Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chelm Comes to Israel

Once upon a time, in Eastern European Jewish folklore, there was a town called Chelm, whose inhabitants were all simpletons. They tried to capture the moon, which everyone knows is made of cheese, in a barrel, and could not figure out why there seemed to be less of it each night, even though the barrel was guarded and no thief could be discovered…

There are those who think Chelm is a delightful fantasy. It's quite real, I assure you, and alive and well in Israel. (After all, if, in the Ingathering of the Exiles, we have Jews from every corner of the globe, why not Chelm?)

I work for one of the Israeli sick funds—our version of an HMO—in the Women's Clinic. And here is what happens to that yearly Pap smear your gynecologist takes:

First of course, the doctor actually gets the necessary specimen, and, after labeling it and putting it in a little plastic or cardboard holder to protect it, gives it to his nurse or office secretary, along with a computer-printed or hand written sheet that is to be given to the laboratory along with the specimen. The nurse or secretary puts both into an envelope, sealing the envelope so the "hafnaya" (the lab form) and the smear itself won't become separated from one another. Then the envelopes are either picked up by a messenger who brings it to our clinic, or the patient does, or, if the smear has been done by one of our doctors, it is given to our secretaries. If the smear is done by a doctor in another clinic belonging to our HMO, then the secretaries there deal with it, but since we are the central clinic, we get the most to process, roughly about 350-400 per month. Not infrequently, especially if the smear is taken by a doctor a long way from our central branch, it can be a week or more before it gets to us.

The medical secretary of the kupah then rips open the envelope, generates what is known as "hithayvut"—authorization (a woman gets one Pap smear a year for free, otherwise she has to pay NIS 25 per smear)—and puts the specimen, the hafnaya, and the hithayvut into ANOTHER envelope, sealing it so nothing goes astray, as before.

Then the medical secretary brings the accumulated envelopes to one of the nurses in the clinic. This is an innovation decreed by the kupah Poohbahs in Tel Aviv two years ago, supposedly for "medico-legal" reasons, but they remain completely obscure as there is no nursing input whatsoever. We merely copy, on our extremely slow and antiquated computers (doctors have Windows XP and Pentium 4 computers; we work on DOS and, if lucky, have Windows 98 and Pentium 2) what the medical secretary put onto the hithayvut page. So if there's any mistake, we just pass it right along. I won't bore you with the number of steps required for this exercise in absurdity* but between opening the envelope (usually not only sealed but stapled several times, which makes opening it without tearing the forms inside a bit tricky), paste a bar code on the hafnaya, write the patient's name (already on the specimen, remember) and ID number on another bar-coded sticker to put on the specimen container itself, and on the outside of yet another envelope, which is sealed with the two forms and specimen inside. This is tossed into a box, which waits about 3 days for another messenger who will take it to the lab. We tell patients that it will take about a month for the smear to be processed, but two weeks go by before it even gets to the lab.

So far, about four, maybe more, persons have handled the smear in its little box. Three envelopes, at least, have been used. Someone ought to do time-motion studies on this little "routine" test. It usually takes the secretaries about 5 minutes to do their thing, and anywhere between 3 and 7 minutes for the nurse—who of course is expected to take care of numerous other duties at the same time, such as antenatal followup for about 40 women a day, fetal monitors, teaching women in our high-risk clinic how to cope with their gestational diabetes and women in fertility treatment how to inject themselves, and give advice on the phone when patients call up with questions. I worked out, once, that it takes one nurse about one hour of each day just to cope with this---well, what can I call it? Exclusively secretarial task. It is a total waste of valuable nursing time, and the patient's smear results are delayed for no good reason. All doctors with the kupah are connected by computer; there is no reason, really, why the smear cannot be completely processed, including its financial authorization, at its point of origin and sent directly to the lab (which is not in Jerusalem, btw) by messenger. The current messenger makes rounds of numerous other clinics to collect specimens on a daily basis, and by next year, when the entire laboratory of the kupah nationwide is relocated to a central site, the messenger service will have to be extended anyway.

