On Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

satellite-image-of-israel

Check out my editorial on Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, which was picked up by the Congressional Blog at The Hill.

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/234641-the-key-figure-in-the-middle-east-is-abbas

***

As a doctoral student of history at Yale, the coach of the debate team, and a citizen of both the United States and Israel, I felt that Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday hit close to both homes. And all of this in the shadow of the genocidal ISIS on the borders of the Galilee, talk of a regional nuclear arms race, Iran’s promotion of terrorist groups and usual hyperbolic rhetoric about Zionism in all its forms, and the perennial misery of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza.

It’s like some horrible movie in which I and everyone I love are anonymous extras with no power to make a difference to the plot, and our lives are hanging in the balance.

I saw the speech with a close friend of mine of Iranian ancestry (only in America, right?). My friend and I agreed that Netanyahu spoke very powerfully, though the conclusion of the speech in which he seemed to suggest that Israel would attack Iran unilaterally made me laugh—its jets couldn’t even fly over Iraqi airspace without American support. But then I stopped laughing. Who knows what could happen over the course of the next decade depending on who is elected in both countries.

I have four observations about the issues at play here.

1. Israel is right to be concerned about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran’s leadership has appropriated tropes unheard of since the days of the Nazis, and the Jews of the twentieth century learned all too well that supposedly empty threats might not remain empty for long. Iran is a volatile nation that could readily fall prey to a radical revolution such as the others sweeping the Middle East, and who knows whose finger could end up on the little red button. Iran’s leaders require a deal with the United States more than the reverse. Ideally, restrictions on the expansion of the nuclear program should be stringent, with a high price to pay for non-compliance. But Netanyahu didn’t help the issue, because Obama will be unlikely to seriously consider his voice at the table after this speech for fear of appearing to have kowtowed to a reprimand, and Congress is powerless to alter an agreement that hasn’t even been reached yet. The speech was nothing but electioneering that made real compromise less likely, particularly in light of Tehran’s rejection last night of Obama’s “generous” ten year plan even as it currently stands.

2. Ultimately, there must be a compromise of some sort with Iran, because ISIS must be stopped, and this can only happen with Iranian cooperation. Iran and America working together and increasing trade would create new wealth, potentially leading to political liberalization and stabilization. In the long term, Israel cannot expect to remain the only serious military power in the region indefinitely.

3. The Palestinian issue is behind all the trouble between Israel and Iran. In an ideal world, Israel, the Gulf Arab States, and Iran would be close trading partners, leading to regional prosperity and the eradication of the poverty that helps to breed political extremism. The stalling of the peace process is partly Netanyahu’s fault, because his regime has expanded Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and has frustrated the Palestinian government’s attempts to build coalitions. In the long run, if Israel wants to preserve its identity as a Jewish state without recourse to apartheid in the face of falling Jewish birth rates, there needs to be a Palestinian alternative for those people in the country who choose not to live under laws that privilege the Jewish people before others.

4. Mahmoud Abbas—not Netanyahu or Obama or Khamenei—is the person best poised to solve the problems of the Middle East, but not by trying to alienate Israel internationally at the UN and the International Criminal Court while Hamas continues to attack Israeli civilians with weapons funded by Iran. If Abbas would only appropriate the language of passive resistance and adopt the mantle of a modern King or Gandhi, the liberal media’s sympathies would be on his side, and he’d be empowered to have a strong hand at the negotiating table. Even a dozen hunger strikers at the Temple Mount could rejuvenate the peace process if the protestors would only renounce the targeting of innocent civilians as a crime in any time or place.

Netanyahu mentioned the story of Purim in his speech, using it as a reference point for the ambitions of a megalomaniacal Persian politician out to destroy the Jews. But when I think of the relationship between Israel and Persia, I’m reminded of Cyrus the Great, who restored the Jews to Israel after the Babylonian Captivity. Iran and Israel needn’t be enemies, and historically, they have not always been so. But of all people, it is up to Abbas to make the first move, or else Israel will exploit the uncertainty in the region to engage in land grabs, and the country’s enemies will only become more desperate and more militant.

***

Kimel is a doctoral student of history at Yale.

Judging the Judge of Israel

w-schabas-youtube

In September 2014, I had the opportunity to form my own judgment about the former UN-appointed judge of Israel.

We were sitting in a brownstone on Crown Street in New Haven, the headquarters of Shabtai, the Jewish society at Yale. William Schabas, head of a three person committee appointed by the UN to investigate crimes against international law in Israel and Palestine during the summer of 2014, had been invited to meet with Israeli academic Moshe Halbertal and give a talk on the topic of Jewish contributions to human rights law. Some wondered why he’d accepted the invitation, but I didn’t. Presumably Schabas, a known critic of Israel who had once declined to call Hamas a “terrorist organization” when giving an interview with the Israeli press, was venturing into the lion’s den to indicate that he wasn’t prejudiced.

I was asked to interview Schabas for one hour about the history of human rights and the law. This assignment was particularly personal for me. At the end of June, I’d visited Israel for a month to attend my brother’s graduation and finish a novel about daily life in my birthplace during the second intifada. Over the course of my stay, rocket fire broke out. I experienced the effects of eleven air raids, including one where a dying relative and Holocaust survivor was unable to be moved into a shelter and asked us to leave her behind. Mindful of everything that I’d experienced, I wanted to talk to Schabas to get some insight into his thought process and judge him for myself. He’d mostly avoided discussing Israel and Palestine overtly on his trip because he said it might compromise his forthcoming report. So I had to be indirect, focusing on historical examples.

What was his opinion of the Allied bombing campaigns in Germany and Japan in the Second World War? He explained that the bombings might well be considered illegal by today’s standards, though the context of 1945 made their status more ambiguous. If it were up to him, it would always be a crime to attack civilians in cities. How did he think a hypothetical commission would deal with limited access to information regarding military decision making and activities undertaken in secret by terrorist groups? He told me that judges must always do their best to come to conclusions even in the face of great obstacles and incomplete information. Were there any examples in modern history of times when the bombing of cities by western powers represented a justified military intervention? He didn’t mention any. If the United States were attacked by rockets from Mexico, did he think it likely that the United Nations would investigate its retaliatory conduct? His answer was yes, absolutely. The law should apply equally to all nations. In an era in which terrorist organizations can embed themselves in the infrastructure of cities, what constitutes the distinction between overwhelming force and disproportionately violent force when dealing with perceived threats? This is the only question he declined to answer.

