Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Charles Stross - Halting State

Charles Stross, Halting State, Ace, 2007.

There's a phrase I really hate: "It sounds like science fiction, but...", usually followed by a description of some scientific or technological advance. The assumption behind this usage is that science fiction describes things that are impossible, or at least unlikely. In fact, science fiction is often based on real scientific theory, and many things first described or popularized by science fiction authors have become part of our reality, or have been supported by scientific research.

Halting State is a near-future story, set in 2018. I always think it takes courage to set a story such a short distance in the future, and it will be fun to wait and compare the reality of that year with that described in this book. The descriptions of the technology and its implications seem to me quite plausible. We are living in a rapidly changing world, and it is interesting to compare our current lives with the way we lived ten or twenty years ago, and to extrapolate from our present to the possible future.

Not many authors use second person narration, and it did seem strange at first. Each chapter title contains the name of the view-point character, which helped in some cases. The style appears reminiscent of what players would hear in a traditional role-playing game like D&D. The dungeon master would tell them something like: "You walk around the corner and see three orcs coming towards you". In this respect the author is taking on the role of omniscient DM. However, the second person voice seems less appropriate when describing the characters' inner monologue. It sometimes almost sounds like the characters are being told what to think... I know that the degree of omniscience in a third person narration would be identical, and that only a first person voice really explains how these inner thoughts and feelings are known and narrated to the reader, but somehow it felt strange here. But I soon got used to it and accepted the literary device.

The story starts with an unusual bank robbery. This robbery takes place within a bank in a role playing virtual reality game. It shouldn't have been possible, and there are financial implications in the real world. The three main characters set out to investigate: a local police officer, Sergeant Sue Smith; Elaine Barnaby, a forensic auditor sent from London to Edinburgh to investigate the games company on suspicion of fraud; and Jack Reed, a games programmer hired as Elaine's consultant and guide to the gaming world. They employ their various skills to discover what is happening, which turns out to be far more complicated and serious than they could have expected.

The plot moves like a fast-paced thriller, and contains some insights into the predicted society. The characters grow and learn new things about themselves and their world, and the resolution feels satisfactory. Jack, in particular, has two secrets that have had an impact on his life. His developing relationship with Elaine, and the events they experience, force him to share these secrets with her, leading to the touching emergence of hope into his life.

This is a story that will be particularly welcomed by gamers and geeks (I use this word in the positive sense!), as it contains insights into the possible future development of gaming, gadgets and computing in general. One of the more interesting implications is the mixture of gaming and real life, when people will be playing in public, seeing the game on their glasses and using various control devices to interact, which seems a bit more dangerous than listening to music on your iPod on the train, for example. Another aspect is the ability of the police, for example, to record everything they observe (not only video, also things like measuring the stress levels in people's voices and body language). While this would prevent cases of people later denying what they had said in interviews, it seems a bit labour-intensive if all this recorded evidence would have to be reviewed afterwards, and memory intensive if it had to be stored indefinitely.

This is a highly enjoyable, intelligent and engaging story.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The danger of group thinking

A subject that seems unavoidable at the moment is group thinking. By this I mean when people think of themselves as members of one group, and judge other individuals based on the group to which they belong.

We are currently experiencing violence in our region between two different groups. Both groups have a claim to the same territory, and because they are so intent on preserving their separate identities, they cannot just share it.

Ideally, we would treat all people as humans, and issues like ethnic origins, religious faith and language would be matters of personal choice (or chance) rather than labels that become more important than individual traits. I would like to live in a world where nobody asked "What are you?", meaning "What is your race/ religion/ other group label?". Nobody would be upset if their relative married a member of another group, provided the relationship between the two individuals was based on mutual understanding.

In practice, so many people are willing to kill and die for their group identity, and to subject the world to chaos, violence and suffering in the process, rather than admit that we are all human and find a way to live together.

Having said all that, I am not a naive idealist, and I know that it is unlikely that people will give up their group thinking and adopt individual thinking. I also know that there are differences between various groups in the degree to which they are willing to accommodate the needs of other groups. Some groups have an ideology of wanting every human to join their group and adopt their way of thinking. Others just want to continue their existence while cooperating as much as possible with the surrounding groups.

Tolerant individuals must be aware that not everyone is equally tolerant, unfortunately. In order for tolerance to survive, it sometimes has to take what seems like intolerant action against the intolerant people who seek to impose their ideology on everyone else. Obviously this is not easy for tolerant individuals who see the other side as individuals and are aware that not all members of a particular group are involved in the intolerance.

When hearing about a conflict, I believe it is possible to identify the motivations of each side and to evaluate how much each side contributes to tolerance or intolerance in the world (assuming that one searches for the facts rather than accepting propaganda). In this way, one can decide which of the sides seems to be, let's say, slightly less unjustified in using violence against the other.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pluralism in the Holiday Season

On Friday we visited Nazareth again, hoping to experience some of the Christmas atmosphere there. We saw many Christmas street lights, trees and decorations in shops and homes, and inflatable Baba Noel (Santa Claus) dolls for sale. Our local friend said there were less Christmas decorations than in previous years, and wondered whether this was connected to the influence of the Islamic movement in the town.

We also visited the nearby town of Cana (Kafr Kanna), where we saw the Wedding Church (Catholic), said to be the site of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. There was also a Greek Orthodox church, but it was closed. There were some souvenir shops, implying that some tourists, presumably mainly Christians, visit this town.

In the evening, we went to a Christmas-themed dance show. It was held in the refurbished Diana Cinema in Nazareth. The show focused on the journey of the Magi, featuring musical adaptations of familiar Christmas carols (sung in Arabic). The dance troupe, Mawwal, includes Christian and Muslim dancers from all over Nazareth. They also have a dance school with 120 students. The show combined traditional Arabic dancing with modern dance styles. It was good to see such cultural events taking place, despite the low level of government funding for the Arab sector.

Haifa has a large Christian population, too, and in certain parts of town one can see trees and other decorations. Many shops sell Christmas items - from trees and decorations to cards and chocolates. Christmas also features prominently in the Festival of Festivals, the annual event held on Saturdays during December to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and the nearest Muslim festival (the Islamic lunar year means their festivals happen in different seasons each year), in this case, Eid al-Adha. The mixed city of Haifa promotes pluralism and co-existence, and its residents generally respect the traditions of various local groups.

