Thursday, September 28, 2006
Bubblegum flavored Augmentin (and other drug-related adventures)
Two pharmaceutical-related topics today (for the price of one). Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
First up is the latest saga concerning our youngest son, Yonah. He hasn't been sleeping well for the past week, and he woke up a few mornings ago with one side of his neck swollen. No fever...no obvious tenderness (hard to tell since when he's in a bad mood, he doesn't tolerate poking and prodding anywhere), just a big goose-egg on his neck which looked suspiciously like a goiter.
So Zahava took Yonah to the pediatrician for a look-see.
Our pediatrician happens to be an extremely personable man with a fantastic bedside manner with the kids. Being able to actually get near the kids and gain their confidence is most of the battle, in my opinion as a parent and layman. That he also happens to be a very competent physician and a respected diagnostician is just gravy.
Now it is a rare kid indeed who looks forward to seeing the doctor... and in this respect Yonah has a normal, healthy loathing of the medical community in general and the pediatrician in particular. The moment he caught a whiff of that waiting room smell he basically tried to climb back into Zahava's uterus. Not having one of those I can only speculate that this probably isn't a pleasant sensation.
He didn't have a fever and his throat looked basically OK, so the doctor decided that blood tests were in order.
How many people would you guess are required to restrain a 2-and-a-half year old for a blood draw. Two? Three? Keep going...
Let's just say that there were more hands on that kid than there were square inches of exposed skin. I'm told that the screams could be heard in neighboring communities.
However, just to show that there were no hard feelings, once the procedure was completed, Yonah walked calmly to the door... turned around to make eye contact with the doctor... and with a small sniffle said "Thank you much".
It would be a heartwarming anecdote if the story ended there. But the next day when the blood-work came back, it showed his white count through the roof. There was an infection there somewhere so the doc wrote out a scrip for antibiotics.
For non-Israelis reading this, I have to pause here to share a couple of things that may surprise you. First of all, you need a prescription to buy something as simple as an aspirin in Israel. Seriously. Anyone can walk in off the street here and buy codeine over the counter... but if you want to take two aspirin and call someone in the morning? Better have a prescription.
Likewise, Israeli docs don't push antibiotics the way many American physicians do. So fearful is the Israeli medical community of creating drug-resistant strains that you can't get antibiotic ointments (like Neosporin) here. In fact you can't even buy antibacterial soap!
Anyway, back to the story. Yonah... antibiotics... a fairly big deal. But we had no idea how big a deal. You see, while most kids on the planet looooove the taste of bubblegum flavored Augmentin... Yonah, um, not so much.
Just for the record, getting fluids (such as blood) out of a struggling little boy is child's play compared to trying to get something into him. This is because in addition to his ability to thrash, squirm and actually turn himself into a liquid, one also has to contend with his well-developed ability to spit.
When I got home from work on the day of his first dose I immediately noted that Zahava had a shiny, sticky sheen about her... and that she smelled vaguely of bubblegum. Apparently the tag-team efforts of the pharmacist and Zahava were not equal to Yonah's ability to forcefully expectorate a fair amount of the first dose. Since then we've been able to get subsequent doses into him in no small part because of the experience I gained on my high school wrestling team. [For those of you out there who wrestled in high school or college, I have two words which will make everything clear: 'Banana Split'.]
OK, so much for the adventure of Yonah and bubblegum flavored Augmentin. On to other pharmaceutical-rated stuff, courtesy of "The world's most popular blogging anesthesiologist"; 'Book of Joe'.
'Book of Joe' is actually written by a practicing anesthesiologist ... whose name is actually 'Joe'. No kidding!
Joe offers quite simply the most interesting (and eclectic) collection of product information about stuff you never imagined existed... but which once seen, you simply can't live without. On top of this, he has a crack team of researchers who will quite literally (OK, maybe just figuratively) jump through fire to track down anything your little heart or mind might be wondering about.
I've written about Joe's eager minions in the past here.
One of my favorite features on 'Book of Joe' is an ongoing series he writes called 'Behind the Medspeak' in which he demystifies and clarifies most of the inherent (and in my opinion deliberate) opacity of issues related to the medical world.
Joe recently published a post with the unlikely title: 'Benadryl — World's Best Sleeping Pill'
Huh? Yeah, I had the same reaction. So much so that I just had to share the whole thing (with Joe's generous permission of course), since this is the kind of thing most doctors don't (or won't) tell you.
As Joe would say, "not one word has been omitted":
"Medicine's Greatest Hits — Episode 1: Benadryl — World's Best Sleeping Pill
Why is Benadryl (generic name diphenhydramine hydrochloride) the world's best sleeping pill?
1) It works
2) It's cheap
3) It's available without a prescription anywhere in the world
4) It's the least likely of all sleep-inducing drugs to result in catastrophe as a result of an overdose — intentional or accidental
5) It's non-addictive
6) It's got a long track record of safety
So why isn't it the first drug recommended for insomnia?
See number 2 above — there's no profit for Big Pharma there.
Not at $4.99 for 24 tablets (21 cents apiece).
Bonus: even if it takes a while for you to drop off, if you've got a runny nose, itchy throat, watery eyes and find yourself sneezing, Benadryl's intended effects will lessen those symptoms."
Now do you understand why I've become such a devoted 'Joe-head'? Go add him to your blogroll/favorites right this very second!
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Getting hit with the 'clue-by-four'
One of the more popular treppenwitz posts in terms of reader participation (which still gets comments and contributions to this day) was the one about 'The Most Depressing Lyrics Ever'. It seems many of you felt (and continue to feel) compelled to share your own 'most depressing song lyrics ever'.
No problem there. When you're down there's always room to keep digging. :-)
But today I'd like to take things in the opposite direction.
I recently got a serious case of the giggles while reading through the comments on a friend's blog. It seems one of her commenters used the expression in today's title... and it completely slayed me. It cracked me up so badly that for a couple of hours every time I thought about it the giggles started all over again! I even snorted a few times in a meeting, which drew some curious stares.
Obviously 'clue-by-four' is just a simple play on the term 'two-by-four' (a 2" X 4" board of lumber used for construction), but for some reason the mental image of someone being set straight by a metaphorical blow to the head just struck me as 'horse-laugh' funny.
I guess there's a reason all those anvils, sledge-hammers and yes... two-by-fours in Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons cracked us up as kids. I also have a pet theory that we grew up secretly regretting that the real world doesn't offer us the possibility of such swift and often justifiable retribution.
I have a feeling that a lot of these funny expressions like 'clue-by-four' emanate from the neon-lit realm of Information Technology since terms like LART (Luser Attitude Adjustment Tool) and Clueiseville Slugger are mythical weapons used by the IT/help-desk set to bludgeon (or impart wisdom to) LUSERS.
What can I say, those pocket-protector-wearing IT guys and girls may not get out much... but they sure can slay the inner 7-year-old in most of us with their unique take on theoretical violence... especially when it is metaphorically visited upon vexing individuals (something we can all get behind).
