Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dishwashers of the World, Unite!

I have had enough, enough I tell you. My primary chore in the blackhomeo, is doing the dishes (my role as Tech Chair, is secondary). And I demand excellence. Its bad enough that we have an Italian dishwashing machina, that would rather sit around all day drinking espressos while watching Barca play soccer than do its real job. Everything that is not completely clean before it goes in, comes out with the detritus baked in. So, its all on my shoulders. And all I ask is for, is the right tool for the job.

Kindly cast your eyes upwards. On the top row are all the assorted crap that blackwifeo, the official Director of Procurement for blackhomeo, has amassed. They are all rubbish! The only tool worth its salt for cleaning the burned pots, egg-congealed beaters, flour encrusted mixers and month old dishes from blacksono's room are the golden mesh covered sponges in the foreground (marked with a check mark, my 'shopping skills are improving). They are perfect, they fit in your hand comfortably, and provide enough surface area that you can put your whole shoulder into the clean. But, I had to beg for these. I had to go down on my knees to finally convince blackwifeo that without these dish cleaning is cruel and unusual punishment.

Thank god (baruch hashem) this problem is now fixed and I can scour away in peace. Its all about the tools.

p.s. Blackwifeo was asked to add pictures of the finished coffee table. I have posted these at the end of The Table entry.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Check These Out

While browsing yesterday I came upon these two excellent sites, go look at them.

days with my father is an extremely powerful photo essay by Phillip Toledano (just keep paging down), he has another, PhoneSex that appears to be an promo for a book, there is also an interview with him by The Morning News.

The other is a webcomic, Damnation, by David Wynne (cartoonist and hospital porter from South London), its quite lengthy, but I enjoyed the read and the vision.

I contemplated both of the above while listening to a CD of John Adams' music put together for me by Blacksono's music teacher. Both Road Movies and the second track, Hallelujah Junction seemed the perfect soundtrack.

Excellence in any form, I do believe in.

The Worms Crawl In

While making my lunch salad today, with a strange premonition I decided to wash the, more expensive, pre-washed baby mix. While absent mindedly shaking off the water I spotted a small leggy thing paddle off down the drain. On closer inspection, I found to my surprise that my baby mix packet was crawling with wildlife. I whipped out my hopeless Kodak camera (Woot special) and used its pathetic macro to the fullest. The result is visible above. And there were many more than just this sad pair.

Now the packaging claims "Young Washed Leaves" but clearly the washing was not all that thorough. I can understand that most people enjoy the extra protein and spice in their salad, but I am vegetarian and do not eat things with faces. Most disturbing of all, I ate salad for dinner last night, and do not remember washing the baby mix that came from the same package. Hmmmmm.

Friday, August 29, 2008

DNC 2008

Excellent speech by Obama last night. I spent some time watching reruns of the convention this morning as I had a busy week and was not able to see any live. Its one of the things I miss here in Israel, conventions and football, and NPR. I like to know what's going on, as I certainly intend to exercise my voting rights. We pay our US (and Israeli) taxes, and that in my mind buys the privilege. Both Clintons spoke well, and Michelle Obama was OK. I am glad to see the Democrats finally seem to believe in themselves enough to have a shot at winning the presidency.

Of course, here in Israel we view all this through "what does it mean for us" glasses. I believe a strong America is good for everyone. I liked Obama's "decade to wean the US off Middle East oil", as unlikely as this sounds. Big goals are always impressive. I am interested in seeing how the Republicans will approach their convention. Will they really try the "These aren't the droids you're looking for, You can go about your business, Move along" Jedi mind trick and claim everything is just peachy with the US.

Some speech quotes I thought were cool:

"People have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power." - Bill Clinton

"You don't protect Israel, deter Iran by talking tough in Washington" - Obama

"We are a better country than this" - Obama

That's all for today, rather dry, I know, but I have to go help Blackwifeo in the kitchen, she has a "do" tomorrow, and we have guests for dinner tomorrow evening. Have a good weekend. 6 days till vacation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Israel is Dehydrating

Surprise, surprise, Israel is dehydrating. Every summer the news get worse, the level of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel's main water source, get lower. Underground aquifers are drying up, there's no rain in summer, and recent winters have been dry. The government has contemplated some elaborate plans (desalination plants, shipping water in from Turkey, even dragging over an iceberg from the arctic circle), but in true Israeli fashion anything that takes more than four years, the maximum any recent government has managed to stay in office, is shelved. Budgets, the latest one passed early this week, always get used for the current emergency.

But the drying up of Israel continues. The Kinneret is a shadow of its former self. You need a bus ride to get from the "water-side" hotels to swim in the Dead Sea. So the Department of Water decided to spend their tiny budget on a campaign to heighten public awareness of the issue. There are TV ads, and radio ads (all in Hebrew, I'm afraid). They explain that watering your lawn 5 minutes less saves 200 liters, showering 2 min less saves 40 liters and fixing a dripping facet can save 60 liters a day.

All this is well and good, but the real problem lies elsewhere. Agriculture in this desert requires huge water resources, plus water for farming is subsidized and therefore cheap. In light of all this I was struck by a perfect 80% moment yesterday. It appears the city governments of Tel Aviv, Raanana, and Petach Tikva are the biggest wasters of water in the country (sorry this article is also in Hebrew). Inspectors from the Department of Water found numerous violations of the new water code that went into effect at the beginning of the week. This code forbids local authorities from planting new grass anywhere. The city of Tel Aviv was caught planting grass along Eben Gvirol, just outside City Hall on Monday. While Raanana and Petach Tikva were caught violating the public watering code seven and nine time respectively. A spokesman for the Raanana municipality claimed that Raanana has received prizes for its "greenness", takes water conservation seriously. Petach Tikva claims its one of five standout cities in water conservation. We believe them all.

Israel is drying up and all our local authorities can do is give each other prizes for how environmental they are.


