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Archive for June, 2009

Yisrael Medad of My Right Word has a post about the American government’s attitude toward children born in the “Occupied Territories.”  Here are some of the facts he includes from a conversation with American consular services and the Internet:

If a child is born in the West Bank, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, place of birth on the U.S. passport is either the city (Efrat, Ramallah, etc.) or the area – the West Bank in that case.

a. As a result of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Government of Israel currently occupies and administers the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. U.S. policy recognizes that the Golan Heights is Syrian territory, and that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are territories whose final status must be determined by negotiations.
b. Birth in the Golan Heights: The birthplace that should appear on passports whose bearers were born in the Golan Heights is SYRIA.
c. Birth in the West Bank or in the No Man’s Lands between the West Bank and Israel: The birthplace for people born in the West Bank or in the No Man’s Lands between the West Bank and Israel is WEST BANK; Those persons born before May, 1948 in the area known as the West Bank may have PALESTINE listed as an alternate entry. Those born in 1948 or later may have their city of birth as an alternate entry. Persons born in the West Bank in 1948 or later may not have Palestine transcribed as an alternate entry.
d. Birth in the Gaza Strip: The birthplace for people born in the Gaza Strip, is GAZA STRIP. PALESTINE is the alternate acceptable entry provided the applicant was born before 1948.
e. Birthplace in Israel: Write ISRAEL as the place of birth in the passport if and only if the applicant was born in Israel itself (this does not include the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, the West Bank or the No Mans Lands between the West Bank and Israel). Do not enter ISRAEL in U.S. passports as the place of birth for applicants born in the occupied territories.
f. Birthplace in Jerusalem: For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank for a person born within the current municipal borders of Jerusalem. For applicants born before May 14, 1948 in a place that was within the municipal borders of Jerusalem, enter JERUSALEM as their place of birth. For persons born before May 14, 1948 in a location that was outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits and later was annexed by the city, enter either PALESTINE or the name of the location (area/city) as it was known prior to annexation. For persons born after May 14, 1948 in a location that was outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits and later was annexed by the city, it is acceptable to enter the name of the location (area/city) as it was known prior to annexation.

Yisrael points out that “the ‘West Bank’ doesn’t exist as a geo-political entity. The 1947 UN Resolution referred to Judea and Samaria. There’s nothing ‘natural’ in this.”

Let’s break it down.  According to the U.S. government, if you were born in the Golan at any time, you were born in Syria.  Gaza, Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem besides are not part of Israel.  If you were born in any of these places before 1948, your passport will say “Palestine” for the country (as in British Mandatory Palestine–not the fictitious country that millions of Arabs blather on about these days).  After 1948, however, the U.S. government considers these lands to be still subject to negotiation, i.e. pending Arab sovereignty, i.e. stateless.

What does that mean for a kid like Bill, who was born at home in Efrat?  His American passport, which recently arrived in our mailbox, says he was born in “Efrat.”  Country? None.  Not even Planet Earth.  (The Cap’n says Efrat has been relegated to a Platonic Ideal.)  Bill’s Israeli passport says he was born in Israel and is an Israeli national, but to the Americans, he’s not an Israeli.  He’s an American, and a citizen of…Efrat.  Remember the places in Europe that are city-states?  Like San Marino?  Monaco?  Vatican City?  Kind of like that.  I guess.  “The Zionist Republic of Efrat.”  It’s got a ring to it.  But it’s also clear to me that Bill will have to take his Israeli passport along with his American anywhere he travels, just to prove to the average passport clerk who has never heard of Efrat that he was born in a real place on this planet.  (Or a chumash, to point out where the Bible mentions Efrat.)

I hear there have been periodic attempts to get the U.S. to change its policy on this matter, with no luck (obviously).

Weird.

