Monthly Archives: February 2007

Free Abdel Kareem Nabil

Blogging for freedom: Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil, who blogged under the name Kareem Amer, was sentenced to four years in prison for “insulting Islam” and criticizing President Hosni Mubarak. Nabil claimed in his blog that Al Azhar University, where he was formerly a student, supressed free thought and was a breeding ground for terrorists. Naturally, the Egyptian courts show that this is a blatant lie and that free speech still exists⏼by sending Nabil to prison. Nabil is just one of many Egyptian bloggers who have seen the inside of a courtroom for criticizing conservative Islam and supporting the political and social reform.

Conform or die: Gill and I stop in for ice cream on our way back from the kibbutz last night. It is 22:00 and the area is thronged with people. As we sit there, working our way through some mighty fine gelato, a gaggle of preteen girls fills the small shop. They are all carbon copies: the same long hair, the same tight jeans, the same makeup. Gill doesn’t much notice, but I feel suddenly very sad at the culture that has robbed children of childhood and turned a bunch of 11-year-olds into fashion-conscious little divas who must conform to the herd mentality. Gill reports that his friends say that this behavior starts much earlier, as kids are bombarded with so many powerful messages from TV. I am glad that our girl doesn’t watch TV and refuses to compete with the skinny, full-haired neighborhood cats. She may be obese, partially bald, and sporting some rather disturbing lumps, but Nadine maintains a very positive self-image and remains impervious to commercial or social pressure. You go, girl!

Meet Nora: If you haven’t already seen Nora, the piano-playing cat, you must. You can check out more stuff at her parent’s website.

It’s official: Not even Bush can ignore global warming now. The huge increase in home air conditioning systems in places like China and India has expanded the hole in the ozone layer to where it was in 2001. We have to either radically change our ways or start buying SPF 5000 sunscreen.

Still Crazy After All These Days

Yeah, I’m still here: It has taken a few not-so-subtle nudges from friends to get me to grind out another post. After dragging my feet for months, I am finally forced to migrate over to the new blogger tool. I hate being the first on any new OS or application, preferring to let others to beat their heads against the wall of new bugs and quirks, and wait for a few critical patches to be released. In any case, I no longer have a choice, so here I am, using the new blogger. Woo-hoo.

For a self-proclaimed techno-geek, this may seem surprising. I grudgingly force myself to use Word XP (Word 7 was the last stable version, as far as I’m concerned, and I know a few renegades out there who still mourn the demise of version 6.0). As each new version adds more useless bells and whistles, I grind my teeth and search for the 27 places to turn off all the automation and wrench formatting and design control back into my hands. You won’t find me lining up for the first versions of Hebrew-enabled Vista, or for the latest upgrade of just about any tool. If the darn thing works and does what you need, offer up a small prayer and keep using it.

It’s been a busy week: On Monday I bid a fond farewell to a group of engineers at a client site in the center of the country. While I will continue to work with some of them in on-going classes, most of them will take what they learned in the course and try to apply it to their daily work. This was a very fun group: smart, challenging, and happy to participate. They giggled at my jokes, asked great questions, and (some) even did their homework. I honestly enjoy working with them, though I don’t realize until after I leave that I’ve misplaced my police whistle (an essential training tool!) in the classroom.

And it’s not all giggles. What many people don’t realize is that a three-hour training session is really a full day of work for me. To get there, I leave the house at 6:30, drive to Akko, catch a train to Tel Aviv, take a taxi to the client site, set up, teach until 12:30, head back to the train station, and, if I make the connections, get home around 16:00. “Oh, you’re so lucky,” someone once said. “You just work a few hours a day.” Uh, right. Sometimes it takes weeks to put together material for a new course. And no, I don’t get paid for those hours or for the travel time.

But I’m not complaining. Despite the occasional difficult client, I love the challenge and variety that comes with being a consultant and trainer.

Kan you read this? TCeurope, an umbrella organization of technical communication societies in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK, sends out their monthly newsletter. The German influence shows when I am instructed to “klick on the following link”… Indeed.

Nassinu: There is the joke about someone reading through the bill at a restaurant and discovering an item “hitzlachnu” (we succeeded).

“What’s this?” he asks the waiter.
“Ah,” says the waiter sadly, crossing out the item, “lo hitzlachnu” (we didn’t succeed.

It seems to be the way a lot of businesses work. My accountant sends me a letter telling me that they want me to pay 3% of the war damages money that I got. I ignored it. Today, someone from the accountant’s office calls to ask if I got the letter and if I am planning on paying.

“Nope!” I reply quite cheerfully. “I pay you guys a hefty monthly retainer for all services, and you can’t retroactively introduce a new fee. Not paying.”
“OK, no problem,” was the answer. In other words, “nassinu” (we tried).

Anglo-saxim (i.e., those of us who originated in English-speaking countries) are known for being “fryers” (suckers) because we tend to pay our bills on time. I hate developing such an antagonistic attitude, but it is the only way to maintain some sanity.

Chalk one up for the good guys: Gill demands that the new security devices be installed properly. He doesn’t let up until the guys come back and spend several hours fixing everything. Nadine retires to the bed and refuses to emerge for five hours.

A difficult ride: The long shlepp down and back on the train is made more challenging by a people who are either unfamiliar with soap and deodorant, or who seem to think that if one quirt of perfume is good, then ten is even better. I change seats several times to escape first a guy who smells like a goat, then a woman doused in something cloying, and then an elderly man who has apparently bathed in some very 1960s musk. I should remember to bring my gas mask next time.

Storm Warnings

BOOM! A violent storm wakes us at 6:00 this morning. Nadine, curled up against my back, uses all her claws to push off against me in an attempt to escape. I start the morning with an unwanted acupuncture session…

The rain, while much needed, has disrupted a few things. Our plans for a romantic Valentine’s dinner last night are cancelled when the rain shorts out the electrical wiring at our fave little bistro. (They call us to let us know that the restaurant is closed.) Nadine, however, is pleased that we stay in: she spends the evening sprawled next to her abba (daddy), purring and gazing at him adoringly. Daddy’s girl…

Elections are looming: Not national elections, but elections within my professional society, STC (Society for Technical Communication). In a flurry of last-minute campaigning, I try to get my message out. See the candidates here. And remember what your mother always told you: you can laugh, but don’t point.

Tech support gears up for the release of a new technology: My cousin Laurie shares this little gem with us.

The Lowest Common Denominator

Living in oblivion: Flipping through the channels the other day, I stumble across one of this season’s American Idol audition episodes. I am stunned.

  1. The record companies have discovered an easy way to find new talent with a built-in fan base before the first album is ever released. Rather than expend any effort or money, they get a major network to do the search and make an obscene profit in the process.
  2. The tuneless, clueless, and delusional show up by the thousands. Many of them display a bizarre sense of entitlement, and are rude and abusive when rejected.
  3. Scarier than the tone-deaf are the truly stupid, who so lack self awareness that they willingly parade their ignorance to millions of viewers. “Simon, he ain’t even American. I don’ even know where he from, like France or somewhere.” (“He’s British,” says Ryan Seacrest, amazingly keeping a straight face.) “Then, he should go back to British is what I say.” Well, thank you for showing us the shallow end of the gene pool.
  4. Americans also prove that they are incapable of doing simple math. The Seattle auditions, which pulled a modest 10,000 hopefuls, lasted two days. Let’s crunch the numbers. Assume that Paula, Randy, and Simon put in a nine hour day and manage to blast through one contestant every four minutes. With no breaks at all, they could get through 135 contestants a day, or 270 total. Start adding in breaks, auditions that run longer, etc., and the real number is probably closer to about 70 contestants total in two days. Yet people seem to buy this. American Idol blogger Chris Mathew Sciabarra explains:

And the truth is that these kids get up in successive rows and sing to off-camera judges for a few seconds. The judges are often not interested in booking talent; they are interested in booking people on all ends of the talent spectrum because they know what sells. Part of what sells is the oddball, the over-the-top, the delusional. So a kid with a good voice may be totally passed up for a kid who dresses like Apollo Creed. Some of those outfits are worn by people who may know that they are not really talented (except as practical jokers). They just seem to be seeking their own 15 minutes (well, maybe 3-4 minutes) of fame.

I quickly change the channel, and am eventually soothed by a grizzly bear eating a hiker. That is precisely what American Idol needs: grizzly bears. Someone should call Fox…

The End of the Rainbow

The up-side of storms: Central LS shares these gorgeous rainbows with us. The pictures were taken by her co-worker, Oshra, from the window of the company’s offices in Yakum (center of the country, about half an hour north of Tel Aviv).

The up-side of teaching: Last night I finish my final session with my Akko group, turning them over to the capable hands of Jimmy, our FrameMaker guru. They’ve been a delight—smart, funny, astonishingly good-natured in the face of a gruelling training schedule, and full of surprises. I stagger home laden with flowers, chocolates, and a lovely card.