It is just stupid. For this I went to nursing school for 4 years. To put bar codes on lab specimens and to unstaple envelopes. Bah humbug.

*Well, if you must know the computer steps involved, they are as follows:
Main menu → sub menu → patient's ID # → code for Pap smear → doctor's name or code # → note if patient teaching done (y/n) → write in "Pap sent to lab" → note whether this is a work accident (y/n) → then press, in sequence: F10, F3, 3, F6, F7, fill in password, type of exam (code), Dr's ID code, date, bar code number. Press Enter three times then F12.

Then go back to the beginning and do it all over again with the next specimen. Assuming the computer doesn't crash, which it often does.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Congested Oracle Speaks

Between sneezes and coughs, the following bits and bobs have occurred to me. If anything sounds bizarre, blame it on fever...

I never promised you a rose garden...
Reading a message posted on one of my Israel lists, it occurs to me that it is much tougher to make aliyah than back in the late 70s, when I did. The poster writes that she is unable to find many items she is used to, such as particular brands of toothpaste and decaffeinated tea, and the children's favorite all-natural, unsweetened, low cholesterol candies, and many other essential items of civilization like Ziploc bags. My heart bleeds.

Food nostalgia is indeed the last part of one's previous life to relinquish, and it can be painful and long. My poor Dad, z"l, used to shlep cheddar cheese, Hebrew National hot dogs, and maple syrup in his suitcases whenever he visited. Now we have both an indigenous cheese called "cheddar", and you can get the real imported item as well, there are beef frankfurters which are a fair replica (lower fat, though) to the American kind, and at least 4 different brands of maple syrup, (including the real thing), not counting the low-calorie variety.

When I arrived in Israel there were almost no imported food "luxury" items. You could drink Elite instant coffee (called by Israelis "Nes", which means "miracle" and is also a contraction of the word "Nescafe", a generic term for instant coffee), or Cafe Hag (instant decaffeinated coffee and about as tasty as its name suggests), or "botz"--which is Turkish ground coffee which settles to the bottom of the glass (not cup) in a thick mud (that's what "botz" means) after boiling water has been poured on it. "Nes" isn't really coffee, to my mind, rather a coffee-flavored beverage. In coffee houses one could get an "hafuch" or "upside down" coffee which was an espresso with hot, foaming milk poured on top. At home, or in the army (where I understand the custom originated) this could be simulated with "Nes" by putting a teaspoon of water into a cup with the coffee powder and sugar and whipping the mixture into a thick paste before adding the hot water, creating a foam on top. Many a newcomer didn't understand what the early morning sound of a teaspoon beating against the side of a cup was at first.

Now, while we haven't gone to Starbucks extremes (Starbucks did not succeed in Israel; its coffees were too American) we can buy both American and European instant coffees in our supermarkets, decaffeinated in a variety of forms, not to mention espresso and filter blends and all the paraphenalia that goes with it. So much choice!

Too much choice. When I came to Israel, you knew, as you did with so many other aspects of Israeli life, that you were making radical change. A "care package" from the folks back in the Old Country (often still referred to as "home") had coffee and tuna fish in it. As with tokens for public telephones, that is now completely obsolete.

But what I have noticed, over the past thirty years is that those who have the strongest yearnings for certain foods from the US, and who go to the greatest extremes to get them, either bringing giant quantities in their lifts or constantly begging travelers to bring them packages from America when they come, have the toughest time being "absorbed" into Israel. The writer of the post describing all the things she packed into her lift and is trying to work out how to get more when they run out is making a major mistake.

Fixing the Fat
Our local Discovery Channel has been running a series of programs by the BBC Horizon folks about obesity and what has been discovered about it. Lots of investigations into what triggers appetite and how to suppress it, as in leptin production, or non-production, in fat mice, or various kinds of gastric bypass operations, or the checkered history of drugs to suppress appetite.

