Century Marks

Century Marks

Soviet legacy

Israeli politics have become increasingly conservative and resistant to making peace with the Palestinians due to an increased number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose birthrate is nearly three times that of their secular counterparts. Many young people share in their worldview; they came of age during a time of pessimism about prospects for peace and  have no memory of Israel with its pre-1967 borders. An influx of about 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s has also contributed to this conservative movement. Its adherents have imported Soviet attitudes into Israeli life: nationalism, an intolerance of "the other" and a preference for strong leaders over the messiness of democratic processes. They also don't think that land should be conceded to a presumed enemy in a state so small it can be traversed in half an hour by car (Wilson Quarterly, summer).

Who dunnit?

A half century ago the Oxford theologian Austin Farrer developed the concept of “double agency” as a way of reconciling divine agency with free will. Through this concept, Farrer maintained, it was possible for God to have created the world by causing “its innumerable constituents to make it.” Pondering this concept, Nick Paum­garten wondered whether the gulf oil disaster could possibly be attributable to divine agency and human error. He put the question to Farrer scholar Edward Hugh Henderson, who teaches philosophy at Louisiana State University. “In one sense, divine agency is everywhere,” Henderson replied. “In another, you wouldn’t want to say that accidents and carelessness are examples of double agency” (New Yorker, July 12 & 19).

Overdue commencement

Sixty years ago Mary Price Walls was the salutatorian of her high school class in Springfield, Missouri, but she was denied admission to Missouri State University because it did not accept blacks. In an effort to redress that injustice, MSU plans to give Walls an honorary diploma at its summer commencement. Walls never went to college, and she retired this past year as a janitor. She said she would accept the degree as a means of passing on a part of her history to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "To me it would be an inspiration to my children," she said. "They have been raised into a better world" (The Week, July 30).

Down on the Jordan

Israel's tourism ministry said last month that water at a spot traditionally regarded as the baptismal site of Jesus is "fit for baptism." But a group called Friends of the Earth Middle East said that elevated levels of raw sewage in the lower Jordan River pose a health risk to those who immerse themselves in the waters. According to tradition, Jesus was baptized at Qasr al-Yahud near Jericho. Located in an area between Israel and Jordan's border fences, Qasr al-Yahud is accessible only with military permit and escort. The Jordan has been steadily drained over the past half century to provide drinking water and irrigation for Israel, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories (ABP).

Cutting tax cuts

Alan S. Blinder, former vice chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, argues that tax cuts given to upper-income folks during the Bush administration should expire for the same reason that they shouldn't have been enacted: the country can't afford them. Rather than using the increased tax revenue to lower the national debt, he says, the money should be redirected toward unemployment benefits. This would put more money into the economy and foster job creation. Redirecting the tax cuts to unemployment benefits would create about 500,000 more jobs each year (Wall Street Journal, July 19).