Friday, November 11, 2011

This week, I am grading a set of short analytical papers... They are so-so, few are  outright illiterate, so that's a relief, but I am still so happy when I get a well-written paper that I almost overlook the argument. And then a student, well, several, handed in papers addressed to MRS grits. I just had to briefly vent on Facebook. The ensuing discussion convinced me that FB, far from being a time sucker, facilitates deep international discussions out of a brief rant:
Me: Mrs. Grits ! MRS! A student hands in a paper for MRS Grits! Feh!!
Peter (Australia): They translated from the German: Frau.

Me: Nice try but not quite. Oy! Hey! It's not funny! It's infuriating!... I'm kidding and and aggrieved after a litany of based off of, but more profit off ofs. Sigh. abhinc 17 horas ·

Peter (Australia): Students following corporate-speak blindly ... I've seen such crap from from PR releases abhinc 17 horas ·

Mary (US): Oy, I got a based off of too. Makes me nuts. I also get "Mrs." I think it's a Southern thing. I get it occasionally in stores and businesses. When I inform check-out counter people that the generic for a woman is Ms. just as the generic for a man is Mr., they have no clue. And then there are people for whom Ms. means "Miss." No Ma'am. (I have no problem with Ma'am aside from the fact that it makes me feel a little old.) If I use Ms. it means I use it before, during, and after marriage. Or without marriage. Heck, my mother has Ms. on her address labels and she's 93 and the most married person I know. (Amusing story: a telemarketer, back when I talked to them -- now the answering machine answers all calls at home and it screens 'em right out-- called and said "May I speak with Mrs. Miller?" I replied "There's no Mrs. Miller here." Which was true! Earlier I said to one, "That's my mother," but that was before the above-mentioned address labels. Though she uses Mrs. too, but mostly she just says "call me Sally" and dispenses with the titles.

These students should call you Dr. Grits  ! Or Professor Grits! Mrs, feh indeed. I bet they call the male professors Dr.
abhinc 17 horas ·

Me: Yes, they should. Might be time for a talk on gender and norms talk in class.  

Laura (Switzerland): As long as they don't call you Miss Teacher ;-) abhinc 16 horas · ·

Anna (US): Once at a meeting with a large group of students present, a high-ranking administrative assistant addressed the male professors who were involved as "Dr.," and called me "Ann." After the meeting I wrote an email and asked her to call me Dr. in front of students, as she did the male faculty members. She didn't even seem to realize that what she was doing was condescending. Before I came here, students were calling professors by their first names in our department and were so disrespectful - too immature to handle the privilege of doing that. I came in and said I wanted to be called Dr. Smith, and started calling the other faculty by their titles. What is really aggravating is when they call our TM (code, not translatable on Facebook), who does not have a doctorate, "Dr." abhinc 16 horas ·

Me: Oh Ann how infuriating! Yes, it's really a gender issue. I notice that students behave in a much more respectful manner towards my male colleagues and I don't think I come across as too cozy (my accent alone is scary!). Sigh. It is difficult to change a place's culture. I don't mind being called koshergrits, but not in a place where everybody else is Dr. XY. Tssssssssssssss.

Shoshana (UK): @Ann, it seems to be common practice to address your TAs, supervisors and lecturers who have yet to complete their doctorates as "Dr" and not "Dr-to-be." I notice you have no such problem when applied in the other direction, e.g. many undergrads referring to lecturers as 'professors,' particularly in america, despite said having doctorates and tenure, not professorships. abhinc 16 horas ·

Ann (US): Shoshana,  when I was teaching while getting my doctorate, students just called me "Mrs." But when a male without a doctorate does adjunct teaching, he is often called 'Professor.' There is no rhyme or reason to it. Here, the title "professor" is used very loosely. Technically, I am a "assistant professor," but no one uses that title. Many faculty at the college where I teach just go by first names, but this just does not work in the music department, partly because music is assumed to be a soft, easy subject in this country - and we have to be assertive about changing that perception. I noticed when I was a student that women who allowed students to call them by their first names were not respected in the same way as the men were, even if they were highly successful and tenured. I could conceivably let graduate students use my first name, but not young students. And of course unlike in Europe, or Germany at least, you can be a "professor" and have only a master's degree, rather than habilitation. Some of the senior tenured faculty members without doctorates do not like it when younger faculty use their Dr. title because Dr is the more respected title here. abhinc 11 horas ·