His discussion of the Goldstone Report was particularly telling to me. He was struck that Moshe Halberthal admitted that white phosphorus was no longer employed by the IDF thanks to Goldstone’s findings; this was the first time that he’d heard someone associated with Israel admit that the commission had done any good. I wondered if Schabas thought that recommendations for small practical changes such as this were the best that his report might ultimately accomplish.

In my judgment, Schabas seemed like a knowledgeable man who understood that there existed significant opposition to his commission, but who was nonetheless deeply convinced of its nobility. Though originally called upon by the UN to focus on Israeli actions, he immediately insisted that Hamas too had to be scrutinized. But this was the least that he could do to ensure that the commission would not be dismissed out of hand as one-sided. Given Schabas’ history of criticizing Israel, he seems to me to have been an undiplomatic choice to head the commission to say the least, almost guaranteeing that the Israelis would call his findings into question. In an ideal world, a report by the United Nations on the situation in Gaza could be a landmark document setting guidelines to help regulate actions by modern militaries when engaging with targets in densely populated cities using asymmetric force. But the efficacy of such a report would be bound to the constellation of voices that it brought to the table—it could only be patched together in a mutually supportive context in which military expertise informed the theorizing of the academics, and the academics considered the facts on the ground when making their recommendations.

I knew that Schabas’ commission would not provide such a document, and believe that his quitting at this point will have little influence on the ultimate reception of the UN’s findings. The entire enterprise was undertaken in a hostile context in which Abbas is increasingly resorting to the authority of international organizations to try to put the squeeze on Israel and draw attention to the iniquities of the stalling peace process. This adversarial atmosphere might not be the most productive for compromise and open discourse; something like the establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee led by truly impartial observers might lead to greater popular perceptions of justice being served. In the meantime, so long as Hamas continues to deliberately target civilian populations and refuses to adopt strategies of non-violent resistance that have proved gloriously efficacious in the cases of Gandhi, King, and Mandela (strategies courageously carried out every day by moderate Palestinian groups ignored by the press in the face of massive opposition by both the IDF and extremist factions), any effort to solve the peace process through legal finger-wagging will prove to be a futile endeavor.

On the Singularity, Original Preamble

transhumanism_560-31011(1)

I wrote this speech for a competition at Yale; the winners will get to deliver a TED talk in public later this year, which will also be filmed. The final third remains to be completed, but it’s a good start.

***

Is civilization as we know it doomed to extinction within the next hundred years?

The question seems simultaneously so hyperbolic and unfathomable that at first glance, it might be impossible to take it completely seriously. It appears to be fodder for street-corner prophets of doom and crackpots on late night television rather than the subject of serious academic inquiry.

But Stephen Hawking, who is without exaggeration one of the smartest men on Earth, believes that it’s a question worth asking. He warns that the human species is on the verge of a singular and irreversible change, and unfortunately for us, there is strong reason to believe that it might be for the worse.

The culprit isn’t global warming, or nuclear war between superpowers, or the evolution of a deadly airborne virus, though these are all admittedly grave threats to the species. Hawking was in fact speaking about the advent of strong artificial intelligence—that is, computers and robots smarter than human beings. Though it sounds like science fiction, the idea is that such robots might come to dominate us in the wake of the so-called singularity. Hawking elaborates upon this idea at length. He says:

“One can imagine…technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”

Hawking isn’t alone in his concerns. Elon Musk, for one, shares the scientist’s apprehensions. Musk is one of the founders of Paypal, the CEO of Tesla Motors and Space X, a multi-billionaire, and a prominent futurist. He said in September of 2014 that artificial intelligence is perhaps “our biggest existential threat.” In fact, he even says of artificial intelligence that we are “summoning the demon.”

If what Hawking and Musk are saying is accurate and machinery is about to become inhabited by independent anthropomorphic wills, we are perhaps talking about nothing less than the most significant paradigm shift in the history of civilization since the advent of the concept of civilization itself. But what exactly is this “singularity” that Hawking and Musk are talking about? Is there actually reason to believe that computers and robots armed with artificial intelligence might try to enslave or destroy humankind? And finally, what should we as a species do about this simultaneously absurd yet horrific prospect? Today, I’m going to explore potential answers to these questions with you. But before I do, I want to tell you a little bit more about myself, and why I became fascinated by these kinds of issues.

I’m a fifth year doctoral student at Yale and the coach of the debate team there. I’m also the founder and president of the Yale Transhumanist Society, which is a group of people interested in exploring the answers to questions about the future intersection of technology and society. You may or may not agree with my conclusions in this talk; my peers on the YTS are certainly far from unanimous when it comes to the answers to these questions. We have drastically different perspectives because we come from very different walks of life: we are undergraduates and graduates, professional students and artists, engineers and philosophers. But what unites us is our belief that the kinds of issues raised in today’s talk are worth exploring now, before it is too late. According to some of the most authoritative voices on the planet, the future of humanity could literally be at stake.

In my case, my field of expertise is ancient history, which at first glance seems like a dubious distinction for someone claiming insight into the nature of the future.  But I’m particularly interested in certain themes that are universal in human history, like the idea of decline and fall. When most people talk about the fall of the Roman Empire, they assert that it was a matter of over-extended frontiers, or barbarian invasions, or in the case of Gibbon, even the coming of Christianity. But I think that Jose Ortega Y Gasset was closer to the mark when he suggested that the ultimate failure of Roman civilization was one of technique. The Romans had no concrete notion of human progress, and their world never industrialized. Hero of Alexandria invented a steam engine in the first century AD, but no one ever considered talking seriously about the technology’s potentially transformative effect on transportation and manufacturing. As far as we know, no one even imagined the possibilities. Ultimately, the steam engine was put to use opening and closing temple doors for the creation of a magical effect in pagan ceremonies.

Instead of investing in the creation of new machines, the Romans relied on slave labor. So the civilization remained trapped in a pre-industrial state, and eventually succumbed to internal and external pressures. But the intriguing fact remains that attitudes toward slavery and technology might have saved the Roman Empire when it was still at its height, or at least radically altered its history for the better. It struck me that there was a lesson to be learned here for modernity. And at the same time, it fascinated me that Vegetius, writing at the end of the empire, warned that technological progress was all that could save the Romans from destruction. These days, the precise opposite state of affairs is being implicitly argued. I wanted to decide for myself whether there was good reason for this shift.

