Archive for November, 2009

Nov 29 2009

No (more) minarets here

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Today, Switzerland’s direct democracy permitted a clause banning new construction of minarets in Switzerland to be added to the Swiss constitution.  That’s right.  It happened.  See the Swiss news story in English here.  See where it’s made the homepage of the New York Times here.

I wrote about the nasty and offensive campaign a few weeks ago. I started seeing a counter-campaign, which included many of the people I know, which gave hope.  Not to mention the government’s outright disapproval.  But, it passed just the same.  To everyone’s supposed surprise.

It’s like Switzerland’s Prop 8.  It’s easier to motivate people to fight injustice afterward…but it probably would have been better to mobilize the populace against minaret bans before it came into law.  Disappointing.  At least our canton of Vaud and the one in which I attend school, Geneva, were two among the four who voted against.

Take that, minority rights.


Here’s the cantonal breakdown: .

There were demonstrations against the vote tonight in Bern and Zurich, including the raising of make-shift minarets:
(“integrate rather than exclude”)

Make your own! (PDF download to print and assemble)

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Nov 24 2009

Easy vaccines (if you’re in the know)

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Seth and I both got H1N1 vaccines.  Easily.  One reason I am happy to be living in Switzerland at the moment.

I get all flu shots available to me as a matter of course because I have asthma and like preventing as many sicknesses as I can.  Last year, I couldn’t figure out where to get a seasonal flu vaccine, so I went all the way to the University of Geneva Hospital for a 25 chf shot.  This year, having become familiar with CHUV (hospital) / PMU (patient medical clinics) of the University of Lausanne, it was far easier.  The first step was knowing that a walk-in flu vaccine clinic existed at the PMU, which I discovered by being in the PMU anyway and noticing signs.  Next, having gotten the requisite forms for my insurance coverage from my primary care doctor at the PMU, I walked over to the vaccine clinic, which was set up in a little white tent in an indoor courtyard, following signs with carefully marked directions, took a number, and had a seasonal flu shot covered by my insurance in no time.  The nurse was friendly, placed me in a comfy chair, and had expert injection-giving fingers.

However, this year, as we all know, brings an extra menace.  I had been anxiously asking my doctor about how I was going to get an H1N1 vaccine.  No one thought it was going to be a problem, but she said I should call in November to figure out the process.  I was worrying about it a lot, wondering how I was going to get on the high-risk list, because I know how rationed this vaccine is in the US.  However, I had little to fear.  There are more than enough H1N1 vaccines in Switzerland, they are using adjuvants to spread the wealth around, and they are exporting the extras to developing countries.  Plus they are running an excellent information campaign; just look at this incredible web site ( translated into 12 languages!)

Last week, when I was in the PMU, I saw signs for a walk-in H1N1 clinic, which pointed me to the same white tent with the other flu vaccinations.  The nurse recognized me.  I took a number, filled out a form to say that I knew that all the risks for this vaccine are not yet known, and within 10 minutes, I had a vaccine shot into my arm.  It was less painful than the seasonal shot, both during and after.  While I was briefly waiting, a journalist came and interviewed me.  That was exciting.  Also, this shot was totally FREE; my insurance didn’t have to cover it.

Unfortunately, there is no information on the PMU web site on their flu vaccine clinic, which is why I didn’t find out about it last year (so odd considering the incredibly efficient way in which everything else surrounding the vaccine has been set up). The clinic is now open to the general population, not just high-risk individuals.  If you live in the Lausanne region, take a half hour and get yourself over there (or elsewhere in Vaud) for a free (for the time being) H1N1 shot (and why not a seasonal flu shot while you’re at it?) and do your part to prevent an epidemic in Switzerland, whether are not you are personally in good health.  Seriously, there are major concerns that this whole campaign is just falling on deaf ears and on Nov 20 it was reported that the number of cases tripled in Switzerland in one week!  Just walk into the PMU entrance and follow the signs.   They’re open 8 am to 8 pm Monday to Friday (yeah, I know, LATE for Switzerland, so you can go after work!).  Now you know.

Seth adds: I went to the walk-in H1N1 clinic today, waited no more than 10 minutes, filled out the same form as Jackie, and got the vaccine. Totally free, available to everyone. I also just found at EPFL is also hosting a free vaccine clinic this Thursday, 26th November. (Just one day? I guess they don’t expect all ~10,000 students, staff, and faculty to show up.)

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Nov 23 2009

Published by under Status updates

The motivational forecast for the week: rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.  Yick.