But none seem to address my obesity problem: I eat when I'm not hungry. For three years I went to Overeaters Anonymous and listened to people relate their struggles with binge eating, but I don't binge. Frankly, I don't know what it means to be hungry, most of the time. I just like to eat. And a nurse--especially in a unit like a delivery room--learns very early to eat whenever it is possible because it may not be possible when you "ought" to eat. Food is definitely a great comfort to me, when I'm anxious or tired. But more than that, I like the taste and texture of what I eat. It is a joy to contemplate a plate of macaroni and cheese, or a full British afternoon tea, or a Chinese banquet. I eat slowly, masticating well, enjoying the sensations. I don't overeat--one serving of spaghetti Bolognese is enough, I don't need a whole potful of pasta--but I look forward to when the clock says it's time for the next meal.

And now that I've got diabetes, this is aggravated. I must eat at specific times because of the medications I take. And since my carbohydrate intake must be strictly limited, of course, I am obsessed with carbohydrates and don't want anything else. Just thinking of dieting makes me so nervous I have go eat something to calm down. Which is why I am leaving this for the moment and going to the refrigerator...

A New Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsives
I've been setting up my new computer, and in particular, reconstructing my iTunes music library. What a job! I currently have 78 GB of music, audiobooks, and radio drama and it suddenly dawned on me what a mechiah it would be for a sufferer from OCD. Endless reorganization of one's playlists. Changing "genre", "equalizer", moving names from "artist" to "composer", etc., etc. I think that, instead of psychotherapy or medication, just give an iPod to every obsessive-compulsive and let them spend the next 10 years or so sorting out their music libraries...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Invented the Inquisition...

And now the Spaniards, who took the friendly step of forcing all Jews in Spain to convert in 1391, and then expelled them in 1492, have the answer to the Middle Eastern mess:

It really is so simple that it is staring the world in the face: tell the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize the legitimate right of Israel to exist. Then we can all get on with our lives, to our mutual benefit.

Trying to force Israel to cut its throat by yet more concessions only encourages those committed to Israel's destruction.

What part of "no" don't you understand, Moratinos?

Oh, For a Holocaust!

...of cellphones.

I HATE cellphones. I don't want everyone to know where I am, all the time. As a nurse, I am congenitally unable not to answer a ringing telephone (who knows what emergency is at the other end?) In the bath, on the toilet, sound asleep...

And the way other people behave with them is even worse. Back in the Seventies, when I came to Israel, it often took between 5 and 10 years to get a landline--Israel had barely completed its infrastructure when optical fiber technology came into existence, so the number of lines that could be carried on an old-fashioned cable, the only kind that had been laid, was far less than the demand for telephones--and when renting a flat, being able to advertise that you had a phone was a major selling point. Even though, by the time cellphones became available (at pretty exorbitant cost, initially), the Israeli equivalent of Ma Bell, Bezeq, had pretty much eliminated the waiting period, Israelis had become completely obsessive about telephones. The "security situation" of course plays a part--a car backfires and everyone who hears it begins telephoning all their loved ones to tell them they are OK. (And after every terrorist attack, one of the first things that happens is that the cellphone networks crash from the overload as people in opposite parts of the country begin calling everyone they know to find out that they're all right) It's not by chance that the only place with a higher degree of cellphone saturation is Hong Kong.

And Jews love to talk. And bargains. I have acquaintances who own phones belonging to each of the 4 networks and use them according to the current "special deal" for air time, etc. Bus drivers sell cards for the "pay-as-you go" type. It's bad enough that the buses themselves have exceptionally noisy motors and ventilating systems, and the drivers always seem to have the radio playing at full blast ("public service" so you don't miss a single newscast--another Israeli obsession) but everyone is shouting--and I do mean shouting, over the din--all the current details of their life (and the details of everyone else's) into the phone glued to their ears. Since about 85% of the population is right-handed, this means that in another decade or two we should begin to see a mass epidemic of left-sided hearing loss and maybe brain tumors. And now all the kids are vying with one another for the latest 3-G telephone, so that they can squint at the tiny screen to see their favorite singer's latest video clip or a nude photo of their boy/girlfriends. An optician's dream--an entire generation with eye strain and glasses.