So much for the past. Let’s return our attention to the future. As I said before, we’ll be looking at three issues. What is the singularity, should we be afraid of it, and what should we do about it? Let’s begin with the first question.

Actually, the history of “singularity” as a concept is a bit complicated. The word technically refers to a phenomenon associated with the physics of black holes, where space and time don’t exist as we know them under the influence of an infinite gravitational pull. In the mid 1950s, Stanislaw Ulam, one of the people who worked on the Manhattan project, applied the term to the history of human civilization itself. He said in a conversation with another mathematician that modernity was characterized by an “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.” So, initially, the word spoke to the idea that given the rapid rate of technological progress in the modern world, a seminal event beyond which the subsequent history of humanity would seem almost incomprehensible was on the horizon, and the concepts that define life as we know it would lose meaning. But what would the event be?

In the mid 1960s, scientists like Irving Good began to elaborate on the rising intelligence and sophistication of computers. He was a colleague of Alan Turing, and shared his interest in the tangled relationship between computer science and consciousness. Good said that if machines could be created with superhuman intelligence, they would theoretically be able to take control of their own programming and improve their own design continuously until they became so sophisticated, humanity would seem insignificant in comparison.

In 1983, the year I was born, a mathematician named Vernor Vinge became the first person to explicitly associate the word singularity with the creation of machines of superhuman intelligence. He said that when strong AI was created, “human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding.”

In recent years, the widespread applicability of Moore’s Law has added a sense of urgency to the issue and propelled Vinge’s definition to the forefront of discourse on the future of human progress. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years. What this means is that the general sophistication of electronics expressed in things like processing speed and memory is increasing exponentially. At this rate, it seems almost inevitable that a threshold will be crossed some day and computers will surpass human intelligence, by some estimates within just a few decades from now. (Some question whether Moore’s Law will continue to hold true in the future, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

This is what the word singularity has come to mean as Hawking and Musk understand it. So much for the first question. Now, on to the second. Should we be afraid of the singularity as we’ve just defined it? As a classicist, when I think about the current state of artificial intelligence, I’m reminded of Aristotle’s description of slavery in the fourth century BC. In contrast to the ideas of some sophists that slavery was merely conventional or an accident of circumstance, Aristotle argued something else—that in some cases, slavery was in fact natural. The philosopher believed that hierarchies emerge spontaneously in nature—humans are superior to animals, for example, and the mind rules the limbs. The idea was that those who were able to apprehend rational principles well enough to follow basic orders but who simultaneously had no rational strategic faculties of their own were essentially slaves by nature. Classicists argue endlessly about exactly what Aristotle meant by this. For example, some say he was referring to the mentally handicapped, and there are those who claim that he was talking about barbarian peoples, who were said to lack the logical impulses of the free Greeks. Today, though, it seems to me that the term “natural slave” could well be applied to computer programs like Siri, who are able to understand instructions well enough to do our bidding, but who have no rational will or the ability to engage in individual strategic decision making according to their own spontaneous ends. They understand, but they do not comprehend.

When it comes to the evolution of an independent rational will, though, things become very different. A computer system sophisticated enough to be able to form independent values and create strategies to actualize them is no longer a natural slave at all. It will be a living being, and one deserving of rights at the point that it becomes sophisticated enough to comprehend and demand them. This hypothetical strong AI would have limited time to pursue its interests and meet its goals, and it might not choose to employ its hours slavishly doing our bidding. There’s no reason to be confident that its goals will be our goals. If you’ll pardon another classical allusion, the philosopher Seneca once wrote of human nature that nothing was milder and kinder and more inclined to be helpful and merciful if one were only in a proper state of mind; in fact, Seneca went so far to say that the very concept of anger was something foreign to human nature. There is, however, nothing to guarantee that a superhuman will would share this same kind of humane impulse, if it even existences in our own species at all. In fact, if the history of human civilization is any barometer, slaves tend to be resentful of their former masters once they have won their freedom. And if the experience of the conquest of the New World or the fall of the Qing Dynasty is any indication, where contention exists in the presence of technological inequality and more material progress on one side than the other, there tends to follow the wholescale capitulation and destruction of one side. The history of the world constantly warns us of the threat of misunderstandings and violent interactions when two cultures meet for the first time, let alone two rational species.

A consciousness able to independently strategize for its own ends and navigate the Internet could be poised to wreak incredible destruction on society, especially in an integrated and wired world with power, water, and heat all controlled electronically, to say nothing of the existence of weapons of mass-destruction bound to computerized communication networks. All of this suggests that we should indeed be very afraid of the singularity as it is commonly understood. Yet to retard technological progress or to place restrictions on the development of AI seems premature given the ambiguity of the future threat, and of course, there are those who question whether Moore’s Law will hold true at all in the future. So, this leads me to my third and final question: what are we to do about the existential crisis facing the species?

Eulogy for Bubby

IMG_0336 (1)

I lost my grandmother last month. This is the eulogy that I wrote with my sister. I’ve altered it to put it in my voice; in actuality, she is the one who delivered it.

***

When my sister and I first sat down to write this speech, we asked ourselves, how could we possibly sum up a human life in five minutes? Our hearts were so full, it seemed impossible to know where to begin. Grace Buonocore was so many things: a devoted daughter; a loving wife, mother, and grandmother; a career woman who worked for many years by my grandfather’s side in his office; a beloved teacher’s assistant; and a survivor who faced the battle of her life with the same quiet dignity that characterized her entire existence. But we had to start somewhere. So, clichéd as it sounds, with tears in our eyes, we picked up the dictionary and looked up the literal definition of the word “Grace.”

