20 Israeli celebs support civil unions in cute video

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This is a very sweet video of Israeli celebs, including Bar Refaeli, supporting a civil union bill. To give some background, Yesh Atid, a large centrist party in Israel, introduced the legislation in late October. It would not only give same-sex couples access to marriage benefits, it would also free heterosexual couples that can’t (or don’t want to) get married through Israel’s Orthodox Rabbinate. Right now, Arab-Israelis can get married through Islamic or Christian authorities, and Jewish-Israelis can only get married through the Orthodox Rabbinical Court. If either group wants to get married to a same-sex partner, intermarry, or get married outside of religious strictures, they must get married abroad.

The video, which was released on Sunday, asks the question “Why do I support the civil marriage bill?” At the end, the video asks people to share the video and raise awareness about the new bill. Hopefully the bill will be voted on in December. I don’t normally ask people to share stuff on my blog, but I feel this is important. So if this moves you (even though you can’t understand all the Hebrew…thankfully the visuals tell most of the story), please share this with your friends!

The Israeli Palestinian peace talks spark a few glimmers of hope

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Photo courtesy of hromedia.com

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Jordan that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have “established a basis” for resuming direct peace negotiations. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy Isaac Molho are expected to begin initial talks. They will meet with Kerry in Washington in the next week or so.

Most reports of this initial breakthrough focus on the expected challenges of these negotiations: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s political weakness; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition; the split between Hamas and the West Bank; the Israeli public’s increasing domestic concerns. Then, they focus on the longstanding grievances that hold up most peace talks: borders, settlements, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees.

Additionally, few believe that Abbas and Netanyahu can make real progress towards ending the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In a poll published earlier this month in The Jerusalem Post, “68% of Israelis and 69% of Palestinians view the chances of an independent Palestinian state’s formation in the next five years as low or nonexistent.”

Interestingly, although both groups are pessimistic that peace negotiations will succeed, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution. The poll states that “62% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians” say they “support a two-state solution.”

Even though many analysts still claim the chances of the negotiations’ success are slim, there are several key distinctions in the beginning of these peace talks that may make them more feasible. First, The New York Times reports that Kerry won “concessions on the new framework, which American, Israeli and Palestinian officials said would allow Washington to declare the 1967 prewar borders as the basis for the talks — along with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — but allow Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas to distance themselves from those terms.” (As of the last New York Times report, it is unclear whether the framework explicitly declares the 1967 prewar borders as the basis for talks.)

Kerry was partly able to separate Netanyahu and Abbas from these potentially controversial terms by commencing the talks with their negotiators instead of the two men themselves. This way, the leaders can’t be blamed at the outset, and the initial negotiations are more likely to stay behind closed doors. Kerry asserts that the best way to ensure the talks’ success is to “keep them private.” Ynet, the leading Israeli online news site, echoed this sentiment, with a top headline reading “Without them [Netanyahu and Abbas], talks have more of a chance” (article in Hebrew).

Additionally, both sides made concessions. Israel will free some Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture before talks. The Palestinian leadership gave up on previous demands for a settlement freeze before entering talks. NPR relays that Palestinian officials “wanted guarantees the 1967 lines would be the basis for talks, saying that if Israel accepts that, it would make most of the settlements illegitimate.” Although there is no public settlement freeze, The Times of Israel reports that Kerry promised Abbas there would be a de facto settlement freeze.

The Palestinian leadership may have felt more able to make such a public concession because of the Arab League’s support for Kerry’s talks, which was announced on Wednesday. This came after a substantial diplomatic breakthrough in late April, when the Arab League stated for the first time that it would back a peace plan that allows small land swaps based on the 1967 prewar borders. Previously they had only supported an agreement based on these borders, without land swaps. This change in policy would allow Israel to keep some of the largest settlement blocs in exchange for largely Arab-populated areas within Israel that would become part of a future Palestinian state.

Kerry’s intensive diplomacy, and more importantly, changes in the region likely influenced the Arab League to change their stance. Since the last peace talk attempts, which broke down in 2010 within three weeks, the Syrian civil war and Iranian threat have deeply concerned the 22-member Arab League. They may view a solution to the conflict as a strategy to gain needed backing from the United States for their security concerns.

Increasingly, European and Israeli top officials have criticized the intransigence of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This week, the EU released a harsh rebuke of Israel’s settlement policy, insisting that all future agreements with Israel exclude Jewish territories in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights, which were captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Furthermore, The Guardian reports that, “EU guidelines will prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships unless a settlement exclusion clause is included.” Palestinians and their supporters applauded this move.

Also this week, Yuval Diskin, a former chief of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service), wrote a highly critical op-ed in The Jerusalem Post about Israelis’ complacence with the conflict. He declares in its opening paragraph, “We are approaching a point of no return regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, it may be that we have already crossed it.” Earlier this year, six former Shin Bet chiefs profiled in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers profess that “the occupation is immoral and, perhaps more important, ineffective,” urging Israel to withdraw from the West Bank like it did in Gaza in 2005. In May, former prime minister Ehud Olmert revealed details of his peace plan with Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, putting pressure on Netanyahu to come back to the negotiating table.

