Archive for May, 2009


Follicularly Challenged

I happen to be bald. But, basically, so is almost every other guy in Israel. Seriously. If you live here or if you’ve ever visited, you know I’m right. Israeli bald men outnumber those with hair. What happens to most of us, usually a few years after the army, is a slow migration southwards of hair towards the chest, shoulders and back.
tipusiBut balding is genetic, right? So why is it when I compare the situation of men here to the scalps of my Jewish brethren in the diaspora, mainly the U.S. and U.K., I can’t help but notice that they seem to be much more follicly healthy? In fact, Homer Simpson is probably a much more acurate portrait of the typical Israeli figure than that of homo-suburbia found in America. 
I talked about this issue recently with a friend of mine, and we both weighed in on the reasons. She thought it was most probably the dry, hot weather. We could always blame it on the “matsav” – I mean, who wouldn’t? Or maybe it’s all that hummus. A good bet would be all those antennaes we serve next to while in the military. I don’t know. I tend to believe it has to do with the drinking water. They obviously put too much of something in there.
I’m thinking of starting a Facebook page, for all us bald Israelis. I know it’ll be a hit. But I won’t do it for the ratings, or for the fame. No, we have to get down to the bottom of this. Our children, and children’s children depend on us. What we really need is an official Commission of Inquiry, one that has real teeth to punish those responsible for this crime. 
I want to see heads roll.
And they better be bald.

How I beat Web 2.0

Since Thursday I’ve been conducting an extremely important experiment: Can I survive without Facebook, Twitter and my favorite websites for 3 days? The reason: To avoid early discovery of who won American Idol.


I admit it, and I’m not ashamed to say: I love the show. Call me shallow, call me lame, call me whatever. It’s a good show. Period.

But it’s shown in Israel 3 days after the broadcast in the States. Which means, that if I wanted to keep it a surprise I would have to avoid sites that might give the results away. The only thing I did was check my Gmail. It was tough. I caught myself subconsiously dragging the mouse pointer to the Facebook link more than once. But all along I knew my efforts would not go unrewarded – the glam-rock, tongue-flashing, full of himself Adam Lambert lost to the humble, harmless Kris Allen. (Although I was rooting for Allison).

So yes, it can be done. I know, we’re all addicted to Web 2.0 – but it can be done.

Wait…  who am I fooling… I love Web 2.0!!!!


shhhhhhhhhh sheket…

For all of those who need some peace and sheket


You get what you pay for

 It’s never a great idea to start a piece with the words “So much has been said about…”, but…: So much has been said about the death of newspapers and print media, that I don’t really have much to add. But I started thinking about it again a few days ago after reading a sad but interesting piece in the Times. It made me think about just how near this “death” is, and how I – all of us, actually – are taking part in it.
newslaptop2The article was about Peter Kaplan, the editor of the New York Observer who has stepped down. The Times hinted (through some anonymous employees) that the reason could have been differences between Kaplan and the 28-year-old publisher Jared Kushner (a real estate tycoon, who’s dating Ivanka Trump). Of course there were other reasons, such as the shrinking budgets that all the media is suffering from, especially the print media, but it’s also a sign of the times, and Kaplan basically admitted that a new leader was needed to tackle the challenges of Web 2.0. There was one paragraph that really caught my eye and summed it up:

“He [Kaplan] will leave a New York media world that is very different from the one he began covering in The Observer in 1994 — one that is challenged by faltering bottom lines and atomized into dozens of blogs and Web sites. Just last week The Observer broke a story about a Brooklyn con woman, the so-called hipster-grifter, in an article that provided just the kind of New York intrigue and context that had been a hallmark of the newspaper. But Gawker, the Manhattan gossip blog, immediately took custody of the story, annotating it with attitude and reader-submitted sightings of the protagonist that all but obscured where the story came from in the first place.”

I’ve heard of stories being “stolen” by the Web, but this was the first time I actually saw a good example of it. And these days, it seems like Facebook and Twitter just seem to facilitate this process. They make access to information on blogs and other websites much easier, and much closer to when events actually take place – especially when cell-phones are becoming more and more user friendly towards web surfing. I’ve always thought that the news I get in my morning paper seems old, but these days it just seems ancient. So old, in fact, that reading the news section in any paper these days really seems like a waste of time. A waste of paper.

