The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

I’m beginning to see the dark at the end of the tunnel. Life is not returning to normal. We will never eat out again without observing how crowded the room is. We will never get on a bus without a mask. Every sniffle or scratchy throat will prompt us to find a rapid test for Covid. A positive test will send us into isolation, a negative test will comfort us only until we reach for the rapid test again in a few days.

Our lingering winter weather has kept us from some of our normal springtime outings. I’m sure that’s affecting my mood. A tour of the shops of one of our nearby tourist towns is a frequent February treat. Not this year. Yes, the buds are swelling on trees in our next door park, but we haven’t walked past them as often as usual. But it’s March now. Time to get out and about. I think we can. I think we can. I think we must!

Meanwhile, a new publication from Cochrane, a highly regarded research  firm in the UK, assures us that masking to prevent the spread of Covid is useless. They say this even though two studies specifically related to Covid show a positive effect of masking. Other studies occurred prior to Covid and were crappy studies. 

Furthermore: I have proof that masks work. Yes, I do. And here it is: I live in a retirement community of nearly 500 residents. We have 200 staff people who come and go each day. Due to low rates of Covid, residents dropped their masks many weeks ago. Employees were required to continue wearing masks at work. All employees. All day. Every day. Residents could or could not wear masks, up to the individual. Activities had returned to normal, meaning lots of in-person meetings – instead of Zoom – in large rooms and small. 

Guess what happened? We slowly began to see cases of Covid, most contracted outside in the real world. Our Covid trackers didn’t see much passing from resident to resident. Until the Super Bowl. Can you imagine a more perfect setting for spreading Covid than Super Bowl parties. Bunching up on sofas, eating, cheering, spreading germs with abandon. We had grown so lax that our neighbors had parties here, or went out to party with family. And then we had an explosion of Covid cases within our community. But guess what. Staff were immune to all this. Yes, we had a handful of staff who tested positive, but just a fraction of what was happening with residents. How could this be. My guess is that masks work.

Fortunately, most of our neighbors have had mild cases of Covid, but at least four have been sent to the hospital. No deaths yet from this current outbreak, but it’s early days. It often takes a while to die from Covid. 

My advice. Continue to mask up in stores; avoid eating out with crowds; test early if you have symptoms so you can call your doc and get Paxlovid. Good luck.

Buying Books in the Age of Amazon

I’m working on a review of the book Woke Antisemitism: How Progressive Ideology Harms Jews by David L. Bernstein. It has answers to many questions I get asked about Wokeness, and I recommend that people read it. No matter what words I string together, my answers never seem to satisfy anyone.

But there’s a problem: The book is only available via Amazon. I admit that that is only a problem for a handful of Amazon resisters such as myself. But I do wonder why it isn’t more widely available. Granted, it might be aimed at a fairly narrow audience, though it deserves the attention of anyone who cares about the narrow confines of acceptable dialogue these days. 

Before I caved in and created an Amazon account just to buy this one book, I searched for it via the websites of several bookstores in my area, both indies, Barnes and Noble, and the University Bookstore. The only place I could even order it was Barnes and Noble and the price plus postage made me pause. It’s the sort of book I might buy as an ebook, though I usually buy ebooks through Apple, just to avoid dealing with Amazon. Nope. No ebook through Apple Books. Grrr.

Why do I even care where I buy a book? A question that deserves an answer: I simply don’t want Amazon to have total control of which books are made available to the world. Once I caved, created an Amazon account, and bought the Kindle version of the book, I could see that it has an actual publisher behind it: Post Hill Press. But when I went to their website, and then to the division behind this title,, and then to the title, I learned that it supposedly is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Nook, and Kobo. Funny how those other options didn’t show up when I searched (via DuckDuckGo) for information. And, again, why is Apple absent from the list?

I would have bought a hard copy if I could have obtained one locally, but it didn’t show up in searches on my favorite indie websites either as an ebook, or in paper, even to order. Nor does our public library have a copy. If I were the author and actually wanted to sell some copies of this book, I’d be talking to the publisher to find out what the heck is going on. 