I encourage members of each religion or community to take an interest in the festivals of the others, and to make the holiday season truly reflect goodwill and tolerance.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why I listen to podcasts

It started over a year ago with just one weekly podcast, and gradually increased so I now subscribe to 14 podcasts. This number may grow even further, as I explore the vast range of podcasts available.

On the content side, I listen to the sort of subjects I read: science fiction, and a large range of non-fiction subjects, including language, business, self-improvement, science and technology.

However, what is significant here is the medium itself. Since I read a lot anyway, I'm not one of those (many) people who prefer podcasts (and audiobooks) because they don't like reading. So I have been wondering what is so special about hearing compared with reading.

I realized that I like listening to human voices. I enjoy lectures, and at university I often attended lectures on various subjects by guest lecturers, which were not necessarily relevant to my studies. I now go to lectures related to my business. So I do feel that hearing people speak has some added value compared with reading.

I like the fiction podcasts, where the stories are read out or even acted. Sometimes I hear podcasts of stories I have read, and the rendition by the reader can change my perspective, subtly interpreting the story or characters in a new way. All this is achieved by the voice reading out the same words I had earlier read from print, hearing the words in my own voice in my mind.

The non-fiction podcasts come in many different forms. Some are just one person talking about a subject. Others are interviews. Some are group discussions. A few are actual radio programs, while some are a lot less formal. The more educational podcasts give tips, which I write down in my notebook for future reference (I also do this while reading certain types of material).

I can't listen to podcasts while I'm working, though I do listen to music. But I listen to podcasts while doing other things that require less concentration, or at least not verbal concentration. This saves some time, unlike reading which can't be multi-tasked at all.

One other thing I like about podcasts is that they are available when I want to listen to them, and can be paused and replayed. I don't have a television, for many reasons. One reason is that people who watch television are restricted to spending particular times of the day doing only that. If they get an important phone call, they can miss a whole episode. I like my time to be flexible.

Oh, and they are free!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happiness is contagious

A new study has found that happiness is contagious. People who have happy friends are happier, and even the happiness of friends' friends influences our happiness.

There is an obvious evolutionary reason for emotions being contagious. I suppose it started with fear, which spreads quickly in small communities under threat, ensuring that everyone reacts appropriately. So it's good to know that the positive emotions can also be spread in this way.

The conclusion from this study is that you should choose your friends carefully and prefer the company of happy people. Conversely, be aware that your own emotions have an impact on others, so if you are capable of remaining happy while your friends are depressed, this could help them recover more quickly than if you caught their mood. Try to identify only with positive moods in your friends, while maintaining your own happiness even while they are down.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ken MacLeod - The Execution Channel

Ken MacLeod, The Execution Channel, Orbit, 2007.

Following the example of a philosophy book I translated last year, I will examine this novel on two levels: that of epistemology, discussing the nature of knowledge and information, and that of ontology, concerning the nature of reality. These are the two obvious themes of the book, and they are linked by the idea of secrecy and its costs.

On the ontological level, the setting is a near future of a slightly alternative reality. The point of divergence from our own world is the 2000 US presidential elections. In this version, Gore won the elections and events proceeded slightly differently, ending up with a more extensive Allied war in the Middle East. The description of this history makes the reader wonder how much of a difference there could have been, and whether things would have turned out as described. It feels close enough to our reality for readers to identify with events.

The main characters are James Travis, a programmer for an English infrastructure company, who is also a French spy; and his daughter, Roisin Travis, a peace activist, who has seen something strange at a US Air Force base in Scotland. Around them, we observe various characters who know things about these two, or are spreading information that has an impact on their actions. These minor characters include an American conspiracy theory blogger called Mark Dark; a CIA agent and an MI5 agent working together to capture James and Roisin; and a group of disinformation creators working on the Internet to conceal the truth and create confusion.

On the epistemological level, at every point in the story, the reader has to remember what each character knows, and what the source of this information was, since it may well be disinformation.

An explosion at the Scottish air base triggers a series of terrorist attacks around Britain. Our main characters flee through the chaos, while everyone tries to work out what is happening. The original explosion is quickly understood not to have been a nuclear accident. It is obviously related to what Roisin saw at the base. The various characters have different theories, and evaluate the evidence and opinions they encounter in different ways.

The British public blames the Muslims and there are unprovoked attacks, a poignant and realistic description that reminded me of the treatment of Jews in Europe just before the Holocaust. The government starts placing Muslim citizens in camps, "for their own protection". In one of the most touching scenes, which had me in tears, James rescues a Muslim family from a rioting mob. He does this out of human decency, at a time when his life and freedom are in danger. It made me wonder how far I would go to help innoccent victims. Living in a mixed city like Haifa, I can imagine such a situation erupting, with the Jewish majority suddenly turning against their Arab neighbours. Such acts of racism cannot be justified in any circumstances, and I would like to believe that many of us would act like James Travis rather than stand by and let this happen.

Roisin, meanwhile, is arrested and questioned about the photos she took at the Scottish base, which her friend managed to send to the blogger Mark Dark. She is released in an attempt to entrap James, becomes aware of this and decides not to run any more.

The world of both major characters is changed when the Execution Channel, a television station broadcasting recorded executions from around the world, shows the execution of Alec Travis, James's son and Roisin's brother, a British soldier serving in Kazakhstan, who was arrested and tortured to death by the CIA agent. This is the first instance where we encounter the cost of secrecy. James chose to become a French spy, and the cost of his secret activities is the life of his son. People considering undercover work of any sort should be aware that this endangers their loved ones. This comes down to the basic choice people sometimes have to make between ideals and individuals.

The ending of the story is what makes it science fiction (apart from it being set in an alternative near future). The truth about events is revealed, and without giving too much away, the explanation shows that certain countries were developing some innovative technology in secret. The explosion in the air base was caused by mishandling of this stolen technology, and the terrorist attacks around Britain resulted from a misunderstanding of this explosion as a trigger signal. This theme of secrecy around new technology is highly relevant in a world where superpowers, countries and organizations are competing for any advantage, particularly one that has military applications. This secrecy almost led to the outbreak of the "final war" in this novel, and it is easy to imagine some similar circumstances leading to potentially world-ending consequences in our reality. A spirit of cooperation would obviously be a better strategy for human long-term survival than the current competition between various groups. My optimism doesn't stretch far enough to believe that this is achieveable.

