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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kandahar


I think we need to change the phrase "Go to hell" to "Go to Kandahar." Both have a powerful H in them which makes a strong impact and provide immediate release from negative emotions trapped inside the body, but the latter has an additional K which can make for a more powerful release.

I like saying 'Kandahar' but I don't like to think about Kandahar.

Do you know where Kandahar is?

Can you find it on the map if I point to Afghanistan? North, south, east west, center, mountain range, valley floor, desert? I bet you will have to squint your eyes and search for it. Even if you heard about Kandahar, you probably never stopped to look at a map and find the damned place.

While I still have to locate Karbala [Iraq] on the map, I already know where to look for Kandahar.

The Taliban birthplace, that's what Kandahar is all about. The stronghold of pure, concentrated, well-armed, narrow-minded, fanatical masculine evil. Where martyrdom is more appreciated than music and art, where women and children are treated like domestic animals, or worse, where Allah has all the answers, where good people die for what?

And today, according to the New York Times headline "American and Afghan Troops Begin Combat for Kandahar." You would think that Kandahar is some enchanted kingdom sitting on a golden hill, a mythical Troy or Shangri-La, a place worth dying for.

Fuck Kandahar. That's all I want to say today.

Friday, September 17, 2010

blogging on yom kippur


Blogging on Yom Kippur? Hell yes.

Stephen Hawking leaves me no other choice.

The only reason I would fast on Yom Kipur is to divert the wrath of God away from evil-doer me to other evil doers who don't fast, but now that Hawking came out with this old-new revelation about the almighty one, I can finally live without fear. I need not fast to appease Him. I can eat cream puffs if I want to.

Just check out cyberspace and you will be inundated with this tidal wave of headlines screaming Hawking's latest discovery: We don't need God to explain the unexplainable, or what we thought was unexplainable, because he - Hawking, not God - can explain it himself!

Here is a sample:

MoneyBlog - Stephen Hawking: God is not necessary to understand the universe.

Telegraph - The Big Bang was the result of the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe, Stephen Hawking has concluded.

Jerusalem Post - Hawking: God was not needed to create the universe.


Youtube - Stephen Hawking: Physics Leaves No Room For God.


What I don't understand is why the universe is so scandalized by this recent "Discovery?" In 2005, Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote about the Perimeter of Ignorance in which he stated pretty much the same thing. Yet, I don't remember it making such a huge splash. Maybe I was not so well connected then or maybe I was too busy to notice. Or maybe that essay's purpose was to prepare the universe for Hawking's new earth un-shuttering claim. I mean, it probably will take more than a couple of articles and books to root out the notion of a God who stalks humanity and then abuses it with all kinds of diseases and calamities if it acts human.

I don't know. Maybe Hawking can answer that question, too.

In the meantime, I'll keep my mezuzah on my door sill. Just in case...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Men in uniform


Sometimes the length I have to go to get attention from men is mind boggling.

Most of the time I feel completely invisible. Walking on the beach, shopping at Trader Joe's, or sitting in my favorite cafe, I am clearly not the kind of woman who makes men's heads turn in awe; and at work, well, my men colleagues have been so methodically indoctrinated in the prevention of sexual harassment, they dare not compliment a woman even on days she knows she deserves one, because several of her females colleagues have already commented on her hair, her muscle tone, or her snazzy outfit.

But yesterday things took an interesting turn. Not that I planned it that way. All I wanted to do was donate blood to the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP). And considering the scary procedure I was going to endure, men were the farthest thing from my mind. But little did I know.

The moment I walked into the gym where the lab team had set its mobile blood collection unit, I realized that things were not exactly the way I had expected them to be. My brain conducted a quick scan of the scenery - young men in uniform lying on folding beds with long plastic tubes hanging from their arms; more young men in uniform sitting on bleachers looking bored, waiting for their turn on the folding beds; young men playing basketball in the back of the gym; young men in uniform collecting information from prospective donors, and a tiny sprinkle of females who seemed to know what they were doing. I also noticed that I was way above the donors' median age; I was not wearing anything remotely similar to camouflage; and everyone but me had a tattoo.

I had no choice but to conclude that any attempt to blend in would be futile, so I decided to adjust to this very odd situation by trying to look professional, respectable and blasé.

But how respectable can one pretend to be when a very good looking young man in uniform asks you "Did you in the last 12 years have sex with a man who had sex with other men?" Or "Did you in the last 12 years have sex even once with a person who gets paid to have sex?" Then he checks how I answered the questions about having syphilis or gonorrhea and whether I had sex with a man from Africa after 1977.

Of course I couldn't keep a straight face. My inner child started cracking jokes with the very cute guy who checked my blood pressure and temperature, while simultaneously pricking my finger and collecting several drops of blood to make sure I was not anemic. While he was marking my blood donor questionnaire, I was shocked to see that my blood pressure shot to 140/70 but then I remembered that I was just poked in the finger by a very handsome stranger and was about to lose a pint of blood. No wonder my veins were misbehaving.