The story goes as follows.Benjamin meets Marie in Paris. They have a baby, Rose, both have not yet turned 20. Benjamin, Marie and Rose, the baby, travel to Israel to meet Bejamin's estranged father, Ronny Ron. Marie falls in love with Ronny Ron, she boots bennie so Bejamin and Rose, the baby, return to Paris. Benjamin has trouble raising the child on his own and turns her over to the welfare system. A year later, learning that Rose has been hospitalized, apparently due to neglect and abuse, Marie and Ronny Ron bring the child back to Israel.

Rose's mother and step-father Ronny (also her grandfather) soon discover the child is difficult to deal with. She has severe speech and behavioral problems. So they leave the child with Ron's mother, Vivien for most of the day (the child's grandmother and great-grandmother). Not even Vivien wanted the child and repeatedly demanded that the parent's stop bringing her over. Finally on May 12th, Ron and his mother Vivien, had a "bitter" fight over the child. Ron grabbed the child's clothing in a suitcase and stormed out of his mother's house. No one has seen the suitcase or the child since.

It took three months for the welfare authorities to figure out that the girl was missing. Ron, the child's father/grandfather, told the authorities that the child was at an "institute in France". The same story he apparently told his wife, and she "believed him". It seems Ron murdered his daughter/granddaughter because she was a hassle, possibly with urging by the child's mother.

On questioning, various stories of what happened to Rose have surfaced. Ron first claimed he had dumped the suitcase in the Yarkon river, then that he had handed her over to the Bratslav Yeshiva, then he sold her to the Palestinians, put her in a convent in France, dumped her in the dunes near Rishon Letzion.

What is so remarkable about this story is how its gripped the whole nation. Everyone knows what is going on. Everyone has theories. I came into work a bit later this morning after WeightWatchers (combined loss of 3.2Kg for the week), and the radio is running open-mike following the police dredging the Yarkon, just as they do after a terrorist attack. Its almost farcical. People glued to their TVs and radios as the police pull old tires, barrels of toxic waste and old refrigerators from the cesspool that is the Yarkon. Apparently the 9pm TV news started a quarter hour early last night to cover the story.

Its one of the quaint things about Israel. There's a sort of national naivety when it comes to murder and the depth of human deprivation. People are honestly outraged and shocked that this kind of thing, things we read about happening in the US and Europe, can happen here. Israelis cannot accept that other Israelis could lock their children up in cellars for years, commit long term child abuse or take the murder of children for granted. I, who certainly has no trouble criticizing what I dislike here, find this cultural quirk very healthy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tom Waits

I am enjoying this Tuesday Video thing as it has given me a chance to wade through all sorts of interesting stuff on YouTube. This week you are lucky enough to get Tom Waits. This first video comes from a live performance on David Letterman. The song is Chocolate Jesus off Mule Variations. Check it out, its wonderful:

There are many, many worthy Tom Waits videos on the net. I like almost anything he has done from the first moment I heard Swordfishtrombones at our record store (Z-Music, HaGidem 1, Jerusalem) millions of years ago in '83.

A while back I realized my musical tastes are particularly influenced by the quality of the lyrics. Here in Israel, where English is at most a second language driven by crappy US sitcoms, people tend to blow off the lyrics and focus on beat. I suppose its like this anywhere with words in a foreign language. Tom Waits for example who's body of work while outstanding musically, truly excels lyrically, is not as well know here as he should be. He can paint a complex scene in few words and manages to leave a taste of bad whiskey and stale cigarettes every time. Sounds like he gargles with gravel each morning.

Here are a few more gems. Hold On also off Mule Variations has a great video. Gods Away On Business off Blood Money is one of Blacksono's favorites. Of course, there's Downtown Train off Rain Dogs which is a typical Waits video - and this is one of the best albums ever. If you have some time (10 mins or so), check out this snippet of Coffee and Cigarettes directed by Jim Jarmush, its Tom Waits and Iggy Pop in what I think is the best scene in the movie.

An Auto Day

Its all about cars today. Blackwifeo drove me into work for reasons that will become clear later. On the way we passed the above wreck. We stopped and I crossed to the median to capture this picture for you. I noticed this wreck yesterday when I drove in early. The city has lovingly placed metal "artworks" along the boulevard (of broken dreams) that joins Herzliya and Raanana. What you see above is a car that somehow managed to wrap itself around one of these "artworks"- a painted tree like thing. It is inconceivable that you could ever force a car to wrap itself around like that. How did it get perpendicular to the street while still traveling fast enough to smush against the metal? The space between the real trees in the median and the metal tree is simply not long enough. What's incredible, the metal of the artwork held (got to give the artist 100% on that). I hate to think what happened to the driver of the car (there was blood on the ballooned airbag). Clearly, the breakdown guys had difficult removing the car as its been two days already. They should leave it there as a reminder.

In keeping with the automobile theme, here's our personal car issue. On Saturday, blackwifeo's father needed to borrow the Renault Mizbeleh. But she would not start. I was hoping that either the car would fix itself or maybe someone in Blackwifeo's family would jump the car while I was at work yesterday. Didn't happen. So last night when I got home there it was, still waiting for me, sadly sitting in the breezeway (nice word, breezeway). After spend a while trying to find where the damn battery lives in my Prius (its in the right hand side of the trunk alongside the spare), I was unsuccessful in jump starting the miserable Renault. But, I learned a lot. Did you know, in order to move the Renault out of its locked Park gear, you need to dismantle the gear leve? Still the Renault was dead, just a few sad clicks and nothing. O.K. Our car insurance theoretically covers roadside service and towing, so we called MEMSI (sort of like AAA) who have resuced us previously, but they informed the blackwife that they don't work with us anymore and passed us onto Shagrir. Shagrir had never even heard of Clal insurance and sent us to our insurance agent, who, of course, was sure that we needed MEMSI. I then called MEMSI again, and some young lady informed me that I need to call "Fanny Premium Towing" (I swear, I made her spell it out) and gave me a number. On calling this number I was informed that I had reached Liat's house and if I left a message, she would call me back and I should have a "Sababa day". So the sad Renault Mizbeleh, spent the night outside without enough juice to even lock the doors. Although unfortunately no one would be foolish enough to steal it, unless they wanted the children's books, assorted makeup, potion and lotions, 4 liters of coke, one week's shopping, some potted plants with two bags of soil, three complete changes of clothes, two giant catering tureens, a gym bag, seventy three odd earrings and seven pairs of shoes, but then they probably have wives of their own with cars of their own.