We have long since outstripped the small annoyance of telephones ringing during movies, or in restaurants, or in class. Forget about honking at a pedestrian strolling across the street just in front of your car. He/she is undoubtedly entirely engrossed in a telephone conversation. But then, as you are probably trying to make a U-turn while trying to keep the telephone wedged between your ear and your shoulder (yes! I actually saw a driver do this the other day, totally unable to look right or left but both hands were on the wheel so I guess we have to give the driver some credit) There are, of course, laws preventing the use of a cellphone without a hands-off speaker in a car. As with most laws of this nature in this country, priority goes to trying to keep civilians from being blown up and it isn't enforced.

The Nazis burned books, and then people. There is a film clip, endlessly repeated (especially when there is a discussion of restricting civil rights in some area) of the bonfires they lit and books and "degenerate" art being tossed onto the flames. I think of that brief film segment often. Light the fire, boys, I'm coming with my cellphone, and any others I can grab! (Or maybe we should just lock the developers of the cellphone into a padded cell with speakers in every corner, endlessly broadcasting recorded conversations, such as the details of Uncle Max's hemorrhoid operation, or the color of Diana's diarrhea, or 24 ways to cook zucchini...or maybe just a loop tape of the 50 most popular ringtones...)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Through a Veil, Darkly

Jack Straw has made a measured and sensible statement about the wearing of full-face veils by Moslem women. And, predictably, he's being accused by Moslems of being discriminatory. The networks, notably Sky and BBC World, that we get here, have been leaning over backward to let spokesmen--and even a few women, none wearing more than a hijab or head scarf--claim that Moslem women's freedom of choice is being attacked.
That is a real laugh. The veil is imposed on women by Moslem men who want to keep them subjugated. You cannot drive, wearing a chador or burqa, you cannot work in any of the professions such as medicine or nursing--in fact, you can't really do any useful work at all outside the house (where you can take the garment off) and are completely dependent on your menfolk for everything. It is notable that in the countries where the full face and full body veil are customary, women rarely have more than elementary education (indeed the rate of female literacy is low) and rarely are even allowed to vote. Now, is that discriminatory or what?
Straw described the conditions under which he requests a veiled woman to show her face in a conversation with him. They actually show a rare degree of sensitivity, but I expect very few women take him up on it, because there is another aspect to the Veil--that of fear. Where men demand that their women become non-persons by assuming a garment that ensures their anonymity, they also kill them whenever the men decide their 'honour' has been compromised. The fear of being the victim of an honour killing will make most women completely submissive, as is the state of divorce in Islam, which gives women no recourse at all, and makes them lose custody of their children. All a Moslem husband has to do is to say "I divorce you" three times and you are thrown onto the street in the clothes you wear. Where are the Moslem leaders decrying this form of "discrimination"? Do Moslem women kill unfaithful husbands?
Furthermore, it is worth noting that even the hijab is not enjoined by the Koran, although it has become pretty universal as a statement of female adherence to Islam. But the number of countries where the full-face veil is customary is very small within the Islamic world. Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Indonesian and Malaysian women have never adopted it.
I wish Straw had had the guts to say that we belong to a culture where hiding one's face behind a veil, or mask, has very sinister connotations, and is totally unacceptable in civilized society. What is the person hiding? Of course, if he were to do that, undoubtedly he would be the recipient of death threats such as the Pope has received.
It's about time British Moslems woke up and smelled the coffee. Even those born in the UK are really guests there, and if they don't want to join the majority culture, they are quite welcome to leave and try to find somewhere where their religion is practiced the way they like it. Britain, unlike the US, has an established Church, and other religions are tolerated as a courtesy. I really hope that Straw doesn't turn out to be as lily-livered as everyone else who has been criticizing certain Islamic practices. Islam is an intensely intolerant religion, and if ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Home Front

