17 November 2008

feelin' groovy...

Yesterday was a huge success.
  • I've found some focus and direction in my research — I'm closing in around the idea of trust. Trust is relevant to game theory (which deals with stuff like the credibility of promises and threats) and because there's a lot of new philosophical literature about it (including feminist-y analytic philosophy, which is My Favorite).
  • I met with a philosopher here, who referred me to a couple of philosophers who are working on the rationality of trust, and suggested a few ways getting involved in department life.
  • I got a great compliment from one of my professors after seminar:
    "You're Hans's student? That explains a lot."
And then he suggested that we meet as soon as possible so that he can help me with my grad school applications. (!)
  • I came home to a lonely, lonely dinner alone... but then my roommate Niv came home and we gossipped and made sushi.
And then when I was about to go to sleep, I checked my email and
  • A girl from my philosophy class invited me to her birthday party! (Isn't that, like, the ultimate token of social acceptance?)

10 November 2008

ראש העיר

ראש עיר

עצוב הוא להיות
ראש העיר ירושלים.
נורא הוא.

איך יהיה אדם ראש עיר כזות?
מה יעשה בה?
יבנה ויבנה ויבנה.

ובלילה יקרבו אבני ההרים מסביב
אל הבתים,
כמו זאבים הבאים לילל על כלבים
שנעשי לעבדי בני האדם.

יהודה עמיחי

It's sad
To be the Mayor of Jerusalem.
It is terrible.
How can any man be the mayor of a city like that?

What can he do with her?
He will build, and build, and build.

And at night
The stones of the hills round about
Will crawl down
Towards the stone houses
Like wolves coming
To howl at the dogs
Who have become men's slaves.

Yehuda Amichai
Translated by Assia Gutmann

08 November 2008

Obama in translation

In my American-media-gorging over the past few days, I hear a lot of Americans proudly claiming that "it couldn't have happened anywhere else in the world." Out here in The World, people really are posing the question. Could what happened in the US on Tuesday have happened here in Israel?

Is that question even sensible? What would count as the "same thing" happening here?

photo credit: NYT, from a May 13 Yom Ha'atzmaut event in DC

Let me postpone the central and fascinating racial issue for the next post. Before I get there, there's another difficulty: Israel doesn't have a directly-elected head of state. Israel's president is a symbolic figurehead, elected by the Knesset, and the prime minister, though formally appointed by the president, is actually just the leader of whichever party wins the most Knesset seats. (Fascinating Fact: Israel actually implemented an American-style head-of-state direct-election system from 1996 to 2003, but then they scrapped it and reverted back to the earlier system.)

People do directly elect political parties, and some political parties are explicitly designated as representing the interests of particular minorities. For example:
So someone could plausibly suppose that a US08-equivalent Israeli election outcome would be a Knesset where a plurality of seats are held by a party like UAL, Shas or maybe Atid Echad.

In fact, it's not so at all. The demographically-oriented Israeli political parties take care of their own. So when Obama said, "I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too" — he was articulating an American conception of political constituency. By contrast, Israel's minority parties are understood as responsible to their electorate, and maybe even to their whole demographic base... but not to the whole country. So long as they hold few seats in Knesset and are forced to bargain hard for political gains, that's fine. But no reasonable Israelis are fantasizing about a Shas-led government.

What people are imagining is a political victory by a major party headed by a suitably-Obama-ish prime minister. And what does that PM's Obamaishness consist in? S/he's got to belong to a minority whose status in Israeli society is somehow equivalent to that of Black Americans. And that opens up a truly fascinating question: does Israel even have plausible analogues for US racial categories?

(To be continued!)

06 November 2008

04 November 2008

!כן, אנו יכולים

Working in my room, I heard a noise near the closet. I peered over anxiously, expecting a to see roach or a mouse. After looking around for a little while, I went back to work, only to see a gecko disappear under my bed.

Hm. Neither an insect nor a rodent? How am I supposed to feel about this?

Speaking of scurrying, go vote for אובאמה! Especially if you're voting in Colorado, Pennsylvania or Virginia. Here's one excellent reason. (Hit "refresh." There are more.)

In case you need something to watch until the results come in, here are of my favorite election videos:
(I'd vote for McCain as the National Court Jester. He was way funnier than Obama at the charity dinner.)

Also, more seriously:

01 November 2008

ואלס עם באשיר

Last week, my grandmother and I went to the Lev Smadar cinema in the German Colony to see Waltz with Bashir, an animated film that explores themes of war, trauma, cruelty and innocence through interviews with IDF soldiers who witnessed the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

It took me and my grandmother two tries to see this movie. The first time, the theater was actually showing Caos Calmo instead. Since the Smadar is a one-theater cinema, we bought tickets for "the movie" at the box office. We didn't realize we'd made a mistake until, several minutes into the movie, it dawned on us that the live-action Italian film we were watching really was the main feature. (20 minutes in, my grandmother leaned toward me and said, a little too loudly, "I don't think this is Waltz with Bashir!") But we decided to relax and make lemonade from the lemons we'd been dealt, as they say. We'd come back for Waltz with Bashir another time.

This is all by way of saying: Waltz with Bashir was incredible. I was expecting something like Waking Life (which I found disappointing). But in fact, this film was more like an Israeli Grave of the Fireflies. I think everyone should watch it, but particularly those of you who are interested in genocide, or the military, or Middle Eastern politics, or the psychological effects of trauma.

Here's a trailer, in case my sales pitch didn't convince you: