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Friday Puzzler: The Striking Absence of Grey Hair

By Barbara F. Walter

Readers should excuse my somewhat frivolous post. I just finished my 40th lecture of the quarter and am treating myself to a bit of fluff.

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Image by the author.

Readers who follow this blog know that I travelled to some of the remotest parts of the globe last year. Places where indoor plumbing was non-existent, stores absent, and subsistence farming or hunting and gathering the norm. One of the things that struck me was that even in places with no modern comforts, I found no one with grey hair. Even after one very long bus ride, followed by a bush plane, followed by a long canoe ride into the deepest parts of the Ecuadorian Amazon — not a single grey hair. My first reaction was simply that these people must be blessed. But when I asked, everyone laughed. “No one has grey hair,” was the universal response, “because everyone dyes it.” (FYI, in Northern Burma they use a Sharpie.)

So here’s my puzzle for today: Why does everyone, with the possible exception of citizens in Portland, dye their hair? Is it just vanity or is it something else?

Answers to our last puzzler:

Last week we asked why Israel (under Netanyahu) is opposed to granting the Palestinians observer state status at the UN, and why the Palestinians (under PA President Mahmoud Abbas) have continued to pursue it.

Two broad answers were given to this puzzle. One was that Netanyahu was worried that the Palestinians would use this as a way to bring Israel before the ICC on war crimes. This seems unlikely for two reasons. First, Palestinians do not need to be granted any type of UN status in order to bring a war crimes claim before the Court. Claims can be submitted by anyone, at any time. Second, Palestinians understand that the ICC will almost certainly not pursue war crimes against any Israeli leader, because Israel has not ratified the Rome Accord. This makes it impossible for the Court to pursue any Israelis for war crimes unless the 5 permanent members of the Security Council agree to do so. And since the United States is one of those 5 permanent members, this is almost certainly not likely to occur.

A second answer had to do with a Palestinian attempt to fix the border at the 1947 line rather than the 1967 line. This may be the case, but I suspect something else might be going on. I think the Palestinian bid has something to do with the PA attempting to reveal to the world just how extreme the Netanyahu government actually is. By forcing the Israelis (and the Americans) to publicly oppose such a seemingly mild bid, Abbas is showing just how far to the right the Netanyahu government’s position is relative to the rest of the world. As Andy Kydd and I wrote in an earlier op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Abbas is pursuing a classic signalling game that Netanyahu cannot win without alienating right-wing elements of his coalition government.

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