This is a mature, subtle and sophisticated political novel, showing MacLeod's skills at their best. It forces the reader to confront various political and ideological issues, and the ethical decisions that can result from holding various positions. Its characters are intriguing and well-drawn, to the extent that you may find yourself caring about them more than you care about what is happening in the world around them.

I just hope readers ignore the phrase on the front cover, "The war on terror is over... terror won", which does not describe the contents of this book (and I dislike the common misuse of the word "terror" to mean "terrorism"). I don't see how terrorism could win, since if they achieved their ends, the terrorist groups would form states (or a global empire) that would then suffer from internal stress and lead to new terrorist groups forming.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Israeli Businesswomen's Conference

Yesterday I attended a conference for business women organized by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, and Jasmine, the Association of Businesswomen in Israel. This event was also supported by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the Hadassah Foundation and the UJA Foundation of New York.

Personally, as a female professional, I have never experienced discrimination or felt disadvantaged. Perhaps this is because translating is one of the professions that utilizes what are considered "female" abilities - verbal and linguistic skills. However, it is undeniable that Israeli society displays some sexist tendencies, partly because it is such a family-oriented society, partly due to the large traditional populations, and also because military service is still highly valued.

Only yesterday, Israel's Minister of Science, Culture and Sports, MK Rajeb Majadele, said "the woman's role should be to build a good family, to be an aide to her husband and to stand by him". This is a reflection of the sort of traditional attitude common among Israel's Arab population, and also among some religious Jews.

About 400 businesswomen from all over Israel attended the conference at the Dan Carmel hotel. Among the prominent lecturers were Ofra Strauss, Chair of Strauss-Elite, Israel's second largest food company. She spoke about the barriers to women's careers: normative, economic, parenting, internal and military. She discussed the need for companies to adopt policies and attitudes of diversity and inclusion. She was then "crowned" as President of Jasmine, with a floral wreath.

This was followed by a lecture on the psychology of success by business coach Ashraf Kurtam. Then, Dr. Ahmed Athamena presented the results of a study of the health of Jews and Arabs, which found that Arab women had more health problems than any other group, including high rates of diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. This was related to their low level of educational achievement, low rate of employment, unhealthy nutrition, lack of exercise, and depression. The findings demonstrated the importance of education and a career to women's health. Then Tiba Herschman presented the results of surveys about stereotypes regarding working women. About a third of the population still believe that women who work are harming their families. This attitude will have to change before employment equality can be achieved.

After lunch, we heard MK Nadia Hilou, who spoke about the double barrier facing Arab women - both gender and coming from a minority. Thus, Arab women seeking employment are held back first by their own society's traiditonal attitudes and later by the discrimination against Arabs in Israeli society. However, there seems to be some progress, with half of the Arab university students in Israel now being female (as is very obvious on the campus of the University of Haifa, for example). MK Hilou went on to list the legislation she has supported, aimed at lengthening maternity leave and having child-care expenses considered a tax-deductible expense. As she said, it seems ridiculous that the ink you buy for your printer is recognized as a tax-deductible expense, but the child-care that enables mothers to work is not. MK Hilou was in many ways the most impressive speaker, and presented a well-balanced view of women and society.

Then there was a panel about successful women, presented by Dr. Esther Herzog of Beit Berl College. First we heard from Mas Watad, who at the age of 23 established a chain of weight-watching programs for the Arab sector, and has invented a new method of measuring the nutritional values of food. Then I was pleased to hear Iman Zuebi, owner of the Al-Mutran guest house in Nazareth, which I visited about a month ago. Finally, Ayah Shachar from Sano, Israel's largest household cleaning products manufacturer, spoke about being the third generation in a family business.

There was a good atmosphere at the conference, and many participants managed to make business contacts. However, there was less interaction than I would have wanted between the Jewish and Arab participants, and I wonder if some of the Arab businesswomen found it difficult to communicate in Hebrew (or maybe they were just shy...), while the Jewish businesswomen many not have thought of the potential benefits of making contacts in the Arab sector.

Unfortunately, several speakers cancelled their participation at the last minute. While they may all have had good reasons for this, the feeling the audience got was that perhaps they didn't consider the event important enough to come "all the way to Haifa" for. My intention is not to "name and shame" them, but since their participation was planned, published and then cancelled, I see no harm in listing them here (if any reader knows why they cancelled and wishes to comment, feel free to do so): journalist Smadar Peled; journalist Orli Vilanai; Chair of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, Nurit Dabush; MK Amira Dotan; marketing expert Yafit Greenberg; and businesswoman and current political candidate, Pnina Rosenblum.

Update (December 15): Here's an article about this conference on their website.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Guy Gavriel Kay - Ysabel

Guy Gavriel Kay, Ysabel, Roc, 2008.

Spoiler warning!

This is a fantasy novel set in our world, and that is both its strength and its weakness. Kay returns to the approach adopted in his early trilogy, the Fionavar Tapestry. This trilogy featured characters taken from our world to Fionavar, where magic is part of life. In Ysabel, the magic happens in our world, and some characters from the Fionavar Tapestry return.

This is the story of Ned Marriner, aged 15, a Canadian in Provence, who becomes involved in the magic of the place. It turns out that this is no coincidence, as he is related to Kim Ford, a character familiar to readers of the Fionavar Tapestry.

One of my problems with reading fantasy is that the magic often seems arbitrary. Sometimes there is a consistent system of magic rules, the equivalent of the laws of nature. In this case, the story doesn't make much sense, at least to me:

Once upon a time, the first Greek traders arrived in Provence, and a local Celtic woman chose one of the Greek traders as her husband, thus angering the Celtic man who was expecting to marry her. After that, over the centuries, these two men seem to be reincarnated, in their original bodies, and fight each other for the love of the woman. In one incarnation, the Greek was (or became) the Roman general Marius who fought a famous battle in Provence. It is not clear whether this change took place at Marius's birth in Rome, or only when he arrived in Provence. The woman, meanwhile, takes over the body of a living woman in a Druidic rite, and each time she keeps some of the characteristics of the woman she has possessed. The rivalry between the two men, encouraged by the woman, caused all of the major battles that took place in Provence over the centuries. Usually one of the men died, and the other claimed the woman, and they lived a normal life thereafter. I am confused as to why the men appear in their original bodies while the woman's spirit must possess an existing woman and be less consistent since the occupied woman's spirit influences her behaviour.