This morning Blackwifeo took care of it all, phoned the insurance and someone from "Fine Premium Towing" (I suppose Fine and Fanny do sound the same, they both at least start with F) showed up, changed her battery and totally ripped her off, but then we're expecting to be ripped off at least once a day. Its policy around here. I hate cars.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No Entry

I don't usually complain (right), but the traffic people have once again been playing silly buggers with our street here at squint central. If you look closely at the above picture you will notice that HaMenofim street is once again a two way thoroughfare. This would not be so surprising except that a mere two months back they made it one way. More interesting and irrational, there is no entry into the street at the stop sign you see in the picture. So its two way from near the end of the street (just after our parking lot exit), although no one can get into the street from that side.

All in all this does make my life easier, as I can turn left out of our parking lot and not have to go around the block to get home. On the first day of the change, I got to witness two taxis remodel each others fenders. This morning early, I was happily driving down HaMenofim minding my own business when I noticed a bread truck trying to enter the no entry side of the street. This was not easy and required a five point turn as the road is angled to allow exit only. To my fascination a policeman appeared out of nowhere and waved down the truck. The argument that ensured was classic. I had to stop to listen because, by then, the truck had blocked the entrance to our parking lot. The discussion went something like this:
Aging cop: "You do know there is no entry into this street"
Truck Driver: "But look at the big white arrows painted on the street, how was I supposed to know there is no entry?"
Aging cop pointing: "Well, there is are two no entry signs right there and there"
Truck Driver: "Well I can't keep up with all these changes, and anyway, WHAT DO YOU CARE?"
Beaten, Aging cop shrugs and turns away, waving the truck on.

The cop may not care, but I certainly do. All I need is a battle with a big truck on the wrong side of the road for a perfect start to the week.

Go Take A Look

Woot has the best copywriting on the internet. For the uninitiated, its one of those one deal a day sites. Each 24 hours (at midnight central time, which is a very convenient 8am here) they post a different deal. And anything you buy, is $5 shipping. I have bought all sorts of useless junk, which I then need to get forwarded to me here in Israel. Today's woot is a gps, but its the copy I go back for day to day. Maybe one day, I'll be good enough.

The best rant of the week comes from a blog I follow. Kelley is a "caffeine fueled, shoe obsessed, Aussie chick". Her blog is great, but be warned, the language is a little course. I think she gives cussing lessons to sailors in her free time. On Tuesday she posted the best rant I have seen since Dennis Miller left SNL. Just don't say I did not warn you.

That's all for today. I'm going to take a nap

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pining For The Fjords

Its incredible how nowadays, I live for vacations. Its not that my life is so bad, I have a family I am proud of, I have a job that keeps me off the street. I have plenty to do with my life, I can read, enjoy music, make stuff and walk around a lot. So why is it that I seem to have to focus on the times when I leave it all behind and go elsewhere. In just two weeks, hopefully, the blackwifeo and I will be at Otterburn Hall in the Northumberland National park, which hopefully is just as cool as it looks on the web. Four days there and then we motor down to Staffordshire, to Barton-under-Needwood, for a week with blackbrotherandsisterinlawo on our narrowboat, Prospero. The names alone, Otterburn Hall, Barton-under-Needwood, Prospero sound so magical, that I am afraid the vacation will not live up to my expectations.

Once upon a time, we used to move every few years or so, but with kids come roots. From the time I left South Africa in the late seventies, till we moved here, I never lived more than three years in any house, and was proud of the fact that in the ten years before we got married I lived in eleven houses. The move to Texas (where the two blackchildreno were born), California and even moving back to Israel were exciting. New and new old friends made each of these moves worthwhile. We have been in this same house now for eight years, and I've driven the same route to the same parking lot in the same building for eight years. The job changes occasionally and remains challenging, but the surroundings have not. Of course, watching the kids grow into fiery teens has been monumental. Still I cannot help dreaming of somewhere new.

That why I need these vacations. I need to smell different smells, to wake up to different light, to taste new and old, nostalgic tastes. Anywhere that is not-Israel will do. Once there, I capture "screens" in my memory and replay them over and over when necessary. I remember driving around Loch Ness in the dusk, with the kids in the back, stopping every two mintes so blackwifeo could photograph the unbelievable light. Or the hot chocolate in Bevangne, where the black dressed lady behind the counter explained in sign language that they had just caught Saddam Hussein. The dolphins swimming just off the bow of the catamaran in Kauai, the freezing sea smell at Tintagel, the drive from Edradour through Pilochry, the Birks of Aberfeldy. Enough fool!! There are only two weeks to go.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The FIJ Blog Convention

I'm pissed off. Why was I not invited to the First International Jewish Bloggers Convention in Jerusalem? Perhaps my slightly left-leaning, negative, anti religious, secular, cynical, left-leaning (Oops I may have said that already), non-kippah wearing attitude got in the way. One good thing that came of all this is that I found my anti-blog (sort of the good Riker and bad Riker in Star Trek, Next Gen). If you are not diabetic, check out the Good News From Israel blog. Its full of heart-warming "only in Israel" and "welcome home olim" posts. I made the mistake of following the link to the 143 pictures live from the convention. Wow. If my 80% and his Good News From Israel blog were in the same room they would cancel each other out in a sort of matter, anti-matter explosion.