Anyhoo... I know I wandered a bit (big surprise), but have any of you stumbled across an expression on the net lately that just completely hit you with the funny stick?
Feel free to share.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Stretching an analogy
Some of you might have noticed that I occasionally (cough, cough) over-use analogies.
Based on an IM chat I had with a fellow blogger shortly after the whole Pope/Islam brouhaha began, I'm willing to admit that I may have a problem in this area:
Me: "Don't you see that Islam's relationship with the world is basically an abusive one?"
Fellow Blogger: "I have no idea where you're going with this... but OK, give me an example."
Me: "No, seriously... on paper Islam and the rest of the world should be getting along like any old married couple after so many centuries of coexistence. Y'know, avoiding the relationship land-mines and just sort of getting along based on the stuff that works. But instead, the rest of the world has to constantly be hyper-sensitive to Islam's needs... walking on eggshells in fear of the next outburst... while Islam starts throwing stuff and smacking us around the moment he doesn't like something we've said."
Fellow Blogger: "He? Oh, OK... I see where this is going... so Islam is the abusive husband. That would make the rest of us the battered wives, right?"
Me: "Well, sort of. I mean think about it for a sec... Islam can go around saying and doing anything it wants. He goes anywhere he wants... calls us names... berates us and even smacks us around when the mood strikes him. And when we wake up in the morning with black eyes and broken bones, we end up trying to rationalize what we did wrong to get Islam so darn mad... and how we can change our behavior to make things better again."
Fellow Blogger: "But what about when someone knocks Islam around a little bit? That sort of blows your whole abused wife scenario."
Me: "No, not really. When that happens it is analogous of an abused wife finally reaching her limit and either cutting something essential off her husband while he sleeps... or going completely postal on him with the family revolver. In either case, the wife still goes to jail because the rules of society are equipped (albeit poorly) to deal with relationship problems stemming from disproportionate use/abuse of power... but are completely useless when it comes to the inevitable (and probably justified) disproportionate mega-reaction that comes after years of abuse."
Fellow Blogger: "I'm not sure whether I'm more bothered by the fact that you're starting to make sense... or the fact that you've thought this through so thoroughly".
Yeah... I need to lay off the analogies for a while.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Not a hammer, but some nails
A recent news story that may have escaped your notice involves not so much a clash of cultures as a cultural disconnect. In fact, if not for the fact that the fate/liberty of a young Israeli backpacker named Noa Haviv hangs in the balance, this would actually be a funny story.
Allow me to bring you up to speed.
As is quite popular with the post-army set here in Israel, a young woman recently decided to spend some time between her national service and the rest of her life, backpacking around India.
Ho hum, this couldn't possibly be of less interest. Except for the small wrinkle. You see, upon landing in India she was promptly arrested... and if convicted, faces a very lengthy spell in an Indian hoosegow.
It seems that before her trip this young woman asked her brother if she could borrow his backpack/duffel for her trip. He said, "No problem" and Noa proceeded to pack the usual collection of stuff one needs for an extended trip abroad. What she didn't count upon was a little something her brother had accidentally left in one of the inside pockets of the bag.
I know... you're probably thinking 'drugs', right? Guess again.
I have to stop here for a moment and explain a bit about the cultural disconnect that led to this young woman's unfortunate detention.
Israel is a country where it is truly a rare family that doesn't have someone serving on active duty in the army or on the reserve rolls. Add to that the fact that many (although certainly not most) Israelis keep or have access to firearms for personal protection or security-related work, and you have a rather odd phenomenon of bullets being scattered throughout homes, cars and personal belongings.
Before the uninitiated reader gets the idea that we Israelis live in a 'wild west' environment, let me assure you that gun control here is much stricter than most places in the world. For instance, during army service it is literally pounded into every soldier that they will spend serious time in jail if they ever let their personal weapon out of their sight or have it stolen due to not properly securing it. Likewise, anyone with a pistol has it drilled into them each time they renew their licenses that whenever their personal weapons are not physically on their person they must be 'double locked'... meaning secured behind not one, but two layers of locks (e.g. in a locked safe inside a locked room/house), otherwise if it is stolen you are going to jail, full-stop.
Just as an example... one of my regular hitchhikers was actually kicked out of officer's school a couple of weeks before graduation because he left his M-16 unattended for 30 seconds in a classroom while he stepped into the hallway to get a drink of water.
Another aspect of the stringency of Israeli gun control is that a license is related directly to a single weapon by the serial number. Unlike in the U.S. where a gun license would allow a citizen to purchase a small arsenal of 'personal weapons', here you are licensed for a specific weapon and are only allowed to possess the single gun for which you are registered.
My point is that even though guns are an ubiquitous part of the Israeli landscape, they are extremely well controlled.
However, bullets are another story.
Like nearly all army equipment, people tend to hoard bullets out of all proportion to their actual need. A typical home with an active duty soldier or reservist probably contains lots of extra 'kit' including uniforms, equipment vests (with the straps adjusted just so), helmet liners, and 101 other essential items that the army issues... but which seem to invariably go astray the moment you really need them.
In households where someone has access to, or need of, a gun (even for infrequent reserve duty), it is not at all uncommon to find boxes of bullets in the back of desk drawers, on closet shelves and in the trunk of cars. Likewise, 'extra' magazines... especially the temperamental ones used in the M-16... are often squirreled away for the inevitable event that one becomes damaged or lost.
Zahava can testify to the fact that I have extra M-16 magazines sitting on the ledge under the coat rack, on top of my dresser and in the closet. And I also have extra magazines for my pistol in the storage slot of the car door as well as in several coat pockets.
The idea behind the relative laxity regarding bullets is that they can't really cause much harm without a gun. Quite simply, they figure that nails aren't much use without a hammer.
So this brings us back to our backpacker, Noa.
When she was packing up her bag to leave for India, she failed to notice that one of her brother's pistol magazines containing sixteen bullets (picture something about the size of a large candy bar or a cell phone) was stuffed deep inside an inner pocket of the duffel.
She arrived at the airport and answered the security questions truthfully that she had packed her own bag... and that since then it had not been out of her possession. This was good enough for El Al security and they cleared the bag for the flight.
However, upon arrival the pack was X-Rayed by the Indian authorities and the unmistakable image of a full magazine of sixteen bullets led to the young woman being immediately arrested.
There have been some incorrect reports in the international media that the woman was also in possession of a pistol. I can assure you, after indirect contact with the family, that this is completely untrue and is not among the charges pending against her. However in India, there seems to be little differentiation between bullets and guns... with both considered serious contraband carrying nearly equally stiff penalties.
Simply put, in India the penalty for posession of nails is a stiff as for hammers.
Needless to say, the family of this young woman is beyond distraught over the idea that instead of having a brief vacation followed by university... their daughter might be spending the next few years (at very least!) in an Indian prison. And unfortunately, a previous case where a stiff jail sentence was handed down to another backpacker who was found in possession of a single bullet offers little in the way of hope.
