Friday, June 29, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - June 29, 2007

While I wasn’t blogging much about the ills and celebrations of the world this week, here are my Shabbat Thoughts for June 26, 2007.

No News Stories

Now you may be wondering why I choose not to place a few tid-bits in this week’s piece. But I am self-censoring this piece. I will have complete control of my media space.

I heard a person give a speech this week about how the Palestinian Authority censors its publications. He explained that they reprimand those who possibly bring shame onto the Palestinians people, but this is after the pieces are published. Everyone knows what is permitted and what brings fines and penalties.

The presenter used a word in Arabic that he said roughly translated into Yiddish as “shunda.” Just as there is not translation for the Arabic word, there really isn’t a word for shunda in English. It is a mix of shame, fear, and embarrassment that one feels for another person or themselves. Ie: “A shunda it is that Larry and Sherry are getting a divorce.”

Shunda censorship is a dangerous beast for it makes everyone think about who may be harmed by the truth; while it may hurt to learn about the fact that your Rabbi was a molester, it is better to get the guy off the street. But the real problem here isn’t the truth, it is the fact that because family and friends surround us within the Jewish world, we try no to destroy their names unnecessarily. But we also do not want to make another victim.

It is telling that both Jews and Palestinians employ (either officially or de facto) shunda censorship. Both peoples for so long have been victims and we don’t want to victimize one of our own. It seems that even if we can move past the victimology of any number of issues, we still don’t want to be perceived as weak.

This shunda censorship has fallen in recent years because of the blogger community. FailedMessiah pushed the Forward to cover the kosher meat scandals. Jspot pushed the Jewish Week to cover their issue campaign. But that still doesn’t mean that we bloggers are not also guilty of shunda censorship from time to time. I have held back information and facts that I know only will hurt the people involved. While I have a small readership, a scandal would increase this readership and all that is involved with such changes. But it just isn’t worth it.

For most bloggers, our censorship button on our keyboards is a little smaller than for the rest of the media. But that is important. When we run with a story and it is true, it can filter up and our actions are not worthy of being defined as a shunda. Yet we all need to watch our blogs for false allegations. I have said this before but we are all nobodies. Blogs have no reputation but their reporting and quality of writing. (so I don’t have much of a reputation at all.) So if we run our blogs with non-factual attacks on the local leadership, we will only cry wolf. Even if you hate the rabbi and her policies, have something to hang your hat on before you call her a bitch.

Don’t let the fear of shunda stop you from reporting the truth, but know what you got is the truth before you hit the publish button.

Shabbat Shalom

While I know you don’t care, this wasn’t published on Shabbat, I am in LA this weekend. So it is a kosher rant even if you don’t like it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Big Fire In Tahoe

I used to love to go to Tahoe when I was in college. This beautiful mountain lake town was quite and relaxing, a place to step back and feel the power of nature. Yet it seems that this weeks devastating fires are because of more than a century of human mismanagement of the forests that surrounds the resort community.

Outside of the environmental damage of thousands of tons of ash, smoke, and waste due to these fires, there is another environmental crime has been committed by the California and National Parks folks. We now know how to make human society work within a sustainable model...and that means more than just controlled burns from time to time. It means we need to let nature take its course.

If that means I no longer can enjoy the lakefront in a cabin then so be it. Take a look at the pictures on the news sites; they are striking.

Monday, June 25, 2007

We Gave Less Money

Because there was no major disaster this year, we gave away less money. Again, and not surprisingly, the biggest loser of a charity was ones that give money and support to regular old people. I guess that even though 9,000 or so of us said we care about things like poverty and education we aren't busting out the check books. It seems the rest of the world (or the US) doesn’t care about things besides the arts or their alma mater.

Time to put our money where our internet/Facebook/do good network campaigns are…

In the News: No Death or Distruction, No Donation

New York State Gay Marriage

On my way to work today I bumped into my newly elected state assemblyman. I wished him congratulations and wished him mazel tov on the equal marriage bill.

He said that he was reduced to tears during the debate and when given the floor for his first speech in the State Assembly chambers he said, "If I am here for 14 more days or 14 more years, this is most likely the most important vote of my life."

