Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Sell crazy somewhere else... we're all full over here!
A couple of years ago I got the first of what would turn out to be a long stream of unsolicited emails from someone that suggested that one of my personal heroes, Natan Sharansky, had actually been a KGB operative who informed on his fellow refuseniks.
This long, rambling email came uninvited from someone I had never heard of. The only thing I knew for sure was that the person who had sent me that informative little manifesto obviously didn't know the first thing about me. If he had he would have realized:
a) I hate unsolicited email.
b) I particularly hate hate loooong, unfocused, unsubstantiated, unsolicited emails that slander people I admire.
c) I hate unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
d) Probably the only thing that can make angrier than sending me an example of 'a', 'b' or 'c' is to do so and then defend your actions in such a way as to imply that I'm the one with the problem for not wanting your unique brand of crazy inflicted on me first thing in the morning when I check my email.
For those of you who know about whom I speak, please don't mention his name here. While he may be worthy of public ridicule, I'd prefer to keep this discussion in the realm of theoretical and out of the realm of a courtroom (if you get my meaning).
Anyhoo, this theoretical Oliver Stone-wannabe didn't take the hint. In fact he didn't even take my direct instruction (I used small words for clarity) to cease and desist from sending me his crap.
I continued to get emails about everything from how Rabin was actually assassinated by the Shabbak (Israel Security Service) to how nearly every road accident involving a religious person is actually a carefully orchestrated plot by the power-brokers on the secular left to knock off the country's religious leadership. This person's concern for Israel's religious population is especialy puzzling since many of his emails arrive on Shabbat.
Look, I'll be the first to admit that there is a very fine line between hobby and mental illness (not my line, BTW) but I think that 'containment' is critical for preserving that distinction.
Not clear? Here, let me give you an example:
Raising bees... cluttering up your house with beekeeping equipment and protective clothing... reading everything in print about bee culture and apiaries... taking your kids to spend precious free time to work with several hives... writing about it and posting pictures of it on a blog... and giving honey to one's friends and neighbors: Hobby
Emailing / writing letters to people you don't know to tell them that there really is no such thing as a natural death or fluke road accident in Israel: Mental Illness
Clear so far?
There are certain crazies I grudgingly tolerate because they are fairly harmless and honestly feel they are tasked with making me a better person. But I feel strongly that the decision to tolerate craziness or keep it at arm's length should be mine to make... not the crazies'.
Yet here we are almost two years later and I'm still getting emails from this theoretical person. Some of them contain long, rambling rants about G-d-knows-what (I sure wouldn't since I never read them), while others land in my in-box bearing nothing more than a cryptic subject such as "Jonathan Pollard" and a blank email (oooooh, maybe the thought police deleted his email before it got to me!).
I discussed this whole 'tin-foil-hat brigade' thing with a couple of my fellow bloggers a while back and one comforted me with the following observation, "Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad we have renegade independent journalists [ed note: I love that !] questioning the official version of events. It's an important thing to have in a democracy. But he is pretty nuts."
That about sums it up. I'd hate to live in a country where alternative-theory-enthusiasts (Oh who am I kidding, conspiracy nuts) are not allowed to indulge in their, er, hobby. But could they please sell crazy somewhere else... we're all full over here!
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
How did they not see this coming?
In a news story yesterday, it was revealed that Hamas has banned (meaning confiscated and burned) all copies of a collection of Palestinian Folk tales because one or two of them allegedly contained what are described as 'sexual overtones'.
Now, book burning isn't exactly surprising behavior for the local branch of the Taliban called Hamas... but the general reaction of the Palestinian public is beyond surprising*:
"The book ban angered and worried many Palestinians, who long feared that Hamas would use its victory in last year's parliamentary election to remake the Palestinian territories according to its hardline interpretation of Islam.:
The reporter writes as though the Hamas government was some sort of unwanted shower gift from a distant relative that the Palestinians don't quite know what to do with. Helloooooo... you guys voted these guys into power in a landslide! The whole world warned you... not only of the financial consequences... but of the very real possibility that the PA would soon come under strict Shari'ah law.
Of course, I'm not one to talk about not seeing things coming. I think I may have mentioned on at least one occasion that I nearly wet myself one hour, 12 minutes and 37 seconds into ‘The Crying Game’. I'll be the first to admit that I have a little... OK, a lot... of trouble predicting the outcome of even the most obviously telegraphed plot turns.
