March 2005 Archives

Demonstration

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Kids being adorable as they posed their thoroughly peace-branded selves for passing photographers. 2005:03:19 19:34:15

Last night while buying nuts, I was approached by one of the servers at the cafe next door. He asked if he'd seen me at the Disengagement demonstration. I said that he had; I recognized him from the Rehovot bus. He said that it's good to know there's people like me in Rehovot.

That made my night. As promised, pictures from the demo.

Small Stuff

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Further evidence that there's some deep connection between math and language: it would seem that I can't add in Hebrew (I mean, even more so than my calculus-addled brain generally has trouble with arithmatic). This evening I walked down the block to grab a snack. The drink was three shekels, and a handful of nuts was seven or so. Yet I didn't blink when I mis-heard ten-seventy as seventeen1 and tried to give the shopkeeper way too much lucre.

That reminds me of a wonderful book review I read the other day2. Excerpt:

The precise mathematical formulation that is Gödel's theorem doesn't really say "there are true things which cannot be proved" any more than Einstein's theory means "everything is relative, dude, it just depends on your point of view."

The commentary that led me there from CT is, as always, lots of fun as well.

And hang in there. I've been busy, but there'll be more photo posting tomorrow.

1 Roughly, esser shivim, ten-seventy, versus esser ve sheva, which would be a silly but marginally acceptable way to say seventeen (correctly, sh'vah-essreh).

2 Don't see the connection? You need to re-read your Hofstadter!

Low-Key

A reminder to those exhausted by the rantings and doings of the States ... or of Israel, for that matter.

In some parts of the world, even revolutionary politics need not be high-strung. I excerpt:

"We'll close the road until our demands are met", one of the organisers told me firmly, a gold tooth glinting in the sun.

Ten minutes later, there was a flurry of activity. The yurts were pulled down, the roadway was cleared and the backlog of lorries and other vehicles thundered on their way in a cloud of dust.

"Oh", said the organiser, "the drivers were complaining about us holding up their business so we've decide to picket the [government's offices] instead".

That was a few days ago. From today's news, it would appear that the matter has mostly resolved itself without notable violence, or even many raised voices. Although it's not entirely clear that much will change, either.

Statistics Project

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Exactly one month ago I installed one of these free web traffic monitoring gizmos on EGAD. What can I say, even I take some minimal pride in my work, and I was curious to know a little bit about who (if anyone) was reading.

Since I'm a fan of public data releases, you're all welcome to take a look at the stats here, or by clicking on the little multicolored box under "About the Author" in the sidebar. The information it collects is pretty general, but some interesting nuggets can be discerned nonetheless.

Cutting to the chase, it would appear that I do have something of a readership, although I don't yet need any toes to tally you up. At an average of 16 visits per day, less the 60% that come in from search engines, there's about seven of you, plus a handful of occasionals. Thanks for sticking around.

Easter Greetings

This post exists to wish y'all out there a very happy Easter. Those of you not down with Easter are still encouraged to do something fun and post-hibernal, even if the local climate seems doggedly pre-vernal from your vantage point.

Also, allow me to briefly grumble about the fact that I'm at work on Easter Sunday. Darn Israeli work week. And no, I can't just not show up, because my advisor needs results for a meeting in California on Thursday. At which I will be presenting via the magic of telephony, because I don't rate a quick jaunt to Pasadena.

But that's okay, because it was 75° here today. I've been wearing sandals all winter!

Lenten Friday

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One of the better views of the Sepulchre dome available from ground level. Taken from the Via Dolorosa near the ninth station. 2005:03:04 15:43:42

A couple of weeks ago I spent a weekend in Jerusalem, mostly poking around the Old City with my roommates. I've previously posted about that trip here and here. One thing I'm especially pleased we managed to do, given the season, was to join in the Friday Via Crucis.

Each Friday afternoon the Franciscan monks process down the Via Dolorosa, visiting each of the Stations of the Cross -- the Via Crucis (See my post with a map of the Old City. The first nine Stations are marked with circled Roman numerals; the last few are inside the Holy Sepulchre). While this is generally a low-key affair drawing the odd handful of pilgrims, during Lent this swells into a major event drawing hundreds.