Lisa (Israel): Do you do the old "I don't have a husband, but I do have a Ph.D., so you can call me Dr."? (It's even better when you're at a religious school and have an out-of-wedlock daughter. they never make that mistake twice). abhinc 8 horas ·

Nils (Denmark) Per over here in rain-drenched Scandinavia, everybody would be calling you by your first name, regardless of age, gender and rank. AND having you here would mean a much-needed hike to the average IQ as well as the average sense of humour around the place. Only trouble is, the single vacant position at the moment is in Assyriology -- but you could tell them you read the Bavli ...Am I right that in German it's impolite to say Fraülein if you're in doubt, since it seems etymologically to imply "less than Frau"?   (it was around 1980 that somebody pointed this out to me, so could have changed, I know) abhinc 8 horas ·

Laura (Switzerland:) Fräulein is the equivalent to Miss (or Mademoiselle, or Señorita for that matter, which both sounds so much nicer) and is NEVER used in Germany except in an intentionally condescending manner. Or sometimes in jest with little girls. It is actually not such a bad word and was used, in the olden days, to distinguish non-married from married women. But of course today it has all kinds of implications.I personally think those antiquated expressions should be used much more often, maiden is lovely, even in German, die Maid. Very antiquated :-)  BTW I have the opposite "problem". I am constantly being called Doctor even though I don't have a doctorate. I am "only" a physician, Arzt (or Ärztin, for feminist-minded people). And that does not always come with a "MD". :-)

Dina (Israel): i much prefer the Yiddish מיידעלך. my students call me Dina. i'm not sure if i would respond to Dr. Cohen. Dr. Cohen is my grandpa, the physician... but i just had to call MY professor, and found it very hard to ask for "Dan" on the phone. i'm trying to avoid to call im as much as possible...abhinc 2 horas ·  

Nils (Denmark): hehe, I know that feeling. A professor at that I did some assistant work for -- arguably the planet-wide no. 1 in his field -- graciously accepted to be on the committee evaluating my thesis, and immediately after the defense informed me, that I would now have to call him by his first name. That took some getting used to.

Laura (Switzerland): Och, in Switzerland, all women are DAS: Das Heidi, das Vreni, das Fränzi... It's just a diminutive... Das Maitli... Das Büebli....

Nils (Denmark): to be fair to the German language, isn't it automatic that any -lein and -chen noun becomes grammatical neuter? (Small dog = Hundchen, and -- voila -- the creature changed it's grammatical gender, but may be a he or she dog none the less) abhinc 5 minutas ·  

Me: Nils: don't tell me you think it-s a coincidence that Germans don't say Herrlein, die Rechnung bitte! abhinc 5 minutas · ·  

Nils (Denmark): no doubt whatsoever that you're right there; I only meant that the grammatical phenomenon itself of turning masculine and feminine nouns into neuter when they're diminutive, is applied regardless of gender. The social choice of USING diminutives for women is of course no coincidence :-)... actually there was a satirical Norwegian novel in the 70'es that reversed the phenomenon and had the Danish/Norwegian equivalent of "Herrlein" all over the place (not to mention having young males wear the equivalent of a bra to support their anatomical protuberances)

Me: I read that novel, I LOVED it! Of course, I was 16 but still. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Night of Broken Glass

Remember! On November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass, a state-sponsored wave of organized anti-Jewish crime hit German Jews and cities. Synagogues and stores were destroyed, thousands arrested, many died, and many now understood that it was better to leave.

In German history, this is a significant date. Note also
- 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall
- 1923: Hitler and Ludendorff launched a failed coup
- 1918: Philipp Scheidemann  proclaimed the Weimar Republic. It lasted until 1933.
- 1848: Execution of Robert Blum, a member of the Frankfurt National Assembly. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sarkkozy and Obama

It's good to know that some things never change! Today, I've been much amused by a slight faux pas committed by French president Sarkozy. 

" I cannot stand Netanyahu, he's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama. 

"You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you," Obama replied. 

