Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Television and the dumbing-down of David
Do you remember the scene from Poltergeist (and the half-hearted reprise of the concept in Pleasantville) where the kid gets sucked into the TV? I know for a fact, without checking the credits, that the writer who came up with that concept was a man! I know because it happens to me a few times a week.
My wife can attest to the fact that if I am in the same room with a working television I am powerless to resist its gravitational pull. It doesn’t even have to be tuned to anything particularly compelling…a blue screen, a test pattern…sometimes even snow, will do.
There are only a couple of programs that I follow with anything approximating loyalty; West Wing being the hands-down winner, and Law & Order coming in a close second (yes…we have all that here!).
So with only two out of a potential 168 viewing hours in the week accounted for, why the hell does my wife have to physically drag my drooling, zombie-like carcass away from the warm glow of the television after midnight every night? Funny, huh? Not so much for the lady doing the dragging, I’m sure.
It’s especially distressing when I find myself personally invested (translation: transfixed like a deer in the headlights) in shows that should only be of interest to my wife. A perfect example is the now defunct series, Sex in the City.
I hate this show.
Even before I even knew what it was truly about I hated this show. The idea of a bunch of self-destructive, perennially whiny man-eaters partying their way through their ever-shrinking-marital-window-of-opportunity is the kind of thing that should send someone with a 'Y' chromosome screaming from the room. Yet, one day a few months back, while my wife was watching S.I.T.C., I happened to pass through the living room on my way to who-knows-where…and, BANG! Like a trout with a hand-tied damsel fly lodged in the corner of its mouth, I was hooked.
Much as a want to continue bashing it, there seem to be a few redeeming qualities to S.I.T.C. Besides de-mystifying some of the more arcane female rites (like eye contact, conversation, and other discourse with total strangers in public bathrooms [shudder]), the show provided a recent flash of clarity for me.
When Carrie Bradshaw decided to live out what I like to call the ‘Disney Fantasy’ (you know, that irresponsible daydream-come-true of allowing Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet and take her to live in Paris), she suddenly encountered an issue to which I can definitely relate: Her character is used to always being able to effortlessly provide a witty turn-of-phrase, or a naughty double entendre. In Paris she is handcuffed into dumb silence by her lack of facility with French. Lucky for her there was yet another Prince Charming waiting in the wings to sweep her back to New York.
While I love my new life here in Israel, I often catch myself feeling somewhat blocked by the language. Don’t get me wrong…I can communicate pretty effectively in Hebrew, and can even manage a passable joke once-in-a-while. But I don’t feel ‘smart’ in the same way that I did in my previous English-speaking existence. It’s a little thing, this language gap…but more than a little humbling. However, unlike Carrie...I have no thoughts of returning to the states (and my Princess Charming is right here, thank you very much!).
A grudging thank you to Sex in the City for jarring that revelation loose.
I am so grateful that our kids will have a much easier time with this whole language thing. In the 8 months since we moved here they have become truly bilingual - slipping unconsciously from English to Hebrew and back depending on which friends are over to play.
So, even though this was a rambling entry today…there were a few notable points. Let’s review, shall we?
1) I, like most men, am helpless before the power of the all-mighty television.
2) Programs that should hold about as much enjoyment for a man as shopping in the ‘feminine products’ aisle can occasionally strike a resonant chord.
3) If you ladies out there are fed up with your hubby doing his ‘Rain Man’ impression every time the blue light hits his face, take it from me…he can sometimes absorb valuable information, despite his seemingly vegetative state.
Sunday, March 28, 2004
Greenwich Village on the west bank
The other night a couple in our neighborhood invited us to join them for dinner in a local restaurant…one purported to have both good food and live music. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity because:
a) We really like this couple (they are about our age and have kids of similar ages)
b) We seldom get to go out and eat with / like adults
c) Living a half hour outside of Jerusalem, we have tried a few take-out places, but knew of no real ‘restaurants’ in our area
d) We like good food
e) We like good music
Now, the restaurant, (called Gavna) is located in, or near the village of Bat Ayin (supposedly only a few minutes from Efrat), but I had never been there, so I suggested we all go together in our car. It was a good thing too, because there is no way in hell I could have ever found this place on my own!
I was directed down a steep mountain road that snaked away from civilization, and off into the darkness. The road (maybe path would be more accurate) was mostly innocent of asphalt, with enormous potholes and ruts, and the only lights came from our headlights reflected off of tree trunks and the stars overhead. Each time I asked if they were sure this was the right road, our friends assured me that everything was fine. I figured if the terrorists didn’t get us, we would probably drive off the edge of a cliff. “ Great!” I thought… “I’m gonna die hungry!!!”
After bumping and jostling through a series of switchbacks we spotted a hand-painted sign nailed to a tree…so amazingly we were at least headed in the right direction. The dirt road took a few more tortured turns and we finally arrived at a small clearing where five or six cars were arranged haphazardly next to what looked like a clapboard shack. No sign…no lights…just the cars and the shack. Yikes! I’m thinking, “Zagats isn’t going to be reviewing this place anytime soon.”
“This is it”, chirped our friends from the back seat, so I pulled up next to one of the cars and we all got out.
