Segregated Education System Causes Problems in Israel

Even with the recent move by the Saskatchewan government to provide expanded public funding for associate/private schools the situation here is much different than it is in Israel, so I don’t mean this post to be alarmist. It’s more a cautionary warning because in Israel a lot of concern has been expressed lately with the ultra Orthodox component of the Israeli education system which comprises about 25 per cent of students.

In Saskatchewan, associate/private schools, most of which are faith-based, must follow the provincial curriculum and meet other academic requirements to receive public funding. In Israel, that’s not the case. In ultra Orthodox schools, this Associated Press article says, students typically don’t do much in-depth study of subjects like math, science and the arts. Instead, they focus mostly on religious studies. This has led to a marked decrease in the performance of Israeli students in international tests in comparison to students from other countries (another contributor to this poor performance is the underfunding of education for Arab Israelis). As adults, ultra Orthodox Jews are ill-equipped to function in the job market, and the Israeli government apparently provides significant welfare payments to thousands of ultra Orthodox Jews so they can survive.

Also, the self-segregation that the ultra Orthodox community imposes on itself leads inevitably to culture clashes with mainstream, largely secular Israeli society. In December, there was quite an uproar when a Jewish woman riding a bus route frequented by ultra Orthodox Jews declined to give up her seat near the front of the bus and sit at the back in deference to Jewish males as is the practice in the ultra Orthodox community. Secular Jewish girls and women who, in ultra Orthodox eyes, are regarded as dressing and behaving immorally are also subjected to harassment.

Ultra Orthodox Jews are also hard-line proponents of expanded settlements in the occupied West Bank which is a huge stumbling block to any peace agreement being reached between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. And that’s a problem we all have to deal with.

The Environment Vs. The Economy

In the comments for yesterday’s Six in the Morning  (in which I basically howled incohate inchoate rage at Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver for his ignorant comments about environmental activists), commentator Brononymous defends what I would characterize as a reckless, self-serving philosophy of resource development.

Brononymous implies that pipelines are necessarily to support the nice things that all us hippy lefties want, like affordable housing and public transportation. That’s a damn weak argument built on the thinnest sliver of truth, but I appreciate the chance to say more about  this topic.

The bottom line is that a wrecked climate brings a world of hurt to everyone. Like David Suzuki says (over and over and over), global warming is expensive as well as terrible. Climate change gives us crop failures and food scarcity, droughts, water shortages, increased wear and tear to municipal infrastructure, and ultimately a wobbly global economy beset by international and regional strife (what’s going to happen when Pakistan is wiped out by drought? Nothing good, that’s for sure). All of these problems are expensive and all undermine all our quality of life, including our society’s alleged ability to provide affordable housing (which we’re doing a crappy job of in any case).

Besides, what are the numbers on fighting climate change: something like one per cent of GDP? As George Monbiot pointed out last month in The Guardian, it’s cheaper than  bailing out banks.

Rather than an expense that makes life tougher, an increased commitment to protecting the environment is absolutely necessary for Canadians to maintain an enjoyable standard of living — which is obviously what prairie dog wants too, right? A little sacrifice today for a better tomorrow — investment of one per cent GDP to fight climate change, and a little more care in approving massive fossil fuel projects. No big deal, in fact, it’s arguably the small-C conservative position.

As it is, ignoring the environmental costs of our actions is like living off credit cards. The interest is a killer and when you eventually hit your spending limit you’re screwed. But ironically, that’s the approach of our government. Canada’s Conservatives consistently sacrifice future stability for short-term economic gain. They’re only fiscal conservatives when they’re cutting money to the arts, or the CBC, or the sciences. They’re always ready to break out the platinum card to build more jails or buy more warplanes. And they’re always ready to borrow from the future by cannibalizing environmental assets for profit.

I’m sorry and frustrated that Conservative supporters in Saskatchewan are so blind to all of this.

Calendar Quirk

When Samoans go to bed on Dec. 29, it will be with the knowledge that when they wake up it will be Dec. 31.

No, they’re not planning on sleeping an entire day away. Instead, the country is going to skip Friday to better align itself with its major trading partners Australia and New Zealand. Located by the International Date Line, it’s currently near the spot where the day officially ends (Samoa currently bills itself as the last country to see the sun rise and set).

