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שביל ישראל

I bought a book last week - my first book entirely in Hebrew. Said book is a guide to the 940 km (580 mi) שביל ישראל - the Israel Trail. The Israel trail is a relatively new trail which stretches from the northern end of Israel all the way down to the southernmost point. It's designed for through hiking, like the Appalachian Trail in the US, but because Israel is so urbanized, it's easy to access in pieces - which is exactly what I'm going to do.

Now, I won't say that I'm going to hike the whole trail before I leave Israel - though I'd like to - but I will be doing as much as I can manage. I convinced my roommate to join me this weekend for the leg from Tsfat to Tiberia in the Galilee. It ended up being a bit much to do on a winter's day (we were running out of energy and light), so we ended up finishing the trip on roads instead of the trail.

The trail starts at Moshav Meron, and it follows Nahal Amud (Stream of the Pillar) most of the way. The terrain was pretty rough for the first 7-8 km, but the trail is blazed really well (we only lost the trail once) - and the scenery was gorgeous. We also had perfect weather, although the trail was a bit muddy from the previous day's rain.

Pictures are posted on facebook. If anyone's interested in being my trail buddy for the next leg, let me know - I may do some of the coastal plain sections on my own, but the Galilee is too rough (and too remote) to do by myself.

2010 in Cities

Stolen from dangerpudding - for once my list is more impressive than hers :)
St. Louis, MO
New York, NY
Berkeley, CA
New York, NY
Berkeley, CA
New York, NY
Lowell, MA
New York, NY
St. Louis, MO
Denver, CO
Mountain View, CA
Anaheim, CA
Dallas, TX
Austin, TX
Houston, TX
New Orleans, LA
New York, NY
Brussels, Belgium
Tel Aviv, Israel
Haifa, Israel
Jerusalem, Israel
Haifa, Israel

Now off to Tel Aviv to give a talk and possibly ring in the New Year...unless I just end up too tired for that nonsense...

LGBT Rights

The Advocate has a very interesting interview with the President about DADT and LGBT rights in general, and it got me thinking about how we as a community have been treating Obama.

In his first two years, he managed to add LGBT protections to federal hate-crimes laws and to repeal DADT. He almost managed to pass ENDA, and has broadly increased LGBT protections and rights in the areas under executive purview.

So has he been a fierce advocate? Yes, he's defended DOMA and DADT in the court system, but you could argue that a half-assed defense in the court system might be exactly what we need. But even so - what legislative victories have we had before?

The only major piece of federal LGBT rights legislation before the Obama administration was DADT.

Everything else has come through the courts (decriminalization of sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas, Romer v. Evans, which made it illegal to pass a law making it illegal to pass laws preventing discrimination (I know it's confusing, but it was an important decision)). There have been other minor pieces of legislation - immigration reform, for one (it was illegal for homosexuals to enter the country until 1990), and of course HIV research - though that didn't really start until straight people started getting it too. Adoption reform, same-sex marriage, the various employment and housing nondiscrimination acts - all of this has come through the states.

So my point is this, gays - we should be CARRYING OBAMA THROUGH THE STREETS. We should be building statues of him in Sheridan Square and Civic Center Plaza. We should be organizing for his reelection in 2012 now. I would love to hear the man say "I support full marriage rights for LGBT couples." But I'm pretty fucking happy hearing him say "We've repealed DADT" and "I support a trans-inclusive ENDA." Yes, he could do more, but damn, shouldn't we be awfully happy with what he's done already?

Be nice, homos - this man is the fierce advocate we elected. Ok, so he doesn't really know what the word fierce means, but I'd honestly rather he was working on legislation instead of watching "Project Runway." (You know Michelle watches...now that I think of it, that must be where he picked up "fierce advocate" - I can imagine Michelle whispering in his ear "Tell them you're going to be 'fierce,' honey - they'll go fucking nuts.")

So go nuts - this man is in our corner.

Google Books Ngram Viewer

Ok, so rabbitwarren got me started on Google Ngrams. In case you haven't heard, Google has digitized all their books and will let you track word counts throughout the corpus. Which is wicked awesome.

Whore vs. Prostitute vs. Courtesan Notice the surge in popularity of prostitute and the compensatory declines in both the others in the early 20th century.

Homosexual vs. Heterosexual Nearly identical curves, but homosexuality is waaaaaay more popular.

