Monday, June 27, 2011

Impact of Orthodox Education

One of these days (iy"H), I'm going to do a post about how to measure standards for Orthodox Jewish high schools, and how to judge how well they 'succeed.' I was actually just speaking to a good friend about this over the weekend- did our high school instill with us the correct values? What are the correct values? Schools should attempt to attract faculty that will have a meaningful impact on their students, but we haven't come to a clear consensus on what we want to the impact to be. In a post on Lookjed this morning, Dr. Elly D. Lasson (of Baltimore!) attempts to quantify measurable objectives for success in our schools. How did your [private, Jewish, Orthodox] high school do?

Morality in the Criminal Justice System

Sorry it's been over a month sine I've last posted. I stink; there is no valid explanation. However, I wanted to post this quick piece by William Galston about the government's decision to deny a prisoner's request to visit his dying father and subsequently attend his funeral. As Galston writes, although the prisoner in this story is Jonathan Pollard, the criminal's name is less important than the rights that prisoners, as people, are (or at least should be) owed in our society:
This is, of course, Jonathan Pollard’s story. But I presented it anonymously because it shouldn’t matter whose story it is. Pollard is a prisoner, but he is still a human being. Honoring our parents by burying them appropriately is one of the defining duties of our humanity. Preventing a human being from discharging that duty is an elemental wrong.

Governments typically deal in aggregates and make decisions affecting millions. Sometimes, however, it comes down to an encounter between state power and a single individual. I do not claim that the moral principles that shape relations among individuals transfer neatly to the acts of public authorities. There is a difference, even if we argue about the specifics of the distinction. Still, basic precepts of decency and mercy do not lose all force when one moves from private to public status.

The Secretary of State and the Attorney-General owe us an explanation. In fact, the President of the United States owes us an explanation. My question is simple: What considerations of public safety, or national security, or international relations were so weighty as to override the dictates of simple humanity?

I do not know whether it is standard practice in the U.S. penal system to allow prisoners to attend their parents’ funeral. If it isn’t, it should be. Nor do I know whether the Israeli government prevents some Palestinian prisoners from attending funerals, as Palestinian spokesmen have recently charged. If that is the case, the Israelis should reexamine their policy and ask themselves whether national security truly requires it.
I'm hoping to use the next couple of blog posts to write more about the nature of the criminal justice system. I want to explore the current system as I see it (spoiled alert: NOT GOOD, GUYS); what are its goals? How close are we to achieving those goals? (Another spoiled alert: NOT CLOSE AT ALL.) But more importantly, I want to focus on my ideal vision of what a criminal justice correction system should look like. Obviously, I'm not an expert, but I hope to explore some of these ideals in subsequent posts.

(Speaking of posts I want to write, let this be a checklist of things I won't get to:
1. The Wal-Mart Supreme Court case.
2. This 1939 Atlantic article about a non-Jewish woman's marriage to a Jewish man.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In antici...pation of the AIPAC conference in DC next week

It's 4 AM, I have a huge headache and my voice is hoarse from the Yankee-Oriole game tonight. (Yanks won a pitchers' duel after 15 long innings!) BUT I have an important Thought. Well, not really. First off, let me say that I've been trying hard not to make this a blog about Israel, a, because there are enough important bloggers who write about Israel in a more clever and eloquent way thn I ever could and b, I'm interested in a lot more than just Israel.

But that having been said, I was looking through the confirmed speakers for the AIPAC conference next week and marveling about how impressive the list is, when I decided to refresh myself on who spoke at the J Street conference earlier this year, in February. Comparing the list of AIPAC's confirmed speakers to J Street's confirmed speakers, I think, make huge statements about which pro-Israel group matters more in Washington DC. The highest American official J Street brought, for example, was Dennis Ross (who sent his resignation letter into Obama only a few weeks later; I would suspect that when he spoke at the conference, he already knew he was leaving), along with five or so other Congressional representatives, while it amazes me that AIPAC is bringing President Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner, majority leaders of both the House and the Senate, and several more. (Another consideration, by the way, is quality over quantity- if J Street could have brought in a top governmental official, they could have lost the Congresspeople.)

This isn't a statement about why AIPAC is given more legitimacy by Obama and the American government, or if they're right to do that; that's a different conversation. But in terms of who's part of the legitimate political conversation? It's not even close.

If you're curious about people or papers to read about Israel news, by the way, let me help! Here's a very basic primer:
A. Read all of obvious ones- Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, YNet, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.
B. Read commentary by almost everyone at the New Republic (they'll all talk about Israel eventually, journalists can't help it, writing about Israel is an addiction), The Atlantic (especially Jeffrey Goldberg), Ben Smith at Politico, The Economist, and Andrew Sullivan.

Though you may disagree with plenty of the analyses, it doesn't seem too bold to acknowledge a clear link between reading/ knowledge expansion and critical thinking.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I obviously have more important things to do with with my time, BUT

So, Nakba Day, that happened. Round-up of news, yadda yadda yadda.

Andrew Sullivan says this:
The logic of the Arab Spring - self-determination and democracy as a fundamental right - cannot but involve Israel's occupation and continued settlement of the West Bank at some point. Israel is, after all, no longer the only democracy in the Middle East. It is just the only democracy forcibly occupying a foreign land and refusing to give the occupants full civil or political rights.
It gets frustrating and tiring to read things like this and to hear Andrew and others preaching over and over that if Israel just gave over the West Bank in its entirety, then everything would be fine. Does he honestly believe that if the two-state solution were already implemented, things like this would end?

Jeffrey Goldberg is pretty annoyed that Ethan Bronner (see the third "yadda" above) is "accepting the Hamas/Assad/Iran line" and ignoring the bottom line. Andrew Exum rocks it:
This will shock all some none of you, but Arab regimes have often cynically used the Palestinian cause to shift the focus away from their own failures and abuses. The clashes today are the best of news for Bashar al-Asad, and only the Lord knows how many brave Syrians will now be gunned down or thrown into prison in Homs, Douma, Hama, Baniyas, etc. while everyone's eyes are on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gazan borders with Israel. Just yesterday, we were all talking about terrified Syrians fleeing into northern Lebanon. Now Syria and its allies have either engineered or have been presented with the mother of all distractions from their own wretched and criminal behavior.
I think he's missing where Bronner does actually get to that (again, third "yadda"), but it's about halfway down in the article, and it's pretty short:
The chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said on Israel Radio that he saw Iran’s fingerprints in the coordinated confrontations, although he offered no evidence. Syria has a close alliance with Iran, as does Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon, and Hamas, which rules in Gaza.

Yoni Ben-Menachem, Israel Radio’s chief Arab affairs analyst, said it seemed likely that President Assad of Syria was seeking to divert attention from his crackdown on the popular uprisings there by allowing confrontations in the Golan Heights for the first time in decades.

“This way Syria makes its contribution to the Nakba Day cause, and Assad wins points by deflecting the media’s attention from what is happening inside Syria,” he added.
But much more importantly, I think, Sullivan and Goldberg both miss one crucial tidbit from the Ynet article covering the Syrian break (second "yadda"), that some Syrian infiltrators were actually attempted to get out of Syria and stay in Israel!:
"I'm tired of living in Syria, we'd rather die than see more bloodshed," one of the Syrian infiltrators into Majdal Shams told Ynet earlier. He called on Israel to grant him asylum, adding: "We've crossed the border in order to stay with our families, away from all the killing in Syria. We ask the powers at be in Israel to help us stay and not send us back."

Other infiltrators told Ynet that "we come in peace," adding that they had decided to cross the border in the aims of living in the Golan Heights – "even if it means risking our lives." Still, others declared "we are here to liberate the Syrian Palestinian land. These people are Palestinian freeman, Allah willing, the Palestinian groups will not give up."

Some of those expressing a wish to remain on the Israeli side of the border, said the uprising against Syrian President Assad is proving more and more dangerous and that many Palestinians now fear for their lives.
Add this news to the recent polling that, if given a choice between a newly-created Palestinian state and Israel, many Arab Israeli residents of East Jerusalem would choose to live in Israel (35% choose Israel, 30% choose a Palestinian state, and 35% are unsure), and a pretty important picture emerges.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Der Tzeitung's doctored photo

There's been a lot of press recently about Der Tzeitung's decision to digitally erase secretary of state Hillary Clinton and director for counterterrorism Audrey Tomason from the now-iconic picture of Obama and the inner circle watching the live telecast of the raid inside Osama Bin Laden's compound. (See FailedMessiah, though he hat-tipped Critical Minyan.) And the criticism is all fair and true (Andrew Sullivan and Laura Rozen, among others, linked here) but I had two unrelated thoughts.

1. Why did this, davka, go viral? Sometimes what goes viral seems so arbitrary. Pictures like this run all the time in Charedi and Chasidic newspapers, including plenty where Clinton and other high-ranking officials are cut out. Why did this post suddenly go everywhere? Yes, I also read The Tipping Point, but still.

2. Second, and more important, is the depressing fact that that the doctored picture actually doesn't look that different. This is a room of twelve of the highest ranking government and military officials, watching the most important military operation of the war with terrorism, and only two of them are women? Jezebel jumped on the story, as they should, but why aren't they writing about this much more essential issue?

By the way, it must be said that when Ben Smith is linking to Vos Iz Neias, the world is a funny place.

UPDATE: Ben Smith found an awesome one!

Monday, May 2, 2011

bin Laden Killed

I haven't written in a while, but I just couldn't pass this one up. We can't possibly know what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next year, but for now, we celebrate, because there is a special significance in Osama Bin Laden's death. This man who orchestrated the deaths of thousands of Americans can never cause destruction or death again. A lot of people have been posting quotes on facebook but I think Mark Twain's resonates: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

I'm glad Obama didn't speak in front a live crowd while making the announcement tonight; there was an important solemnity and he was right to temper his words. That being said, today is a day for celebrating.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 National Magazine Awards Finalists Announced! Yay!

Hey journalism buffs, or just those who like to read- exciting news! The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) released the finalists for journalistic excellence today. The complete list and a breakdown of how different newspapers and magazines fared can be found on their site, and longform linked to all the individual articles. I'm so excited! I've only read a couple (how embarrassing), but I hope to catch up over the next few weeks. Enjoy!