So here’s my suggestion: That all Americans born in the southwestern territory acquired from Mexico in the 1848 Mexican War have “Mexico” as their country of birth.  Or just the city (e.g. Albuquerque).  And Floridians should have “Spain” as the country of their birth.  And Sooners (people born in Oklahoma) should have “Indian Territory” printed on their birth certificates.  And anyone born in Oregon, Idaho, or Washington, should be British subjects.  That’s fair, I think.  In fact, just check out this Dry Bones cartoon to tell you how the American government can put its money where its mouth is (thanks to Bayla for emailing me the cartoon):

dry bones occupied territories

(Click here to go to the Dry Bones blog and get a bigger, better view of the cartoon.)

’Nuff said?

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Bilingualism

Last night, I went to a talk given by a speech pathologist on the topic of bilingualism.

This was the second such talk I’ve attended since the Crunch family made aliyah in 2006.  The first talk I heard was in Modi’in, given by a speech pathologist who specializes in bilingualism.  In the first talk, given by Margaret from Ra’anana (in Israel for over 20 years), the Cap’n and I learned that parents with mother-tongue English should speak only English to their children.  They should read books, watch videos, play games and do Internet research on subjects of interest, all in English.  They should spend several hours each afternoon actively expanding their children’s vocabulary, and using the most sophisticated diction and grammar to ensure that the children grow up with mother-tongue English as well.  By no means should Hebrew words be sprinkled throughout their English speech; for every Hebrew word, Margaret contended, there is an English equivalent which should be used.  Hasa’ah should be “bus,” petek should be “note,” and chug should be “class.”  The children will learn Hebrew in school, and for children having trouble learning Hebrew, Israeli children or teens can be invited (or paid to come) to the house to play in Hebrew.  Bottom line: English speakers should speak English, and Hebrew speakers should speak Hebrew.

Last night’s talk was given by Esther, whose family came to Israel 17 years ago.  She had a much more integrative approach.  She pointed out that the message sent by a family with only English books, newspapers, videos, and conversation in the house is that the members of that household are not part of the greater Hebrew-speaking society.  When Jews emigrated to America from Russia, Poland, Hungary, and Rumania, what they all had in common that unified them was Yiddish.  What unifies us as Jews and Israelis here in Israel is Hebrew.  Therefore, according to Esther, the main priority here in Israel is to make sure the children learn Hebrew.  She made a distinction between the official definition of bilingualism (i.e. equal proficiency in two languages) and functional bilingualism, which is the ability to function (i.e. read a newspaper, textbook, technical manual, or books for pleasure, do Internet research, and converse) in two languages.  To encourage this, Esther urged parents to read to their children in Hebrew (starting with the kinds of books to be found in preschool and kindergarten libraries), to discuss the books in Hebrew (if possible), and watch videos (including dubbed American films) in Hebrew.  She believes there is no harm in sprinkling one’s English vocabulary with common Hebrew words (like gan for “kindergarten,” tiyul for “field trip,” and aruchah for “snack” or “lunch”).  She discouraged parents from trying to make their children speak one language or another in the home, saying that communication free from power struggle is the most important thing to establish between parents and children, and if the parent speaks English to a child and the child answers back in Hebrew, that should be acceptable.  For kids who are speaking English with thick Hebrew accents (it happens even in homes where mother-tongue parents are teaching their children Hebrew), a parent can get on the extension when the kid talks to his grandparents in Boca and translate the Hebrew words or conversation.  Here was an example she gave:

Kid: Shalom, Savta.  Asinu tiyul maksim hayom.
Parent: Hi, Grandma.  We went on a great field trip today.
Kid: Nasanu b’otobus lagan hachayot.
Parent:  We went on a bus to the zoo.
Kid: U’kshe chazarnu, haya m’od amus b’machsom.
Parent: We stopped at a Dairy Queen on the way home. (Real translation: When we came back, it was really crowded at the checkpoint.)
Kid: Shamanu b’radio shehaya pigua.
Parent: Everyone had a great time.  (Real translation: We heard on the radio there had been a terror attack.)  Okay, honey, it’s time to get off the phone and let Mommy talk for a while.

