Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Blunder/Betrayal of Unprecedented Proportions

This is a guest post from my cousin, Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, the Chabad Lubavitch rabbi for Chabad at La Costa, in California.

The United States has led world powers into an agreement with Iran, which officially allows Iran to enrich uranium. The consequences of this deal will necessarily be earth-shattering, and not in a good way. Some points to ponder: Why does the oil rich nation of Iran need to enrich uranium? Who has a greater knowledge and appreciation of Israel’s security situation and existential threats to it, the United States or Israel?

Why Threaten Israel?

Why have Iranian leaders repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel from the map? In other words, the two nations do not even share a border, why does the Iranian regime harbor such animosity against Israel? What has Israel ever done to Iran?
What would motivate anyone to entrust a nuclear capability to the single largest state sponsor of terror in the world? In other words, who would possibly believe the Iranian protestations that uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes?
Who could imagine that Iran’s numerous regional enemies, like Saudi Arabia, will not now be forced into their own pursuits of a nuclear capability to protect themselves? In other words, the world powers have forced an arms race in the most volatile region in the world, a veritable tinder box of radicalism and instability.

Why Not Double-Down?

If the sanctions were working – like all parties claim other than the Iranians themselves – why not double down and strangle the Iranian regime until they completely give up any pursuit of a nuclear capability? What is there to lose by doing everything humanly possible to peacefully try and destroy the Iranian nuclear project in its entirety? Let us try now to answer each question: The oil rich nation of Iran does not need to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. However, if it wishes to strike a deadly blow against the United States (who they continue to call the Great Satan) or Israel (who they continue to call the Small Satan), or against their mortal enemy Saudi Arabia (the preeminent Sunni power as opposed to Iran who is the preeminent Shiite power) they need to enrich uranium. Perhaps it is ‘only’ meant as a deterrent, so that they can continue and even ramp up their terrorist activities around the world, and now the world powers will fear striking Iran, much as the world is afraid of North Korea now because of its nuclear capability. Israel has a greater knowledge of its own security situation and what is or is not an existential threat than does the US. It is arrogance and nothing less for the US and/or other world powers to dictate to Israel what is in its best interests. As opposed to Iran, Israel is a liberal democracy, and its leaders are elected freely by a peace-loving, law-abiding population. It is irresponsible for the US to gamble with Israeli security, especially in light of the recent history of the Jewish people and the world’s inaction during the Holocaust.

Rational Actor?

The Iranian Mullahs hate Israel and the Jewish people, as they hate Christians, secular nations, and non Shiite Muslims for religious reasons. There is no valid reason (and by valid I mean according to Western thought and logic) for the implacable hatred on constant display by the Iranian regime towards a country a thousand miles distant. There is, however, a strong religious reason for this hatred. Because it is a religious hatred it is not subjected to the considerations that appeal to Western thought and philosophy. A worldview that welcomes the advent of the apocalypse is not one that can be rationally dealt with. To be clear; Israel has never done anything to Iran other than exist, and the same can be said of all Western nations and non Shiite nations (meaning essentially everyone else). This is perhaps the most troubling of all questions. There are only a couple of possibilities as to why the US would choose to allow a bloodthirsty, tyrannical regime a nuclear capability. At best it would seem to be a naïveté of epic proportions. This level of naïveté rivals Neville Chamberlin when he proclaimed, “We have peace in our time,” due to his historical (read hysterical) deal with Adolph Hitler (which directly led to World War II and the death of tens of millions of people), and that of a previous administration that welcomed the Ayatollah Khomeini and this regime into power trusting their promise of democracy. We have suffered for more than 30 years because of that blunder with countless terror attacks and a general destabilization in the Middle East. A nuclear capable Iran is a mistake that will take at least as long to undo, unless more aggressive, non-peaceful means are employed. At worst it demonstrates a perverse desire to empower the Iranian Mullahs. Perhaps this desire emanates from a misplaced feeling of guilt for Western successes over the past thousand years. Perhaps it is part of a cynical ploy to further isolate Israel, forcing her into painful and dangerous concessions, or simply out of existence, G-d forbid. Perhaps Jeremiah Wright, the race-baiting, America hating spiritual mentor of so many was correct when he predicted that before the end of this administration’s time in power Israel would be exposed to some new realities. Or maybe fear motivated this capitulation?