It was also pretty hard to stay serious when another guy checked again all the questions about my potential sex life with non-existent Africans and the exotic diseases I might have contracted in my travels since 1980 (please specify all the dates and names of places you visited). One of the diseases on the 50-questions list was called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. They wanted to know if I had rabies, too. I really had to hold myself back and not protest that all I wanted to do was donate blood, not brag about my extensive exposure to risky sexual activities, exotic diseases, and experimental drugs.

Next in line, I met the lab officer, who practically adopted me once he saw what blood type I was offering to donate to the U.S. armed services. He made me feel really special. Not because of my rare blood type, but because he noticed my purse!!! He liked it. My Moroccan style orange purse with the shiny coiny thingies that dangle on the edge. My $2.00 purse which I bought at Goodwill no less. No man has ever complimented me on my purse. But this captain, who served in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Tikrit (Saddam's hometown in Iraq) and many other scary place, had noticed my purse and my smile - which thankfully made me look younger than my years, he added after checking my age on the form. Thank you very much.


And then came the big moment. I was asked to pull up my sleeves and let a man in a white robe choose the lucky vein. But my sleeves were too tight. So I was sent to change into a blood donor t-shirt. When I said I could change right there, the person in charge nearly passed out. Too many guys around... changing a shirt in front of them...not a good idea. I insisted that I had a very nice undershirt to keep the modesty going, but he was not convinced. I think he thought that having me lie down in front of strangers while blood is flowing out of my body was more palatable than seeing me in my light-blue lacy undershirt. Oh, well.

Once the t-shirt drama was resolved the captain chose the phlebotomist who would draw my blood. It was the best man on the team, I was told. I asked for local anesthesia. They looked at me like I was crazy. Suddenly I felt as if I was going to give birth to my next baby. I was surrounded by a bunch of men, cheering me on, telling me I was doing a great job (doing what exactly, I wondered), and reminding me to squeeze the ball. When I said my hand felt weak and asked if I could squeeze the ball with my other hand, the guy who stuck the needle in my arm could not resist a smile. The captain, who stood by my side the whole time, making sure I was doing fine, was besides himself with pleasure when he saw the smile spread on the face of the guy. For him I was no longer just an exotic French woman with a pretty purse (yes, it's my accent again), I was also a comedian.

The entire affair ended on a very positive note. The armed forces got some good clean blood and in return I got a chocolate chip cookie, a pink squeeze ball, and a t-shirt.

Those of you who wonder what it feels like to donate blood, well, it's not as bad as going to the dentist. And considering the amount of attention a single woman can get from a bunch of dedicated men in uniform, let me tell you, it was worth the trouble.

So next time I feel an urge to be surrounded by men, you know where to find me.

One final comment: if you want to show your support for the troops, donate blood. They will really appreciate it. Check ASBP website to see if you can help.

And to my Israeli readers I say:


אני לא יודעת למה הם עשו מזה עניין כל כך גדול , בסך הכל רציתי לחזור הביתה בשלום

Saturday, September 11, 2010

september 11


By total coincidence I finished reading the book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11" today. I didn't plan it this way. It just happened that I read the last page in the early morning hours of September 11. There was no commitment of any kind on my part. Just curiosity and probably a little bit of an obsessive-compulsive reading habit.

The way it happened was this: About a month ago, one of my favorite bloggers (TPM, Josh Marshall) asked his readers to name the best book about 9/11 and this book was at the top of the list. So I contacted my local library and borrowed it. It's a 373 pages of a fascinating read - minus 16 pages of black and white pictures showing some of the characters mentioned in the book. I seriously couldn't put that book down. Although I knew how it was going to end, I was still completely engrossed. The revelations and insights that the author provided in this book were simply beyond anything one could find in a typical news article. Sometimes it felt like TMI. For example, reading about the multiple marriages of bin Laden, especially the last one in which he married a 15 year-old girl from Yemen. I think he was over 40 by then, and a father of 17 children. I couldn't help thinking that the girl was about my daughter's age. Sickening.

But I don't want to spend my time writing about the bad guys here. And since talking about the awfulness of the day and what we learned about the world in the last nine years is just too obvious, I decided to write about one tiny detail that came up toward the end of the book and made me go "huh?"

On page 347 of this book the author, Lawrence Wright, mentions a children's book called The Soul Bird and quotes several lines from it. Here's one: "This is the soul bird, it feels everything we feel." Let me tell you, it is not every day that one sees a little Hebrew book mentioned in the context of 9/11. Seriously.