I am telling you this story today in hopes that readers will take a few minutes from their busy day to communicate their concerns to the nearest Indian diplomatic mission. It doesn't matter if it is an email, fax, phone call or snail-mail letter. What is important is the content:
1. Make sure to be respectful and non-confrontational.
2. Express deep respect for the Indian judicial system as well as for the rule of law.
3. Explain in a straightforward manner how, while Indian laws were certainly broken, it was never the intention of this young woman to do so.
4. Mention the strong ties between Israel and India and the large number of young Israeli tourists who visit India every year.
5. Point out that the young woman was not in possession of a firearm and in fact knows nobody in India who has one (which supports her claim that possession was completely unintentional).
5. Bring up your opinion of how Israel's unique security situation (mandatory conscription/reserve duty, etc.) likely led to the oversight of the full magazine being forgotten in a backpack/duffel that had been used by an active-duty soldier prior to the young woman's trip.
6. DO NOT say or write anything that would imply (even obliquely) that India's laws and/or judicial system are not equipped to justly deal with this issue. On the contrary, you should go out of your way to point out India's long history of sophisticated jurisprudence and rule of law.
We can debate gun control. We can argue over respecting the laws of sovereign nations and where responsibility falls in this particular case. But the bottom line is that a young life is about to be senselessly derailed... and possibly ruined... over a truly innocent oversight. There is nothing to indicate that anything we say will help, but it is certain that our silence can only hurt.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXXVIII) [Rosh Hashannah edition]
As I made my rounds today delivering honey to friends, I started thinking (again) about how many small things we have to be thankful for here.
First of all, there is the fact that I don't have to use up my vacation days at work to observe the Jewish holidays. It is such a small thing... but it is also huge. In the US Zahava and I used to be left with maybe a long weekend of vacation time after we had burned through all the time off for Rosh Hashannah (2 days), Yom Kippur (1 day), Sukkot (4 days), Purim (1 day), Passover (8 days), Shavuot (2 days) and Tisha B'Av (1 day). I'm sure I missed a few.
My point is that being able to use vacation time for, well, vacation is an incredible relief. And being able to celebrate holidays without having to deal with the resentment of coworkers who have to cover for you while you're out... or the bitterness at having to squander vacation days for religious holidays (something that isn't necessary for Christian or Federal holidays) is like a city kid seeing a meadow for the first time.
As if that wasn't enough to be thankful for, each year I am taken by surprise by the gestures, small and large, made by the company for which I work. This past week I got a memo to come to the main office to pick up something. When I got there the secretary handed me two Small boxes and explained they were new years gifts for the big kids... mini MP3 players.
I walked back to my office grinning from ear to ear... not because of the value of the gifts (although I'm sure they weren't cheap), but at the value of the gesture. It wasn't just the start of a new year for me... I wasn't a stranger anymore.
Needless to say Ari and Gili loved the gifts.
When I got back to my office I opened it up and found two bottles of wine, a bottle of olive oil, some stuff for making coffee-flavored milk and a jar of coffee (OK, it's instant but it's the thought that counts):
I get really sappy about this every year, but it provides such a wonderful sense of belonging to see EVERYONE in the company spending the last hour or two of the day before the holiday going from office too office extending wishes to each other for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year... and then walking out to their cars carrying their gift boxes from the company.
Regardless of which calendar you follow, I'd like to wish all the wonderful people who visit this site a year of peace, health and all the happiness you can stand. In addition, may all our problems be the kind that can be solved in 10 minutes or less!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Not that there's anything you don't already know...
... but the first installment of Dov Bear's 'Better know a blogger' is up... and it is an interview with yours truly.
Longtime readers will remember that Dov Bear and I got off to a rocky start in our relationship and he almost ended up having the honor of being the first person ever banned from treppenwitz (he was ~this~ close). But in the end a grudging respect developed and I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that if they changed the laws we would marry immediately (name the movie).
Anyway, if you have a few minutes and absolutely nothing to do... go check out the interview (and the comments).
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
My interest and participation in the NY music scene used to find me driving through some of New York's sketchier neighborhoods. On more than a few occasions I went 'uptown' to catch an act at The Apollo Theater in Harlem. And quite frequently, gigs out on the south shore of Long Island required that I take 'the back roads' through some of the poorer areas of Far Rockaway.
One of the more un-nerving things I experienced in both of these areas was something I came to think of as 'the stroll'.
Simply put, 'the stroll' goes something like this:
I'd be driving along a street in one of the neighborhoods I mentioned above, when a local pedestrian will step out into the street and stroll ever-so-casually directly in front of my car... all the while glaring at me. If I return their stare they might even slow down and jut out their chin a bit, as if daring me to impatiently inch forward.
Over the years I developed several working theories about the causes/origins of 'the stroll', but my best guess centered around a single word: 'existence'.
You see, despite decades of progress with civil rights and integration, there are still vast areas (physical, social and economic) where people of color don't mix with whites. In fact many African Americans don't even register on most white 'cultural radar'. Obviously we've moved beyond separate drinking fountains and lunch counters... but the cultural gulf between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in the U.S. is still too easily drawn along color lines.
And the result is that for many of the 'haves'... the 'have nots' simply don't exist.
So, my best theory about 'the stroll' boils down to culturally invisible individuals imposing their physical presence on an outsider (like me) in order to force them to acknowledge their existence.
To be clear, I rarely felt physically threatened. Rather, each time I encountered 'the stroll' I felt a mixture of fear and anger... as though I was being metaphorically grabbed by the shoulders and shaken while someone yelled into my face; "Look at me! I exist!!!". But when I stopped to think about what it must be like to be culturally invisible, I quickly learned to just suck it up and deal with it.
However, here in Israel, I've been experiencing a local version of 'the stroll', and I'm not sure it is entirely benign.
There are actually two versions:
The male stroll: As I'm driving through a predominantly Arab area or near an Arab village/town, a young Arab man (almost always dressed in secular clothes) will step deliberately out into my path, often glaring pointedly at my face. He will slow his pace once it is clear that I am giving way... and on a few occasions I have had to swerve dangerously onto the shoulder in order to avoid hitting one or more of these strollers. I have a suspicion that most of these male 'strollers' are motivated by many of the same feelings of anger and disenfranchisement as their African American counterparts.
The female stroll: Similar to the male stroll but for some reason it is almost always a lone woman... and ALWAYS wearing traditional garb (at least a hijab (headscarf), but more often than not a full abaya and niqab... or even a burqa). The other way in which the female version of 'the stroll' differs from its male counterpart is that the Arab woman steps out into the roadway and NEVER looks towards the oncoming car. At first I thought that these women were simply being inattentive. But on busy streets with fast-moving traffic I find it hard to believe that a brutal form of natural selection wouldn't have put an end to such a risky practice. Also, each time I have had to stand on the brakes to avoid one of these women strolling slowly across my path and staring straight ahead through the slit in her veil, I've noticed that they never react the way someone would if surprised by an oncoming car. They just keep walking casually with their eyes pointed forward and their pace unchanged. I can't help but wonder if there isn't some small desire for martyrdom at work in these cases.