I haven't blogged much recently, not because there's a war on, but because the new member of the family, Sheleg (Snowy) the Samoyed seems to take up a disproportionate amount of my time. In addition to requiring lots of grooming, he seems to be excessively fond of locating anything in the kitchen with chocolate in it, and maneuvering me into a corner so he can lick all my body lotion off me, or at least the parts he can reach. Arguing with a dog who weighs fifty kilos and looks like he's perpetually smiling is not easy.
The war, the war...I am seized with an extreme weariness and sense of deja vu. The weariness comes from trying to explain, over and over again, that Israel isn't the aggressor, and that we aren't trashing Lebanon because we want "revenge", and that we don't want to "reoccupy" the country. I'm also tired of trying to make people see that Lebanon, as a real country, is a fantasy, and that the Hezbollah could not have been taken care of by a Lebanese "police force". The "disproportionate force" theory, as well as the "it's nobler not to descend to their level" garbage, and the usual assertions that Israel should be morally above such things as fighting for its survival (and anyway what kind of threat can a rag-tag guerrilla group be to the Famous and Invincible IDF?), and that the Islamic extremists (remember, Islam is a religion of peace!) are really interested in a worldwide jihad to end the Infidel Menace once and for all is silly Israeli hysteria to justify our "barbaric" actions makes me just want to spit. Bernard Henri Levy had a marvellous article in the NY Times in which he compared the Hezbollah provocation and the resulting war to the Spanish Civil War, which is a very good point. Islam is getting ready for its all-out assault on The Infidel. This has just been an early rehearsal.
The deja vu comes firstly because of the similarities in the "a plague on both your houses but especially Israel" that excuses just about everything Hezbollah does as being reaction to Israeli aggression, remind me a great deal of the attitude of many Europeans, and particularly the British, in the Thirties. Hitler wasn't serious, of course--what he was proposing was just too silly. In fact the man LOOKED silly, flailing his arms around and shrieking his speeches. So, by extension, the Clown of Tehran today is just ranting nonsense when he goes into one of his anti-Israel, anti-Western tirades.
The second feeling of deja vu has to do with the ceasefire that is supposed to come into effect in a few hours. We've been here before. Lebanon took on itself the responsibility for filling the vacuum left in southern Lebanon by our withdrawal, and look what happened. It will happen again. The UN won't do anything either to prevent it, lest they incur accusations of being "biased" and a tool of the US and Israel--in other words, the current crisis has solved nothing. Even a dimwit like the current Prime Minister of Australia has seen that.
The IDF has a lot to set right, but so does the Israeli government. But the biggest culprits, in my most humble opinion, for this "victory of defeat" is us. Six years ago four mothers, through their crocodile tears and whining, brought about a withdrawal from Lebanon that was actually a rout, and gave the Hezbollah an outright victory. The consequences of the manner of withdrawal from Lebanon--not the actual leaving of Lebanon, which was sensible, at least strategically--was to provoke the second intifada since our enemies concluded we were on the ropes, and now the Hezbollah's thumbing its collective nose at us. We are weak, we don't want to endanger our soldiers' lives. We don't want to go mano-a-mano with real men, Allah's chosen ones.
And to a certain point, this is true. PM Olmert is not a military man. The current IDF Chief of Staff is from the Air Force. It was probably not too difficult to convince Olmert that the war could be conducted exclusively from the air, with no Israeli casualties and, due to precision bombing, reduce the Hezbollah to a few glowing cinders. All the evidence from the Second World War onwards shows that air attacks generally have the opposite effect: they don't reduce resistance, they concentrate it. And it certainly gave the news media a lovely stick to beat us with--all those poor, innocent Lebanese in the rubble! Let's face it: Israelis in bomb shelters just get rather boring after a while.
Olmert is a politician--he doesn't want to have to justify body counts (although he will now) if he could have avoided it, and so, against a lot of military advice, he put the ground offensive off as long as possible and kept it as small as possible. And, to be honest, most Israelis wanted this. We have borne the brunt for so long that we just don't have much stomach for lists of dead soldiers on the nightly news and video footage of distraught mothers and wives collapsing during the funerals of their loved ones. This is the most dangerous thing of all--and Israel ultimately may not be able to survive it, if we suffer a loss of will.
Also, for years, each new budget cut defense spending, on the grounds that the army could thin down a bit; we now had a "partner for peace" and a new war was unlikely, and the draft was now so big that the top age for reserve service could be lessened and the length of yearly reserve duty cut. It has all come home to roost with this crisis in Lebanon. Reservists were being called up and there was inadequate equipment to issue them, or what there was was old. Some accidents are inevitable, but there have been too many this time: too many "friendly fire" injuries and fatalities, and just yesterday a tank, backing up, ran over two soldiers by mistake. Not enough training. There have also been two unexplained Apache helicopter crashes which may have been caused by insufficient maintenance.
All in all, We Are Not Amused. Nor are we, as a people, feeling very good about ourselves or our situation. We didn't even get our hostages back (I doubt they are alive, actually) It's not much fun being the world's guinea pig in a global battle of civilizations; it was bad enough just trying to hang on to our own little corner. Now we've got to convince the West that Islam means business, and I don't really see how it can be done. None So Blind, and all that.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Latest Chapter in Israel's War of Independence 1948-????

