2010-08-20

How to avoid undesired telephone calls

As far as I am concerned, telephone is a good example of a modern tool that was meant to make our life convenient but has become an unbearable nuisance instead. I reserve telephone conversations to phatic - mostly intimate - communication, so since I have no steady girlfriend now, almost all the telephone calls I receive are undesired ones. They consist of two types. The first are unsolicited commercial calls for marketing or begging for money. They do bother me, but they are far less intolerable than the second type. What really torture me are those telephone calls on work-related matters from people I know, which in my opinion are better handled by email. These undesired telephone calls have got on my nerves so unbearably that I have devised a way to avoid them.

First of all, I have stopped answering any call when the caller does not disclose his or her telephone number, which is displayed in my telephone. Second, I have prepared a white list of people whose calls I am ready to answer. I have also turned off my answering machine. I do not know how marketing companies and all kinds of organizations begging for money have found my telephone number, but I am afraid that even if I had kept is for myself, they might have found it anyway sooner or later. My biggest mistake was that I gave my telephone number to too many people. Having learned a lesson from this fatal mistake, I have given my mobile phone number to a very small number of my very best friends and limit its use to emergency cases.

My main means of non-face-to-face communication is email. Unfortunately, however, so many people in Israel, unlike in Japan, simply do not know, at least in my opinion, how to use email efficiently so that I cannot make the best use of it here. Nevertheless, email is far more tolerable than telephone as a means of non-intimate communication in relative terms, even in Israel, though it is becoming less and less tolerable in absolute terms.

The problem is that I have no alternative means of non-face-to-face communication. I am forced to continue to use email, but as for telephone, I wish there were some way to restrict the callers to those whose numbers I have approved as in Internet telephony. I believe that communication is one of our basic needs, but we are so inundated with all kinds of "noise" that not to communicate is becoming a luxury in our days.

2010-08-13

Different advantages and disadvantages of being a researcher in Israel and Japan

As I am about to finish my sixth year as a full-time lecturer at an Israeli university, I am now more aware of what I consider advantages and disadvantages of being a researcher in Israel and Japan, where I taught for about ten years, though only as a part-time lecturer. It is sometimes the case that some advantages in Israel are disadvantages in Japan, and vice versa.

We as researchers have to continue to buy scientific books (whether we actually read them or not), and more and more of the most important ones are published in English, so both in Israel and Japan we have to order them from abroad. The similarity ends here. Japan does not impose tax on books imported from abroad, while Israel started to do so some time ago (I do not know when, but I do remember that when I was a student here in the late eighties and early nineties, there was no such tax). Unfortunately, we earn much less in Israel than in Japan or the United States, but we have to pay far more for such books. I know that the Israeli government has to squeeze money by all possible means, but every time I am forced to pay tax for book I buy from abroad, I cannot help being disgusted with this shameful policy. I wonder what other countries in the world have the same policy.

But apart from this disadvantage, being a researcher in Israel has more advantages than in Japan, at least in my areas of expertise. On the one hand, Israel is a very small country, but on the other hand, it is one of the world centers of Hebrew and Jewish studies. So by being in Israel I have many opportunities to meet leading experts, including Israeli and non-Israelis, and be exposed to the state-of-the-art research, while researchers of Hebrew and Jewish studies in Japan suffer doubly in this respect, and the worst problem of many of them is that they are so inward looking, that is, they neither participate in conferences held outside Japan nor publish in languages other than Japanese. I regret to write this, but Japan as a whole has little or probably no impact on the world map of Hebrew and Jewish studies.

Perhaps the biggest advantage we researchers in Israel have over our Japanese counterparts is the fact that we have more free time at our disposal, mainly during the annual summer vacation. We can spend almost four months every year being disturbed by nothing else and concentrating on our own research, while they barely have one month, even which is often torpedoed by rather stupid tasks, which are handled by non-academic staff in Israeli universities.

I do not know whether this is an advantage or disadvantage, but the biggest difference between these two countries is the system of promotion and tenure. As a person who had to work so hard to be promoted from a lecturer to a senior lecturer and finally receive tenure in Israel, I find the Japanese system quite ridiculous. Japanese universities should also stop giving tenure automatically to their new faculty members. Their system of promotion is full of loopholes. How can someone who has published no book and no refereed article with the total number of publications less than ten become a full professor in Japan?! This is a disgrace to the title "professor". Many of these "professors" in Japan would not be able to become even lecturers in Israeli universities for lack of enough (refereed) publications.

2010-08-06

True vacation

In the past ten days I have tried to have a vacation, but in vain. I wonder when was the last time I had a true vacation at all. Unfortunately, I do not remember, which probably means that I have never had a true vacation at all in my entire life. I am also afraid that I will never be unable to have one, at least in the foreseeable future, unless I really force myself and seclude myself from the world where I live now.

I am sorry to admit this, but I cannot deny that I am a workaholic (just like my father, though I did not mean to follow him). Whether I am awake or asleep, all the ideas about future presentations, papers and courses never stop haunting me consciously or subconsciously. Although I have come to like my research-shmesearch, I cannot live in such a constant pressure all the time. The only time when I am freed from it in my daily routine is when I run, swim or drink wine. It is no wonder that my daily consumption of wine increases more and more, as I cannot allow myself to spend more time for daily running and swimming.

What would I like to do if I should have a true vacation? My answer is to have silence in every sense of the word (and also to live an absolutely miminalist life away from "civilization"). Our daily life is so inundated with all kinds of noises, whether physical or metaphorical. I am extremely sensitive to physical noise, and unfortunately, I have had no luck with my neighbors anywhere; I constantly suffer from their noises.

My dream is to have my first true vacation at some Ayurveda spa/hotel/hospital/ashram in South India for a month or so. I feel that I need something like that badly. My first candidate is Kalari Kovilakom. I really hope that I will be able to implement this plan of mine in the near future.