As it'll be Easter in a few minutes, my time, this'll be my tip of the hat to the departing Lenten season1.

Ithilien

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Abandoned British munitions dumps stretching across a dusty field near Gaza. If the rains keep up long enough, it might just yield a wheat harvest. 2005:02:19 15:18:44

Astro-Tiyul continued on from Pura to Kibbutz Be'eri and the nearby nature reserve.

An excerpt from the notes I took on the road back home illustrates my impressions:

...fields dotted with raised berms, abandoned ammunition dumps of the British army. The roads also clearly dated back to the Mandate, too. Even older, Byzantine cisterns poked from one hill, near an improbable -- if very small -- waterfall.

I could see Gaza in the distance, faint through dust-bleached sky. I could probably have walked up to the fence.

The Gaza Strip is hardly Mordor, but sometimes it might as well be, spoken of as it is, as a bogeyman land of danger and foes. So this verdant land between the road and the fence, littered with the detrius of old rulers and past wars, has a distinctly Ithilien quality.

Purim Claus

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After the Purim costume party. Myself as Purim Claus, with Naomi going as, basically, herself. 2005:03:25 01:33:25

It has happened on more than one occasion that Israelis have referred to me as "Santa." They are obviously unfamiliar with such traditional features as white hair and a jovial nature. Nevertheless, having about ten minutes to prepare a costume for last night, and given the already conflictingly juxtaposed holiday environment of this weekend, I decided to run with it. It was pretty much that or Arafat.

I don't have a red fur coat. So sue me. But I swear I've seen Santa pictured wearing green as well, although I don't know about canvas being his springtime fabric of choice. Nevertheless, a pillow in my coat, some talc in my hair, and with a sack (of underripe lemons) slung over my shoulder, I was reliably taken for either St. Nick or Hagrid. I call that a success.

Superposition

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I'm in for a bit of calendrical dissonance this week. As many of you are aware, this is the Christian Holy Week, culminating in the Easter Triduum this weekend. Center of the liturgical year and all that.

On the other hand you have Purim, a relatively minor holiday that serves as the rough counterpart of Carnivale or Mardi Gras. A day of feasting and merriment mandated in the Book of Esther. Actually two days, since as I understand it walled cities celebrate the day after everyone else.

Normally at this time of year we would be approaching Passover, but the Jewish lunisolar calendar is a curious thing. This happens to be a leap year, which means an extra month(!) is added in the spring, pushing Passover (properly, Pesach) back into late April. The end result is that, purely by chance, Easter and Purim fall on the same weekend this year.

I'm still debating the ecclesiastical implications of being dragged to a costume party on Maundy Thursday.

Shalom Achshav

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Photo stolen from Ha'aretz website. Original caption: Demonstrators taking part in a Tel Aviv rally on Saturday evening in support of an Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. (Guy Raivitz)

Sometimes I do something worthwhile with my weekends. This was one of them.

If the photo was much larger, you might be able to see me over on the left. Later, I'll post my own photos and observations.

Yishrael yiotzat me'azza!

Tidbits

This essay is rather bitter, but also somewhat beautiful.

My roommate heads back to Boston tomorrow (actually today, my time), so the last couple of days were spent helping him pack and buy souveniers and gifts. I actually rather enjoyed rooming with the fellow, but it'll be nice to have the place to myself for a change.

It must often sound like I'm nothing but down on Israeli politics, but it can also be a quite progressive and humane country from time to time, at least when Arabs aren't involved. For instance, I read this week that the Attorney General has come to the conclusion that Israeli law requires that the state "must allow same-sex couples the same economic rights as heterosexual couples."

St. Patrick's Day

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A field in southern Israel, being absurdly verdant. 2005:02:19 13:36:32

St. Patrick's Day is yet another fond holiday that is sadly lacking in Israel. Tempting as it is to go around pinching people for not wearing green (this would be everyone, actually), I think I'd just be getting strange looks.

They're kickin' back green margaritas in San Antonio. Connor's got your coverage of the festivities in Chicago. As for myself, there's an Irish-ish pub down the road a way, so I'll have to pop down after work and grab me a Guiness. Perhaps while affecting a ludicrous Irish accent. (By the by, this post is much funnier if you read it with one.)

