29 November 2008

Thanksgiving in Paris

Even over here, thanks to Greg, we got in on the holiday cheer. Greg invited Esther and I to a party at his house with a bunch of his UNESCO coworkers. The verdict: Delicious. I even had a bit of turkey. You know, for old times' sake. Still though, nothing will compare with being back in Michigan for Christmas. See you all soon!

Thanksgiving in Paris 2008

12 November 2008

Photo of the Day


Zombie Hunters preparing for the Undead Invasion in front of Notre Dame

06 November 2008

Makes Me Move

Whatever you do, wherever you go, never forget that the Beastie Boys will forever remain awesome:

05 November 2008

The Face of a Nation


The Big Picture has a collection of the best pictures of Obama over the course of the campaign. Via kottke.

Election Night in Paris

Esther and I decided to go to the "official" (which we learned means 'expensive') election night party at CinéAqua, an aquarium/movie theater just across from the Eiffel tower. It wasn't worth the money, but it was a great night nonetheless.

Enjoy the pictures:

Obama Elected

Incredible

If this were a film, the plot would be difficult to believe. This is a victory of intellect over ignorance, truth over innuendo, hope over fear. It is a victory not only for Americans, but for the entire world.

The reaction in France is very positive. Many here thought that the United States would never do this. There was always a rather virulent skepticism about the possibility that we would elect a black man. We've surprised the world and have once again shown another face of American exceptionalism.

This is what pride in my country feels like. Pride not only it's founding principles, that has always been there, but true, deep pride in its current reality. It's a wonderful feeling.

Photo by flickr user alexandra.matzke used under Creative Commons license.

04 November 2008

A King's Life

We've seen the luxurious side of life and we can report this: It's boring. The Pavillon Henri IV was indeed very nice, but definitely not the sort of thing that we would ever spend our own money on.* The room was nice, though the comfort of the Louis XIV era furniture left me wishing for our IKEA bead instead.

The highlight of the trip was the dinner. I had an appetizer of langoustine (mini-lobster) spring rolls followed by an excellent plate of sea bream in a wild mushroom foam. Dessert was figs roasted in a caramel sauce with cinnamon ice cream, all washed down with a delightful 2007 Brouilly.

Now that I've exposed myself as having completely converted to the ways of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, I think that it's perhaps best to simply post the photos. I didn't take any pictures during the dinner; it was an awkward, whisper-only environment (as the 9 year-old next to us announced to everyone, before being shushed by his mother, "Ambiance: zéro!") and I don't think the other diners (average age: 67) would have appreciated it.

Pavillon Henri IV

*Interestingly, this is actually the mark of a good gift, something that we enjoyed but that we wouldn't have gotten for ourselves. Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution puts it this way:
The bottom line? If you want to please the economist in me, send me cash. If you want to please my wild self (I know, not many of you, but you know who you are!) use your imagination.

01 November 2008

Adventures in Luxury

After a successful defense in Paris against the Undead Invasion last night, Esther and I are off to the Pavillion Henri IV to finally use a gift certificate that we received over a year ago at our wedding.

The site is famous for being the birthplace of both King Louis XIV of France and Beranaise sauce. I hope they have the latter on tap.

Naturally, you can expect pictures of our brief escapade into luxury to be posted soon.

28 October 2008

Just in case...

...there are any conservatives reading this blog who are in need of convincing, here are Andrew Sullivan's ten reasons for a conservative to vote Obama on November 4th(Sullivan is, of course, himself a British, Thatcherite conservative):

10. A body blow to racial identity politics. An end to the era of Jesse Jackson in black America.

9. Less debt. Yes, Obama will raise taxes on those earning over a quarter of a million. And he will spend on healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan and the environment. But so will McCain. He plans more spending on health, the environment and won't touch defense of entitlements. And his refusal to touch taxes means an extra $4 trillion in debt over the massive increase presided over by Bush. And the CBO estimates that McCain's plans will add more to the debt over four years than Obama's. Fiscal conservatives have a clear choice.

8. A return to realism and prudence in foreign policy. Obama has consistently cited the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush as his inspiration. McCain's knee-jerk reaction to the Georgian conflict, his commitment to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and his brinksmanship over Iran's nuclear ambitions make him a far riskier choice for conservatives. The choice between Obama and McCain is like the choice between George H.W. Bush's first term and George W.'s.

7. An ability to understand the difference between listening to generals and delegating foreign policy to them.

6. Temperament. Obama has the coolest, calmest demeanor of any president since Eisenhower. Conservatism values that kind of constancy, especially compared with the hot-headed, irrational impulsiveness of McCain.

5. Faith. Obama's fusion of Christianity and reason, his non-fundamentalist faith, is a critical bridge between the new atheism and the new Christianism.