It was a beautiful evening and the cool mountain air smelled wonderful, but I was really starting to have some misgivings about our friend’s choice of ‘restaurants’.
We walked up the creaky wooden stairs, and opened the jiggly door into an honest-to-goodness ‘Jook Joint’. I’ll save you the trouble of doing a Google search by giving you a working definition of the term:
jook joint(j k joint, jk joint)
a small roadside establishment catering largely to African Americans, often on the edge of a bayou, forest or cotton field in the southeastern United States where you can eat, drink and dance to music provided by a jukebox or a small band.
Other than the fact that this place was nowhere near the Mississippi delta and lacked the requisite clientele, a ‘jook joint’ is exactly what it was.
The place consisted of three rooms:
A medium-sized room with low tables, floor cushions, a few stools and benches, all crowded around a small raised platform / stage, a dining area with a rough-hewn bar and 5 or 6 shaky wooden tables, and a kitchen (which announced its presence through a dizzying array of heavenly smells).
When we arrived, there was only one table open, so we grabbed it. Looking around, I remembered what a friend had once told me about the village of Bat Ayin. He had said (only half jokingly) that it was a small community made up mostly of orthodox hippies. Now there are two words you don’t see together every day: Orthodox. Hippies. He said the residents worked mostly in organic farming, shepherding, weaving, carpentry and beekeeping.
Looking around I could see what he was talking about. Most of the clientele and all of the staff were decked out in varying ensembles of dyed cotton, crocheted shawls and hats, sandals, make-shift dreads, multiple piercings (nose, eyebrow, lip, etc.), and big contented smiles.
I would have spent more time contemplating the local attire, but the smells coming out of the kitchen were making it really hard to concentrate. I’m a typical male in that there are a few basic things that will catch and hold my attention…good food being nearly at the top of the list.
Our waitress drifted over with a big toothy smile to take our order, and gazed deeply into our eyes. I’m a friendly person and all, but this is something that sort of puts me on edge about some new-age types. For some reason I get uncomfortable with long probing gazes…especially from strangers. This one stopped just short of the ‘Vulcan Mind Meld’ in its intensity and I had to feign a sneeze just to kinda break up the moment.
While we waited for the food to arrive, we heard the sound of acoustic guitar, flute, and percussion warming up and going through a sound check in the other room, and the repeated bang of the flimsy outside door indicated that people were beginning to arrive for the show.
More batik and Birkenstocks®, you ask? Oh my, yes.
Our meals were beyond delicious, and the company was also quite pleasant. While we plowed through our soups, fresh-baked breads, and main courses (organic veggie all), we listened contentedly to the music drifting in from the other room, and basically enjoyed the rare treat of not having to cut up anyone else’s food.
Desert was…sinful. No diet could stand before it. Forget my Zagat comment earlier...If my friend Jim over at chowhound.com ever comes to visit, I will have to drag him over to this place for a looksee. He may never leave!
On the way out, we had to wade through scores of comfortably attired listeners in the coffee house / music area of the place, and I made a mental note that it might be fun to come back some time just for a coffee. I regret having missed out on the whole ‘beatnik’ thing…maybe this would provide a worthy stand-in - a kind of Greenwich Village on the west bank.
As we bounced and jostled our way back up the mountain and returned to civilization, I thanked our friends for making the introduction. This was definitely not the kind of place that one would ‘stumble upon’ without help.
As I write this several days later, I still have a big goofy smile on my face. Maybe I need to look into adding some cotton to my spring wardrobe.
Friday, March 26, 2004
A question of intensity
[warning…boring political commentary at the beginning, and a nice picture at the end...your call]
I apologize for going out for a few days and not leaving a note…this has to be the longest I’ve ever gone without posting. Let’s just say that this has been a very long and full week.
The week began with the news that the Israeli Army had finally punched the clock of one of the truly bad people in the world. While I won’t be losing any sleep over one less terrorist in the world, his death means the security alert status of the country will be on its highest possible level…and as a result everything will move excruciatingly slowly.
As I followed the news Monday morning, I was puzzled by the way the western wire services were downplaying (i.e. not mentioning) the fact that Yassin was a terrorist. A perfect example can be found in this Reuters quote:
“Prime Minister Ariel Sharon personally ordered and monitored the helicopter attack against the paralyzed cleric, whose wheelchair lay smashed in a pool of blood after three missiles exploded.”Hmmm…While there is technically no inaccurate information in that statement…they make it sound like Sharon ordered a hit on somebody’s grandmother, doesn’t it?! It’s what they don’t say that is important. No mention of him being a terrorist…no indication of the civilian blood on his hands…and no mention of the stated goals of the organization he founded and lead. Just a human interest story about a crippled holy man who was blasted out of his wheelchair by a big mean Israeli helicopter gunship.
[I apologize…I feel this ramping up to a good rant, and I’m just gonna go with it]
I’m sorry…If you are the head of a terrorist organization, being old, or having a basket-full-of disabilities doesn’t give you special privileges. Time’s up.
Unfortunately, must of the world doesn’t share my opinion on the subject, and – true-to-form, the U.N. dutifully served up a stirring condemnation.