I thank him and the others who support civil rights in our great state.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - June 22, 2007

So I am going out of town tomorrow for the weekend with my mom so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for June 22, 2007.

Jews weren’t Whities, then they were, now they aren’t again.
MO Rabbi Says MO too RW (Modern Orthodox and Rightwing if you didn’t follow)
Habeas Hunt! Habeas Hunt! Habeas Hunt! Greatest Title EVER and good topic

I write a blog that is full of (crappy) original content, however without true original content from the press this blog would (more) be pointless. As a Jewish blogger I need the Jewish press and media to keep on keeping on. This week the j. the jewish news weekly of northern california (Lower case sentences? Come on!) used its cover story to tell us about the hard place the print media, Jewish and secular, has found itself in over the past few years.

Incase you couldn’t figure it out the print media is in a bad place. The press can’t keep up with the crazy little bloggers and cheap online people. However, without quality original content bloggers and online folk will be nothing. Yet I still don’t have a subscription to any newspaper, secular, Jewish or otherwise.

I am currently taking a class in magazine writing - can’t you tell – and the guest speaker for this week’s class was the editor of one of the free weekly alternative newspapers in New York City. He is a new editor and fairly young. His view is that the web is going to take over all print in the next fifteen years. I think he is right.

The major price of all online press will be the consolidation of ideas. It is possible the Wall Street Journal will be purchased by Murdoch’s News Corp or possibly GE (that also owns NBC) in the next few months. The New York Times is raising the daily price to a buck fifty next year. But if they cut the price of printing and sending by going online, how are they going to pay the bills? They can’t. Selling ads online is SUPER cheap in comparison to those in print.

So there will be fewer writers, writing fewer stories about fewer events. While I could say something about the evil corporate media, I will leave that to Media Matters.

This is really big problem for me. While I will not buy a daily paper, because I am not going to waste the money or the trees for me to throw away a majority of the paper ever day, I think there needs to be a concerted effort to figure out a way to fund open and free press that is fueled by true journalism online. And until we figure that out, I will buy my Sunday Times and as of today, I am going to make a donation to JTA, and buy a yearly subscription to the Forward.

Shabbat Shalom

Dogs Fighting Terror

As a dog lover and terror hater, there isn't much better than seeing Israeli dogs fighting terrorism in LA!

It is cool that dogs do stuff for us humans. Dogs are really great, making life better one wagging tail at a time.

In the News: Pups for Peace

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Orthos Still Hate the Gays

In New York, the Legislature passed a bill supporting gay marriage. (Yippy!... lets see how it does in the Senate before an all out party)

But the Orthodox community said this:

Four U.S. national Orthodox organizations declared their opposition to the gay marriage bill adopted Tuesday by the New York State Assembly.

In a statement released Wednesday, the morning after the bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 85-61, Agudath Israel of America, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Orthodox Union registered their opposition to the measure.

"We oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family," the joint statement read.

"The institution of marriage is central to the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children," the groups said. "It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would pose a severe danger to society in a variety of ways."

The four groups, which collectively represent virtually the entire spectrum of organized American Orthodox Jewry, said Jewish tradition informed their view of the legislation and expressed concern that, should the bill become law, their constituents might "incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs."

The bill, which has the backing of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, is unlikely to be considered this year by the Republican-controlled State Senate.

A big shocker! Stop the presses to hurry up and tell us the Orthodox establishment is against GLBT rights!

My Teeth Still Hurt

After the dentist pulled out my tooth last night, I feel pressure from the place where my tooth was all the way to the top of my skull...

So I have been looking for soft food to eat and since tonight is Top Chef, my sister and I must play Top Chef Top Chef, were we try to cook good things for each other and watch the show, it must be tasty. It is fun.

But I need soft food. My sister found this website. Its art work is brilliant; the picture is reminiscent of Monet like work at Jewbiq. I love MSPaint.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bloomberg Leaves the GOP

As of about 30 minutes ago, Mayor Mike Bloomberg left the Republican party because he is sick of it and its party politics. A long time Dem, Bloomberg left his party for the Republicans to run for mayor of NYC.

This to me is a clear move for him to run for President. While many in the NYC Democratic party can't stand him--saying things like he isn't a political person and only cares about money etc--it is clear that in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic, Bloomberg has something more than party politics on his side. There are no questions problems with his policies, but Bloomberg has done a pretty good job.

