Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Yesterday was Earth Day 2010. Here in Israel, there were several special events.

One event was Earth Hour, when people were supposed to switch off their lights for one hour. We did this in Haifa from 20:20 to 21:20. The starting times for the different participating cities were staggered, to prevent sudden drops and surges in the power consumption. I read today that the city with the highest participation rate was Kfar Sava, where I used to live.

I have always been aware of environmental issues, and my lifestyle reflects this awareness. As reported in a previous post, I don't use a dishwasher, and I dry washing on the washing line. For many years I used only public transport, and even now that I have a car, I don't use it when I can walk, or when public transport makes more sense. I carry shopping in cloth shopping bags, and reuse or recycle paper, plastic bags, bottles and batteries. I am careful not to waste water and electricity.

I think the sparing use of earth's resources shows consideration for others and for future generations. Even people who are skeptical about the idea of global warming being caused by human activity can find other reasons to prefer a less polluting and less wasteful lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tel Aviv

I spent a few days in Tel Aviv last week, and decided to look at the city with new eyes and see what impression I formed.

My normal view of the city is that it is noisy, polluted, crowded, and stressful. The traffic noise is certainly constant, day and night, justifying the slogan "The city that never sleeps" in a sense they probably did not intend. Central Tel Aviv is also polluted, and the climate there seems more humid than here in Haifa, at least at this time of year.

A city has two main components: the physical and the human. I spent much of my time there walking around, looking at buildings and watching people. Both aspects are interesting to observe.

Central Tel Aviv is famous for its Bauhaus International Style buildings, giving it the nickname "the White City", and earning it the status of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Some of these buildings are currently being restored. I like this style, and there are some similar buildings in Haifa, though probably not so many and not in such a concentrated area. I also observed the work to rebuild Habima theatre. The new design seems to echo the original, and I hope the building will fit in well with its surroundings and with people's memories of the original, a local landmark.

Tel Aviv is built on a grid pattern, to some extent, with many roads either parallel at right angles to the sea. There are many tall hotels along the seafront, which blocks both the view of the sea and the sea breeze, though sometimes pedestrians suddenly get a breath of sea air in the middle of all the traffic and noise. Haifa has avoided this problem, with one major exception, by not allowing large buildings along the seafront. Haifa has the additional advantage of not being flat like Tel Aviv, so sea views are available far inland, from the slopes of Mount Carmel.

The people of Tel Aviv are a varied and generally tolerant population. Young people from all over the country move to Tel Aviv to study, work, or to find somewhere they can fit in. The population seems densely packed together, compared with Haifa where there are tree-filled gaps between various residential areas, usually in the valleys between the various peaks of the Carmel. Walking along a major shopping street on Friday around lunchtime showed me that the people can be relaxed, though the constant traffic remained as tense as ever. Many people were walking dogs of all shapes and sizes. There were many cyclists, something I have become unaccustomed to here in hilly Haifa. In some places bicycle lanes have been marked out on the pavement (sidewalk), and pedestrians usually respect these lanes and leave them clear, except where there is no other option due to parked cars or cafe tables blocking the pedestrian areas.

I saw some of the better aspects of Tel Aviv, along with the problems I remember from when I lived there for a year (1995, I think). I will try to appreciate these positive aspects in the future, though on balance the experience made me happy to live where I do in Haifa.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Holocaust Day thoughts

Today Israel commemorates the Holocaust (other countries have different dates for this). The message is "Never Again".

Here are some of the lessons that I believe should be learned from the Holocaust:

First of all, there does seem to be something different about antisemitism compared with other forms of racism, and this does justify the existence of the State of Israel, since living as a minority in other countries never seemed to work out very well for the Jews.

Second, there is the danger of charisma and rhetoric. Charmismatic leaders can easily sway a population to accept and collude in immoral ideology and actions. As individuals, we must remain vigilant and always question the motives of leaders and our own motives. "Only obeying orders" and "everyone is doing it" are very weak excuses. Individuals are ultimately responsible for their actions, and so should beware the influence of persuasion.

Thirdly, and most importantly, group thinking is dangerous. Members of a group have one or several characteristics in common (for example: ethnicity, location, language, culture), but they are still individuals, and each group contains the full spectrum of individuals on any trait you wish to examine. There are intelligent and stupid, good and bad, responsible and selfish, peaceful and aggressive, individuals within every group. To think of groups is to reduce or remove the individuality of the people composing it, and this is the first step to dehumanizing them.

Many believe that Holocaust Day should serve to remind the world that the Jews suffered genocide, in order to prevent it happening to the Jews ever again. I believe this is not enough. We must prevent it happening to any group ever again. There have been other genocides since the Holocaust, and the memory of the Holocaust did not seem to prevent them or oblige the world to intervene fast enough.

Not only is there still a risk that anyone could become a victim, there is still a risk that anyone could become a perpetrator. One of the worst things I have ever heard someone say, with a sincerity that sent chills down my spine, was "Let's do a Holocaust to the Arabs".

For me, the strongest message of the Holocaust is that we must avoid this sort of thinking, recognize the individuality of all humans, be very careful using generalizations about groups, and strengthen our empathy so we genuinely cannot consider doing to others what we would not want done to ourselves.