Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Dock of the Bay

I woke up this morning with this song in my head. I have no idea why, but I do like it very much. Its one of the greats. Otis Redding, was killed in a plane crash in 1967. "[Sittin' On] The Dock of the Bay" was released posthumously and became his only number one hit. He was 26 when he died. He wrote the song while living on a houseboat in Sausalito on the San Fransisco Bay. When we lived in the valley we would often take the kids to Sausalito and enjoy the view of San Fran over the water.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On The Bus

There are some strange people on the bus. The more I travel using the local bus service the more I'm beginning to notice the various quirks and learn the etiquette. First you spot the "seat hoppers", these people, usually young, often soldiers, are never happy with the seat they are in. As soon as someone gets off, up they pop and move into the empty seat. There seems to be no order to this constant improving of seat position, sometimes they move forward, sometimes back, often both in the same ride. Then there's the "nodders", also usually soldiers, always tired. The monotonous whine of the bus soon has them nodding off to sleep. Often as their heads droop they suddenly jerk awake, but slowly the weight of their head takes its toll and the nodding begins anew. Its like those nodding birds with the glass of water that were all the rage when I was young.

This morning I noticed the "place holders". These are usually middle aged men who sit in an empty row and strategically place their bags on the seat next to them. They scowl at anyone who dares to think they would move their goods. Usually the only people brave enough to request a move are other grumpy m
iddle aged men who themselves are probably "place holders" when there are empty rows. Of course, there is always at least one "talker". He, usually young, is happy to talk on his cell phone on the top of his voice, making out that his life is way fun and that even though he is on a bus at 6am he parties all night and is really cool. There always are numerous old ladies, some tight lipped, serious and sour, some smiling, fresh smelling and neatly dressed. My favorites are the old men who seem to have all the time in the world and are interested in everyone and everything. This morning the old guy sitting next to me wanted to know what I was listening to, where I worked, and who we going to give Gaza to when the bombing is done? Luckily there is little traffic at that time of the day and we arrived at my stop before we got to the hard questions.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Honest Tooth

I should probably post about the goings on in Gaza. We sure spoke enough about it at work, happily none of the squints have been called up (yet). Hope it stays that way. But, lets rather talk about my teeth. I'm not prone to toothaches but for the last few weeks I have been getting a pain somewhere in the bottom back left of my jaw. It's particularly noticeable when eating cubed carrots that I liberally chop for my daily salad. It seemed much worse when they are cold and so I started to favor eating on the right side.

I got a bit worried that I may end up with a hugely overdeveloped right jaw muscle and decided it was time to call Cecil (the best dentist this side of the Mason-Dixon line). This was last week some time. The closest convenient appointment was tomorrow. Needless to say, no sooner had I put the phone down than the pain disappeared. Gone, without a trace. I've crunched on ice, eaten five bushels of carrots, bitten into flaming hot potatoes and nothing. So now I have to go to see him tomorrow, and doubtless he will find a gaping hole that needs a truckload of cement to fill. I will not be able to eat on the left for a week. Oh and it will cost a arm leg and liver. The whole tooth thing is overrated.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Question

Israel began its Gaza offensive today. Since I heard about the waves of planes that fired on the 45 plus prime targets, a question has been nagging at my brain. What if you are a religious helicopter pilot? Do you fly on the Sabbath to bomb Gaza or are you give the day off? I know about Pikuach Nefesh (allowing the breaking of the Sabbath to save a life), but what about a preemptive strike? Is all the religious military given the day off to pray and then expected to do double duty on Sunday?

Friday, December 26, 2008

T Shirts

Gilad Shalit has been in Hamas captivity for two and a half years. During this time there have been no Red Cross visits and no letters home. The only reason we are reasonably sure he is still alive is because he is an important pawn in the prisoner exchange and negotiation game that is played out between Israel and Gaze daily. No one here can forget he is in captivity. There is a daily count that is announced before the news each hour. There are bumper stickers, yellow ribbons and posters.