Will he run for president? If so he will win a majority of the middle ground "swing voters." This will make the election about the "base" and then we have to get out the vote like never before. But it will also mean a radicalization of the parties. It is all interesting.

In the News: Bloomberg is a Party Pooper

My Teeth Hurt

I had my teeth cleaned last Wednesday. I had no cavities and "good teeth" according to both my hygienist and dentist. However after what was a fun filled 45 minutes of water picks and little mirrors in my mouth, my teeth started to hurt. I chalked it up to the fact that for the past 45 minutes there were at least two hands and multiple pieces of medical equipment in my mouth.

However, when I was unable to chew anything harder than a banana for dinner that night I began to worry. But this has happened before, it hurts and then it goes away. But on Thursday night I was unpleasantly jarred from sleep to a sharp pain in the back of my left jaw. I called the dentist the next morning. He saw me right away and went to work cutting away something he said happens all the time.

The way he described it was that something got caught under the gum the covers part of my wisdom tooth. I said fine, please fix it. He did. It has been hurting ever since, with or without the Tylenol with codeine. (Mind you the pain came after I had been to the dentist...not before)

But it got me to thinking, "damn it is nice to have dental coverage."

According to some reports close to 64% of Americans go without dental insurance. Reports also suggest that adults who pay out of pocket for medical issues are even less likely to get dental issues taken care of until it is a major problem. Thirty-five percent of those asked in the study who did not have medical insurance did not have a dental check up in the previous year.

I am very lucky to have good insurance and I know I pay for those folks who don't have coverage in my premiums and such, but this problem needs to be taken care of now. I also understand consumer groups have no, teeth when it comes to fighting Washington for health care coverage. But what was I going to do if I had no coverage? I would have taken some vitamin I (ibuprofen) and ignored it until the pain was common place. That could lead to infection and possibility death because I didn't go to the doctor.

That is just stupid in the richest country in the world. Preaching about it won't do much. I am excited to see if Congress or the presidential candidates have anything to say about the matter. But until then I will continue to bite off more than I can chew, which is almost nothing at this point.

(Update - The Dentist pulled the tooth above the pain and now my gum will not be bitten even time I eat something...but this gauze doesn't taste so good)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Red Sox are Good for the Jews

And the Yankees are still evil!

(His full name is Big Papi Chaim David Ortiz Goldstienowitz)

Why Every American Jew Should Love the Boston Red Sox and Hate the New York Yankees, the Annotated Edition

Best. Article. Ever.


(Hat Tip: Jewschool)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - June 15, 2007

It is a wonderful this to have dental insurance and thanks be to the almighty that it is the weekend, so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for June 15, 2007.

US Army did something stupid in 2003 that wasn’t the Iraq War
We O We O We O (and why is this news?)
Cause Everyone Else is Doing it…

My dad is bald and has had little to no hair for as long as I remember. I too have been blessed to live a follicle free life-style. For years people have been saying “you and your faaaaaaaathah look sooo similiaaaaaaaaaaaah.” Now for people who have not seem me since I took the Gillette Challenge and embraced my genetic destiny, it is even more shocked.

If you picture a slightly older Bruce Willis you get a picture of my dad. He is short and broadly built. He is also known for his crazy action hero antics. But neither of us can figure out how the hell you measure exactly the right amount of water to make sure the bomb doesn’t go off in Central Park while the evil German guys are stealing all the gold from the vault downtown…

My dad is a true action hero, from his teaching Sunday School at our congregation when I was a kid and we lived in New Jersey, to his taking the reigns of the Temple Youth Group when we helped start a new congregation, to him going back to school and becoming a teacher of underprivileged kids in LA or to him taking over the job of city planning in my home town. His work, both as a professional and a dad, has been to make other people’s lives better.

You might not think it takes an action hero to teach Sunday School, but you would be wrong. Standing 5 foot 10 Jewish (which is like 5’8” for normal people) this shinny-headed warrior would take charge of the kindergarten classroom with an iron first of chalk. When the class above his first floor room was too loud, he would climb atop the little kid tables with a chair in hand to slam the ceiling of that small room to the thunderous applause of five and six year-olds ready to learn about being Jewish!