To be clear, regardless of what I may feel about the violent tactics used by Arabs in their struggle for (or support of) self-determination... and despite their presence in almost every Jewish town and city, one can't really argue the fact that to most Israel Jews, Arabs are worse than invisible... they are viewed with nearly universal suspicion. Obviously, much of the responsibility for this state of affairs rests on the Arabs themselves because of the tactics they've employed to advance their agenda. But the net result is similar to what many people of color experience day in and day out in the US; a strong sense of disenfranchisement... and 'otherness'.
In order to write about this topic I have obviously tried to set aside some of my personal feelings of suspicion towards Arabs as potential terrorists in order to try to get inside the head of an Arab pedestrian. But the more I dwell on it, the more I can't help but think that a chilling parallel exists between 'strollers' here and in the U.S. ... a parallel that has created a potential detonator for violence.
Think back to the Crown Heights riots of 1991. Obviously anger and bad blood had been festering for years between the black and Jewish community in that section of Brooklyn. But all it took to light the fuse on the powder keg was a tragic traffic incident where a Jewish driver ended up accidentally hitting and killing a young African immigrant.
Imagine for a moment what would result if (G-d forbid) an Israeli Jewish motorist (like me) were to accidentally hit and kill an Arab pedestrian (especially a religious woman) performing the local version of 'the stroll'. Do you think it would be viewed as an unfortunate traffic accident... or do you think perhaps the result would be 'spontaneous' rioting and calls for widespread retribution and attacks against Jewish Israelis?
In Far Rockaway and Harlem I understood the anger and disenfranchisement behind 'the stroll' and resigned myself to it. But I never felt that the goal there was to create an opportunity for martyrdom. However, driving through places as dissimilar as Yaffo and Beit Omar, I can't help but wonder if 'the stroll' - especially the female version of it - hasn't evolved into something beyond an angry expression of existence... and into a game of political 'chicken' where the goal is to be hit, rather than missed, by the oncoming car.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I'll have 'the usual' please
The penultimate sentence in yesterday's post was written as follows:
"I work in relative obscurity... and my secretary can't be bothered to remember how I drink my coffee."
Now why in the world do you think I linked those two statements in one extended sentence instead of separating them into two distinct thoughts?
Many of you immediately disregarded the significance of the first statement and jumped to the conclusion from the second that part of her job description (or at very least my expectation) was that she prepare my coffee.
Now be honest... is that really implied anywhere in that sentence? Couldn't it just as easily have been a simple statement of regret that one of two people who work closely together for nine hours a day doesn't know how the other takes his coffee?
Quite honestly, I've made coffee for her at least as frequently as she has made coffee for me. The difference is that I always remember how she takes hers... but she invariably has to ask for instructions/clarification when she is preparing mine. And to be clear, she has an incredible memory for details in all other aspects of our working relationship.
The way many of you interpreted my statement would constitute an insult (albeit an anachronistic one at best)... and I'm quite sure she doesn't mean to be insulting.
What I was trying to relate was simply a certain regret that someone who spends more waking hours with me than my wife can't be bothered to remember something as basic as how I drink my coffee... thus my use of an ellipse to join the thought about my working in 'obscurity' to the act of making coffee.
And yes, that was a deliberate trap I set... just to see how many people would fall in. There seem to be a fair number of you down there. :-)
Monday, September 18, 2006
I had mentioned in passing that 'Leave It To Beaver' was one of my favorites when Ben casually let it drop that both Ward and June Cleaver (as they appeared in the TV show) were younger than I am now (actually, he was talking about himself... but as usual this is all about me).
Yikes, I thought to myself... I'm older than Ward Cleaver!!! How is that possible?
It took me a few days to get over the shock, but I was finally coming to terms with that one when I stumbled upon a factoid in a news article that provided another mental set-back.
The article was about how Theodore Herzl's children are going to be reburied near their father in Jerusalem in keeping with the terms of his will. All very heart-warming... but as the article went on to provide a little background info for the reader, it mentioned that he had died in 1904... at the age of 44!
That can't be right... I'm 45!
They can't be talking about the same Theodore Herzl... the father of modern Zionism. I grew up with pictures of him. He was this elderly man with a huge, imposing black beard:
... and apparently I'm a full year older than he was when he died.
Great. Just great.
In less time than I've had on this earth, Herzl had managed to create the blueprint for a modern Jewish state, and was a household name around the world.
I work in relative obscurity... and my secretary can't be bothered to remember how I drink my coffee.
I'm feeling old.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
The enemy of my enemy...
By now I'm sure most of you are well aware of the current tempest over the Pope's recent remarks about Islam. For those of you who missed it, here is a brief recap:
Last week the Pope gave a speech in Germany in which he quoted passages from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor named Manuel II Paleologus that were not particularly flattering to Islam or it's chief prophet, Mohamed. Specifically he said:
"In the seventh (sura, or chapter of the Quran), the emperor comes to speak about jihad, holy war.
"The emperor certainly knew that Sura 2, 256, reads: 'No force in matters of faith'. It is one of the early suras, from a time -- as experts say -- in which Mohammed himself was still powerless and threatened.
"However, the emperor of course also knew the requirements about the holy war that were later formulated in the Quran. Without going into details like the handling of the owners of the scriptures, or non-believers, he (the emperor) turned to his interlocutors -- in a surprisingly brusque way -- with the central question after the relationship between religion and violence.
"He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"
The Pope concluded from these references that "God,is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature."
Needless to say, peace-loving Muslims around the world entered the debate by immediately losing their collective minds and rioting, burning churches and threatening to launch suicide bombings against Christian targets... including the Pope.
So to review... when Muslims call practitioners (or leaders) of other religions, 'dogs', 'monkeys', 'pigs', etc... or compare non-Muslim religious leaders to mass murderers such as Hitler (his name should be obliterated), that is considered protected free speech. But let anyone say or write anything remotely critical of Islam... and out come the swords! Apparently, the sword of Islam cuts only one way.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of the present Pope. But in truth I don't have to be... I don't count myself among his flock. However, I am tickled pink over what I think is his well-formed strategy to get Europe to finally engage Islam head-on rather than continuing to roll over for increasingly unreasonable demands of Dhimmitude.
If one examines the content and timing of the Pope's statement, it becomes fairly clear that this was no accidental slip of the tongue.
First of all, one doesn't go around casually dropping quotes from obscure medieval emperors into speeches. That sort of thing requires a bit of forethought and research.
Second, if the Pope was casting about for unobjectionable content for his remarks during a politically delicate time in European history, he certainly wouldn't draw from a source that intimated that any aspect of Islam which Mohamed hadn't managed to steal outright from Judaism or Christianity was essentially evil.
Next, the riots which resulted from the prophet cartoons failed to force Europeans to take a stand against Islamic subjugation. In fact they may have actually prevented such a stand from taking place. This is because the issue at hand was not 'Islam vs. Europe'... but rather 'Islam vs. freedom of expression'.
This distinction is quite important.
