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    I’m an opinionated Grumpy Old Man. I enjoy the intellectual give and take that goes along with that, but have very little patience for stupid people (Note: there is a big difference between “stupid” and “educated”. Some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met have a PhD…). Beside arguing, I like to build things in almost any media. Right now I’m mostly building in wood, Lego, and a bunch of different electronic media. I teach in a number of different venues - from preschool all the way through graduate school. Subjects range from talmud to neuroscience to engineering.

    For fun, I like to bash people with swords (OK, so they’re made of foam. It’s still fun). Although I spend a lot of my time in a wheelchair, I manage to keep pretty active (Like bashing people with swords). I am a libertarian, and have a hard time finding anything good to say about government or politicians. OK, politicians might make good sausage, but that's about as good as it gets.


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Minority Politics

After hearing a rather interesting news blip on NPR the other day, I decided to do a bit of surfing and see what was going on. I was driving somewhere, and the NPR newsreader did a very quick passing mention of a library that had identified White Men as the minority that they would be discussing in that weeks discussion (I think this month is supposed to be some sort of “acknowledge a minority for PC” month or something like that).

This one sentence news story got me thinking. Statistically, white guys are almost certainly a minority. China probably claims the top ranking for number of people (that would be the Chinese), and I think Indians are probably in second. Could be wrong on the Indian one though. No matter how you slice it though, if you count up all the white guys, and then count up everyone else, the white guys are gonna definitely NOT be the biggest racial population. As far as the whole male thing, chicks have outnumbered the guys for a long time.

OK, so now things get really interesting. See, here in the USA, we’ve got all kinds of minority entitlement programs. These programs are supposed to make up for some sort of deficiency that minorities have that makes it impossible for them to compete against the majority. TO make up fro the deficiency, universities have lower entrance requirements for minorities, many financial assistance programs target minorities, and certain minorities (but not all) are allowed to have exclusive “(insert minority here) clubs”.

really. While the women have been going crazy taking the knights of Columbus, the elks, and other fraternal organizations to court to force them to admit women, most college campuses have black-only clubs, women only clubs, and so on. I’ve never seen a white boys only club, and don’t ever expect to – if one was ever created, the other minorities would go crazy and tear it apart. So here’s the question: If the white male minority is treated differently from other (more politically correct) minorities, what ever happened to equal rights?

In an interesting turnabout, the women’s, black, asian, gay, etc etc etc minority groups that have been lobbying for inclusion in all aspects of the white male world are the very same organizations that are claiming that THEY have to have exclusive (meaning only members of their minority are allowed) organizations, clubs, and so on. Not only that, but they argue that it would be discriminatory to extend the same special programs and privileges that they get as minorities to white guys. Because in their minds, discrimination is OK as long as it doesn’t take away their special status.

Now, I’m somewhat realistic, and I know that white guys aren’t ever going to get equal treatment, but wouldn’t it be cool if people who claim to fight for ‘equality’ really did?

Then, when you see a gay black woman in a high paying job, you wouldn’t have to wonder if she was actually qualified, or was just filling an Equal Opportunity Employer position? And before you get your shorts in a knot, this does happen. Frequently.  I’ve worked at companies where it was openly admitted that certain staff members were hired specifically because of their race, and everyone knew that the people in question were given do-nothing jobs because they simply weren’t qualified for anything else. In the worst cases, even the EOE hire knew it, and for years sat there sucking up a big fat paycheck while doing nothing – simply for belonging to the right minority (one particular woman collected a six figure salary, and her job was to go through the corporate phone bill every month and make sure that the company phone log matched the one the phone company gave us – about 2 seconds of work for a computer). Come to think of it, maybe the white guys ARE better off without equal rights…….

The dangers of modern society or “why the Evil Ones want to use your kids as dog food”

Ok folks, time to put on the skeptic hat and rant.