But the thing that is the most impressive is that he always was on the field trips and coaching the sports teams when I was a kid. As a stay at home dad and home business owner, he had the time or always made the time to be the chaperon on the school trips. When I was in fifth grade we went on a trip to Sacrament, CA. It was pretty lame and I then decided I hated the place, but in retrospect it was a fun trip. He came with us and was by far the coolest dad on the trip. He even sat with me at the back of the bus with me and all the other “cool kids” thought it was neat. If I was to take an honest look at history, it was because of my cooler than me dad that I was permitted to sit in the back.

While it wasn’t all smooth sailing for him, my dad is a wonderful man and he is my good friend. I miss him all the time, because even if we don’t talk on the phone for long periods of time or share exact same interests (beside the Red Sox still being in first place but the All Star game is coming so I should just keep my mouth shut) we can sit and watch bad movies, old football games on ESPN Classic, complain about George W. Bush, make really bad jokes and generally have a good time together.

It is often said that boys want to be just like their dads when they grow up, and that applies to me to this day. I hope I can be half the dad he was to me to my kids.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Muzzled By Muzzle Watch

Personally I feel the mission on MuzzleWatch is a bit suspect; by its existence alone the JVP and others are clearly not being shut out of the conversation. But they are entitled to their opinion when it is right and when it is wrong. However, they believe that those who visit the above mentioned blog shouldn't opine on the ludicrous nature of whatever or whoever was muzzled for the day...So they have cut off all comments.

Could this be anymore hypocritical? MuzzleWatch and friends, it is time to face the music; you aren't being cutout, you are simply more fanatical than a majority of people who support your view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is true most Jews support a strong Two State Solution and many many Jews in the US have problems with Israel and it is government. Most however do not want to be in bed with the folks like ANSWER or groups that call for the destruction of Israel. You are now the ones muzzling.

Not only will you continue to complain when others who disagree with you say so in the media or on their own blogs, you will not allow them to use the form you created to discuss--or even argue--the details of this complicated situation. You are painting a master piece with extremely board strokes; you can't expect to get a Monet or Picasso if you use a paint roller. The beauty of the jblogosphere is that there are blogs like Little Green Footballs, KesherTalk, Jewschool and MuzzleWatch. All but MuzzleWatch permit moderated comments.

There is no place for personal attacks in commentary, but the entire point of a community blog is for people to talk and fight and even say you are wrong. This move to cut off comments only weakens the position of a fringe group. On a very regular basis I agree with a majority of what is on the MuzzleWatch site. It is true that much of what it says is only said by MuzzleWatch, but still telling people that they can't leave comments on a blog defeats the purpose of a blog.

MuzzleWatch, this only makes your mission seem selfish and petty, but what do you care, I am just a lowly blogger who will not be muzzled.

British Boycott is the New Self-Hate

In speaking with my blogger friend DK today about the interesting development at Columbia University, we came to discuss that even if this message of support from President Bollinger for Israeli Academia makes a big splash in the media, it won't make much of a difference because there are a lot of people who want to destroy Israel.

While there are (lots of) people intent on the destruction of Israel, they aren't the people who just endorsed this boycott and they aren't the people who have already imposed the boycott. It is the European white Christians looking for a new way to direct hate towards themselves; it is self-hating Christians if you will.

The post-colonial-left-wing-white-man is upset at the way his father lived his life, so he takes it out on those who are perceived to be committing the same mistakes, such as the Israelis. It is a mistakes of our fathers problem. They want to be seen as one with the "other" people and feel superior because while they no long colonize these locals, they won't stop wearing the shoes made in their factories or eat the food taken from their fields.

Besides the clearly biased application of these boycotts, the people imposing them live hypocritical lives. They are most likely wearing the tragically hip clothing from H&M, made in Manchuria or some other such place. Ach.

But when it is all said and done I am not worried about the Brit's boycott. The Man and the Grassroots seem to be on the side of Academic freedom here, and that is good for Israel. What I can't get my head around is why the Brit Journalist boycott Israel when Hamas and Friends kidnap one of their own. But the British drive on the wrong side of the road so that might explain it.