You see, culturally, Europe prides itself on being extremely diverse. This diversity is only possible because of a delicate ongoing compromise/balance between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity. However, this is also Europe's Achilles heel. It is the wedge that allowed Islam to divide and conquer European public opinion in the wake of the prophet cartoons.
Quite simply, the sacrificing of freedom of expression during the prophet riots on a narrow range of topics (Islam) did not make Europeans feel threatened since they were already conditioned to feel comfortable with compromise in the name of cultural sensitivity. They felt they had room to negotiate without giving up any part of their core identity. Giving in to the Muslims required a mental adjustment rather than ceding a core position.
However, the one unifying aspect that bridges most of Europe's cultural divides (even among die-hard secularists) is a deep-seated and long-standing Christian identity. One doesn't have to look much beyond most of the European flags to understand how central Christianity is to European self-definition.
I have a hunch that the Pope understood this quite well before he made his remarks.
My theory is that the Pope was disappointed... perhaps even alarmed... at the failure of Europeans to take a united stand during the prophet cartoon riots. So he sat down and figured out a plan that would pit Islam... not against Europe... but against Christian Europe (and ultimately all of Christendom).
He knew that any statement critical of Islam would elicit a swift and violent response, so he was careful to draw it from a historical source and present it as part of a scholarly, albeit tangential discussion. This way, when the expected explosion took place he could feign dismay and regret at the Muslim reaction while avoiding a direct apology. After all, why should he personally apologize for something that has been a matter of public record since the 14th century?
As expected, churches all over the world are now being targeted by angry Muslim mobs and the leader of the Catholic Church is being called unspeakable names... and even threatened... by a wide swath of the world's Muslims.
Europeans might not have been willing to stand up and take a stand for something as ill-defined as a personal freedom... but they sure as hell feel their backs have been pushed to the wall as their very religious identity comes under attack. The proof of this can be found in the fact that both religious and political European leaders are now closing ranks... firmly behind the Pope.
If the Pope's goal was to draw clear battle lines for the coming global struggle that would force Christian Europe to finally dig in and say 'not one more inch!'... he seems to have found an extremely effective way to go about it.
If it was merely an accident... there too, I doubt the Pope can be very unhappy with the results.
And since the enemy of my enemy is my friend... let me say for the record, "Onward Christian soldiers...".
Friday, September 15, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXXVII) [honey house edition]
The weeks before Rosh Hashannah are a busy time for beekeepers (even for amateurs). The last of the full supers (extra hive boxes) are removed from the hives and the full frames spun in the centrifuge to extract the thick golden honey.
The big kids and I worked hard over the past couple of weeks, but the reward was worth it. The last step is putting the honey harvest into jars.
A full-time beekeeper would have a honey house where all the extraction and jarring would take place. But since I only have four hives right now, my lovely and patient wife generously gives up her kitchen for a few hours each week to allow us to do this sticky but delicious work.
Next year I plan on buying a jarring tank (basically a big tank with a spigot that makes it easier to fill the jars quickly and neatly. But since we didn't have one, this is the process of getting the honey from our holding tank into the jars.
First the honey is ladled into a measuring cup:
Then the measuring cup is used to pour the honey into the jars.
When all the jars are filled, everyone is sticky with honey. But luckily a little hot water puts everything right again.
If you want to see more pictures of the hives and the work that goes into keeping bees during the year, click here to visit our bee photo album.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
What to do about the 'fifth column'
Contained in the title of this post is a political epithet that I've understood only vaguely for most of my adult life as some sort of subversive internal influence.
Lucky for me (and you), the Web is a wonderful tonic for partial or total ignorance:
The term 'fifth column' itself is defined (by Wikipedia) as follows:
"A group of people who clandestinely undermines from within a larger group to which it is expected to be loyal, such as a nation." *
But the story behind the term is interesting as well, and provides the necessary context:
Towards the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Emilio Mola, a Nationalist Spanish General delivered a stirring radio address in which he described not only his four army columns advancing on Madrid... but also the strategic value of his staunch supporters within the Spanish capital. He placed such value on the nationalists living in Madrid that he referred to these local supporters as his 'fifth column' as if they were part of the armed forces under his command.
The term 'fifth column' has been bandied about in Israeli political circles for years in reference to Israeli Arabs. However, until fairly recently it was considered extremely politically incorrect to do so... and in fact was pretty much the exclusive province of the 'lunatic right' (Kach, et al).
However an editorial I just read in the Jerusalem Post talks about trends revealed in recent polling results that show a fairly significant swath of mainstream Israelis (not a majority, to be sure) in favor of some kind of prejudicial treatment of Arab Israeli citizens due to the perception/reality of their disloyalty to the state:
"In a poll last December, 40 percent of Israeli Jews said that the state should "encourage Arab citizens to emigrate." That is still a minority (52 percent disagreed), but it is clearly approaching the tipping point - especially since 63 percent termed Israeli Arabs "a security and demographic threat to the state," with only 13 percent disagreeing."
The editorial goes on to point out that fully a sixth of current Israeli Knesset seats are held by parties that favor some sort of population transfer (or at least strong encouragement of Israeli Arabs to emigrate).
The reason this grabs my attention is that I grew up hearing shocking stories of how, during WWII, approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in internment camps for the simple reason that they were considered by the U.S. government to be a fifth column security threat. It may very well have been that among these thousands of Japanese-American internees there were actual disloyal citizens... or perhaps even a few spies. One can reason that if you spread a large enough net you are bound to catch a few fish... however, that's not how a democracy is supposed to operate, is it?
With that in mind, you can imagine why I've had a fairly visceral reaction whenever I've heard anyone openly discuss rounding up / deporting Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship.
However, after reading this JPost editorial I have to say that I don't think one can draw an honest parallel between the treatment of the Japanese-American population during WWII and how Israeli-Arabs are viewed in modern times. Although I strongly encourage you to read the whole editorial, here are the money quotes concerning MKs from the three Arab parties in Knesset that offer compelling reasons to view Israeli Arabs as a true fifth column:
"Last weekend ... [MK] Bishara's Balad faction traveled to Damascus, thereby violating the law prohibiting travel to enemy states. While there, he publicly praised Syria's "struggle to free occupied Arab land" and its "resistance against occupation" - i.e., its support for anti-Israel terror. Moreover, he makes such statements frequently, as in a 2001 speech praising Hizbullah's "guerrilla war" against Israel, the "losses" (casualties) it inflicted on Israel and its "victory" over Israel. "
"[MK] BISHARA openly advocates terror attacks against the country in whose parliament he sits, rejoices when it suffers casualties and cheers when it loses battles ("Hizbullah won, and for the first time since 1967 we have tasted the taste of victory")."