For some reason, in the past week I’ve been exposed to 4 or 5 occasions where people have mentioned the drastic increase in day-to-day dangers that we are exposed to – especially with regards to the hazards out kids must be protected from. WTF? We and our kids are safer now than we’ve ever been before in history. Statistics for crime against children show drastic drops in the past 20 years, and violent crime against adults is also at near record lows. Of course, it could be argued that the reason we are so much safer now is because we all live ina state of constant fear and vigilance – our kids are safer because we never let them have an unsupervised moment, and we (as adults) are safer because ummmmm. I dunno, maybe because we spend all of our free time sitting in front of the tube instead of doing risky things like hanging out with our friends and neighbors?

Yes there are some”new” hazards that have presented themselves in the past 20 years or so – the ‘net is a great example. Of course, when I was a kid (when all we had was DARPA net), we didn’t have folks trolling the net for victims, or pushing porn in email. It was all available down at the corner, in the drugstore, or (if you’re catholic) from your local priest. The hazards aren’t anything new, but the advertising is. So why the freak-out? Well, in part, I think its simply because parents haven’t kept up with the reality of technology. When I was a kid, everyone knew where the “bad’ parts of town were, and could avoid them if they chose (of course, being kids, we HAD to explore them and see just how bad they really were – even then the perceived risks were overblown). Of course, now the ‘net brings the “bad” parts of town right into the living room – kinds like TV, but without the censorship it had in the 1960s. ‘Course, even in the 60s, my parents had TV shows that we weren’t allowed to watch (part of being a responsible parent is having some idea as to what your kids are doing). So, in the modern world of the net, why can’t we expect parents to have the same level of responsibility for their kids? You think facebook is full of pedophiles trying to lure your kid into a cheap hotel room? Simple: cut off Facebook. If you’re too lazy to bother keeping track of what your kids are doing online, you can download free software that will shut the sites off for you. Its called parenting, and it comes with having kids. Its YOUR job, not someone else’s.

OK, so much for the net. What about those predators that are lurking behind the bushes just waiting to grab your kid when (s)he’s waiting for the school bus? You know, the one that’s been out there just waiting for some irresponsible parent to allow a kid to be alone for just ONE SECOND because her Doberman Pincher needs some live food. Get real folks. The reality is that your kids are way more likely to be harmed by a FAMILY member than by a stranger. If you’re serious about protecting your kids, make sure they’re never left alone with their older sibling, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or other family members or friends. The kids are more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted by one of them than by a stranger. Kidnapping? O.nce again, the most common kidnapping are by family members (often in cases of separation or divorce) or by friends.

Now don’t get me wrong: there IS random crime and violence, and there is no way to avoid it. Nut jobs will always be out there, and there will always be random violent crime. The thing to remember is that it is extremely rare, and in reality, there is NOTHING that you can do to protect your kids from it. Some wacko decides to crash her car into the a store front, and guess what? It doesn’t matter WHAT precautions you’ve taken – if you’re there (or your kids are there) you might get hit. Some kid at a school gets fed up with something and decides to take it out by building a bomb, and there isn’t anything you can do to protect your kids, the school staff, or the random person that happens to be at school that day. Of course, the most likely source of danger to your kids is the car. That cell phone call you make while driving, changing the radio station, or simply being in the wrong place and getting into an accident. The most likely way your kids will suffer a serious injury is in YOUR car while YOU are driving.

So there ya go. Next time you see some rating-generating horror story about the one kid that was used as dog food by some whack job, put it all into perspective by thinking about he tens of thousands of kids that were killed, maimed, and otherwise damaged by the accident in the family car, in the family kitchen, or in the backyard – all while under parental supervision.

Yes, we all want to protect our kids (and ourselves) from unnecessary risks. If you really want to live in absolute safety, lock yourself in a closet, avoid all contact with any other people, and pray that your house doesn’t catch fire. Otherwise, accept the fact that life is inherently risky, and focus on living an enjoyable life. Take a chance and let your kids go for a walk on their own. Go for a bike ride. Do some of the things YOU did as a kid (and let your kids do them too). After all, you survived, didn’t you?