Just In Time for Fathers Day

Slate has a brief story and slide show about the Jewish Mother. It has some winners and it is even a multi-media presentation.

Slate your mother would be so proud of you, look at Slate doing so much for its could do more couldn't you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Death of a Film Maker

Ousmane Sembene died over the weekend at the age of 84. His films were extremely important to the African centric post-colonial movements; often the films will describe situations that only would happen in Africa because of the legacy of colonialism and refusal to address the crushing effects of poverty.

In my favorite Sembene film "Money Order" the viewer follow the story of the uncle of a boy living in France. The nephew sends his uncle a money order with his savings. The story follows the trials and tribulations of the uncle trying to cash this money order.

It was fascinating. Westerners take for granted the ease in which we do business. It is easy to forget the complexity of simple tasks that reach across cultural boundaries. It would be nice if we all gave lots of money to Africa, but what is the good if they can't cash the check? It is the little things that make the difference.

Sembene's perspective will be missed.


In a rare event of a comment here at POLJ, I get very excited, read and respond to nearly all of them, even if they are stupid.

But yesterday DK struck a nerve when he left this comment:
Even though it risks sound a little, uh, JVoices, I think it's very liberated of you to refer to your girlfriend as "my partner" instead of, say, "my girlfriend," or, "my bitch."
Even though it wasn't a bad nerve, it seems however I should explain my word choice.

My partner (a woman) and I (a man) have been together for two years. We met at a Jewish summer camp and really have been together ever since. For the last eight months we have been living together (in sin). She is more than my girlfriend who I show off to my friends and whom I go out on dates with, and I am to her more than a boyfriend who protects her from scary dudes on the subway and who will hold her hand at the movies. (Though those situations do apply.) She is my partner.

We talk about nothing and everything. We buy milk (ok Lactaid) and do laundry together. I clean the kitchen and she cleans the bathroom. There is something more about the living together part of our lives that makes "us" more intense than a traditional couple relationship. I have learned to love reality home improvement shows and she tolerates hours of football during the fall.

But what I think is most important to calling my partner "my partner" is that we discussed the fact that it is more than a boyfriend-girlfriend situation. Together we came to the realization that what we have is special and all that fun and excitement. The coverage of the rings isn't in the near future, but this is more than the traditional boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. I love her, she loves me and we can laugh at each other and ourselves. (But mostly at me...I am an easy target)

This is not to say that all GLBT relationships are "more" than a traditional dating relationship or to say those who choose to define their serious boy/girlfriend as such are not as serious as us. But it is to say that we have, together, made a conscience decision to recognize the commitment of our relationship in word choice. We don't always say "partner" but it is part of our understanding.

So DK, call me anything you want. I am proud of the fact that I am in a partnership with my woman. And I am liberated. Take it for what you will.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Class Conscience Irony

On Sunday, I read the entire New York Times. It was a wonderful experience and it will now happen every weekend. I feel smarter, if not more depressed. I read everything and took great interest in the NYTimes Magazine. Titled "The Money Issue," the Magazine tackled issues of a globalized labor market, the ability for growth and shrinking inequality, and even gave the cover the wonder-boy of the anti-poverty movement John Edwards. (read it here)

These articles are all very interesting, well researched, and I really cannot say much in the way of commentary on them with out an in depth analysis--that I really don't want to get into on a Monday morning while trying to cut back on coffee (it isn't working in case you were wondering)--but I would like to speak to irony of the advertisements in what clearly is a presentation on poverty, inequality and the ridiculous disparity of wealth in this country--and why it is a bad thing.

My partner brought up an interesting issue as she read the article on Unionizing Paradise. This piece explained the problems of the laborers on an exclusive island community. Lots of money, not so many scruples was the main idea. But scattered throughout this and the rest of the articles were ads for luxury apartment buildings, financial planers, and private airlines.

After dismissing this particular aspect as not important, I returned to this dilemma as I read the story about former Sectary of the Treasury and President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers. But before reading more of the magazine I said to my very intelligent and smart and beautiful partner, "it doesn't really matter what advertisements are in this magazine; the content is solid." (or something equally as pompous and erudite.)