Back to my concern about Amazon. If there is any industry where I don’t want to see a monopoly, it’s the publishing industry. And there’s simply no doubt that Amazon has monopoly power over book publishing. If Amazon decides that Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage is likely to garner the ire of trans activists, it can refuse to sell it (fortunately there was enough resistance that that tactic didn’t work), or it can make sure that the title won’t show up in ads (that did work). We simply need multiple ways to get ideas out there into the “marketplace of ideas” so they can be read, digested, commented upon, and subjected to fierce battles. Without being contested, ideas won’t get refined and improved so the best ones float to the top. 

Fortunately, the seemingly lost cause of free speech has a serious new advocate as of 2022. When the ACLU decided that some speech didn’t merit its support, FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, took over the vacant advocacy territory. FIRE used to focus entirely on campus free speech issues, but expanded its efforts to include many more arenas in which ideas can be censored. It has hired new staff and is learning the hard way that defending our First Amendment is a very big job. I’m confident they are up to the task – and I hope they will keep an eye on the publishing industry for me. Yes, I know that publishers are not the government. 

If you, like most Americans, already buy everything at Amazon, look for Woke Antisemitism. I’ll be writing more about it soon.  

Can I Meditate My Way Out of Here?

Let’s imagine you are shopping for a new place to live. You want a walkable neighborhood, meaning that you can walk to a drug store, a grocery store, a bank, a library, a movie theater – the essentials of urban living. You find a neighborhood, find a dwelling place, the vibes seem OK. You move in. 

Your new place seems pretty good. It’s not ideal, but then few things are. You’re a stranger, but you soon discover that most of your neighbors moved here because they had friends or family already here. They ignore you. You join in some neighborhood activities, but in between organized events, no one calls, your doorbell doesn’t ring. Eventually, you offer up an open house for your nearest neighbors. People come! They mix with enthusiasm, they linger. But after they leave, your phone doesn’t ring; your doorbell doesn’t ring. Hmm.

As you sample the various public activities, you find a few that interest you.  You attend and join in the conversation. You begin to learn more about your neighbors. You learn that they are not exactly what they claim to be. They claim they are all about inclusion, that they seek out diversity, but the diversity they seek does not include the likes of you. What will you do now?

Will you pull up stakes and look for a different neighborhood? How far would you have to go to find one where your sort would be welcome? You could go back to your home town, but you’ve changed in ways that it hasn’t. You could move to Canada, but it’s changed, too, and now it’s worse than your new neighbors. You could find property in the country where you wouldn’t expect your doorbell to ring (but it did!), but you have health concerns that couldn’t be met there. 

Maybe the problem is you, not the neighborhood. Well, not maybe: it is. You actually are hoping for a neighborhood of adults, similar to the neighborhood of your childhood, where adults were curious to learn more about their neighbors without immediately sorting them into my kind and not my kind. I remember a remarkably inclusive neighborhood where my blue collar parents were invited to mix with the hoi poloi (they generally didn’t). Jews and gentiles mixed regularly. No, my neighborhood wasn’t racially mixed, but people had serious conversations about issues of the day including serious ones such as how to sort the town into two high schools in a way that didn’t create a ghetto school and a privileged school. 

I know a handful of adults, by which I mean people who are curious about what other people think. They want to learn why someone has an opinion that is at odds with their own. They admit that people with whom they disagree have some good points. Inclusion to them includes people with ideas that challenge them. If you are reading this, you are probably one of these people that I view as adults. Thank you for at least being curious if not actually open to my point of view. 

As for my dilemma about where to live, I don’t know what to do. This is a good place for my husband. If I followed my mom’s example and died before my husband, I’d want him to be here. But it’s not a good fit for me. Society in general is so thoroughly sorted today that there may not be a good fit for me anywhere. I’m not confident that I could find a place where I fit, and I probably couldn’t afford to move anyway. 

I have a few good role models here; people who likely share some of my views but just never share them publicly. I’m doing my meditations today on whether I need to give up, shut up, and join them. They have somehow found a way to be here without hoping to find any personal support here. Could I do that without descending into madness? I might have to. Wish me luck.

Israel Solves Our Problem With Israel?

Israel. Aargh! My sixth grade social studies teacher (this was 1955) told us that he expected the problems in the Middle East would set off WW III. Basically, for my entire life, it has seemed as though he would be vindicated any day now. You might be thinking that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be the most likely location today for the outbreak of a new world war. But I would remind you that Putin and Netanyahu are an interesting pair of leaders; they are frenemies in a way that keeps everyone guessing about where their relationship will go next.