Low Budget Living: Cutting the family budget…..

Well folks, hard times are here. And There. And Everywhere else too.

Not since the great depression have things looked so bad here in the States and all over the world. Many of us are facing major reductions in income – people from all walks of life – blue collar, white collar, rich, poor. Everyone seems to be getting hit one way or another. That means that people are looking for ways to cut expenses, trim the fat, and see if they can still make their mortgage/rent payments.

Having had the ‘pleasure’ of going through the sudden loss of income a few times in my life (and having spent a solid 15 years living on a college student/graduate student income), I figured it would make sense to share some of my experiences in how to make it on an income that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Thus begins an occasional series entitled “Low Budget Living”. I hope to share some of my experiences and ways that I’ve managed to cut my costs. Hopefully, someone will be able to benefit, and if not, maybe someone will get a chuckle out of it. So here goes:

Episode 1: cutting the family budget….

Cutting family budgets is a hard one. If you are living alone, are single, etc., the only one that really feels the hit is you. Believe it or not, that is a LOT easier than siting down and figuring out what you can cut from a budget that supports others. Here are some of the pitfalls to be aware of (some of these are going to seem really obvious, but I’m going to put them here anyway…)

  • Be aware that what YOU view as a luxury may be viewed as a necessity to others in your family. This sounds simple, but it is probably one of the most common problems families have re-working a budget. Buying the expensive, extra soft toilet paper may not matter to you, but may drive your significant other crazy. Be ready to learn things about your partner that you never imagined…..
  • Don’t get stuck on a single item. If your Significant Other and Kid(s) (SOK) gets stuck on a particular budget item, let it go. Chances are good that you’ll be doing this again, and you can always re-address that particular item next time.
  • Speaking of “next time”, don’t expect to get your budget right on the first pass. There are going to be items that you think you can do without, but you’ll discover that you can’t. There are going to be items that you thought were absolute “must-haves”, and you’ll find out that they really were not as important as something you dropped.
  • Accept that fact that this going to be awkward. Unless you have a truly remarkable relationship, talking about money is always tough.
  • If you have them, and they are old enough to understand, include the kids. That isn’t to say that parents shouldn’t do some planning ahead of time, but the kids are going to be effected by this, and it is important that they know what is going on. It is also a great time to teach them some skills that they’ll need in their adult life.

OK, so how do we actually do this? Surprisingly, many people have never actually done a budget – as long as the income exceeds (or at least meets) the expenses, things just chug along. So here we go. You will need:

  1. copies of your bills, expenses, etc for the last 6 months (ideally – if you don’t have 6 months, use as much as you have. The less history you have, the harder it will be). This includes checking acount records, credit card bills, receipts, etc. The more detail you can come up with, the better. (we’ll get back to this later)
  2. Paper, pencil calculator, etc – you’re going to be generating lists, adding lots of numbers, and making some plans. Get whatever you need to keep track.
  3. Patience and time. Plan to spend at least a few hours on this. You don’t have to do it all at once, but take the time to do it right. If emotions flare, take a break.

What you will do:

  1. The first step is one of the hardest. You have to figure out where your money goes. ALL of it. In detail. When you are done with this step, you should be able to add up all of your income for the time period you are evaluating, subtract the expenses and any savings, and have an exact zero sum (income minus expenses minus deposits to savings equals zero).
  2. This is hard because it needs to be detailed. Really detailed. “Groceries” doesn’t cut it, because “groceries” probably includes a lot of extra stuff – impulse buys at the grocery store, that extra whatsis you buy every time you are at the store, etc. Include everything in the list, and how much you spend on it.
  3. Once you have your list (and the amount you spend matches what you had for income), go down the list, and mark the items that simply can’t be cut. You have to pay rent/mortgage. Taxes aren’t going to go away. You still need to put gas in the car and pay for insurance. These are items that you can’t eliminate (although some of them may be reducible, it will take outsiders, so we’ll get to that later).
  4. What is left on the list is the stuff that is up for chopping. Food isn’t going to disappear from your budget, but there is probably some places that your grocery budget can be cut. Start saving the receipts form the grocery store, then go through them item by item. Did you really need that $14  pound of coffee? Maybe another brand that costs less will do.
  5. Go through the list, and talk about each item. Some of them can probably be eliminated (instead of stopping by starbux every morning, spend a couple of bucks on a nice travel cup, and make your coffee at home before you leave).
  6. Once you’ve gone through the list and eliminated/reduced what you can, its time to decide if you want to pursue the more complicated options. Can the rent/mortgage be re-negotiated? Maybe a less comprehensive auto insurance policy, reduce contributions to IRA or 401(k) (I personally consider this a last resort, but you have to decide what works…)
  7. Keep going back through things until you’ve got a balanced budget. Yes, you will probably be giving up things that you don’t want to. If that weren’t the case, you probably wouldn’t be doing this….

OK, so now you’ve got a  budget! Great, but you’re not done yet. The hard part is going to be sticking to it. Once you start cheating – even once – you’ve cracked the budget, and teh cracks will only grow. The first few weeks are the toughest. You will be breaking habits – and some of them will effect your social life, so you may have to explain why you’re not going out to lunch every day with the buddies at work. Be prepared. Once you’ve worked through the first few weeks, you’ll start settling into your new habits, and it will get easier. To help get through those weeks though, a few tricks:

  • Don’t use credit cards or checks unless you absolutely have no choice. Paying with cash hurts more, and will help you think twice.
  • Every day, sit down with SOK and go through ALL of the spending that happened that day – every penny. Use the support – but also be prepared for the angst when someone cheats. (this is important because it will help reinforce thinking twice before breaking the budget).
  • When you write your budget make sure you leave everyone a bit of discretionary money. Unless you backed up against the wall, no one is going to stick toa budget that doesn’t give them an ice cream cone now and then….
  • When the monthly credit card and checking account statements come in, go through them as a group. Track and understand where the money is going.
  • Shopping is a trap. There is a whole industry out there that is really good at making you and SOK spend money. Any time that any of you are going to the store (ANY store) make a written list before you leave. A specific list: 2 pairs of socks, a tie, and a pair of work pants. Only buy what is on the list – no matter what kind of bargain, sale, or spiffy random item you happen to find. This is one of the hardest items – our culture is an impulse-buy culture, and this is hard for everyone. If you have kids, it’s even harder. If you have teenagers, be ready for major trauma.
  • On that whole shopping list thing – before you make the list, go through the house and make sure you really need what you’re buying. Before take the kids to get new shoes, go through their closet 9or wherever it is the shoes end up), and make sure they really need another pair. If Jr. already has a pair of sneakers for basketball, he can probably wear them for track as well. No matter what your kids may think, there is NO way to justify paying $100+ for a pair of sneakers…..
  • Groceries are another trap. Try this: put a notepad on the fridge door. Every time you throw out food write down what it was, and how much. That celery that sat in the bottom of the fridge until it dissolved? write it down. The leftover pasta that you threw out because no will eat leftovers? write that down too. If you are a ‘normal’ family, you’ll dicover that you throw away about 1/4 of the food you buy. Think about what you could do with an extra 25% of the money you spend on groceries….

The final thing to keep in mind is that this process is never done. Periodically sit down and go over the whole thing all over again. Over time, you’ll realize that there is a lot that you can cut – probably without anywhere near the pain you expected.

Finally, watch out for the Holiday trap.  You would be amazed at how many people get themselves on a budget, and stick to it until some holiday comes along. Thanksgiving – suddenly you’ve got a horde of relatives coming for dinner, and your grocery budget is already spent…. Oh No! christmas is coming, and I forgot to budget for Uncle Fred!…. The list goes on and on. There are a couple of solutions: the best one is to suck it up. If family is coming for thanksgiving, make it pot-luck – or ask them to kick in to cover costs. If you didn’t budget a christmas present – spend some time and make something, send a card, whatever. Be creative, but DON’T blow the budget. Of course, the best option is to actually allow for these in your budget, and spread the costs over the year (in other words: Save up for the sudden expenses).