However as I jammed to my subway mix on my iPod heading to work this morning, I was bombarded by "Live Elegantly" ads coupled with information about stagflation and how to increase the wages of the lowest 10% of workers. There is a problem here.

The Magazine assumes the only people who are reading these pompous and erudite treatments of major issues are the people who should "give a lot of money away" according to Daniel Handler. I for one would love to give a ton of money away, but at this point in my life I can't afford to do so. I am also sure there are armchair economists without trust funds who are interested in these issues. There might even be college students out there who need to read these articles for class, most of whom aren't going to "reach out and touch the sky" in Tibeca anytime soon.

It is possible that no one at the Magazine thought this through, I just found it, with the help of a very astute observation from my partner, strange.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - June 8, 2007

I am beyond exhaustedly and am so happy it is the weekend, so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for June 8, 2007.

What One Cold Canadian will do for his Judaism. It is actually a very nice story. I think possibly the most interesting reading of the power of Bar Mitzvah services.
The Senate Blocks Immigration (Bill)
Paris Hilton is treated unfairly and people are shock. Simply Shock! What happened to Justice in this Country?

Israel's Occupation of Palestine must end after 40 years or Israel's Occupation of Palestine must end after 59 years or Israel wants a Partner for Peace or Palestinians aren't a real people.

I love anniversaries, don't you?

Forty years after the Six Day War, millions of would be and real pundits are taking to their Steno Pads and keyboards to pontificate on the real meaning of 40 years.

The one thing I know for sure is that the pundits won't do anything. We never do. We just talk and use scary words like ubiquitous and lackluster to describe the situation we have very little control over but pretend to dictate. Groups like this US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation or StandWithUs don't do anything for the benefit of the region, they just yell and scream to have their names in the paper.

Even if Americans wanted to make a difference in the region we couldn't. (A real message of hope for this Shabbat.) The people that need to change are Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab nations. The United States plays a role but smucks on the National Mall make very little difference in this particular issue. We don't matter so much on this one because there is no need to make it public; people know generally what is going on in Israel. Additionally, there is a pretty uniform response: Stop the Violence. The radicals on each side can talk all the want, but nothing will come of it.

The fact is the United States government should be more involved in the ending of the Israeli occupation. They should also be more involved with the destruction of Hamas. They should take a leadership role, but they won't. And a rally of radical idiots in Washington isn't going to change that.

It has been said time and time again that we need fanatical moderates. It is time of even handed justice to be dished out with a strong hand. The rally this weekend and its counter rally is just an exercise in political masturbation. No one (and I really mean this) cares what a group of wealthy leftist or rightwingers do with their Sunday afternoon.

Do something productive this Sunday. In New York you can join hundreds of thousands at the Puerto Rican Day festivities. Read a book. Talk to someone you disagree with, but stay away from the rallies in DC unless you are looking for a sunburn. (Cross Posted at MidEastYouth)

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

JTA Mixes Headlines

The Number one Breaking News story: A Syrian lawmaker said his country wants war with Israel.

The Number one Story on the Site and In the daily update: Is Syria serious about peace? Olmert wants to find out.

When the leftwing doesn't know what the rightwing is writing....

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Children Left Behind and Otherwise Advantaged

For the last two years my father worked as a middle school science teacher in a predominantly poor and immigrant community outside of Los Angeles. Every stereotype you could concoct was present in his classroom. There were the kids destined for gang life, the 13 year-old pregnant girl, the children without parents at home, the children with parents who did not care. Yet he still got up everyday before dawn to teach these children for tests designed for the “average” California middle school student.

In an article in the New York Times Magazine this weekend Elizabeth Weil details the experience of children as they go into Kindergarten. She wrote of the history of the program, established in Germany in the 1840 by Friedrich Froebel, and that it has changed so drastically in the United States that we are seeing children being “red shirted” (starting Kindergarten a year later) in such numbers (48% in some wealthy neighborhoods, she writes) that we are seeing disparities in test scores all the way through the eight grade.

But why is this trend so pervasive in the US?
This is due, in part, to the accountability movement — the high-stakes testing now pervasive in the American educational system. In response to this testing, kindergartens across the country have become more demanding: if kids must be performing on standardized tests in third grade, then they must be prepping for those tests in second and first grades, and even at the end of kindergarten, or so the thinking goes. The testing also means that states, like students, now get report cards, and they want their children to do well, both because they want them to be educated and because they want them to stack up favorably against their peers.