4. A truce in the culture war. Obama takes us past the debilitating boomer warfare that has raged since the 1960s. Nothing has distorted our politics so gravely; nothing has made a rational politics more elusive.

3. Two words: President Palin.

2. Conservative reform. Until conservatism can get a distance from the big-spending, privacy-busting, debt-ridden, crony-laden, fundamentalist, intolerant, incompetent and arrogant faux conservatism of the Bush-Cheney years, it will never regain a coherent message to actually govern this country again. The survival of conservatism requires a temporary eclipse of today's Republicanism. Losing would be the best thing to happen to conservatism since 1964. Back then, conservatives lost in a landslide for the right reasons. Now, Republicans are losing in a landslide for the wrong reasons.

1. The War Against Islamist terror. The strategy deployed by Bush and Cheney has failed. It has failed to destroy al Qaeda, except in a country, Iraq, where their presence was minimal before the US invasion. It has failed to bring any of the terrorists to justice, instead creating the excrescence of Gitmo, torture, secret sites, and the collapse of America's reputation abroad. It has empowered Iran, allowed al Qaeda to regroup in Pakistan, made the next vast generation of Muslims loathe America, and imperiled our alliances. We need smarter leadership of the war: balancing force with diplomacy, hard power with better p.r., deploying strategy rather than mere tactics, and self-confidence rather than a bunker mentality.

Those conservatives who remain convinced, as I do, that Islamist terror remains the greatest threat to the West cannot risk a perpetuation of the failed Manichean worldview of the past eight years, and cannot risk the possibility of McCain making rash decisions in the middle of a potentially catastrophic global conflict. If you are serious about the war on terror and believe it is a war we have to win, the only serious candidate is Barack Obama.

Why I'm an Optimist


Call me a naïf for trusting the man at his word but I'm tired of cynicism. Hope feels good.

Three Ashleys and the Transformation of a Nation

As if the comparison needs to be clearer, Sean Quinn from fivethirtyeight.com traces the story of three Ashleys from three Presidential campaigns. There is Ashley Faulkner who said of Bush in 2004, "He's the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK." Then there is Ashley Todd, the source of the B-carving Obama supporter hoax. Finally, there is Ashley Baia whom Obama talked about in his More Perfect Union speech on race in early 2008. Quoting directly from the speech, via the 538 post (I encourage you to read it in its entirety):

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.
This historic moment, this watershed in American history is perhaps difficult to comprehend while living it. We're distracted by out daily routines and the disruptions to them. It is worthwhile, however, to step back and attempt to appreciate the moment that we are all living.

I'm proud to have been a supporter of this campaign for the past two years. I consider my small contributions to be an investment in that more perfect union. Perhaps I've passed a few too many hours following the twist and turns of the campaign in obsessive detail but I cannot help but be fascinated by our present reality.

The deal remains to be closed by I have nothing but confidence in the cool professionalism of the Obama campaign's ability to do so. Eight more days, only eight more days until we begin the trasformation away from the past eight years.

27 October 2008

Redistribution!

More than just sounding like threadbare conservative ideology, the McCain-Palin campaign's focus on Obama's purported desire to redistribute wealth seems way off pitch. Given the current economic situation, the millions of Americans who've lost their homes, the millions who fear for their job, etc. doesn't it seem like a large swath of the United States (maybe even a majority) would be in favor of a little bit of wealth redistribution right now? I assume that this has something to do with why the Obama-Biden camp isn't coming out with some mealy-mouthed rebuttal. Let them dig their own hole, it's easier that way!

25 October 2008

The View from France

It shouldn't come as any surprise, bu the French are following the American election very closely. Every night there are updates on the evening news and several times per week there are in-depth analysis pieces. Compare that to how many times you heard the names Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

It should also not be any surprise that, like the rest of the world, the French vastly favor Obama. Where I and the average French person disagree, however, is in the the likelihood that Obama will actually be elected. Some of this skepticism is based on the national reporting that implies that the race is far closer than it actually is. Earlier this week, the anchor on one of the major national evening news broadcasts did an overview of the state of the race (Obama way ahead in the polls, massive turnout for early voting, etc...) and then reminded the viewers that "at this point in 2004, Kerry was said to be winning." First, look at this data and you will see that they must have been a bit too optimistic in their poll reporting to have given the lead to Kerry. Second, and more importantly, the equivalence that he is drawing between 2004 is absurd. Compare the 2004 data set to this year's (and this is coming from RealClearPolitics, a site with a Republican bias) and it's obvious from the numbers alone that any equivalence, even any comparison, between the two years is totally off base.

