Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Blonde Ambition

My mother in law has gone Blonde.

Aesthetically, it suits her. Even if it didn't, I'm not sure she had any choice - she's probably covered every other colour in the visible spectrum...*

She ain't alone. Everyone does it here - dye their hair, that is. As the joke goes, you can always tell an American Olim (immigrant) because she's the one with the grey hair.

I don't think it's so much a youth thing as a vitality thing. People like to look - and behave - as if they are full of beans, bursting with energy, full of life. Mrs Goy and I go for a walk most mornings - the best way to cope with the Small Noisy One, whom has taken to waking up at 5 in the morning - and the streets are packed with pensioners (none with even a strand of grey, mind) elbowing each other out of the way whilst they powerwalk their way to eternal life.

I exaggerate somewhat, but I'm sure you catch my drift.

Of course, Israel is probably the only country I know where a senior politician - Bibi - actually dyed his hair grey, to give him the gravitas that he felt his age denied him when he first ran for Prime Minister. Don't think it worked, though...

In any other country, it would surely be the other way around, politicians dying the grey out of their hair. But then, Israel is like that, isn't it?


Morrissey performed in Tel Aviv last night, supported by the New York Dolls. After some nostalgic debate, I decided against going. The tickets cost way too much, for one thing - about 45 Quid, I think. In any case, I've always argued that Morrissey only had one good album in him after he split up the Smiths - Viva Hate, from 1986 - and I'm yet to be convinced otherwise.

88fm (IMHO, the best radio station in the world) described the concert this morning as 'disappointing'. How that pleased me. Shallow, yeah, but what can I say?

I spent an interesting morning in the Nigerian Embassy today, but I'm too sleepy to write about it now. Perhaps tomorrow...

*For the record, she hasn't. I should clear this up now before she incites violent retribution against me for my perfidy. In any case, she's in better physical condition than your humble (and overweight) correspondent - spinning classes twice a week, swimming, powerwalking, the works. I think she can do whatever she damn well pleases with her hair :-) (This correspondent, incidentally, harbours a secret desire to go blonde himself, on the basis of a long standing belief that everyone should go blonde at least once in a lifetime. But since I'm pretty much completely bald now, I guess it's never gonna happen...not if I don't want to be mistaken for a psychopath, or worse.)

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Sunday Morning

One day, I'm sure I'll get used to working on Sundays...NOT!

Anyway, I've been busy, and away, lately, thus the silence. I'll put up a proper post later, about my mother-in-law's blonde hair...but in the meantime:

I live in a block of flats, 22 to be exact. My neighbours, on the whole, are fine upstanding citizens. Some of them own dogs, which bark and snarl at night, but I'm hardly in a position to complain, even if I wanted to - we have the only baby/Pavarotti impersonator in the block, a baby with a constitutional aversion to sleep too.

Anyway, I'm cool about the dogs, and the Small Noisy One likes to play with them. So all is good. Except...

This morning, I found a steaming turd just outside the communal entrance. The door is set away from the street, and up a flight of stairs, so it wasn't as if it was the job of a passing or phantom canine defecater. This was, so to speak, an inside job. And it's not the first time either.

I tell you, it takes someone special to allow their dog to shit on their own doorstep.

OK. 600 words to write, and a deadline looming. I'l be back later...

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Driving in My Car/Democracy, redux

I passed, just in case you were wondering.

I'm writing something about Egypt at the moment, and it reminded me of something I read years ago. At some point in time (I sincerely hope not now), in Egypt, the official Driving Test consisted of the simple request to reverse a car 6 feet, between two cones placed slightly further apart than a car's width apart.

Surely, on commercial grounds alone, this still can't be true, can it? What on earth would rapacious driving instructors (Motti, my dear Motti, not included, obviously) live off?


From today's Ha'aretz: this...

I can't imagine why I forgot about Mr Gaydamak when I was writing about the wholesale purchase of democracy. Now, he's a fascinating character...I think I'll be returning to him sometime soon.

Have a good day

Monday, 7 July 2008

Driving in My Car

I just finished my driving test.

I didn't kill anyone - at least, no one I noticed - but was a little deflated when the test supervisor bid me farewell and best wishes without confirming whether I had passed or failed.

Motti, my instructor, came back into the car. I asked him why they couldn't tell me the result there and then.

'Well...' he grimaced. 'I have a story for you.'

In 1974 or thereabouts apparently, an irate wannabe driver who had just been told that he had failed his test (back in the day, they did tell them on the spot, along with a discussion about what went wrong: in a minute, you'll see why this remains back in the day) pulled a gun (according to Motti: 'There are too many guns in this country. And too many Crazies...') and killed his test supervisor and instructor.

They now telephone you the following day to let you know how you've done. I empathise totally.

On the way back, he told me about a friend of his who used to be a football agent before an unfortunate series of incidents convinced him to leave the game to other people.

He bought players from good ol' Nigeria, amongst other places (His opinion? 'Nice country - but you bribe for everything!')

Actually, that bit is important, as you'll see in a minute or two.

Anyway, Motti's Friend decided to diversify, and entered the Parrot market. Apparently, Parrots can be had in Nigeria for about $100. Talking Parrots. Very cool accessories in the West. People are dumb enough to pay $5000 for Talking Parrots in the West. You get where I'm going?

Now, Nigeria, like other countries, has pretty strict rules about the exportation of live animals. Unlike most other countries, however, these laws can be worked around with a little patience and the feel of crisp dollar bills in an accommodating palm - the right accommodating palm, I should say.

So getting ten African Greys out of the country wasn't too much of a problem. (Ten? TEN!!! This is what we call Oju Koro Ju in Yoruba: Barefaced greed, essentially. Wasn't four enough, of five, or even six?)