Ironically, I spent the remainder of my workweek in Tel Aviv attending a conference on Low Intensity Conflict Warfare. The conference was hosted by the Israel Defense Forces, and was by invitation only. The irony is that most of the countries that condemned Israel at the U.N., sent Military officers and attaches to the conference to study the lessons that Israel has learned from very painful experience. The world may want to pretend that if they just make nice with the terrorists, then the terrorists will leave them alone…but they sure as heck want to learn what to do when that knock comes on the door!
Anyhoo…The conference was full of all kinds of war toys and neato-keen electronic devices designed to help fight on today’s battlefield. ‘Low Intensity Conflict’ as a name doesn’t really do it for me…it seems like such a hopeless term, conjuring images of a pot left to simmer indefinitely. I prefer the term ‘Asymmetrical Warfare’. This term clearly states that there are open hostilities, and it makes it clear (without prejudice) that one side is much larger than the other.
When a few well-organized people can hold an entire country hostage…that’s Asymmetrical Warfare.
When the ‘beltway snipers’ were picking off motorists and pedestrians like tin cans at a carnival…two or three states came to a grinding halt. Two men and a hunting rifle disrupted the lives of millions of people.
That’s Asymmetrical Warfare.
Now multiply that by the number of members found in Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaida, Fatah, etc., and instead of the eastern seaboard…you have the entire western world with a big old target painted on its collective back. Hopefully ou get the idea.
Ok…end of rant.
And just so you don’t think I was working too hard at the conference this week, here’s a picture showing two of the Israel Defense Force’s finest Tank crew members in front of the Merkava IV Main Battle Tank (oh yeah, that's me there between them):
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Beggars or Buskers?
intr.v., busked, busk·ing, busks.
To play music or perform entertainment in a public place, usually while soliciting money. *
1. To solicit alms.
2. To make a humble or urgent plea. *
If you think about it, the only real difference between these two definitions is the offer of some sort of entertainment value in return for the moolah. Hmmmmm.
I've been noticing lately that battle lines are beginning to be drawn along what should be a relatively innocuous issue. I’m referring to the growing practice of placing a ‘donation’ button on one’s journal, blog or web site.
Those who are against the practice have coined some catchy names for it…my all-time favorite being ‘Welfare Journaling’, brought to you by the landlord over at Dysfunction Junction. If you want to read her very well-considered thoughts on the subject, go here.
I’m personally torn over the issue - not because I’m considering passing the cyber-hat, but rather because I don’t know exactly how to feel about it. You see, quite a few of my favorite haunts on the web have already chosen sides…some by placing those snappy little ‘No Welfare Journaling’ logos…and others by placing a donation button. I should state for the record that I have never, and will never, ask you to support my web habit…but it doesn’t necessarily mean I think it is wrong.
To my way of thinking, the decision to keep up a web site, because it is a potentially expensive choice, should be made after a careful review of one’s finances. If you find that you’re eating a lot of government cheese, and buying your beer and cigarettes with W.I.C. checks, you probably want to rethink the whole high-speed Internet access and domain hosting thing.
On the other hand, there is a lot of web content out there that people willingly pay for, so who can blame a popular blogger or journaler for putting out the tip jar to help defray costs? If my wife can pay for the New York Times Premium service so she can have the privilege of downloading the daily crossword puzzle, what could be so bad about my occasionally dropping a couple of bucks on a site that has become a familiar part of my morning routine, right?
Some people equate donation / welfare journaling with panhandling. I’m not sure I agree with that. If I were a good baker, and people were constantly telling me how much they enjoyed my cookies, and asking for recipes…I might entertain the idea of opening a bake shop. If I had a knack for fixing computers, and friends & family were always hitting me up for help, I might consider opening a help desk / tech support business.
Journalers…especially popular journalers (so I hear)…are also providing a service of sorts. Maybe not as essential as a computer repairman…but certainly as necessary as that morning croissant!
I may change my mind tomorrow, but for now I’m not ready to equate that donation button with an aggressive wino trying to extort pocket change by artfully rearranging my windshield grime with a dirty squeegee. Rather, I see it as more of an open guitar case in front of a good street musician...or a tattered fedora in front of a poet on a subway platform.
I used to enjoy a lot of talented buskers (street performers) on my way to and from my Manhattan office. That doesn’t mean I always threw money into their case or hat…but the really talented ones – and perhaps some of the familiar ones – often got the change left over from my morning cappuccino. How different is that from the folks I pass on the way through my morning on-line routine?
I’m not trying to influence anyone here…I’m just thinking out loud.
Feel free to weigh in on the issue. I'm genuinely interested in hearing a broader range of opinions on the topic.
* source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2003
Thursday, March 18, 2004
A little housekeeping
As much as I enjoy a good read, lately I have become increasingly obsessed with photologs (don’t worry…I promise to maintain the current prose-to-image ratio here at treppenwitz).
I have already written about my vicarious enjoyment of Abandoned Places - the photolog of a Dutch airline pilot who likes sneaking into abandoned hotels, hospitals and factories to take pictures.
I also get my regular ‘zen’ fix over at Superhero Journal, where Andrea serves up a soothing mix of fantastic photography and quiet wisdom.
