Sunday, July 4, 2010

An Open Letter to the Parents of Cpl. Gilad Shalit

Dear Noam and Aviva,

The recent media attention given to the cause of getting your son released by his kidnappers gives all of Israel an opportunity to contemplate a terrible dilemma.

As a father of 4 children, including one who currently serves in the IDF, and another who is to be drafted this month, I can strongly empathize with your suffering. I can't begin to imagine how much you miss Gilad, and words cannot properly express the feelings of sadness, uncertainty and anxiety that you must be experiencing. In a way, Gilad's fate is worse than that of a soldier who is killed, G-d forbid, whose family experiences the acute mourning for their loss, but can then try somehow to move on.

You have the respect and understanding of every citizen in this country, for your efforts on behalf of obtaining your son's release.

However, as you must certainly know, the personal emotions and pain of an individual family, however great, cannot be used as the sole basis of determining a country's policy. Unfortunately, the recent media circus surrounding this week's march highlight a cynical reality in Israel: Your son's cause has been hijacked by certain politicians for their own personal welfare and for promoting a particular leftist agenda. Do you think that the country's leftist politicians actually care more about your son than Prime Minister Netanyahu, or other leaders from the right? Sadly, this is not the case. Since the Israeli left will use any opportunity to attack the Prime Minister, and see Israel's imprisonment of Palestinian terrrorists as illegitimate prima facie, they will cynically run to your side and pretend to care about our "sons" and "kids" more than anybody else.

Not being in your situation, I certainly cannot lecture you about patriotism and intergrity. However, I am struck by the many false slogans that are used in the media. The biggest lie is that there is a "contract" that says that we only agree to send our sons to the army because they know that the country will do everything for them. This is not so! We send our children to the army because we must. We have no choice (Those youth who evade the draft will do so in any case for their own reasons, having nothing to do with Gilad). Circumstances have dictated that Israel must devote its most valuable resource, its young people, to defend the country. Thus, it is the job of the IDF to defend the country, not the reverse! Yes, we do what we can to maintain the welfare of our soldiers. But we cannot lose sight of the purpose of any army: to defend its citizens. This obviously entails the risk of capture or death of soldiers. To say that a country's civilians are expected to sacrifice their safety and security, in order to secure the welfare of its soldiers-- this is a gross misrepresentation of the purpose of an army and is a moral distortion. It also contradicts common sense.

Another false argument that is frequently heard is by Israelis who purport to be experts on subject of the Jewish value of human life. Judaism says that individual human life or freedom is more valuable than anything, they claim, and therefore Gilad must be released at any price. While this may sound politically correct in liberal humanist circles, it is a naive and incorrect interpretation of classic Jewish sources, which clearly place a limit on the price of "pidyon shvuyim", paying ransom for captives. Historically, leaders and rabbis in Jewish communities clearly understood that, while human life is indeed sacrosanct, the survival of the community is more important, and that one should not pay too high a price so as to encourage more kidnapping and thus further endangering the whole community.

Much has already been written regarding the cost to Israel's regional strategic standing and civilian security that will be exacted if we release a thousand Palestinian terrorists into the territories. I won't expand on this here, except to say that as much as I have to look into your eyes and feel your pain, I have the same moral requirement to do so to the hundreds of victims of past and future terrorist attacks. Israel's past "deals" with its terrorist enemies have demonstrated that this is a very real consideration.

It is possible that Gilad will only be released in another 5 or 10 years. It is also possible that he will never be released and will die in captivity. This is a sad reality, here and in other parts of the world where people are kidnapped. And nowhere else, do families and their supporters expect the country to sacrifice its supreme national interests for the sake of a captive. I say this with pain, but it is the truth, and I think that many, if not most, Israelis feel this way. We agree with the Prime Minister's statement-- "not at any cost". In the past, lopsided and misguided deals were made, but we do not have to repeat these errors. It is unfortunate that your son is paying the price of these mistakes.

In the meantime, your efforts to secure your son's release should be directed toward Israel's military establishment and Hamas, and not at pressuring the Israeli government for concessions to her enemies.

Having said that, I would supports a mass release of Palestinian prisoners, as part of a general exchange of POWs that occurs when a state of war ends and there is real peace between us and the Palestinians. Perhaps this will occur sooner than we think. We can only hope.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ipad Mania

No, I have not bought one and I have no intention of doing so.

Yes, the Ipad is exceedingly cool. Its a great toy. But is it really useful?

For getting to the answer to this question, it is useful to compare the Ipad to the Ipod Touch. The Ipad and Ipod touch do the same things. Media, email, internet, entertainment. The Ipod Touch fits in your pocket or purse, the Ipad does not. They also share what they do not do, or at least, do not do well. They cannot do serious productivity work, such as using office. I know that there is an office application for both devices. But it would be a joke to think that you could seriously sit on this device and type a long document. Yes, you can attach a keyboard. But then, a notebook computer already has one. Also, file management is seriously crippled on the Ipad: only through Itunes or email, if Wi-fi or 3G is available. No USB port. No personal folders. So it cannot replace a conventional notebook computer in its current form.

There are a lot of reports of how ackward it is to hold the Ipad for more than 5-10 minutes. It may seem cool to sit on the sofa with your legs up and the Ipad resting on them, (like in Apple's promotional video) but seriously, how often/long can you work that way? If you put the Ipad flat on a table in front of you, the viewing angle is wrong. The Ipod Touch is much easier to use while sitting, reclining or even lying in bed propped up by a pillow.

It seems to me that the Ipad's main use is as a household toy/entertainment device. If household members want to watch a quick youtube video or play a game, they can go to their Ipad. Maybe it would also be a good home calendar/rolodex substitute. But if I need computing away from home, I'll take my laptop. If I want portable media, I'll take my Ipod.

The Ipad seems to be a device looking for a use. Steve Jobs is famous for his reality distortion field (RDF), in which he persuades his followers that any development is a "revolution" and that a toy is really an invaluable productivity tool. Rather than being a productivity tool, the Ipad is more likely to be a big time waster.