By Donald H. Harrison
POLITICS—The Republican candidacy of former Marine Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch in the 51st Congressional District has prompted incumbent Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee, to caution supporters that “there are no safe seats.” Popaditch, who once was pictured in a tank by the infamous statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, lost an eye in combat and has written a book, Once a Marine, about his experiences, clearly appealing to the same veterans constituency that Filner has so assiduously cultivated. “The candidate running against me has no credentials but his photograph trumps a centerfold,” Filner declares.
LINKS TO OTHER PUBLICATIONS—Nabucco, the Verdi opera exploring the life of the biblical Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, is being produced by the San Diego Opera. With it comes considerable commentary dealing both with the opera and its subject. Here is a link to a piece by John Lydon in the San Diego Union-Tribune. …. Texas has the largest budget in the nation to purchase school books, making textbook publishers responsive to the political demands of its conservative state school board. The New York Times Magazine takes an in-depth look at what this means for education throughout the United States. … Rabbi Ben Kamin reflects on Examiner.com on the souls of the American presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. …. Also on Examiner.com, Cynthia Citron tells of two plays at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles: Wrecks starring Ed Harris and Female of the Species starring Annette Bening.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World
CARLSBAD (Press Release)–Temple Etz Rimon’s Friday Night service Feb 26th will feature the 7th graders leading much of the service including reading of the Megillah. Congregants and children are asked to come in costume and be prepared to cheer the hero, and boo the villian. Groggers will be provided. More details available from the congregation at (760) 929-9503
Preceding provided by Temple Etz Rimon
JERUSALEM — The Marker, the economic supplement of Ha’aretz, celebrated the first year of the Netanyahu government with a front page story comparing the prime minister’s promises and accomplishments. The headline deals with the most recent great idea, to extend rail and improved road networks to the far corners of this small country, but indicates that the prime minister is already downsizing under pressure from the Finance Ministry. Other items so far not accomplished are:
- a proposal to extend the value added tax to fruits and vegetables, opposed by farmers and groups concerned with social policy;
- a “drought tax” on water usage, opposed by the Kadima Party and the Association of Local Governments;
- a reform in the planning laws to make project approvals easier, opposed by the Labor Party and environmentalists;
- reduction in the income tax and tax on companies, opposed by the Budget Office of the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel.
These details will not interest many Americans, but they may lead them to think about their president’s health reform, his promises to close Guantanamo, bring the troops home from Iraq, and to fix the world via a commitment to engagement, all of which were to be part of a larger commitment to Change.
The lesson from these two countries is that change does not come easily, and often not at all. Democracies in particular have their separations of power and checks and balances which give advantages to those who oppose new ventures. American school children learn the prominent features of federalism, three branches of the national government, two Houses of Congress, a separately elected President, and courts, each of which have some leverage over proposals coming from elsewhere. American lessons tend not to emphasize the power of bureaucrats. That is a dirty word in the land of all those elective offices, but it is important in countries that are not so fearful of the governing professions..
Israel’s checks and balances works via political parties that may agree to join a government coalition, but do not consent to many of the proposals that come from the prime minister, plus a bureaucracy with its own sources of authority. The Finance Ministry, in particular, has several ways to veto the grand ideas of elected officials. There is also a central bank and courts that can weigh in on issues that conflict with how they view their responsibilities.
Even where a parliamentary system produces a government ruled by a party with a majority in the legislature, there remain intra-party rivalries and policy disagreements, as well as a professional bureaucracy with pride in its responsibilities. Great Britain provides a model of a parliamentary democracy where the ruling party usually has a majority, but it also gave rise to the television series, Yes Minister. Its title illustrates how ranking bureaucrats scuttle the initiatives of politicians by seeming to go along. Numerous episodes feature its administrative heroes sitting in their club, drinking something good, and pledging to fight the inclination of politicians to think for themselves.