Arms Race

Now that the harness has officially been lifted there is no way that this cannot lead to an all-out arms race in the Middle East. Unfortunately the only regime in the neighborhood that shares our western ideals of liberal democracy will be surrounded by nuclear capable, theocratic, western-hating regimes as a direct result of this deal. Does Washington possibly think they can control all of the countries that will now be racing to acquire a nuclear capability? Are they so morally confused as to think mutually assured destruction will keep us safe? So why did this administration give up on the sanctions that were taking a bite out of Iran’s nuclear aspirations? Perhaps the best answer is, “All of the above.” There is no logical explanation that we have been made aware of for the capitulation of the 21st century. I shudder to think of the reasons we have not been made aware of. Do we trust the president with his assurance that, “I have Israel’s back?” I have just one question: “How can we?!”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dove and the Gift of Fault Finding

The concept is irresistible. An FBI-trained forensic artist, Gil Zamora, has random people come into his studio. Two sketches are done for each person. He doesn’t see them. They don’t see him.

The subject sits behind a curtain, unaware she is being sketched, but after several questions, the light dawns. “Tell me about your chin,” Zamora will ask, or, “What’s your most prominent feature?”

Next, the subject of the sketch is told to become friendly with another participant in the project. That participant then describes the original subject to the sketch artist which results in the second sketch.

The two sketches are hung side by side and the subject is brought in to see two vastly different sketches.

Invariably, the subject becomes emotional. The sketch depicting the subject’s self-description tends to be grim and somewhat malformed. The sketch that results from a new friend’s description shows an attractive, happy face. Confronted with the disparity between the two sketches, the subject is forced to confront two ideas:
  1. She has a low self-opinion and finds fault with her appearance
  2. Others find her a pleasant and attractive companion

This social experiment was brought to you by Dove. The soap company has had a good run with its campaign for improving the self-worth and self-image of women everywhere. You can’t help but like these well-designed clips and the important message they impart. And I do like them, especially when they manage to help me procrastinate about that piece I’m writing for Kars4Kids, when the deadline is nigh.

But something bugged me about this clip. Remember that song, One of These Things is Not Like the Others? From Sesame Street?

As it happens, I’ve always had a knack for that game. I can always see what’s different or out of place. I see it as a gift.

I can glance at a piece of text, or my living room, or at the way a child is dressed, with an eye toward what needs attention, what needs fixing. My eyes find, of their own volition, a single typo in a blog, a milk mustache on a child getting ready for school, or a painting hanging crooked on the wall.

My kids tell me I see things with the back of my head or in my sleep.

And here’s where things go south with my blessing: I have been told I’m too critical—that I always find fault—that I never see the good in things.

But this thing I have, this gift or curse, has always been about wanting to make things better, to improve them.

I was left feeling disturbed by the sadness evident in the self-description sketches in the Dove clip. Especially in comparison with the bright and happy countenances so apparent in the sketches based on the outsiders’ descriptions. I was uncomfortable with the idea that seeing our imperfections is a sign of self-loathing.

Because I do this, too. I look in the mirror and judge.

I do it because I know my face better than anyone else. I do it because I know my perceptions will be keener and more honest than a friend’s. So I will note my pretty eyes, at the same time registering the fact that they are too small and need to be played up with makeup. I will note the signs of aging in my neck and recognize that I photograph best in profile.

And that’s okay. It’s absolutely, perfectly acceptable. It’s NORMAL.  It doesn’t cause me grief. I don’t suffer from depression.

Fault-finding isn’t necessarily evil, bad, or depressing. Which makes me suspicious of the findings of this film. It’s possible to recognize one’s faults and still have a great opinion of one’s self.

Heck. I LIKE myself.

The small size of my eyes doesn’t depress me or make me cry. It’s something about me I observe and store away for future reference. It’s something I keep in mind. It doesn’t RULE me.

And by the way, I’m also BLOWN away by things that are perfectly exquisite. I can get high in the Dutch Masters room at the Chicago Art Institute. I swoon when listening to Rubinstein play Chopin’s Berceuse.

But wanting to make things better?

That's okay, too. In fact, it’s MORE than okay.

It’s a gift.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

16 Pages In Thirty Minutes At Stumbleupon

I like my job. I really do. Nonetheless, all jobs involve well, WORK. Even when you like what you do.

I’m a writer and I love to write and I love that I get to write about education for the car donation program known as Kars4Kids. I like it because I know I’m helping kids and their parents with this work. My work offers meaning beyond the satisfaction of a job well done, not to mention it pays the rent.

Still, I love it when the day is done and I get to goof off. One of my new fave things to waste time on after a hard day at work is stumbleupon. I um, stumbled upon stumbleupon while looking for ways to shamelessly self-promote my blogs.