OK, I think that’s enough for now. Going forward, I’ll dig into my past (some of it not-so-far-past),a nd share some anecdotes about MY attempts at living on a budget…..

share and enjoy

Adventures in airplane cuisine

Ah the joys of international cuisine – especially on airplanes.

On a recent trip from Tel Aviv to Manchester, NH, I had the ultimate airplane food experience.

You see, on a trip like this (Tel Aviv to London to Dulles (Wash DC) to Manchester), you can expect to spend an entire day in airplanes and airports. That means that you’re stuck eating airplane food and/or grossly overpriced fast food at the terminal. If you bother to try and bring anything resembling real food with you on an international flight, plan on having it taken away at the first security and/or customs checkpoint.

Having resigned myself to a day of Bad Food, I figured I;d make the best of it, and request kosher meals o the flights. For those of you not in the know, the kosher meals are almost always a lot better than the normal airplane fare. There are a couple of noted exceptions (British Airways is one), but they are rare.

So, come breakfast time (Tel Aviv to London – about 5.5 hours of airtime), I get breakfast. Things are looking up. While everyone else if facing some sort of quiche sandwich, I’ve got a hot cheese omelet, fresh bagel, cream cheese, fruit and orange juice. Nice. For a while.  They say payback is a bitch, and this time, I got paid back in spades. Apparently, there was something a bit dodgy in my breakfast, because a half hour after eating, I was feeling a bit queasy. This in itself is rather unusual. Having traveled extensively in the third world, and having done my time in both the army and college dining halls, it takes a lot to get my stomach going. Whatever was in breakfast did it. After a quick dash to the lavatory (try that sometime on an airplane), and a few minutes returning my breakfast, I felt like crap. Major crap. Apparently, I looked like crap too, because as I staggered back towards my seat (being incapable of anything resembling a dash, or even normal airplane stumble) one of the stewardesses asked me if I was OK.

I explained that I wasn’t feeling to well, and she helped me to my seat, then spent the next 3 hours trying to keep me supplied with barf backs, napkins and water,as well as periodic assistance to get back to the bathroom to attempt to clean myself up. She also had the grace to find other seats for the people sitting next to me, for which I am eternally grateful.

On arrival at Heathrow (London) airport, they took me directly to the infirmary, where they decided that I had definitely got a good case of some sort of food poisoning. Apparently, it was a blessing that my system decided to purge so quickly. According to the doc that was taking care of me, it was very likely that whatever it was that hit me didn’t get the chance to make into my lower GI, so my emissions didn’t expand to the nether regions. I hate to think of taking a long flight with a major case of the trots. In any case, they were very nice, and sent someone off to arrange for ensuring that my connections were still on time (I had a 4 hour layover at Heathrow), and did a very nice job of taking care of me. Meaning that they ran a bunch of tests, made sure I had quick access to a basin, and made soothing noises. For some reason, the Brits seem to be extremely good at soothing noises and compassion. Not sure how, but they are. They were cute too. I think next time I need to spend time in hospital, I’ll see what I can do about getting to the UK…

Anyway, they offered to keep me overnight to see if I would improve, but I didn’t really want to – I wanted to be home. Instead, they offered to dose me up so that I would pass out for the next leg of my trip (from London to DC – 7 1/2 hours of airtime), and hope that I’d feel better by then. They escorted me through the security checks (easiest check I’ve been through in years), helped me onto the plane, and tucked me in. They even managed to make sure I had 2 adjoining seats so I could lie down. I felt kinda bad about that, because I know there was a bunch of people on standby, but I wasn’t going to argue…

The flight crew were great on this leg too. Whenever I woke up to turn over (probably about once an hour – those seats just are not meant to hold a 6’2″ person), they would be right there with a cup of ice and ginger ale, and asking if there was anything I wanted. When I finally woke up more or less for real, there was still about an hour left in the flight. I was actually feeling more or less human. The flight crew came up with a can of kosher chicken broth (I can only imagine that someone onthe ground planned ahead, because I can’t imagine that is anormal airplane stock item), and some toast. I nibbled, it stayed down, and I felt increasingly more human.

