Sunday, June 30, 2002

Suspicious bag

So today I was trying to get to my office. In order to do that I had to cross the Gay Pride parade going down 5th Ave in Lower Manhattan. So I was waiting on the corner of 5th and 34th for the Senior Gay Citizens to pass (they were old and they were gay and they were proud, but I forgot what they really called themselves). So anyway, I had a duffel bag full of books which I rested on one of those blue police barricades. Now oddly enough this was one of those oversized looking gym bags that kind of looks like the one that all terrorists loosely fill with dynamite in every movie you have seen that has terrorists and dynamite and explosions. So this cop looks at me, and goes only half jokingly "So, what you got in the bag?", and I reply with this sort of mysterious half-smile. And then I realize that he may not find it as funny as I did. So I said "feel free to look, it's mostly books. I got to get to the school across the street" At that point he smiles and said "OK, school boy. You'll be able to cross as soon as this float passes." So I did.

It was funny. But then when I got to my office and took a good look at the bag, I realized that if I looked Middle Eastern, with that bag, I would have wanted the police to search me too.
So yesterday I caught the Dyke march, and today I caught the Gay Pride parade - both by accident. There were so many gay-looking people around New York this weekend. Not being gay myself, it didn't really do much for me. But it was cool seeing all these people really enjoying themselves in New York.

Yesterday there was a flea market that stretched from Union Square to Washington Square. They had some cool stuff. I wanted to get a T-Shirt, but I had no cash on me at that time. They had these cool things that you see at flea-markets.

I went to Lyric Diner for dinner with "E". It is around 3rd and 22nd. I eat there a lot, but I am getting kind of bored with it. It isn't holding my interest. Then it was off to coffee with "Z" in Esperanto.

Saturday, June 29, 2002

Indian food dinner with friends

Had a beer today at Brendan's on 35th between 5th and 6th. Nice place. A bit too upscale for me.

Then I had dinner today with some friends in from Switzerland, Germany, and Israel at some Indian place on 6th between 1st and 2nd. There are like 50 of them on the same block. The food was good, and the siren thingies are nice. Very tacky though, as you'd expect from these places. They all try to have some gimmick.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

My pledge too

Just to weigh in here on this Pledge of Allegiance thing: Shouldn't people have a right to express love, honor and respect for their country without invoking God? Isn't that what the establishment clause is all about?
You just got to love Koronet Pizza near columbia. Got harassed by cops for drinking beer on the street. Annoying.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Environmentalists are so stupid, and now they are being bitten in the ass. They have been fighting prescribed burns forever. That is stupid. They have been fighting logging forever. That is stupid. Wee need to have forests that are of manageable size, and configured such that any fire that starts cannot get too big.

All of us who have been helping to prevent forest fires, just to suck up to Smokey the Bear just saved all the trees for the big forest fire. Our government needs people who can make policy based on long term considerations. Not the quick fixes that get people quick votes. It is the voter's fault as much as the politicians. We need environmental lobbyists that know how to think in the long run, and not just to have stuff that looks good in their fund-raising literature. When people learn how to talk about long term goals we will have a better and stronger country.

A social scientist named Ainsley, in his book Picoeconomics suggested that as humans, we are not wired to think in the long run. There is no evolutionary advantage. That seems to be the case. We have to have a better system of governance to account for new realities that our genes had no need for.
Got my hair done at Astor Place yesterday. Coolest hair place in New York. I have been going there sice I moved from Brooklyn a whole bunch of years ago. Now I have this vampy red look. Cool.

Review of Freidman's From Beirut to Jerusalem

I finished reading Friedman's book, From Beirut to Jerusalem. Boy is that man insightful. He really seems to understand the Arabs, their mentality, and politics. Jews . . . not so much. I seem to be getting the impression that he knows one brand of Judaism - ie, his, and everything else gets compared to that - always unfavorably. There is little insight there. However the first 250 pages really make sense of the problems in Lebanon - the civil war, the war with Israel. The dude on the front cover said something like "if you only read one book about the Middle East, read this one." Ditto. The book offers penetrating explanations for much of what you read about the region.

I have a whole slew of criticisms, which I will put up at some point when I am less tired. He is an apologist for the Israeli left/peace camp. He is also really condescending to the Arabs he talks about.

The story is something like this. There are these people in Beirut. They all hate each other. They have always been fighting, and always will be. There have been few moments of peace in Beirut every now in then in the past hundreds of years. Every now and then something happens to keep the peace. Either something external (eg, French colonialism) or internal (a precise balance of power). Something like the National Pact or some feelings of Pan Arabism. If this ever gets messed up, even a bit, there is war. Now, the way Friedman portrays this, it is OK, and we are to take this with a sense of humor, and never talk about the killing of anyone in a civil war as bad or anything, except in the perfunctory way we must. He seems to portray himself as some Journalistic version of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. It is romantic, and cool. We drank in the cool bars and ate in the "in" restaurants, even during the war. Boy - those were the days, the war days.