However, having suspended disbelief at the strange inconsistency of the magic involved, one discovers that Kay is here revisiting one of his main themes in many of his works - the evil done in the name of love. The men claim they are fighting each other for the woman's love, and she seems to not only accept this but expect and even enjoy it. The battles often cause the slaughter of thousands of innocent people. It seems to me that this should not be called love. It is selfish, possessive and competitive passion. Love should be something that improves and inspires the lovers to greatness, not something that turns them into greedy and violent rivals.

Another theme explored here is the clash of cultures between the traditional Celtic way of life (portrayed as inherently linked to the land, although even before the Greeks and Romans arrived in the region many different tribes and cultures existed and moved around this part of Europe), and the "modern" Graeco-Roman culture, involving different religious and cultural elements. While readers may choose to identify with the perceived underdog, the culture that was first occupied by outsiders and then obliterated, further contemplation may show that the Celtic way of life was quite primitive and violent. Some evidence shows that the Druids conducted human sacrifice. While the Roman occupation may have been brutal, I find it hard to believe that most modern readers would have preferred the Celtic culture to have prevailed.

The book is full of beautiful descriptions of the landscape and sites of Kay's beloved Provence. If I ever travel there, I will take this book with me as a sort of guide. It seems to be accurately researched, and here Kay can apply his historical research more directly than in his fantasy novels set in other worlds, which are only loosely based on our history, being sort of parallels to our world. This is one advantage of this novel. One can relate to real places in our world more easily than to imagined landscapes and cities that we will never visit. Perhaps some readers also find it easier to identify with modern day characters from our world than with people from invented worlds and cultures. However, I enjoy the exploration of what it is to be human that features in works set in different worlds in both fantasy and science fiction.

The plot is a simple quest. Ned and his new American friend Kate witness the Druidic ceremony where the woman's spirit possesses a present-day woman, in this case Ned's father's assistant Melanie. They see Melanie turn into a different woman, who takes the name Ysabel, and then challenges the two men to search for her and find her within three days. Ned and his friends and relatives then try to find Ysabel before the men do, assuming that if one of them finds her first there will be no way of bringing Melanie back, but not knowing if it would be possible to bring her back anyway.

Ned's character is well-drawn, in a sensitive portrait of a modern adolescent undergoing a strange process of rapid maturation. Kate, however, is an underdeveloped character. Kay gives her a characteristic mannerism (biting her lip), and otherwise makes her similar in character to the disappeared Melanie, which is no accident as Kate could have been the woman who became Ysabel, and as Ned is attracted to both of them, probably for similar reasons.

As always in fantasy novels, good triumphs and our hero saves the day. Ned manages to bring Melanie back; the two men are sacrificed in a way that is supposed to end the cycle and prevent further incarnations; he comes to terms with his magical powers; and there are hints that he may be rewarded by the ultimate growing-up experience, sex. The novel does not resolve this issue, as Ned appreciates the attentions of the grateful Melanie, but postpones any action, and later spends time with Kate, who may be interested and seems a more acceptable partner, being the same age as Ned, but the book ends before anything happens. Since sexual passion (not love) was the cause of the whole recurring story, it is seen here as a force to be treated with caution, and not just because Ned is young and inexperienced.

I enjoyed reading this book more the second time, and it is moving and well-written. However, I consider it not Kay's best work, and plan to write about his other novels later.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Carmelit - Haifa's Underground Railway

I came across a short film called Strangers, which has a positive message of co-existence and anti-racism. However, my main interest in this film is that it was made on Haifa's underground railway, the Carmelit.

I enjoy using the Carmelit when I have to go to parts of the city close to its stations. There is no other underground railway in Israel, so this is the closest I can get to the cosmopolitan feeling of using the "underground" or "metro" or "subway". However, it is very different to other undergrounds, since it is a funicular railway going up and down the Carmel mountain, and so both the trains and the stations are built on a slope, with steps (this can be seen at the end of the film and in the photos on the linked sites).

The Carmelit takes just 8 minutes to travel its entire line (much quicker than driving up or down the hill, or taking the bus). However, it has two main problems, which reduce its popularity. I have never seen it crowded or had to stand, in contrast to the frequent overcrowding on Israel Railways trains and on buses. First, the location of the stations. These places used to be important city centres when it was built, but now they are less popular, and other important city areas are not on the route. Second, there is a shortage of parking spaces near the stations, so people can't park and catch the Carmelit very easily. If I want to use the Carmelit, I take a bus to the nearest station as I know it would be difficult or impossible to park nearby.

There is talk of extending the Carmelit one day, but I'll believe it when I see it. Other proposals include a cable car going up the hill to Haifa University. That would make Haifa by far the most transportationally diverse city in Israel. There is already a cable car, going from Stella Maris down to the beach at Bat Galim, but it is primarily a tourist attraction.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


It is difficult to build things and easy to destroy them. Sometimes a moment of thoughtlessness can cause great damage.

It has just been reported that the recent fire in California, which has burned down many houses and forced thousands to be evacuated, may have been started by a student bonfire that was not properly extinguished. It seems very obvious that people lighting a fire should make absolutely sure that it is put out before leaving.

Responsibility requires people to take a wider view. It involves thinking ahead, thinking about possible consequences, and thinking about other people. Acting responsibly should come naturally to properly educated people. It should become second nature, part of one's habits.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Here in Haifa we often hear loud sonic booms from jets. Sometimes, when I can't hear a jet in the minutes before or after the boom, I wonder if the boom was some other sort of explosion. The options I consider include a suicide bomb or a terrorist bomb, a rocket from Lebanon like the ones we experienced daily during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a gas leak or an accident in one of the factories in the Haifa Bay. I wait to hear if there are ambulance sirens, and if not, I usually decide it was a sonic boom after all.

An incident today has made me add another option to this list. In Tel Aviv today, a notorious crime boss was blown up in his car. Four passers-by were injured. The police predict a series of revenge attacks among the crime families. Who knows how many uninvolved people may be hurt in this private war.

These criminal families have often attacked each other's members, injuring or killing innocent bystanders in the process. It is so difficult to get them convicted, and they remain free to conduct their violent competition in public.

So here's another fear to add to our not insignificant list...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apathy vs. Empowerment

This week in Israel we had local elections for Mayors and municipal councils. The overall turnout was about 50%, while in the large cities it was much lower, around 30%.

Here in Haifa the turnout was 33%, and the current Mayor, Yona Yahav, was reelected with 46% of the votes. If I'm calculating correctly, this means that just 15% of the registered voters actually chose to vote for the Mayor.