In addition to this inaccurate reporting on the state of the race, you have certain stereotypes and misconceptions held by many French people about the United States that cloud their vision of reality. (I should put two disclaimers here; first, American have plenty of inaccurate stereotypes of the French and, second, many Americans hold similar stereotypes about other Americans.) The most commonly reported concern is that the polls are overstating the average American's willingness to vote for a black man, the famous "Bradley effect". The second is a more generic belief that has been learned over the past eight years that the United States can't possibly elect a decent President. Bush's reelection in 2004 really drove this point home when much of the French had their hopes dashed on November 3rd (the French media misrepresenting the polling certainly had something to do with this).

Looking at this, I realize that the French position is not that far off from many of the Americans that I've spoken with. I routinely find myself being the only person in a group to be confident that Obama will win, the common response is this very French skepticism of, "Well, I certainly hope he will, but I just don't know..." I wrote about my confidence way back before the conventions and perhaps it's time to revisit. Suffice it to say, that nothing has really changed, I take the lead from fivethirtyeight and am more than 90% confident that Obama will win (based on current polling).

24 October 2008

Photo of the Day


Sketching on the Seine

Cogent Commentary

Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder from The Atlantic say it like it is:



I can't hold back, I feel some political posting coming in the near future...

23 October 2008

Photo of the Day



Our street, and especially the café at the end of it, is a popular location for filmakers.

22 October 2008

Welcome to the Year 5769!

Both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur fell in the last month so, quite naturally, that meant lots of dinners at Esther's parents' house. I took a few pictures and will let them (and their captions) speak for themselves:

Les Fêtes 5769

Mazel tov!

21 October 2008

Inside the Belly of the Beast

A while ago the screen on my trusty laptop, an IBM T42 that has served me well for the past four years, started to go pink. Research showed that it was the result of argon gas depletion (or some other inert gas that I can't quite recall right now) in the compact fluorescent bulb that serves as a backlight for the LCD screen. That bulb costs about $15 but requires soldering and opening tape that says "DO NOT OPEN!!!!" Instead, given the scratches and general abuse that the screen has taken over the years, I decided to replace the entire LCD. That would cost about $100 from a Malaysian guy on eBay, but would require me to totally dismantle the computer, including opening the screen housing itself. I had never been that far inside of my computer so I decided that it would be a good educational experience. And if anything really went wrong, there could only be one result, new computer!

I printed about 40 pages out of the T42 service manual, borrowed a set of small (but not small enough) screwdrivers from Ilan, and got to work. All in all it took about five hours to complete with only relatively minor frustrations along the way. Those frustrations were surprisingly similar to those that you run into when fixing a car (stripped screw heads, real life situations that don't match the manual, a manufacturer that loved thread locker a little too much, etc...)

The end result is that I now have a fully functioning, perfectly clear screen. And, this is the important part, the pride of having gone into the belly of the beast and made it out the other side.

Here are some gory pictures:






You can take the kid out of Detroit...

...but you can't take the Detroit out of the kid. In addition to me wearing a Tigers baseball cap (something that I never did when in the US, this simple fact means that when the auto show rolls into Paris, I can't help but drag myself down to the massive convention center complex on the south edge of town. Some brief observations:

  • It's huge. Like really huge, at least twice as big as the Detroit show. I finished the first hall thinking, "that was decent, but it seemed like there were some big brands missing." I then found a map that showed me three additional halls. I had to hurry to see it all the cars (not the accessories and suppliers, race cars, driving schools, etc...) in four hours.
  • Fuel economy is a major selling point here. Since gas costs about $8.50/gallon these days, that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Fuel data is not just printed on the little information sheet (or, increasingly, flat-screen display) next to the car, it's a big graphic on the door. Also, they  present grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer. This is becoming a standard way of presenting energy efficiency in Europe so that you can easily compare the environmental impact of a trip by car versus a trip by train, for example.
  • Pure American cars really stand out here. They are big and ungainly when shipped directly here. Ford, however, simply builds entirely different cars for the market and comes out looking like one of the crowd.
Here's some photographic evidence of what things look like over here:
From Paris Auto Show 2008

From Paris Auto Show 2008

From Paris Auto Show 2008

From Paris Auto Show 2008

From Paris Auto Show 2008

From Paris Auto Show 2008


Full album:
Paris Auto Show 2008



Addendum: A post like this is never complete without a picture of "my ride". Here she is: nuclear-powered, seats 200, God knows how many horsepoewr (probably around 2,000), yearly payments of about $600 for the loan, assurance, fuel, etc...:
From Paris Auto Show 2008


Paris isn't all bad...

17 October 2008

Pretending to do Graphic Design

Part of the fun of my job is that I get to pretend to be a graphic designer and teach myself all sorts of tricks in Photoshop and Illustrator. Here's a graphic that I made for a 007-inspired "luxury adventure experience" that we're starting to market.

If you know anyone with $20K to burn on two crazy days, let me know!

16 October 2008

Un match de foot !

Through his dark magic, Ilan was able to get free tickets to the exhibition match between the national teams of France and Tunisia. Given the colonial history and the current immigration situation between the countries it was expected to be a bit tense. It didn't dissapoint.