This morning I took a walk through downtown Raanana. In the Yad LeBanim (fallen soldiers memorial) courtyard, the city had strung up hundreds of T shirts. Each painted by (I assume) a Raanana school kid, each with a message for Gilad. It is quite awesome. I hope he gets to wear them soon.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Fifth Candle

Tonight we lit the fifth candle of Hannukah. It has special significance in our family, as its my dad's yotsite (remembrance day). He died four years ago. I have been thinking about him a lot recently. There is so much I could say, but my clumsy words could never do justice to all I feel. I never appreciated how special he was, and I certainly never let him know how much he meant. It was his basic values, his honesty, integrity and that unquenchable thirst for knowledge that I realize now are so uncommon. We were so lucky. I miss him very much.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Tale

It's wet and miserable today. Can't complain, we need the rain desperately. I decided I need to use my car less so I took the bus into work this morning, intending to walk home. As I left work the heavens opened and the rain poured down. After a soaking twenty minutes I was at the train station when I decided, enough! I stopped at a 029 bus stop and waited. It was wet and dreary, the wind was howling and the rain pelting down. I was hunched up in under my umbrella thinking wet and wild thoughts when the bus finally pulled up.

I've watched the buses pass this stop during my morning and evening walks. It's usually completely empty as this is near the beginning of the line. Tonight as the bus pulled up, it looked full, and many huddled bodies were silhouetted against the steamed up windows. I was happy to escape the weather, so I jumped on, paid my 4.90NIS and pushed into the bus. What a sight. I had stepped into another world. Every seat was filled with beautifully dressed women, decked out in what must be traditional Filipino holiday wear. The aisles were packed with men. All squeaky clean, dressed in their Sunday finest. They were chattering excitedly, some with small children on their laps. As I made my way through the bus everyone smiled at my drowned rat look and shifted up to allow me a place to stand.

The bus crawled through the jam-packed rain drenched traffic. The rain always brings out the worst in the never pleasant Israeli traffic and we hardly moved. I had plenty of time to get used to my spot. Once I had settled in, the guy standing next to me, dressed in a dark suit, pink shirt and white tie, shyly told me they were all off to church. He pointed out his wife, a beautiful woman, dressed in a bright purple sari-like wrap holding his young son, who looked like a tiny waiter in a high class restaurant. They had all boarded the bus in Nof Yam where they live. I assume they work for the rich of Herzliya Pituach. They left the bus en masse in downtown Herzliya, their church is in one of the buildings near the old mall. The few remaining passengers and I continues our journey in muted silence, the color and joy was gone.

I miss Christmas. There is no hint of it here. Nothing. I miss watching the rush and panic to buy presents. I miss the cold weather and how everything slows down on Christmas eve. I love that its not my holiday. There is so much to look at. I could watch from a distance how people struggle to deal with the oddities of their visiting families and sympathize with their having to travel during the worst of the weather and prices. But here, there is no Christmas. Hanukkah, has candle lighting and latkes (our's rocked last night) but that's it. So no presents, no Christmas cookies, no annoying music in every store, no poinsettias, no outrageous light-decorated houses, no funny red hats and green and red sweaters. But we do have Filipinos dressed to the nines on the 29 bus. Merry Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Frightened Rabbit

The good thing about membership in emusic is that it forces you to download music each month or you lose your 50 downloads. Yesterday was the last day for my December downloads and I had run out of ideas. So I tried some of the "Best Artists of 2008". Sad to say I had heard of very few of them, so I just picked randomly. Well most were pretty mediocre but I really like Frightened Rabbit. They hail from Glasgow, Scotland. Check out Heads Roll off.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Life Is Too Short To Listen To Boring Audiobooks

It's true. I walked to work this morning at the crack of dawn. It was a rainy day, the first we have seen in ages (we are desperate for rain here). I have been listening to The History of The World, Updated by J. M. Roberts off and on for about six months. Its 54 hours long, and very, very, very detailed. I have had enough. I am tired of the Babylonians and the Phoenicians, The Roman and Greeks. I have listened to 20 hours and we are just about done with the Byzantium Empire. So I gave up today.

I started listening to The Professor and the Madman. It's the story of Professor James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and Dr. William Chester Minor, one of its most prolific contributors. Turns out that after many years of Murry's repeated attempts to meet Minor, he finally discovered that Minor was a convicted murderer, locked up in Broadmoor, England's premier asylum for the criminally insane. It's an excellent tale and very well told by Simon Winchester, who is also the narrator.

This morning's fine mist and dark, overcast skies set the perfect scene for this wonderful story and my hour and twenty walk slipped by in pleasure.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Candle

Its first night Hanukkah tonight. I vow that the horrible doughnut I ate today at work, will be the only doughnut I will eat this year. The whole fried thing is a little off-putting, but I am partial to the odd latke. Bwo was feeling miserable this evening, so we got none. Maybe we'll get lucky tomorrow.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I want to be an archeologist when I'm big

When I was young I wanted to be was an archeologist. I loved nothing more than digging up the back garden in Mill Park Road, dreaming of finding all sorts of ancient artifacts. I once, even applied for archeology school when I first tried university in Israel. I clearly remember going to the Hebrew University School of Antiquities and speaking to someone. They took one look at me and totally discouraged me by claiming I had not studied enough of the Bible and was wasting my time. This was just after I dropped out of engineering at the Technion. I went on to learn electronics and then computers before completing my degrees at Rice.

It's a pity I was put off so easily. I think I would have made a great archeologist. I have patience, enjoy research and I'm pretty good with a shovel. Maybe that's why I love Time Team so much. I must have watched at least 5 hours today. Luckily there's 15 years of Time Team shows to catch up on. All I want to do is go digging for Roman ruins in the UK mud. It may be a lot more fun on TV than in real life, but I'd like to try.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reality II

Yuval recommended the Up series. I had heard about it before, so we started watching last night and today. Bwo and I watched 14 Up, half of the original 7 Up and tonight we watched 21 Up. The premise is simple. Fourteen British kids were chosen and filmed at age 7 and then every seven years thereafter. 49 Up was the latest installment and was filmed in 2005. Its well worth watching. This really is the original reality TV. The class structure in Britain is clearly visible as is the geographical differences between North and South. I am looking forward to learning more about the participants and how their lives turned out.

All through the show, I kept thinking I was watching "Creature Comforts" (Do yourself a favor and watch the clip, Nick Park is a genius). The rhythm and cadence of the dialog in the Up series is exactly the same as in "Creature Comforts" (watch this one as well).

All in all time well spent.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reality TV

You would think that in Israel, where reality is often stark, people would want to escape and drown themselves in fantasy. No! Not at all. The biggest thing here since milk in boxes is reality TV. This week the talk on the street has been all over "Big Brother". To be honest, I have no idea what the premise of the show is, let alone care an iota who won. I am proud to say that we watch little, to no TV in blackhouseo (except bno, who is learning Hebrew). But recently I've been feeling I need a bit of a change from paper and audio books. So I figured I would find some of the documentary series I enjoyed while growing up.

I started with James Burke's excellent Connections I (I'm saving II and III for a rainy day). Then I uncovered Kenneth Clark's Civilization: A Personal View. Its wonderful, although his voice absolutely annoys bwo (no culture). I have started rewatching Cosmos, which although dated is a masterpiece. Carl Sagan is incredibly earnest and passionate and clear. This weekend I am going to start watching the The World At War. Its 26 one hour episodes, and I have memories of watching it as a teenager back in the old country. All of these were made at least fifteen years back, but they are still relevant. To counter this, we have also been watching Planet Earth which was made in 2006. The photography is astounding.