There was plenty of food for thought last night, not least because Esther and Margaret have such different approaches.  How do the Cap’n and I manage?  We hover somewhere between Margaret’s strict and Esther’s more easy-going approaches.  We tend to use some Hebrew words in our speech, but I at least try to alternate between using the Hebrew and giving English equivalents.  We model sophisticated language and grammar, and the Crunch girls, God love them, are receptive to correction.  We have a growing Hebrew library (picture books, poetry, Harry Potter) and the kids alternate between watching programs in Hebrew and English, seemingly equally comfortable with both.

Who out there deals with bilingualism, and how do you handle it?

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Cakes and laughter

As you may have noticed, I made some changes to my blogroll.  I’ve added A Mother in Israel for her quality content (including Judaism and breastfeeding) and a blog that is a bit of a departure from my usual interests: Cake Wrecks.

Some months ago, my friend Heather sent me a link to this blog.  As someone who has taken a Wilton cake decorating course, invested some money in the tchotchkes and ingredients that go into decorating cakes, and even had a brief (and expensive) foray into professional decorating, I have an interest in this area.  But Jen’s blog documenting some of the absurdities, gaffes, and downright disasters that pass for professional cake decoration are too funny to miss.  I especially encourage checking out the awful graduation cakes (here and here).

The world needs more cake and more laughs, and this blog provides them both.  Bon appetit!

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Tzniut, continued

I’ve written about tzniut (modesty) before.  While I don’t plan to revisit any of the particular points I made in that post here, I will say that Mother in Israel’s treatment of a tzniut meme got me thinking about the issue from a slightly different angle.

I spent some time before I was married learning about how frum women are expected to dress.  I observed women I was learning from in Jerusalem, other students, and women on the street.  I saw that the long skirts (below knee, sometimes to ankle), long sleeves (three-quarter sleeves to wrist length) and hair coverings (berets, scarves, hats, wigs) had a certain amount of variation and even style, of a kind.  I did not join my fellow seminary students in dreaming of the day I got married so I could wear a wig, but I was willing to acquire a new awareness about dress code all the same.

I have always been a modest dresser.  When I was a girl, my brother used to like to make fun of how dowdy and matronly I looked.  In high school I was horrified to see people walking around in clingy sweatpants.  Despite being slim, I tended toward loose, often oversized clothing well into adulthood.  Jeans, turtlenecks, and wool sweaters were my winter uniform; summer meant X-large tee shirts and long shorts or cropped pants.  (It was comforting to me to hear from my rav in seminary that for women who live in the Great White North and risk freezing to death by wearing skirts instead of pants, that women’s pants are acceptable.)

But as with hair covering, I think people go nuts over modest apparel for women.  The idea that women should hide the fact that they have two legs (bifurcation) by wearing long or confining skirts is ridiculous.  (Talk about putting women on a physiological pedestal!)  And those who believe that dressing modestly will earn them more respectful treatment by men are fooling themselves.  I have known and heard from women who, no matter how frumly they dressed, have been harassed by men (usually religious ones).  Loud-mouthed anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly claims that virtuous women are never raped.  The claim that modestly dressed women are never grabbed, leered at, or insulted is just as untrue.

Because it’s such a hot-button topic in the Orthodox world, especially in Israel, I think about tzniut a lot, but don’t really do much about it.  On a rare occasion, I’ll cover my hair, but mostly not.  On a rare occasion, I’ll wear jeans or shorts.  But mostly not.  I am comfortable around people no matter how they dress.  If they’re one of the Burka Babes and wearing ten skirts, I feel sorry for them, as well as for the Tel Aviv hotties who walk around with their shirts so cropped you can see the bottom of their breasts.  Such women have a pretty poor sense of moderation (not to mention taste).