And why do I feel guilty? Well, I just started writing a blog, and a few days ago started “tweeting”. So, I kind of feel like I’m taking part in it. Most of all, it’s because I left Ha’aretz in 2006 precisely for those reasons. The writing was on the wall (or is it on the screen these days?). There just didn’t seem to be a future in print journalism, and I didn’t feel I could be a good provider for my family if I stayed at the paper. This is the decision many journalists have to take these days. In Israel, the situation is pretty much like it is all over the world. Ma’ariv has been hemorhagging for years, and Ha’aretz’ future seems just as unclear.

But should we really worry about this anyway? A few months ago I met a former colleague of mine at Ha’aretz, and if I understood him correctly, there’s really nothing to fear. He believes it’s a zero sum game. If print media dies, it doesn’t mean that journalism will die – it will live on, just in a different format. Newspapers will transform into websites, bascially. I kind of agree with that. One of the problems I do have with it, is that I don’t know if all the journalists being fired from print media are finding new jobs online.


Rupert Murdoch

An interesting development in the field is Rupert Murdoch’s decision to charge for News Corp websites. Murdoch is betting it will work, based on the success the Wall Street Journal is having with charging for its content. I don’t know, but to me it still seems like a risky move. On the other hand, maybe ITunes is a good example of how it actually could work. People are willing to buy music from Itunes, despite the fact that you can download songs from a zillion other sites for free.

But what worries me the most about the broadsheet -> tabloid – > website transformation, and is the raison d’etre for this post, is the certain loss of quality journalism. I just don’t feel the same kind of reverence for electronic media that I do for publications like the NYTimes, Ha’aretz and The Guardian. These papers and others bear the torch of high quality journalism, they’re the ones that set the standards. Their reporters are the epitomy of journalism at its best. Sure, there are a few good news shows and investigative reporting shows on TV and radio (60 minutes in the U.S., Fact in Israel and many others around the world), but they seem like a drop in an ocean of mediocrity.

Will it be the same when newspapers turn into websites? Will the websites be able to generate enough revenue to pay high salaries for top journalists? I have a bad feeling we’re going to get what we pay for.


Stuff Israelis Shouldn’t Be Proud Of (SISBPO)

I was actually thinking of ditching this series of entries, because Ha’aretz beat me to it in their Independence Day supplement. They wrote about 15 things Israelis need to get rid of – quite similar. Nonetheless, I still think I have some things of my own to say, so here goes:

Israeli (detri)mentalities – part I

The “Everyone is out to screw you” mentality

It was a dark and stormy night in upstate New York (See? Those English Lit classes came in handy, Mom!) My new IPOD earphones had just plummeted onto the dining room table, and the sound of the white, sweatshop-Made-in-China plastic hitting the wood startled my Aunt Frannie. She looked at me over the front page of the Times, tipping her nose down so her pupils just barely peeked over the rim of her reading glasses. I put the white plastic back in my ears, and tried my best not to move. I knew any sudden gesture on my part could easily result in Far East-child-labor hitting the table once again, so I just stared back at Aunt Frannie. She refused to flinch, and instead just squinted her eyes at me. I tried not to laugh, but the emerging smile was enough to make my earlobes change shape and send the phones crashing down. After a few giggles the frustration settled in. What’s wrong with my ears? Surely those guys at Apple, those design geniuses (I saw the Ipod on display at the MOMA!), made earphones to fit all ears. Why didn’t they fit mine? Am I normal?
“Take them back”.
“What back? The earphones? I can’t. I already put them in my ears. There’s Ami-Wax on them”.
“I said, go back tomorrow and take them back. This is America. We take things back. Do it.”
The next day I was in the city, and walked slowly towards the Apple store near Central Park. I couldn’t stop shivering, and trust me, it had nothing to do with the -40 degree windchill factor. As I approached the clerk, I tried to keep my composure, and not disclose the fact I had come to return wax-tarnished paraphernalia.  
When my turn came, I swallowed as much saliva as possible and said: “Umm…. I’d like to return these”.
The clerk looked at me, smiled, took the box of earphones from my hands, put it under his table, and proceeded with returning my money, and asked me if there was anything else he could do.
customer serviceSo, why am I telling you this? Because this is a perfect example of an Israeli (detri)mentality. Not the mentality of me being afraid to return purchases. No, I’m speaking of the “Everyone is out to screw you” mentality. See, in Israel, we rarely take things back. We’re just not used to it. And even when some of us are pushy enough to do it (and I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of pushy Israelis out there), we meet tough scrutiny, as if, well yeah, you guessed it, as if we’re trying to screw them. Returning products is not an Israeli thing to do. It’s just another one of those things Israelis think Americans have and that they never will.
In fact, the Israeli government tried to change this attitude. In 2005 the Knesset passed legislation that required businesses to clearly post their return policies where customers can see them. Later on, the government failed to legislate rules in cases where money can actually be given back to consumers who return unused products (what a surprise, another Olmert screw-up when he was Minister of Industry and Commerce). Today, every business does pretty much what they want. Most stores allow returning products within 14 days, but in most places you’ll get a voucher of the amount to buy something else in the shop. In the U.S., this isn’t a legal requirement in every state, because businesses there view the whole process of returning products as an essential part of customer satisfaction – which is the ultimate way, in their eyes, to improve their own profits.
But in Israel? No, here we’re out to screw you. How did business owners react when the legislation was passed? “We’ll have to raise our prices by about 15-20 percent, the Israeli consumer will use this legislation to our disadvantage”. Basically, you’re giving the consumer the green light to screw us, the poor ‘ole businessmen.
I’m not saying that those fears are unjustified, by the way. As a former cafe owner, I can tell you that I met the typical Israeli who was out to screw me on an almost daily basis. Like the workers who stole expensive liquor from my bar, the customer who wanted the business lunch at 11:30 even though it started at 12, the guy who bought the cheaper take-away coffee but then sat down just so he wouldn’t have to tip the waitress, and so on and so on. In fact, I sometimes felt that there were a lot of customers who just came to see how much they could squeeze out of me.
Which is why you’ll never see an all-you-can-eat buffet in Israel. Never. Because the place will go out of business in a day. What am I taking about – in less than a day!  They’ll eat the furniture, too! This reminds me of when I was travelling in Brazil in ’96. I went with some buddies to a pizza joint in Arraial d’Ajuda, a beach in Bahia, that was having an all-you-can-eat night. We stuffed ourselves. It was the last time that pizza joint ever did that kind of night.
David Brooks of the NYTimes wrote lately in one of his columns about Israel, that “the status system doesn’t really revolve around money. It consists of trying to prove you are savvier than everybody else, that above all you are nobody’s patsy”. How true.
So, do Israelis like to “lidfok et ha’marechet” (screw the system)? Sure, they do. But I feel it might be a chicken-egg-what came first issue. I mean, maybe we try to screw the system because we’re constantly being screwed ourselves, and it’s a matter of survival. Sure, everybody likes to get more bang for his buck, who doesn’t? The problem is, when people here see that as their primary objective when acting as consumers, when they try their best not be the “frayer” (another detri-mentality in itself, which I may write about in the near future). Are we all like that? No. But are there enough out there to ruin it for everybody else? You betcha. 
Lastly, since I’m into Chamishiya nostalgia lately, check out this clip which sums up the typical take of Israelis on American customer service. 

it’s not working

I don’t know. I just don’t understand. It’s not working. I mean, it should, right? It should work! But why? Why isn’t it working? I mean, the country spent millions on it, my taxpayer money, so… why? Why? She’s so beautiful,  I just have to know: Why doesn’t Bar Refaeli make me save more water?!

If anything, the whole face-cracking-up thing gives me the shivers. Like nails on a chalkboard.


Waiting for Bibi

I can’t help but feel like we’ve been here before, it’s a deja vu kinda feeling. Bibi’s government has taken me back in time, to the 90’s, it’s like nothing changed in 12 years. Nothing. What a difference between here and America: after 100 days, people don’t have enough fingers to count what Obama’s done, and the excitement is almost campaign-like. Here? Here there’s no excitement, no rush. We’re just waiting. Waiting for the first big “Screw-up a-la Bibi”, like the tunnel opening under the Wall in 1996.

I was watching this “Chamishiya” clip a few days ago, and couldn’t get over how it seemed like it was made yesterday. But can anyone believe that Keren Mor actually (brilliantly) played this hooker in ’96? And even better, can you believe it was broadcast on Channel 1, public TV? These guys had balls…

For those of you who don’t know Hebrew, Keren is basically asking Bibi to “Open the tunnel, yes, Bibi, open the tunnel”.

May 2009
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