Left: Dave and Keren find it all very amusing.

Right: Eric beats Word into submission.

Front row: Dave, Keren, Eric, and Irena.
Back row: Sharon, me, and Aryeh.

Another group shot: Irena takes the camera and Jimmy steps in.

It’s a Mad, Mad World

The spin cycle: No rants today. No politics. No dire warnings of impending doom. I’m taking a break from The Dark Side to focus on the positive. I hereby plan to be chirpy, cheerful, and appreciative of my fellow human, at least until the next *&$^# cuts me off. S’long, y’all: Time to bid a very fond farewell to Molly Ivins, the feisty, funny, and usually dead-on-the-money columnist, who died of breast cancer last Wednesday. Ivins was the first to dub George W. “the Shrub” and referred to Dallas (her adopted home) as “the kind of town that would root for Goliath to beat David.” She kept writing to the end. Molly, thanks for making me spit coffee on my keyboard more than once. You can catch a recent column here.

The Big Sleep: No, not Bogie, but my train ride to Tel Aviv yesterday. It is cold and rainy outside, and the heat is cranked up inside. I find myself reading the same paragraph a dozen times, and wake with a start a few minutes before my station. I was alone when I dozed off, but I awake to find the seats around me occupied (also with passengers gently snoring). Say what you like about the trains, but you can’t beat ’em for a good shluff. Of course, I’m sure that there are some people who like to catch 40 winks while behind the wheel. Someone once said, “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers.”

Drivers’ Ed 101: Waiting for my ride at the Tel Aviv Shalom train station gives me a chance to get caught up with the latest in driving lunacy. A taxi picks up a passenger, and then ties up traffic by edging across four lanes. Slowly. No one leaps out of a car to bludgeon this knucklehead, probably because it is cold and raining.

A young soldier waits for her ride. It turns out to be the boyfriend driving a beater car (no surprise), wearing a suit (big surprise), and blasting Y’allah Ya Nasralla at us when the car door opens (very funny surprise). He looks like an IT geek. Maybe his girlfriend is in artillery and he is giving her emotional support. (Y’allah Ya Nasralla was a pop hit during the war—a very silly song warning Nasralla that the IDF is coming to get him.)I get a ride back from the meeting with another northern colleague. His driving technique involves playing chicken with other motorists and flashing his high beams at anyone who doesn’t scurry out of his way. I hope that Gill will be able to do something nice with the life insurance money… We watch people signal right and turn left, float lanes while turning, stop on the highway, walk down the middle of an unlit street (and people wonder why so many pedestrians are killed), and do the other usual stunts that make driving in Israel so entertaining scary challenging.

I need a new straight man: My professional society’s local chapter president will be ending her term in a month. She’s been a great, hard-working leader, but I will mostly miss her uncanny (and unintentional) tendancy to lob me straight lines. “We have to be healers,” she intones, “even if the other people…”
“…are heels?” I butt in.

“Who can we ask to be president?” she wonders.
“I hear Katsav might be available,” I pipe up.

I can’t help myself.

Somebody stop me: Nadine keeps expanding.

Oh. My. God.

Words fail me: Thanks to Northern LS for this ridiculous news flash.

Taking bets on the sidelines: Watching PA Fatah forces battle Hamas and imported Iranians in Gaza is unexpected. Even more astonishing is that the international press isn’t blaming us

How do you spell ‘tacky’? Haim Ramon, our up-until-this-news-broke Minister of Justice (and there has got to be some irony prize in this), is found guilty of indecent conduct. Most of us cringe at the national embarrassment of this whole thing (hot on the heals of the Katsav investigation); many think that this is an important case for fighting sexual harassment; others think that it is doing women no good at all. But everyone is in agreement that they wouldn’t want Ramon’s tongue in their mouth.

Another spate of break-ins: Our neighborhood is hit with another round of burglaries. They skip us (our new security measures seem to be working) but try the neighbor’s house again. As Gill and I leave the neighborhood before dawn this morning on our way to the train station, we are stopped by mishmar ezrachi (civilian guard), working with the police. More cop cars are stationed in strategic points. Nice to see them trying to do something.

My kitty’s too doodle-licious for you: Nadine risks a charge of indecent exposure as she lounges on the sofa, showing off her semi-bald belly and trying to con us into patting her. Big is beautiful, but enough is enough. We can’t put her on a diet, but we have decided to encourage her to exercise. This should be interesting…