At the end of the day, I like to feel free to choose what I wear, and I object to being held responsible for men’s obsession with sex.  Some men, no matter how I dress, are either going to stare at me or look at the sidewalk when they pass me on the street.  Here are my three main arguments against feeling forced to dress in a certain way:
1)  Let men fantasize about me (and other women) all they want.  I believe firmly that freedom of thought must exist.  If they want to waste their time in this way, I cannot stop them.  Besides, if they are rude or obnoxious I want to feel free to imagine their heads on spikes.
2)  Nothing I do will change the way they think about me.  Most haredi men’s knowledge of women, after a lifetime of single-sex schooling, is limited to 1) their mothers, 2) their sisters, and 3) potential sexual partners.  I’m not responsible for this.  Besides, I’m always reminded of the conversation in the diner near the beginning of “When Harry Met Sally” when Harry claims that no man can be friends with a good-looking woman since he sees her as a potential sex partner.  Thinking she has the upper hand in the argument at last, Sally says, “So you think a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?”  To which Harry responds, “No, you pretty much want to nail them too.”
3)  If we accept arguments 1 and 2, I might as well wear what I want.

Lots of religious Jews are running around thinking that the way to bring the Mashiach is to make women dress in more layers.  I think the way to bring the Mashiach is to take to heart the words of the prophets in the Tanach and pursue justice in the world.  It’s to feed the hungry, unchain agunot, do business honestly, cure the sick, and help as many people to a livelihood as possible.  (The nevi’im never discuss women’s clothing.)

Call me immodest, call me a lousy Jew, but don’t ever say I don’t know what the prophets REALLY wanted.

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A visit from Jimmy

The Cap’n informed me today that former President Jimmy Carter is planning to visit the nearby settlement of Neveh Daniel.  Why?  “To get the settlers’ side of the story.”

I don’t normally post on Fridays.  And I don’t normally get into too big a lather over what a doddery old has-been does in his spare time.  But something about this planned visit from one of Israel’s most outspoken critics (that’s putting it mildly, of course) got to me.  I was thinking today, as the Cap’n, Bill and I returned from doing our Shabbat shopping in Jerusalem, about what the world has come to for the Jews.  Efratniks used to shop regularly in Bethlehem, in Arab stores.  I kid you not.  The road to Efrat used to go right through downtown Jesusville.  Then it got unsafe to do that, and the Jews stopped shopping there.  Then they had to stop driving through.  Then the bypass road (the “tunnel road”) was built so Jews could get from their homes to the city without having rocks thrown at them.  Then the concrete baffles, stone wall, and watch towers were built to protect Jewish motorists from being shot like clay pigeons while traveling to and from Jerusalem.

Israel was once the darling of the media.  It was the Little Engine That Could, then it was the David fighting the Goliath of the Arab League.  But then it was a little too successful.  It could afford state-of-the-art weapons. It had a citizens’ army that beat its neighbors’ regulars every time.  It (gulp!) conquered land in a defensive war and was suddenly left with some glorious national treasures, and a large population of now-stateless Arabs whom no other Arab state wanted besides.  The world has never liked the Jews, and while in some times and places Jews have enjoyed lives blessed with tolerance at least and downright popularity at best, the pendulum seems always to swing from one extreme to another.  Some Jews have decided that the best way to win the war for our right to exist as a people is to assimilate, and have done so pretty successfully.  (Over 50% of American Jews under the age of 35 say that the annihilation of Israel—not its quiet withering on the vine—would not be a personal tragedy.  Think on that for a while.)  Others don’t see a problem, and think anti-Semitism is a thing of the past.  And others, like me, are sick to death of fighting one ridiculous fight after another for our right to breathe and be Jews, but don’t see any alternative.

So when the Cap’n told me that Israel’s (American) Public Enemy #1 was planning to visit the very people he recently vilified in print as racist, empirialist murderers, land-grabbers, and road-hogs, I reacted.  More specifically, I began by hyperventilating.  Then I asked when he planned to arrive so I could lie in wait and be the FIRST to kick his sorry ol’ cracker ass when he arrived.  Then, and only then, I went to my computer to get the facts.  Here they are, provided by Nadia Matar, co-chair of Women in Green and a neighbor of ours in Efrat.  Whatever inflammatory stuff people say about her, or that she has said in the past, this is a clear, rational, well-deserved denunciation of Carter.  While I’m sorrier than I can say at telling a Nobel Peace Prize winner (2002) where to go, Carter is not the Nobel Committee’s first ill-advised choice of peacemaker.  (Remember 1994?)  At least I have the cold comfort of living in a part of the world where Jews can act in their own best interests and say what they think.