"Balad MK Jamal Zahalka's explanation for the trip: "We don't see Syria as an enemy state." Thus not only does he contemptuously ignore laws enacted by the parliament in which he sits, he declines to view a country that is officially at war with Israel - and whose president publicly threatened just last month to resume hostilities someday - as an enemy state. "
"Hadash faction chairman MK Muhammad Barakei publicly urged Israeli Arabs to participate in Palestinian violence against Israel. This past January, he declared: "I'm not loyal to the country; the country must be loyal to me." Similarly, MK Taleb a-Sanaa, of the third Arab party, Ra'am-Ta'al, told the Nazareth-based newspaper Kul al-Arab in 2001 that the leader of Hamas, perpetrator of most anti-Israel suicide bombings, was an "exalted" figure comparable to the Dalai Lama, while Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah ... "deserves the Nobel Peace Prize."
"MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) complained of a "season of incitement against Arab MKs" during the recent Lebanon war. Bakar Awada, director of the Center Against Racism, said the poll showed that "racism is becoming mainstream…. This is a worrisome development." Yet Israeli Arab leaders apparently still see no connection between this growing anti-Arab sentiment and their own behavior. "
Remember... the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs voted for one of these three parties. Placed together, these quotes really seem to meet the 'smell test' of a true 'fifth column'.
So where does that leave us in terms of how we, as a democratic society, should view a significant portion of the Israeli electorate... a slice of the population that during time of war has openly demonstrated their support of our enemies, celebrated the death of Israeli citizens and voiced their support for the ultimate destruction of the State of Israel?
Quite simply, at what point do the irreconcilably disparate goals of Israeli-Arabs and Jews suggest that steps should taken to create a framework for disloyal/subversive citizens to be forced out from under the protective blanket of the democracy they want so desperately to destroy... and force them to throw in their lot with the powers / organizations they openly support?
Before responding please consider the fact that just as with the WWII-era Japanese-Americans... there are also many Israeli Arabs who are extremely loyal/patriotic and who send their sons to serve (and die) in combat units in the defense of their country. What of them?
* Source: Wikipedia list of political epithets
Read full text of editorial here
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I have quite a few worlds.
There is my pre-marriage world consisting mostly of musician friends and old girlfriends. There is the world of friends I share with my wife consisting of people we've met since we were married. There is my Israeli world, divided along work and leisure lines. And of course there is my blogging world made up of fellow navel-gazers.
I can't really explain why, but like George Costanza, I don't enjoy it when any of my world's collide. I'm honestly the same person in all of these various worlds... but for some reason I feel like people relate to me in slightly different ways in each... making it initially uncomfortable for me, wondering if everyone's impressions of me match up.
Yes, it's all about me.
Obviously there is bound to be a certain amount of overlap of worlds considering that the Jewish world just isn't that big. For instance, my lovely (and patient) wife has pretty much resigned herself to running into my old girlfriends almost any time we go anywhere together. I'm guessing she takes it as a positive sign that I managed to remain friendly with them after the 'it's not you, it's me' conversation... not to mention that we wouldn't have even met had an old girlfriend of mine neglected to introduce us.
But for the most part, when my various world's collide it feels suspiciously like parent-teacher night (with me as the student). I mention all this because two of my worlds recently collided and I'm really not sure how I'm taking it.
On the one hand is a musician friend I've known for going on 20 years. He is an 87-year-old European alter-yid (old Jew) who in real life happens to reside in the body of a guy not much older than myself.
On the other hand is a blogger friend of mine who is also part of my relatively new Israeli world. He too is a European alter-yid in a young man's body, but for some reason the dynamic of our friendship has a slightly different flavor... perhaps owing to the fact that we met after both having gotten careers and family well underway.
I first clued into the fact that these two (or maybe three) worlds had collided when I saw that my musician friend had begun commenting on my blogger/Israeli friend's site. This by itself wouldn't have been too alarming since my blogroll is an obvious conduit through which any of my worlds might gain access to this blogger friend.
But as I read a recent comment I noticed with growing dis-ease that the two seemed to have met at a recent affair of some sort... and somehow made the connection with me.
Frankly, this is akin to accidentally discovering cold fusion while making iced tea as far as I'm concerned, since these two people have never been introduced... and my blogger friend has taken great pains to remain anonymous to his readers.
But you can bet I am going to get to the bottom of how they met.
You see, this Thursday evening this blogger friend and I will be lifting a tumbler of Bourbon with a visiting American blogger friend of ours (See?! No problem there since they both belong to my blogger world!). And when we do, you can bet that I'll put the kibosh on this business of friends from different worlds meeting and conversing behind my back!
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
OK, I'm not going to speculate or comment on the reports coming in that the U.S. Embassy in Damascus has come under attack. Either it's happening... or it isn't. It isn't the first time U.S. personnel and/or property have come under attack here in the middle east and it certainly won't be the last.
Either people will simply come to accept this as the cost of doing business with thugs and terrorists... or they'll finally make a decision to actually hold the sponsors and host countries responsible.
But this would require actually responding... so I'm not holding my breath.
Not my problem. I'm just sitting here taking deep breaths and wondering what kind of 'confidence building measures' will be recommended in order to quell the anger behind this (alleged) attack.
Anyhoo... what I really wanted to share today is in no way related to politics. It is related to lunch meat.
Like many parents, we have occasionally resorted to offering baloney, salami and other kinds of processed /sliced mystery meats to our children when they've gone through their picky-eater phases. Yonah is going through one now and has taken a shine to both baloney and salami.
Obviously we don't give him this nitrate-laden
poison stuff at every meal, but he still eats enough of it on Shabbat to make us want to curb his desire for it just a bit.
So I'm surfing the net and I stumble across this! I'm wondering if there is a kosher version of this scary-assed stuff?
I first saw this here, and it immediately seemed like the perfect solution to scare the little guy off of lunch meat for life.
OK, sure he'll probably end up in therapy... and will spend the rest of his life running screaming from the room whenever he sees a clown. But hey, that seems like a small price to pay for healthier eating habits, right?
Monday, September 11, 2006
Stuff that keeps me up nights
Now that shampoo and contact lens solution have been declared potentially hazardous materials and banned from commercial flights traveling between most civilized destinations, most of us are sitting around wondering what's next.
They've taken our manicure sets (not that I have one, mind you... ehem), and anything remotely pointy we might have once placed in our carry-ons. They've cowed an entire world of travelers into wearing clogs and loafers in anticipations of having to remove footwear multiple times during each leg of travel. And every trip brings us closer to being strippers, entailing ever more revealing removal of outer clothing.
But let's be honest among ourselves, shall we? It's really all just closing the barn door after the latest set of cows have escaped.
Here's the money quote from a commercial airline pilot named Patrick Smith from a recent Jerusalem Post essay about airline security:
"The precise shape, form and substance of those [banned] items is irrelevant. We are not fighting materials; we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur."
When I read that I wanted to find this guy and give hum a big, back-slapping (hetero) hug. I mean, does anyone out there think for a second that he's wrong? Do any of you imagine there is some as-yet-undeveloped screening process that will bring us back to the days where one can arrive 15 minutes before a flight and do an O.J.-style sprint for the gate?
Here... allow me disabuse you of any illusions you might still hold in that direction:
At present, airport security is not actively screening for a substance so corrosive and fast-acting that a few drops tossed anywhere on or within an airplane would be more than sufficient to cause the aircraft to break up from massive structural failure within an hour or two. Not only that, but those few drops could be safely secreted inside a ballpoint pen... or stored inside an even more mundane object; a thermometer.