In my mind these documentaries are the real reality TV. Are there others I should look for?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Evolution really does make some mistakes. Take the Campbells for instance. Their son, Adolf Hitler Campbell turned 3 today. They're pissed off because the local ShopRite in New Jersey refused to decorate a birthday cake with the child's full name. What is more incredible is that their other two are called, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell. Wow! That's some name baggage to carry through life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I like Pinback. There is not really a whole lot written about them. They appear to be a rotating group of musicians with Armistead Burwell Smith IV (great name) and Rob Crow at their core. Their music is relaxing and tight. This video's quality is not great. The song Fortress is off the excellent and much recommended Summer in Abaddon album.

Monday, December 15, 2008


OK. I'm feeling better. Man, I was feeling dog for the last few days. It's all over now. I have not walked for a week and spent my weekend in bed. I digested a pharmacy worth of pills, but its all over.

Bso and bdo have finals this week. But, City of Heroes is having their "winter event" and this year I've been informed it's "particularly fine". So bso is gaming away (skiing down the slopes looks like a lot of fun actually), we will see how his grades react. He assures me he nailed implicit differentiation earlier today.

Bdo on the other hand bounced in to tell me she has been studying hard. Oh and by the way she and her posse are performing a song at "open mike" night at the Galeria. Oh yeah, its on Thursday night and she has a science final on Friday morning. Oh, she has no idea when they're due to perform and they have to practice before the show. Not to worry, she will study really hard on Wednesday.

What's a Jew to do?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

ons vra verskooning vir die kort onderbreking

Sorry folks. I have been feeling quite ill for the last few days. The doctor says he has no earthly idea it's a virus, but I do have some spots on throat. I just have no energy for blogging. I'll get back to you all as soon as I am able.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


It's election time here in the Holy Land. What a total waste of money. The campaigns have started rolling out, and we are swamped in advertisements and noise. Shas, the religious, right-wing, followers of the decrepit, but racist rabbi Ovadia Yosef, came up with the very original, "Yes We Can" slogan. It worked for Obama, why not steal it, its a core competency after all.

The Labor party, brilliantly decided that playing on Ehud Barak's weaknesses is the best way to be elected. Their billboards feature a picture of Barak, looking serious (he has never smiled), with such endearing captions as "Not A Buddy, A Leader" and "Not At All Nice, A Leader". Check out this video if you don't believe me (its been removed, sorry). They should add a few slogans like, "Not Very Smart, A Leader" and "Very Ugly, A Leader".

The front runners, of course, are the dreaded Likud. Currently they are fighting amongst themselves trying to prove they are not fanatical fascist right wing extremists. Incredibly, they are way ahead in the poles. I think their slogan should be, "Vote Likud, We Deserve Nothing Better".

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thee More Shallows

The bbrothero is correct. In my hectic mess of a life I forgot that yesterday was Tuesday and so rushed off a lame post about toast. Today I will make a mends. Below is one of my favorite songs by a relatively little known indie band Thee More Shallows from San Fransisco. Their More Deep Cuts album is a masterpiece. They have no "real" videos (or at least I could find none). But the video below uses some of Ivan's Childhood (La infancia de Iván), a 1962 movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, based on a short story by Vladimir Bogomolov. This stark film tells of an orphan boy's childhood on the Eastern Front during WWII. Being a Russian story it all ends rather sadly. The images and the music blend very well. Enjoy.

Hello Toast

Dinner tonight. Four pieces of hot, toasted whole wheat bread. With a generous shmeer of fresh cottage cheese and a thick juicy piece of tomato placed on each. Then sprinkled liberally with course salt and ground black pepper. Eaten while standing over the sink and gazing out onto HaNevel Street. Yum.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Ringing In My Ears

My tinnitus has been bad today. Usually I go through life with it not bothering me too much. Listen at 1:16 minutes into this link and you will hear exactly what I listen to every minute of every day. I have no idea why its worse some days, but lately it has been very bad. It's like I'm listening to the high pitched whine of a busted TV all day long. When I was younger I would get this same ringing after loud concerts, now I have the pleasure of having it all day long. It's little wonder I'm so grumpy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Who's Behind The Mask

I managed to find this incredibly rare picture of Olmert, at the instant he is about to remove his mask. Who do you think is behind his face? I thought for the first while that it was Ariel Sharon, but I think he'd be rolling in this coma at Olmert's indecisiveness. I then thought that it was perhaps Tzipi Livini, but she is way too masculine. He doesn't have Netanyahu's fangs nor Barak's jowls. So sadly, it seems to me, that behind Olmert's mask, is just Olmert.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I met Esther today. I got a ride into TA and walked around the Carmel Market, browsed the electronic stores in South TA and then walked to the "new" Central Bus Station. That is an experience. The place is a maze and could easily have been a bus station in Bangkok or Amman. It was packed with "Foreign Workers" and soldiers going home for the weekend. I could not for the life of me find where to board the 502 to Raanana (Aisle 609 if you need this in future) nor could I find an information booth. I actually forsook my maledom and asked four people before the ludicrously irate information booth beaut directed me to the 11:24 502 on the sixth floor.

When I finally found the correct aisle, I sat down next to the nicely dressed lady who was the only other occupant of the benches on aisle 609. I settled back for the twenty minute wait and began a people watch. Almost immediately I felt a jab in my side and my neighbor offered me half her clementina (I think it's a clementine in English, derived from the hebrew). I tried refusing, but she would not hear of it and shoved it at me till I accepted. We started talking and I found out that she had spent an hour and a half already on buses from Ashkelon as she was off to spend Shabbat with her daughters in Raanana. I learned about many pieces of her life. She has four kids, three daughters and a son. The eldest daughter is married with three. The other two girls are not married (why, she wanted to know, does no one want to get married these days). The son had a wonderful girlfriend who was a lawyer, who worshiped him and would make toastim (grilled cheese) for all the family and yet, her son, the fool, dumped her. She was sure I should know this lawyer as she also lives in Raanana. Wonderful girl. He has now married some Ashkenaziyah, who has no education and who's parents won't give them a cent (I assured her that not all Ashkenazim are misers). She made good toast, that lawyer. She grew a little sad when she told me her husband had died, many years back, aged 40, and so she was a widow at 36. She worked looking after kids every day and managed to give her four kids a decent life. She was happy to go without so they could get what they needed. With her permission, I snapped a quick picture. I wish I were a better photographer. The picture is sadly not at all good, but you get the idea.

At 11:24 the 502 bus pulled into its slot and we let the growing crowd push on before us ("Why is everyone always in such a hurry these days?" she asked). I carried her suitcase up the stairs paid my 12.50NIS, declined the seat next to her in the first row, on grounds I would have to give it up to an elder as soon as the bus filled up.

I thought long about our conversation during the hour long ride home. She is the kind of person that really build this country. She worked hard, always putting her children first. One of her kids moved to D.C. and lived there for a while. She went to visit and they begged her to stay, but living in the US was inconceivable. Nice lady. I realized I never even asked her name.

That would normally be the end of the story. This evening, I walked around the park on the way to Shabbat dinner at Ari and Denise's (Fran was cooking a belated Thanksgiving dinner). Lost in my audiobook (a bunch of short stories about food), I was not paying much attention to the numerous approaching walkers, when suddenly I recognized my friend from the central bus station, just as she recognized me. She told me she liked to go for a stroll before dinner, and here in Raanana she walks from her daughter's house lower Ahuza to the park and back. She wished me a blessed shabbat and lots of health for my family. Her name it seems, is Esther.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Steve and Humus

Steve is in Israel. Steve is an old friend who now lives in Pittsburgh and is visiting for a week or two. So Larry and I drove up to Jerusalem to meet him. The traffic was horrible, the stupid settlers were demonstrating and blocking part of the highway (way to go finally booting the fools out of their "house of contention" in Hebron). I was sure it was going to take us hours to get to his hotel.