Tunisian flags outnumbered French flags by at least three to one and suffice it to say that the Tunisian supporters were more vocal than their French counterparts. (Just to be precise, most of the Tunisian supporters most likely have French nationality; they identify, however, much more strongly with their country of origin when it comes to soccer.) They were vocal not only in support of their team, but against the French team going so far as to boo all of the French players and the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Apparently this last part didn't go over so well with Sarkozy and the Minister of Sport announcing today that any future match at which the Marseillaise is booed will be immediately canceled.

Despite the overall tense atmosphere, our experience was very good. We had good seats and, although the young guys in front of us were standing for a lot of the match, we saw the game quite clearly. I was even able to follow the action since the rules of the game are mercifully simple when compared to popular American sports like football and baseball. What was surprising, however, was the level of intensity in the crowd. Sure, this was probably more lively than a Paris-Lille game that ends in a tie, but I really can't compare the intensity to anything that I've seen in an American stadium. In short, it lives up to the stereotypes that we have for European soccer matches hold true. Here's a short video (sorry, no sound from my six-year old compact camera) of the crowd reaction to the first and only Tunisian goal.

video

In the end "Les Bleus" pulled it out with a 3-1 victory that left the crowd rather subdued at the end. It also needs to be noted that the public transportation system that got us and the vast majority of the other 74,000 spectators to and from the stadium was really extraordinary. Not only did we not have to wait for a train, but we even got to sit down inside. It was orderly, efficient and cheap. French infrastructure never ceases to impress.

Here are my photos from the game. Again, they're coming from my old compact camera (big cameras aren't allowed) so the quality isn't what it normaly is:
Match de foot!

10 October 2008

Negev

The Negev Desert stretches southeast from Kibbutz Nirim, all the way to the port city of Eilat on the Red Sea. Altogether, it accounts for more than half of Israel's land area, but only a tiny fraction of its population. It's full of interesting geological features including countless wadis as well as the unique makhtesh (often referred to as "craters", they are technically "erosion cirques".) Roni was kind enough to take us on a tour of the area in one of the kibbutz's silver Subaru Imprezas. There were many impressive sights, not the least of which were the Merkava main battle tanks doing training exercises along the side of the road.

Travels - Israel - Negev

09 October 2008

Kibbutz Nirim

In the south, we stayed with Roni, the brother of Esti (a distant relation but extremely close friend of Esther's family), in his kibbutz, Nirim. Nirim is a more traditional kibbutz, maintaining more collective ownership and activities than Yehiam in the north. A small but important example of this is the fact that the communal dining hall still serves several meals a day, though you now have to pay a nominal fee to eat there.

What is perhaps most striking about Nirim, however, is its proximity to the Gaza Strip and the security implications that that has on life in the kibbutz. At only two kilometers (just over one mile, you could walk the distance in less than 30 minutes), you can see the low skyline of the strip. The kibbutz is surrounded by concertina wire and has strong metal gates that remain closed all day long. In addition to the entrances to the underground shelters, there are also above-ground emergency shelters every hundred yards or so, should you ever hear incoming rockets. The kibbutz is typically not targeted for rocket attacks, however, as they are generally aimed at the larger town of Sderot.

Walking in the fields surrounding the kibbutz, outside of the perimeter fence, you have the impression that you are in a perfectly bucolic setting. Not even over the horizon, however, is the Gaza Strip and its choking population density, desperate economic conditions, and unstable political situation. Once again, Israel shows itself to be a land divided, a contradiction in the most complete sense.

Travels - Israel - Kibbutz Nirim

08 October 2008

Haifa

We were only in Haifa for a few hours, just enough time to see the Bahá'í World Center, return our rental car, and take a train to the south. It certainly seemed pleasant and it's distinction of being the most demographically-balanced large city in Israel was plainly visible. It's a very short photo album, consisting of a few photos that I took on the top of Mt. Carmel. (By the way, if you're not familiar with the Bahá'í Faith, it's worth looking at its Wikipedia entry. If you're going to believe in an organized religion, you would be hard pressed to find one based on more appealing principles.)

Travels - Israel - Haifa

07 October 2008

Jerusalem

My original post, Juxtaposition in Jerusalem, captures the immediate sensation of the city much better than my rapidly fading recollections ever could. To those written words, I simply add the photo album below.

Travels - Israel - Jerusalem

06 October 2008

Golan

The Golan Heights are a mountainous plateau in northern Israel with both strategic military and natural resource value, leading to the area being claimed by Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. Controlled by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967, they will likely be returned to Syria as part of the negotiations leading to a peace treaty.