Moreover Friedman describes well, the set of rules for real power in the Middle East - Hama rules. This is where some Arab massacres thousands of other Arabs. This is part of the game which we have to accept with lots of humor, and amusement. It is really romantic, the way it is all portrayed. There everyone is part of the underground resistance. Only all 50 resistance movements are fighting each other, not an outside enemy. So Hama rules is how it is played internally, but once in a while someone else falls in to the game, like Sharon. You can fal in to the game just by showing up. If he does not understand the rules then he will screw up. If he does he is a butcher.

Now I like this idea of Sharon being held to a higher standard than Arabs, but it seems a bit unfair, if he is playing with them. (Game theory comes in here) Sharon, because he is Jewish like Friedman, is held to these impossible standards. He has to be moral. Why can't Sharon play by Arab (read Hama) rules? Every indication is that every one else is. It is because those are ugly rules. Friedman apparently thinks that Arabs can't be held to such a high standard, and frankly, I agree with him. But if the Jets were to bring guns to the fight and the sharks were only allowed to fight with their bare hands, I see a problem.

Now the fact is that Israel has guns, and Lebanon does not. But not only is Israel not allowed to use them, they have to sit by when other people do. They have to be moral. There is all this hig moral language imposed on Israel, that you do not see elsewhere. There is also a long analysis about why the media does this. (He is naturally exempt)

His understanding of Jews is kind of poor, and his analysis of Israelis is only slightly better. Long poorly chosen quotes from David Hartman make up for analysis. I assume that Freidman came to Israel thinking he knows all he needs to about Jews and Israelis (after all, he is Jewish) and didn't bother to listen to any of them. His "Sassoon" is a saving grace, in that he does touch on something - that a lot of Israelis are Sassoons.

His solutions are worth considering.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

So is the US doing the right thing in Afghanistan? I have been thinking about this alot lately. I am not convinced that we are. Why not? Well there are many reasons.

First, I am not about to say that the US is doing something wrong trying to kick Taliban ass. We are not. Their asses need kicking - desperately.

But what are we replacing the old Afghani government with? Remember, for your average Afghani, a country is a very different kind of entity then it is for an American. Here in the west, a country is some kind of unit. We believe that there is some kind of national entity with a center of power and a bureaucracy and an elected or chosen leader. We pay taxes to a centralized government, and there is one and only one army, and there is a foreign policy, with decisions that are made by a few people (in most cases with the mandate of a large percentage of the country).

In Afghanistan, the going conception of government is a rather fluid piece of land which is in some way controlled by the war lord de jure. Tax is paid to him. As much as he wants. there is no such thing as a foreign policy, or any policy whatsoever. The policy is help thine self.

Afghanis must see George Bush as the biggest and strongest warlord, and Americans see the Taliban and now Karzai as the latest leader of a genuine government. There waqs no government, not in the sense that an American would have recognized it.

A bigger problem is that we are trying to put a western style government on to Afghanistan. Worse, we are trying to install a democtratic type government. The Afghani people do not get this. To them it is just Karzai using the US to help him stay in power over the Taliban. Is that what Karzai is thinking too? Who knows?

What we need to do is set up a truly despotic regime in Afghanistan. Afghanis will understand that. Not that we want to be despotic, only that a government will not work if it is not like that. We need to rule it with an iron fist, and slowly introduce democratic reforms over the course of 15-25 years. We need to start by taking over the schools, and introducing democratic values (along side the Islamic stuff they learn). We need to import liberal, Western understanding, clerics (who understand the local language and culture) to teach and feed the children at the midrasas.

Then and only then can we introduce the notion of meaningful voting and other staples of modern government. Until then we are just starting something which we will not finish. We have a long history of dtarting to fix things and leaving too early. (eg, Somalia). To use a rather vulgar metaphor, we tend to pull out just before the other country reaches orgasm, and then she walks away as frustrated as she did when she started. The of course we get blamed for doing a half-assed job. We cannot keep on doing this. We have to make the tough choices. We need to see Afghanistan as an ally, not now, but in 30 years down the line. We can only do this if we get in for the long run with a plan for a gradual pullout, and serious economic and social reforms.

On the other hand it may not be possible or right to institute the kinds of cultural reforms that this requires. In which case we need to set up a pro American war lord who will do this himself.
While in the zoo yesterday watching the sea-lions, I got a phone call from a professor in Lichtenstein. That is like on the other side of the world. It was a bizarre experience. I am still aparently not used to cell phones and the power they hold.

Monday, June 24, 2002

What a great New York day. I went with my nephew "M" to the Empire State Building, and then to the Central Park zoo. It was fun. (M is 6 years old.) We had Pizza not to far from the ESB (eh) and Ice cream at the park (eh).

Considering that the zoo is just a piece of the park, it was pretty good.
So there is this place on 2nd ave called Lit. It seemed like a cool place. A place where you can hang out and be yourself even if you are a bit weird. You know, the tatoo/unnatural hair/piercing crowd. I've been there only once. Then the times does this writeup, and I think the next day the whole Long Island stuck-up rich crowd was there. What the hell is up with that? In 2 weeks the cool people won't be able to afford it and the Long Islanders for years will think that they are going to a cool place.

I hope it stays cool. This is one of those places where the position of the observer is significant.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

I had a corn muffin (with butter) in Odessa. Also Benny's Burritos on A and 7th is worthy of notable mention. (Went there on Friday.)

I went running in Central Park today. It is amazing that such a place exists inside New York city. I ran around the reservoir. Never do that at 2 in the afternoon just after eating. It was good though. I really liked it, and the people are great. Summer stage was going full swing. New Yorkers were being New Yorkers, and runners were being runners. What a city!
Anyone know if you need a visa to get in to Jordan if you are an American citizen? Their consulate is a bit tough to get hold of.
So I decided not to got to Esperanto tonight. It is a great coffee place in the West Village. It is open 24 hours a day, and most of the people who work there are Israeli. I like listening in to their conversations. It makes me feel like I am practicing my Hebrew, like I am supposed to. Mosly I just read my Chasamba books (they are Israel's equivalent of the Hardy Boys). I have been there way too much lately.

It is one of the good places that are open 24 hours a day. The other is Yaffa. (Both of those are run by Israelis. Coincidence?) If anyone can recommend another good place to chill in New York that is open 24/7, let me know.
"L" (Of L's law) and I went to eat lunch at Odessa, the restaurant on Ave. A and around 7th Street. The food is usually pretty good, and just a touch abouve standard diner fare.

I love diners, by the way. In the same neighborhood, Alice's (from A and 2nd) closed, and there is something new there. Leshko's is now an expensive ritzy place that I would never set foot in again, and there is Stingy Lulu's on A and St. Mark's, which I have gone to less and less over the years, but is still a pretty good place to be. It needs a bit of upkeep.

Yaffa, which is on the same block, is my favorite. It is sort of a diner, but more of a cafe. more about it later.

Then I had dinner with "Y" and some of his friends at his place in Brooklyn. My social life has been picking up a bit these days. Well, at least I am spending time with Friends.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Now there is this Lebanese Guy making up threats about July 4. I am leaving on July 4. Should I fly that day?

I am a bit apprehensive.
The color of the universe has been declared "beige" by some scientists. Hmmmm. Interesting. I think they called the color "galactic Latte'" or something like that. (There is some pun about Latte' and milk (as in Milky Way galaxy).
So 1 in 4 US 4th graders ranked "below basic" in a national geography exam. 1 in 4 ranked "proficient", half ranked "basic" and 1 in 100 ranked "advanced".

If you travel around the world and talk to people you discover that everyone else in the world believes that Americans don't know geography. That is true, at least as compared to other countries. An average educated European knows somewhat more about world geography than an average educated American.

So some secretary of education or other got up and talked about what a tragedy this was, and how this was unacceptable. Then some diplomat talked about how 9/11 tell us how we need to know more about geography. I am pretty sure I disagree. This is a lot of BS. I am very much not convinced that American school children need to waste their time knowing which mountain reigon is in which country, or learn to locate Sri Lanka on a map.

Now, I really am a big believer in this being worldly, and knowing about different places. But that is an interest one may or may not cultivate as they feel like it. In school we ought to obsess over skills. Today with the internet, information is cheap. Everyone on this planet with a few clicks of a mouse can look of the driving time from Jalalabad to Islamabad. Few people care, and it makes little difference.

We need to focus on skills, and ways of thinking. Children need to learn about how to think critically about the world and the news. Children need to learn mathematics, and theory of programing languages, so they can better use the technology they have, and improve on it. Children need to learn what it is to be in a power relationship, and how governments work in general, not where some particular government is located. Children need to be trained to look at all the conditions that make up a political situation, otherwise we end up with a country full of people who can't vote or make public policy decisions with any solid thinking behind it. Children need to learn game theory, and how interactions work. Facts are for Europeans who are obsessed with being able to drop names from history or literature. Americans should learn what it is to read and comprehend. Americans should learn languages. Who cares about a detail that anyone can just look up?

When the US went in to Beirut, for example, not one of the marines could have located Beirut on a map. But the minute it became important, they all learned really fast. What the US never caught on to was the power dynamics that made up the people of Lebanon, and Americans have little framework within which we can understand different kinds of governments that do not involve republicans and democrats and presidents. That is what we need to focus on. Learning about cultures, not to celebrate them, but to understand them should be the goals of our educations system.