For those of you far enough north that green is not yet a widespread color, here's a wee reminder of what it's like. Despair not, me laddies and lasses. Spring'll be around before you know it.

Unravelling

For background, I would refer you first to this post on the American Prospect weblog and then to the roundup of international coverage at Peace Now.

The Sasson report is making a big splash internationally for pointing out that not only have over a hundred illegal settlements been constructed over the past few years, and not only have they often been built on land effectively stolen from the local Palestinians, but that the government and military have been intimately involved in making this happen. But as the Prospect rightly points out, that has been common knowledge here for years.

If you've skimmed the links above, read on.

Yummy

I'm going to go ahead and add ice cream to the list of things that Israel should really be known better for.

Apparently it's a big sign that Spring has arrived when ice cream shops start popping up, I guess trying to position themselves for the hot season. Over the past month, two ice cream parlors have opened on the same block as an established one, and they all seem to be busy. Very dangerous, as I have to walk by all three in quick succession to get to the grocery store, market, or bank.

Nocturnal Photogeekery

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5-second exposure of the light-polluted cloudy March skies over the Institute. 2005:03:12 22:56:17

As a break from the normal gravitas and pretension of this blog, this post consists entirely of me playing with my camera on what might be otherwise described as uneventful evenings.

Naturally this sort of thing attracts some strange looks, what with me being myself, shuffling around with a camera and mini-tripod in the middle of the night. After a while a guard trotted over and briefly inquired as to my relationship with the Institute. Least inquisitive guard on campus, though. This was the first one in the entire time I've been here to just take me at my word that I'm a student. Generally they want some photo ID with that.

This photo is the product of funky clouds and a decently stable pocket tripod.

Alert

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Any given Friday morning, a third or more of the people in my dorm rush around doing last-minute shopping before hopping on a bus or in a cab to spend the weekend elsewhere. Jerusalem is a popular target. This meant that a number of them had the additional fun today of deliberating whether or not it would be worth their time and trouble to attempt to make the journey.

Early this morning, someone, somewhere, received intelligence of a planned terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Suddenly, the country was on high alert. Roadblocks and checkpoints where thrown up along all the routes into Jerusalem; busses were searched and passengers screened. Traffic was evidently backed up for miles.

If that's what was going on here, I'd expect that the Territories were under complete lockdown. But that's not uncommon.

In the end, many of them wound up going, since they'd already made plans. Also, the alert was canceled around noon -- no explanation given, so far as I've heard. I just noticed that Ha'aretz has a fairly uninformative article up now that mentions the alert.

Just another weekend in Israel.

The Blooming of the Desert

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Opuntia ficus-indica, commonly known as the sabra, is a form of prickly pear cactus and is practically the national plant of Israel. This large stand near Be'eri, better than twice my height, has clearly been enjoying the recent rains. The grass seems out of place, though. 2005:02:19 13:30:30

A couple of weekends a year, generally in mid- to late-February, half of Israel takes to the highways and strikes out for the desert. This time around, I was one of them. On the heels of the brief annual desert monsoon, all manner of magnoliophyta are desperately at work generating a fresh year's supply of dormant seed. For a couple of weeks, the desert was in bloom, and no good Israeli was going to miss their chance to gawk and trample.

A native-born Israeli is sometimes called a sabra, after the sabra cactus, a close cousin of the prickly pear cactus common back home in the drier parts of America. Supposedly they're prickly and tough, but sweet inside. I think so far I've only had dealings with the outside parts. While this is a sort of cactus given to stands of respectable size, this bush is certainly one of the larger that I've run across. I should have thrown someone in so the picture would have some scale. Suffice to say, the upper bits are four or five meters high.

Lightly Wounding Time

Dashing as my here-chronicled exploits must sound to the casual observer, the sad truth is that I spend most of the hours on most days1 in a subterranean office, fiddling with simulations or tweaking design parameters. Of course, there's some web browsing involved as well2. Since I like this week's posting tempo but don't have time to work up a full post, here's a selection of what's amused me in the past few days.