This morning on my way into work, one of the women bloggers brought in from New York (Ester someoneoranother, who writes myurbankvetch) was interviewed on the radio. The only thing she could kvetch about here in Israel is the humidity. Amateur. I thought she was a bit scary, so I looked at her blog and found this picture. Need I say more:What is Bibi Natanyahu pointing at? And why is blogger Ester looking so enraptured? And is Bibi's bodyguard unifying the laws of physics? Man, I need that holiday soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Chores Board

Each year as school starts, Blackwifeo decides we need to be like normal families and should each do chores. Each year as school starts, Blackwifeo calls a family meeting and we negotiate who exactly is going to do what. Every year as school starts, Blackwifeo makes a "chores board" and places it strategically in plain view somewhere in the common area. Every year the chores are done for about a week.

Here is last year's board:

Some important details to note. Blackpetero, being unfortunately absent during the meeting, ended up with only the "Fri + Sat Kitchen". Blacksono who's chores have remained constant for the last five years, takes out the garbage, changes light bulbs and "waters flowers" (which I don't believe he did once). Blacknephewo (Stevedore, the house boy) did the recycling, fed cats and changed the water on the machine. Blackdaughtero, had many, many smaller chores, of which she expertly avoided. Blackwifeo, as ever, did the most and spent last year cooking and cleaning every moment of every day and would like you to know that Blackfamilyo works like a well oiled machine. This board has been hanging around the lounge for quite a while, and while it was often underfoot, we have managed to ignore it.

This year's board is a lot more compact:
Its divided out by individual and as I was not able to avoid the meeting I ended up as tech chair and having to do ALL the dishes. Blackdaughtero and I have a dishes based partnership, I wash, she puts away, this is going to be interesting. We have one person less in the house this year and so we all have more to do. The recycling is always problematic, as glass beer bottles need to be returned to the supermarket, something we seldom do - so it's not on the list. Now you have been introduced, I am sure I will be returning to this chores list often in the future. Ahh, so many possible posts, so little time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Goats

Its incredible that its already Tuesday, half way through the work week here in the Holy Land. This week's video is by The Mountain Goats. Of course, I love these guys. Blackedwino, the nachas machine, pointed me to them. This song appears to have been somewhat of an anthem for getting through medical school. I'm particularly fond of the line "There will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year, I'm going to make through this year if it kills me".

Their 2005 album The Sunset Tree is a masterpiece in my opinion. John Darnielle's lyrics are perfectly raw and powerful. The simplicity of the arrangement makes his pain come through all the stronger. Sax Rohmer #1 off their latest album Heretic Pride, has a pretty nifty video as does Woke Up New (a little more hard core goats) off Get Lonely. But, as usual with YouTube, you have to wade through much crap to find pearls. But, I suppose, that's what you pay me for.

I have to put in a plug for my favorite music site This online encyclopedia has all the info on any group/album/song you could ever hope for. I usually even somewhat agree with their reviewers. And its free. If anyone knows of a similar site for books, I would be most grateful for a pointer, as I have never found an equivalent.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The news this morning was breathlessly concerned about the "Iranian Threat". It seems (about 80% verified) that Iran sent a 20Kg load by rocket into space. While this would be a very, very small spy satellite, it is the forerunner of more to come. Why the surprise? Oil revenues for all your SUVs means the Iranians have more money than god. And as every Israeli knows, Persians really know how to look after money. But, honestly, that's not whats got me worried.

Its the inconsistency in counting the medals. All the US sites (CNN, NYtimes) all go by total medals won, this puts the US ahead of China by 65 to 61. The European sites (Eurosports, BBC) only count gold medals in the ranking, which puts China far ahead of the US by 35 to 19. The official Olympic Site is politically correct, and allows you to rank by either golds or total (by default the ranking is by golds and China is on top). I think there should be a weighted average, so for example, you should get 3 points for a gold, 2 for a silver and 1 for a bronze. That way, China would currently have 144 points (3*35+13*2+13) and the US would have 124 points (3*19+21*2+25), and the Unites States of Phelps would have (3*8) 24 points and be in seventh or eighth place globally. Who would worry about these things for you, if I don't?

Back To School

Blackchildreno start school tomorrow. I can't say I'm all that sad. Blacksono worked hard here at squint central over the summer. He wrote some code, taught some Rock Band, ate a lot of expensive lunches and earned a not insignificant amount of money. Since he decided to spend the last week of his vacation "relaxing", we have seen him twice. Once I went into his room with a wheelbarrow in order to retrieve the plates, cups and glasses as we had completely run out in the rest of the house. The other time I spotted him he had crept downstairs and was loading up on Instant Ramen Noodles. He's been very much like Lazlo from Real Genius who lived in a cupboard in the dorm room and who would creep out and in at night, leaving one with the feeling you perhaps saw someone flit past, but were not quite sure. Besides the unbelievable mess, he leaves light footprints.

Blackdaughtero had jet lag most of the summer. I would occasionally bump into her and her posse, lounging downstairs (on the old couches) as I left for work in the morning. She would go to sleep around 8am and was never up before six in the evening. After much negotiating (she is ready for the Model UN) she manipulated us into a 2am curfew. But would "sleep at a friend" when she needed to stay out beyond this. We butted heads often. She mostly lost. She had her belly button pierced, gaining permission by first stating she was going to have her tongue studded and then capitulating. Her newest tactic is to get a friend to call me and ask if Blackdaughtero can come out to play. Last night, one of the posse called (using her cell) and politely asked if I would please let her stay out till midnight as they prepared a "surprise" for her as its her last night of freedom. I've seen this chap, he is large and quite hairy, his intentions had better be honorable. And by the way, dude, I am Blackpetero and you had better NEVER call me Blackpeteo again. I have my limits.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Table

I'm a little late posting today as most of the day was spent glued to the Olympics (Usain Bolt, 9.69 and he walked the last few meters, unbelievable). But, I have a story to tell. This is my life. In a previous installment I explained about the couches. The couch story actually started with the coffee table. We have been invited to numerous people over the last year or so, but Blackwifeo has been somewhat hesitant to reciprocate because of the state of the coffee table. Feeling that we really needed to invite some of these nice people for dinner at some point, I gently encouraged her to chuck out the old table (found on the side of the road somewhere) and buy a new one. So she instead had the living room suite recovered. But, now the coffee table looked very shabby when juxtaposed against the beautiful (and stylish) new suite.

