Destroying the Web of Life | Executive Disorder & Citizenship | The Jewish Divide


“TV makes it so easy to postpone living for another half hour.”

“What sets wilderness apart in the modern day is not that it’s dangerous (it’s almost certainly safer than any town or road) or that it’s solitary (you can, so they say, be alone in a crowded room) or full of exotic animals (there are more at the zoo). It’s that five miles out in the woods you can’t buy anything.”

– Bill McKibben


We Maniacs! We Blew It Up!: Last May a groundbreaking assessment of all life on earth was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The assessment revealed that while humans make up just 0.01 percent of all life, humanity has destroyed 83 percent of wild mammals, and half the plants. Now, of all the mammals on earth, 96 percent are livestock and humans and only 4 percent are wild mammals. Fast forward five months to the new estimate of the massacre of wildlife made in a major report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) involving 59 scientists from across the globe. This report shows the increasing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life billions of years in the making. It is that “web of life” upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

Just since 1970, less than 50 years ago, humans have wiped out 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. The world’s leading scientists are warning that while this huge loss is a tragedy in itself, what it really means is civilization’s very survival is threatened. WWF’s executive director of science and conservation Mike Barrett put it this way: “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. If there was a 60 percent decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

Worldwide, 60 percent of vertebrate animals are gone, but freshwater habitats are hit even harder, with populations having collapsed by 83 percent. South and Central America is the worst affected region globally. It’s the impact of unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles. “This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” Barrett said. “This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.” In other words, the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.


Saudi Arabia’s Aid Comes with Strings Attached: A leaked UN document shows that humanitarian agencies operating in Yemen have been pressured to accept extensive terms in exchange for $930 million in aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Henceforth grants distributed by the UN agency Ocha will be tied to the amount of favorable publicity given Saudi Arabia, particularly in newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian. All agencies receiving grants from the Saudis must give the kingdom a summary of publicity efforts surrounding the funding, and must display Saudi Arabia and UAE supported activities in photographs and video material in Yemen. The document sets out 48 specific steps UN agencies agreed to take this year to publicize Saudi activity covering five different aid-linked agencies, including the UN Development Program, Ocha, The World Health Organization, and UNICEF. (Guardian)

The Other Candidates Are Green With Envy: Ireland’s electorate went to the polls last Friday to cast their ballots. They re-elected their president, Michael Higgins, and voted to remove the word “blasphemous” from the law that states “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter” shall be punishable. Removing the reference to blasphemy wasn’t particularly shocking. But one candidate’s meteoric rise in vote-getting over a poll two weeks ago was. Peter Casey’s support grew from 2% to 23% once he started criticizing an ethnic minority, the Irish Travellers. A political analyst explains: “The Casey vote shows that Ireland, like any other Western country, is not immune from the populism we are seeing around the world. The tactic he used was the same one we’ve seen in America and elsewhere, where you attack a vulnerable element of society and accuse them of being ungrateful and causing social problems.” (NYT)

– “China rolls back decades-old tiger and rhino parts ban, worrying conservationists: China’s State Council said Monday it would legalize the trade of rhino and tiger parts sourced from farmed animals, partially reviving a lucrative market that Beijing had officially shut down in 1993.” (WaPo)


The Jewish Divide: Saturday’s massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue has fostered universal condemnation of the murderous act itself; it has also exposed painful underlying political and theological disagreements among Jewish communities in both Israel and America.

2016 Pew Research Center analysis showed that most Israeli Jews describe their political views as center-right, while most American Jews say they are liberal or moderate. Ultra-Orthodox influence on Israel’s right-wing government means strict Jewish law is increasingly dictating everyday Israeli existence, and causing more liberal American denominations to feel alienated from Jewish State-run religious life. Saturday’s attacker’s anti-refugee and anti-Semitic fulminations on social media have highlighted these rifts, and prompted many on the left in both America and Israel to draw angry comparisons to views espoused by their government’s nationalistic leaders, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The philosophical gap has widened, but the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue has brought it to a head. When influential Israeli politician and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, flew to Pittsburgh in his capacity as minister of diaspora affairs, he spoke at a vigil Sunday night in terms of unifying ideals: “The murder’s bullet does not stop to ask, ‘Are you Conservative or Reform, are you Orthodox? Are you right-wing or left-wing?’ It has one goal, and that is to kill innocent people. Innocent Jews.” Even so, one journalist for Haaretz, the liberal daily, angrily queried: “Is the Trump-supporting, African-migrant-bashing Naftali Bennett really the best person to represent Israel in Pittsburgh right now?”


The Executive’s Disorder: President Trump told an Axios reporter in an interview to be aired Sunday on HBO that he plans to issue an executive order revoking that portion of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment that guarantees citizenship to all children born on US soil. In a stunningly obtuse statement Trump said: “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t.” Even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, not known for challenging such presidential wisdom, said Trump’s claim would be unconstitutional. Ryan told a radio station in Kentucky Tuesday: “Well, you obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.” (WaPo)

The Other Pnut Purveyor Says No More Kemp: Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp is in charge of everything having to do with voting in the state. During the last ten years, eight of which Kemp was in office, more than 1.6 million names were removed from the voting rolls. At present his office has placed some 53,000 voter applications on hold, for which he is being sued by a half-dozen civil rights groups. The reason all this has come to a head right before the midterms is because Kemp is locked in a tight race for the Georgia governorship with Stacey Abrams. Kemp’s being the overseer of a race in which he is also a candidate is what in technical parlance is called “the fox guarding the henhouse.” In a letter sent to Kemp last Monday, Jimmy Carter, who served as Democratic governor of Georgia himself before winning the presidency in 1976, wrote Kemp asking him to step down from his position as Secretary of State “to ensure the confidence of our citizens.” (NPR)

– “Devin Nunes’ Re-Election Tests Whether All Politics Are Now National:Polls taken in the past few months suggest Nunes could be ahead by as little as five to eight points. His challenger, Democrat Andrew Janz, has never before run for office but has raised more than $8 million, a staggering amount for a political newcomer in a heavily Republican district.” (NPR)

– “Trump’s closing television ad for midterms doesn’t include Trump: The $6 million buy focuses solely on the economy. Narrated by the mother of a young child, it features news footage of economic reports before and after Trump took office and seeks to make the case that an improving economy is benefiting her family.” (WaPo)


– “Quitting cannabis could lead to better memory and cognition: US research shows four weeks’ abstinence improved memory, but not attention skills” This study is brought to you by: your parents. (Guardian)

– “Antarctica scientist allegedly stabs colleague for spoiling the endings of books” (LA Times)

– “‘Happy’ was played at a Trump event after the Pittsburgh massacre. Now Pharrell is threatening to sue him.” Clap along if you feel like your song was used inappropriately. (WaPo)

– “How Well Do Rewards and Incentives Work to Motivate You?: …do you find yourself more motivated not by external rewards, but by something internal that makes you want to do or achieve something for its own sake? What examples can you give?” (NYT)

– “Even a 10-Minute Walk May Be Good for the Brain: Ten minutes of mild exercise can immediately alter how certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another and improve memory function.” (NYT)

– “Browsing the Stacks: A Photo Appreciation of Libraries” (Atlantic)

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