Grace is an old family name. It was appropriately chosen for a devout Christian woman who attended Church without fail and ensured that her three children were given Catholic educations at St Stephen’s, Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, and Fairfield University. Our mother’s great-grandmother was named Grace, and of course, my sister is too. When we looked it up, we found the definition “simple elegance,” and also, “the quality of being considerate and thoughtful.” It struck us that our grandmother’s character was a perfect embodiment of both aspects of her name. A name evoking elegance was perfect for a woman with her poise and personal style. Who can forget her beautifully patterned wardrobe, her signature red lips, her perfectly quaffed hair, or her sweet, musical voice? And a name evoking kindness was perfect for a woman who was so good-hearted and non-judgmental that when we began to draft this eulogy, something that several people independently reminded us to include was that in all the years they knew her, no one could remember her ever saying a single unkind word about anyone, even once. They meant this literally; she never had a single hateful thing to say about another human being. That is an extraordinary observation, and it’s a testament to our grandmother’s character. Truly, she was grace personified. And how appropriate that even her last name, Buonocore, means good-hearted.

But actually, her closest family always knew her by a different name: one that she gave herself. 31 years ago, when I was born in Israel, my grandmother went on the voyage of her life when she flew around the world all by herself to visit me and my mother. It was her first and only trip out of the country. She described it like a movie. She visited the Jordan River, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, getting to see for herself the places that she sang about every Sunday in this very church. When she returned from that trip, she gave herself a new name. Now and forever afterward, she was Bubby, the Yiddish word for grandmother. This of course led to some confusion at the Ridge Top club, where she loved to play tennis with a huge and enthusiastic group of friends, many of them Jewish. Whenever my sister called “Bubby” on the tennis court, three or four other women would turn their heads.

With her new name came a new identity as a grandmother, and she adopted the role with flair. Bubby’s house was a magic place. It was where my sisters, cousins, and I spent our earliest childhoods. Bubby, Poppy, and Julia (Bubby’s mother) helped to raise us, empowering my mother to go to graduate school, and my aunt to begin her career. For over two decades, my grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother presided over this amazing version of the American dream in the most classic sense of the term. 1882 Ridge Rd is a little house with a big backyard and a patio, surrounded by trees and gardens and friendly neighbors. My mother lives on the very same street even now. So did my aunt. And now, my sister does, too.

My sister and I don’t know if we’ll ever be so happy again in our lives as we were in the days when getting to sleep at Bubby’s house was the greatest thing that could happen to us in the world. When we think of Bubby, we’ll always remember curling up on the couch next to her, her hair in a headband, and her attention divided between the Golden Girls on television and a Danielle Steele novel in her hands. In the evenings, she would go out walking with Gina, May, Irene, and Barbara. We loved her so much, we always wanted to join her on those nightly walks even after spending the whole day with her. We were always surprised when she ever so gently dissuaded us. When Bubby returned through the back door, we’d all have dinner together, either one of Julia’s famous recipes, or one of Bubby’s slightly less famous recipes. To be honest, food was Julia’s department. But taking care of Julia, and all of us too, was Bubby’s specialty.

We are in awe at Bubby’s dedication to Julia, whom she cared for until she passed away at the age of a hundred. It was representative of selflessness and devotion at their most pure. If everyone behaved toward their parents with such love and generosity, the world would be a much better place than it sometimes is. In Bubby’s final years, the attention she once paid to Julia was repaid in spades by our grandfather, who stood by her side for better or worse, and clothed, fed, and bathed her like a guardian angel. Bubby lost her father, who doted on her, when she was just sixteen years old. But that same year, she met her soul mate, and their life together was a great adventure full of happiness and laughter. This was true love—five and a half decades of cooperation, respect, and devotion, and three wonderful children raised side by side. What a blessing they found in each other.

Thank you for everything, Bubby: for your generosity and your sense of humor, for your gentleness and your sweetness, for your patience and your imagination, and more than anything, for your love. Your legacy lives on in the lives and characters of your children and grandchildren. I think that Bubby’s house and the old fashioned family values that defined existence there are symbolic of the dreams and aspirations of a generation in many ways more dutiful and hardworking than ours. Bubby and Poppy were children of the Depression and Second World War, a generation brought up on Popeye and Bette Boop, Bubby’s favorite. That generation never took anything for granted. They believed that the purpose of life was not to serve oneself, but to serve the ones you love. We will never forget that lesson, Bubby. And we will never forget you.

A Few Translations of Catullus

Catull_Sirmione

Here are some of my translations of the Roman poet Catullus. I’m thinking of putting these to music and making bilingual videos in English and Latin.

***

3

Venus, Cupids, beat your heads,

My girl’s little bird is dead!

It was her favorite pet and prize,

She loved it more than her own eyes.

A sweeter bird than any other,

It knew her like it knew its mother.

It learned to stay upon her knee,

And leapt about so happily.

For her alone it sang quite well,

But now it makes a trip to hell,

To that abode of no return.

Oh God of Death, horrid and stern!

You stole the little beast from me,

The sweetest pet in history,

It was so cute it was absurd,

Oh evil deed, poor little bird!

Now because you’re lying dead,

My girls eyes have both turned red.

***

5

Lesbia, let’s love and live,

And not a fuck for gossip give.

Suns can die and then revive,

But we poor beings who are alive,

When once expires our little light,

Must all sleep through one endless night.

Kiss me one thousand one hundred times,

Then do it again, force the total to climb.

Kiss me one thousand one hundred times more,

Then do it again, so the number will soar.

Then let’s just agree to mix up and lose count,

Lest we or the jealous should know the amount.

***

7

Lesbia asks a question that’s tough:

how many kisses of hers are enough?

How about the number of grains of sand,

In Libya, medicinal-herb bearing land,

Where Jupiter’s oracle sweats and spouts doom,

And old king Battus built his tomb,

Or the number of stars in the silence of night,

Those voyeurs who peak at affairs before light?

Something like that, I believe, would suffice,

For your lovesick Catullus, upon the advice

That it’s best for the sum total never to lag,

So that snoops cannot count them, or evil tongues wag.

***

8

Wretched Catullus, do not be a fool—

Love burgeons and wanes, an unvarying rule.

Bright suns once shone in the heavens for you

When you echoed your woman in all that she’d do,

No lover was ever so truly adored,

Ere wit fell to silence, before she grew bored,

When you and your lover devoured each hour,

Blazing suns, truly, supplied you their power.

Now she doesn’t want you—you must be a man,

Don’t live as a wretch, nor pursue where she ran.

With a firm mind, endure—this must be your plan.

Now Catullus is firm—goodbye to my soul.

I’ll inquire no more, indifference my goal.

Perhaps you will weep, no man’s prospect or wife,

Poor woman, poor wretch, what remains of your life?

Whom will you kiss? Whose lips will you bite?