Airplane vs. Aeroplane Don't you wish aeroplane had won? Be honest.

Fuck What the fuck is up with that peak in the early 1800s? Any ideas? Sample error from a lower corpus? Or did people just like the word more back there then we know?

Radio vs. Television vs. Internet It's like watching a horse race where you already know who's going to win.

Bosom vs. Breast vs. Chest Look at how breast and chest track toward the end. And look at bosom, coming back from behind!

Nuclear vs. Atomic Atomic was much more popular early in the 20th century, but has been supplanted by Nuclear. Perhaps as we developed more pacific applications?

Communism vs. Terrorism vs. Fascism Yup.

Warhol vs. Picasso vs. Monet vs. Michelangelo Can you find an artist that Monet doesn't totally blow out of the water? I couldn't.

Feel free to post your favorites in the comments.

Veterans Day

When Woodrow Wilson declared the first Veterans Day (then Armistice Day, in memoriam of the armistice which ended World War I), he said:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

Veterans Day has become a day to honor the troops who fought in our wars. While I definitely respect the service of those men and women, I wonder if we haven't lost something in celebrating the holiday this way. Armistice Day was originally a celebration of the end of war - a celebration of peace. Yes, we remember those who have served - and died - but we celebrate also what they served for.

I suppose some of this consideration comes from my position this year - I have a much more visceral connection to the notions of war and peace, and to the troops who provide us with both. Our Veterans day is in the Spring - the 4th of Iyar - and is the day before Independence Day. Israelis have a very real connection with the notion that veterans directly provide the current peace. I think that's something that Americans have lost...whether because it's no longer true, or because they're too distant from it.

Just something to think about...I'm really not sure where I'm going with this, and I need to go to a talk in a few minutes. Something to consider on your holiday.

An Open Letter to Fox

Dear sir or madam:
I am a loyal watcher of Glee on your network - in fact, it's one of
the only television shows I ever watch. I watch Glee because I enjoy
the show, but also because of the tremendous message of tolerance
which the show sends, especially to younger viewers. This is why I
was so disappointed to perceive a message of intolerance in this
week's show.

In "The Rocky Horror Glee Show," Amber Riley performs "Sweet
Transvestite" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, the show's
writers chose to change "transsexual" to "sensational." I recognize
that the network has a responsibility to censor offensive language
from it's shows, but transsexual is not offensive language. It is an
accepted term in both the medical and the GLBT community, and is
generally the preferred term used by transsexuals themselves.

Would you like to know an offensive way to refer to a trans
individual? "Tranny" is a good start. Yet Harry Shum Jr. says "I
really want to do it, but [my parents] are just not cool with me
dressing up like a tranny."

By promoting trans-negative language and censoring trans-positive
language, Glee is sending an implicit message that it's not okay to be
a transsexual. I fear that you are more concerned with offending
transphobes than offending the trans population, and that is not the
kind of tolerance that I expect from Glee.

You have the opportunity to send a real message with this show -
television has always been a powerful force for social change in the
United States. I encourage you to do so in the future.

Sincerely,
Dr. Mark Branson

Tags:

The Big Shloshim

I turned 30 yesterday, and it was pretty awesome, all things considered. The day started with a meet-and-greet-and-eat at the Technion. They wanted to welcome all the international visitors, show us a terrible video about the university (featuring Creepy Albert Einstein), and feed us pastries. I had to leave before lunch, unfortunately, to get to Hebrew class on time. Hebrew class was really good - we learned the rest of past tense - very exciting. Actually, one of the things we learned how to say was "I was excited." After Hebrew class, we had the department's meet-and-greet-and-eat, which was also a bit of a pastryfest. A pretty good workday, all things considered.

After work, I went home to have some more of my delicious Thai curry. I located the (east) Asian grocery store in Haifa on Shabbat (I keep calling it the Asian grocery store, but I don't think that makes any sense since all of the grocery stores I go to are in Asia). It was small, but very well stocked. There's a large population of Southeast Asians and Filipinos in Israel - they bring them in as guest workers to replace the Palestinian laborers that haven't been able to work in Israel since the second intifada.

Anyway, it's about a 20 minute walk from home, plus it's on the way home from work. Pretty spectacular. And they sell pork and shellfish. Pretty awesome, really. I bought curry paste and coconut milk, chili sauce, jasmine rice, thai noodles, and bamboo shoots. Oh, and fresh ginger. It made for a pretty good shabbat, and a lovely birthday dinner.

