I do not know if anyone was actually raped or murdered as a result. But it seems to have provided an excellent opportunity for a number of public figures to come out in opposition to rape and murder, as well as the threat of both. Although I suppose one should always expect the worst, I still think it a low mark at which to set the bar.

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