My latest discovery (actually, my wife pointed it out to me) can probably be chalked up to my being a little home sick for NYC. It is a rough-and-tumble photolog by a Brooklyn-based photographer who documents urban decay and kooky signage. If you get a chance, go check out ‘Satan’s Laundrymat’. Not only is it a fantastic name for a site...but I really get a kick out of seeing familiar places that I used to pass on my way to and from gigs. [sigh]
You may also have noticed that some of the links have changed on my ‘good readin’ list. A couple of new ‘faces’ have been added, and a few old favorites have slipped away. In the next few days I’m going to take a look at my 'neat places' list and see if my current surfing habits might be better represented by shaking up that list as well.
Anyway…just one more bit of business:
Thanks for continuing to stop by.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
In my experience, there are two basic types of families in the world; those that play Scrabble®…and everybody else.
I grew up in a Scrabble® family.
Saying this doesn’t say nearly enough about my Jewish, liberal, middle-class, suburban up-bringing…but it’s a pretty fine start. Like owning a copy of the bible, a well-worn dictionary, and a hopelessly out-dated set of encyclopedias, there is simply a certain type of family that has the game in the house. Nobody can actually remember how the game entered the house…like an article of faith, it just …is.
Now, before you get the wrong impression about us…I don't mean to imply that we played Scrabble® regularly, or even particularly well. In fact, I can only remember playing at most once a month. From the time I was old enough to spell basic words (yeah right…me, Mr. Spell Checker), I was invited to play…and I was given plenty of help getting my letters organized (how they didn’t realize then that I was dyslexic is beyond me).
As we all got older, the games became much more competitive, fun, and sometimes downright acrimonious. You see, Scrabble® tends to unmask some interesting personality traits (translation: flaws) in people. The truth is, you never really know somebody until you’ve sat across a Scrabble® board from them.
Some players are content to play the letters as they come…looking for a place on the board that seems likely, and playing a safe, if occasionally inspired, game. I think of myself as falling into this category.
Others are more, um, aggressive; looking for letters the way a poker player looks to fill an inside straight or a royal flush. When this type of player places a word…it’s not just for the highest possible score. They are also placing their letters so as to prevent others from being able to use even a two-letter (two point) word (my wife and brother are both of this ilk). This latter group are what I like to call Scrabble® snobs.
I’m convinced that these 'snobs peruse the dictionary in their spare time for obscure words (especially one’s that include Qs, Zs, K’s, and other high-value letters), and spend evenings memorizing all the two-letter words in the Official Scrabble® Player’s Dictionary®. Armed with this smug knowledge, they occasionally test the outer boundaries of ‘common usage’ (I’m not pointing fingers or accusing…I’m just saying 'putzwad' is NOT a word!).
Being at best a tentative speller, I would never dream of challenging one of their esoteric plays, and I have always harbored the suspicion that they abuse my passivity to occasionally coin new and interesting (not to mention hi-scoring) words.
One of my favorite family stories (told to me by my wife) concerns a houseguest from Canada that had joined her family one year for Passover. This person, having lost an embarrassingly long and unbroken string of Scrabble® games remarked, “Well, In Canada we say that it’s not whether you win or lose…it’s how you play the game.” Without missing a beat, my mother-in-law (AH”S) purportedly replied, “Well if you don’t win, you must not play the game very well!”
Ah, yes…now that I think about it, the lovely peach that is my wife did not fall far from the tree.
We have already started our kids out on Scrabble Jr.® , and will soon be upgrading them to the full-blown combat addition. Not only will it (hopefully) keep their English vocabulary growing, but it will also give us a little insight into their personalities.
My only fear is that if they take after my wife or brother, they may get some strange looks trying to slip words like ('Vietnamese monetary unit') or (a seven letter word for 'the science concerned with fermentation'), into everyday conversation.
Sunday, March 14, 2004
"What do you mean by that?"
My close friends and family may recognize the title of this entry as my stock sarcastic reply to anyone who has made the mistake of saying something painfully obvious.
If someone is really dense (or doesn’t know me well), they may endeavor to rephrase their original statement…to which I will reply something like, “Yeah, but what are you trying to say?”
By the second or third time around, even the dullest bulb will have figured out that I’m having a little fun at their expense…and the truly room temperature I.Q.s just give up and leave me alone.
For the longest time, I have been assuming that GWB and his merry band of world leaders were carrying on with a diplomatic version of my sarcastic game. I mean, even Neville Chamberlain can be forgiven for not catching on to Hitler’s true intentions because he was desperately trying to believe the lies coming out of Hitler' mouth. The fact is, Hitler declared WWII sometime in the early 30’s...he just didn’t come out and tell the rest of the world in so many words. However, world leaders today can’t fall back on this excuse because the bad guys are actually telling us ‘what they mean!’
Pakistan shares nuclear technology with North Korea and Iran (and then grants clemency to the scientist who did the sharing). Quothe the Pakistani Premier, “Oops, my bad.”
The world’s response, “OK, but make sure you close that barn door before any more of those pesky ‘nuclear horses' get out.” Hmmm…what are they trying to say?