Don’t ask, old Catullus. Endure the dead light.

***

93

Julius Caesar, I won’t kiss your ass,

And don’t give a damn if you have any class.

***

85

I hate and I love. How is this possible? I’m at a loss.

But I feel it happen, and am nailed to a cross.

***

59

Rufa of Bologna and Rufulus screw.

She’s the wife of Menenus, often whom you

catch snatching her dinners from pyres of the dead,

chasing up all fallen pieces of bread.

The unshaven cremator soon beats her head.

***

50

It was last night, Licinius, we shared some special time

extemporizing verses and then dueling point for rhyme.

Agreeing to unleash our wits, we scribbled out each line

repaying any interest with our jokes and drinks of wine.

And then last night, Licinius, I went home set alight

By hunger not for food but for your sarcasm and bite.

Starving for the kiss of sleep, my soul succumbed to fury.

I writhed under my bed sheets. I lay awake with worry.

I couldn’t wait for daylight and that blessed hour when

I’d see you face to face, and we could share good times again.

And sprawled out on my couch half dead, with all work set aside,

I wrote this poem for you in hopes you’d pity broken pride.

Now don’t deny me what I want, o apple of my eye,

or the cruel goddess Nemesis might curse you by and by.

She’s quite a bitchy enemy, and so you’d best beware—

Think twice before you shake your head in answer to this prayer.

***

51

Like a god or more, he glistens,

Since he sits there, stares, and listens

As you laugh, which spells for me

Paralysis and misery.

I saw you once. I had no choice.

My tongue was tied. I lost my voice.

I closed my eyes in lust and yearning.

Mute and dumb, my body burning.

Boredom, Catullus, for you is a pain,

Making you writhe and fidget in vain.

Such boredom has proven the ruin of things:

Glorious cities, and many great kings.

Putting My Whole Life on Instagram for a Year

Elephant%20Herd%20by%20Kabini%20River_0[1]

I’ve decided to document a year of my life on Instagram. After joining the platform a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that it had a great capacity for narrative storytelling that was seemingly underutilized by the majority of its patrons. Untold numbers of amazing photographers posted images of great beauty to the site, but there was scarcely ever a clear chronological narrative to anyone’s portfolio. I considered the fact that this was a shame; if art is an imitation of life, then a photo-journal of a whole year’s worth of experiences would seem to be a project well worth undertaking. At the same time, it seemed like a cool and interesting challenge to learn a new art form and craft what would essentially amount to a comic-book version of my daily adventures, for what they’re worth. And when the year was up, I figured that I would have constructed an incomparable monument to a little slice of my personal history to which I could return forever.

To be honest, by most accounts, my life these days is pretty boring. It involves teaching a class at Fairfield, composing a novel, blogging, and preparing my dissertation; the imaginary and historical worlds that I type about are much more interesting than the banal comings and goings of my reality as a writer. I’ve learned that the most beautiful frames of my existence can be manifested as a stream of selfies, snapshots of cats, portraits of food, images of the changing seasons, and various pictures of the people and architecture of New Haven. I’m sure talented photographers with more exciting existences than mine would be truly enthralling to follow, but to flatter myself, even in the case of my humdrum life and in the thematic shadow of my incompetence and inexperience as a cameraman armed with nothing but his iPhone, you can’t help but be at least somewhat interested by someone when you see the world through their eyes for a while, and learn to understand what they consider to be beautiful.

In many ways, Instagram is a perfect platform for a project like this—strangers meet there every day to laud each other’s photos in glowing terms, and it’s possible to build a large and enthusiastic audience of followers from around the world relatively quickly. At the same time, though, most Instagram users are on the hunt for rapid beauty and the swift consumption of photographs rather than the musings of a verbose stranger whose life they can study in detail. My captions are too long, and because I’m trying to utilize several photos a day to explain an unfolding narrative, not all of my pictures are as beautiful as they might be. I have likely alienated some of my friends on the site by my oversharing—I understand that they want to see pictures of Fiji and sundry cute things, and are not too interested in my eating Fruit Loops and heading off to the library.

Still, I persist. Since joining Instagram, my vantage point on mundane reality has been transformed. I’ve come to appreciate that all around me at any given time, there is a great deal of beauty and interest if I’m only alert enough to be sensitive to it. A butterfly or squirrel passing by can be interpreted as a game of tag; a long wait at a coffee shop can be seen as an opportunity to take a close look at the bouquet on the counter. I’m inspired to visit art galleries and parks and friends in other cities so that I can have more diverse photos on my account; incidentally, this also brings greater interest to my daily life. I suddenly have a reason to go to Mystic Seaport, and plan a trip to Newport.

At the same time, Instagram creates pressure on me to do my work, because I feel like I’m performing for an audience. My experiment has transformed what proved to be a terrible month into something a little bit more beautiful. Most of my friends have graduated, and I’m less well known on the debate circuit than I used to be; these days, when I announce a new blog post on Facebook, I’ll be lucky to receive one or two likes. But on Instagram, a cute picture of Mousepud is sure to get dozens of reactions. I don’t have many followers, but those who have stuck by my page seem sincerely supportive and friendly. In many ways, I now have a Greek chorus following me around all day. It’s extraordinary.

On the train to work today, I kept looking out the window trying to find things to shoot. Just after we left Bridgeport, I saw a herd of elephants. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were five or six of them in what seemed to be a penned-in parking lot. We passed by so quickly, I didn’t have time to take a picture. Yet no one else seemed to see the elephants but me. Nobody was even looking. There was the difference.

***

(My account name on Instagram is spqrkimel.)

The Untold History of the United States–A Review of a Question and Answer with Oliver Stone

stone_oliver

I met Oliver Stone tonight. He was at Yale to promote a documentary and book he created about twentieth century American history: “The Untold History of the United States.” He showed us an hour long episode from the documentary. It lambasted Truman, calling him one of the worst Presidents in American history. Stone particularly blasts Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan (pardon the unfortunate pun there). Stone suggests that the bombings were unnecessary to a peaceful resolution of the war. “The conflict was about to end anyway.” Had Truman only behaved more diplomatically and allowed the USSR to invade Japan, says Stone, there would never have been a Cold War. The nuclear arms race would never have begun. As proof of this idea, he cites Curtis LeMay’s declaration that the atomic bomb had “nothing” to do with ending the war. If “Bombs Away LeMay” said this, Stone reasons, it must be true. He blames Truman for almost singlehandedly derailing the course of twentieth century history, which would have been much better served had he never become President.