But beside that point, the line the author cited was a part of a much longer introduction. The book starts like this: "deep, deep inside the body resides the soul, no one ever saw her, but everyone knows she exists. And not only do they know that she exists, they know what's inside her. Inside the soul, at the center, stands on one foot, a bird, a bird whose name is the soul bird and she feels everything we feel." [pls check out the picture I posted at the top.]

Now I'm at peace again and you probably have a better grasp of my obsessive-compulsive relationship with words.

The Soul Bird is one of my favorite books. It is a Hebrew book, written by a woman who is connected to me by marriage of my brother's sister-in-law (confused?), so I can't claim she is a relative. But in some cosmic way I always felt that this book was connected to me and when I taught Hebrew I considered it my favorite text book which my students practically memorized, not because I told them to do so, but because they liked it so much. That book covers a variety of emotions and attitudes, for a lack of a better word, allegedly locked in the soul, so if one wants to learn the Hebrew word for patience or jealousy or happiness or despondency or sadness and hope and laziness and hatred, that's the book to turn to.

And the reason that the author of the Looming Tower mentions this little Hebrew book in this masterpiece is that this charming little Hebrew book drove the tough FBI agent, Paul O'Neill, who knew that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack America, who expected a huge attack to materialize any day in 2001, who tried to warn his bosses that something awful was about to happen, and who ended up dying on 9/11- this book drove him to tears!

That's the power of the written word.

----------------------------------------
just in case you wondered:

* Paul O'Neill was an FBI agent who investigated Al Qaeda for years.
He was on the team that investigated the attack on USS Cole in Yemen
in 2000. He had an office in World Trade Center on 34th floor (or 25th, not
sure), he was there on 9/11 and actually was able to get outside after the
plane hit the tower, but then he went back in to help people and died when
the building collapsed. He retired from FBI shortly before the attack and
worked as security consultant for the world trade center. He knew that it
would be hit again, he worked on the first attempt on the towers in 1993
when the blind sheik had his men explode a van full of explosives in the
underground parking lot. He was a real interesting character, kind of a
mafia type but on the other side of the law.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

shana tova and happy new year

Several months ago I stopped watching television. It’s kind of funny, because several months ago I actually bought a big flat-screen television set and placed it in my bedroom, so my daughter would not be tempted to glue herself to the big screen and become brain dead by the time she turns sixteen.

Anyway, for several months I enjoyed watching Rachel Maddow on my big flat-screen tv until one day my cable provider turned her into snowflakes and white noise once he (yes, a cable provider must be a ‘he’ unless it's Meg Whitman) discovered I was able to see Maddow without paying for the more expensive cable package that offers MSNBC. So out of nowhere my two favorite channels disappeared and I was left with the networks, which you pretty much have to put a gun to my head if you want me to watch them. I mourned Maddow's loss for two days and then I decided that I would not be sucked into the cable provider's scheme to woo me into buying a satellite dish or whatever other option is available, no matter what - and if I ever felt a terrible urge to watch Ms. Maddow’s smile as she poked fun at the Koran burning crazies, I would turn to my wireless and watch her online.

What I am trying to share with you here is that I experienced a life transforming event and I barely even noticed it. And now I realize that even though I am not watching television, I still know enough to function in this world. Well, almost. I know most of what I need to know.

True, there are many things I don’t know. I know nothing about American Idol and Dancing with the Stars and Big Man or Mad man, and I know nothing about Weeds. Just name a program that received an Emmy recently and I assure you, I don’t know anything about it. Oh, I never watched the Sopranos, either. I also don’t know anything about Survivor or Lost or the Orange County Wives or whichever hugely popular drama series that's been playing on television for the last 5 years (or 15? I lost count). And, yet, I can converse with people and appear to be pretty well informed and acculturated in all the nuances of whatever culture that is floating out there, around me and my fellow human beings.

Let me be clear, as Obama likes to say - I didn’t give up television because I am a hippie or because I try to be a high-brow elitist or rebel against the mediocre programs tv executives are shoving down our throats and into our eye balls. I gave up television because I am cheap!

Now I get to do what people who don't watch a lot of tv get to do - I read books, really interesting books written by very interesting, articulate, creative thinkers. I learn more about the world. And my attention span is not getting smacked in the head every time I actually find myself really getting into something and sinking my teeth into it.

Don't be alarmed. I am not going to preach to anyone to give up their television. I just hope that the future of television will be similar to the future of the New York Times print edition. One day it will simply go away, and the familiar blue light that one can see shimmering through living room windows will disappear and a new light will start shining in our homes. In that brighter future, no one will need to pay for 900 channels that offer brain-numbing crap or syndicated reruns and stupid reality shows. One will be able to choose exactly what she wants to watch and have the wireless provider bill her on a monthly basis for her daily consumption of television programs.

That’s my wish for the Jewish New Year. Shanah Tova!