LOL! Who cannot feel for those two who have to deal with Netanyahu and his idiosyncratic political decisions on a daily basis. Although my heart is more with the Israelis and Palestinians who actually have to live with his decisions. One of the first Hebrew sentences I consciously managed to decipher while riding a bus in Israel was:  ביב? עושים בשירותים. This lovely epitaph--Bibi? That's what you do in the toilet--had been written into the dust covering a bus stop, in the midst of a slew of suicide bombings that had propelled Bibi back into power. Sadly, though, there seems to be no consensus on either side, and no leadership. While every Israeli I know is fed up with Netanyahu, no other leader has managed to seriously challenge him. Until then, I guess, we'll have to live with him. 
Last night, I went to a birthday party. It was an eightieth birthday, and I was advised to show up in "business casual," a category that made me blanch and run to the phone to consult with my resident specialist. The birthday boy had told me they had goats, and chickens, and really, lived on a farm. His neighborhood is semi-rural, so this didn't seem strange to me. But then I couldn't find it. I plugged the address into my trusty phone. Still no idea. I turned right, I turned left, and passed a rather long 10-foot stone wall. Finally, I took the driveway through an imposing gate and approached a well-lit Italian-Andalusian villa and voila! I'd arrived. Not much of a farm, though, and I immediately felt seriously underdressed. Half the Jewish community was there, all sitting on one side of the pool, while his remaining family and friends, the food, and the booze, were on the other side. I joined the Jews, of course, after a good look at the food.

In addition to two waterfalls, the house also sported some pets, although I only got to hang out with a thirty-five year old cockatoo:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Game theory...

Last night I went to a lecture on game theory, and while I listened to the speaker who argued that game theory was, basically THE tool for American foreign policy, I wondered why he didn't apply his considerable brain power to finding solutions to health care or unemployment. I have never heard game theory applied to these questions, for American researchers, it seems more fashionable to turn to far-off places, in good (post-) colnial(ist) manner. Iraq? Pakistan? North Korea? Israel? No problem. Iowa? Not so much...

At the same time, I thought of these theories when, only hours after a Hamas had committed to a peace deal, Israel flew attacks against Jihad Islam, one of the many small groups committed to military resistance against Israel. What was rarely mentioned, was that bombs had been falling since Wednesday, and that the Israeli response killed no civilians. It seems like a carefully choreographed dance, aimed at keeping a miserable status quo: Hamas calls for peace, but can't/won't quite reign in splinter groups. Israel calls for restraint, but does not stop radical settlers from terrorizing the population. One soldier and one student are set free, and so are 1000 Palestinians.

In the meantime, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and most schools in the south of Israel remained closed today. The academic year will begin only tomorrow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ilan Grapel

"בחור נפלא" (a great guy)...Ilan Grapel is free. Until a few days ago, the media were pretty quiet about the entire affair. The Emory law student from Queens, imprisoned in Egypt since June, has been set free in yet another exchange of prisoners. I came across Grapel while preparing for a series of classes on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers or more precisely Hamas, it turns out, were involved in his release (or at least some say they were), and apparently also in the last rounds of negotiations of Gilad Shalit's that took place last week.  Grapel holds dual US-Israeli citizenship and served in the IDF. He applied for a visa in Tel Aviv, and made, it seems, no bones about being both a Jew and an Israeli. He posted photographs of himself at Tahrir Square, and wrote home regularly. Then he was arrested and things get a bit murky.

According to al Ahram, he was accused of being a Mossad spy and of inciting Egyptians. Why? He was said to have visited synagogues, pretending to be a journalist or a European tourist. Or, it was said, he tried to cross the border into eastern Libya. Alyawm al-masri thought those were ludicrous ideas.

Al Jazeera puts the exchange into context:

And already there is talk of additional prisoner exchanges. No wonder: Egypt will now be able to by 16 fighter jets,  and the 25 prisoners, mostly Bedouin drug and weapons' smugglers received a heroes' welcome.

The redemption of prisoners was a central value in rabbinic and medieval Judaism, and has, it seems, not lost its power in the modern state of Israel. Who in the US remembers Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Haqqani network in Afghanistan since 2009? Are there campaigns for his return? If so, I have not heard of any, and my students, many of them former soldiers who have seen action, have never heard his name.  Or how about Ahmed Kousay Altaie, missing in Iraq since 2006? FIVE years!

Here's to Bergdahl and Altaie's release from captivity. We sent them to war, we should bring them home.

Greencard stuff

Last week, I handed in my Greencard application.