Folks keep asking me what it's like to be living in the middle of a war, and I have to reply that I'm not. I'm to the south of it. Which, after two intifadas and one Gulf War, is something of a relief. Not that either was really a war--it was more like the so-called "phoney war" England experienced in 1939-40. You know they're out there, and they want your destruction, but only rarely do you get immediate and intimate glimpses of it.
My internet provider is located in Haifa, so I keep thinking my internet access is going to be taken out one of these days, but so far, so good. Prospective-son-in-law Sharon's family is all in Kiryat Shemona, which has been frequently used as a punching bag by Syria/Hezbollah/PLO, etc. in the past 3 or 4 decades, but they are coping pretty well, although it got to be so boring in the bomb shelters they all packed into the family car and went to visit a relative in Katzrin, which is on the Golan Heights--not really much of an improvement, as it happened.
In the past week, two pregnant women who evacuated, with their families, to Jerusalem, have come to the clinic--not because they felt unwell, but because their relatives here thought they should. In vain they protested that not one rocket had landed anywhere near them, and the drive south--a matter of a couple of hours--was completely uneventful. They had been "in the war" and should be checked out. My daughter reports that hotels at both the Dead Sea and Eilat have jacked up their prices and have no vacancies. Usually, in the run-up to Tisha B'Av local tourism dries up as religious Jews don't go swimming during the immediate pre-fast period. This year, tourism is dead up north, but the south is revelling in an unexpected burst.
I try not to watch too much news, which is difficult as my husband is a typical Israeli news freak. Once upon a time, there was only one TV channel in Israel, and two in Jordan (one in English, during which King Hussein mainly seemed to endlessly review his troops, to the accompaniment of taped martial music, and the other in Arabic, which featured mostly Egyptian films). On Israel TV there was one nightly news broadcast, and on Friday evenings, an expanded "news magazine". Now we have three channels in Israel alone, each vying with each other for the longest and most complete news coverage. I wonder the very ants in the north haven't yet been interviewed. We get Sky TV, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, and Fox News too, via cable. Yawn. Massive yawn.
Sky at least keeps things in perspective. If they can broadcast some titbit of local British news, some Ministerial indiscretion or that a drain has burst in Puddleby-sur-Mare they will do so, in preference to news coming from anywhere not part of the British Empire. The BBC has recently been trying to be more even-handed, after coming in for a lot of criticism so first they screen a segment with some Nordic UN official proclaiming that Israel is in violation of human rights (kidnapping Israeli soldiers, showering Israel with over 2000 rockets, and vowing Israel's destruction is apparently in accordance with "human rights" where Israel is concerned). An "analysis" by their "Israel expert" Paul Adams in Jerusalem is next. Adams' experience, during his tenure here, was augmented--if that's the correct word--by the fact that he and his wife, a British consular officer, were living on an extreme Left-wing moshav during the time Israel withdrew from Lebanon. In 2000 there was a loud local lobby urging Israeli cooperation with Arafat, our "partner" in the illusory "peace process", a term itself coined by the Leftist international press. To listen to Adams today, who must be talking with Yossi Beilin and no one else, we are practically begging for forgiveness from Hezbollah for existing. Finally, the BBC, in the interests of fair play, interviews some Israeli government spokesman, who inevitably sounds as if he's on the defensive as he rebuts the previous reports. At least PM Olmert has gotten rid of all of Sharon's cronies, who had terrible English, and has recruited a number of native English speakers who are forceful and articulate. CNN has been relatively unobjectionable, and has been treading delicately, as often as I've seen it.
Fox News? We could nuke Lebanon and they'd approve. Their view of the world is so simplistic I bet it bores kids in third grade.
Condeleeza Rice is expected any moment, and I bet she isn't quite as gung-ho as Bush has been, and will talk about "restraint on both sides". Meanwhile the Clown of Tehran claims, according to one unconfirmed report, to have the capability to hit London, if they don't stop supporting Israel. Huh. Ah well, another day, another katyusha, or ICBM, or whatever.
Of course, the truth is somewhere in between. Of course our response is disproportionate; this isn't a duel with single-shot pistols at ten paces. I have never understood this--back in the first intifada, when kids with slingshots a la David and Goliath were attacking cars, we were accused of barbarism by firing rubber (and real) bullets at them. What should we have done? Built ballistae and hurled stones back at them? A fist-sized stone, propelled by a powerful slingshot, into the windscreen of a car can cause a fatal accident--as indeed happened to a nursing colleague of mine, driving home, when she was hit in the head and went off the road, was seriously injured, and lost the baby she was carrying. Lebanon, whether a Syrian puppet (Syria declared yesterday that no agreement between Lebanon, which is officially an independent country now, and Israel, would be considered valid by Syria without Syria's agreement as well. Interesting independence) or not, is one of the countries which declared war on us in 1948 and has never concluded any kind of cease-fire, armistice, or peace treaty with us, and whose formal position is that it does not recognize our independence. The situation is not that we are warring on Lebanon; it is that Lebanon is at war with us, and is using Hezbollah as its proxy. It really isn't relevant whether Lebanon controls Hezbollah or Hezbollah is controlling Lebanon. We are being attacked, full stop. Just because someone's cancer is slow-growing doesn't mean you give it an aspirin tablet in preference to all-out chemotherapy, etc. unless you're willing to have it kill you in the end.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Art in the Blood Takes the Most Unusual Forms"