So yesterday Blackwifeo decided to do something about it. She started painting.. Using the couch cushions for inspiration, and the coffee table top as her canvas, she quickly whipped up the scene you see on the top of the page. But, clever Blackwifeo was not done. She then spread beans on the top and sprayed black paint and created a stippled effect. You can see the process (and Harri, the kitten observing) in the picture to the right
. I thought it looked great.

Last night was Friday night, and the whole Blackinlawo family came over for Shabbat dinner. Blackalexio's family newly settled in Raanana, were also invited. The table, not yet varnished, was carefully placed out of the way in a corner of the lounge. Blackwifeo ever the complete artist, was not completely happy with her creation. I begged her to leave it alone, resist the temptation for further touch up. It looked great. But, the Blackinlaw family love nothing more than giving advice. So it began. Maybe the borders need to be redone. Or maybe it would be better to paint the edges black. The legs most definitely have to be painted as well. There and then, Blackwifeo, whipped out her brushes and started to mess with her perfect picture.
Here, I caught them all on camera, happily "mixing in".

You see what I have to put up with!! I need a gold medal.

Blackwifeo's clan wanted to see the finished product. This is what the table looks like now it has a few coats of polyurethane. Sweet! isn't she clever.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The New Couches

A week or so ago I came home and our couches were gone. I was hoping they had been stolen, but blackwifeo patiently explained that she had sent them out for recovering, apparently with my blessing. I vaguely recalled a phone call in the middle of a meeting at work, where I mumbled something about do whatever seems right to you. Seems I gave my blessing and the couches were off to be resurfaced.

Now the old couches, while comfortable, were pretty much used up. The dozen or so cats, kids and nephews had pretty much beaten them up over the last few years. And while I still think we should have waited for all the children in the extended family to go off to college (20 years or so), recovering them seemed more green than buying anew. So, we spent a week sitting on the floor and fighting over the two rocking chairs, until the new and renewed couches showed up a few days before they were expected - this reinforced the fact that clearly we had grossly overpaid. Blackwifeo was ecstatic. They looked good and the upholstering dude clearly knew his craft. She sat on them, admired th
em, and would have slept downstairs to guard them if it was at all practical.

Now the cats. Well, the cats were interested in these new red scratching posts. Blackwifeo promptly banished them from the lounge and shooed them outside. They cried they shouted: "Who's house is it anyway" and "This is inhumane, we know our rights". So, late that night, someone must have let them in and guess what, one of the little monsters took his claws for a test run. If you look closely at the bottom right in the picture below, you can see the frayed ends of the fabric where the dastardly deed took pla

But it you look closer still, behind the couch outside the window, Sid is pleading to come in. He runs his claws up and down the glass, emitting a fingernail on blackboard type shriek. He told us he is going to write to B'Tzelem and lodge a complain with the UN. Blackwifeo was ready to murder them all, but to their credit, one of the feline gang caught a huge rat last night and left it outside on Blackwifeo's smoking swing as a peace offering. She was not amused.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where's My Hair?

Suddenly it came to me and I realized why I have been unusually miserable of late. I had a haircut yesterday. I usually avoid looking at myself in the mirror. I know what I look like and found it easier to go through life without being constantly reminded. Its not something I obsess over, its just I prefer not to look at myself. I have even gotten shaving down to where, each morning, I can put on shaving creme and go through the whole rigmarole without actually looking at myself in the mirror. Anyway there I was, sitting in the hairdresser's chair, minding my own business, when I accidentally spied this chap in black sitting opposite me. And you know what, his hairline is definitely receding. Check it out.

(I discovered its very hard to take a close-up picture of your own head using a Kodak CrapCam, this is the best I could do). Now, I don't really mind losing my hair. I'm 48, and its had a good innings. My dad lost his hair in his twenties. The thing that has me terrified is that now I will have to turn into one of those North Tel-Aviv shaven head high tech clones. I will probably want to start driving a SUV. Life is sometimes cruel.

Ode To Joy

I needed a smile today, and stumbled upon this. Beaker rules all aspects of the game.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Blackwifeo Logic

For years I have noticed a unique logic used by blackwifeo. Say for example she goes to the shoe store intending to buy one pair of shoes, say hypothetically for blackdaughtero. Now, of course, shoes are expensive. Lets say there is a wonderful pair of handmade Italian shoes that cost 800NIS. She really loves these shoes. Her lovely toes look awesome, but 800 sheks a pair are beyond her budget. As it happens, she spies a lesser, but still worthy pair of decent machine made Portuguese shoes for 400NIS. If she takes this pair, she has now saved 400NIS and can still buy the pair for blackdaughtero. Now just image if blackdaughtero's shoes just happen to be on sale, and today only cost 300NIS. You see, not only has she bought two pairs of shoes, she has also saved 100NIS. What a deal.

I always thought this sort of "blackwifeo logic" was unique to blackwifeo. But, today I learned otherwise. At WeightWatchers (blackfamilyo lost a combined 2.5Kg and one of us got a star!) someone was bemoaning the fact that she ONLY lost 200g this last week. After religiously following the program, and not losing as much as she felt she should have, she was feeling very depressed. She wanted to go out and have a nice big falafel or shwarma and screw the extra kilo. Why care if after being so good all you lost was 200g. Yehudit, the leader, explained you need to look at the bright side. She did not only lose 200g, but by not having the falafel, she actually lost 1.2Kg.