A column by Tom Friedman in the Jan.17 NYT urges Biden to make it clear to Netanyahu that the US will not be Israel’s “useful idiot.” Why is he so vexed right now? He sees a political situation in Israel that could dramatically change the nature of the “only democracy in the Middle East.” He worries that Netanyahu will support ultra-conservative partisans in order to avoid the consequences of his own corrupt behavior. The fallout of adopting policies that further privilege orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews over conservative, reform, and sectarian Jews, plus non-Jewish citizens of Israel, could precipitate a crisis within Israel that would force the US to seriously re-evaluate its relationship with the Jewish state. 

I’m fascinated by Friedman’s confidence that Biden is the one person who could prevent Israel from going over this cliff. Perhaps he could talk some fundamentalist Islamic states into backing off their extremist policies while he’s at it. Meanwhile, we are left to watch from a distance and hope that Israel pulls back from the cliff of extremist policies. 

But wait! What if Israel doesn’t pull back? Maybe there are some positive aspects of that scenario. At present, many people throughout the western world are concerned about the fate of the Palestinians in territories controlled by Israel, namely the West Bank and Gaza. A few decades ago, Americans still remembered that at the time Great Britain divided the area into Israel and Palestine, the Arabs in and around the territory refused to accept the division; most continue to reject the division today, yet many Americans continue to hope for a two-state solution to this now hopeless conflict. So: what if Israel doesn’t moderate its internal conflict? Might moderate Israelis leave rather than live within Orthodox constraints? Might the country simply implode with some version of a civil war? (That would be interesting because the Ultra-Orthodox do not serve in the military; they might wish they had taken basic training.) Might Israel’s supporters outside of Russia pull back and say, no, we’re not dragging ourselves into this conflict?

Is it possible that Israel will solve our problem for us? If it ceases to be the only democracy in the middle east, it could also cease to be our concern. Where would moderate Israelis go? I’d welcome them here. Most countries love moderate immigrants. Is another diaspora on the horizon?

While I don’t want Israel to disappear, I also don’t want to see it become an extreme religious state. I want Palestinians and other Arabs to support a two-state solution rather than continue to want Israel wiped off the map. I want the vision of a two-state solution to be viable again. Or maybe let’s just bring back the Ottoman Empire. Jews were accommodated in that era, and maybe that’s the best we can hope for. 

If you’re interested in some short histories of the Jewish people and of Islam, here are some links:

History of Islam in 10 Minutes

All Jewish History in Under 18 Minutes

I Am in Awe of the JWST

Folks, if you are discouraged about the state of humanity, I have a fix for you. I finally got my act together last week and did whatever was required to get PBS streaming programs on my TV. I’ve been paying a monthly contribution to PBS for quite a while, but hadn’t set up the app for streaming. Finally did it, and the first thing I treated myself to was the Nova program from last July about the James Webb Space Telescope.

Humans are amazing when they can cooperate to reach a goal, that’s all I can say. We are so accustomed to the daily news about crime, wars, health care chaos, traffic rudeness, and other misbehavior, that I had settled into a very dark narrative about the human condition. Yet after I watched this program detailing the decades of work of over 20,000 scientists and engineers who developed new materials, new mechanical details, new schemes to complete this marvel of technology, fold it into a rocket, blast it into space, then watch it unfold and get itself into operational mode without a flaw, I was stunned. Everything that happened after the launch had to occur without any tweaking by developers here on Earth.

Now it is a million miles from home. Far too far away for any tinkering by earthlings such as our astronauts did by putting a pair of glasses on the also amazing Hubble telescope. JWST had to work its way through more than 300 points in its deployment; failure of any one of which could have ruined the whole thing. Imagine the testing and revising and retesting that happened before it was folded and packed into its rocket.

Best bet for curing your despair over human nature: watch the PBS video. If, for some reason, you can’t stream it, borrow it from a library. Nova, July 2022:

Second best:

The NASA website is great, but the video really tells the story, and you’ll get caught up in the anxiety in the room as each bit of the deployment unfolds (literally) a million miles beyond our ability to fix anything.