|How do you measure time?
||[Jan. 31st, 2008|09:16 pm]
Is it now the month of January or Feburary? It depends where you are on the planet. In the eastern hemisphere, it is February 1, but in most of the Western Hemisphere, including where I live, it is still January 31.|
This is significant because in the Internet age, the question is not where you are, but rather where you want to be. Although I am located in the northeastern United States, I can teleport to a different part of the world, or to a place totally removed from the world, by logging onto various websites. In the global world I live in, the local time is meaningless except in a limited context.
Specifically, as I've written previously, I spend too much time writing on Wikipedia. When I sign my posts on Wikipedia talk and process pages, the time and date appears in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time), which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern U.S. Stanndard Time in the winter and 4 hours ahead of Eastern U.S. Daylight Saving Time in the summer. I often think in terms of "Wikipedia time." I know that the Main Page will be updated with the new featured article and featured picture at 7 or 8 PM, depending on the season.
I also rediscovered Israel Radio this week on the Internet. When I lived in Israel for two years, I often turned on the radio, and in my opinion, the highest quality radio programming was on the government-owned Israel Radio stations. I remembered the beeps at the top of each hour's news broadcast: "Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. BEEEEEEP! Shalom Rav, HaSha'ah Shalosh. Hiney HaChadashot Mipi Malakhi Chizkiyah." I remember how, at exactly 5:58 AM every morning, the radio plays a stirring musical rendition of "Shema Yisrael." For some reason I cannot recall, a memory was triggered in my mind that the newscasts referred to the Israel Radio website, "www Nekuda iba Nekuda org Nekuda il". I looked it up (after first confusing org with co) and I found a link to the live radio broadcast over the web. I listened to it, and the memories came rushing back. Yes, Malakhi Chizkiyah (and Dan Kanero and Leora Goshen) still reads the news at the top of the hour, and they still play Shema Yisrael at exactly 5:58 AM every morning.
In order to hear the Shema, I must be listening on my computer at 10:58 PM on the previous day in my time zone. When I hear the radio, I feel like I am back in Israel. Though it's not physically true, it's like the dream that the Psalmist made famous. I miss Israel. My happiest days so far were there, and not only because of the institutionalized vacations I got to enjoy. I really feel that Israel is a better place for me, even in times that are more difficult for me emotionally.
So why don't I go back there? The main issue is that it needs to work practically. I've decided to apply to graduate school in chemistry, and that career choice limits my options. I can only go to graduate programs where they exist. Many do exist in the northeast United States, and I've also applied to an oustanding school in the Midwest (University of Illinois is ranked among the top ten chemistry graduate programs in the nation). However, there are only seven universities in Israel that offer any kind of postgraduate program in chemistry, and only two of these -- Technion in Haifa and Weizmann in Rehovot -- can fairly be considered to be world-class places that a non-native of Israel would want to attend. Since application deadlines also don't match up, I applied only to American schools, and if I get in someplace, that's where I'll go.
The truth is that such problems are not limited to chemistry. Israel is a small country. Including the disputed territories (what the press calls the "Palestinian territories", ignoring the fact that more than 200,000 Israelis live there also), the total population is about 10 million people. For comparison, the total population of the United States is more than 300 million, or 30 times as many. The land area of Israel is comparable to New Jersey, and the southern half of Israel is sparsely populated due to the unforgiving arid climate of the desert and the difficulty of agriculture there (though mining helps the economy in those regions). At no point in Israel are you more than about 60 miles from an international border. From the top of Har Meron, on a clear day, you can see the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Hermon mountain to the northeast, and beyond its edges, Lebanon and Syria. The security problems posed by the proximity of enemies is well-known, but the economic effects should not be ignored. It's difficult to play a role in the global economy if you're in a small country. The specialty that you've developed for your career elsewhere simply may not exist in Israel, or if it does exist, it's only in one or two places, and you need to be lucky, or else find a different career.
Aside from the practical problems, there's also a lack of willingness on my part to go and just see what happens. Maybe it's a lack of faith, or of initiative. Many advocates of Aliyah (immigration to Israel) emphasize the primary role of personal motivation -- or in some cases, family motivation -- in making the dream come to reality. For various reasons, I don't want to live in Israel so badly that I would make sacrifices for that goal. Lest you accuse me of being weak of heart, I observe that most people do not wish to break from routine, and do not arbitrarily uproot themselves from a familiar life to dwell in a strange culture where English speakers are a distinct minority, much like the Hispanic population in the northeastern United States (especially New York City).
Maybe I want to be able to come and go from Israel as I please, both geographically and on the Internet. Israel is an off-and-on relationship: I love her when I feel like it, and I ignore her most of the time. This is no way to build a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Maybe next week, after the Super Bowl, I'll stop listening to Israel Radio and go back to life as usual with ESPN radio and NPR. Maybe I'll go in the other direction and seriously plan to visit Israel after Passover instead of just thinking about it in general. I don't know.