Australia & New Zealand aren’t that far away, but they’re on the other side of the Date Line, so they’re 21 and 23 hours ahead of Samoa. That makes it hard to sync up business dealings and other forms of interaction, so Samoa is going to move over to the other side of the Date Line. In the process, it will become one of the first countries to see the sun rise and set.

You can read more here. If you do, you can find out which countries currently claim that day begins there, and the circumstances around a previous Date Line shift Samoa made in 1892 where residents repeated a day to get into proper temporal alignment with the rest of the world.

Pick of the Day: Chasing Madoff

Chair of the NASDAQ stock market on Wall Street, defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars in a massive Ponzi scheme that stretched over decades, lived with his family in obscene luxury, plead guilty to 11 federal felony charges in 2009 and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Here’s the trailer. This documentary screens at the RPL Theatre tonight at 7 p.m. and Friday at 9 p.m.

The Gospel According to Bill

Today’s Leader-Post has a report on a speech Potash Corp of Saskatchewan CEO Bill Doyle  (pictured) gave at a Regina & District Chamber of Commerce gathering yesterday where he described Saskatchewan as province once dominated by a “philosophy of failure” and “envy”.

In suggesting that those bad old days were now behind us, Doyle (who in the past few years has earned in excess of $120 million annually in salary and stock options) pointed to the experience of his own company, which he has been associated with since 1987.

In the 1970s, the Potash Corp existed as a Crown Corporation under the Allan Blakeney government. In 1989 it was privatized by the Grant Devine government. Throughout that period and into the 1990s, industry performance was pretty stagnant. In the early 2000s, the Lorne Calvert NDP government introduced changes to the royalty structure that paved the way for a significant expansion in potash production and the development of several new mines.

Now, and for decades to come, Saskatchewan enjoys preeminent status in the world as the Saudi Arabia of potash — a mineral used primarily in fertilizer that was deposited here hundreds of millions years ago when Saskatchewan was the site of a huge inland sea.

It would be stretching the bounds of credibility to credit Doyle and his fellow potash CEOs with securing our future prosperity by locating that inland sea in Saskatchewan all those hundreds of millions of years ago. But where they did shine is in arranging for China and India, with a combined population of 2.6 billion, to transition from Developing to Developed status with massive manufacturing capacity and large and growing middle class populations eager to upgrade their diets and acquire other trappings of Western prosperity.

That was a true masterstroke on their behalf, creating a vast market for our natural resources like potash, uranium, oil and gas, heavy metals and whatnot.

Truly, the Illinois-born Doyle and his colleagues are the most wonderful thing to ever happen to Saskatchewan and we should all be eternally grateful for their decision to earn their multimillion dollar livings here.

Pick of the Day: Linda McQuaig Lecture

Last year noted leftist firebrand Linda McQuaig published a book with law professor Neil Brooks called The Trouble With Billionaires. Tonight, she’s at the University of Regina Education Auditorium to speak about how the growing disparity in income and wealth in our society is threatening democracy and otherwise damaging society.

In our Oct. 6 issue I did a Q&A with McQuaig. You can read it here. Tickets for her talk are $20 Adults, $10 Students, Seniors & Low Income. For more info call 924-3372.


Pick of the Day (Tomorrow Edition): One Week Job

The poster kind of says it all. When Sean Aitken graduated from college with a business degree he, like a lot of people in a similar situation, wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do next.

With the right education there’s plenty of opportunity out there. That’s a great thing to know. But in our rapidly changing economic and technological climate, it can also make it hard to decide what career path to pursue.

To get a taste of the job market in all its glory Aitken embarked on an odyssey where he worked 52 different jobs in 52 weeks with the goal of finding something he felt passionate about.

His project really captured people’s imaginations and he ended up receiving all sorts of media attention and spinning his experience into a gig as a motivational-type speaker with a foundation dedicated to helping other young people discover their passion.

You can read more about his project at Monday night at 7 p.m. a documentary about his experience is being screened at the Regina Public Library Theatre. Aitken will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A, and will also be giving a couple of talks while he’s in Regina, including one at Martin Collegiate.

To close, here’s a link to the documentary’s trailer.