Iran has frozen inspections of its nuclear facilities (this after playing the diplomatic community like a violin). They are basically saying, “OK, we don’t like the way you worded your condemnation of our intransigence, so we will now lock out your inspectors and do exactly what you suspected we were doing all along!”
The response of our esteemed world leaders: “Ok, but what are you saying?”
North Korea is holding the world hostage, stating, “If you don’t feed and clothe our citizens (something we can’t manage to do ourselves…you see we’re a little short on cash this month due to military spending and a failed economic system), we will develop a nuclear and chemical arsenal that’ll make you long for these giddy days of simple blackmail and coercion! Oh the heck with it…who’s kidding who…we’re gonna develop all that stuff anyway. Just fork over the money!”
In response, the world community sits down and agonizes over how strongly worded a statement will properly express the sentiment, “What do you mean by that?”
Al-Qaida comes out and claims credit for the Spanish train bombing saying, “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid…it is our response for your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies”. And just in case somebody might still hold out hope of finding some common ground, they end it with, “You love life and we love death”. Oh, and for those people who insist on fair warning before an attack...In a previous video, Bin Laden - in Babe Ruth style - actually came out and called his shot, when he mentioned, "The tragedy of Andalusia". For those of you who snoozed through 10th grade history, this is a reference to the conquering in 1492 of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada (Spain) by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. So to review the situation in Spain...anyone who thinks the Muslim extremists don't follow through on threats would say, well, exactly what the the Spanish Prime Minister said this week: “Authorities can’t verify the veracity of the video claim.” In essence, he is saying, “What did they mean by that?”
Maybe the senior staffers who are responsible for briefing Dubya and the various other world leaders need to add more pictures and diagrams to the briefing packages. Clearly a lot of information is not being absorbed.
One doesn't exactly need a doctorate in history to detect a growing trend. I think it’s time we finally admit that we may have slept through the opening bell of WWIII. Sure the bad guys don’t have nifty uniforms and catchy theme songs…but you can’t accuse them of being vague about their intentions. Unfortunately, the response of the world leaders (when there has been any response at all) has been alarmingly similar to that Robin Williams parody of an unarmed British policeman: "Stop...or I'll say 'stop' again!"
The only possible upside to all these world leaders being asleep at the switch is that I may have finally identified a few people with attention spans shorter than mine!
By the way, if you want to read a really prescient article...I'm talking Nostradamus-quality foresight...check out this thoughtful peice from 2001 called, "What's Osama Talking About?" by Chris Suellentrop
Friday, March 12, 2004
Celebrity Endorsement #1
I chose the title of this, the first in a series of recurring entries, with my tongue placed firmly in cheek. The mere suggestion that my recommendation might possess the cachet or gravitas of a celebrity endorsement is laugh-out-loud funny. And, the extent to which some product or service might benefit from my support is too minuscule for mathematical computation. However, my endorsement is no less genuine or heartfelt for my lack of any real celebrity.
In my travels, I occasionally stumble across ‘stuff’ that is so magnificent, so completely necessary, and / or so well made that I feel compelled to take upon myself the job of converting those under the sway of my negligible influence to adopt these treasures as their own.
For a product to win my endorsement it has to be more than fleetingly useful. It must become such an integral part of my daily existence that I would suffer from ‘phantom itch’ (the way an amputee feels an itch where the missing limb would have been) should I one day be denied access this profoundly functional item. It has to be so well made as to survive my careless, slovenly lifestyle unscathed (I’m rough on my stuff). It must make me want to take it out and admire it (and even show it off to friends), months or even years after the novelty of newness has worn off. And lastly, it must be produced by a company so fiercely proud of their products that they would do anything…pay anything…move heaven and earth…just to make sure that the item continued to find favor in the eye (and hand) of the lowly end-user.
Without further ado, I’d like to share a few words with you today about Moleskine®.
For the uninitiated among you, I am not talking about the tightly woven cotton flannel material used for outdoor clothing, or those soft adhesive-backed flannel patches one puts on blisters after a hike. That would be moleskin (note, no ‘e’ at the end, and no ‘®’ at the end).
Moleskine® is the name of a wonderful line of notebooks, sketchbooks, and pocket files prepared by the Italian company Modo&Modo. Unlike any notebook or memo pad I have ever encountered, Moleskine® products absolutely scream ‘quality’. These substantial notebooks, diaries and sketchbooks feature an oilcloth-bound hardcover, acid-free thread-bound pages, attached book mark, an inside pocket for receipts / business cards, and an attached elastic strap to hold the whole thing shut while it is rattling around backpack, pocketbook or briefcase.
The overall effect is one of substance. This is true to such an extent that, at first, one might be inclined to be overly careful about writing on its pages. However, like one who is initially unaccustomed to wearing fine clothing, using quality writing instruments, or mingling in good company (I’m going by what I’ve heard here, lacking even a passing acquaintance with any of these experiences), the awkwardness soon passes.
I’ve been using Moleskine® pocket notebooks for years to take notes and keep track of important action-items. I kept my gig schedule in it (my career-at-a-glance) and I kept my travel notes on my various vacations and business trips (the little pocket in the back is great for receipts). In all that time, very few people who have seen my little notebook have been able to resist asking to see it, handle it…and ask where they can get one.