“Dear Neighbors,

“Former President Jimmy Carter will be visiting Neve Daniel this Sunday, June 14th. He is coming for the ostensible purpose of ‘hearing our point of view,’ but of course his real agenda is to kick us out of our homes.

“Because of Carter’s book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid as well as his past record of hostility towards Israel, he has a hard time presenting himself as an honest broker. Here’s where we come in: by coming here and talking with us, we will enable him to present himself as willing and eager to listen to both sides, and thus regain some credibility.

“We don’t think we should accord him good publicity and the opportunity to rehabilitate himself so cheaply. He doesn’t need to visit us to learn our perspective: he’s a brilliant and wily man who knows plenty. Seeing as the likes of Menachem Begin, Bibi Netanyahu, and the rest of Israel’s elder statesmen and most articulate advocates never succeeded in impressing him with any sympathy for Israel’s plight over the past 30 years, it’s pretty ridiculous to assume that a visit here will change anything.

“Anti-Semitism is becoming more and more acceptable in America as well as everywhere else in the world, and American Jews are reacting with timidity and silence. We here in Israel must call Jimmy Carter what he really is: no honest broker but a powerful advocate of those who are trying to destroy us.

“Please sign a petition telling Carter that he isn’t welcome here by clicking on this link.

“Help spread the word: we have only two days.

“The text of the petition is attached below. …

“Sincerely,
“The Neve Daniel, Efrat, and Gush Etzion Action Committees”

Petition
Thursday, June 10, 2009
JIMMY CARTER GO HOME
ANTI-SEMITES CAN’T BE HONEST BROKERS

We, the residents of Neve Daniel and Gush Etzion, have just learned that former president Jimmy Carter will be paying a visit to our community and to our area on Sunday, June 14th.

We wish to inform Mr. Carter that he is not welcome here and we request that he cancel his visit.

Mr. Carter would like to present himself as an honest broker pursuing peace, but he has exposed himself as an anti-Semite who has slandered and harmed Israel and the Jewish People at every turn. His book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is full of lies and libels, and the Carter Center and Mr. Carter’s endeavors are funded generously by Arab money.

While we are always ready to talk with those who disagree with us, Mr. Carter doesn’t fall into that category. Mr. Carter is an advocate for those seeking to destroy Israel, and the fact that he contributes to that agenda under the guise of a man of good will seeking peace only makes him more dangerous and his efforts more dishonest.

Mr. Carter will no doubt continue to smear and slander us, calling us usurpers and occupiers on our own land. But we wish to inform him and those that think like him that the Bible records our history here as well as certain promises: the promise that the land would lie desolate during our exile and that we would return here and once again make it flower. God is our witness and so is history to those promises’ fulfillment. And now that we’re here, we’re not leaving. We won’t allow Mr. Carter or anyone else to throw us out of our homes and exile us from our land.

At a time when anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly acceptable in America, we appeal to all Americans of good will: don’t legitimize the genteel anti-Semitism of men like Jimmy Carter.

Sincerely,
the undersigned

—————————————————————————

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled, “Jimmy Carter: Jew-Hater, Genocide-Enabler, Liar” by David Horowitz, published on FrontPageMagazine.com (Thursday, December 14, 2006).

“Even as Islamic Hitlerites gather in Iran to deny the first Holocaust of the Jews and to plot the second, former president Jimmy Carter tours America with a new book that describes Jews as racists and oppressors, and suggests they are also a conspiratorial mafia that intimidates “critics,” controls America’s media and war policy, and are therefore also the source of Islamic terrorism and the Arabs’ genocidal campaign to eliminate them from the map of the Middle East.