After dinner, the roommate and I headed up to the Haifa Young English Speakers' pub night at the Irish House. It's a good group of people, and almost everyone I know in Haifa was there...I'm organizing a mathematical coup of the organization. Anyway, the pub was nice, and they had a bottle of Glengoyne perched on the shelf, which I saw as a sign. A sign I was going to be poor at the end of the night, as it turns out, since they charged me 72 shekels ($20, at today's exchange rate) a glass. But you only turn 30 once, so I went with it.

For those of you who missed this, Glengoyne was the first Scotch I ever tried. Picture a cold rainy day in Scotland - it was August, and three weary travelers trudge through the perpetual Scottish mist along the extraordinarily lovely West Highland Way. Up ahead, they spy a sign which reads "Distillery Tour -> 50 m." Now, I was eager to get all up on this whole distillery tour, and my fellow wayfarers were conducive to the idea. We walked the fifty meters, and entered a warm room with the delightful feel of a roadside inn. A fetching young lass fetched us each a dram of Glengoyne - a dram that will live in infamy. As I felt the delicious amber fire run down the back of my throat, I knew I was in love. The rest of the distillery tour was pretty neat too.

Anyway, so Glengoyne has a special place in my heart, so it was easily worth the 72 shekels a glass. I had a great time...we ended up leaving about 12:30 in the morning, which is extraordinarily late for me right now - I've been turning in pretty regularly at 10:00.

Today I took it easy - stayed home, studied some Hebrew, finished up responding to my birthday wishes on Facebook. Tomorrow it's back to the salt mines.

You know, I missed this. Why did I ever stop posting? It really doesn't take that much time, and it's nice. I should do this more often.

חיים בישראל

Shalom, ananasim!

It's been 4 weeks since I arrived in Israel, and it has gone by in a blur. Here's some highlights.

- I found an apartment. It's located in Kiryat Eliezer (City of God's Helper), which is a neighborhood in western Haifa. It's in the flat part of the city, which makes it cheaper (I pay ₪1000 a month, for half of a nice 2 bedroom). My roommate is an american medical student - he's been here for a year already, so he knows a lot more about how things work in Israel. I still need to buy a bed, but that will wait until next month's paycheck.

My address is

Shderot Rothschild 18
Apt. 8
Haifa 35154
Israel

or, in hebrew,

שדרות רוטשיגד 18
דירה 8
חיפה 35154
ישראל

- I still don't have a phone here, but I'm on skype all the time (unless I'm on the bus, or away from wifi). I'm planning on getting one, but apparently I'll need to put a large deposit down, so I need to wait on that until next month as well.

- I do have a new email address, and an office, and all the other accoutrements of faculty-hood. My faculty ID looks like someone made it in their basement, but apparently that's all you get here. And apparently you can use it to get student deals a lot of the time, since no one seems to know what a postdoc is here. I haven't tried it yet, but other postdocs have reported a lot of success. It also gets me into the faculty club, which makes me feel like a grown-up.

- I revised my paper from last year to reflect some more of the details from my thesis. Next step is to get it published...we'll see how that goes. I'm giving two talks on it, one here and one at Tel Aviv U., so that should be good.

- I've started taking hebrew classes here at the Technion (אני מתהיל ללמוד עברית פה בטכניון). It's going well, though I'm a little behind - I need to learn past tense of pa'al verbs this weekend so that I don't sound quite as much like a moron.

- I've started taking yoga classes. I found an Iyengar instructor in the Merkaz Hacarmel, which is up at the top of the hill above my apartment. She's excellent, and I think it's also going to be a good opportunity to learn Hebrew. I'm going to be the first person in the history of the world who can say "rotate your right inner groin out" before I can use the past tense.

- I've done a little bit of local recreation, as most of you have seen on facebook. This included a trip to the Bahai Gardens, which are gorgeous, and some hiking in Mount Carmel National Park. I've also spent a good deal of time at the beach, which is about 15 minutes from my apartment. There are some advantages to moving to a country on the other side of the planet where you don't know anyone and barely speak the language, I suppose.

- I'm starting to meet people. There's a group of "English speakers in Haifa," which amusingly, involves a fair number of mathematicians. I've also met some of my roommate's friends, and a number of people around the department here.