I've got a new Enthusiasm. It's writing "appreciative fiction". That's a fancy-shmancy way of describing fanfic.
It has come about because of my discovery of the Mary Russell novels of Laurie R. King, in which a 15 year old half-American, half-British Jewish girl meets the "retired" Sherlock Holmes, becomes his protegee, his partner, and ultimately his wife.
Sounds absolutely dreadful, doesn't it?
Except, it isn't. King is smart enough to create a plausible story line, and can imitate the Conan Doyle style enough to sound pretty much an authentic Holmesian delineator. So far there are 8 books, with another due in 2008.
And just as the original Holmes "Canon" has spawned interminable discussion and pastiche, so have the Russell novels done--except there is a difference, because the "Kanon" (as Russellians call the King novels) is itself a pastiche, and a particular kind of pastiche at that.
Fanfic, "a story based on a pre-existing story-concept, written by someone who is not working under the original copyright, and therefore not an officially sanctioned part of said story universe" as it has been described, has been around for a long time, but the internet has caused it to expand exponentially, as it is much easier to disseminate. "The internet has given rise to literally thousands of newsgroups devoted to particular programs, characters, and actors. Fans can go online and discuss their interests with other fans without regard to boundaries of time or geography. [...] [the internet has] brought fandom into a public place where it can be more easily accessed by both potential fans and researchers." (Sue Hazlett, quoted in the "The Hive: Exploring an Online Community"
There are sub-genres to fanfic, one of the most common being the "Mary Sue" variety, in which the author inserts him/herself into the story. I've been working on a novel based on The Sandbaggers" (a British TV spy series of the late 70s) for years and it is a "Mary Sue" novel without ever knowing it! So fanfic devoted to the Russell stories are pastiches of pastiches, but none the less fun for that.
There is even a site devoted to Russellian fanfic: The Hive. What is surprising is the quality of quite a bit of the stuff there. While some of it is mediocre, both in conception and writing, there are several very good full length novellas as well as short fiction there. Two stories, in particular, I found to be hilariously funny: The Vicissitudes of an Idiom and A Happy Birthday... For Whom?
I modestly note that I have submitted a vignette, Last Minute Doubts, and have a couple of others in the works.
I think I have found my metier at last...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Odd Priorities