“In other words, Americans beware of the Jew in your midst.

“Here is Carter’s description of the Middle East conflict in his own words, delivered during an interview he gave on National Public Radio during the second day of the Holocaust deniers’ conference in Teheran:

“‘I have spent a lot of time in Palestine in recent years. … The Palestinians have had their own land, first of all, occupied and then confiscated and then colonized. They’ve been excluded from their own gardens and fields, and pastures and churches. They have been severely restrained in their movements. They have to have different kinds of passes to go through different checkpoints inside their own lands on their own roads. The Israelis have built more than 200 settlements inside Palestine.  They connect these settlements with very nice roads for the Israeli settlers, and then superhighways and so forth going into Jerusalem. Quite often the Palestinians are prevented from even riding on those roads that have been built in their own territory. So this has been in many ways worse than it was in South Africa.’

“When hundreds of millions of Muslims are calling for the extermination of the Jews of Israel this is more than a lie; it is a blood libel. …”

For more on Carter and his cozy relations with Arabs, see “Carter and Arab money, Carter and Israel” by Alan Dershowitz.

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All the king’s men

With this past year being so full of elections that affect my life, I’ve found myself devouring all kinds of political fiction.  I’ve watched “Bulworth,” “The Candidate,” “Wag the Dog,” and “The West Wing,” and read Primary Colors.  Most recently I have been savoring the distinctly Southern prose of Robert Penn Warren in All the King’s Men, a story of the rise and fall of a good ol’ Loozyanna boy who becomes governor, based on the real life story of Huey Long.

I don’t know what it is about Southern writers.  Perhaps they appeal to what little sentiment about the region remains after two harrowing years in southern Georgia in my ’tweens.  Perhaps it’s that they have a rhythm and a florid vocabulary which, while not necessarily superior to the Northern writers I like, still provides me as a reader with a unique kind of satisfaction.  Or perhaps it’s that they seem to have a knack both for building up their characters and for ripping them apart that I appreciate.  William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty have this gift, and Robert Penn Warren is every bit their match.

I haven’t read Warren’s poetry, but I’m interested in it now.  His novel excels both in bawdiness and beauty in language whose equal I’ve never seen.  Here’s a sample of the bawdiness:

The Boss went up to Chicago on a little piece of private business, about six or eight months after he got to be Governor and took me with him.  Up there a fellow named Josh Conklin did us the town, and he was the man to do it, a big, burly fellow, with prematurely white hair and a red face and black, beetling eyebrows and a dress suit that fitted him like a corset and a trick apartment like a movie set and an address book an inch thick.  He wasn’t the real thing, but he sure was a good imitation of it, which is frequently better than  the real thing, for the real thing can relax but the imitation can’t afford to and has to spend all the time being just one cut more real than the real thing, with money no object.  He took us to a night club where they rolled out a sheet of honest-to-God ice on the floor and a bevy of “Nordic Nymphs” in silver gee-strings and silver brassières came skating out on real skates to whirl and fandango and cavort and sway to the music under the housebroke aurora borealis with the skates flashing and the white knees flashing and white arms serpentining in the blue light, and the little twin, hard-soft columns of muscle and flesh up the backbones of the bare backs swaying and working in a beautiful reciprocal motion, and what was business under the silver brassières vibrating to music, and the long unbound unsnooded silver innocent Swedish hair trailing and floating and whipping in the air.
It took the boy from Mason City, who had never seen any ice except the skim-ice on the horse trough.  “Jesus,” the boy from Mason City said, in unabashed admiration.  And then, “Jesus.”  And he kept swallowing hard, as though he had a sizable chunk of dry corn pone stuck in his throat.
It was over, and Josh Conklin said politely, “How did you like that, Governor?”
“They sure can skate,” the Governor said.

