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!