Just as the traffic was becoming truly unbearable, Steve called to tell us his brother and sister (Martin and Jenny) and Ariel his daughter would meet us in Abu Gosh for a humus. Incredibly enough we were exactly at the Abu Gosh exit, so we made our way to the restaurant and met them there in minutes.

The food was great, lots of salads and humus and laughter. Steve is Steve. He hasn't changed a bit and it was wonderful to see him. Martin and Jenny gave Steve and Ariel a ride back into the city and Larry and I made our way back to Raanana before 10pm. A much earlier night than I expected. We had a great time. We rarely get to spend time away from our daily lives and seeing Steve was icing on the cake. I miss him.

Its been a long week, lots of early morning walks and bus rides to and from work, a newly rearranged bedroom, a completed operator sample (way to go squints), bso in Paris, bdo cleaned her room, and it all started with a trip to Tel Aviv and ended with a trip to Jerusalem (Abu Gosh to be exact). I'm off to bed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


A few months back we traveled to the US of A. We brought back two large packets of Jelly Belly candies. One packet was gobbled up by the squints in short order. The other we kept at home for a rainy day.

Its well known that bdo has a sweet tooth and an obsessive nature. The unopened Jelly Belly packet gnawed at her senses. It nudged and tugged at her sweet tooth and day by day her craving for the 48 delicious flavors grew until it knew no bounds (she does not really like spicy cinnamon). Not being one to be easily put off by a simple "NO!!", bdo plotted and planned. In the dead of night she crept into the heavily protected vault, neutralizing the ultra-sonic alarms she tiptoed gingerly through the protective laser maze. With mouse-like nimbleness she liberated the priceless collection from its secure drawer, and replaced it with her ransom note.

Little did she know that the authorities are not to be trifled with. We swooped in with our swat teams and while bdo was out having a smoke threatening the cat, in a lightning raid reminiscent of the glory days of Entebbe, we rescued our stolen Jelly Belly hoard.

Days later, torn by the ever visible anguish of the luckless kidnapper, we relented and in a magnanimous gesture, we shared our sweet jewels with the rest of the inhabitants of our lawless land.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Decemberists

From the first time I heard The Decemberists (recommended to me by blackedwino) I loved the combination of lyrical ballads with simple but instrument rich melody. The whole family got into them almost at once. The songs are relatively easy to play on the guitar and we have often heard bdo's beautiful voice singing one of their tunes behind her closed door. Sixteen Military Wives, has a great video, it's particularly relevant because bso is off to France tomorrow to represent Cuba at an MUN meet (Model United Nations).

My favorite Decemberists song has to be The Mariner's Revenge. Its a wonderful tale of woe and revenge on the high seas. This video is great. It's the Lego version of the song. Unfortunately "embedding has been disabled by request" so you will have to click over to YouTube to watch.

Also check out The Decemberists' web page, its pretty cool.

Herbal Infusion

When bwo visited me at squint central over the weekend (yeah, I know) she bought some fancy tea from the health store next door. Yesterday morning I was feeling a tad under the weather, so I tried a cup of raspberry and echinacea. This morning, I particularly needed a blackcurrant, ginseng and vanilla infusion. While sipping my tea, I got to thinking. Look at this box of teas (or herbal infusions to be precise).

Have you ever seen more packaging? Between you and your tea leaves (I use the words tea leaves here in a representational sense only), there is the lining of the tea bag itself, the paper outer wrapping of the tea bag, the plastic wrapping around the group of five tea bags of each flavor, then the brightly colored box they all come in and finally the plastic wrap around the box (Miriam must have thrown this away yesterday when she cleaned my office. She has no interest in the finer points of blogging). That makes five layers to protect you (or your herbal infusion) from the harsh elements.

It's little wonder that landfills are overflowing. Not to mention that opening those little, five bag plastic packages requires a Swiss Army knife. Its just not all that relaxing.