Thursday, January 29, 2015

Something to Think About When You're Sleepless at 2 a.m.

From the February 2015 issue of National Geographic:
Several years ago I made a bet about face mites, animals that live in hair follicles. They are so small that a dozen of them could dance on the head of a pin. They are more likely, though, to dance on your face, which they do at night when they mate, before crawling back into your follicles by day to eat. In those caves mother mites give birth to a few relatively large mite-shaped eggs. The eggs hatch, and then, like all mites, the babies go through molts in which they shed their external skeleton and emerge slightly larger. Once they're full size, their entire adult life lasts only a few weeks. Death comes at the precise moment when the mites, lacking an anus, fill up with feces, die, and decompose on your head.
Read the rest if you dare. But if you don't, let me just give you one bit of advice: Politely decline an offering of Mimolette cheese.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Netanyahu Disaster

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic has written the article I was going to write about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled speech to the U.S. Congress.

An excerpt:
Netanyahu, grappling with a fear that Obama will go wobbly on Iran, could have tried a long time ago to create a discreet, continuous, and respectful dialogue in advance of the conclusion of negotiations, in order to try to shape the president’s thinking, and—this is important—to work with Obama on issues that interest the United States (advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, for instance, by taking the initiative once in a blue moon) in order to make the American side understand that his government is interested in giving, not merely in taking.
Instead, Netanyahu chose to make a desperate-seeming end-run around the president and attempted to appeal directly to Congress to oppose a decision Obama has not yet made. In a plan concocted by Ron Dermer, who serves as Netanyahu’s ambassador to the U.S., the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, invited Netanyahu to address Congress on the dangers of a nuclear deal and the need for tougher sanctions, without first informing the White House.
The flaws in this approach are many.
Israel has been, for several decades, a bipartisan cause in Washington. Bipartisan support accounts for the ease with which Israeli prime ministers have historically been heard in Washington; it accounts for the generous aid packages Israel receives; and it also explains America’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.
 Netanyahu’s management of his relationship with Obama threatens the bipartisan nature of Israel’s American support. His Dermer-inspired, Boehner-enabled end-run has alienated three crucially important constituencies. First, the administration itself: Netanyahu's estrangement from the Obama White House now appears to be permanent. It will be very difficult for Netanyahu to make the White House hear his criticisms of whatever deal may one day be reached with Iran.It will be very difficult for Netanyahu to make the White House hear his criticisms of whatever deal may one day be reached with Iran.
Netanyahu has also alienated many elected Democrats, including Jewish Democrats on Capitol Hill. One Jewish member of Congress told me that he felt humiliated and angered by Netanyahu’s ploy to address Congress “behind the president’s back.” A non-Jewish Democratic elected official texted me over the weekend to say that the damage Netanyahu is doing to Israel’s relationship with the U.S. may be “irreparable.” 
A larger group that Netanyahu risks alienating is American Jewry, or at least the strong majority of American Jews that has voted for Obama twice. Netanyahu’s decision to pit U.S. political party against U.S. political party—because that is what his end-run does—puts American Jewish supporters of Israel in a messy, uncomfortable spot, and it is not in Israel's interest to place American Jews in a position in which they have to choose between their president and the leader of a Jewish state whose behavior is making them queasy.
 Read the whole article here.

Friday, January 02, 2015

An Antidote for Cynicism

It seems like every traffic light intersection in Chicago is patrolled by somebody with a paper cup and a sign written on a piece of cardboard, asking for money. My own reaction to this is usually annoyance. Sometimes I break down, especially if it's somebody I've met at the food pantry or the free Thanksgiving Dinner at church. But usually I look the other way. "It's a franchise," I mutter.

A young man named Josh Paler Lin likes to do videos for the "pranks" channel on You Tube. He decided he'd give a hundred-dollar bill to one of those franchisees, then follow him to see what he does with it. And sure enough, the guy goes straight to the nearest liquor store.

But wait ...