Screenshot of Stumbleupon
I share my blogs on my Facebook timeline, on my Facebook author’s page, on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and tumblr. I even created a board for my articles on Pinterest. But all those other share buttons on the various blog interfaces I use had me intrigued. I began exploring some of these other venues and stumbleupon was one of the happier experiments I enjoyed in checking out these various social media networks.

Stumbleupon is FUN. On the other hand, it won’t be much use to me in my profession. I’ve shared about 10 pages on stumbleupon, but don’t really expect them to play well there. Stumbleupon is more about fun and delightful games and graphics than education, politics, and other serious stuff. But fun is good too, right? I mean, within reason.

So the interface is fairly simple. You’re shown a webpage. If you like it, you click the thumbs up symbol. Don’t like it, click the thumbs down symbol. Ready to move on? Click stumble and a new page comes up.

Or Be Brave

By voting thumbs up or thumbs down, you offer stumbleupon a way to refine your preferences and show you more of what you like. When you sign up (yes, it’s free), you check boxes next to all your interests. If stumbleupon sees you clicking thumbs up for many pages within one interest, a window will come up asking if you want to add a related interest. You can always say no. Or be brave and say yes.

I wanted to show you what it’s like to play on the stumbleupon playground (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) so I went through 16 pages today to show you how I use it as well as my reactions to what stumbleupon chooses to show me.  

The one downside to stumbleupon is that not every webpage is accessible outside of stumbleupon which makes sharing kind of difficult. I linked to all the pages I came across today that CAN be accessed on their own. The others, well, you’ll have to sign up with stumbleupon to see them. Sorry about that.

1) Collected Quotes from Albert Einstein. Meh. email forward. Seen it 100 times. Thumbs down.


2) Crafts I'd never do. Toilet paper roll finger puppets. Seriously? Thumbs down.
Screenshot from website


3) Gorgeous 360 degree interactive August sunset in Moab, Utah. THUMBS UP.


4) Takes a long time to load but NEATO. It’s an interactive scene the nature of which I don’t want to spoil for you by telling you about it here. It takes a while to figure out what you need to do to get the neato stuff to happen. Once it does, it’s so cool it’s almost overwhelming. Very, very creative.  Thumbs up.


5) Gosh. I don't LIKE the art here, but it is so lifelike and realistic and drawn from CHALK, yet! I have to appreciate the artist’s amazing work in spite of my dislike. Thumbs up.


6) Oh definitely. These are still pictures with embedded gifs so that the pictures move in only one or two small areas of the scene. It’s an extremely effective device. The dice. The cat's ear. I couldn’t figure out what was moving in the photo of the woman standing at the railing, though I looked for a long time and I’m a fairly observant person. That was disappointing. Still: Thumbs UP.


I get a message from Stumbleupon: "You’ve liked the animation pages several times. Would you like to add graphic design to your interests?"

I choose yes.

7) A black and white photo of apartment building windows during a sideways blowing snowstorm at night. Okay.
Screenshot from Stumbleupon

Not wild about this particular photo, but in general, I like photographs and want to see more, especially black and white photos, so I'll click thumbs up.


8) Hmm. Thumbs down, though I feel guilty, since it's Winslow Homer and all. Just don’t like this particular painting.


9) Prank video. Australian guys rig up buddy's plumbing with BEER. Hot and cold running beer from every spigot in the house. Web cams set up so the friends can watch. They must really love their friend to go to all that trouble and expense. FUNNY! Thumbs up.


10) Sesame street alien puppets discover computer. Weird. Pointless. Thumbs down.


11) Dumb, dumb, dumb joke. Thumbs down.


12) Stylish mommy blog. Boring. Thinking: people who stumble upon my blogs on stumbleupon will be thinking the same thing. Gulp. Thumbs down.


13) Laser cure for Alzheimer's that can distinguish between healthy proteins and toxic amyloids "So simple,
Screenshot from website.
it's incredible." Medical breakthrough dated only yesterday. Cool, if not fun. Thumbs up.


14) Neatoooooooooooooooo! Canvas Pinball, a game of pinball set up as if on the page of a spiral bound
Screenshot from Stumbleupon
notebook. You use the arrows on your keyboard. Several balls in play at once add a surprise element. I like it. Thumbs up.


Worried about the artist's diet. (screenshot from Stumbleupon)

15) Drawings of liquid by a Chinese artist. Amazing but um, yuh. The eyeball thing. weird. You wonder if the artist needs a change of diet and you wouldn't want to um, meet him. Oh all right. Thumbs up.

Screenshot from Stumbleupon

16) Last but not least: a wikihow on how to escape from Handcuffs. That should be a right handy thing to know if I should ever decide to commit a crime. Thumbs UP.

The end.