The whole WeightWatchers thing is fascinating. Today I not only learned that "beets are the new spinach" (I didn't even know spinach was the old spinach) but that there is this whole new diet philosophy based around what you might have weighed, if you would have eaten what you didn't.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Arcade Fire

Once again its Tuesday and its time to deliver on my "music video of the week". At the moment I believe the Arcade Fire is the sh1t. These days in my misery, I hate live shows in Israel, and pretty much refuse to go see any of the (usually geriatric) moth eaten artists that deem to tour our "war ravaged" part of the world. But, if the Arcade Fire visited I would most definitely be there. These guys enjoy playing live and put on a great show. The video below is from Reading 2007. The song is Neighborhood #2 (Laika), which is one of my all time favorites of theirs and captures just how dynamic their music is. Come on, give it a click:

There is a whole lot of Arcade Fire stuff on YouTube, most of it crappy quality, shot on some fools cell phone. This version of Intervention from Glastonbury 2007 (I sure hope Scarlet was there, although I could not see her in the crowd), is excellent, and Regine Chassagne's voice, which sometimes comes across screechy when live, is nicely balanced. But, the real gem, in my opinion, is this wonderful film school project video, made with permission from the band. Most comments say its better than the real video, which I have never seen, so if you find a link to it, pass it on.

Luthiers We Are

Last night I was treated to a visit by Jacky and his brother Haim. Yaron Naor came over, he is another local (lives in Bat Hefer) guitar builder and brought his two completed guitars. I built my Les Paul during Jacky (pronounced Yacki) Algranati's electric guitar building course. I learned a huge amount, much about spraying and finishing. Haim Algranati is Jacky's brother, a partner in L.A. Guitars and is a full-time luthier (maker of string instruments) in London. Haim meticulously examined each of the guitars that Yaron and I had built and gave feedback on everything from the sound to the workmanship. Jacky, a masterful musician, played each guitar, and he and Haim were most gentle with Yaron and I. It was a wonderful experience. Getting feedback from two masters on every aspect of something you have spent so much time on is both uplifting and humbling. The picture above is Haim, Yaron and Jacky holding Yaron's two guitars. This picture is in the office/library part of my basement shop - lots of books and single malts.

Yaron is an industrial designer by trade and so has a much more artistic approach than my straight and stepwise engineering outlook. He has one of the nicest woodshops in Israel and blacknephewo and I have taken advantage of his hospitality and drum sander. You can see that his instruments are unusual, and the craftsmanship and playability are both top notch.

All it all it was a great time and I thank all three for sharing their experience and know how. We talked about a lot of things, and tossed around the idea of founding an local luthier guild (I actually own the domain), but not being much of a joiner myself, I am not sure if anyone would take it seriously. When I get more energy I will put together a proposal and starter website and see.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Ramblings

While lunching with the "kibbutz" (what those that eat at work are called) today we speculated on what events would need to be added to the Olympics in order for Israel to stand a chance for a medal. We feel Israel would be good in the "long distance complaining" although Poland would give us a run for our money. The "200g garinim eating" (sunflower seeds) would also be an outstanding event for Israelis. But, without a doubt where Israel would probably take all three medals would be in the "high level corruption" event.

I looked on with dismay yesterday as each Israeli swimmer managed to come in forth in their heat (both losing by 2 one hundreds of a second). Even the Judoka who looked to be doing nicely lost the bronze medal match and came in forth. All in all I have been enjoying the Olympics, even though before the start I was certain I wouldn't watch a thing. I particularly love all the obscure sports like rowing, archery and sailing. But most of all I like the swimming. There is nothing more spectacular that watching the combination of strength and style. I hope Phelps gets his eight golds, he swims like a fish.

Talking on cellphones, now that would earn Israel a gold, if only it were an Olympic event.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Real Quiche

Tonight blackwifeo is catering an event for 40 people. Its Tisha Be'av (one of the most solemn days in the Jewish calendar) and her usual god squad team cannot help. So we spent all weekend cutting, dicing, baking and cooking. (OK, I did a fair bit of moaning and complaining). She did an awesome job. Seeing as the gig is at the superintendent of the school, and being on the school board, I will be able to check it out first hand. She made nine quiches, three lasagnas, a slew of starters and deserts. Hopefully there will be some leftovers, although I know how many points each mouthful of these buttery, cheesy delights contains. Check out the dining-room table before she left.
I actually meant to take a picture of the kitchen before I cleaned up. One thing about blackwifeo, while talented, she is an untidy cook. The kitchen looked a bit like Tblisi now that the Russian have invaded. But, she's not just a great cook, behind the table is the portrait of blacksono she painted of an afternoon. As I have often said, if only I had a tenth of her talent.....

Friday, August 8, 2008

Opening Ceremony

We are currently watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics - patiently watching the 205 different countries match in. The Chinese are doing a great job. The "artistic portion" has been exceptional, except for Sarah Brightman's singing which was so high pitched all the dogs in the neighborhood started howling. The enacting of various important event in Chinese history was impressive although I noticed that the "massacre in Tiananmen Square" and "Invasion of Tibet" segments were sadly missing, probably edited out due to lack of time.

Blacklarryo summed it up nicely in a text reply to my SMS asking what he thought of it all:

"The olympics takes 9.7 seconds"

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Happiness is a Sharp Knife

Each work day at noon I must eat or else I start to wobble. For the last few months I have been making myself a serious lunch salad at squint central. As you can see from the above picture, my salad contains, a little feta, two cucumbers, one red pepper, some lettuce, sprouts, two carrots, some broccoli, one tomato and two fake (veggie) pseudo-chicken breast thingies (Tivol). Once or twice a week I pop down to the supermarket downstairs and stock up on fresh vegetables and some feta cheese. A huge salad is only three points and that's only because the fake chicken pieces are one and a half each, but even us vegetarians need some protein. I love cutting veggies. I enter a trance and achieve a zen-like state at noon daily. The real secret to this, besides fresh vegetables is a sharp knife.

