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Monday, January 28, 2008


The past couple of weeks have seen some of the coldest weather in Israel in recent years. In these two weeks, seven (7) people have died as a result of hypothermia. Five (5) were homeless.

When I was a child, there were no homeless people in Israel. Did people die of hypothermia? Probably yes, old people alone at home. But each death was something the entire country heard about. It made the news. People talked about it the next morning.

Israel, January 2008. The country's 60th year. The deaths of homeless people are lumped together in a passing news flash, hastily reported to make way for more blah-blah about the Winograd report (as if the gist of this long overdue report is a mystery that requires endless speculation). I'm willing to bet that if you ask around tomorrow morning about the dead homeless, most people will not know what you're talking about.

Apathy. It's every man for himself in the Promised Land.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Screw It, I'm Running For President"

From today's The Onion. If only it were true...

CHARLESTON, SC—After spending two months accompanying his wife, Hillary, on the campaign trail, former president Bill Clinton announced Monday that he is joining the 2008 presidential race, saying he "could no longer resist the urge."

"My fellow Americans, I am sick and tired of not being president," said Clinton, introducing his wife at a "Hillary '08" rally. "For seven agonizing years, I have sat idly by as others experienced the joys of campaigning, debating, and interacting with the people of this great nation, and I simply cannot take it anymore. I have to be president again. I have to."

"Damn, this feels good," Clinton told supporters as he shook hands in Charleston Monday.

He continued, "It is with a great sense of relief that I say to all of you today, 'Screw it. I'm in.'"

In a show of respect, Clinton then completed his introduction of Hillary Clinton, calling her a "wonderful wife and worthy political adversary," and warmly shook her hand as she approached the podium. A clearly shocked Mrs. Clinton got halfway through her speech about the nation's obligation to its children before walking briskly offstage.

A spokesman for Sen. Clinton's campaign had no comment.

"No longer will I have to endure watching candidates like Hillary Clinton engaging in single-pump handshakes with voters, as I use every last ounce of restraint not to shout out, 'No! Warm double-clasp! Warm double-clasp!'" Clinton said. "America deserves someone who can do it right."

While the announcement has come as a surprise to many, Beltway observers said it was not completely unexpected, citing footage from a recent Democratic debate that showed Clinton fidgeting in his seat, gripping the arms of his chair, and repeatedly glancing at all the television cameras while rapidly tapping his right foot. Analysts also noted one debate in which Clinton mouthed responses to all the moderator's questions while making hand gestures to himself.

Clinton told reporters Tuesday that seeing so many "Clinton '08" posters "really got [him] thinking," and said that the fact that he was already wearing a suit, and smiling and waving on the campaign trail was an added motivator.

"From signing healthcare reform legislation, to working with politicians from across the aisle, to brokering international peace treaties with foreign dignitaries, I goddamn love being president," Clinton said. "For too long has this nation been deprived of a Bill Clinton presidency, and for too long have I been deprived of being president. Now I get to experience all these wonderful things again myself."

"And the applause," Clinton added. "I look forward to the endless roar of applause perhaps most of all."

Since his announcement two days ago, Clinton has raised a staggering $550 million. He has also surged in national polls, rising from a mere 2 percent prior to his candidacy to a commanding 94 percent, ahead of former front-runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are now tied with 3 percent each. John Edwards withdrew from the race Tuesday, saying only, "I am not worthy."

Although some have pointed out that it is unconstitutional for Clinton to run for a third term in office, he has silenced most critics by urging voters "not to worry about the Constitution for now" and assuring them he will address those legal issues immediately after regaining control of the White House.

"All I am asking of the American people is four more years," Clinton said at a fundraiser Tuesday where tens of thousands of South Carolinians gathered to stare in gape-jawed wonderment at the former president. "Well, maybe eight. Actually, you know what, definitely eight. Eight more years."

Thus far, the response among voters has been positive. "I love Bill Clinton," said Orangeburg, SC resident Marsha Demarais. "God, he was just so great as president. Can we just make him president again right now?"

Clinton also noted that, if elected, the timing would be perfect for his family, as his wife has recently expressed a desire to move back to the D.C. area.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Crash Landing

Stuck at Heathrow airport last Thursday for long hours, as a result of the crash landing of the British Airways B-777 aircraft (most flights were cancelled or delayed as a result), I had plenty of time to think again about London and its third-world-like infrastructure and services. The daily delays and closures on the London Underground, the percentage of lugguage lost at Heathrow airport, the outrageous prices one has to pay for almost everything and get mediocre service in return. And the list goes on. So it didn't come as a surprise to me that it took the authorities more than a day to get the runway cleared and operational again.

But instead of ranting again about London, I will say a few words about that landing. It was a very close call, a chilly reminder of how binary air accidents are. The plane lost power on both engines at an altitude of 600 feet. After the on-board computer failed to boost power to the engines, the co-pilot, who was in command of the aircraft, took control and managed to glide it safely past a highway and bring it down on the grass. If the power loss would have happened a minute earlier, or if the co-pilot wouldn't have reacted so quickly to take control of the aircraft, then most probably everyone on board would have died. As is usually the case, it was either zero or one. Why bother with those safety demonstrations? Either you get out alive or you don't. There's almost no in-between.

I did smile, though, when I heard today the name of the hero co-pilot: John Coward. Only in Britain.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Last Fanatic

Here is a new trailer for a movie that does not exist:

"The Last Fanatic" is the latest promotional stunt by The Israeli Initiative, a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict promoted by Benny Elon, a right-wing member of the Knesset. They obviously managed to raise considerable amounts of money, by Israeli standards, for this campaign. Most of it, I'm guessing, came from the US, not only from Jews but also from evangelical Christians, who support right-wing movements in Israel in the hope that a Jewish redemption will lead to the Second Coming. An unholy alliance of sorts, but as they say: money has no smell.

Disclosure: Rabbi Elon conducted our wedding ceremony (chuppah). My wife and I used to go to a weekly shi'ur he gave at the university dorms and when we decided to tie the knot, we asked him to do it and he agreed (even though he is not officially registered at the Chief Rabbinate). Four years later, when he was elected to the knesset in 1996 through the Moledet party, we wrote him a letter expressing our disappointment for joining a party that advocated transfer of Arabs. He wrote back to us, very politely. We did not remain closely in touch, but I did visit him at the Knesset last year and was very happy to see him after all these years. Despite disagreeing with his political views, I think very highly of him as a human being and a teacher.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Behaviour in Schools

I have some criticism about the national-religious education system in Israel, the so-called mamad ("mamlachti-dati") and the follow-up framework of high-school yeshivot. However, when I hear about and see incidents like the clip below, filmed at a secular high-school, I am thankful my children go to religious schools. I cannot imagine such behaviour coming even from the worst-behaving kids in my son's class.