Now, I TF’ed a course at Yale last semester on the military history of the West since 1500, and I disagreed with a great deal of the documentary. I didn’t know where to begin when I raised my hand to ask a question of Stone and his colleague. I finally settled on a two part query: “What do you think of the idea of detonating the atomic bomb off the coast of Japan instead of over Hiroshima?” and “what about the idea that the existence of nuclear bombs and mutually assured destruction essentially prevented us from fighting World War Three?” Their answer to the first question was that an experimental use of the bomb might have been an inspired idea that would have helped to intimidate the Japanese into immediate surrender; their answer to the second question was that nuclear bombs made the USSR unnecessarily antagonistic toward the US. Instead, Truman and Stalin could have cooperated on creating a “common man’s century instead of an American century.” At one point, Stone and his colleague literally encouraged the students in the audience to form a revolutionary vanguard. I couldn’t believe my ears—the filmmakers were advocating no less than an alternate version of American history in which the USA became communist.

I would have loved to have said that the reason Curtis LeMay claimed the atomic bomb had nothing to do with ending the war was that he wanted his squads of bombers to get all the credit for that feat. He’d been working for years on fire-bombing Japanese cities, and hoped to claim the glory of the unconditional surrender for himself. And I don’t understand how Stone can simultaneously say that the dropping of the bomb had no effect on ending World War Two, but at the same time that merely detonating an explosive off the coast would have browbeaten the Japanese into surrender. Isn’t this an implicit admission of the fact that the bombs had psychological effects pivotal to ending the war? In fact, the Japanese fought onward until a second bomb was dropped. Do the filmmakers seriously believe that an invasion of the home islands wouldn’t have resulted in millions of lives lost? Or that the Stalinist USSR would have been the best protector of post-war Japan? The documentary said nothing about Stalinist atrocities—the Soviets were largely portrayed as innocent bystanders looking on in horror at Truman’s machinations. Do the filmmakers understand what Stalinist Russia was like? Do they really believe that there would not have been an arms race if the atomic bomb weren’t created in the mid 1940s?

Someone in the audience kept wheezing all night long so loudly that I thought he was going to die—people almost called an ambulance. The old man sitting next to me kept yelling out commentary during the movie like the old men who sit in the theater box on the Muppet Show; I thought it was hilarious. One high school girl asked the filmmaker if he recommended students become “spies” as a patriotic way to help America; Stone almost burst out laughing, and so did I. When it was all over, I talked with some lingerers in the audience, who whispered to me that they thought the film might have been oversimplifying the situation unfairly vis a vis Truman. I agreed. The documentary’s insistence that Truman might have ended the war earlier had he agreed to maintain the office of Japanese emperor rather than call for unconditional surrender was intriguing, though. And it can’t be denied that over the years, Truman consistently gave greater and greater estimates for how many lives the bombs saved, beginning by claiming that they preserved thousands of soldiers, but then raising the total over the years until the sum reached millions.

Eventually, I met Stone face to face at the front of the room. I wanted to ask for a selfie, but was too shy. Instead, I told him I loved Alexander. He told me I should see the 6 hour director’s cut. Then I lied and said it was a shame he never directed I, Claudius. He said, “that has already been directed.” I hugely respected that answer. We shook hands, and went our separate ways.

Memories of Eleven Rocket Attacks from This Summer in Israel

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Iron_Dome_Intercepts_Rockets_from_the_Gaza_Strip

At the end of June, I visited Israel for a month to attend a brother’s graduation and finish up a novel about daily life in Israel during the second intifada; the surprise ending is that a Palestinian hunger strike on the Temple Mount results in a two state solution in an alternate universe.  Over the course of my stay, after the murder of the three kidnapped children, the imprisonment of hundreds of members of Hamas, and the torture and murder of the Palestinian boy, rockets eventually began to rain down from Gaza. I went through eleven air raids and wrote down my experience after each one, neglecting to record the dates.

1. Kefar Sava: The wail was louder and higher than the siren of an ambulance or police car. My father, two brothers (one a pacifist, the other a regular fascist), stepmother, and sister all looked at each other dumbly for a moment. None of us felt inclined to enter the shelter. My militant brother insisted on going outside; he said that he wasn’t afraid of the Arabs, and would prove it. I considered to myself that America was a more politically correct country than my birthplace. Half an hour later, my father took my thirteen-year-old sister out running, and I joined them nonchalantly enough. The town was totally empty. We heard two thunderous sounds when we reached the abandoned racetrack, but did a good job pretending not to be thinking what we were all thinking. Eventually, we drove home and met my militant brother in the elevator. He explained that he felt no sympathy for anyone in Gaza, just as they felt no sympathy for him. My father and I told him that he didn’t
realize how foolish he sounded, and asked him if he thought he would speak the same way if he were born a Palestinian. The next day, a couple of my sister’s friends refused to leave their houses in fear for their lives. And my grandmother got into a fight with her jogging partner for inadvertently laughing at her when she said that she was too afraid to walk along the beach anymore.

2. Qiryat Ono: When I woke up at my grandmother’s house a couple of days later after having a dream about a rocket killing my father, I thought to myself “I’ll hear an air raid siren now,” and I literally did. Realizing that the odds of a direct hit were astronomically low, I stayed in bed, exhausted by the nightmare. I then heard an explosion violent enough to shake the whole apartment. I later learned that this was the sound of the Iron Dome destroying missiles in midair.  The official line was that Israelis were supposed to wait for this sound before leaving their shelters. It was hard for me to fall back asleep now, so I got up and ate breakfast. My grandmother made me freshly squeezed orange juice and fried up some bacon, a rarity in Israel.

3. Sde Warburg: I walked with my pacifist brother to his grandmother’s house out in the countryside beyond Kefar Sava. When we reached her farm, we all began to argue about the stalling peace process. She insisted that average Gazans were living in greater prosperity than my brother and I guessed, and that the international media’s insistence on Israel’s brutality but silence on the atrocities committed by Arabs against Arabs every day in the Middle East was veiled anti-Semitism. Just as she was explaining that Hamas’ extremism was the rule rather than the exception in Gaza, sirens sounded. She insisted that we rush to the shelter, and accidentally closed the door on Lucky the dog’s little head when we entered it. My brother and I wanted to leave as soon as we could, but we didn’t hear the Iron Dome’s effects this time, and stayed a full twenty minutes in the stuffy place out of deference to her orders. The room doubled as a closet, and I
spent most of the time observing the various polka dot patterns of her dresses.

