Archives for October 2011

On artists, mathematics, and presidential candidates

I need someone to clean my house. I need someone really good. I will have to interview candidates. I will ask them to identify the paintings of 10 famous artists and see who does the best. After that, I want to hire a gardener. I want someone who really knows how to nurture plants and keep them healthy. I will have to interview candidates. I will ask them to find the solution to 10 quadratic equations and see who does the best.

Absurd? Not really. Not if you think about how the US chooses its president.

US citizens want someone who will govern well, see to it that people can live in dignity by assuring there are adequate educational, vocational training, professional training, and employment opportunities. US citizens want a president who can conduct a foreign policy predicated on American values such as freedom and justice and who can keep Americans safe from foreign and domestic threats.

So how is the president chosen? By his ability to speak well. We watch the candidates debate. We listen to their speeches. We listen to them answering questions.

But are we really measuring fitness for the job? If I knew that a candidate had a healthy set of core values, could assemble teams of experts to advise him, and had the knowledge and intelligence to know how to process that information and plan a long term strategy on the basis of what he had learned, I really wouldn’t care whether he spoke well or, for that matter, if he could identify the paintings of 10 famous artists or find the solution to 10 quadratic equations.

What can we say?

From the moment that Gilad Shalit was kidnapped I have felt enormous compassion for him and for his family. Able to put myself in another’s place in my imagination, his parents’ place was one I chose not to visit because the pain would be so overwhelming. He is an innocent young man unlucky enough to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. His parents have been living a nightmare. Who among us does not want to see him home safe and sound?

But the price…

Those of us who have been living in Israel remember those horrific days of the second intifada when on at least a weekly, sometimes daily basis, innocent people going about their business were murdered on the streets, in buses and restaurants and hotels and catering halls. I was afraid to turn on the radio, fearing another attack. I would come out of my class that I taught on Sunday mornings, and several weeks in a row, the car radio would tell me how many innocents had been murdered that morning. Literally every person in Israel knew at least one terror victim- many of us know several families who lost family members.

And now, Israel has acceded to the Hamas requests to release murderers who were responsible for these And they are unrepentant. They are not ashamed to say they would do it again. They will be received as heroes. They will inspire and school others.

So we will have convicted terrorists back out where they can act and have emboldened their protege’s who won’t mind spending a few years in an Israeli prison if it means they are able to kill Jews. After all, all that has to happen is that terrorists kidnap one soldier and they’ll be out again eventually.

What would we say to the Shalit family if we chose not to make this deal? A difficult question.

But here’s a more difficult one: what will we say to all of the families who G-d forbid, will lose their loved ones as a result of this decision?

G-d help us!