Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The air was heavy with stories....by blogger of the month Irene Koplinka-Loehr

 There was a slide projector in the middle of the room. Ignored while working on our epidemiology problem sets, it seemed suddenly in the way when Professor Yagupsky arrived. As someone began escorting it to the side of the classroom, he hurriedly swooped in to usher it back to center and load the slides. In the next series of minutes he began to weave a story about Rickettsiae, our gram-negative coccobacillus friend, beginning, at the beginning, with ticks and dinosaurs. As the succinct percussion of the slide projector synergized with his surprisingly tonal voice, I began to think about story telling. Words falling quickly off tongues, trapped, and breathed in by avid listeners. The air this morning was heavy with stories—

I walk up the stairs to my apartment, mentally commenting on the layer of dust that covers everything—walls, concrete steps, door handle—contractors continue the un-ending process of gutting the apartment next door. My fingers leave clean black streaks on the handle as I push the door open and slip out of my sandals. Bag swings onto the chair, I move to heat some water on the stove, and begin to call out to my Israeli housemate when it goes off: the siren. Loud, clear, I stood still, confused. He bursts out of his room and, comprehending, I ask where we should go. Seconds go by, it sounds again, we unlock the door and pulling it shut, squat in the hallway between the two apartments on the second floor. He looks at me, and with resigned calm, imparts, “Here comes the worst part.” We sit quietly until hearing two distant booms. At which point he stands up and opens the door to our apartment.

Bram near a reconstructed
building on the cost after
a morning of PHR (Physicians
for Human Rights) at the
migrant clinic in Yafo
(Tel Aviv)
It was a late welcome to the Middle East. A fanfare. A reminder that we have chosen to go to school in Israel. And a distinct inspiration to find the nearest bomb shelter. After a little sleuthing my housemates tromped back into the apartment and proudly announced, “One minute and 50 seconds, walking” before breaking into a tense sort of laughter. The time it takes us to get out the door, down the stairs, through the alley to the left, straight between two houses, across the street, and into the bomb shelter. Comforting in theory, the shelter, when visited by the three of us a few minutes later, was comical. A faint hint of urine welcomed us as we avoided garden hoses and stored furniture on the stairs leading down. One room, drawings on the wall, was accented with two overturned bookcases that looked like the prototypical beer-pong set up from a college dorm room. On a table, pushed up against the wall, were stacks of religious texts in Hebrew, gold embossed covers bright against the hole filled, drywall and crumbling paint. It was clear that this space had not been used in awhile—perhaps therein lay the comfort.

Kite-boarders in the Mediterranean, Yafo
I have been listening to Radio Lab on my way to and from class. Yesterday, I finished an episode called, ‘The Good Show.’ Within this hour-long investigation of compassion, the producers explored an experiment at the time of the Cold War attempting to use computer programming to determine foreign policy. The experimenters held a competition to create the best computer program modeling foreign policy in regard to the arms stand-off. They proceeded to hold a massive tournament battling all the programs to find the most effective one. To illustrate: a program, dubbed ‘Jesus,’ never responded negatively when attacked; this program, as could be expected, did quite well when their opponent did not attack but, when pit against the ‘Satan’ program, (a program that continually attacked) was completely obliterated. They found, after 200 rounds of battling, that the program ‘Tit-for-Tat,’ arose as victorious. The principle of this program, as evidenced in it’s name, was simple: to start the first turn by being nice (not attacking) and to continue to do so until the opposition attacked, at which point, it would respond in kind.

A beautiful, abandoned mall --- fantastic graffiti, Yafo
Last night, while falling asleep to the inconsistent sound of explosions in Gaza, I found myself thinking about Tit-for-Tat. Horizontal in a country that was replicating a principle proven effective by a computer program, I found myself questioning the premise. While the first line of code in Tit-for-Tat told the program to do whatever the other program did, the second line of code told the program to be ‘nice’ (not attack) at random intervals, thereby breaking the cycle of attacks if the other program had a similar technique. In the abstract theory of the computer programs I understand the logic behind this technique, yet, when applied to beautiful people each with a unique story just like our own, begging to be told, the idealist in me wonders: why don’t we find a better program?

It’s getting warmer. Hanging out my laundry on the roof earlier this week I was inspired to lay in the sun, sporting a solitary T and flannel shorts. I remember those oppressive summer days, when simply walking up to the roof to put the laundry in would necessitate a second load. The ‘winter’ has been a beautiful, short-lived, reprieve. - by February blogger of the month, Irene Koplinka-Loehr