One important question is how much Kerry will be able to influence negotiations moving forward. Many critics have been skeptical of how much Kerry can individually impact talks, including Barak Ravid, a leading columnist for Israeli paper Haaretz. Two months ago, Ravid wrote that Kerry was naive, “that instead of conducting himself as the United States’ chief diplomat, he is acting as a lone ranger who still thinks he’s a senator, propelled by messianic zeal and the belief he was sent by the gods to bring peace to the Middle East.” Now, he admits that, “Kerry deserves the applause… The U.S. secretary of state managed to end the impasse of more than three years in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy with the power of his will.”

Another important factor is if Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni, who both led negotiation teams in 2008 between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, can produce better results this time around with Kerry. If they can stay at the negotiating table for at least six months, as has been agreed upon, that will be an improvement from 2010. Can they come up with a final status agreement? That answer is for more elusive.

The Atlantic story in photos

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The more I write, especially when using social media, the more I realize how much more people respond to pictures than text. For example this photo that I posted on Facebook, which shows my Atlantic article on the front page of the Atlantic’s global section, elicited more likes than when I simply linked people to the article:
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It makes sense: the article’s super long, and folks can’t “like” the article without reading it first. Likes are easier to garner for statuses people can instantly support.

In any case, it’s been a nice last couple of days professionally (minus the horrible news of the Zimmerman trial). I want to thank you, my loyal readers, for being there for me. Many of you have helped me along the way, and are helping me get the word out about this article (hint hint: share, comment, and like away!). Your interest in my work means a lot to me.

To close things, here’s a sweet photo from my parents. They took a photo of their iPad, where my article ranked first in the global section yesterday:

View from iPad of Atlantic's global section, 7/13/13. My article's at the top!

View from iPad of Atlantic’s global section, 7/13/13.                                 My article’s at the top!

Why doesn’t Moore, Oklahoma have any public tornado shelters?

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First, my heart is with all the lives that have been lost in the tornado that has hit Moore, Oklahoma and the surrounding area. At this moment, USA Today claims that at least 24 people were killed. CBS News‘ “KFOR meteorologist Mike Morgan called this ‘the worst tornado damage in the history of the world.’”

Photo courtesy of freebeacon

Photo courtesy of freebeacon

As I have been watching the destruction unfold on TV with my family (I am visiting California), I have been struck by the lack of tornado shelters in Moore, Oklahoma. The best shelter during a tornado is in a basement or underground facility. Yet according to an MSNBC reporter on All In With Chris Hayes, only around 1 in 10 homes have these facilities. Even more chilling, the City of Moore’s website says “The City of Moore has no community (or “public”) tornado shelters.” Why?

On All in With Chris Hayes, the reporter (whose name I cannot remember) it is prohibitively expensive for most people to build tornado shelters. Additionally, there’s a form of rock underneath most Moore residents’ homes that is very tough to build through.

Further, the City of Moore bluntly states that it cannot guarantee FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will cover the cost of building tornado shelters in individuals’ homes. In response to the question “Should I wait to build a safe room in the hopes that the FEMA grant program will be re-instituted?”, the City of Moore replies in the following manner:

No. If you’re concerned that you need a safe room, it is recommended that you build one. There is no guarantee that even if the rules are changed that we will be chosen for a grant; and if we are chosen, there is no guarantee that there will be enough funding to accommodate all residents who wish to participate. Your peace-ofmind will more than offset the cost of a shelter.

But if the cost is too expensive for individuals, why aren’t there public shelters? The City of Moore gives several reasons: “people face less risk by taking shelter in a reasonably-well constructed residence!” It seems strange to give a fact that few can afford the enthusiasm of an exclamation point.

That aside, the City of Moore encourages residents to shelter in the closest home with a reasonable facility. This is because “the average tornado warning time is generally only 10-15 minutes,” so if a shelter is constructed underneath one’s home, it is faster to reach that destination than to drive to a nearby shelter. Although the city has “2,210 registered saferooms” from individuals (the population is 55,081), there is no public listing of these rooms.

Regarding the possibility of public buildings with tornado shelters, the city’s website simply states “There is no public building in Moore which has a suitable location for a shelter.” Again, why?

Again, money. In response to the question “Why don’t we build a community storm shelter?”, this is the City of Moore‘s response:

  • How large of facility should we build? Our population is 55,081. To shelter that many people would require building something like an underground sports arena. (If we didn’t build for that many, then how do we determine who gets turned away when the facility was full?)
  • What would you use this large facility for the other 364 days of the year? The facility wouldn’t be financially feasible without other uses; but the other uses would have to accommodate unscheduled storms.
  • Security. If the other “intended uses” require equipment or supplies, how do those items remain secure when people arrive for sheltering? Security necessary to properly maintain order for 55,000 people exceeds are current capabilities.
  • Staffing. Sheltering thousands of persons also takes a lot of support staff, from ensuring someone has the keys and opens the doors, to custodial staff, to concessions, to maintenance.
  • What about multiple smaller facilities? You still have many of the same issues, just spread over more locations, therefore requiring as many or more resources.