The voter apathy and the resulting distortion of the democratic principle of majority choice are causing concern. People once fought for the right to vote and elect representatives. Now many people can't be bothered to go out and vote. Some may be cynical, thinking that it doesn't make any difference who's in power. Some just don't like thinking about "politics", although in the case of municipal elections, the choice is more closely related to specific local policies than to the party affiliation of the candidates.

Empowerment means increasing the power of individuals or groups. In a democracy, the voting population is empowered by being granted the right to vote for representatives to rule or manage the national or local affairs of the community. Being granted the right is obviously insufficient. People have to want to exercise this right, or democracy won't work properly. It seems to me that granting people empowerment or rights is like registering them to a gym. If they don't want to make the effort to go and train, this makes no difference to their lives. They are actively choosing to disempower themselves. They could just as well be living in an absolute monarchy or totalitarian dictatorship.

More education seems to be required in democracies to encourage voters to cast their votes. Apathy and cynicism are a lazy and dangerous option, allowing leaders to rule when they represent only a small portion of the public. As I said in a previous post, the presidential elections in the USA seem to have brought some new voters out of their apathy and given them sufficient hope and enthusiasm to go and vote. All democracies should aim for such an atmosphere before elections.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thoughts on the US Presidential Elections

1. Race still matters. However much tolerant, pluralistic and liberal people might like to think that in today's society everyone can achieve what they want by merit, regardless of their race, it has become apparent that race is important. Perhaps individual voters know whether they voted for Obama because of his race ("It's about time we had a black president"), or despite his race ("He's the better candidate even though he's black"), but I doubt that any voters thought that race was completely unimportant and irrelevant to their choice. One can only hope that President Obama will be remembered as much for his positive achievements in office as for being the first black president.

2. Turnout. It seems that despite early predictions, the turnout was not higher than in the 2004 elections. However, there does seem to have been a different composition of those voters who did decide to cast their votes. The election campaign seemed to arouse more interest and excitement than previous ones. This shows that the public can overcome its apathy and people who had never voted before can become motivated to go out and vote for a candidate or issue that they feel strongly about. Democracies are not perfect, but I believe that voting is important, and feeling helplessness and apathy about the running of your country is counterproductive. If you live in a democracy, it is worth using your right to vote.

3. The risk of assassination. As Israel marks the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, we are reminded that there have been several assassinations of US presidents and politicians. While I don't like to raise negative ideas, I can imagine that there could be people considering such an attempt. I really hope that the security team in charge of protecting President-elect Obama is doing a good job.

Although I am not a US citizen, I would like to wish the new president and his administration good luck. As the world's only superpower and largest economy, the US has great responsibilities for the whole world. It seems that Obama is currently more popular among non-US citizens than Bush ever was, and I hope his policies live up to the world's expectations, as far as possible.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Impressions of Nazareth

Last week we visited Nazareth. Apart from seeing the main touristic sites in the old city (churches, the mosque, the market), we took an interest in the local population.

The town is an interesting mixture of old and new, and it seems to be in process of transition. In some ways it was reminiscent of the more old-fashioned towns we have visited in Greece, with modernization superimposed on top of a slightly backward social attitude. For example, many people there still smoke, something that is, fortunately, becoming increasingly rare in my usual social circles. The traffic seemed chaotic, with some young people driving dangerously and disregarding the law. The shops were displaying a wide range of goods, and clothing seemed to range from modest and drab to rather gaudy.

The new government building, containing the courts and various offices, located on the hilltop between Nazareth and Nazareth Illit towers over the city. The old city is dominated by the Church of the Annunciation, outside which is a small mosque with a large prayer plaza (which created great controversy when it was built in 1999-2002). The streets are narrow and difficult to navigate. We visited two guest houses in the old city that have recently opened and are trying to attract tourists to stay overnight rather than just visiting the town and going to stay elsewhere. They have restored the old houses, one with high, painted ceilings, the other with the original Syrian floor tiles. Both have antique furniture along with modern amenities. We also saw a rather amateurish museum of heritage or folklore, a one-man operation that collects and displays objects and photos from Nazareth's past.

Our guide was a history teacher who has completed her Masters degree on the history of Nazareth, and is starting a PhD. She took us to the school where she teaches, to the offices of the Municipality, and drove us around various parts of the town. She explained where different social groups live, and this was also indicated by the flags and posters of the two parties competing in the municipal elections next week - the red of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality party (communist), from which all Mayors of Nazareth since the 1970s have come, versus the green of the Islamic movement. Apart from the usual problems between Israeli Arabs and the Jewish majority, Nazareth suffers from continuing tension between Christian and Moslem Arabs, and between various sub-groups or denominations within each religion. This creates a very complicated society in which the process of modernization encounters resistance on various levels.

We could see the mingling of the traditional populations, both Moslem and Christian, in their headcoverings and traditional clothing, with the modern, westernized, educated residents. Our guide and her family stressed the importance of education in creating progress, and also in liberating women from their restrictive traditional roles.

It remains to be seen whether the majority in Nazareth chooses to embrace progress, seek education, promote tolerance and co-existence, and become more integrated into mainstream Israeli society (like the Arab population of Haifa, for example), or to return to the traditional ways promoted by religious leaders, which could worsen the internal conflicts between the various groups within the town.

Monday, October 13, 2008


On Yom Kippur Eve, an Arab resident of Akko (Acre), a mixed city on the coast of Israel, drove his car to visit relatives. He was attacked and nearly lynched by Jewish residents, who called his driving on the holiest day of the Jewish year a "provocation". This led to several nights of riots between Jewish and Arab residents, who attacked each other and damaged property.

Let us consider the concept of "provocation". The idea is that the behaviour of the "provoker" forced someone to react in a particular way, in this case, with violence. This removes the responsibility from the perpetrator of violence, and blames someone else.

This sort of argument is sometimes used by rapists ("She was asking for it, the way she was dressed") and parents who physically abuse their young children ("He wouldn't stop crying, I couldn't take it any more").

The idea that other people's behaviour is responsible for our actions can lead to repression. For example, in some societies, women are expected to completely cover their bodies. One of the reasons given for this is that "men can't control themselves" and would be forced into immodest thoughts and behaviour by the sight of any uncovered female flesh.

