Cold Altruism: Cristian Mungiu’s “Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days”

Much has been written about the slow pace and the role of time in Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days. Less has been said about the societal decay it portrays.

This Romanian film, written directed by Cristian Mungiu, tells the story of an abortion. But it also depicts, intensely, the relationship between two women, and shows how an impersonal, heartless regime (Ceauescu’s Romania, in this case) can leave its citizens with nothing but impersonal, heartless relationships.

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Why Israel is Losing Its Green Spaces: The Pointed-Roof Hypothesis

A phone company commercial currently appearing incessantly on Israel’s channel 2 depicts a somewhat thickset, balding man in his fifties sitting in an armchair watching television. The television is situated in a family room and in the background of this open-plan ground floor you can see a large kitchen and living room. The man’s teenage son bounds down the stairs in shorts and a sleeveless sweatshirt, fake-tosses a basketball to his father, and heads out the door.

What’s wrong with this picture? And what does it have to do with the destruction of Israel’s countryside?

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What Education Costs Us

Poor kids get worse educations and graduate from high school at lower rates than rich kids. That’s bad. What could be worse? The Bank of Israel’s annual report (not yet available on line, but here’s a report in today’s Ha’aretz) says that the education gap has remained virtually the same since 1992. We’ve made no progress at all.

Or Kashti writes there:

The study found that in the 2004-05 academic year, the proportion of students who earned a bagrut (matriculation) certificate was 25.5 percentage points higher in the two highest socioeconomic deciles than in the two lowest deciles. That is almost identical to the gap recorded in 1992-93 – 25.3 percentage points

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Boring Subversion

It’s out! The new issue of Ma’ayan, Israel’s most notorious literary magazine, lives down to its reputation. Here’s Dada without the humor, subway graffiti without the color. The prose reads like what you’d get if you transplanted George W. Bush’s brain into the body of Israeli anti-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe (I’m thinking of Bush’s wooden English style and cluelessness chimeraed with Pappe’s hysterical grandstanding and Hebrew kindergarten invective). Most of the poetry was, I suspect, written on Jerusalem’s infamous 15 (recently demoted to 13) bus, which wends its way irrationally and endlessly through streets that no one particularly wants to visit.

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The Selfish Monk: Kim Ki-Duk’s “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter …and Spring”

The ancients asked a question we ask too seldom today: How can I live a good life? Not a happy, successful, or important life, but a good one? The answer the Korean director Kim Ki-Duk gives in his 2003 film, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter …and Spring is: live alone, in a house that floats in the middle of a lake that lies in a beautiful, deserted valley. Do not love, do not raise a family, do not seek out other human beings.

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The Intellectual Defense Forces

If you want to bone up quickly on any subject ranging from molecular biology to gender studies to Maimonides, where do you go? If you’re lucky enough to be able to read Hebrew, you know where—you pop over to the nearest book store or library and dig through the booklets published by the Broadcast University.

Israel’s universities may be in decline and their humanities faculties heading for intensive care, but this is one bright corner, and the light comes, of all places, from the army.

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Up Against the Wall: Back at Gershom

Gershom, you’re right about a number of things in your“Politics of Measurement” post. Science is never free of social, economic, and cultural constraints, even if the scientific method offers, by and large, a good way to minimize those influences and approach the truth. And proving cause-and-effect relationships in politics and relations between nations is a hazardous undertaking. The influences are complex and interlocking, you don’t have a control group, and experiments can’t be repeated.

In the specific case at hand, the separation barrier, you are also correct that it is very difficult to isolate the anti-terror effect of the fence from other factors. As you note, political changes took place in parallel to the construction of the fence. And Israel also conducted an anti-terror offensive, using a variety of military measures.

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Colleges in Crisis

My children are reaching college age at an inauspicious time. My oldest daughter, Mizmor, matriculated last fall. My son, Asor, will start his studies in three years or so, when he completes his army service and, most likely, spends the usual year traveling overseas.

Higher education is one of those issues that Israeli governments like to procrastinate about. Put out fires and fix leaks but don’t make any long-term policy commitments—that, in the big picture, has been the approach for the last decade. And, as with our sharply dwindling water supply, a disaster is about to happen that will be difficult to reverse.

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Organ Donation and the Rabbis

The passage of a new organ donation law by the Knesset on Monday is good news in this country, which has one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world. The new law will be trumpeted by some as a victory over the benighted Orthodox rabbis that have long opposed organ donation, and lambasted by others who will claim that it goes too far towards the rabbis.

As usual, the story is a lot more complicated than that. Undeniably, a lot more people in Israel, particularly religious and traditional ones, should be encouraged to allow organ donation when a tragedy occurs. But the rabbis’ concerns are important ones and this law has succeeded because it has addressed those concerns.

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Childe’s Play: Neolithic Revolution or Evolution?

I’ll forgive Gershom his faux pas in referring to the laws of thermodynamics when he meant Newton’s laws of motion; after all, I’ve the science beat on this blog. The slip-up shows, however, how important terminology is. Gershom wanted to make a point about how every action produces a reaction. The first law of thermodynamics says that the change in the internal energy of a closed system equals the heat inserted into the system plus the work done in the system. That produces a very different political metaphor.

A political word, “revolution,” gets used in a lot of scientific contexts without sufficient attention to the meanings it bears with it. In this post I want to address one of those contexts, the period in prehistory called the Neolithic revolution.

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