But seriously, Hamas wasn't exactly keeping its 'All Islam, all the time' platform a secret during the elections.
If it wasn't such a dangerous development for those of us who live next door, this would be a really satisfying case of 'you've made your bed, now lie in it!'
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Boys with Boobs
I have to admit that there's a small, uncouth part of me that is perversely interested to see what kind of miscreants Google will dump at my doorstep as a result of that title (not to mention the inevitable scolding I'm bound to receive in my next emailed missive from Dame Joan). :-)
I recently read a titillating story [sorry, I couldn't resist] over at the website of a physician friend (Albert Fuchs, M.D.) about the potential dangers of using products containing lavender and tea tree oils.
Dr. Fuchs points out (quite correctly) that many people who would normally do extensive research about side affects and contra-indications before taking any prescription medication will often use products containing natural substances without the slightest concern for the product's potential safety or efficacy.
The story itself (which he found in The New England Journal of Medicine) was about three prepubescent boys who experienced breast tissue enlargement... a condition known as gynecomastia (thus the title of this post) after using supposedly 'safe' natural products.
Here's the important part in his own words:
Detailed questioning revealed that all three boys were using topical products containing lavender oil or lavender and tea tree oil. One boy’s mother was regularly applying a balm containing lavender oil on his skin. The second boy was using a hair styling gel and a shampoo both of which contained lavender oil and tea tree oil. The third boy was using lavender-scented soap and lavender-scented skin lotions. All three boys’ gynecomastia resolved after discontinuation of these products.
But the real money quote (IMHO) was the following:
Testing in the laboratory of lavender oil and tea tree oil on human breast tissue showed that these oils have estrogen-like effects.
That stampede-like sound you hear is millions of um, athletic women running to the store to buy creams and moisturizers containing lavender and tea tree oils... only because they're like, totally into the scent, mind you.
Monday, February 12, 2007
OK, maybe a tiny bit odd
[Warning: This post will almost certainly bore you to tears. However there's a joke at the end so it might possibly be worth the slog]
There are bound to be times in every marriage where one half of the couple will look at the other in frank amazement and silently wonder 'what the hell was I thinking?'
I'm sure my wife has had more than a few of these moments, but if one were to look for one of the themes that has topped the list of 'David's odd fascinations', Stanley Kubrik's masterpiece film '2001 A Space Oddysey' would have to rate high on the wierdness scale. If you haven't seen it you have missed out on one of life's important experiences.
This fascination goes back a looong way.
When I was attending University, the library had a whole bank of cute Macintosh computers (yes, we had computers back then... albeit primitive ones). I found it endlessly entertaining that you could change the sounds for pretty much any event on these Apple computers. Guess what I changed some of them to?
You see, in addition to the standard menu of default sounds with which every Mac person is familiar, I stumbled across a collection of 2001 A Space Odyssey-themed 'event sounds' that someone had loaded onto the machine I usually used. Needless to say, I set up the computer to employ many of these sound clips.
For instance, when the computer would first boot up it would say:
"Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you."
Also, instead the default error sound, I set the computer to use the HAL 9000's voice saying "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that", whenever I inadvertantly tried to perfrom a function that wasn't allowed.
Admittedly, it wierded out some of the other students (remember this was still the dawn of the computer age) to the point that they often avoided this machine... but as more and more demand was placed on these handy little computers for word processing and such, this was definately a plus for me.
Why have I bored you to tears with all this today?
It's because I am shopping for something to replace my cell phone's long-standing ring tone (the current one is still 'La Valse D'Amelie' from the film Amélie) and I really, REALLY want to get my hands on one of those old '2001 A Space Odyssey' clips. The problem is that I haven't been able to find them anywhere.
Back in June when I wrote about Israelis and their cell phones I mentioned in passing in the comments that I had a 'jones' for a 2001-themed ringtone, one of my faithful readers sent me a link to an online program that would adapt pretty much any sound file to pretty much any polyphonic phone. However - surprise, surprise - Mr. organiziation over here misplaced it.
So I'm asking: Can anyone help me out?
Anyhoo... you've been very patient with me so here's your reward (a joke a recieved from my friend Heshy):
Why men make better friends:
Friendship Between Women:
A woman didn't come home one night.
The next day she told her husband that she had slept over at a friend's house.
The man called his wife's 10 best friends. None of them knew about it.
Friendship Between Men:
A man didn't come home one night.
The next day he told his wife that he had slept over at a friend's house.
