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, 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 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


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?
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.