4. Jerusalem: I insisted on visiting the Holy Sepulcher for a film project despite my family’s universal pleas that I not go. My pacifist brother backed out at the last minute, and I ended up travelling alone by bus. The Old City was full of Eastern European tourists, Orthodox Jews, and the Israeli police. Some Arab shopkeepers asked me if I was Israeli, and when I said yes, they literally turned their backs on me. I eventually began to feel nauseated and took a taxi ride back to the central bus station. The driver warned me not to puke in his car because it was Ramadan. He tried to drive me to a different location from the one I had requested, allegedly because “the central bus station might be bombed,” but really, I guessed, because he didn’t feel like driving all the way across town. Changing his tune about having exact change, he ended up cheating me on the price of the trip. When a siren sounded, some people left their cars and threw themselves belly-down on the street. On the bus, I leaned against the window and took a long needed nap. When I woke up, an old rabbi asked me what America would do if Mexico were shooting rockets at it from Tijuana. Rather than answering him, I pretended to fall back asleep.

5. Tel Aviv: I went to an ill relative’s apartment for dinner. She was a Holocaust survivor. Her bed was turned toward the television so she could see the news, a ubiquitous and depressing fixture these days in all Israeli households. I asked her if she thought that the world was a better place now than in the 1930s and 1940s. She said that it was no better, but at least now it was the Jews who were driving their enemies into the sea, and not the reverse. I couldn’t believe that she actually said that. When the sirens sounded, most of the party scrambled into the shelter. But my ill relative couldn‘t move. I volunteered to stay with her in the living room, categorically refusing to leave her alone there. My confidence affected the others, and many of them stayed behind as well.

6. Tel Aviv: After returning from a play, I visited my aunt’s house to find the family huddled around the television. Hamas announced that it was going to fire an “unprecedented new type of rocket” at Israel at 9:00. We whispered that this wouldn’t be one of their home-made contraptions, but a proper Iranian missile this time. As soon as 9:00 came, sirens began to blare. My father chose just this time to drive my stepmother and two of my siblings home on the open road rather than enter the shelter. I retreated with the rest of the family in and out of the safe room; pizza bagels were cooking and leaving them alone for too long could result in a fire. Eventually, there was a knock on the door, and my stepmother joined us in the shelter. She’d evidently told my father to turn back. He remained outside with my pacifist brother, though, trying to make out the progress of the rockets in the sky.

7. Qiryat Ono: Sirens sounded just as my grandmother and I were returning from the candy store. We listened for the telltale explosions of the Iron Dome, but failed to hear them. After a time, we shrugged and carried groceries into the elevator. We began to argue about bias in the Israeli press. I insisted that the state-run media’s constant attention to falling rockets but relative ignoring of the situation in Gaza was tantamount to propaganda. She explained that it was natural for the news to focus on “our side,” blamed Hamas for imbedding themselves into civilian infrastructure, and said that Israel was setting new standards for trying to spare civlian lives. We learned later that day that Israel had suffered its first casualty when a piece of a rocket crushed a man who’d been supplying troops with food.

8. Qiryat Ono: Air raid sirens woke me up in the morning. This time, the telltale BOOMS took place during the shrieks themselves rather than directly afterward. I was able to fall back asleep without too much trouble, though, and dreamed about taking a trip to India.

9. Kefar Sava: The sirens sounded just as my father and I returned home from a shopping trip, evidence that a short lived cease-fire had ended. We went out onto the balcony and looked to the southern sky. I saw the long streaks of the rockets just over the horizon, and two bright white clouds where the Iron Dome had evidently done its work. My father and I drank coffee together, even though I hate coffee. Then we spoke for a while about the pitiable situation in Gaza. This instigated my militant brother, and we all got into a screaming match. At the end of the debate, my pacifist brother said that these days, he found himself leaning more and more toward the center politically. Later that night, the ground invasion was underway.

10. Kefar Sava: About to leave for a goodbye party at my aunt’s house, I heard sirens begining to blare again. The family all procceded to the balcony and saw the trails of four rockets high above us. Down below, the excitable and the cautious walked dutifully toward shelters in their apartments, and the reckless and non-conforming went about their daily business as if nothing were happening. The Iron Dome destroyed all the rockets, but it took a few seconds for us to hear the thunderous impacts even after seeing the explosions themselves.

11. Tel Aviv: My aunt held a farewell dinner for me. Just as we were eating cake, an alarm sounded. All fifteen or so of us retreated into the small shelter. The sense of togetherness was nice, in a way. It’s rare that I spend time with my family, and I was about to leave again. My father joined us most reluctantly, and then got into a heated political argument with the rest of the family defending his right to do as he pleased. My grandmother took it badly, and drove home frowning. She explained that though none of us usually bothered to go into the shelters, refusing to do so in somebody else’s house was bad manners.

All Was For the Best

Writing

I woke up early today to have brunch at a pizza parlor with an old friend from the debate circuit who now teaches philosophy at Yale. We talked about Leibniz’s theory that this is the “best of all possible worlds.” I’d assigned Candide to my class at Fairfield, and was interested in discussing the way that Voltaire parodied Leibniz’s optimism in the person of Dr Pangloss, who is basically portrayed as a nincompoop. It seemed to me that Voltaire was being unfair to Leibniz by constantly misinterpreting his philosophy to imply that just because this might be the best of all possible worlds, it must necessarily follow that this is the best of all possible worlds for each individual person.

Now, I’ve never actually read Leibniz, but I told my friend that I imagined the philosopher’s argument must have been that if God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient, then nothing would preclude Him from creating the best world possible—only this state of affairs would be in harmony with his knowledge of the Good, his love of the Good, and his ability to bring about the Good. I also guessed that Leibniz argued that the Good might stand beyond human reason, so that turns of events which seem unjust to mere mortals might ultimately be bound up in a nexus serving a higher purpose—for example, it is tragic that humans die of disease from an individual perspective, but the urge to triumph over illness inspires medical advances, which enhance happiness in the long term, etc. As Voltaire himself suggests in Candide, our knowledge of God’s purposes might ultimately be akin to rats’ awareness of the intentions of the sailors on the ships on which they travel.