The woman called her husband's 10 best friends.
Eight of them confirmed that he had slept over, and two claimed that he was still there.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Two truths and a lie...*
...or perhaps the other way around. You decide:
[Today's real post has been indefinitely relegated to the 'cooling-off' file. Sorry.]
1. I drank my very first full cup of coffee (as opposed to taking a sip of other people's coffee and grimacing) when I was 20 years old.
2. After a 'hazy' weekend spent in Tijuana with some sailor buddies, I once woke up with a marriage certificate stuffed in my pocket bearing my name and the name of a woman I had no recollection of ever meeting. I haven't been back to Mexico since.
3. I didn't have a 21st birthday. I lost it while my ship was crossing the International Date Line.
Fellow bloggers/journalers: Feel free to try this one out on your own readership.
* shamelessly ganked from Lachlan
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Why didn't I think of that?
The other day I was driving through the outskirts of Be'er Sheva with one of my regular carpool-mates - an Israeli who was born and raised in London - in the passenger seat when we passed a Bedouin woman who was covered from head to toe in traditional black veil and robes (niqāb and burqa).
As we passed her, all sorts of thoughts swirled through my head:
- How do her friends and family recognize her?
- How does she recognize her girlfriends?
- What kind of picture would they put on her driver's license or passport?
- Is she cold or hot in that thing?
- What if a Bedouin woman is claustrophobic?
- Is that even a woman under there?
I've come to recognize that this sort of free-associating inner monologue is typically American, as we tend to be a bit more sheltered from other cultures in our formative years.
On the heels of this jumble of unspoken questions came a mild wave of frustration that we Americans seem to lack the ability to exercise the economy of speech so common amongst our UK counterparts. I tried to imagine how succinctly my British carpool-mate might have summed up the same observations I had mulled over as we passed this specter in black.
As if on cue, my passenger glanced casually over at the woman and remarked "Hmmm... she looks familiar."
Now why didn't I think of that?!
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Silly Headline Day at JPost
Today seems to have been a landmark day for silly headlines over at the Jerusalem Post. Take, for example, these gems:
You don't say! And to think, it took a former IDF Chief of staff / Defense Minister to provide this scoop!
No rush fellas... Hizballah was back up to full operational strength in only 3. Nice work!
Oh well... it's not like you guys promised or anything!
Honest injun. Scout's honor. Pinky-swear, even!
Stop the presses!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
[Well, since I'm supposed to be posting here, but utterly buried in writer's block, I'll repost one of my favorite Treppenwitz entries. I think of this story every single time the Spice G... oh, I've said too much!]
I am the morning DJ...
With apologies to Harry Chapin, I couldn’t resist borrowing the title of today’s post.
With all the traveling around the country I’ve been doing lately for meetings, my iPod has been getting quite a workout. I play my iPod through my car stereo by way of a nifty little item called an iTrip. Basically, the iTrip (which is a bit bigger than a AA battery and plugs into the iPod’s headphone jack) transmits to any free FM frequency you select.
Although the iTrip was the ‘must have’ holiday gift item in the UK this year, it is also illegal because it violates the British ‘Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949’ (essentially you are creating a low-powered FM radio station when you use it).
Fortunately, the Israeli broadcast authorities have not yet weighed in on the legality of the iTrip. I guess they've been too busy trying to shut down the hundreds of illegal radio stations run by Arabs and Hasidim (no, they aren’t working together… but it’s still an interesting aggregation of lawbreakers at these two ends of the spectrum).
So, here I’ve been, driving from one end of the country to the other… minding my own business, and listening to selections form the nearly 600 CDs that I’ve loaded onto my iPod so far.
If you were in the car with me you’d be surprised at the eclectic mix of country, classical, jazz, rock, zydeco, Israeli, Mediterranean, funk, fusion, folk, gospel, and klezmer music blasting from my car speakers on any given trip.
But since I’m alone, what do I care what others think, right? Funny you should ask, since I recently had to redefine my definition of ‘alone’.
While driving on Route 6 (the new Israeli north/south toll highway), I noticed a car that was annoying everyone by exactly keeping pace with me. If I sped up, he sped up. If I slowed down, there he’d be… right next to me.
Not only was this off-putting for me, since I like to maintain a large defensive ‘bubble’ of empty space around me when I drive, but it was annoying the crap out of the drivers behind us who had to cross three lanes of traffic in order to pass us.