I believe in sharp knives. We own some quality steel at home and I have the nice Henckels on the right at work. In addition a decent sharpening stone is a must. Cutting salad with a sharp knife is a religious experience. Its just you and the produce and as you cube and dice, you play an active part in building something meaningful - your lunch. I think if more people stopped each day for a few minutes and got to touch what they were eating, the world would be a better place. There is something so inherently 100% about a knife you can shave with. I think I may just start a religion.

"Give me your tired, your dull,
Your unsharpened blades yearning to cut free,
The wretched refuse of your cutlery drawer
Send these, the slice-less, dishwasher-toast to me,
I lift my stone beside the kitchen door!"

(with thanks to Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I know this is the type of rant you hear all the time, but I am afraid I have to go on. I feel its time to leave Raanana. Its all because of the SUVs. This morning I was foolish enough to take my walk a little later than usual. Its Wednesday remember, so its Weight Watchers (the blackfamilyo team lost a whopping great 3.1Kg in total this week). I decided to walk to the meeting so that on the way I could listen to my food book and contemplate the wonderful food I cannot eat. Three times I came close to being knocked down. Now this is not because I could not hear the cars. In each case I was crossing at a pedestrian crossing when a SUV (twice driven by people wildly gesticulating into their cellphones) completely ignored the lines on the road, never slowed down and never gave me a second glance.

Last Friday morning I drove blackwifeo to the mini market down the road. Outside there is a cramped parking lot that can fit about eight cars. I parked in between the lines, and sat in the car while she ran in. For some reason blackwifeo takes longer than anyone else in the world to "run in and pick up one or two things" - its true, you can ask the kids. While waiting I watched numerous spoiled yuppies try fit their SUVs into the parking spaces. One overweight blob (head shaven of course), tried to back into a space. He could not do it and realizing he would have to back up and try again, he left his huge Expedition blocking three spaces. When he emerged a brief cat fight ensured with a sour Jeep driver, who shook her leopard skin tights covered butt in outrage at the fact that she had to park just outside the lot. He,of course, gave the typical response "What do you care?"

Now as I have ranted many times before, Israel has no oil. Money spent filling these enormous tanks (gas is around 6NIS a liter or $7 a gallon) eventually goes to Israel's sworn enemies. Clearly many of these SUVs are company leased and the gas tank is company filled. Raanana seems to have an abundance of SUVs, its purely a status thing. The only bush bashing most of these beasts see is the dirt road between Raanana and Rishpon and now that's been closed for six months. Its clear that this is the place that the government can raise taxes. That will probably happen just about as soon as they put in light rail in Tel Aviv.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Music Video of the Week

I decided that once a week (on Tuesday) I will post my music video of the week. At least it will force me to spend some time watching music. The inaugural video is dedicated to blackwifeo, who is working hard and cooking up a storm. I love you girl.

This is Old Crow Medicine Show, with Wagon Wheel. Every time I hear this song I'm transported back in time to the drive from Cornwall to Heathrow to pick up the kids last April. It started raining softly and all around was the awesome Devon countryside. The rental car had an mp3 player and we listened to the "four star" playlist the whole way. We stopped at Axminster Tools (tool heaven) and had lunch in a little pub in the town. All in all a very good day.

Please Buckle Yourself In and Count Your Children

Just when you think you have seen and told it all. Just when you start believing those that tell you they have heard all your stories and its time for something new. You happen across this article in our local paper. Although the English papers have a more lively account. A "ultra-Orthodox" family with their 18 suitcases and four children, left their four year old at Ben Gurion Airport. They boarded their flight to Paris without her, the plane took off and they only realized she was missing once the pilot made an announcement over the PA system. Gotta love it.

Now blackwifeo and I are not the most organized of parents but I am sure we would notice one missing when boarding a flight. We spoke about this last night and could not understand how they could get on the plane and not notice that they had an empty seat where one of their four should have been sitting. After all they have only four children, and as good religious Jews surely they should strive for between eight and twelve offspring. I think this is grounds for having their parenting licenses revoked.

What I find particularly interesting is that there is no mention of this incident in the Jerusalem Post Online. That shining light of truth for the local English speaking community probably did not want to annoy their large orthodox readership. My "pinko, commie, left wing paper" had no trouble bringing us the story. Although you need to read to near the end to find out that the airport cop had "bought the girl some ice cream, by which time she was calm enough to let her know that she only eats food with a Badatz kashrut certificate". Why the cover up? Anyone who has ever flown to or from Israel would not for one second doubt they were ultra orthodox.

I listened in horror to the news this morning as a religious member of parliament tried to pin the blame for this on the airport authorities. While they are not blameless (you have to remove the baggage of a passenger that does not get on the flight), clearly its solely the responsibility of the parents to ensure their children are where they should be. You really should have to pass a test to have children, even though I would probably have to cheat off blackwifeo to pass.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Not For The Faint of Heart

I apologize in advance for the lack of taste in this post, but this is something that has been on my mind for a while. As you should all know, I have been walking quite a lot. I get up early and usually drive down to the beach where I typically go walking for about an hour each morning, while listening to whatever audiobook I have currently queued. Each morning I try choose a different route as I get quickly bored with walking the same scenery day after day. So I get around. A while back I started noticing the vomit.

