Face Of The Day

Sep 2 2014 @ 7:15pm
by Dish Staff


An Afghan girl look through the door of her house in an old section of Kabul on September 2, 2014. Afghanistan’s economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 largely because of the infusion of international assistance. Despite significant improvement in the last decade, the country is still extremely poor and remains highly dependent on foreign aid. By Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images.

Eric Cantor Cashes In

Sep 2 2014 @ 6:48pm
by Dish Staff

He’s got a plum job at Moelis, an investment bank:

Since he was elected Majority Leader in 2011, Cantor earned $193,400 a year, around $20,000 more annually than a rank-and-file member. But as Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Moelis, he will receive a $1.4 million signing bonus, $1.6 million in incentive compensation next year and a $400,000 base salary — plus reimbursement for the reasonable cost of a New York City apartment for his first 12 months, and a hotel equivalent rate thereafter.

Annie Lowrey talks about the move with Dennis Kelleher, “a former corporate lawyer and longtime Senate staffer who now heads the nonprofit Better Markets, the banking lobby’s lonely public-interest opposition in Washington.” How Kelleher understands the hire:

“Wall Street is after what it’s always buying in Washington: access, influence, and unfair advantage. And Cantor is a big catch for anybody who wants access.

Read On

by Dish Staff

In response to this post, a reader writes:

Domestic cats are very diffident companions indeed, but they are still the most popular pet in the world. Probably because they require less maintenance than dogs both psychically and physically. This makes them one of the most successful mammalian species on Earth in terms of population. They are thought to be the only animal to self domesticate. As a predator small enough to be prey they scoped the opportunity represented by humans early on and some of the Felis genus threw in their lot with us. Some behaviorists have said that cats hang around humans simply because we have better food and we share it.

Some see total opportunism in all a cat’s actions. Manipulations masked as affection so we give them what they want. It is a highly successful strategy. They probably work and/or sacrifice the least for their standard of living than any other creature on Earth. The best last word on cats was summed up by a refrigerator magnet that said “Dogs have Owners, Cats have Staff”. Cats are wired differently than dogs for sure but, in spite of their obvious temperamental differences, are also known to defend a human when retreat would be the wiser course. Maybe they value us for something more than the obvious food, warmth and safety we offer after all.

To underscore that point, the reader sends the above video of a badass cat confronting a despicable dog. Another cat lover:

Rilke was describing a cat that was also an outside hunter. Those who have indoor cats enjoy a completely different experience. I’ve shared the last 25 years of my life with two separate felines.

Read On

Blue Suede Yarmulke

Sep 2 2014 @ 5:47pm
by Dish Staff

J.J. Goldberg recalls something he learned about Elvis during a tour of Graceland back in the mid-’90s:

The very last display case, before you left the building to roam the grounds, featured the things Elvis was wearing the night he died. Included were his religious paraphernalia, which he “always wore,” the docent told me: a cross and a Chai pendant (visible [here]). Curiouser and curiouser.

When I got back to my hotel I called Memphis blues historian Robert Gordon, whom I knew vaguely, to find out what the heck this was all about. He said there were stories about Elvis having had some Jewish ancestry, but I would do well to call disc jockey George Klein, the elder statesman of Memphis rock ’n’ roll. It seems Klein had been lifelong friends with Elvis, starting in junior high. He was a member of the Memphis Mafia, the gang of childhood buddies who surrounded Elvis, traveled and partied with him and handled his affairs on the road.

I got Klein on the phone right away. He couldn’t have been nicer. He explained to me that Elvis’s great-great-grandmother had been Jewish and Elvis was very proud of it. Oh, I said, you mean his father’s father’s …

“No,” Klein said. “His mother’s mother’s mother’s mother.”

“So Elvis was —“

He cut me off. “You said it, bubba, not me.”

Read On

Syria’s War At Israel’s Door

Sep 2 2014 @ 5:09pm
by Jonah Shepp

The Syrian civil war took an interesting turn late last week as fighters from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra overran the Quneitra checkpoint between Syria proper and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and captured or surrounded dozens of UN peacekeepers from Fiji and the Philippines. Juan Cole finds precisely none of this surprising:

The London-based Al-`Arabi al-Jadid reports that Israeli Gen. Aviv Kochavi, now head of the Northern Command but until recently chief of military intelligence, has for two years been warning that the Syrian civil war could spill over onto Israel. Haaretz has also shown alarm at the developments. Not only is the Succor Front consolidating its hold on Golan, but the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) is alleged to be infiltrating Syrian villages near Israel in the north. The Syrian army, once responsible for Israel-Syria border security, has “evaporated” after losing battles with the militants. The likelihood that Israel could in the long run be completely insulated from a raging civil war right next door, which has displaced 3 million abroad and more millions internally, was always low. The view that it is good for Israel when the Arabs fight one another is a glib and superficial piece of cynicism challenged by seasoned observers such as Gen. Kochavi.