Oded, Yona, and Maya took us on the tour of the region and it was indeed impressive, not only for it's physical beauty, but for it's importance in the history of countless empires and regimes. Nimrod Fortress is a good example. Built by the nephew of the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin, in the twelfth century, it was designed to defend Damascus from the crusaders. It served as one link in a chain of hill-top fortress, each visible to the other by sight, to protect Syria from the invading Europeans.

Naturally, over time, it passed from one empire to the next, serving various functions including luxury prison and, today, tourist attraction. It is relatively well preserved and features some impressive construction for its time and its remote location.

The Golan is full of interesting locations, from Alawite and Druze villages, to hidden waterfalls, and including rusting armored vehicles on the side of the road. It is a rough land, its surfaced pockmarked by centuries of battle and it maintains the sense that its status is still far from finalized.

Travels - Israel - Golan

05 October 2008

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee is Israel's largest body of freshwater and, from the perspective of a Michigander, it's only freshwater of note. Back in the day it was, of course, the site of Jesus' miraculous, low-speed water skiing while today it is the site of regular-old, physics-driven water skiing. The one large city on it's banks, Tiberias, is a very popular tourist destination in the north, drawing a larger-than-average proportion of wealthy religious families. The one experience that sticks with me from this town is melting in the 100-plus degree heat while waiting to get a falafel. Inside of the sandwich shop, the open grills easily raised the temperature to a smoky, greasy 120 degrees. Esther was bravely waiting in this line as tempers gradually mounted until a portly, young, religious man stormed in and demanded to be served before everyone else because he, HE!, couldn't stand the heat. It wasn't a particularly welcoming situation; people were self-centered and impatient and it didn't give me the desire to go back.

On a seperate trip, however, we went to a much more peaceful area, the site of Capernaum, Jesus' hometown when he lived there. Today, there are several monasteries on the site which is calm and peaceful, a considerable contrast to the modern-day insanity of Tiberias.

Almost all of the pictures are from Capernaum, I simply didn't have it in me to take pictures of sweaty, rude, rich people at Tiberias.

Travels - Israel - Sea of Galilee

03 October 2008

Nazareth

Nazareth, home of Jesus of, is now a sizable Arab city that draws off of its history. The streets were full of tourists wearing funny hats, including some German guys of high school age wearing white mesh hats with a solar powered fan built into the brim and directed at their faces. You get the impression that the tour buses pass through everyday, drop off their human cargo for an afternoon, before continuing on to another site of historical importance; all of this while the residents calmly look on. Admittedly, this is precisely what we did.

We made an effort to find Mount Precipice and were told by the security guard at a strip mall that we had to cut through a fence and then hike up a trash-strewn slope to get to the small chapel at the top. Standing up there, looking at what could have easily been a strip-mall in Rochester (complete with Office Depot and Ace Hardware!) on one side, the modern Arab town on the other, and the ancient chapel straight before us did make for a moment of strong cognitive dissonance though one that is representative of Israel as a whole.

Travels - Israel - Nazareth

25 September 2008

Feats of Strength!

Buzzfeed brought my attention to this program, One Hundred Push Ups, which is a program to be able to do just that, one hundred push ups, after six weeks of training. Esther and I decided that it would be a good thing to do.

We just started Week 3 and it just got a lot harder all of a sudden. For the first time we haven't been able to advance to the next day. The results, however, are already visible. Perhaps it's just the low baseline that we're coming from, I know that creating adventures actually involves a lot of sitting behind a computer all day which does not, in general, promote muscle definition.

So far things are going well and I hope that we'll be able to do the hundred sometime in December. Having the external program telling you exactly what you need to do every day makes it a lot simpler, so far we've stuck to the regimen without exception. Since making this effort public helps to keep me motivated, check back in the future for further updates.

(By the way, this is nothing compared to Chris competing in a triathlon. Congratulations Chris, awesome job!)

Rosh Hanikra

At the northwest extreme of Israel, there is a unique formation of brilliantly white, exceptionally soft chalk jutting into the pure blue waters of the Mediterranean called Rosh Hanikra (the Head of the Grottoes). During the British Mandate, a train tunnel was cut through the rock, one step in the British Empire's goal to connect Cairo with Istanbul and, from there, Europe.

On top of the rocks is the border crossing with Lebanon that is operated by the UN. You can walk right up to the gate and, like good tourists, we did. It was quiet and calm, though I imagine that wasn't the case two years ago.

Travels - Israel - Rosh Hanikra

The Beach

The northern Israeli Mediterranean beach is absolutely fantastic. The water is warm, the sand is clean, and the ever-present waves prevent swimming from ever becoming dull. Laying on the beach, watching the sunset with a cold bottle of Goldstar is really a wonderfully pleasant experience. The climate, falling into the upper seventies as the sun goes down is, of course, the perfect compliment. It's happy, peaceful place, though the passing patrol boat reminds you that you're never that removed from the rest of the world.