I have lived in the United States since the last nineties. Since then, I have gotten married and divorced, begun and completed a Ph.D., and moved several times. Because I had applied for my papers while living in Israel, I initially received a 2-year visa and went through a series of F-1 student visas. Each had to be renewed outside the US, accompanied by the requisite paper work and an appropriate amount of panic. And money. There was the time when I had to prove that I had $20.000 on my account, money that, needless to say, I did not have. The visa clerk suggested that I max out my credit cards for one day, print out the balance and bring it in. A friend offered to sponsor me but she did not earn enough to satisfy the INS. In the end, a fellow graduate student vouched for me. I was on an F-1, a student visa, for a while, switched to OPT (Optional Practical Training) for my Postdoc, then to a J-1 and finally to H1B, a work visa. I have never crossed the US border without an accelerated heart rate, scared to be arrested, called out, or refused entry, especially after 9/11. Not much ever happened to me. At the Canadian border American, border police once asked me to leave the car and I had to force a friend, who thought all this was hilarious, to come with me. Another time, when I was already in my second year of teaching here, a Homeland Security officer asked me what I was studying--the Consulate in Jerusalem had forgotten to invalidate my visa, meaning that I had two valid visas in my passport  and had processed me as a student. Luckily, he spoke to me: how could I have proven that I hadn't entered the country illegally as a student?

I have made appointments for consulates through an incomprehensible calling center in India, waited for hours before the Consulate in Eastern Jerusalem, petrified to be blown up--could there be a better target than Americans waiting in the open air?--and I shivered in Europe where I wasn't even allowed to bring in a handbag and where my mother went into a diabetic shock waiting in the freezing cold. I was yelled at by an infamous clerk in Jerusalem, and promptly burst into tears when she told me that she had denied my request because my papers, fedexed by diplomatic pouch, were lacking a form (that later re-emerged). I have picked up my passport in shady buildings, rescheduled flights, and waited panic-stricken by the letterbox for the visa to arrive so I could return "home" in time for the semester. Some moments were comical, so when the queen of visas at my school showed me the first page of the H1B visas on her screen: "Are you involved in sheep herding?" As it turns out, sheepherding is highly subsidized, and there is a quota because of the lack of qualified personnel..

And now, finally, I could apply for a Greencard. These are the forms I had to fill in order to apply:

I-485: Application to register for Permanent Residence
- a list of all organizations I adhered to since age 16, with addresses and dates. This, luckily, was interpreted to refer only to professional organizations, although the form says differently.
- check over $1,070, payable to US Citizenship & Immigration Services
- two photographs, each with my name and "A-number" on the back, tucked into special tiny envelopes that kept them apart.

I-765: Application for Employment Authorization
- a list of all paid jobs with addresses, job descriptions, and dates, that I have held since coming to the US, plus my last job abroad. In my case--being a graduate student--that added up to a lot of jobs until the Visa Queen decided to subsume all this under "Graduate Instructor" which to me sounded silly but was deemed more respectable than "Graduate Assistant"
- two photos, see above.
- This form costs $380 if not filed with I-485

I-131: Application for Travel Document
- Called Advanced Parole, this will enable me to leave the country while I wait for my Greencard to arrive. I applied for multiple entries--who knows how long this will take!
- two photos, see above.

I-693: Medical Examination
- in a sealed envelope
- Lots of Immunizations, incl. tetanus, Syphilis and TB test. This cost $308 because my records didn't arrive on time. There were two guys with guns at the Civil Surgeon's office and I had to go twice.

G-325A: Biographic Information, including a list of my addresses of the last 5 years.

Copy of 1-140 Receipt or Approval Notice--the result of SERIOUS paper work from last year that enabled me to put in a bit for my "parking slot", my place on the list to receive a Greencard.

Employment Verification Letter from my school. Deemed too important to be handed over to me.

Copy of front and back of my current I-94 [proof that I entered and left the country, every tourist receives one of those cards in the airplane and submits it upon leaving the country]

Copy of I-797 to provide evidence of lawful admission and continued maintenance of status, that is, that I hold my current visa lawfully. This particular piece of paper consists of 2 inches of a green sheet of paper. It was given to me three years ago in Israel when I picked up my passport. I only kept it because I kept everything that had to do with my visa and spent seven hours last Tuesday looking for it.

Copies of ALL pages of passports on which any US stamp appears, in my case: 2, 64 pages in all. I had to highlight the most recent US visa and the most recent US Immigration entry stamp in the appropriate passport.

International birth certificate, requested and paid for online from my  birth city, a place that has undergone rezoning twice since my birth.

Copy of divorce decree. Boy did I feel crummy re-reading those pages.