When I finally used an internationally recognized hand signal to inquire about the exactly nature of his problem (picture holding your hand up to ask a question and then rotating the pinky and thumb quickly back and forth), he surprised me by answering with two very surprising signals of his own:
First came a hand signal that would only be recognized by Jews who are in the habit of attending synagogue on Yom Kippur. Although he wasn’t wearing a kippah, this 20-something man gestured by beating his closed fist against his chest, the Jewish sign for contrition... he was apologizing.
Then he surprised me even further by taking the same hand with which he had been beating against his chest and extending his index finger to point towards to his ear, and then pointing directly at me.
A little light bulb went on above my head. He apparently had been using the scan function of his car radio and had stumbled across the frequency on which my iTrip was broadcasting. This was amazing to me on a few levels... mostly because the broadcast range of the iTrip is about two car lengths (which explains why he stayed in the lane next to me), and also because it required him to have figured out that the music was coming from my car!
I still don’t know if he put together the connection between the odd broadcast and my car because he was familiar with the iTrip and had seen me fooling with the iPod between songs, or if he simply made a fantastic deductive leap (I assume it was the former), but for the next 50 minutes I got to play DJ to a (mostly) appreciative audience of one.
Once or twice I tried out an obscure bit of opera or a Buxtehude organ selection and he signaled his luke-warmness by holding his hand out palm down and alternately raising and lowering his thumb and pinky ('cosi-cosi').
When we got to the end of the highway near Hadera, he signaled to turn right and I moved into the left lane. As he turned east towards his destination he opened his window, stuck out his hand and waved. Another universal signal transmitted and received.
Anyone who knows me is aware of my passion for music... but I am just as passionate about communication. When cultural/linguistic barriers crop up to block effective communication it frustrates me to no end... and when signals are clearly sent and received, I’m a happy camper!
So sharing my musical selections for almost an hour was fun in a DJ-ish sort of way... but those few brief bits of improvised sign language were an unexpected highlight in an otherwise uneventful day.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Desert trick to try at home
[Yes, I meant 'desert' and not 'dessert']
One of my favorite places to eat in Beer Sheva is a little Yemenite restaurant located on a small one-way side-street in the heart of the 'old city'. The place is a bit dumpy, and the small seating area is open to the street (read: no air conditioning), but the food is fresh, authentic and delicious!
The first time I was taken to this place (I don't know if it even has a name) by one of my co-workers, I was impressed by both the excellent quality of the food... and the copious quantity of fresh-baked breads, salads, soups and grilled meats that crashed like waves upon the table.
The crowning achievement, though, was the Hummus.
Like all the other dishes on the menu, the restaurant made it's own Hummus. I suspect they grind in some peanuts with every batch because there was a distinct nuttiness about the flavor that made it irresistible!
However much this may sound like a restaurant review, I actually wanted to share a bit of desert wisdom that I learned as we were being walked (rolled) out of the restaurant by the friendly owner.
On the way out through the large open entryway of the place I noticed several small clear plastic bags of water hanging by strings from the awning. As we stood outside on the sidewalk chatting with the owner, my eyes were drawn again and again to these small bags of water.
The owner noticed me staring at the suspended bags and offered an amazing explanation about their function.
He said that a Bedouin friend of his had told him that the way the desert tribes keep flies out of their tents is to hang such bags of water at the entrance. Once upon a time they had used small glass bottles of water... but the little clear sandwich bags work just as well and don't hurt when someone inadvertently bumps into them with their head.
Once he'd shared this explanation with us it occurred to me that, despite the restaurant being open to the street, we had not seen a single fly inside. This may not sound like anything worth mentioning... unless you've experienced the fly-potential of Beer Sheva in the summertime.
In this desert town, flies are everywhere! The Souk (open air market) is teeming with the annoying buzz of flies... and nearly anywhere one stands or sits outside these days necessitates a fairly constant waving motion with the hand or a newspaper to keep the flies from alighting on face or food.
But sure enough... the restaurant had been fly-free!
I asked him to explain the science behind the little bags of water and he half-closed his eyes, stuck out his chin and offered a shrug that anyone not born to a middle eastern culture could never hope to imitate. It was the sort of shrug to make the Gallic version seem vague!
After a moment he offered up that perhaps the way the light shines through the water scares the flies away. He was clearly humoring me with his guess, though... because this tentative statement was followed by yet another one of his broad meaningful shrugs... after which he waved us to our car.
I don't know about you... but I'm dying to try this at home!