Other than that, life continues apace - in some ways, it's very similar to my life previously. Wake up, go to work, do some math, go to yoga, go home, eat, talk to Jorge, sleep. I'm going to go to Tel Aviv this weekend to celebrate my birthday, so that should be exciting. I spent a day there when I came in, but it was Sukkot, so everything was closed. It should be a lot more fun to see the city (and the nightlife) in it's natural environment.

In short, Israel is beautiful, and it's 96 degrees on the 20th of October (it's supposed to cool off later today, and be in the high 70s/low 80s the rest of the week). I'm thriving here in a way that surprises even me. Other than some disputes with the bus system and the fact that Israeli zombies are even more irritating than American zombies (thank god I don't have to teach them, but being in Hebrew class is frequently infuriating), everything is good. I miss you all a lot - I miss Jorge a great deal - and I miss a lot about the US...thai food, bacon, the NYC subway system, english language bookstores...but I'm surviving.

Haifa

I've decided it would be good therapy for me to journal some, now that I'm on the other side of the planet. So here's the rundown of what's gone on so far in my great adventure.

I left New York last Tuesday, on a 6:30 PM flight out of Newark. Jet Airways, as Megha predicted, was a joy to fly. I was befuddled when they asked me my meal choice, so I got the western meat entree (I would have preferred the Indian one). It was an excellent chicken marsala, though, so I can't complain.

I arrived in Brussels at 7:30 Wednesday morning. I cleared customs, dropped off my luggage in a locker, and headed into the city on the train. It was still early, so I wandered around some through central Brussels. I really dug Brussels - very much a mix of old and new. There's been a lot of recent development, because Brussels is the capital of the EU, but you also have all of the older stuff that's been there for years. I went through the Cathedral, and then I headed to my real target, the Magritte Museum.

Which was awesome. Lots of his lesser works - he did everything from record covers to socialist propaganda - but also a lot of his well known pieces. Magritte frequently executed the same canvas a number of times, so they had lesser known versions of "The Treachery of Images," "Golconda," and a couple spectacular versions of "The Empire of Light." Also, they had "The Menaced Assassin" on display, which explains why it hasn't been in the MOMA the last couple times I've gone.

After that the jet lag caught up with me, and I decided to head back to the airport and nap. My flight to Tel Aviv was at 7:20. I also got a meal out of that one. Now I understand why everyone refuses to fly American carriers if they've ever flown anything else.

I got into Tel Aviv at 11:30 PM, and since it was the first day of Sukkot, I had to take a cab to my hostel. It ended up being a good thing, really, with all my luggage.

I woke up early the next morning and wandered around Tel Aviv a bit. I ended up heading to the beach for the day, since everything was closed for Sukkot. The beaches here are pretty spectacular - nice sand, warm water. A lot smaller than our American beaches, but nicer. Probably more elderly Russian men in skimpy bathing suits than you're used to, but the last beach I went to in the states was Brighton, so basically the same for me.

After that day (and my first Israeli sunburn - I wore sunblock, but I applied it sloppily the second time) I caught the sheroot to Haifa. Sheroots are basically shared taxis - they hold 7 or 8 people, and most importantly, they run on Shabbat and holidays. They're a little more expensive, but still relatively cheap. I checked into my hostel in Haifa and settled in for the evening.

The next day, I headed to the mall (hey, don't laugh - in a desert country, air conditioned shopping is more of a requirement and less of an amenity) to see if I could get a cellphone. I couldn't (turns out I need to jump through a few more hoops first), but I did get a cable so that I could charge my computer and my electronics. After that, I headed back home and fell asleep - still jetlagged, I guess. I ended up sleeping from 2-7, and then going back to sleep at around 11 and sleeping until 6 the next morning.

I did my yoga practice, and then headed to breakfast. After breakfast, I walked into Haifa and wandered around the city. I went through the German Colony (there was a colony of German settlers in Haifa in the 19th century), Wadi Nisnas (one of the Arab neighborhoods), past the Bahai gardens (more on that later), and up the hill through Hadar. Since it was Shabbat, most things were closed until the evening. But I did discover there's a spectacular produce market in Wadi Nisnas. The produce in Israel is incredible, and you don't have to feel guilty about your carbon footprint, since you know everything is locally produced - there's just not anywhere else for it to be produced. Not quite the same variety I was used to in New York, but I already knew that city was spoiling me. A lot of new things to try - dragonfruit, sabras, pomelits - and a lot of things I've already tried but don't know the Hebrew names for.