And here is the beauty:

I heard the match rasp, and turned from the sea, which was dark now.  The flame had caught the fat of the light-wood and was leaping up and spewing little stars like Christmas sparklers, and the light danced warmly on Anne Stanton’s leaning face and then on her throat and cheek as, still crouching, she looked up at me when I approached the hearth.  Her eyes were glittering like the eyes of a child when you give a nice surprise, and she laughed with a sudden, throaty, tingling way.  It is the way a woman laughs for happiness.  They never laugh that way just when they are being polite or at a joke.  A woman only laughs that way a few times in her life.  A woman only laughs that way when something has touched her way down in the very quick of her being and the happiness just wells out as natural as breath and the first jonquils and mountain brooks.  When a woman laughs that way it always does something to you.  It does not matter what kind of a face she has got either.  You hear that laugh and feel that you have grasped a clean and beautiful truth.  You feel that way because that laugh is a revelation.  It is a great impersonal sincerity.  It is a spray of dewy blossom from the great central stalk of All Being, and the woman’s name and address hasn’t got a damn thing to do with it.  Therefore, that laugh cannot be faked.  If a woman could learn to fake it she would make Nell Gwyn and Pompadour look like a couple of Campfire Girls wearing bifocals and ground-gripper shoes and with bands on their teeth.  She could set all society by the ears.  For all any man really wants is to hear a woman laugh like that.

*Sigh.*  To be able to write like that.  To sound like a hick, and yet still know the names of the most favored women of Kings Charles II and Louis XV.  To get away with having the images of “the first jonquils” and “bifocals and ground-gripper shoes” in a single paragraph.  To think of the bon mot that creates an image in the reader’s mind as vivid as the reality that surrounds the reader.

This book was recommended to me by a fellow history teacher (back when I myself was a history teacher) whose grandfather was active in politics and who touted this book as the greatest American novel ever.  He claimed that it had something of everything—politics, family tension, friendship, spirituality, lust, and love.  I’m halfway through and so far, I have not been disappointed.

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Digesting the news

Ilana-Davita commented on my recent post about U.S. President Obama’s speech in Cairo that it was “all the more interesting and insightful as you waited a bit before writing it.”

This has been a habit of mine for some time.  While many people are addicted to CNN and up-to-the-minute news briefs, I tend to avoid news stories about events that are less than two or three days old.  At first blush, there is often little in the way of fact in a news story.  A reporter gets hold of a story and, where the facts are uncertain, uses speculation and surmise to flesh it out.  This was what happened back in the early 1990s when I read an article in the Oregonian about a Black man who had been found hanging from a noose in Idaho.  (For those not in the know, Idaho is the home of several compounds of white supremacists.)  Appearances suggested that it had been a lynching, reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon sport that used to be common in the South in the early 20th century, when the cops didn’t go after the Ku Klux Klan because most of the cops were IN the Ku Klux Klan.  A few days later, however, I was lucky enough to be combing through the back pages of the paper and found a correction to the earlier story.  It turns out that the dark-skinned person found in the noose was an Iranian student, and it was judged a suicide rather than a lynching.

Mind you, that’s a big difference—a lynching of a Black man versus the suicide of a Middle Eastern kid a long way from home.

It’s also why I was one of the few Israeli bloggers I knew of who kept mum about the swine flu.  While news sources were touting this as the new Spanish Influenza, bloggers lapped it up and wrote about how scared they were of what was to come.  It turns out that swine flu carries no extraordinary symptoms and has not resulted in any more morbidity than the regular ol’ garden-variety flu that circulates in one form or another each winter.  (The regular flu kills 36,000 people per year—no small sum—yet that isn’t on a pandemic list.)

I can’t claim any greater wisdom than the average citizen.  But I do understand that sometimes the urge to get the scoop doesn’t always result in accurate details.  I understand that sensationalism attracts readers.  And I understand that since the job of most of the media is not to inform the public, but to sell customers to advertisers, they don’t necessarily have my best interests at heart.  Just ’cause it’s in print don’t make it true.

And besides all that, I read very slowly, take a long time to answer sometimes, and don’t scare easily.  These serve me well when processing the stuff that comes out labeled “news.”

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