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A Couple of Realities Regarding the Middle East…

…too often we forget that the people in these countries are not just objects. They are subjects; they have agency. South Africa had a moderate post-apartheid experience because of Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. Japan rebuilt itself as a modern nation in the late 19th century because its leaders recognized their country was lagging behind the West and asked themselves, “What’s wrong with us?” Outsiders can amplify such positive trends, but the local people have to want to own it.

As that reality has sunk in, so has another reality, which the American public intuits: Our rising energy efficiency, renewable energy, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are making us much less dependent on the Middle East for oil and gas. The Middle East has gone from an addiction to a distraction.

Thomas L. Friedman, “Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge”, The New York Times (25 August 2013), SR 11.

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A Simple Political Divide

…the real division in the nation: between those who want to have a culture war and those who don’t. At election time, political candidates need simultaneously to “rally the base”, which includes a heavy quotient of culture warriors, and to “appeal to the center”, meaning the majority (often left of center on economic issues), which sees health care, education, jobs, taxes, and national security as central concerns trumping gay marriage or abortion. The result is a strained, dysfunctional, and often dishonest political dialogue based on symbolic utterances. Hot-button questions that rally particular sectors of the electorate – and draw listeners and viewers to confrontational radio and television programs – preempt serious discussion of what ails American culture and society.

E.J. Dionne Jr., Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008), 50.

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The Jewish comm…

The Jewish community will only be considered a serious partner in campus discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once we demonstrate our commitment to making the necessary sacrifices for peace. If we can back up our rhetoric with serious action and sustained political engagement to achieve a two-state solution, hopefully we will empower pragmatic moderates on the other side to do the same.

Shayna Howitt and Zoe Lewin, “Frustration, but with Hope,” The Jewish Journal (31 May – 6 June 2013), 26.

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When I see a man who has reached the top of a company only by making work his entire life, I think, what about the kids, what about the wife?

Those jobs that refuse to be friendly are often the hardest, most time-consuming, most unpredictable, require the most personal sacrifice and, to me, deserve the best compensation and most corporate status.

Which does not mean that these are the people whom I admire most or want to spend my time with. When I see a man who has reached the top of a company only by making work his entire life, I think, what about the kids, what about the wife? And it’s no different when it’s a woman.

Michael Winerip, “A Man’s View on ‘Having It All’”, New York Times (24 March 2013), SR11.

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There certainly remains a wellspring of strong diaspora Jewish support for Israel

There certainly remains a wellspring of strong diaspora Jewish support for Israel, and even for many of its right-wing policies. But that support increasingly is limited to American Orthodox Jews, who themselves are increasingly alienated from the rest of the American Jewish community. (Most Americans who support right-wing Israeli policies are religious Christians, who far outnumber American Jews.) While the high birthrates of the Orthodox point to their growing proportion within the American Jewish community, there could not be an Orthodox majority among American Jews for several more decades. What this means is fairly obvious: If the American political class judges that U.S. interests in the Middle East and in Israel no longer warrant the attention and expense characteristic of the past half century, the power of pro-Israel sentiment in American society is increasingly insufficient to thwart or reverse that judgment.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 16.

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It’s an irony of modern-day life that while each year the Kosherfest trade show displays hekshered versions of ever-more goyische items – from beef jerky to Jamaican jerk – some of the most interesting Ashkenazi Jewish fare these days is decidedly treif

It’s an irony of modern-day life that while each year the Kosherfest trade show displays hekshered versions of ever-more goyische items – from beef jerky to Jamaican jerk – some of the most interesting Ashkenazi Jewish fare these days is decidedly treif.

Ben Sales, “The Gentrification of the Gefilte”, The Jewish Week (13 April 2012), 25.

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People have learned not to rule out any cultural experience in advance

The general understanding of what’s profound and what’s shallow, proper and improper, cool and uncool will change, but the faculty of critical discrimination is never going to go away. Still, some of the edge has come off those distinctions. There has been a levelling of taste in both directions, down and up – a kind of Unibrowism. People have learned not to rule out any cultural experience in advance. They don’t have a problem with the idea that a television series might be as dramatically involving as a grand opera. It’s not that they think that these cultural forms are equally worthy as art, but they respond with less inhibition to the avant-garde.

Louis Menand, “Browbeaten,” The New Yorker (5 September 2011), 76.

“political scientists have mainly regarded political parties as a healthy way of counteracting the power of single-issue interest groups.”

…because parties are necessarily alliances of disparate constituencies, political scientists have mainly regarded them as a healthy way of counteracting the power of single-issue interest groups. It’s hard not to wonder about an account in which a party is captive to interest groups at some moments but not at others.

Nicholas Lemann, “Evening the Odds,” The New Yorker (23 April 2012), 73.