One of the lines I remember from a senior administrator in Australia: “Why do you want to talk to politicians? They’re good in the bars, but they don’t know anything.”
Whatever their source, democracies have several checks that keep the government from doing too much that is new, expensive, daring, or goes against the preferences of a significant group in the population, even if it is a minority.
Much of the resistance comes from the complex substance of social, economic, and overseas problems that do not lend themselves to the quick fixes that sound great in political rhetoric.
If Americans really wanted a health system that provided decent coverage to everyone, they would have had it long ago. Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, now seems to have gotten his government off to a bad start by trying too much in a sensitive area. Both sought to make decent policy, similar to what every other democracy provides, but somehow not suitable to the United States. Obama’s task was never a slam dunk, but now may have been scuttled by Massachusetts.
Recent news is that persons having individual health insurance contracts in California (as opposed to employer-provided insurance) may be hit with a 30 percent increase in premiums. This may drive more of the young and healthy to abandon their coverage, which will assure further increases in premiums for the older and not-so-healthy who remain a larger proportion of those having this kind of coverage. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/us/14anthem.html?hpw
Guantanamo is still up and running despite the President’s pledge. There is no firm end date for American troops in Iraq. There has been a decline in their casualties, but that reflects their withdrawal to safe havens. Mosques, markets, and the lines of candidates seeking government positions are still exposed to suicide attacks. Increases in military commitments for Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terror, with no optimistic prognosis, appear closer to the policies of the Bush administration than to anything qualifying as Change. Likewise the retreat to conventional language about Israel and Palestine, rather than a frontal assault with a deadline for an agreement.
Both Bibi and Barack are good talkers. Reports are that they do not like one another, but they are required to take one another into their considerations. Comics may say that they deserve one another.
Harry Truman told us that politicians are limited social beings “If you want a friend in this town buy a dog.”
Both Bibi and Barack are good at blustering commitments and both have demonstrated how they can back down without admitting defeat.
That is normal politics, here, there, and elsewhere.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
HAIFA (Press Release)–Perception of second language speech is easier when it is spoken in the accent of the listener and not in the ‘original’ accent of that language, shows a new study from the University of Haifa. The study was published in the prestigious Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.
Many adult schools teaching second languages insist on exposing their students to the languages in their ‘original’ accents. However, this new study, carried out by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim and Dr. Mark Leikin of the University of Haifa’s Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Prof. Zohar Eviatar of the Department of Psychology and Prof. Shimon Sapir of the Department of Learning Disabilities, found that this system is not necessarily the best and certainly not the most expeditious.
The present study set out to reveal the level of phonological information that the adult learner requires in order to identify words in a second language that had been learned at a later age, and whether the level of phonological information that they require varies when the words are pronounced in different accents.
The researchers recorded four Hebrew sentences in which the last word was a noun pronounced in a different accent: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English. These sentences were electronically encoded on a computer system and applied to the “gating” paradigm, in which participants are exposed to increasing amounts of a speech stimulus (40 milliseconds), and at each ‘gate’, are asked to identify the stimulus. This procedure allows the identification of the point at which a word is recognized.
The sentences were played to 60 participants aged 18-26; 20 of the participants were native Hebrew speakers; 20 were new adult immigrants to Israel from the Former Soviet Union who had learned Hebrew only after moving to Israel; 20 were Israeli Arabic speakers who began learning Hebrew at age 7-8.
The findings show that there is no difference in the amount of phonological information that the native Hebrew speakers need in order to decipher the words, regardless of accent. With the Russian and Arabic speakers, on the other hand, less phonological information was needed in order to recognize the Hebrew word when it was pronounced in the accent of their native language than when they heard it in the accent of another language.
“This research lays emphasis on the importance of continuing investigation into the cognitive perspectives of accent in order to gain a better understanding of how we learn languages other than our native tongue. In Israel and in other countries where the population is made up of many different language groups, this understanding holds great significance,” the researchers conclude.
Preceding provided by the University of Haifa