Travels - Israel - Beach

Acre

Acre, like many cities in the region, has been in the hands of various empires and kingdoms. In 1799, under Ottoman rule, it held off a two month siege by Napoleon's troops in his efforts to weaken Turkey.

Today, it is a predominantly Arab city and, as such, has a unique flavor to it. The streets are narrow; the market is crowded, noisy, and in some places, pungent; and the hummus is really delicious.

It appears to derive much of its economy from the tourism that its various historical sites attract. Esther and I were there only for a few hours with Yona before heading to the beach.

Travel - Israel - Acre

23 September 2008

Kibbutz Yehiam

Before I can talk about Yehiam and what makes it unique, a brief discussion of kibbutzes in general seems necessary.

Kibbutzes (kibbutzim following Hebrew plural rules) are, typically, agricultural communities organized around deeply socialist principles. In their most traditional form there is no private property, even clothing is shared among the members. These communities were vital to the development of the country of Israel, allowing the population to rapidly settle the desert, converting much of it to arable land.

This traditional model is extremely rare today and most kibbutzim have undergone some degree of privatization. In its weaker forms, members now own their own clothes and personal possessions, but all of the land, buildings, and vehicles are communally owned. It is not uncommon that all salaries that are earned outside of the kibbutz are given to the community under the principle of "give what you can, receive what you need."

In other cases, privatization has gone much further with members owning their houses, their cars, and keeping a certain portion of their salaries. Yehiam falls into this later category. The transition to this weaker model was not entirely voluntary; it was largely motivated by the poor management and near insolvency of its center of economic production, a factory processing poultry into deli meats.

Naturally, there are a variety of opinions about the future of the kibbutzim and under what model they should be organized. Experience has shown that, unsurprisingly, the communities function very well under the traditional model when the members are there voluntarily and don't feel that they were born into a system that doesn't represent their values. Thus, the first generation of kibbutzniks were exceptionally motivated, the second generation somewhat less so, and the third generation much less. In some cases where a family has moved off of the kibbutz for some years or even a generation, the younger members will move back with the motivation of the original members.

Yehiam is unique in that it is the site of a fortress built originally by the crusaders and used by various empires and governments up to and including the War of Independence of 1948. In that war, the kibbutz was an important rally point for the convoy that supplied the north of the country. This convoy was ambushed with only a few members escaping to the kibbutz; there is a memorial to those lost made of the mangled armored vehicles.

It is the kibbutz that Esther's family is most closely connected to being the current residence of her aunt, uncle, and cousins as well as the previous residence of her father. We spent nearly half of our time at the kibbutz and it was indeed a peaceful time. The landscape is gorgeous, the air is clean and clear, and life inside the kibbutz is quite tranquil. The security situation is never far from view, however. One evening I wondered why the street lights pointed to the exterior of the chain link fence surrounding the kibbutz. I realized that it's because they aren't street lights at all, but perimeter lights.

Travels - Israel - Kibbutz Yechiam

22 September 2008

Photo of the Day


Color Monster - Rosh Hanikra, Israel

21 September 2008

Tel Aviv

We stayed in and around Tel Aviv several times, it was our point of arrival and departure, as well as our base for our trips to Jerusalem. It is the de facto capital of the country and is clearly its economic and cultural hub. Eating dinner one night in a pan-Asian restaurant, we could have easily been in Miami or Berlin, if it weren't for ever-present political situation (quite a euphemism, no?).

More than anywhere else in Israel, however, a certain distance is taken from the problems, lending to them impression that you're removed from it all, almost like you're living in a bubble. At fourteen miles from the West Bank, thirty-five miles from Gaza, and seventy-five miles from Lebanon the impression is quite thin indeed.

Combined, the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem provide a concentrated experience of the contradictions and contrasts inherent to Israel. If you had only two days in the country and you spent one in each city you would leave with quite a good understanding of the country (as best as one can have after only 48 hours, of course).

We stayed two nights in the apartment of Esther's cousin, Yona. Admittedly, drinking coffee on his large balcony in the warm morning air does give you the desire to settle in the city more permanently. The surrounding circumstances return quickly, however, to remind you that the skin of the bubble is indeed fragile.

Travels - Israel - Tel Aviv

Jaffa

Jaffa is the ancient port city just south of Tel Aviv. According to tradition, it is the port from which Jonas set sail on his journey that landed him in the belly of the whale.

Today it is still a port, though of much less importance than before. Compared to the metropolitan Tel Aviv, it has the feel of a forgotten backwater. Whereas the population of Tel Aviv is predominantly Jewish, that of Jaffa is mainly Arab giving it a very different feel. Rather than feeling like you're at the intersection of Los Angeles and Madrid as you might in Tel Aviv, in Jaffa you feel very much like you're in Amman or Cairo. In general, I got the impression that Tel Avivites rarely visit their southern neighbor.

