April 30, 2007


Sorry, haven't written much lately.

What's new? I've signed my contract with Luz and am happy to work there.

It takes me around an hour to get there in the morning so I'd like to by a small motorbike to go to work and get around Jerusalem and it surroundings. I would like to get a Honda Innova for old times' (read: Cambodia) sake but it's not available here, in Israel, so I may turn to the equivalent of an SH 125i from Kymco or Sym, the two brands from Taiwan available here which are one third cheaper than the equivalent Honda.

April 24, 2007

Queen Elizabeth II sets the example

According to Agence France Press, Queen Elizabeth II will offset the carbon dioxide emissions of her visit to the United States:

[... C]arbon emissions [of Queen Elizabeth II's] flights to, from and within the United States will be offset for the first time. Exact figures were still being worked out, [a] spokeswoman said.

Carbon offsetting involves individuals or organisations compensating for the amount of carbon dioxide generated through travel and energy use through for example financial donations to environmentally-friendly projects such as tree-planting.

The move comes after the queen's son and heir, Prince Charles, announced in December last year that he was to reduce the impact of overseas royal visits on the environment by "greening" his transport and the way his office is run.

That included replacing carbon-heavy private planes and helicopters with scheduled flights and trains "where appropriate."

I hope Her Majesty sets an example that everyone will follow.

Luz 2

The company I started working for yesterday is called Luz 2. Today Luz 2 is a small company (under 30 employees) but there's a lot of hope for growth. The company is developing a type of power plants using solar energy.

It was important for me to work in renewable energies which I consider an all-important and fascinating challenge. There are many sources of renewable energy on earth: wind, biomass, tide, geothermal... and the one we are trying to harness: solar.

Solar energy comes to the Earth in the form of light. It can be transformed very easily into heat: any black surface does just that. But generating electricity from solar energy is tricky. Photovoltaic cells are one possibility. The other possibility is to use the sun's as the source of heat in "traditional" power plants, instead of burning oil, coal or gas. The problem is to concentrate the sun's energy and transfer it to a fluid. The first Luz company pioneered a design called "parabolic troughs" which was very successful and is still the leading technology today. The Luz 2 company bets on improving an other design called "solar power tower": a field of heliostats concentrating light on a central receiver. Prototypes have been built before (Solar One/Two, Themis) a competing commercial project is underway Solar Tres. Wish us luck!

Additional reading:
A good introduction to the history of Luz & Luz 2 in relation with the California electricity market.

An interview with Arnold Goldman, founder of Luz and Luz 2. According to this interview, for those who wonder, Luz refers to the place where Jacob had his dream (Genesis 28, 12-22)...

Student strike

"I just wanted to study" says the young prostitute on the poster.
"Dad, I need money. - Yah, what do you want? 10, 20... 30? - Yes, 30... 30,000 Shekels to pay for my studies."

On my last day of vacation, last week, I was strolling Ben Yehuda street. The students were demonstrating (against the rise of the tuition fees). To convey the idea that the fees are beyond reach, they were playing music and performing, asking people not to drop coins, because "what are 10 shekels when the fees reach 30,000 shekels?"

A choir trains singing Bach, among them a blind woman. A haredi passes by begging for some change. What does the press photographer do? He rushes to take 20 snaps of this scene. In his (little) head flashes a vision: the caption "Students demonstrating in Jerusalem" under his (great) picture, full of "constrasts", on the front page of a newspaper - and his bank account credited.

A group of 4 recorder players plays baroque music.

Classical danse exercises.

A russian violinist plays Bach - he is not a student and he does appreciate the change one drops in his instrument's case.

April 15, 2007


I read David Brooks' op-ed column of April 8th and thought: "He's right, there is a huge divide between the Americans/Israel and the Arab/Muslim world. It's very depressing. So what shall we do about it?"

Barnett Rubin has a good analysis of David Brooks' opinion explaining how self-centered and unproductive it is. Rubin's conclusion, "David Brooks predicts a "war over narratives." We don't need to fight this war. We need to listen." is made much concrete by his suggestions (negotiating with the Arab states under Saudi Arabia's initiative and negotiatingwith Hamas).

These subjects keep me awake much too late, I should be in bed long ago.

Correction: Apparently, the area I live in should be referred to as "Old Katamon" rather than "Katamon" which is on the other side of the road and "much less nice".

April 12, 2007

Israeli administration

Yesterday, I had the invaluable opportunity to experience the procedures of the Ministry of Interior.

Over the week of Passover, I had been thinking over and over about my status and how to best change it in order to be able to start working. I was so frustrated because nothing could be done during the holiday!

I consulted the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, first thing Tuesday morning. From the interview with the counselor and from what I had read about the various statuses I came to the conclusion that the best for me was to become a Temporary Resident, which I am entitled to under the Law of Return.