I headed back to the hotel about 6:00 or 7:00 (mind you, we're already off daylight savings time here, so it's dark by then - hell, it's 17:45 now, and it's already pretty dark out). The next day was Sunday, and finally a business day.

I headed into town, and found a spot with wifi. Using the wifi, I logged into craigslist and found myself an apartment. It's a bit far from the Technion, but it's close to transit (I can take one bus up to the Technion, and it's 30 minutes - basically the same as my commute to Columbia this summer). I'm a 10 minute walk from the train station, there's a grocery store across the street. And the apartment is nice - good kitchen, laundry in the apartment (I think this is standard, since I haven't seen a laundromat), and super cheap. I'm paying 1000 shekelim a month, which is about $250 American. The best part is the living room - one whole wall is windows, and you can slide them across so that the whole wall is open - it's really lovely. I'll post some pictures once I'm fully settled in.

Monday was mostly waiting around to sign the rental contract, so I wandered the city some more. This time I went up to the top of the hill, to Merkaz Carmel. That's where most of the spectacular pictures of Haifa from the facebook album come from. I wandered into the top of the Bahai gardens, which are one of the loveliest spots in Haifa. The Bab, one of the Bahai prophets, is interred in Haifa, and the gardens stretch up and down the mountain around his shrine. It's really a vertical garden - built on 18 terraces, with the shrine on the 10th. I got some great pictures, and I'm hoping to take a tour at some point so that I can get some more. When you come visit me in Israel, I'll take you to see them :)

I also wandered past the Stella Maris, which is the headquarters of Carmelite order. You can't really go into the monastery, but the church is very nice. And it's perched up at the tip of Mount Carmel, so you have lovely views of the city and the sea.

From then I walked down to my new place and signed my rental contract. The entire thing was in Hebrew, of course, but my new roommate is an American and walked me through it. After that, he took me to a barbecue on the beach with some of his friends from the medical school. It was a mix of Israelis and Americans, which was nice. I really need to improve my Hebrew before I'm ready to interact entirely in it.

Yesterday I spent buying things for the new apartment, checking out of the hostel, and moving to the new place. I haven't been able to unpack yet, because the guy whom I'm replacing hasn't completely moved out yet. But I should be in tomorrow, and at least I have internet now.

If you have AIM or Skype, I'm on pretty continuously during my waking hours. Username is electrichobbit on both - feel free to drop me a line on either. It's a little lonely over here, so I'd love to hear from you.

Scavenger Hunt

I'm leaving for the train station, and I've decided that I need something to keep myself occupied over the long train ride around the country other than learning Hebrew and doing Math. As such, I have prepared (by which, I mean, I am making up as I type this) a USA scavenger hunt. My goal is to bring back with me a photograph of each of the following things. I'll try to strike them out here as I find them.

Places
1. Atlantic Ocean
2. Pacific Ocean
3. Appalachian Mountains
4. Rocky Mountains
5. Sierra Nevada
6. The Great Lakes
7. Chicago
8. St. Louis
9. Denver
10. San Francisco
11. San Jose
12. Los Angeles
13. Dallas
14. Austin
15. Houston
16. New Orleans
17. New York City
18. A desert
19. A forest
20. Cornfields
21. The beach

People
1. Jorge and I
2. A friend that I haven't seen in at least 3 years
3. Rachel and I being wacky
4. Boo-boo Kitty
5. My family (biological, that is)
6. Two friends kissing (heterosexual)
7. Two friends kissing (homosexual)
8. Two friends kissing (just for the attention)
9. People eating
10. People drinking
11. Someone hiding from the camera
12. An adorable baby
13. People skipping
14. Someone doing yoga

Things
1. Inappropriate usage of the American Flag (i.e. thong)
2. A sunset
3. Something ruined
4. Beautiful building (modern)
5. Beautiful building (old)
6. A work of art that I love
7. Something delicious
8. Something happy
9. Something blue
10. Something red
11. Something green
12. Something hot
13. Something cold
14. Something empty
15. Something full

Let me know if there's something else I should add to my list, and wish me luck!