I'm talking about something casually referred to as quicksilver... but which is actually an element about three-quarters of the way down on the periodic table: Mercury.
Mercury is one of only two elements that remains liquid at room temperature (bonus points for anyone who can identify the other one), and is used in a variety of perfectly benign scientific measuring devices such as thermometers and barometers. Most household thermometers today no longer use mercury because of its potential toxicity, but finding an old mercury thermometer is within the capability of pretty much anyone on the planet.
Most of us have become wary of Mercury because of news reports about what even trace amounts in our food chain can do to us. But what we fail to realize is that even a a few drops of the stuff can turn a thick piece of aluminum quite literally to dust within minutes.
Here's how it works (Source: Popular Science):
"When iron rusts, it forms iron oxide—a reddish, powdery substance that quickly flakes off to expose fresh metal, which immediately begins to rust, and so on until your muffler falls off.
But when aluminum rusts, it forms aluminum oxide, an entirely different animal. In crystal form, aluminum oxide is called corundum, sapphire or ruby (depending on the color), and it is among the hardest substances known. If you wanted to design a strong, scratch-proof coating to put on a metal, few things other than diamond would be better than aluminum oxide.
By rusting, aluminum is forming a protective coating that’s chemically identical to sapphire—transparent, impervious to air and many chemicals, and able to protect the surface from further rusting: As soon as a microscopically thin layer has formed, the rusting stops. (“Anodized” aluminum has been treated with acid and electricity to force it to grow an extra-thick layer of rust, because the more you have on the surface, the stronger and more scratch-resistant it is.)
But this illusion can be shattered with aluminum’s archenemy, mercury.
Applied to aluminum’s surface, mercury will infiltrate the metal and disrupt its protective coating, allowing it to “rust” (in the more destructive sense) continuously by preventing a new layer of oxide from forming. The aluminum I-beam below rusted half away in a few hours, something that would have taken an iron beam years."
Now think for a moment about the last time you took a commercial flight. As you walked down the jet-way and stepped onto the plane you were treated to a brief, unobstructed view of the plane's doorway (hatch), as well as a fair amount of the aluminum skin surrounding it. How difficult would it have been to squirt a few drops of Mercury unobserved? Not very, I'd wager.
For that matter, how hard would it be to inject a few drops of Mercury into a gap in the floor or paneling inside a commercial aircraft during a long flight?
Before anyone starts screaming "Why are you giving the terrorists ideas???", let me assure you that this information is neither new nor obscure. In fact, unless you are licensed by a national meteorological bureau to transport a barometer, it is already completely illegal to bring Mercury in any form onto a plane.
What keeps me up at night is the fact that the minimum wage automatons at airports throughout the world are simply not looking for it. They are busy looking for shampoo, contact lens solution... and opportunities to pat down little old ladies from Peoria.
Not only that, but since only a few well-placed drops of Mercury are sufficient to destroy an entire commercial airliner, there is really no search that will be thorough enough to stop someone determined to smuggle it on-board.
I don't imagine we'll be able to get rid of metal detectors, X-ray machines or bomb-sniffing dogs anytime soon. But I think the world must finally take a step back and take a hard look at (i.e. profile) who wants to do us harm... not what they might use to harm us. The real weapon is not a thing a person might smuggle on-board a commercial flight... it is the person doing the smuggling.
This is the sort of stuff that keeps me up nights.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I need some time
I've woken up every morning this week hoping for a reason not to be angry. The reason for this unusual aspiration is that I know from experience that the one thing 100% guaranteed to chase away any shred of creativity I might have possessed when I opened my eyes... is anger.
But then I check the news sites... and the anger returns.
Every morning I read about more stonings... more Molotov cocktails... more stabbings... more shootings... more roadside bombs... more kassams.
Why are the terrorists turninig up the heat?
Because they can smell the weakness and indecision wafting off of our leaders and are pressing what they perceive to be their advantage.
Since our leaders agreed to that shameful ceasefire they have continued making and breaking a seemingly endless stream of promises. They promised the Israeli people that the laughable terms of the ceasefire would lead to the unconditional return of the hostages. They promised the families of the hostages they wouldn't lift the embargo of Lebanon until the hostages were returned. They promised the world they would never negotiate a prisoner exchange with terrorists.
I am sick inside at the realization that there is literally no honor in the lot of them and that there is quite simply no promise our current leaders won't break.
I have woken up every morning this week thoroughly ashamed to be an Israeli... and far too angry to write.
I'm sorry... I need some time.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
A question of philosophy
Stop me if you've heard this one:
René Descartes walks into a diner and sits down at the counter. The waitress walks over, pours him a cup of coffee and asks, "Can I bring you a slice of pie to have with that?" Without hesitating, Descartes answers, "I think not"... and disappears.
OK, let's go slowly so we won't leave anyone behind. René Descartes was a 17th century French philosopher who was perhaps most famous for the statement "Cogito, ergo sum" (Latin: "I am thinking, therefore I exist", or more traditionally "I think, therefore I am").
I shared this, admittedly, lame joke because I honestly don't understand why our hapless Prime Minister (and by extension, his party; Kadima) hasn't simply disappeared now that their philosophy has been discredited.
Ehud Olmert and his merry band of political defectors were swept into office as part of a 'centrist' political revolution that embraced a single platform/philosophy: Unilateral withdrawal from 'the west bank'.
Some of you will doubtless take exception to my use of the term 'defectors', so perhaps I should explain before going on. Kadima is a collection of politicians who defected from other parties to join Ariel Sharon in his vision of creating Israel's new borders.
Those that defected from Labor were mostly genuine ideologues who had long embraced the idea of withdrawal from 'the territories'... some because of a desire to cease being an occupying power... and others out of a profound antipathy for religious settlers.
Those that defected from Likud were largely opportunists who had never fully embraced the ideology of the Likud, but who saw the right-of-center political powerhouse as a convenient path to power during a period of national security concerns and regional instability.
The thing they all shared in common was that they agreed to abandon everything else they had ever stood for and become in essence, a 'one trick pony'. The former Laborites defected from the social-welfare agenda they had held dear, and the former Likudniks defected from the security and 'strategic depth' agenda on which they had built their careers.
Now these two types of defectors saw in Ariel Sharon a man who could get things done. They watched in awe as the former right-wing 'hawk' co-pted one of the most dovish plans ever put forth by the left... and in a matter of months did what nobody thought could be done: He pulled Israel out of Gaza.
That he was able to bring the Israeli media on-board and accomplished the withdrawal in the face of protests from many quarters about the folly of unilateralism and the dangers of appearing to reward terror, only further increased his cachet with the defectors.
Then just before the elections something happened that must have shaved years off the collective lives of the Kadima defectors: Ariel Sharon checked out of politics in order to test the medical definition of brain death.
