Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Trip to Colorado

Scenes from our Thanksgiving week trip to Colorado:

Macy, all dolled up for her baptism.

Two dolls.

 The children's choir at the Highlands Ranch Community Church sang during the baptism ceremony.

Side trip.  Susie and I celebrated our 12th anniversary at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs:

The view from the deck adjoining our room.

Thanksgiving program by Malia's kindergarten class.

 The Pilgrim women did a particularly fine job of acting and singing.

Valerie works for Air Methods, a company that provides emergency medical helicopter transport.  The company had a drawing contest for employees' kids, age six and under, for the company's Christmas card.  Malia won!

All her creation.  No parental coaching.  She won a Nintendo DSi device - game player, digital camera, drawing tablet, wi-fi, who knows what else.  She's showing it here (sorry, cut Jeff's head off).

She took some great pictures of Nei-Nei and Grandpa that we may be able to pay her to destroy.

Hanging out with Malia and Macy.

 Pine cone art that Malia and I made in the park behind their house.

Good timing - we managed to stop twice in Las Vegas - breakfast on the way north, lunch on the way south.  Here is a really nice book store, with a cute title, in Old Town Las Vegas.  Stop in next time you're in the area.

Rob and Susie

Friday, November 18, 2011

Israel - 4 - Old City

Thursday, Nov. 10.  Last day in Israel.  We spent the time exploring the Old City.

Here's a map: Jerusalem at the Time of the Second Temple (which included the time of King Herod's reign).


North is to the left.  The temple was in the upper rectangle, which was a leveled area called the Temple Mount.  The Western Wall of the Temple Mount is also known as the Wailing Wall.  Pictures to come.

Here's one of the gates into the Old City, used by both cars and people.

Inside there are many places for worship, including: a church, a synagogue, and a mosque.

Here's the Dome of the Rock.  It is maintained by a Jordanian agency.  Access, via the covered ramp in this picture, by non-Muslims is very limited so we did not go there.

The wall in this picture, running to your right from the center of the picture, is the Western Wall.  As mentioned above, it is also known as the Wailing Wall.  There is a discussion in the link I just inserted of the naming issue.  Also, the Dome of the Rock is within the bounds of the Temple Mount, probably built on top of remains of earlier temples (the writer of this article says it "stands on the place where Solomon’s temple once stood"), hence a contentious issue. 

Here's the plaza next to the Western Wall.

On certain days of the week, including the Thursday we were there, many freshly-turned 13-year old boys have their Bar Mitzvah ceremonies here.

As Herb Geller explained to me, for years young Jewish boys study the Torah and learn how to sing the text.  In this ceremony, they are being tested on it.  If they make a mistake, they have to correct it.

Just behind the wall, female family members watch and throw candy at appropriate pauses in the ceremony.


A couple more scenes at the Western Wall.

A large group of African men were present.  I don't know if that's typical or if there was some special occasion, or tour, that brought them here this day.  If you want, you write prayers on pieces of paper and tuck them into crevices in the wall as you pray.

The gentlemen in this picture are set up for the long haul.  This is in a portion of the wall access that is underground.

Quickly changing religions, here are some scenes along the Via Dolorosa that commemorates the journey Jesus took, carrying his cross, from where he was tried to Golgotha, where his crucifixion took place. 

Some groups stage their own Via Dolorosa:

The present Old City is built on top of ruins of the city in Jesus' time, so today's route is not the actual place where Jesus walked.  However, Irit showed us some paving rocks that had been excavated from the ruins of that period and embedded in the present walkway. 

The Via Dolorosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, said to be built on not only the site where Jesus died, but where he was buried.  Here's the plaza at one entrance.  There's a story about that ladder outside one window, but I've forgotten it.

A couple of interior scenes.

There were large crowds in this Church and I must admit it was a little hard to experience a feeling of awe and reverence.  I'm very glad, though, that I got a chance to visit these holy sites.

We took some time for shopping.  Here are some street scenes.

We finished our day looking at an area outside the Temple Mount's southern wall where excavation is ongoing.  Here's a grand staircase into what once was a gate into the Temple Mount, just above the excavation area (which does not now make for an interesting picture, at least I didn't get one).

After all of this, nearing sundown, Nancy and Herb Geller and I decided to walk back to the hotel.  The route took us through a swanky, modern mall (which people may have trouble interpreting 2000 years from now when it is excavated).  I had come here two nights earlier looking for something to eat.  A shop featuring art by David Gerstein caught the Gellers' eye, so we went in.  Gerstein is a famous Israeli artist.  The Gellers have a couple of Gerstein pieces.  You can read more about his art than you would ever want to at this site.  You can also see examples.

One of his metal "cut-outs" (probably the cheapest thing in the store), described as follows, caught my eye - I think, in hindsight, that it was the "variational freedom," which sounds statistical.

Until the late eighties - when the large body of his works called "cut-outs" appeared, along with the process of reproducing them in series of up to 295 signed and numbered copies, hand-painted in industrial paints with some variational freedom - Gerstein went through different expressive phases, yet in all of them he brought together the biographical with the local. Over the years his image reservoir grew to include local trees and birds, and his painting technique improved until it reached the formulation of handwriting, line and coloring which are uniquely his own. His images were treated again and again, his funny figures internalized their slight stammer, their innocent absurdity and their kindness, until they became more and more graphic, automatic, spontaneous, immediate, schematic, direct, with no double-lining. Merely a smiling gaze. Before the metal cut-outs with their industrial-like process of production, Gerstein created works in painted wood-cuts. He painted the first of these objects in the exact same manner as his canvases - with conventional oil paints. However, the transition to another medium and material called for relevant paints and painting techniques: super-lacquer, stencils, tapes, air brushes, etc. He tried to liberate the "statues" cut in wood from the flatness of the plywood. In order to achieve an expressive, tangible effect he covered the image's surface with a mixture of glue, sand and paint, and added acrylic paint on top of the resulting rough texture. However, it seems that even this did not satisfy him. His quest for a suitable personal language led him to metal, forcing him to give up acrylic paint and adopt industrial paint, since acrylic does not take to metal.