Now this span of the Mediterranean is full of clubs and restaurants. In fact, Herzliya Pituach, where squint central is located is slap bang in the middle of one of the better eating, drinking and partying districts north of Tel Aviv (of course, TA is the epicenter of all coolness locally). What I have noticed in my many miles of walking is that a lot of people in Israel cannot seem to hold their drink. There are many, many puddles of puke. Some are quite clear, but many are littered with the remnants of last night's dinner - often you can even tell at what restaurant they ate (Zozobra noodles are common). I suppose this is not too surprising, it's summer holidays after all and drinking (or rather over drinking) in Israel, while expensive, is growing in popularity. But, surely people, vomiting up your alcohol is a waste of hard earned shekels?

This morning, I walked from home to work. It takes about an hour and a quarter. On the way I listened to a wonderful piece about Julia Child ("America's Favorite Chef" and author of Mastering the art of French Cooking). This piece was followed by an in depth explanation of the ins and outs of tripe (defined as the edible offal from the stomachs of various domestic animals). While walking, I counted no less than six separate areas of hurls on the sidewalk (most of these vomits were in Herzliya, but interestingly enough, two were in the suburbs closer to Raanana). The combination of the details of boiling cow's innards into a gelatinous ooze, and the visual stimulation of the various contents of the youth of Israel's stomachs, made me happy I'm a sober vegetarian.

When I was younger, I lost my sense of smell for a few years (about 25). A miraculous operation before we came to Israel in 2000, pretty much restored it. I often wonder if that operation was not a mistake.

Sunglasses on Top of The Head

Last evening we took in the new Batman movie (pretty good actually). While sitting outside the theater waiting for the poor peasants to finish cleaning the chewing gum and popcorm from the floor, I could not help noticing just how many of the mainly male moviegoers wear their sunglasses indoors on the top of their heads. What is this crap? Can someone please explain. Are they trying to show that they have sunglasses, or is it some sort of macho thing I never learned about in male school. The picture above (off some random google search, never seen these two dorks before thankfully) could definitely be in Israel. Most of these sunglasses on the top of head wearers have the shaven head so typical of the North Tel Aviv male populous. I watched carefully and these fools kept their sunglasses on their heads for the whole 3 hour movie.

From time to time I get a potential squint that comes in for an interview with this distressing sunglass habit. A few weeks back I asked one of them, why wear your glasses on your (bald) head inside the building, why not just put them in a glasses case? He looked at me with a shocked expression: "Oh", he said, "That's where they are, I thought I had lost them!". Needless to say we never hired him.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Case of the Mystery Mojitos

This morning at 6:30am I awoke, stretched and went downstairs to the kitchen. I had spent hours doing the dishes and cleaning after the blackgoldsmithos enjoyed an especially raucous Friday night dinner here, and was dismayed to see that "someone" had left a mess. On closer inspection, the above scene (exhibit A) caught my eye. Hmm, a note, soda water, lemon juice, a pestle and mortar with traces of mint and a glass with the mint dregs and the smell of alcohol. Here is a closeup of the note (exhibit B)Hmm, I wondered, who could this have been? Now blackwifeo is not drinking, I certainly did not have a midnight mojito, so of course, suspicion immediately fell on blackdaughtero. We never heard her and her posse last night, but that does not mean they were not here. I went back upstairs and with blackwifeo's help tried to figure out the mystery.

As it happens, 7am is way before blackdaughtero's bedtime, and on hearing our discussion, she soon came wandering into our room. She absolutely and categorically denied any knowledge of rum based drinks or any drinking ever. She had never even heard of a mojito. "I'm innocent", she cried, "you always blame me", she cried and stormed off to bed. Blackdaughtero is usually good at covering her tracks, so we figured it must have been blacknephewo. Maybe a friend came over late last night and they needed a cocktail. But, blacknephewo is a confirmed beer drinker and thinks mojitos are for girls.

The mystery remained unsolved and like a good CSI I left the crime scene untouched. After dusting for prints and doing handwriting analysis we were no closer to the truth. It was clear that we would have to break the culprits by interrogation. Over lunch (soup and salad - 1 point), I fired the question: "Who was making mojitos last night." Under this intense cross questioning, blacksono broke and admitted that he and two friends had experimented last night. They had found the receipe on the internet and, you know what, mojitos are not too bad. Case closed.

Now blacksono will be Eighteen in a few months. Eighteen is the legal drinking age here (I figure if you can kill in the army at 18, you might as well be allowed to drink) so I'm not too upset. He is usually a good boy, but you know what they say, "stile water diepe grond
onder maal die duiwel rond" (still waters run deep). But for god's sake child, can't you at least get rid of the evidence.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tee Hee

Friday morning is my favorite time of the week. There is still a whole day to go before its back to work, and yet things have slowed down enough that it feels like the weekend. Of course, working Sunday through Thursday is an unholy abomination, but you get used to it after eight or so years. As usual I rose early this morning and went for a long walk. I am enjoying "Secret Ingredients" - 24 hours of the best food writing on audiobook from New Yorker Magazine. My back started hurting and after about an hour and a half, I was forced back home. I ate a one point breakfast (salad and salty Bulgarian cheese), I finished the back to Eddie's guitar (pictures on the powguitars website) - now all I need is the label (blackwifeo) and I can close up the body. I then chopped a huge amount of veggies for a salad for dinner, the whole blackgoldsmitho family will be coming over to be wined and dined. But, best of all, I had an 11:30am "Tee Hee".

A Tee Hee nap was defined by blackbrothero many years back. Its one of those naps where you sneak into bed when you could (or should) be doing other stuff. Typically in the morning, often after working out. As you pull the covers up, you cannot help by let out a small exclamation of joy, a "Tee Hee". These stolen minutes (no more than an hour usually) include deliciously deep sleep often accompanied by a little drool on the pillow. I love Friday mornings.

Afterthought: I would like to take a moment to personally thank George W. Bush and his extremely competent government for the $1200 check I received in the mail yesterday. I, having not a cynical bone in my body, fully believe this check, part of his "Economic Stimulus Package", has nothing to do with the upcoming US elections. Please send more.