While making final preparations to move to Israel last summer, I went to the Moleskine® web site to see where the Israel distributor for their products was located, and was shocked to find that there was none. No problem...I simply went to the local art shop in Manhattan where I’d been getting them all along and bought enough to last until my next trip to the ‘States.
While starting to get settled (hmmm…maybe not the best choice of words regarding living in Israel) into my new life here, I unwrapped a fresh notebook and went through the familiar ritual (which I’m told is shared by many Moleskine® owners) of numbering the pages, putting my name and contact information inside the front cover, and basically making it my own. When I was finished I hooked a finger under the elastic strap, and with a practiced flourish, pulled it around the notebook.
However, instead of the satisfying ‘thwak’ that usually results from this familiar gesture, I got a decidedly un-satisfying ‘twang’ as one end of the strap pulled loose from its binding. In all my years of using this product nothing even remotely like this had ever happened! After a few minutes of consideration I mixed up a dab of epoxy and glued the end of the strap back into place. The result was a very sound repair…but I was left feeling as though a trusted friend had betrayed me.
I sat down and composed a measured e-mail to Modo&Modo that was somewhere between ‘irate consumer’ and a ‘cuckolded lover’ in tone, and launched it off into cyber-oblivion with the full expectation that I would have to adjust to one of my favorite products having turned out to be a tin god with feet of clay.
Within 24 hours I got a response (in a very polite, perfect English) from a fairly senior person at Moto&Moto. She was very apologetic, and asked some probing questions about the nature of the defect that made it clear this was not a common occurrence.
I wrote back to her that, while I tended to be rough on my things, I had never in all my years of using Moleskines® had anything like this happen.
She responded within minutes to assure me that the fault was not mine…she was simply trying to isolate the point in the process (all of their products are hand made) that the flaw had been introduced. She asked me to forcefully test the straps on the other notebooks I had bought in advance of my trip…and I found that several of them failed in the same way. I was beyond disappointed.
Without my having hinted about a refund or replacement (after all, my little repair job had fixed the problem), this pleasant, polite executive asked for my address and said she was sending a replacement for each of the defective notebooks. She went on to assure me that there must have been a bad batch of glue, and if I had any further problems I should contact her directly.
Now I promise you, these little things aren’t cheap! It had been a real reach for me to buy a year’s supply in one fell swoop, so I was really touched that in this age of corporate indifference, a company was interested in making sure one of it’s small, unimportant customers was completely satisfied.
And I am…so I’m telling you.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
I owe a debt of gratitude to one of the bloggers I follow for posting something that made me examine the folly of rushing to judgment. To quote (and translate) a lyric from one of my favorite bands (Poogy), "...it's not good for an idiot to be quick." I don’t expect that everyone will agree with the following analysis, but I hope that it will at least encourage people to think before they flame.
Before leaving for work this morning, I was checking e-mail and doing a little web surfing when I noticed that Gavin had posted a link to a 'Suicide Bomber Game’ along with the comment, “This is so wrong…and so fun…”.
When I followed the link, I found myself looking at a caricature of Arafat, and a simple-to-use computer game. The game shows a suicide bomber wearing a bulky jacket over an explosive belt, while random groups of men, women and children walk past him in either direction. The goal is to make the terrorist blow up (by clicking on him) at the moment when he will cause the most carnage (i.e. when he is in close proximity to the most people). The explosion itself is surprisingly graphic, portraying blood and flying body parts, and ending with a pile of dead and injured people. After the explosion, your score (i.e. how many men, women and children were killed and injured) is displayed.
When I saw this, my first instinct (which, unfortunately, is nearly always wrong) was to post the following self-righteous comment on his blog:
“Some of the charm of that little game is lost on those of us who have to live here with those ticking men and women.”
Before I hit the ‘submit’ button, I tempered the comment somewhat by adding,
“A+ for originality, though.”
…but it was a classic case of ‘too little, too late’. I reacted to the subject of suicide bombers (why the media calls them ‘suicide bombers’ and not ‘homicide bombers’ is still beyond me!) as though only Israelis owned rights to the public discussion of the topic. Further, I had pounced without any thought to the different ways the game could be interpreted.
True to the name of my blog, it wasn’t until I was on the stairs, leaving for work, that I began to think about the game from more than one outraged viewpoint. The fact is, once something is in the public domain, it is usually pointless to argue that it shouldn’t be there. Rather, one should take a good look at all the different ways that people might react to it.
I knew nothing about the person(s) who had designed the game, or what their intention / agenda might have been, so I was left to consider the various people who would be forwarding the link around cyberspace, and the impact it would have on them. Here are the three basic archetypes I came up with:
1. Anti-Semites: The kind of person who enjoys the idea of Israeli civilians being blown up is not going to be swayed by this game. The hate was there before the game was created, and it will be there long after the link goes dead.
2. Anti-Arabists: The kind of person who considers all Arabs to be potential terrorists (or at least sympathetic to terrorists) is not going to be swayed by this game either. Again, the hate and distrust were there long before the game landed in their inbox.