Walls

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Looking south through a gap in the battlements of the Old City, the Separation Fence snakes along the hilltops. 2005:03:05 13:39:25

Walls can be some of the most enduring traces of settled civilization. The smallest, most primitive village may leave only the foundations of building walls for archeologists to find. They also become symbols of ancient power -- the Chinese emperors walled out Mongolia, Hadrian cut Britain in two, and in the end we gawk at the boundaries centuries after their usefullness has faded.

Small wonder then, that the Palestinians doubt Israel's claim that the Separation Fence is a strictly temporary security measure.

I spent Saturday morning walking along the ramparts of the wall surrounding Jerusalem's Old City. Although built only about 500 years ago by Suleyman the Magnificent, Jerusalem has been surrounded by some kind of wall in much the same location for most of the past 3000 years. Until modern times the wall existed, like most city walls, to keep invading armies at bay. Jerusalem doesn't seem to have had notable success with this tactic, though. Nowadays, though, I get the sense it's seen more as keeping Old Jerusalem in, preventing the antiqueness, the religious orthodoxy and ancient grudges, from spilling out and overwhelming the nice, modern New Jerusalem.

This is a land of walls.

In a Walled City

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The source of less trouble than you'd think, although Sharon did manage to spark a four-year uprising with a poorly planned visit. The Dome of the Rock, which dominates the profile of the Temple Mount, covers a stone implicated in numerous Man-God interactions throughout the Torah and Quran. Below, Jews pray at the Western Wall, the only remnant of the Temple destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 CE. 2005:03:04 14:17:15

It was discovered that my Ukranian roommate had never visited Jerusalem in his several months here. My Jewish American roommate was already planning to spend the weekend there with friends, and suggested we tag along. Thus early Friday morning -- but not quite as early as we'd planned -- it was off with us to the bus station.

Early was a necessity since Shabbat begins an hour before sunset Friday afternoon. Jerusalem (and Israel in general) being the sort of place it is, with the arrival of Shabbat the buses stop running and most Jewish-operated businesses shut down. While cabs can still be caught during Shabbat, they get scarcer and more expensive. This made the Old City a logical base camp for our wanderings, since it's dense with interesting things to do and see. After all, there's just not that many genuine walled cities left in the world.

It's a quick bus ride from the central bus station to the Old City, but we'd gotten a late start and there had been some nastry traffic getting out of the Tel Aviv area, so it was pushing well into afternoon by the time we arrived at the Jaffa Gate. Falafel was in order. It should be noted that, like everything else near the Jaffa Gate, the falafel is overpriced and subpar. Still better than any meal you can have in Rehovot for 10 shekels.

Having a couple of days to kill, I took quite a few photos on this trip. In the interest of length and presentation, I'll post a selection of them over the next few days. Below, the narrative overview of my weekend.

Weekend

The posting gap is thanks to having spent the past weekend in Jerusalem. Back in Rehovot now, and salient details will follow presently.

Also, I owe you all a map for last week.

Realignment

The big story of the past few days is that Lebannon is undergoing some kind of political phase transition, precipitated by the assassination of a popular ex-prime minister, and apparently culminating in a sort of mini-revolution that has brought down the government and stands a fair chance of finally kicking out the Syrians.

Frankly, there's not a great deal I can say about what's going on there that isn't more effectively reported elsewhere. I do, however, follow these things pretty closely (seeing as it's going down not a couple hundred kilometers north of here), so I can summarize while pointing out some of the more useful sources of information.

Milestones

Chalk up two notable events for 28 February.

Yesterday, for the first time, I noticed myself hearing things in Hebrew. As opposed to stuttering English translation in my head. Not everything, or even very much. My vocabulary is still too limited, my comprehension too slow, to follow most conversation. But it's an important step.

The phrase that caught me was "lamma lo?" Means "why not?" Or failed to catch me, might be more accurate, since the important bit is what I noticed not happening for a change. Fitting, I think.

And speaking of language aquisition, my big word for the day was "pitrie'ot" -- mushrooms. Which suggests (I haven't checked) that the singular is something like "petr'ah." Anyone who knows my cooking might be suprised that I didn't learn that until now. Phonological -- and visual -- parallels aside, I'm pretty certain there is no relationship to Latin's "petrus."

Second? My original visa expired yesterday. As did my original return ticket. I'm now on extended time.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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