I find this sort of thinking both irrational and dangerous. If we remove individual responsibility for actions, humans become automata capable only of reacting predictably to certain stimuli. As a believer in free will and individual responsibility, I shudder to think what would happen in a society that took this concept of "provocation" to its logical conclusion.

It is interesting that many cases of claimed "provocation" come from religious people incapable of accepting that what they see as the absolute truth may not be considered so by other people. They often call for society to be "sensitive" about their religious beliefs and practices, and the toleration always has to go in one direction - the secular population has to "respect" the religion of the believers, while the religious seem not to be obliged to accept that other people are entitled to a life not dictated by religious doctrine.

So, in the case cited above, I do not consider that the behaviour of the Arab driver, insensitive or impolite though it may have been, in any way justified the violence that resulted. People who are unwilling to become violent cannot be "provoked", and those inclined to violence tend to find a pretext, and, if possible, to blame their own irrational and destructive behaviour on others.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Repentance and Atonement

As the Jewish Day of Atonement approaches, people are asking each other, and praying to God, for forgiveness. This provides an opportunity to consider the terms "repentance" and "atonement".

If you do something wrong, this is either something you knew was wrong and still did anyway, or something you did by mistake or without realizing the consequences. In both cases, it is possible to learn from this wrong action.

Repentance seems to me like an easy option. It makes you feel better, without obliging you to change. People can get into cycles of doing wrong and then repenting, like an alcoholic who keeps promising to quit, or a wife-beater who keeps apologizing and declaring his love for his victim. People also tend to forgive quite easily, as this also feels good and righteous.

It is not enough to say you are sorry, or even feel genuine repentance for what you have done. The past cannot be changed, even by having a different perspective on it. What can be changed is the present and the future. If you become aware of something you have done wrong, the most important thing is never to do it again, and to try to make up for it in some way. This is where atonement comes in.

The process of atonement is part of the general process of self-improvement we should all be undertaking continuously throughout our lives. If being a good person is not top of your list of life targets, perhaps it is time to reconsider! What could be more important than being good? I believe that happiness stems from goodness, and that if everyone was good, everyone would be a lot happier. We would live in a better society. Every good action contributes to the general good, and every bad action detracts from it.

When people do wrong, they do so because they see some advantage to themselves in the wrong action. This is often a very selfish and short-sighted approach, and they fail to see the greater advantage in doing the right thing.

In order to become a better person, it is necessary to think about what is good, and to want to do good. We have to consider ourselves within the context of our society, and not do to others what we wouldn't want done to us. We have to overcome weakness and temptation. We have to find good role models to imitate, whose actions can become an internal guide for our behaviour.

None of this is new. It is fundamental in every system of ethics and every religion. My message to the world is: Don't just say you're sorry, become a better person.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

William Gibson - Spook Country

William Gibson, Spook Country, Berkeley International Edition, 2008 (first published 2007).

This story follows several interesting characters who become involved in tracking a shipping container. Why is the container being tracked, by whom, and what do they want with it? All is revealed in a surprising and satisfying ending.

Many of Gibson's usual themes are explored here, notably technology, drug addiction and the nature of celebrity. The present day background is believably painted, and makes the story and characters easy to identify with.

Hollis Henry is a former rock star who has become a journalist and is hired by a forthcoming magazine to investigate locative art, a form of art viewed with a GPS-linked VR helmet in particular locations, so the art is superimposed upon the visible reality. The owner of the magazine, Hubertus Bigend (a character familiar from Pattern Recognition), has received information about the container, since the computer genius behind the GPS links for the locative art has also been hired to track the container. He gets Hollis to exploit her celebrity status to investigate.

Tito is a young Cuban-Chinese "illegal facilitator" from a minor, but well-trained, crime/espionage family in NY. He starts wondering about his recent task, delivering iPods full of data to an old man, who turns out to be a former intelligence officer. He will soon have a more important role to play.

Milgrim is a former Russian translator and interpreter who has become a drug addict. He is kidnapped by Brown, who may be from the police or another agency, to help interpret the Russian-transcript text messages used by Tito and his family. Brown is after the container, but other parties always seem to be one step ahead of him.

These characters move through various cultural settings - the locative art world of LA, the crime and drug world of NY, the territory of secret agents (the "spook country" of the title), and the technological world of GPS tracking, phone scrambling and viewing art through VR. This creates a rich and vivid arena for the tense game to play out upon.

The book is well-written and subtle, as Gibson's work always is. Reading it for the first time was a thrilling experience, as all the threads connect, and reading it again, with the knowledge of the ending made it a lesson in plot construction. The characters are mostly sympathetic, and their inner worlds enriching.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


It has just been reported that Israel is buying 25 advanced F35 Joint Strike Fighter jets from the USA, at a cost of $15.2 billion, to be delivered in five years' time. This is the first time these planes have been sold to another country, and this sale is understood as expressing the US Administration's support for Israel and dedication to its security.

I would like to question the wisdom of this move. I'm no military expert, but it seems to me that the IDF (Israel Defence Force) relies too much on its Air Force. During the Second Lebanon War (2006), there were air strikes on a Hezbollah controlled neighbourhood of Beirut, which killed many civilians and missed the Hezbollah leadership that was the supposed target. The use of air strikes against enemies lacking an Air Force makes Israel appear the aggressor in an unbalanced fight (although the fight is unbalanced in several ways, not all of them to Israel's advantage). It is also not effective in preventing the sort of rocket attacks we in Haifa were suffering every day for over a month (for this reason, Israel is investing in anti-rocket missiles).

It seems to me that more should be invested in the ground forces. The IDF seems reluctant to send in ground forces due to the greater risk of casualties, but the nature of the conflicts we are involved in seems to require this sort of action.

The planes would presumably be useful in the sort of attack carried out against Syria's reactor, or that being considered against Iran's nuclear program. However, these attacks are in the interest of the whole world, and it seems that the US is sending Israel to do the world's dirty work, instead of acting as the world's policeman, in this particular case...

Apart from that, the cost of these planes for a small country is immense. You can't help thinking what else could be done with even a fraction of this expense. Taking a subject close to my heart, the Israeli university system is close to collapse, with the Finance Ministry refusing to give the universities certain funds unless they raise tuition fees. The amount mentioned, about $640 million over five years, is so much less than $15 billion, and preventing the total collapse of Israeli's higher education system, once a source of great pride, should be a higher priority than acquiring more weapons of destruction, perhaps even weapons inappropriate for the country's needs.