But Ehud Olmert wasn't worried. He knew that there was still a critical mass of Israeli voters out there who, like his fellow Kadima members, were:
a) hardwired from birth to hate religious settlers;
b) ideologically pre-disposed to vote for whoever could end Israel's tenure as an occupying power;
c) motivated to vote for any seemingly unstoppable powerhouse (i.e. those who would always try to back a winning horse).
And he was right. Kadima - with its single agenda talking point - won with ease.
But after the elections the wheels really started to fall off the wagon. As predicted by the right-wing lunatics and religious fanatics, the newly Judenrein Gaza immediately set about using their autonomy to launch hundreds of rockets into Israel. In addition, nearly daily attempts were made to infiltrate over (and under) the Gaza border.
But for some reason Kadima's backers held firm and studiously ignored the philosophical question staring them in the face: If Israeli occupation was the problem and unilateral withdrawal the only solution... why were they still trying to kill us?
Then the now-wheel-less wagon went completely off the road and into a ditch. In addition to a full-scale war being launched from un-occupied Gaza, southern Lebanon (another area from which Israel had unilaterally withdrawn) opened up a second front against us.
I don't need to rehash the results of these two disastrous withdrawals for you. The newspapers are still full of accounts by people with 20/20 hindsight... and the hospitals are overflowing with the maimed, burned and sightless.
So now that the one and only trick our national pony knew how to perform has turned out to be, well, not very entertaining... I have to wonder how it is that Kadima is still in power? Ehud Olmert has announced that the only thing he and his party stood for in the last elections now turns out to be "irrelevant".
So where are the deafening cries for a vote of no-confidence? Where are the massive demonstrations calling for new elections. Why haven't the political right and left run to reclaim their broader agendas and abandoned Kadima to die an ignoble death now that its single platform has been discredited?
Before, during and after the last elections, Ehud Olmert expressed a single guiding philosophy; Unilateral withdrawal. So should Olmert now be allowed to spend the remainder of his tenure trying on new philosophies for size... and busily covering his ass?
Like our old friend Descartes... I think not.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
No refuge for the socially inept
Zahava and I have a little unspoken arrangement between us. If within 5 seconds of running into someone in a social setting I have not introduced her... it means I have forgotten the person's name. When this occurs (as it does with shocking regularity), my lovely wife gamely steps into the breach with a cheery, "Hi, I'm Zahava... David's wife... I didn't catch your name."
In most cases the other party(ies) pretend not to notice my social lapse and offer up their name and some sort of identifying relationship (e.g. Bob's wife... an old school chum of David's... etc.). On rare occasions someone decides not to play along and says something unhelpful like, "I didn't mention my name. In fact I think David has forgotten it." When this happens I simply pull out my gun and shoot them dead.
OK, not really... but don't tell me that someone who would deliberately make you squirm around in your own social ineptitude doesn't deserve to be shot.
The nice part about this little face-saving trick that Zahava and I have perfected is that it translated flawlessly into Hebrew. That I regularly forget people's names in two languages is neither here nor there. The important point is that there is an easy way to extricate myself from the abyss... and it isn't language-dependent.
However, there are other social pitfalls in our new life that have not translated quite so well.
Take for example babies.
Now, I think it is entirely unreasonable to expect a person to remember which friends and acquaintances have recently given birth... and what gender their
spawn, er, little bundles of joy turned out to be.
I'm sure the women out there are tilting their heads to the side right now the way my dog does when I put Stravinsky on the stereo. I know... my previous statement about not remembering baby data might as well be in Chinese as far as my female readers are concerned, because everyone knows that there are special synapses and receptors in the female brain that are specially designed to latch onto vital baby statistics like gender, hours of labor, name, hours of labor, weight, hours of labor, length, hours of labor, APGAR score... oh, yes, and of course hours of labor.
But based on personal experience, I think men lack this ability to retain information about babies... and need to rely on cues from the parents (i.e. color of baby clothes, types of baby toys, color scheme of nursery) to safely begin using the proper pronouns. That we won't be able to come up with the name is a given... so any time we can assign the correct gender to a kid we consider it a solid win.
In the old days I would run into friends with their new babies and sneak a quick peek at the signs before speaking:
- Pink bag ( oh, c'mon... what the hell is a 'onesie'?)? Check
- Hair ribbon? Check
- Minnie mouse pacifier? Check
Me: "Oh what a sweet little girl! How old is she now? Is she sleeping through the night?"
See how I did that? I identified the gender and followed it up with two questions containing the correct pronoun. The parents are so happy to be able to talk about their baby that they miss the fact that I don't know the baby's name... and that I can't actually remember precisely when she was born.
The trouble arises when evil parents dress their babies in gender-neutral colors and give absolutely no outward hints on which the socially inept can hang a pronoun. In such a case I always say something like, "What a beautiful baby! You must be so proud. Getting any sleep?"
I know... smoooooth.
But here in Israel men don't enjoy the same kind of cover for their mental lapses. In a country where even tables and chairs are assigned genders, you can't get away with trying to finesse this point. Trust me... I've tried.
You can't even use the admittedly undesirable 'it' because in Hebrew there are masculine and feminine versions of 'it' ('zeh' or 'zot').
To add insult to injury, Israeli parents dress their kids exclusively in earth-tones. And to make matters worse, so many modern Israeli names are gender-neutral that even the semi-miraculous event of actually remembering the kid's name when it's your turn to gush over the little dear won't save you!
I really think that there might be something to that old saying, "Discretion is the better part of valor". Just as I've learned the hard way not to mention a woman's pregnancy unless I can actually see a baby coming out of her body (Me: "Hi, long time no see... when are you due?" Her [shooting daggers out of her eyes]: "Our youngest is starting 2nd grade"), I think my new policy about referring to a child who lacks obvious gender cues is to stand perfectly still and say nothing in hopes that the moment will simply pass.
Lesson learned: There really is no refuge but silence for the socially inept.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXXVI) [Back to school Edition]
This coming Sunday morning marks a milestone that pretty much every parent has marked in big red letters on their calendars: Back to school day!
Summer camp turned to summer vacation. Summer vacation turned to summer shopping. And summer shopping turned to being hopelessly and perpetually underfoot.
We love our children beyond measure... but will be so profoundly happy when they are back in school and someone/something else will be responsible for structuring their days.
The big news around here is that, for the first time, Yonah is heading off to school as well. OK, 'school' might be a slight overstatement... but 'Gan Shalosh' (three-year-old nursery) is a big step and will be a full day away from home for him.
He'll be picked up in the morning and dropped off in the afternoon. And he'll be eating lunches with his school-mates... not his mom.
Since Yonah's preparations for school didn't involve the endless purchases of text- and work-books that Ari and Gili did, we were worried that he wouldn't properly feel the anticipation of the big day... so Zahava went out and bought him his own 'Tik Gav' (backpack) to hold his... well, does it really matter what it will hold? Every school kid needs a backpack!
What do you think... is he a little excited?
It's going to be strange having three kids in school. The two big kids are understandably stoic about the whole transition back into the world of obligations and responsibility.