What I do know is that I'm seeking to build a personal identity, and that identity, based on principles of religious Zionism, must include the modern State of Israel as a force connecting Jews with their land and their history. Unfortunately, without actually being in Israel, there's not much I can do. Listening to Israel Radio and checking ynet.co.il, the website of Yedioth Ahronoth, only takes you so far. And please spare me the constant appeals for Israel advocacy. My cynical approach is that most of the world hates Israel, and there's not much I can do about it. Really, I understand why the world wants Palestinians to have a state of their own instead of being trapped in a newly constructed fence with a weak national government and a failing economy. Of course, statehood will not solve these problems by itself, and it certainly won't stop the rockets from raining on Sderot and disrupting lives on a daily basis in a town just 2 miles from the Gaza Strip and about 35 miles from Tel Aviv. And it won't bring back our prisoners from Gaza and Lebanon, and it won't bring back to life my murdered friend Yoni Jesner, who paid the ultimate price for the crime of riding a public bus on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv two days before the Sukkot holiday in 2002. Now I would like to forgive the past if it could bring peace for the future, but I'd first like to see a permanent end to the rocket attacks and bus bombings. I think the international community makes a fundamental error in stating that a Palestinian state can bring peace. First there must be peace per se, in that Israel is not forced to defend itself against a constant, ongoing war. Let me say very clearly: Israel is engaged in a war right now with Hamas in Gaza. It does not wish to invade Gaza with ground troops because that will cause people to die, but it's doing everything else it can to stop the rockets being fired at Sderot. So let there first be peace. Then, and only then, it's rational to talk about giving land to Palestinian control in order to build on that peace and make it permanent. I'm not saying Israel should or should not give away land, and I know it's a very complicated issue. I'm saying that the discussion is off the table until terrorism can be spoken of in the same tense as the Holocaust -- past tense. It may take a while, but I'm willing to wait. Yitzchak Rabin and Ehud Barak have taken the peace process seriously, and Ehud Olmert, the current prime minister, seems ready to follow in their path. That's fine. But it's important that he not be deluded by false hope when facts on the ground suggest that peace is far away and war is very close.
The American presidential primaries are much on my mind. I have very little confidence in the voting process for two reasons. First, as a Massachusetts resident, my vote in the general election does not count. Massachusetts has voted for the Democratic candidate every election since long before I was born. Second, I turned 18 while the result of the Florida election in 2000 was being determined. Let me say very clearly: Al Gore won that election. It was stolen from him because of a nasty technicality: namely, the ballots were designed in a way that confused voters who ended up voting for Pat Buchanan, a fringe candidate, instead. The fact that the ballots could not be changed after the fact has no effect on the value judgment of what happened. Legal technicalities aside, the decision to award the election to George Bush was an embarrassment to the legacy of democracy and the Constitution. If the majority of voters in Florida intended to vote for Gore, as is evident, then Gore should have been awarded the election, or a "mistrial" of sorts should have been declared with the vote being done again statewide. The confusion of hundreds of voters who punched the whole for Buchanan instead of Gore by mistake was just one issue raised in the election. We also learned about hanging chads, dimpled chads, ballots that contained two votes or no votes at all, or where the existence of a vote was in the eye of the beholder. This is no way to run a democracy! Surely we can find ways to ensure that every vote counts and is counted correctly and fairly. Yet, after more than 7 years, the problem remains unresolved in many states and counties, and there is nothing to prevent a similar controversy from happening at any time in the future. It is almost beside the point that Al Gore won the popular vote, and was thus the choice of the American people to be president.
I'd like to see two changes in my lifetime. I want the Electoral College to be reformed or retired so that America elects its president based on the popular vote, so that every vote truly counts, whether from Massachusetts or Ohio. The pros and cons of the current system have been discussed ad nauseum, but the fundamental principle is that every voter in a democracy should have equal power to decide an election. Giving voters extra power because they live in Ohio rather than Massachusetts is not much better than giving voters extra power because they are men and not women, or white and not black, or have the ability to pay a poll tax. And don't even get me started on that silly and totally unnecessary voter ID law that the US Supreme Court upheld in the State of Indiana. The point is, I want my vote to count the same as anyone else's vote, and in the Electoral College, this is not the case. And I want a truly reliable system to be implemented so that I have full confidence that my vote will actually be counted as one vote in favor of the candidates I choose -- not zero votes, and not two. One vote, like every other vote. The technology is there, but where is the willpower from politicians who got into office with the broken electoral system we have today?
I think I'll vote for McCain in the primaries. Here, I feel my vote really can influence the course of world history. Of the four major candidates at this stage, I would rank my preferences (1) McCain (2) Obama (3) Clinton (4) Romney. I think McCain and Obama both have the power and motivation to build a bipartisan coalition in the legislature. McCain has done this on more than one occasion, and Obama has the personality to do it, and has not made any enemies yet to prevent him from doing it. Clinton leans farther to the left, and Romney farther to the right. I personally lean to the left, and I voted for the Democrats in 2004 and 2006 (except in the local election for Alan Hevesi in New York, where I voted against him for ethical violations that led to his resignation a couple of months after he won reelection). I also think McCain will do good things for Israel. I don't have a good read on any of the other candidates' foreign policy approaches. Most of all, I really mistrust Romney. I think he's a stereotypical political liar who will say whatever it takes to get elected, regardless of whether he honestly feels that way or not. So I will almost certainly vote for McCain, not only because I really respect the man, but also because I want to knock Romney out of the race.
As time passes, there are only 22 minutes until "Shema Yisrael" plays again. I hope to be listening, so I must prepare for bed. I will try to use my time wisely, in whatever way I decide to measure time.
It should also be noted that the Hebrew calendar, with days of the week numbered rather than the Pagan names used in the English language, and months connected to the traditional holidays, must play a role in a religious Jew's mindset. That is not connected to the warping of time zones produced by the Internet, but is important regardless.