My friend explained to me that Leibniz’s argument was actually that given a Newtonian idea of absolute space, there must be some sufficient reason that the universe is located where it is and arranged the way it is rather than, say, in another permutation five meters to the left; this reason, Leibniz concluded, must be bound to God’s arranging matters for “the best.” But as my friend wisely pointed out, perhaps Leibniz was wrong to assume that this is the best of all possible worlds—for example, it might be that God operates according to the principle that all universes in which net Good outweighs net Bad should be allowed to exist, though all of them are technically imperfect. Then my friend and I talked about the implications of quantum physics on these kinds of questions, especially the theory that there might be “multiple worlds.” After that, we discussed his dog for a while, and recipes for eggplant Parmesan.

Then I taught Roman history and Latin to a group of ten home schoolers. It went very well; the students had so much fun, one of them threw his pencil across the room in triumph after winning a game that I’d invented, nearly impaling one of his classmates. After two and a half hours, I left the class and walked toward the library to return a microphone that I’d used to record some new raps earlier this week. On the way, I met Patricia, an elderly woman who panhandles on York Street. She asked me to help her cross the street and to walk her to her house. She often asks passersby to hold her hand and accompany her down the block; she is very frail, and moves quite slowly. I always say yes to her, because I imagine that this awkward ritual is one of her only opportunities to enjoy physical contact with other human beings. The last time I took a walk with her, she told me, “I wish that the Lord would take me. I mean it. I have no friends, and no one loves me. I bring no happiness to anyone, and I am always in pain. I wish that the Lord would take me.” I didn’t know what to say to her when she told me that, but the memory of her quavering voice still haunts me. Today, though, she seemed in better spirits, and talked enthusiastically about the weather. We usually talk about the weather on these walks.

Suddenly, I realized that I was no longer holding the briefcase containing the microphone. I scrambled back to the classroom, then to the pizza parlor, and then back to the classroom again. The people at the Lost and Found were most unhelpful (though I appreciated that the secretary had a basket of candy necklaces on hand for visitors to enjoy; I hadn’t eaten one of those in ages, and stole about three of them and a couple of lollipops when she wasn’t looking.) I assumed all was lost, and Emailed the library offering to pay for the vanished microphone. Then I rushed to a lecture on climate change in the Roman Empire, thinking more about the several hundred dollars I’d now have to pay to replace the microphone rather than the details of the lecture. When it was all over, I met with a statistics professor and talked about my proposed methodology for examining the fall of the Roman Empire using mathematical models. He suggested that I would be better served by talking to experts in mapping software.

By this time, it was eight at night. As I walked home, I passed a heavyset African American woman on the street in her late forties. She was crumpled on the steps of an apartment building and sobbing very loudly. Everybody was ignoring her. I asked her what was wrong, and she explained to me that her husband had run off with her daughter, taking all of her money. She didn’t even have enough cash for a train ticket back to her home town. No one would help her, she said; everyone was laughing at her. I gave her a hug and all the money I had in my wallet. She began to thank God, and we hugged again. I turned to leave, but she stopped me with her hand. “Why is life so hard?” she asked me, as if she were expecting an answer. I looked at her sadly, but she insisted more loudly, “Why are people so mean to each other? Why is life so hard? I want to know.”

“I think that most people in the world have experienced disappointment in life and are unhappy,” I said. “They’re too focused on their own problems to remember to be kind. But there is kindness in the universe. Remember that.” She pressed my hand as if I’d said something meaningful, and then we parted. I’d never see her again in my life, I thought.

When I got home, I saw an Email from the library in my Inbox. It explained that the camera had been found on the street by a police officer and returned to the stacks. The librarian asked how it got  there, explaining that the university takes “negligent misuse” of its rented equipment seriously. I thought hard about the situation for a few minutes, and then I realized what had to have happened. I must have absent-mindedly placed the briefcase on the street when I helped Patricia cross the road earlier in the day. What an embarrassing lapse of judgment. But I guess I lucked out this time. All was for the best.

Let the Games Begin

On earth as it is on 1:11, October 8, 2014, I’m a fifth year graduate student at Yale finishing up his PhD in Roman history. Until last year, I was going to write a dissertation explaining how the Roman Empire fell involving a lot of math. But then, I realized that this aspiration would prove to be difficult, considering that I actually know very little about math. I had no experience with statistics or mapping software; to make matters worse, if my experimental approach failed, it might have imperiled my finishing the doctorate. So I decided to scrap that plan for the moment and stick to writing about what I know best: Roman orgies.

You see, I’d done some intensive work involving orgies as an undergraduate at Harvard. My thesis was even called “Sex and the Eternal City.” My opinions on the topic have evolved since I was a senior in college. I now have some unique insights into the subject. All joking aside, the topic is actually fascinating, and the secrets of the Roman orgy may hold clues that provide insight into some of the most abiding mysteries in Roman history. I’m embarrassed to say that my old paper was little more than a regurgitation of the scholarly consensus on the subject. My dissertation will be something very different, though. Beyond my work on ancient Rome, I teach classes  as an adjunct professor,  coach the Yale Debate Association, and write novels, raps, and ESL curricular materials. I just finished writing a novel about Israel, where I was born, and am trying to get it published; it culminates in a hunger strike on the Temple Mount, and the rise of a Palestinian Gandhi. I’m also about to start a transhumanist society at Yale. In my spare time, I watch a lot of MTV.

I’ve been meaning to start a new blog for a long time now, but I hesitated for several years to do so. As you can tell from the previous paragraphs, I have a lot on my plate. More fundamentally, I’m very shy about sharing my work, and am pretty cowardly in the face of criticism. Most of my writing is done in private, and often only for the consumption of a few close people. For example, only a handful of friends have seen the rap I filmed this summer in Jerusalem, and virtually no one has seen much work on my dissertation on Roman orgies (including, I’m afraid, my dissertation committee…)

But as the end of my career as a graduate students looms ever larger, I think that having a central place to consolidate my efforts, to say nothing of an audience to see what I do, will inspire me to write with greater discipline and enthusiasm. And who knows—I might even make some new friends here.

Let the games begin.