My father was dealing with that phenomenon for the nearly two years he taught those kids. Clearly those who can “red shirt” their five and six year-old children will, but those who need to work insuring food is on the table for dinner rather than to make sure they can make the down payment on their vacation home, will not have the spare cash to send their kids to an expensive pre-school. Some so expensive, according to Weil’s article, on average costing more than a year of public college tuitions.

But that isn’t the only issue. Wealthy parents are afraid to let their kids fail and not be the best. I was brought up to understand that you aren’t supposed to be the best at everything and in reality you most likely won’t be the best at almost anything and that losing is part of life. (Which is a really negative way to look at things and no one ever told me that explicitly but it gave me drive to go further and be the best I can be. It is very important for kids to know they can lose and still go on with their lives. That could be good for some of these more affluent kids.)

Back when I was in elementary school, it was rare but a great honor to learn that some had skipped a grade. They were really smart and going somewhere. I remember Devon, who was in my class for all of my Orchard School days, and how well he did in math and spelling. There was always talk of moving him up a grade. I don’t know if he skipped fifth grade, in that I moved cross-country, but I wouldn’t be so surprised.

But that is a thing of the past according to Fred Morrison a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan. He is quoted in the piece saying, “We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways — into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.”

In teaching seventh grade religious school this year at a very large and very wealthy congregation in the New York area, I got to see the age disparity issues front and center. The youngest kids did fine while the old (earlier Bar/Bat Mitzvah date) did even better. They generally were able to take more complex information and come up with more “correct” answers than the other kids. But supplemental religious education is a poor place to test these theories, not to mention this group of kids could easily be considered part of the richest one percent in the United States.

But to put it frankly the point is that education, supposedly the great equalizer is all about the money.
James Heckman’s [a labor economist at University of Chicago] graph looks like a skateboard quarter-pipe, sloping precipitously from a high point during the preschool years, when the return on investment in human capital is very high, down the ramp and into the flat line after a person is no longer in school, when the return on investment is minimal.
If you invest early you will have more later. It is just like retirement and the article I am sure my mother will send me later this week.

The East Village Mamele wrote in her Forward Column about changes to her daughter’s public school. Luckily our little Mamele was placed into a wonderful public school with a diverse and small crowd of people, both students and teachers. This smaller and better school will help the little Mamele throughout her years of life. But really is that what is at play here?

Judith Foster Principle of the Neighborhood School in Manhattan, EVM’s school, explains that smaller schools are better because there is a community aspect that fosters responsibility and hope for the future of all the kids that make up that community. Yet it would be shocking for me to learn that a freelancing writer, who took up her very precious column inches to talk about the benefits of her daughter’s school, would not be involved in her schooling regardless of the size of her school or the benefits of different learning environments.

EVM even admits that she is able to send her daughter to private school but wants her to have the experience of the public school experience. (I too want this for my kids and as of yet I don’t think I will have another option.)

What this comes down to is simple; different kids learn different ways. But like everything in this society money makes it – in this case learning – easier. If you have enough expendable income, you can send your kid to another year of private pre-school instead of as the literacy specialist Katie Eller put it, spend “another year watching TV in the basement with Grandma.”

The New York Times’ Magazine piece really is very well done and doesn’t infuse much politics into the presentation of the facts. But it is clear to me that more education, more early childhood education to be exact, is needed. But not attached to testing; it should be attached to socialization and story telling and playtime and pretending to create a store or house or anything. Kids need more time to be kids. They need this time separated from the world of affluence or poverty, they need an education that really is a great equalizer.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Guess Who Wrote the Editorial

You will never guess... My guess is all those folks, like Soccer Dad (who is a nice guy and a defacto Red Sox fan),Yael and a always fair minded people at KesherTalk and LGF, wouldn't guess.

Malicious Boycotts
The University and College Union, a newly formed British union of college teachers, shamefully called last week for a boycott on contacts and exchanges with Israeli academic institutions. That follows on the shameful call in April by the National Union of Journalists in Britain to boycott Israeli goods.