However, there are no direct flights between Lagos and Tel Aviv. And Motti's Friend made the mistake of choosing to fly through Zurich.

Motti: 'By the time he finally arrived in Israel, they needed to take him from the plane in a stretcher, and straight to an ambulance!'

Me: 'What! The Nigerian police did this?'

Motti: 'No! The Swiss Police...'

I said something about presuming that Switzerland was the sort of place where this didn't happen.

Motti laughed. 'Not until they take you down into the basement...'

OK. Worktime. Have a good day

Democracy: Dem-All-Crazy, Crazy-Dem-All, Demonstration of Craze, Crazy Demonstration

'In a political crisis, there are two valves that can be used to find a solution: money and ego. I prevented the money valve, they had no choice but to give up on the ego.' Roni Bar-On, Israel's Finance Minister, quoted in Ha'aretz last week.

I won't bore you with the latest in the interminable battle for supremacy between Mr Olmert and Mr Barak. However, if there is one thing and one thing alone I have learnt from living in Israel, it is that Proportional Representation, as a means of selecting the legislative wing of a government, is a Very Bad Idea indeed.

I used to be a fan of it - for a while, back in the days when I was young and naive (specifically, if you are wondering, round about 1997, when the Lib Dems in England were promising the hypothecation of, I think, 1p in the basic rate of income tax to be used to fund the education system in the United Kingdom. I'm no longer a big fan of either hypothecation or the Lib Dems, although I do believe that a government has an absolute duty to fund education up until University - or alternative. But I digress...) until I realised it created what can only be described as the harlot's prerogative through the ages - power without responsibility.

To explain - the threshold for representation in the Knesset is, I think, 2.5% (I can't be arsed checking - it'll take too long). In effect, it means that any party organised enough to identify and mobilise its core vote can expect some representation in the country's parliament.

Proportional Representation militates against an absolute dominance of the parliament by any one party, and instead promotes consensus and coalition building. In theory. In practice, small parties with no intention and no real desire to rule the country can hold the bigger blocks to ransom, demanding lord knows what in return for their vote. In truth, it sounds a bit like Hamas before they made the mistake of winning the elections in 2006...

There isn't any one culprit in this stupid state of affairs - the religious parties, like Shas are usually pretty good in exhorting cash for social projects, 'independence' from the school curriculum for their schools (I use the word 'independence' advisedly, since this practice merely reinforces a modern type of slavery, in my opinion - but that's another matter altogether) and increased welfare payments for large impoverished families - their usual constituency. But they merely play the game well. Everyone is culpable to some extent.

Bibi, for example, slashed welfare payments and introduced the return-to-work Wisconsin Plan when he was Finance Minister a few years ago. Economic eggheads think that it was a wonderful thing, and helped pull Israel out of a recession. I'm not so sure, but since I can't manage my own resources effectively, I'll hold my counsel...

Anyway, Bibi is itching to get back into the Prime Ministerial seat again, but doesn't want to be the one holding the bloody knife when Mr Olmert is finally put out of his, and the country's, misery. So he let it be known that he will bump up welfare payments again if Shas, currently a minority member of the current administration, withdrew their support for Mr Olmert.

Which is about as unprincipled as one can get. To their credit, Shas refused - possibly holding out for something better...

Another example was Avigdor Lieberman's brief tenure as Strategic Affairs Minister, a reward for bringing his party, Israel Beitenu (Israel, Our Home) into the coalition for a brief while. Since Mr Lieberman, broadly speaking, carries a grudge against the non-Jewish world in general and Arabs in particular, this was a particularly inspired move, akin to handing the keys to the asylum to the most crazed inhabitant on grounds of seniority. Thankfully, he didn't last long before carefully shooting himself in both feet.

My point, essentially, is that proportional representation is actually the antithesis of good democracy (a contradiction in terms in itself, but never mind), and anyone who argues otherwise ought to watch the political scene here for a little while, and weep.


Sometimes - not very often, mind - I actually feel a little sorry for Tricky Udi, Prime Minister. Even if what he says about the Talansky affair is true, that the money was merely for campaign purposes, he has been at the very least unethical in accepting money under the table, as it were. But he isn't alone.

Campaign funding is a murky, messy business. Ask Teflon Tony, or Bertie Ahern, for example. These two achieved perhaps the most momentous peace treaty since Camp David, but all everyone remembers now is that the one was flogging off knighthoods in return for party donations (allegedly, obviously), and the other...well, libel laws being what they are, I won't go into it, other than to say that Irish Taoiseachs have a proud tradition of accepting brown envelopes from industrialists in return for...nah, I'd better stop there.

There was an interesting - and depressing - article in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago about Sheldon Adelson, the third richest man in the world (and the richest Jew, by his own estimation). He sees no reason why he shouldn't use his riches to subvert - whoops, slip of the keyboard there - influence democracy to suit his needs. Results so far are mixed.

But I do wonder why I bother to vote.*

The child is awake. Time to play. Have a good day.

*Why do I vote? Because I thnk that everyone should be entitled to have a view, no matter how misinformed, about affairs of state, and to participate in the manner in which they are administered. Because occasionally - not very often, but occasionally - voting does change things, and I am an optimist. Because people died in order for me to be sniffy about the state of democracy today. Because I don't believe in wars.

It's not voting that I am against - it's the manner in which 'democracy' is carried out. There is a great song by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, 'Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense' (the title for today's blog comes from the song), which encapsulates my views pretty much perfectly. I'd have posted an MP3 of it, but my friend administers his musical estate and I'm pretty certain she'll sue me. But if you can find it, listen to it. It's a cracking song.