As long as this country continues to worship the military and ignore important civilian aspects such as education, health and welfare, it is perpetuating the state of war and weakening the foundation of its existence.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wishes for the New Year

As we celebrate the Jewish New Year this week, here are my wishes for the coming year:

1. I wish Israeli politicians and generals would stop making aggressive statements about the perceived intentions of Israel's enemies. This is only likely to provoke a war. The way to achieve peace is for everyone to focus on making peace, with all the compromises this involves. Any talk about war brings it closer.

2. I hope to see progress in various conservation efforts. We live in such a beautiful country, and it is such a shame to see it destroyed by more and more concrete and roads. In particular, I hope the plan to build a large, ugly Navy building in the Haifa port, opposite Haifa's main tourist attractions, is overturned (see photos of the area as it is now, and simulations of what it would look like after construction, based on the plans).

3. I would like to see greater efforts to show the world the positive sides of Israel. There is a real need for a positive public relations effort. There is so much ignorance overseas about what life in Israel is really like, the complexity of Israeli society and the reality of living under constant threat of attack. Let's get some real information out there and hope it helps. I'd like to think that blogs about Israel can make some contribution to this. I am trying to show reality as I see it, though of course I am as subjective as anyone else...

4. It is time for the Israeli public to take a stronger stand against the political corruption that is so common here. I would really like to see politicians accused of corruption actually resign from office rather than saying: "I'm innocent until proven guilty, and all these false accusations are a political plot to destroy me", and remaining in office until the trial (if the case ever reaches trial...).

And on a more personal level, after so many good things have happened to me this year, I only wish for this trend to continue.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thirty years in Israeli society

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of my aliya (immigration) to Israel. This was probably the most formative event of my life, since my whole sense of identity is tied up with being bilingual and bicultural. I have spent over 75% of my life in this country, and I seem to alternate between having a sense of belonging and still feeling like an outsider, observing society with some detachment. Obviously, I am Israeli, but then, being Israeli can mean so many things!

One of the things I like most about Israeli society is its diversity. There are people here descended from many generations who have lived in this country, and people who came here from other countries, or whose parents did. There are people of a wide range of religions, languages and cultures. While there is an attempt, in the education system and in the media, to forge (in both senses of this word) an Israeli identity, some consensus about what it means to be part of the Hebrew-speaking Jewish majority in this country, many people differ from this norm in various ways.

Another thing I like here is the openness about emotions and the sort of straight-forwardness of most Israelis. It seems healthy to me that people can, for example, cry in public, embrace their friends, and spend a whole week in mourning (the Jewish shiva). I think, or hope, that this attitude is preventing Israeli society from adopting the worst extremes of political correctness.

However, there are many things I dislike about this society. The other side of the open approach is that Israelis (vast generalization here...) tend to be less considerate. I'm not talking about lip-service politeness and fake smiles, but real concern for the needs of others. This lack of consideration is expressed in impatience, rudeness, selfishness and sometimes aggression. I encounter examples of these behaviours every day, and while there is some improvement in certain aspects, such as the politeness and efficiency of various companies' telephone support staff, Israeli society has a long way to go.

The other most obvious aspect of Israeli society that disturbs me and sometimes prevents me from identifying with the country, is its inherent and often unconscious racism. It is assumed that it is important to know if someone is Jewish or not. The non-Jewish citizens here are routinely, though often unconsciously discriminated against, and the ideas of coexistence and equality are not implemented in any systematic way, despite sporadic attempts. Mixed marriages are still generally considered a taboo.

Perhaps both of these aspects, the lack of consideration for others and the importance of racial identity, stem from the collective past of the Jews. After being victimized for generations, Jews are brought up to expect to be attacked or at least discriminated against, so they seem to have become self-centered as a defence mechanism. In the same way, the racism inherent in having a Jewish State is part of the struggle for survival. Assimilation into other societies didn't work, and many Jews believe it is vital to keep the race going by having a state where Jews can be safe, and also by preventing mixed marriages. As the child of such a mixed marriage, I am constantly conscious that some people here would prefer my parents never to have married, and for me never to have been born (or at least to have converted)... This keeps me aware of my outsider and observer status within Israeli society. Though, to be honest, this is probably not the only reason I feel like an outsider.

What I would like to see is Israeli society becoming confident enough to increase its tolerance and consideration for others. Statistics published this week show that about 76% of Israeli citizens are Jewish, and I think this is a strong enough majority to permit greater acceptance of minorities and an end to the feeling that being considerate implies letting everyone walk all over you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Questions of Nationality

On Friday my purse was stolen from my bag. This is annoying enough in itself, but it is made even worse by the fact that the purse contained my Israeli ID card, which has to be replaced (along with the credit card I had to cancel, and my driving licence and various other cards that have to be replaced).

Filling in the online form for a new ID card, I encountered once again an aspect of life in Israel that has always bothered me. There is a section for "Nationality" - not citizenship, which is Israeli, but nationality, which is a completely different concept. The options in the drop-down menu (in a compulsory field) included a long list of countries of the world, plus the most common "nationalities" in Israel: Jewish, Arab and Druze. Note that there is no "Palestinian" nationality, even though that is how the majority of Arabs who are Israeli citizens would probably self-define themselves. This system does not differentiate between Muslim and Christian Arabs, although these are distinct social groups. Nor was there a Bedouin option (I guess they have to be Arabs too). More significantly, at least for me, there was also no "Israeli" nationality, as they seem to want all Israeli citizens to declare whether they are Jewish, Arab or Druze...

I have always had a problem with this concept of nationality. They cannot ask about citizens' religious beliefs, as we have freedom of worship here, but they force citizens to declare their nationality in very specific categories.

I see myself as belonging to the Jewish Hebrew-speaking majority of Israeli citizens, though according to the Halakhah (Jewish religious law) I am technically not Jewish at all. My father is a Jewish Israeli, but my mother is English and not Jewish. Judaism is matrilinial, meaning that one can only be considered Jewish if one's mother is Jewish. I did not choose to convert, for various reasons, and so the Jewish Orthodox establishment would not consider me Jewish. I know that there are thousands of other Israeli citizens with the same problem, especially among new immigrants. This situation, where Judaism is both a religion and a "nationality", creates problems for people wanting to join the "nationality" without adopting the religious practices associated with it.