I managed the connection through Dulles with only minor assistance, and by the time I got to Manchester, I was tired, but feeling more or less OK. I even ate the snack on the flight.

So, all told, not the most fun I’ve ever had on a long plane flight, but I have to hand it to the staff all along the way – I’ve never been treated better (at least not in an airport/airplane). No matter how cold, impersonal, and detached they may be for “normal” passengers, the entire set of people I dealt with – 3 sets of air crew, ground and medical crew at Heathrow and Ground Crew at Dulles – were wonderful.

The really surprising thing: the Bad Breakfast was on BMI – an airline that normally has very good food and service. The last 2 legs of my flight (London to DC to Manchester) were on United – an airline that I’ve had innumerable problems with, and who have always been my last choice. I can’t blame BMI (too much) – mistakes happen, and because the food was kosher, it was double sealed, so all they do is pop it into the microwave, and serve (still sealed). United, however, has completely redeemed itself. I can deal with the “normal” treatment (no matter how unpleasant it may be) knowing that when it really matters, they are amazing.

So, to any of you who may be airline or airport crew: my thanks. To those of you who fly, I hope you never end up in a situation like this, but if you do, I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise (if such a thing is possible in those circumstances)…

Ancient History, modern impact

My Israeli adventure continues….

One of the amazing things here is that there is a lot of really old stuff. Really old. As in centuries. Yesterday I visited Caesaria, and ancient port city. Also the place where the Ben-Hur chariot race was supposed to have taken place.

The excavations there have exposed three separate sea walls, harbors, a city, and a whole slew of other interesting bits. Wandering through the portion of the ruins that are open shows a lot of cultural history. One of the more ornate tile floors was in a public latrine. Goes to show what was important I guess.

Anyway, one of the more amazing bits was that there is an old roman amphitheater there. You know the one – the half circle of stone seats for the peasants to sit on while the local circus performs. Of course, being a perfectly functional theatre, it is also the place where they hold rock concerts and other such events. It was pretty amazing to see the ancient theater with a row of plastic modern theater seats added at ground (stage) level to provide some additional seating. This reflects the ‘use what you have’ attitude that I’ve found here as well.

Of course, the port city also went through at least 4 iterations of invade/conquer/destroy/rebuild, but with something that old, I suppose it should be expected.

The modern reflection of the rise and fall of the different political groups in caesaria was reflected by the frequent passing of Apache attack helicopters. Turns out that their base is in the North, and of course Gaza is in the south. That means that they have to fly along the coast (where the port city is/was) for their missions. During the course of the day, there was a lot of activity – more than usual. At one point, a group of 4 choppers went out – something that I haven’t seen before.

When we got home, I got on-line and read the news, and discovered that there was yet another problem at the Gaza border -another round of smuggling tunnels getting bombed, mortar attacks from the terrorists, an attempted kidnapping of Israeli soldiers,  etc… I guess with almost 8,000 years of constant fighting, it’s a bit unreasonable to expect things to finally calm down, but I’m hopelessly optimistic about this.

I also understand why Israelis are major news junkies. With the situation being what it is, and the speed at which things can change, you almost HAVE to be tuned in. By the time I get home to check the news (I only do it once a day) so much has happened that its almost impossible to catch back up. Of course, a lot of the news is much more personal – what might be given passing mention back home would get headlines here – for at least a couple of hours. We might hear about a major offensive in Afghanistan that resulted in 20 or 30 deaths as a passing filler article. Here, news about an attack that resulted in no injuries (just property damage) is worth a headline for a few hours – enough for people to be kept aware of the level of activity.