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Nov 22 2009

Jews in the Modern World and on your iPod

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Lately, I’ve happened upon some interesting radio programs and podcasts on Yiddish and modern Jewish life in Europe (Australia?) that I thought I’d share:

  • “Heart And Soul: New Jewish life in Berlin” on BBC World Service 18/11/2009
  • PRI’s Selected Shorts: Rebel Yiddish Writers: Moishe Nadir’s “My First Love” and Sholem Asch’s “A Quiet Garden Spot.”
  • Yiddish Radio Program (in Yiddish) from Australia including a recent show about Jews in Switzerland. The interviewer admonishes the Swiss Jewish author interviewed, Roger Reiss, for having a very Germanified Yiddish. Also there’s a funny moment when Reiss calls Switzerland די מדינה (“di medine“)—the country, using the Yiddish word of Hebrew origin, which often specifically means the State of Israel, rather than the word לאַנד (“land“). (At least, that’s my definitely non-expert take…)
  • Klezmer Attitude: klezmer podcast in French. The host plays a lot of music, so don’t worry if you don’t speak French, it’s very good. The show from September 9, 2009 is from the the Festival International des Musiques Juives (International Festival of Jewish music) in Lyon, which we didn’t know about and totally missed!

(The title is a reference to a class Jackie and I took at Harvard.)

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Nov 18 2009

On the train, al galgalim

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Hinei rakevet, shmistovevet, al galgalim al galgalim al galgalim toot toot! (Here is a train that goes around on wheels on wheels on wheels toot toot!)

That is my favorite (hah! not!) song from Camp Harlam song sessions (see 6:45 pm…and while I am no Rachel, I did have 4 Rachels in a bunk of 14 girls one summer).  I think of this song often these days because I spend an awful lot of my time on trains—at least 6 hours total per week, not including buses, trams, sidewalks, train stations, and the other trappings of a frequent commute.  Ah, the SBB-CFF-FFS.

Many people have heard me complain about my commute, but not on the blog.  In general, I find it impossible to work on the trains.  What with frequent stops, overcrowding, lack of tables, 4-seats-to-a-pod seating style, young male soldiers hanging about in uniform, cell phone and otherwise loud chatter, ipod headphones blaring, and various munching, it is incredibly difficult to focus and find a comfortable position for reading academic articles.  Yet, if I don’t use that time in a productive way, I tend to just feel guilty about it.  I envy those without commutes, but I also envy commuters who can relax to a newspaper/ipod/novel and don’t have to balance their lunchboxes on top of heavy backpacks on top of their legs on top of their coats.  Swiss public transport is excellent as compared with other poor systems, but there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly on the Geneva-Lausanne line, which is infamous for its delays and overcrowding.

I was inspired to write this post today because on my way to class this afternoon, I observed a man struggling with the train ride as much as I often do.  The problem? The door at the end of the car wasn’t closing automatically, so every time someone walked between cars or the train stopped to let on/off passengers, the door would be left open, and it would be noisy and cold.  This man, sitting a few pods away from the door, kept standing up to close it, immediately after which, someone would enter anew and leave it open.  Finally, he gave up and moved to another car.  I completely sympathized.  I myself have moved cars because of non-functioning automatic doors, and I have agonized over if it is incredibly rude to change seats when someone sits down next to me with their ipod headphones acting like boomboxes more than headphones.  However, I did not share this frustration with the man today, as I had my earplugs with me, so I popped them in, and all was quieter with the world.

While I haven’t gotten anywhere close to conquering my commute, there are some things I have learned which can make it a bit better.  So for those of you out there who face similar commutes of your own or who think it might be amusing to read what ridiculous things I think about every time I get on a train, here are some tips for dealing with a commute on the SBB: Continue Reading »

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Nov 14 2009

A Brief Dip in Bath

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Last weekend we met Jackie’s parents in England. On our way to the hotel in London, we made a quick detour:


The street is named after John Flaxman (1755-1826), an English sculptor and illustrator (no relation).

We spent Saturday through Monday in Bath. The highlight was a visit to the museum at the Roman baths for which the town is known. Called Aquae Sulis in Roman times, they were a bath/temple complex built over geotheoremal springs with very impressively engineered baths, including sluice gates, lead pipes, and hot rooms heated from air circulating below. The temple was dedicated to a combination of the Celtic god Sulis and the Roman god Minerva. Here’s a depiction in stone:


As writer Bill Bryson points out in the audio guide, the figure does look kind of Celtic, right? In Victorian times, the mineral water was prescribed to cure all sorts of ailments. After visiting the museum, you get the chance to taste the water. It’s mineral water with lots of sulphur; in short, disgusting.

We stayed near the Pulteney Bridge over the river Avon:

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

We ate a lot of food, of course. Since I was last in England in 2004 the vegetarian options have exploded! Nothing much else to report.

Here’s another photo from the baths:

Roman baths in Bath

Remember, we’re always adding photos to Flickr, linked on the left sidebar and on top. Go there to find Jackie’s impression of a pig.

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