Wednesday morning, I went to the Ministry of Interior before 8am. When I said I was coming to change my status to that of Temporary Resident (A-1) they gave me an appointment for... next month. Four full weeks from now. Why such a delay? No reason is given and no discussion is possible.

I am really in a hurry to start working (I almost became crazy doing nothing for a week, how would I wait for four weeks only to have the first appointment in a longer process?) so I stayed around until I could speak to the manager who told me: "An A-1, that's not good for you. Get a B-1!"

Again, why do they discourage people from requesting the A-1? I don't know. Anyway, B-1 is the "Working tourist" status. It's not exactly what I wanted because it involves paying for health insurance by myself, it is valid only 6 months and doesn't give me an Israeli ID so the contract with the company has to be rewritten. Never thwart an administration if you want to get something from them. If they look eager to give me a B-1 I'll take a B-1 for starters!

The procedure involved getting a letter from the Jewish Agency for the Ministry of Interior, which they gave me quickly after checking my "certificate of Jewishness", going back to the Ministry of Interior, filling the form, supplying a letter from the company and a certificate of health insurance. These two documents I had not brought because they were not required for an A-1 so I had to return to the Ministry today.

This morning, the B-1 visa was stamped in my passport, I can work legally here for 6 months!

Globally the process can be viewed as efficient. I got the work permit in 25 hours and 11 minutes (I arrived at the Ministry yesterday morning at 0745 and the visa was stamped today at 0856). But I was quite hopeless at first as they were about as welcoming to my request for an A-1 as a prison gate (French: aimable comme une porte de prison) and I continued to be very stressed at the idea that I was at their mercy all the time until I got the visa.

Dealing with the administration is a matter of humility, politeness, not giving up easily and not rubbing them in the wrong way (French: caresser dans le sens du poil)...

Initially I wanted, as a principle, to avoid having to resort to the Law of Return, and in fact avoid having at all to use the fact that I'm Jewish. But in practice it was not possible. If I get the A-1 it will be under the Law of Return which to applies to me as a Jew. Getting the B-1 is theoretically possible for non-Jews but it was clear that if I wanted the visa within a reasonable time, I needed the letter from the Jewish Agency and therefore the certificate of Jewishness. "People are not always as bad as their principles", my father says. I would say that "Principles are good,
but some flexibility in applying them is necessary"...

I'll write on the company and the job as soon as I sign the contract!

Massada: a picture

Not long after arriving in the country I went for a short trip to the Neguev, Eilat and the Massada. I met by chance two friends from France there, at the top of the fortress-hill. There's the result!

The two-shawarmas-a-day diet

As I mentioned, I moved into my own place. Which means... that I have to cook.

As I am such a good cook, and so willing to invest time in preparing food, I will have a diet which involves a bowl of cereals in the morning and two shawarmas, for lunch and dinner...

A new "Supersize me" movie soon in your theaters ;-)

April 07, 2007

Sand storm

After the snow three weeks ago, we had a small sand storm today in Jerusalem...

Friday, I moved into an apartment that I've been lent in the area known as Katamon, not far from the "German Colony". Katamon is also known as Gonen (the Wikipedia article stresses that it was an Arab neighborhood until 1948 - which I didn't know until now; it lacks information on the present-day neighborhood which you can find in the Hebrew version...)

Presently it's Passover, everyone is on vacation. I was indeed offered a job just before the holiday but it's now a question of status and work permit to be allowed to work here. And I'm nervous because I can't do anything about it until Tuesday...

For those of you who are in Paris, Rithy Panh's latest documentary is on show at the Reflet Medicis. Le papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise, or in English Paper cannot wrap up Embers, is highly recommended.

April 05, 2007

Pablo Neruda, La solitude lumineuse

Je n'avais encore rencontré Pablo Neruda qu'à travers le film "Il Postino" de Michael Radford.

J'ai pu lire récemment un petit recueil de ses textes initulé "La solitude lumineuse" dans lequel il parle de ses voyages en tant que jeune diplomate en Inde, à Ceylan à Singapour et à Batavia. La poésie portée par la langue de Neruda est incroyable, mais comme le fait remarque ce blog, son engagement politique est tout aussi remarquable.

Un petit épisode très émouvant se passe au Cambodge. Un internaute a eu la bonne idée de le retranscrire, je le copie de sa page :

Extrait de J'avoue que j'ai vécu, écrit par Pablo Neruda : 1ere publication posthume en 1974.