3. Apolitical Gamers: There are a lot of people out there who know (and care) as much about the conflict in the middle-east as they do about conflicts in, say, Bosnia, Ireland or Liberia. That is to say, not a bit! What they DO care about is the never-ending search for new and interesting ways to spend time on the web.
This last type of person, ironically, is the most susceptible to subtle messages since the information is delivered in a Trojan Horse of sorts, along with the fun. For this reason, I started thinking about what subtle messages the game was delivering to the user along with the ‘fun’, and was surprised at what I found:
1. The game does not assign any value (score) to the loss of the bomber’s life…only to the loss of civilian life. Think about this for a second…it is a very powerful statement!
2. The game portrays the victims as (fairly realistic) men, women and children…not just by a generic label (e.g. Jews / Israelis).
3. The game portrays the terrorist as agitated (bouncing up and down…a ticking bomb) while portraying the victims as calmly going about their normal everyday lives.
4. The game makes a clear connection between Arafat / PLO and the killing of civilians – something the mainstream news media still refuses to do.
5. The game allows the abstract idea of terrorism to be experienced outside the numbing scope of a real terrorist attack…without the finger pointing, spin-doctoring, and (unfortunately) too-familiar imagery. Instead, the typical person using the game is exposed to relatively ‘low-impact’ imagery that is more likely to slip past his / her preconceived notions of who is wrong or right in the conflict, and get directly to the issue of whether terrorism against civilians is a legitimate tool to further any cause.
By the time I arrived at work, I was convinced that my knee-jerk reaction to Gavin's post was 180° wrong! Instead, I’ll say to you what I told him in my follow-up message:
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Joe Rockhead in the holy land
Those of you who are [cough, cough] ‘of an age’ will remember the classic Flintstones episode where Fred and Barney join Joe Rockhead’s Volunteer Fire Department.
For those of you who missed it, the basic story line goes like this:
Everything in Bedrock is made of stone, so a wise guy named Joe Rockhead comes up with the brilliant idea of forming a volunteer fire department in order to give its members a sure-fire (pun intended) excuse for getting out of the house. Every evening at the same time, the fire horn (a screeching bird, if memory serves) would go off, and all the members would run down to the firehouse. Once assembled, they would be told (with a wink and a nod) that it was a false alarm and then everyone would disperse to go play poker, go bowling, etc. Although it’s not important to this particular journal entry, Fred and Barney used the fire drills as cover to take dance lessons at Arthur Quarry’s Dance Studio. In the parlance of Hollywood, “wackiness ensued”.
There is an entirely passive category of experiences and sensations that exists below one's conscious ‘radar’. For example, how long would it take you to realize you had NOT experienced one of the following:
the sound of cicadas
the smell of burning leaves
the tinkle of ice cream truck music
the aroma of low tide
the ache of frost-nipped ears
the itch of poison ivy
If you went years without experiencing one of these things, it probably wouldn’t occur to you that something was missing...until, of course, you experienced it again.
So, why am I bringing up this wonderful episode...and all of these oft-ignored stimuli? Because, until this morning, it hadn’t occurred to me that one of the missing items from the unconscious part of my 'lifescape' was a fire engine.
Like Bedrock, the Promised Land has very little (other than trees) that will burn. Houses here are mostly of cinderblock or steel-frame construction, with stone or stucco façades, and terracotta roofing. Commercial buildings are made from similar materials, with the addition of glass and steel to the architectural palate. Basically, the country is fireproof!
So, you can imagine my surprise when, after almost 6 months of driving in Israel, I passed an ancient fire engine – the first I had ever seen here. This truck must have been built in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. I mean this was the Studebaker of fire engines!
That encounter got me wondering what the hell do firemen here do all day? Why isn’t everyone clamoring to become a firefighter? That has to be the best job in the country!!! Although, judging by the quality of the equipment they drive around, I can’t imagine that Israeli firefighters are paid very well.
[sigh] I guess the budget money follows the demand. For example, ambulances here are state-of-the-art affairs that are better equipped than most third-world hospitals. Some are even designated as ‘Mobile Intensive Care Units’ with nearly every lifesaving / sustaining machine known to modern medicine (and generators to run them). The police and military have cutting edge vehicles for every conceivable task…bomb squads, Emergency Service Units, armored patrol cars, etc.
But ask an Israeli kid to draw a fire truck, or to tell you the location of the local firehouse, and you’re gonna get a really blank stare.
So, what other surprises are out there waiting to remind me of things I’ve left behind? Not that I’m complaining...but little things… like the absence of fire engines from the landscape… have a way of sneaking up and turning my head around.
Incidentally… Wouldn’t it be neat if the fire truck I saw this morning was part of some elaborate Flintstonesque ruse to get a bunch of Israeli husbands out of the house once in a while.
That, my friends, would be the ultimate in life imitating art!
Sunday, March 07, 2004
This is just a quick entry to let everyone know we had a fantastic time over the Purim holiday, and that I have finally posted pictures of our family hike up to Givat HaTurmusim this past Friday (in the 'views' album).