Once I had it all together, the actual assembly of the file took about half an hour. Now it's all in a Lockbox in the Dallas of Homeland Security. Mabruk, let's see what happens next.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

High Holiday run-down

Three three-day whammies are a killer, and I feel as if I'd squeezed an week's worth of work into three days, week after week. I am ready for a vacation (and a diet), but here are some random impressions from the first set of chaggim (holidays) spent in toto in the south:

Ten minutes into Kol Nidre, I cup my upper lip lips on the new mahzorim (prayer books) we were using.  Definitely a first for me. I saw some really short skirts and high heels in shul. When I walked to shul in the morning, a car flitted by, a snazzy yellow jeep, a hand shot out of the window and a voice that made me jump boomed out: "ShaLOHM" I have no idea who that was. 

And then, on Erev (the day before) Sukkot, I got up at the crack of dawn to cook. It was not an auspicious beginning of the day: I burned one dish, the fish balls fell apart, I ripped a skirt and dropped the milk. In addition, my arba minim had not arrived and I had to teach until 5:15. The lulav did turn up eventually, but without lulav rings. I hadn't ever paid attention to lulav rings before I picked up this rather bouncy lulav, and so it took me a second to realize that something was wrong. Luckily, there's youtube:

Looks so easy, right? It's easier when you wind the whole bit a number of times around the lulav...
Otherwise, well, we didn't have a minyan for large parts of the services, but on the other hand, we were we done quite fast... And while I missed my NJ family terribly, the weather was definitely a plus.

Most importantly: quiet till Passover!

Amos Oz on the Brian Lehrer show

An interview with Amos Oz on the Brian Lehrer show, calling on Israel to recognize the Palestinian state. And a reading from his latest book, too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Greencard saga update

Update on the Greencard Saga:

Last Friday, I was fingerprinted. The "invitation" had shown up in the mail, and although I was petrified to miss my appointment, I verified time and location only about a dozen times. A friend and colleague, went with me or better, drove there and took me with her. I probably would have wrapped my little Honda twice around a tree before I'd arrived there...

The office was located in a nondescript office building. Wise from trips to the American consulates in Europe (where I wasn't even allowed to take in a coat) and Israel (no cell phone or bag), I'd left everything in my car. This, however, was the Deep South and in spite of the big signs NO GUNS! NO CELLPHONES!, the friendly security guys simply asked whether we were packing, My friend walked in with her cell phone and her handbag and I somehow have the feeling they would have watched her little Glock for us, had we brought it. When I entered the first waiting room, it was filled with people, all waiting to be sworn in as citizens. I was nearly in tears-I, who'd been raised in the most anti-nationalist climate possible! The fingerprinting itself took about 2 minutes of pressing my fingertips around on a glass surface, plus getting yelled at because I had failed to sufficiently turn away from the screen. After all that excitement, I went shopping.

Now, all I have to do is wait for my Advanced Parole papers (aka travel permit), and my Greencard.

Christmas in October!

Today, my neighbors put up their Christmas tree. It's October. OCTOBER. Yes, I am surrounded by a bunch of non-liturgical Baptists, but October? Really? Sukkot was last week, people!

Update: a week later, a friend gave me beautiful etrog tree. It is now sitting on my balcony, looking out at its rival. Take that, Christmas tree!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Peter z"l

Today, I went to a memorial service for Peter, a long-time community member of the shul I attend. I went because one does those things and, honestly, because I am a fan of his partner. When I met Peter, he was already well into his eighties, and soon forced to succumb to a wheel chair.  He had fought in WWII and was proud to be a veteran. For decades, Peter had made a living as a shoe salesman here in a small town, probably selling shoes half the city. He came to shul every Shabbat, and always demanded a hug when anyone would walk by, and for the Torah to be brought down to him, so he could kiss it. And, late in life, he met a new love who had survived Auschwitz, married a GI and had moved south in the early fifties. "Acccch," she would tell me about those first years, still sounding as if she had gotten off the boat yesterday, "you wouldn't believe it. There was no air condishioning, no buildings over four floors, no kulture. Ve came from Havai, can you imagine?! Schrecklich." Having survived Auschwitz, she did not take well to the segregated south and was, I was told, famous for disregarding the "color line" in the little restaurant she ran. Today, at the service, she opened the Aron, the holy arc, together with Peter's brother, and I heard the words עלינו לשבח....anew. Standing upright, the kippah we had bought her in Jerusalem on her head, next to Peter's much younger brother  who was bent over, fumbling with his siddur, I thought about this woman who, after years in hiding out in the open, the horrors of the camps and the migration to the Deep South, had found another mate and now lost him. And yet, we are enjoined to give praise. Somehow, today, that felt right. 

Thinking of Peter, and may his memory be for a blessing.