It is hard to imagine two organizations that should be less given to such nonsense. Who would respect the judgment of a scholar who selects or rejects colleagues on political grounds? Who would trust the dispatches of a reporter who has been openly engaged against one side of a conflict? The unions argue that they have an obligation to demonstrate labor-union solidarity with the oppressed, as they did in opposing apartheid. That is absurd.

First, Israeli journalists and academics are among the most dedicated critics of their own society. Second, the lack of similar “solidarity” by these unions with any other oppressed or suffering people in the world, and there are plenty, reduces these gestures to an exercise in hypocrisy, or worse.

It is good to see that most respected British journalists, scholars and students — including the preponderance of British editorial writers and the heads of Oxford, Cambridge and 20 other top universities — as well as representatives of all major political parties condemned these malicious gestures.

Critical thinking and well-thought-out criticism are intrinsic to good scholarship and good journalism. These boycotts represent neither. Posturing like this only alienates the very forces in Israeli society that should be encouraged and offends the calling and honor of journalism and academia.

The answer is the New York Times.

No More Emails from David Rubenstein

The New York Times reported today that David Rubenstein will step down from the Save Darfur Coalition's presidency.

Now the reason that was at the core of this move, according to some who were quoted, was that Rubenstein was not giving enough of the $15 million dollar annual budget was going to aid groups on the ground. I have no idea of what is going on in Darfur or Chad and could not question the brave aid workers and their critique. However with out spending money on the major ad campaigns, rallies and political hand shaking, no one would know where Darfur was on a map let alone who the Fur or Dinka or Janjeweed are and what they have to do with this genocide.

I wish Mr. Rubenstein all the best and I hope he can continue to make Americans see the problems of the rest of the world.

In the News: Save Darfur Head Cut

Friday, June 1, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - June 1, 2007

So it is the weekend so here are my Shabbat thoughts for June 1, 2007.

Good story about bloggers making a difference. Here is the blog that is being discussed
Long Strange Trip for Berkeley Woman to Rabbi Land (Nothing to do with drugs)
More on Foreclosures and what really happened to Middle Class New York

So the Yankees are 13.5 games behind the AL Leading Boston Red Sox. As a Red Sox fan living in New York City, there isn't much better than that.

But is there a Jewish lesson here? Should I have some inclination and feel badly for this group of players and the evil empire that has been constructed by its evil GM Steinbrenner? I don't think so. But there is something that could be learned...there are lots of little kids out there, for no other reason, are fans because their parents are fans of the Yankees. I am a Red Sox fan because my parents are Red Sox fans. I could possibly feel badly for them.

Perhaps we can look to our Sages for some advice on how to deal with the evilness in our mist when it is disguised as a pathetic excuse for a baseball team. In Talmud Kiddushin 81b we learn of a man named Pelimo who spurned Satan and on most days said he could spit in the eye of evil temptation. Yet, as the story goes, he is tricked into allowing the Satan into his house on the Day of Atonement and to have him sit at the table and eat and drink with his friends and family.

Yet then Satan does what Satan does, he acts with evil intent, forcing Pelimo to scold Satan. Satan, now dressed as a poor man, falls over dead. Pelimo feels guilt and remorse and this is what goes down:
[Satan] asked Pelimo: “Why have you been cursing me?”

Pelimo asked, “Then how should I speak?”

[Satan] said to him, [You should say] ‘May the Merciful One rebuke Satan.”
Clearly the Yankees are evil, but possibly not as bad as Satan (in the Jewish tradition Satan is a little different for all you who got here via Google.)But the inclination to ridicule the Yankees, even when A-Rod cheats while running the bases (ALCS and last week in Toronto) and their sluggers take roids and they are just evil, it is a temptation that could make the lives of people harder. People find joy in sports. It is tough routing for a crappy team and I would know, I am a Red Sox fan.

But the bigger connection between the Talmud and the AL East is that while I am tempted to hate the Yankees, because they are evil and doing poorly, they are currently the disguised poor man begging to be let into Pelimo's house for Yom Kippur.

So do I feel for the fans, not that much though...for I am wary of anyone is a fan of Satan the Yankees. However the moral of the story is that the Yankees are evil and can do more damage to the AL East then they have already done to themselves.


Shabbat Shalom