It was the first town that we visited after arriving and is thus the beginning of this retrospective.

(Following its recent redesign, PicasaWeb no longer offers the static gallery links as before, the only option now are these slideshows. Fell free to watch them here, though I would suggest clicking on anywhere but the play button to go to the PicasaWeb site itself. You will see much larger images there as well as my captions.)The old option is back! I'm replacing all of the albums now.

Travels - Israel - Jaffa

20 September 2008

Return to Working Life

Briefly, my apologies for the dearth of posting recently. Coming back from the tirp to Israel both Esther and I have had inodinate amounts of work to do. There have been some positive developments, notably Esther commiting to a new job and Ravenchase having quite a few private and corporate contracts.

I've sorted almost all of the pictures from Israel (there were 1,700 in total) and most are up on my PicasaWeb page. I'll be posting the albums and some reflections on the locations as soon as possible. To borrow a term from when electronics were made with vacuum tubes and crystals, "Stay tuned!"

15 September 2008

Photo of the Day


Looking out from the Inside - Closed rail tunnel under Rosh Hanikra, Israel

01 September 2008

Photo of the Day


The Last Flag in Israel - Israel/Lebanon Border

Palin

I can't not post on this, even if I'm in Israel. As is often the case, Andrew Sullivan nicely summarizes my thoughts:

We have had two big presidential decisions from both candidates - the first time we can clearly judge their decision-making skills. Obama's was prudent, cautious, thoroughly vetted, and serious about governing. McCain's was impulsive, rash, barely vetted and decided at the last minute by a small coterie that left everyone else gasping.
We are at war. Another 9/11 is possible. Israel may attack Iran. Pakistan may go up in smoke. Putin may invade another country. Who would you rather have as president?
And:
Sarah Palin seems to have been invented by Stephen Colbert - true believer, gun-lover, relentless foe of polar bears, sister with nine kids and no father in the house, caribou killer...
That's all.

31 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Making Movies in the Bananas - Kibbutz Yechiam, Israel (Photo by Esther)

30 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Market Streets - Old City, Jerusalem

27 August 2008

Juxtaposition in Jerusalem

Imagine a city that's the host nation considers its capital but lacks foreign embassies. A city that is almost completely segregated between its two primary demographic groups. The city was physically sepated a few decades ago of which half has since been officially annexed by the host country, but is still considered to be an occupied territory according to some accounts.

Make that city the home of the holiest sites of two major religions and home to very holy sites for a third. Between these religions, add some talk about a "war of civilizations" and "existential struggle" just to heat things up a bit. Don't only put these sites close to one another, but litterally layer them in some cases.

Visit these holy sites and you'll see devout pilgrims rubbing oil onto a slab of marble, tourist snapping pictures of the fragment of a rock, trash-strewn courtyards with middle-aged men sipping tea, barriers seperating the sexes and the religions, as well as metal detectors, cardboard yarmulkes, and guards with assault rifles to keep everything in order.

The atmosphere is tense but rarely boils over. Encroachment is the favorite passtime, inevitably a zero-sum game in a city hemmed in by walls and mountains.. The struggle is constant and often (though not always) subtle; it's rarely a punch in the face, more often an elbow to the ribs in a crowded elevator.

It's inextricably complicated and will presumably remain so for centuries to come. It's Jersusalem; the center of the world for some, the end of the world for others.

24 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Lovers on the Beach - Beach near Nahariyya, Israel (Photo by Yona Rozenkier)

21 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Streets of Nazareth, Israel

18 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Tunnel of the Templars - Underneath Acre, Israel

Israel: First Impressions

Dusty and humid, a complex mixture of American, European and Middle Eastern cultures. You walk two steps and you go from Miami Beach to Amman, Jordan. Drive twenty minutes and you're at the closed border to Lebanon. You can talk about the depth of history in a literal sense; there are layers of history dating back thousands of years that are still reflected in the current layers of food, habit, and language.

An Step in the Right Direction

A researcher at MIT may have made a major step forward in making solar and wind energy practical on a large, industrial scale. One of the obvious problems with solar is that it doesn't work so well when the sun doesn't shine. It's the same story for wind; on a calm day you're left with nothing but a forest of thirty-story modern art sculptures.

In this case, the MIT researcher may have found a way to use electricity to efficiently split water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, a process the smart kids call electrolysis. These gases can then be stored for later use in a fuel cell giving you energy even on the calmest, darkest of nights.

Is this the solution to the global energy problem? Almost certainly, no, but it could be another step on the long path towards cheap, clean energy.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

17 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Gods of the Sun - Tel Aviv Beach

16 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Above the sunset - Somewhere between Paris and Tel Aviv

15 August 2008

Holy Land Blogging

We're off to Israel for two and a half weeks, whenever I have a chance I'll post pictures and wry commentary.