On the other hand, I can't honestly say I have any other "nationality". I was born in England, but only lived there for seven out of the first nine years of my life before immigrating to Israel and getting Israeli citizenship. I have kept my British citizenship, and anyone hearing me speak would immediately identify my accent as British, but I don't feel that this is my "nationality", especially as I have never worked there, owned property there, voted there, and in fact, I only had 4 years of junior school there.

So, on the form I selected "Jewish", and when I went to the Population Registry to get my new card, I asked them not to fill in the Nationality field on my card, so they put in ****** instead. I feel better for not having to lie (technically) about this, but would prefer the whole Nationality question to be dropped. What matters from a legal point of view is citizenship, and that should be all they need to know about a person, especially if their options don't allow full freedom of self-definition.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Suspending beliefs

The phrase "to suspend disbelief" is used in relation to appreciating art and fiction. I often think it would be more useful for people to suspend their beliefs, those opinions they accept blindly and never question. I think it is best for people to embrace an attitude of healthy skepticism, to stay open-minded, to cultivate their curiosity, and to admit that all their knowledge may be purely provisional.

It is easiest to see the world in "black and white" terms. Finding the shades of grey requires more effort. Many people seem to adopt a certain attitude, and then blindly accept all the various positions associated with it. They seem to buy into a whole package of beliefs, without investigating each of them individually.

One obvious example is the public perception of the two-party system in the USA. It is very simplistically assumed that voters belong to one party or the other, and therefore have a fixed set of opinions. Thus, a Democratic Party voter would be assumed or expected to support the following policies: wider welfare provisions and the higher taxation levels required for this; use of diplomacy rather than military intervention, where possible, in international affairs; pro-choice; generally liberal; probably green. I can imagine that a Democratic Party voter deviating from this set of beliefs would encounter some incredulity, such as "But how can you believe that? You're a democrat!" (sic! - people often use the word "democrat" to refer to members and voters of the US Democratic Party, which is a mistake, as anyone supporting democracy as a system is a democrat).

It also bothers me that so many people around the world seem to have strong opinions about international affairs that are not based on any real knowledge. They seem to decide or accept that some states or groups are aggressors and others are underdogs or victims. This makes it easy for them to maintain real prejudices against certain states, while justifying and legitimizing the actions, propaganda and cultural differences of the perceived underdog groups. This thinking in groups of beliefs is also at the root of racism and other discriminatory prejudices. Racists treat individuals as representing their perceived groups, and thus as having all the attributes these groups are supposed to have, instead of getting to know the individual and being aware that all groups contain different individuals of many sorts.

I would like to see people making more of an effort to justify the beliefs they hold. If these beliefs were a portfolio of financial investments, sensible investors would keep examining reality and making the necessary changes. In the same way, sensible people should re-evaluate their opinions in light of new information, and should make the effort to locate this information, instead of blindly accepting "the line" of their supposed peer group, political party or current political correctness.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why I read fiction

Reading has always been a major part of my life. A day when I haven't read something (for pleasure, not counting newspapers, websites and work) is a wasted day, and if several days go by without reading, I feel I'm missing something.

Reading creates a strange form of intimacy between the mind and imagination of the writer and the mind and imagination of the reader. The images formed in the reader's mind are a combination of what the writer intended and what the reader creates from the words. It is not quite a conversation, since the words go in one direction, from the writer to the reader. But it is probably as close as you can get to being inside the mind of another person.

Fiction uses language both to express ideas with precision and also to convey feelings, impressions and atmospheres in a more fluid and intuitive way. Fiction can often be "about" something other than its apparent subject matter. It makes the reader think about certain ideas, and also arouses certain feelings. Obviously, these thoughts and feelings can vary from reader to reader, and may be very different from the writer's intentions.

I read to learn about other people's minds and imaginations. I read to "escape" from my own reality, but it is a beneficial escape because reading enriches my life with new thoughts and ideas. It lets me experience things from different perspectives. I can make decisions about questions such as "how would I react in this situation?" or "did this character do the right thing?".

I wrote in the previous post that "we are what we think". Since this is the case, I like to fill my mind with a wide range of material. Each new book I read exposes me to new ideas, new thoughts and new choices. I find that reading develops me more than any other art form (though I love music and enjoy films), and what I want to share in this blog is the things I have learned from my reading.

Friday, August 29, 2008

We are what we think

One of the most interesting news stories I have encountered recently is new research showing that talking about past trauma may not improve a person's recovery. It may be better to "forget" the past, or at least not to dwell on it.

See article here

This seems obvious to me.

We are what we think! Human beings are the sum of their thoughts, feelings and actions in the present moment. Of course, this does include their memories of the past. But the past cannot be changed. Only our reactions to the past are in our control.

People who have experienced trauma can make their own choices. Some choose to define their lives by it, becoming a full-time victim. Others find the strength and resilience to continue their lives, filling their time with positive thoughts and actions. Which would you prefer?

My personal experience includes living through war. Two years ago, I lived through the daily missile attacks on my city, Haifa, during the Second Lebanon War (as it is known here). At the time, when the war finished, I felt emotionally depleted and vulnerable and really didn't know how long it would take me to recover. What happened was that quite quickly I returned to my daily routine, as did almost everyone I know. Instead of dwelling on the experience, it seems that most people in Haifa just got on with life, and our experiences of the war are hardly ever mentioned.

This may be how some Holocaust survivors dealt with their traumas, in silence. Presumably, some victims of all types of trauma (war, rape, abuse, accidents) have just chosen to move on and fill their present and future with positive, enriching thoughts and experiences. I hope the new research will show them and people around them that this can be a good decision, and that people should not be forced to discuss the past and undergo this sort of therapy if they prefer to continue their lives.


Welcome to my new blog!

My aim is to share my thoughts on things I encounter in life, and on books I read.
I'm looking forward to writing about issues of ethics and human behaviour, personal development and positive thinking, worldviews and world affairs, all from my personal perspective on life.

For a long time, I have wanted to write about my reaction to the books I read. I am not a book reviewer and have not studied literary theory. These are my personal reactions to what I read. Spoiler warning! My posts will probably give away plot details of the books discussed. If you prefer not to know too much about the plot of a book before reading it, please avoid reading my posts about books you haven't read (and intend to read).

To my readers in Israel, who may be asking why I'm not writing this in Hebrew: there are two reasons. First, to reach a wider readership; and second, because the books I read are in English. I hope this blog will be readable even for those who are not native speakers.

Thanks for your time and attention, and watch this space!