This governmental response feels like the complete opposite of living in Israel. There are bomb shelters within blocks of every residence. 10-15 minutes feels like a luxury compared to the 15-90 seconds most Israelis get before a bomb drops. In Israel, you feel like the country is giving you peace of mind. Isn’t that the way it should be?

In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, let us prioritize funding governmental programs like FEMA over partisan politics. It is always worth the cost to save a life.

Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

Link

Only an Accident” is a very well written New York Times op-ed by a former hose and conveyor belting seller, Bruce MacHart, who describes countless manual labor related accidents he has seen over the years. He then compares the media’s reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing, where four people died and around 200 were injured last Monday, to a “fertilizer plant explosion in a small town called West [that] left more than a dozen dead and around 200 injured” in Texas two days later:

In the first hours after the fertilizer plant explosion, many commenters had wondered about the likelihood of foul play or terrorism. But once it was deemed an industrial accident, the hysterical coverage tapered off. We had nothing to fear from West; we could stop paying attention.

We tend to discount that which is accidental as somehow less tragic, less interesting, less newsworthy than the mayhem of agency. Lives have been “lost” in Texas, but in Boston, by God — lives have been “taken.”

Boston Marathon: Photo from www.bagnewsnotes.com/

Texas fertilizer plant explosion: Photo from Christian Science Monitor

Earlier in the piece, he cryptically describes the sense of the word “lost” in labor-related accidents:

Then there was the grisly story of the debarking drum, which is effectively a giant, spinning, kilnlike pipe into which one puts logs to strip them of their bark. Imagine a machine violent enough to tumble logs clean. Now imagine that machine loaded with a grown man. Who knows how such mistakes are made, but, so the story goes, he was still inside when the machine turned on. He was lost.

I often came back to that word — lost. It implies a certain negligence, a certain culpability, but it also suggests that what is lost might be found again. In those days, I routinely called on manufacturing facilities and mines and sawmills and petrochemical plants, and on company marquees all over town was the following phrase: “___ days since the last L.T.A.” L.T.A. stands for “lost time accident,” meaning an accident that caused an injured employee to miss future “time” at work.

He concludes that the loss of human life, no matter how it was lost, should be valued equally:

But this distinction means nothing to the victims or, I imagine, to their families. In Boston, in West, whether by sinister design or by accident, whether on a television-ready stage or hidden away in a rural factory, when people are hurt, when lives are lost, the essential human cost shouldn’t be lost on the living.

I think this is a beautiful piece that shows the media’s bias towards terror-related violence. But one crucial aspect that I don’t think MacHart touches upon is why viewers can identify with terror-related accidents more than labor ones. Especially in the United States, fewer and fewer people are working in manufacturing jobs. However, everyone can be the victim of a terror attack. I think this plays into the fear, that anyone can be affected.

He highlights the media’s ability to diagnose “the mayhem of agency” and “sinister design” behind terrorism rather than “by accident,” and explains this as the reason behind the media’s increased coverage of the Boston Marathon in comparison to the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. On the other hand, I also believe the media does this because they know that viewers will identify with acts of terror more than accidents.

What do you think?

Rating: Shit is complicated.

Photos and social media

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I suppose this should come as no surprise, but images seem to be way more popular on social media than text. Whenever I post a photo of somewhere I’ve been, or just a photo of an article I’ve written, I get a whole lot more “likes” than my regular, text-oriented posts.

For example I posted this photo, and it got a whole bunch of likes. It was just three words: “Old City spice.” I saw this impressive castle of spices while walking through the old city in Jerusalem and took a photo of it:

2013-04-13 14.42.03

 

Photos help make a message shorter: as they say, a picture is worth a 1,000 words. So photos greatly aid social media because people like messages that are easy to absorb within the status update itself. If someone can understand something and like something within one or two sentences, that’ll produce way more likes than a lengthier post, or a post that links to content the reader must consume. This is why social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have become so popular.

I’m going to admit that I’m not great with social media. Does anyone have tips for how to maximize social media’s impact, especially for those of us who are writers?

Help me redesign my website!

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Hi readers,

I decided to pay a little extra at WordPress to upgrade the blog. First, the domain now is laurarosbrow.com instead of laurarosbrow.wordpress.com. So that’ll be easier to remember.

The other big thing is that I can customize the appearance. I have been thinking for a while about creating a static front page instead of a “bloggy” front page with all my recent posts.

So, I’ll give two options. One is how the website looks currently:

Option 1: Bloggy front page

Laura Rosbrow's front page

Or a more static front page. Say, like my friend Gil Shefler‘s website:

Option 2: Static front page

Gil Shefler's home page

Which option do you prefer? I’d really appreciate your input!!