From Potty to Potable

A very good article in the New York Times about the system which reintroduces treated waste water into California's drinking water supply. The sewage is collected and put through a multi-step process that renders it nearly pure. It is then pumped into a man-made reservoir where it mixes with naturally-collected drinking water, percolates through several hundred feet of sand and gravel, and replenishes the aquifer. About 18 months later, it's pumped back above-ground where it's chlorinated and is brought back into the drinking supply

In addition to the technical specifications, there are several interesting observations, the first being how the issue is typically framed:

If you like the idea, you call it indirect potable reuse. If the idea revolts you, you call it toilet to tap.
Also interesting is the range of possible fresh water to waste water ratios in various systems around the world (think of it as the supply of tolerance relative to the demand for water):
Singapore mixes 1 percent treated wastewater with 99 percent fresh water in its reservoirs. (In Orange County, the final product will contain 17 percent recycled water.) Residents of Windhoek, Namibia, one of the driest places on earth, drink 100 percent treated wastewater.
There is a reminder of the many hidden uses of energy, noting that "about a fifth of California’s energy is used to move water from north to south".

Finally, an example of the technical absurdity that the human psyche makes necessary:
It’s one of the many pardoxes of indirect potable reuse that the water leaving the plant in Fountain Valley is far cleaner than the water that it mingles with. Yes, the water entering the sewage-treatment plant in Fountain Valley is 100 percent wastewater and has a T.D.S. — a measure of water purity, T.D.S. stands for total dissolved solids and refers to the amount of trace elements in the water — of 1,000 parts per million. But after microfiltration and reverse osmosis, the T.D.S. is down to 30. (Poland Spring water has a T.D.S. of between 35 and 46.) By contrast, the “raw” water in the Anaheim basins has a T.D.S. of 600.

If everything in the Fountain Valley plant is in perfect working order, its finished water will contain no detectable levels of bacteria, pharmaceuticals or agricultural and industrial chemicals. The same can be said of very few water sources in this country. But once the Fountain Valley water mingles with the county’s other sources, its purity goes downhill. Filtering it through sand and gravel removes some contaminants, but it also adds bacteria (not necessarily harmful, and local utilities will eventually knock them out them with chlorine) and possibly pharmaceuticals.
The main message is, of course, that rising demand pressures on available resources and the consequences of consumption mean that it is becoming economically and morally necessary to look to the waste stream as a potential resource stream. Thankfully, this is an arena in which technology can play a large role (indeed, that is the subject of this article). I tend to have greater faith in our potential to create new technologies rather than our ability to curb our consumption. That's not to say that I think that this reality is morally defensible, only that it's historical trend which appears very difficult to change. Call it realenvironment.

14 August 2008

Photo of the Day


14th of July Picnic - Parc de Belleville

13 August 2008

Photo of the Day


Call it "Urban" - Marché aux Puces

Mythology and Victimhood

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written an excellent reflection on "the false nobility of victimhood". It's a concept that I've long thought about, often in the context of Israel/Palestine, and he puts it to words extremely well.

Key point:

All of us need some sort of mythology and no group is immune to nationalism, to the need to believe that we are special.
The consequences of this aspect of human nature are difficult to overstate. Read the whole post, it's worth the time.

Order of Operations

I'd imgaine that there is a much lower incidence of bank cards being left in ATMs in France. One simple reason: they return your card before your cash. Leave the ATM without collecting your card, maybe. Leave without taking your cash? Very unlikely.

Top Three

Add this to my top three favorite videos of all time:

I long ago accepted the fact that they would be better than me at climbing trees and eating bananas, peel and all, but it looks like I now need to concede ice skating as well. Who would have thought that the word "graceful" would be appropriately applied to a chimpanzee?

12 August 2008

Photo of the Day


A Question of Scale - Jardin du Luxembourg

11 August 2008

Commenting: Now Even Easier!

Dear Loyal Readers,

It is now even easier to post comments, you were previously redirected to some strange site asking you to jump through all sorts of hoops to get you comment posted.

Now just click on the "Comments" link below any post. A box will appear where you can type your comments. In the drop-down box below that, if you don't have any of the accounts offered (Google, OpenID, etc...) you can select Name/URL and enter just your name (if you don't have a website that you want to share you can leave the URL field empty). Click on "Post Comment" and your comment will appear immediately!

No moderation, no indecipherable words to type in, just pain-free commenting. I hope this encourages all of you to comment more frequently, blogs are best when they're two-way discussions.

Your loyal blogger,
Kurt

P.S. Feel free to try out the new commenting function on this post; go ahead, write anything you'd like! Trust me, it's really easy!

Photo of the Day


River Seine from Pont L.S. Senghor

I'm going to do my best to post a photo every day. It will, most likely, not have been taken that day, rather it is simply something that I've seen that I'd like to share. Enjoy!