There is a saying that those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. Here, it seems like those that know about history are determined to repeat it.

Hanging in Jerusalem

OK, so its been ages since I posted, but hey, it MY blog. Cope.

I decided to finally take a vacation in Israel, and I’ve got to say it has been an amazing experience so far. As a bit of background, I’ve traveled fairly extensively (the only continent I haven’t been to is Antarctica), and I’ve been to many third and second world countries, as well as the ‘normal’ first world.

Israel is an amazing place. Kids (I mean KIDS – 18 years old) are walking the streets carrying m-16s and uzis, and they’re loaded, carrying live ammo, and spare clips. The odd bit is that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is casual about it. I saw a weapon that I wasn’t familiar with, and stopped to chat with the solider, and he was glad to spend a few minutes talking about the new weapons, their characteristics, advantages, etc. He even called over a couple of his squad mates to expand the conversation when I asked questions he wasn’t sure of. No attitude. No swagger. Just a simple discussion about hardware – about as casual as disucssing the latest video game or computer equipment.

Another odd bit is that every time you go into a public place – a museum, the Western Wall, a shopping center, etc., there is a gaurd (also armed). His job is to make sure that you’re not taking a gun into the place. Once again, very casual. I’ve had gaurds casually ask if I had a gun in my bag (I carry a backback). Sometimes they ask to search, sometimes they don’t. They’re always casual and polite.

I’ve seen non-military people who have 9mm handguns hung on a lanyard on their belt. Easy to access, quick on the grab, and completely out int he open. No one even notices.

On the other hand, I’ve never felt safer in a city. It isn’t unusual to see people hitchiking. Today, we gave a ride to a young lady (college student),a nd enjoyed a casual conversation. Once again, no big deal. Walking about after dark doesn’t require paying special atttention to who is around you (if anyone). Everyone is friendly, helpful, and willing to stop and chat for minute.

OK, I’m know that there are areas of the old city that aren’t safe. As a Jew and an american, I don’t plan to be spending much time in the Moslem section of the old city. On the other hand, I don’t think twice about ducking down an alley to avoid walking all the way around the block…

Then there the whole “old city” thing. We’re talking OLD here. As in centuries. Like twenty centuries. Seriously – some of the walls here predate that jesus dude. By centuries. Old. Really old. You’d think it wouldn’t matter, other than simply for the archeological curiosity, but it does. Walking along a wall, and knowing the it dates back to Josephus is pretty cool. Of course, that also means knowing that a bunch of hairy unwashed Jerusalemites probably stood on those walls doing their utmost to waste Josephus and his army before the city fell and they were all killed or enslaved….  Or a srive through the valley where David fought goliath (or if you don’t buy into that story, where the battles betweent he hill people and the sea people took place).

History here is real. It comes out of the textbooks and takes on a life of it own.

Of course, history never ends, and fate won’t let me forget that. I spent part of today ecploring some caves in suther Israel, and when I emerged from the ground, I could hear a firefight going on it Gaza (we were actually fairly far from Gaza, but sound travels well).  I later learned that the Israeli army caught some Hamas terrorists planting a bomb on the side of a road, and they got in a fight. The terrorists were killed (presumambly) when the Israeli air force hit the car that they were fighting from, but a few hours later Hamas launched another round of rockets into Israel.

While I was listening to the firefight, I kept thinking about the squad of soldiers that I had shared a hotel with last night, and had breakfast with this morning. They’re kids. And they accept the fact that they may end up fighting and dying for their country. Even so, they are open, courteous, and friendly – hardly the ‘professional soldier’ that I knew when I was in the military. Somehow, they seem to balance the reality of possible (or almost certain) war with the fact that they’re still people. Maybe having all those guns on the streets is a good thing. I certainly know that I would trust a random Israeli soldier behind my back a lot sooner that I’d trust almost any armed person in the USA (that includes military, police, and FBI types). I don’t know how they do it here, but they manage to create professional soldiers that are still human.