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Today my [two older] kids had their school Purim parade. This whole ‘Purim season’ thing is taking some getting used to. Back in the ‘States, we used to say, “Mi Sh’Nichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha (Loose translation: 'One’s happiness is multiplied when entering the month of Adar'), but in truth, nothing much changed until Purim actually arrived.
Sure, a week or so before the holiday we made plans as to whom we were sending Mishloach Manot (Purim food baskets), and there would be some perfunctory discussion of costumes for the kids. But all-in-all, there was no real change in atmosphere until Purim actually arrived. [Just as an aside, I still think the funniest, most imaginative Mishloach Manot theme ever came from a family that sent out, among other baby-related stuff, diapers filled with malted milk balls…Genius!]
Anyway, here in Israel, from the beginning of the month of Adar, the entire country undergoes a very profound transformation. Shopping malls fill up with costume kiosks, and posters spring up announcing parties, plays and other revelry connected with Purim. The kid’s schools lighten the academic load just a tad, and youth groups begin bubbling over with plans for plays, parades, and the all-encompassing discussion of costumes. It’s like the Holloween, Thanksgiving, and X-Mas (no offense, Lisa) seasons all rolled into one. Very cool!
Our [older] kids, who were only mildly engaged in the whole Purim costume thing back in our old life, have been obsessed for the past few weeks with the topic. The irony here is that in my youth, my sibs and I were only mildly engaged in the whole Halloween costume thing. More often than not, we would pick out our rattiest clothes…smear some burnt cork on our cheeks…steal an old hat from our dad…and, voila: Instant bum costume! Total elapsed time from beginning of preparation on the evening of October 31st to walking out the door with pillow case in hand: Less than 30 minutes.
A secondary irony connected to the first is that one or two of my sibs…you know who you are…have become, shall we say, somewhat politically correct, and must cringe when looking back on those many Halloweens dressed as bums. Heck, even the word ‘bum’ has been banished in favor of non-judgmental terms like, ‘Urban Outdoorsman’, or ‘Free-Range Human’. Hooboy, I’m just bracing for the fallout from this entry…yessir! Hey, chalk it up to pre-Purim drinking!
But I digress…where were we? [A.D.D. boy on bourbon] Oh yes, costumes.
This year Ari and Gili came up with interesting choices for Purim costumes.
Ariella and one of her friends spent hours creating ‘button candy’ outfits (you know…that colored candy that comes stuck to sheets of paper). Even though I’m convinced that they will have to stand for the duration of the costume season, they are deliriously happy with the results.
Gilad, after careful study of the megilla, and close consideration of the religious solemnity of the holiday, decided he wanted to be a ninja. Now I’m a little fuzzy on the finer points of ancient Japanese attire, but I’m fairly certain that historically, ninjas tended to shy away from brightly colored face paint and designer-label sweaters. However, no amount of gentle persuasion would divert Gili from the costume he had constructed in his mind’s eye. So…this morning, with a little help from Zahava, he too was delighted with the finished product.
Here's one of them together:
The Parade itself seems to have been a big success. I wouldn’t know since I was sitting in a meeting when it took place (bad father that I am). Zahava snapped a picture as they passed our street, and I happily share it with you now.
Keep in mind that Purim is still a few days off. This is just the pre-game show! Tonight Ariella is starring in a Purim play (a musical, if memory serves), and other events are on tap for the weekend.
Just so you don’t think we left Yonah out of the costume planning…there are a few new pics from this morning (in his album All Yonah, All the Time) that show him cleverly disguised as a cute baby.
Monday, March 01, 2004
[Note: For those of you who make it through today's entry, there is a fun reward at the end!]
My last journal entry mentioned the special wildflowers that grow in the Valley of Elah on one specific hill. I only got a fleeting glimpse of these flowers on Sunday morning, and admittedly not in the best viewing area. I still want to get back there, but I’ve promised Zahava and the kids that I will take them with me.
So, until that happens, I’d like to show you these special flowers through the lens of more talented photographers, as well as my own meager attempt from this morning at shooting a secluded pasture in a different part of the valley.
First of all, a little history: The Valley of Elah (Elah being the Hebrew word for Terebinth – a tree found throughout the valley) is where the battle between David and Goliath took place (1 Samuel 17). The hill where the Philistine camp stood is called Tel Azeka. The Hill where the Jewish camp stood is called is called Har Soha, but is more commonly called Givat Ha-Turmisum (Turmus is the Hebrew name for the Lupine flower) after the flowers that grow there during this two week period each spring. Today the only Giants around are the enormous Bezeq Satellite dishes that dominate one end of the valley.
These two pictures are courtesy of a neat (and helpful) site called The Israeli Mosaic. I’m sure my pictures (when I finally take them later this week) will not measure up:
Here is another spot in the valley where a simpler flower forced me off the road this morning. I took these shots with my nifty little Canon PowerShot S400 (Digital Elph):
I'll try to get out to Givat Ha-Turmusim on Friday morning with the family (and my camera).
But, in the mean time - as promised - I want to reward those of you who made it though the intire entry today. Here is a link to a site selling software that seems to be targeted at a very narrow demographic; the crazy cat ladies of the world. Enjoy!