La solitude lumineuse, Images de la forêt :


"    L'autobus quittait Penang et devait traverser la forêt et des villages indochinois pour arriver à Saigon. Personne ne comprenait ma langue et je ne comprenais, moi, la langue de personne. Nous nous arrêtions dans des recoins de forêt vierge, au long de ce chemin interminable, et les voyageurs descendaient, des paysans aux yeux obliques, dignes et taciturnes, habillés d'une façon bizarre.
      Déjà nous n'étions plus que trois ou quatre à l'intérieur de l'imperturbable guimbarde qui grinçait et menaçait de se disloquer sous la nuit chaude.
Soudain, je me sentis pris de panique. Où étais-je ? Et où allais-je? Pourquoi passer cette nuit sans fin au milieu d'inconnus? Nous traversions le Laos et le Cambodge. J'examinai les visages impénétrables de mes derniers compagnons de voyage. Ils gardaient les yeux ouverts. Leurs mines me parurent patibulaires. J'avais l'impression de me retrouver au milieu de typiques bandits d'un conte oriental.
      Ils échangeaient des regards d'intelligence et m'observaient du coin de l'oeil. Au même moment l'autobus s'arrêta silencieusement en pleine forêt. Je choisis mon siège pour mourir. Je ne les laisserais pas m'emmener pour être sacrifié sous ces arbres ignorés dont l'ombre épaisse cachait le ciel. Je mourrais ici, sur une banquette de cette autobus déglingué, parmi des paniers de légumes et des cages de volailles, mes seuls éléments familiers en une minute aussi dramatique. Je regardai autour de moi, décidé à affronter la rage de mes bourreaux, et je constatai qu'eux aussi avaient disparu.
J'attendis longtemps, seul, le coeur serré devant l'obscurité intense de la nuit étrangère. J'allais mourir sans qu'on l'apprît. Et si loin de mon petit pays aimé ! Si loin de mes amours et de mes livres !
      Brusquement une lumière apparut, puis une autre lumière. Le chemin se couvrit de lumières. Un tambour roula et les notes stridentes de la musique cambodgienne éclatèrent. Flûtes, tambourins et torches remplirent de clarté et de sons le chemin. Un homme monta qui me dit en anglais :
   -   L'autobus est en panne. Comme l'attente sera longue, peut-être jusqu'à l'aube, et qu'il n'y a rien ici où dormir, les passagers sont allés chercher une troupe de musiciens et de danseurs pour vous divertir.
Durant des heures, sous ces arbres qui ne me menaçaient plus, j'assistai aux merveilleuses danses rituelles d'une noble et antique culture et j'écoutai jusqu'au lever du soleil la délicieuse musique qui envahissait le chemin.
   Le poète n'a rien à craindre du peuple. La vie, me sembla-t-il, me faisait une remarque et me donnait à jamais une leçon : la leçon de l'honneur caché, de la fraternité que nous ne connaissons pas, de la beauté qui fleurit dans l'obscurité. "

April 03, 2007

The world we live in is not for kids...

Today, in a conversation about IDF soldiers' rifles, I was told of the Israeli-made "Galil" guns and how they were phased out. Out of curiosity, I asked what became of the used guns. The answer: "Probably sold to Third-World countries."

Whether this is true or not, I stumbled upon an AP wire entitled "Colombia seeks Israelis accused of training death squads" relayed by the Haaretz newspaper. Extract:
Klein, a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army, appeared in a 1998 video used to train far-right squads. In 1991, he was convicted and fined US$13,400 (10,030) by an Israeli court for selling arms to Colombia's illegal groups.

Klein also spent 16 months in a Sierra Leon prison for his role in a guns for blood diamonds deal.
Those interested can have a look at the section "The Rodriguez Gacha case (Grey Market)" in The role of the “Grey Market” in the context of arms trafficking

Obviously, the movies "Lord of War", on arms trafficking, and "Blood Diamond", on conflict diamonds come to my mind in spite of their flaws as films which give an idea of what happens with guns once sold in conflict zones.

(I reviewed Blood Diamond in an earlier post. I think Lord of Wars is full of clichés, suffers from a bad screenplay and bad photography, but as long as people see it and think about the subject of arms trafficking, I'm happy.)

April 01, 2007

Israël, une définition

Israël et particulièrement Jérusalem, est un lieu passionnant de contradictions, de mélange, de ségrégation, de discrimination, de tolérance et d'intolérance, de religions, de conflit, de tension, de beauté, de jeunesse, d'ambition, de high-tech,
de monuments médiévaux et antiques, de nature et de béton.

April fool's day

Today, I got a job. You think it's an April fool's day joke, and it sound like one, but I did get an offer for a real job with a real salary and everything, in the field I targeted, i.e. renewable energy. Less than a month after I arrived. And because this would not be enough I also have an apartment for at least a couple of months in which I will move in on the 5th, a month after arriving.
Everyone will ask, what about a wife then? Well, that too. No that's the April fool's day joke.
Best j