I didn't buy anything, but when I got back to the hotel, I decided to go back and do it.  So, here's my Gerstein cow.

How could you say No to a face like that?  And, because one good cow deserves another, here's another one (actually the reverse side).

I was pretty proud of my excursion into art collecting, so I was shocked, shocked to hear Susie telling people at church about his cow and laughing.  Actually, she (Susie, not the cow) says she does make you smile, which is not a bad thing for art to do.

That night we had a group dinner a short walk from the hotel.  Returning, one of our group spotted this intersection sign.  "Take a picture.  That symbolizes the cross-cultural nature of our trip."

The next morning, Friday, it was back to the Tel Aviv airport and 24 hours later I was back in Cedar Crest.  Hope you enjoyed the journey.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Israel - 3 - Jerusalem

Wednesday, Nov. 9.  Our first technical confab was at the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).  

I took a picture of the sign on the building since it's not often you see a government building that highlights 'statistics.'  Central Bureau of Statistics has a similar ring to it as Central Intelligence Agency, and might even be more entitled to the title!  Moreover, it's right there under the Prime Minister's Office.  Really warms my heart.

At the CBS we met Shlomo Yitzhaki, “The Government Statistician.” 

Israel, being a small country, has one statistician who oversees and coordinates the collection and dissemination of (essentially) all government statistics.  If I understand correctly, releases of government data are all handled by the CBS, not the agency that collects or "owns" the data.  (In the US individual agencies, such as the Census Bureau, the Food and Drug Administration, etcetera, etcetera, generally have their own chief statisticians and there is some coordination via the Chief Statistician in the White House Office of Management and Budget.)   I got the feeling that if you were a government agency head, or minister, or a member of the Knessett, you wouldn’t want to challenge this fellow’s numbers.  For one thing, he said he would make it known to the press if someone was playing fast and loose with government data.

One of the Central Statistics Bureau  staff who came to the meeting was, interestingly, the agency’s legal counsel.  He started off by asking who was the first Jewish “government statistician?”  Give up?  It was Moses. The book of Numbers, chapter 1, vs. 1 and 2, says, "And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai …,saying, 'Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls;'  And, of course, some time later it was because of Roman statisticians that Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem "to be counted" and this resulted in Jesus being born in Bethlehem.  Else we'd be singing "O Little Town of Nazareth."

Several times during our week someone referred to "Israel time," meaning that things don't always start on time.  A CBS example was that though policy (and maybe their constitution) calls for a census every 10 years, delays happen, so on average censuses have been done every 13 years.  No use getting uptight about such things.   

The CBS is in a growth period.  Israel has just joined the OECD (Organization for Economic Coopertion and Development), which means more data needs.  Also, they are working on linking various data bases in ways that will provide a better understanding of issues and needs.  I asked, for example, if they would eventually be able to track, annually, the percentage of university graduates who have had at least one course in statistics.  They said Yes.  We didn't discuss this, but you could conjecture that you might even be able to track where these people went to work and how much they make.  This sort of capability opens up all sorts of privacy and confidentiality issues, so you can see why the agency needs a lawyer. 

On Monday there was a four-hour labor-union strike in support of "contract workers."  Public transportation, including airports, but not our van, was shut down.  The issue is the government's use of contract workers to do social work, rather than government employees.  Contract workers are cheaper.  I asked if the CBS had data pertinent to this issue, such as how many contract workers there are and how their compensation compares to government employees doing the same work.  The answer was Yes and I just Googled up a newspaper article that says "roughly 80 percent of social services in Israel are today contracted out by the government to non-profit agencies or private entities."  I didn't see anything on relative compensation, but the big-picture question is, Is the public better served by, say, three contract workers or one government worker in certain jobs?  Need more data!

One more census note.  In Canada the government recently decided they would make the long-form questionnaire, which is sent to a random sample of households, voluntary. Voluntary census returns, like voluntary internet surveys, can really distort the data, in unknown and unadjustable ways: garbage in; garbage out.  The Canadian government chief statistician fought this, unsuccessfully, and resigned in protest.

Next we visited the Statistics Department in Hebrew University.  Had a continuation of talks we had had elsewhere pertaining to how broadly statistics is taught, by whom, how effectively, and student perceptions of the role and value of statistics.  One of the faculty members said he was writing a book, Thinking Differently: A Friendly Introduction to Statistics.  Sounds like a good approach.

Interestingly, statistics were a little hard to come by here, such as how many Master's and PhD graduates are produced annually by the university.  The department chairman, who couldn't be there, would know the answers, though.

Back to culture, we next visited the Israel Museum, in particular the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.  Irit gave us a stirring tale about the discovery of the scrolls by Bedouin shepherds and subsequent perilous handling of them until it was realized how valuable they are.  The scrolls exhibit includes some actual scrolls and some copies and is housed in what is called the Shrine of the Book.  Here is an internet picture of the exhibit room.

That circular display has a copy of the Isaiah scroll (the book of Isaiah), which is 24 feet long.

Nearby is a sculpture garden and we spent some time there absorbing that culture.  Some examples:

I'd call this one Roots.

Also in this same area is a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem in the first century AD or CE, choose your designation. 

Here's an overview.

Some of my shots, as sunset approaches.

From the people in the background of a couple of these pictures you get some idea of the size of this model.

Lots more pictures here.

We spent the next day exploring today's version of old Jerusalem.  Lots of pictures there, so I'll cover that in a separate posting.