One of the many side effects of Israel’s regional isolation is that it tends to treat conflicts in and among its neighbors as the Arabs’ problems and pay them relatively little mind, compared to the interest one might expect a country to take in violence so close to its borders. This isolation emerges from the intractability of the conflict and, to my mind, represents a noteworthy obstacle to regional peace.

Read On

by Jonah Shepp

The war between Ukraine and Russia continues to escalate as heads of NATO member states arrive in Wales for a summit on the crisis. Russia has announced (NYT) that it is revising its military strategy in response to what it sees as belligerent behavior on the part of NATO, including the prospect of expanding the alliance to include Ukraine. Of course, Putin doesn’t help matters by telling European officials that he could “take Kiev in two weeks”, as he apparently did in a recent phone conversation with José Manuel Barroso. Marc Champion takes him seriously:

Earlier this year it was only those on the lunatic nationalist fringe in Moscow who talked about taking Kiev. Now it’s Putin. This is part of a disturbing pattern. For a long time, only ultranationalists talked about a place called Novorossiya, or New Russia. In April, Putin took that up, and by June the separatists in Ukraine had merged their self-proclaimed republics to found Novorossiya. So what are the Russian lunatics talking about now? Ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians in Novorossiya, and attacking Poland and the Baltic states.

I have no idea where Putin is going with this, and I think it’s wiser not to speculate too much, but he seems to be in the thrall of an ideology that lends itself to the logic of imperial aggression, as do his soaring poll numbers, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he continued to escalate. On the other hand, as John Mearsheimer puts it in an essay (paywalled) on the origins of the Ukraine crisis, Putin’s belligerence didn’t come from nowhere:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Sep 2 2014 @ 4:20pm
by Dish Staff

An artful rumination on the end of summer:

AUGUST is the last of a three-part series by filmmaker Mark Mazur. The first two parts were JUNE and JULY.

by Dish Staff

The famed evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has a plan to save biodiversity – but it will take about 50 percent of the planet:

Throughout the 544 million or so years since hard-shelled animals first appeared, there has been a slow increase in the number of plants and animals on the planet, despite five mass extinction events. The high point of biodiversity likely coincided with the moment modern humans left Africa and spread out across the globe 60,000 years ago. As people arrived, other species faltered and vanished, slowly at first and now with such acceleration that Wilson talks of a coming “biological holocaust,” the sixth mass extinction event, the only one caused not by some cataclysm but by a single species—us.

Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them. A version of this idea has been in circulation among conservationists for some time.

How might that work? Wilson envisions “a chain of uninterrupted corridors” connecting “core” national biodiversity parks and other sanctuaries:

The new challenge, as Wilson sees it, is to link up national parks and wilderness reserves and restored landscapes to “protect in perpetuity entire faunas and floras.” He has high praise for several such projects out West—especially the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative to join vast areas of the U.S. and Canada, and the even more extensive Western Wildway vision, a tri-national arc of land along the length of the Rockies from Mexico to Alaska sponsored by the Wildlands Network, a consortium of biologists and activists headquartered in Seattle.

The Passing Of A Pigeon

Sep 2 2014 @ 3:39pm
by Dish Staff

The last passenger pigeon died 100 years ago yesterday. Elizabeth Kolbert mulls over the mystery of the bird’s extinction:

In his recent book “Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record,”MarthaErrol Fuller, a British author, argues that an “additional factor” must have been at work in the species’ extinction, because “in a land as vast as the United States there can be no mopping-up hunting for a species as small as a pigeon.” (Fuller’s book contains a grainy and not particularly flattering photo of Martha standing in her cage in Cincinnati.)

Some have argued that the “additional factor” was deforestation; by this account, it’s no coincidence that the passenger pigeon went extinct right about the same time that land clearing in the eastern U.S. reached its maximum extent. Others speculate that the passenger pigeon was one of those animals that require great densities to survive.

She adds that, whatever the answer, “the mystery should give us pause” because “species that seem today to be doing fine may be sensitive to change in ways that are difficult to foresee.” Carl Zimmer is on the same page:

Read On

ISIS Murders Another American

Sep 2 2014 @ 3:15pm
by Jonah Shepp

News broke today that ISIS has made good on their threat to behead kidnapped journalist Steven Sotloff, when a video of the murder appeared on social media:

A masked figure in the video also issued a threat against a British hostage, a man the group named as David Haines, and warned governments to back off “this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State”, the SITE monitoring service said. The purported executioner appeared to be the same British-accented man who appeared in an Aug. 19 video showing the killing of American journalist James Foley, and it showed a similar desert setting. In both videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits. “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and … on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings,” the man said. “So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

For those who must have the details, the Wire provides a fuller account of the video, including Sotloff’s last words, in which he is forced to lament that he is “paying the price” for the US intervention in Iraq. Much as I’m convinced that Sotloff’s murder will do nothing for the jihadists but shock and disgust the world even more than their past atrocities already have, that’s not much comfort to his poor mother.