Since when is a litle snow news?

I live in New England. That means that in the winter months, my neighbors and I expect it to snow, as do most of the people I know who are familiar with climate and North American weather patterns. Howeve, for some reason, over the past few years, the anticipation of a “snow storm” has become major news. I find this a bit disturbing.

 After our first snowfall this year (A whopping inch or so od the white stuff), I actually heard a news reporter refer to it as “the biggest storm so far this season”. And, no, the newsperson was NOT being funny (at least not on purpose). True, this was technically acurate reporting -it WAS the biggest storm so far in the season. Of course, it was also the FIRST storm of the season. By using grossly overblown presentation, the reporter turned a piddly little nothing snowfall into a “newsworthy” event. This bugs me because by using this extreme hyperbole, the newcaster is, in effect, lying to the listeners. Does anyone out there remember studying “Yellow journalism” in school? It is when a journalist intentionally misrepresents facts to try and present something in a way that is technically acurate, but conveeys a completely innacurate message.

So now, a couple of weeks later, we have another snow storm coming in. This time, the hype started a whole week before the storm. Newspapers, radio, TV, and pretty much every media channel I know of was raving about the “Huge snow storm” that was going to “hit the Northeast”. I’ve got new for you guys: a “huge snowstorm” implies something that will have huge effects. Up here in the great white north, a foot or so of snow is no big deal. Schools might be closed for a day – two if the timing is right, or the snow is mixed with a lot of ice, but that’s about it. This is not news. It’s normal life in  New England.

 Of course, with the media hype, the public responded as only true sheep can. In anticipation of this “killer storm”, the great unwashed masses flocked to grocery stores buying up everything that they could cram into thier carts. People were going to be ready to hunker down and endure the horrible tribulations of living through a (que dramatic music) HUGE, KILLER SNOWSTORM! A REAL NORTHEASTER! (with huge gnashing teeth……). Of course, what these people do to prepare is kind of funny – I saw one woman with a shopping cart full to the top with bags of ice – in case the power went out, she was going to fill her freezer with ice so the food wouldn’t thaw and go bad (Clue for ya lady: If its cold enough to snow, just put your food on the back porch, and it’ll stay frozen). People were buying batteries by the dozen (for flashlights, I suppose), piles of frozen food (wonder how they’re gonna cook it if the power goes out), and generally panicking.

Of course, now that the storm is here, everything is (justifiably – the roads are crappy) closed. I wonder what all of those “prepared survivors” are going to do tomorrow when they realize that everything is back to normal, and about all the preparation they needed was to make sure that they had enough chips and beer to sit in front of the idiot box and watch the weather channel tell them how bad the storm is. Of course, a glance outside would tell them that it’s just another normal snowstorm, but then they wouldn’t have any reason to panic….

Every time I go through this, I have to wonder what is going to happen if (when) there is a real snow storm or hurricane here. People are so used to getting hyped up by the stupid normal weather that they think they actually know how to prepare for a real event. I mean something that really would be news. A storm that shuts things down for a week or two. No power, roads closed, national guard, the works. Last time I dealt with a storm like that, the answer was simple: the vast majority of people simply curled up and waited for rescue. A few knew how to be prepared, and actually had rational emergency stores, heat supplies, and knew how to shut down their house so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze, but the vast majority of people simply waited for the national guard to come rescue them, and left everything they had behind. I can’t tell you how many contractors I know that cleaned up replacing ruptured pipes, soaked (and frozen) drywall, etc. I guess the general public really is stupid enough to believe what the media tells them. After all, despite a complete lack of evidence, the general public bought the hype about Iraqi WMDs, association with the Taliban, and all the other crap that Bush made up. Given that, why SHOULD I be surprised that these same people are too stupid to look out the window and realize that snow is a normal occurrence in New England.