Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Solo solo hamesilah, saklu me'even

Anyone who has lived here (at least in Haifa, probably in all Israel) knows that the construction companies are incompetent beyond belief.

Take my street for example. For the last two months, the municipality has been repeatedly ripping out the sidewalk and pavement, repaving and repainting it, deciding that they didn't do it correctly (or else damaging what they did correctly by moving heavy machinery over it), and starting the whole process from the beginning. When all is said and done, there will be one or two more parking spots on the street than there were before, a sidewalk made up of both stone tiles and asphalt as opposed to just asphalt like before, and incredible quantities of taxpayer money wasted.

My friend across town (Kiryat Eliezer) tells how within the span of a few months, two kilometers of sidewalk on his street were leveled, a deep trench dug, work done, and the sidewalk replaced - and this whole process repeated twice more from the beginning. The first time was for the future light rail line, then for some kind of cable replacement, then for sewage pipes. Of course it was somehow impossible for any of these digs to be combined with any of the others.

So, the most recent delays reported for the Jerusalem light rail project should surprise nobody. By Israeli standards, the Jerusalem construction work seems more than competent. After all, they only ripped out the already built tracks once, and only on a small portion of the route.

When I think of the employment sectors in the country most in need of reform, banks and rabbinical courts are certainly near the top of the list. And despite what you would THINK would be a much greater amount of competition, construction companies must be right up there with them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Strike Three

In the last two years, my university has had a professor strike and a student strike. Guess who was feeling left out? That's right, us, the grad students went on strike today. The TAs at universities all around the country now have a rotation: at my university they strike on Mondays, at another university on Tuesday, at another on Wednesday, and so on.

In my capacity as a TA, I lead lab sections several days a week, but not on Mondays. So, theoretically, the strike does not affect me. Or so I thought, until I realized after the fact that my office hours are on Monday and the strike applies to them too. Of course, I didn't think of that until after office hours were over.

Totally by chance, I had to go to Jerusalem for a meeting today, so I told everyone I would not be able to come to office hours for that reason. In retrospect, it looks like a lame dodge whereby I tried to tell both sides I was with them. Oh well, I'll just have to make a clear choice next week. It will make little practical difference anyway, nobody every comes to my office hours.

So how will I decide next week? That depends partly on what the grad students I know decide to do, and partly on whether I decide the strike is necessary. I can't complain about my personal situation - grad student stipends are twice what I need to live on here. But for 45 year old lecturers who teach high level courses yet will never get the status or benefits that professors do, things are much worse. Supporting them seems to be a good cause.

In any case, I have a week to think it over. And perhaps by then, the grad students and administration will have come to an agreement.

A dream is one sixtieth part of prophecy

I recently dreamed that I visited a (non-Jewish) doctor's office on Shabbat. It wasn't clear why it was necessary or what they did - it may have been an actual procedure or we may have just discussed some medical issue. Anyway, at the end the secretary handed me a piece of paper (bill? insurance form? malpractice waiver?) to sign. I was confronted with a dilemma. I would be breaking Shabbat by signing it, but it would be tricky to convince them to let me not sign it. So what to do? After debating a bit I decided that I was being forced to break Shabbat, it was not really my fault and there was nothing I could do about it, and since I was an observant Jew, I would make a point of minimizing the violation to the fullest extent possible.

So I went ahead and signed the paper - not my full name, but only my first name.

Of course, even before waking up, I realized that writing one word is just as big a violation of Shabbat as writing two.

I have no doubts about what my subconscious was trying to tell me in this dream, though Shabbat was just the metaphor it chose to use. The actual dubious behavior that I need to stop rationalizing is in other halachic realms.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Conversions and R' Druckman

On main reason why I have not yet posted about the ongoing conversion-nullification scandal is that My Obiter Dicta is more or less saying everything I'd like to say for me. All are encouraged to read his blog.

If you read the comments section too, you might unwittingly come across a few anonymous comments from yours truly, where I thought it useful to add something.

One can't remain silent when a scandal of this magnitude is occurring, but in lieu of investing time and effort in my own posts, I think My Obiter Dicta can be trusted to speak for me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

T-Rays and my legacy

Some of the research I am doing for my master's degree involves making sensors for terahertz radiation (or "T-rays"). T-rays are best known because they pass through clothing but are reflected by solid objects such as the human body, making them of immense interest to airport security checkers... as well as to voyeurs and perverts.

I just learned of an equally weird, but less disturbing, use for T-rays. Apparently you can use them to scan a fruit or vegetable for insects. The rays pass through leaves and plant matter, but not through animal skeletons... or something. I will have to look into it more. The implications for kashrut could be revolutionary.

I am excited that my work has taken a more idealistic turn. No longer will history remember me as the guy who made it easier for pornographers to gain new material.* Now, my grandkids will know that it was I who eliminated the terrible scourge of bugs in lettuce and broccoli and allowed God-fearing Jews to eat their Shabbat salads without any fear of infestation.

*Though, to be honest, the through-clothing pictures seem to be unavoidably fuzzy and black and white, and I think that a real live person in tight clothing would be infinitely sexier.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Again from the took-30-seconds-to-write-it post department

I'm constantly getting announcements from various campus organizations advertising their events or whatever. It fills up my inbox, it's sort of annoying. And they ALWAYS feel the need to change the time or location or agenda or contact info just a little, and then send out another email to inform everyone of the changes.

I have a feeling that they do this on purpose, because they know that 90% of people delete the email without even reading through it, and if they can get us to read two emails with essentially the same content, then the chances of somebody seriously considering at least one of them are much higher.

Monday, May 19, 2008

In lieu of a more substantive post

...which is, as always, coming, I bring you this.

On Yom Haatzmaut I was on a hike, and came across a fenced-off mountain valley, and on the fence were signs saying:

שטח ניסוי
כאן יורים

Testing area
We shoot here
Stay away

The sign was ambiguous: it's not clear whether the testing consists of shooting, or whether shooting (intruders) is why you should stay away. I'm not sure which would be cooler. Since I passed up my chance to intrude into this presumably top-secret military area, I guess I'll never know.