This is in the Washington Post for Friday, 2nd June:

Schenck, a well-known evangelical activist, also heads the National Clergy Council and last year said he blessed every piece of furniture in the Senate hearing rooms where the Judiciary Committee considered the nomination of now-Chief Justice John Roberts.

The context is that, because the evangelical Christians can't put their statue of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments in front of the Supreme Court, they are installing it on the lawn of a private house opposite, so the Justices will have to see it every day. This is supposed to incline them to issue judgments based on Scripture rather than the Constitution.

But what interests me is that this fellow thinks it important to bless the furniture, which, so far as I know, being inanimate and insentient, doesn't have a voice (literally or figuratively) in anything, rather than the members of the committee which chooses new Justices to the Court. I would think that blessing the requisite human beings might be more efficacious. But then, not being a Christian, I might be mistaken. Maybe furniture is more important to the Christian God or Jesus than people.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Dust Is Settling

Right now, there are two subjects that bore me silly. One is anything to do with Ariel Sharon's condition, which, if not permanently vegetative, is certainly currently vegetative. What the doctors knew (or did not know) and when they knew it really doesn't interest me any more--it's all irrelevant. I hope he gets pneumonia soon and dies, since the living death he currently is in has only one advantage: he's not suffering. Give him a grand funeral and let's get on with the business of everyday living in Israel, or in other words, back to the battlefield.

The other topic is the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections. Was it really the incredible surprise the journalists and politician are claiming? If so, I am the only unsurprised person around, which I find a bit hard to believe. It was inevitable. The only way Fatah could have won was to rig the ballot and stuff the ballot boxes. The only people who loathe Fatah more than the Israelis are the Palestinians, because of the corruption and the internal terrorism of Arafat's machine.

Hamas has two options: one hard, one easy. It doesn't take a lot of savvy either to guess which one they will take.

If they really want the best for the people, they will (probably violently because I don't see any other option) disarm Fatah gunmen, and the other militias like Al Aqsa, crush corruption, begin concrete improvements in Palestinian life, and show their constituents and the rest of the world that they are responsible and mature. If they do this, it doesn't really matter whether they officially "renounce terrorism" and "recognize Israel's right to exist". But taking the road of internal reform is dangerous and difficult. It's so much easier to let the existing mess simmer on and try to shift the Palestinians' attention to the external enemy once again--make a scapegoat of Israel for all their own, and the previous regime's, shortcomings. In Abba Eban's memorable phrase, they will once again not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Frankly, the Hamas victory will have less long-term impact on the Middle East and world politics than the pundits think. The big change will only come when the West can get its mind around the simple but unthinkable fact that it is at war with an implacable enemy who will not be appeased: Islam. This is so politically incorrect for a civilization which insists on religious tolerance at all costs that it will take a lot more September 11th-like attacks or Iran will have to nuke Vienna or Paris before it can get its act together and finally see that the entire Islamic world is its adversary.

Sharon's legacy to Israel is the disengagement from Gaza and the security fence. Israel is withdrawing, with great pain, to defensible borders and hunkering down. The euphoria I remember so well in 1978 with the first Camp David talks has given way finally to a grim realization--which should have come much earlier--that at least another generation will have to pass before the Palestinians realize they have no option but to live with us.

In a small way, I think there is reason to hope. The average Palestinian man and woman in the street has actually made a statement by voting Fatah out of power--that it wants constructive change, clean government, a better life. To interpret the election results as a victory for radical Islam is mistaken. It was a vote against a regime that caused its own people simply too much suffering, not a vote to go to war again. One hopes the leaders of Hamas have the sense to see it.