We waste too much damned time on useless stuff that we can look up, and impacts us little. We need to learn about relationships and frameworks. We need skills, not information.
There are all these terror warnings issued in the US lately. Americans have no idea what that means, nor is there a culture that has a way of identifying or responding to problems. For Americans "to be on guard" is somewhat rediculous. There are countries in the world where if you see a suspicious package or person, there is someone to call, and every civilian knows what to do, and how to respond, and has an instinct for what might be a terror concern. Americans, fortunately, have never had to deal with such a thing, and they have thus far never learned how to cope.

Again, this has not realy been a problem. There has yet to be something in the US that could have been prevented if only Americans were more on guard in some way. Let up hope it does not turn to that.
I saw MIB II on Thursday. Got some advanced tickets. It was pretty cool. I really dig outer space. I hope to visit sometime.

I had a long conversation with my friend "Y". I have known him for 20 something years. We talked about religion. The whole thing is completely foreign to me these days. I find it really hard to understand the mindset of religious people, especially the somewhat rational ones. They are otherwise rational, they say things, they make little sense, they believe them, it makes sense to them, and other religious people. Not to me. What is wrong? What am I missing?
So I was hanging out in Washington Square park. It is still the same. It always will be. You pass by the freaks, people still offer to sell you drugs, and there are always at least three separate concerts going on at any given time. I love it. This is so my favorite city in the world baby.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Still no ticket out of Israel yet. My (new) travel agent's computer was down for some reason. So at worst I will be stuck there.

Otherwise I am pretty much set. I am also not too sure about where I will stay while in Jerusalem. I am sure the hotels and hostels are not full this time of war.
My friend, who I am staying with in Beirut, IM'd me today and said that she thought that I should not try to go to Israel after Lebanon, because it isn't safe there.

That really freaked me out. What has the world come to when a Beiruti thinks that Jerusalem is dangerous?
I hope that it is not the case that she knows something that I don't, but that Israels defense ministry should. (Though I think she was just worried about all the suicide bimbings and stuff).

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Apparently, to purchase a plane ticket from an office in Israel, using an Israeli travel Agent, you have to 1) be Israeli, 2) have an Israeli ID card (teudat zehut), and 3) pay with an Israeli credit card (though dollars are accepted if you are in person). I found this out after waiting for what seemed like 20 minutes of being on hold while this "music" that sounded like the buttons on a cell phone being depressed in some repetative cycle was playing really loud.

I am neither Israeli, nor am I in Israel, nor do I hold any Israeli ID card. So I could not purchase anything over the phone, and as I would not be getting in to Israel until about 10 days before I want to leave, I am kind of screwed.

So now I have to find a normal American travel agent who can issue me a ticket from Tel Aviv to Berlin from the US. That should not be too hard.

Boy are they pains in the ass.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Monday, June 17, 2002

Sometimes I run, even when no one is chasing me.
There is this sport that I really do not care about, nor does the vast majority of my country care about. However this country just south of my country (just like most other countries) REALLY does care about it.

A minute ago, my country's team, just beat the team of the country just south of us.

Also note, that the French, who I mentioned in my last blogg also really care about this sport. They did did pretty bad this year too in that sport.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Why is it that all things that have the word "French" in it are good, but all things that are really French suck?

French toast is good. So are french fries, french cuffs, french vanilla, french kiss, french manicure, french dressing, and french maids.

Isaac Asimov once used the name Paul French.

So isn't it odd that the French themselves, their modern culture, their recent philosophy, their new litereature, their latest soccer team, their sick politics, arrogance, snobbishness, crappy military, spineless government, hate-filled rhetoric, naivete, laziness, bizarre social system, and just dumb economy -- are just so out of date?

It seems that the French are living off a reputation that was well deserved about 300 years ago. Back when they gave all those fine things to the world - Pascal, Desscartes, and Monet. They all someohow think they still deserve, and they all are taking credit for being the descendants of great people, and looking down on other who are great in themselves, and have not had the privledge of illustrius ancestry.

The French seem to thing that they are still entitled to the royalties of their progenitors. The rest of us realize that we have to work for our reputations and goods.

So enjoy your fries, but remember that the culture that produced them is pretty stale.

"L"'s Law - Stars are like cocaroaches. When you see one out, you know there are many others that you are just not seeing.

(My amendments: This is only true on earth. This does not apply to Venus. Some restrictions apply.)
I have no idea how newspapers choose the letters that they print, but there seems to be no rational decision procedure that is used to determine which ones go in and which ones stay out. Not that I have ever submitted one, but it really looks random.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

So here is something that sucks. You want to visit a foreign country or different city or whatever. So you email your one of your few old girlfriends who doesn't hate you and still lives there, and ask if you can crash at her place for a few days. That was my big plan.

So I called "Z", and asked if I can stay at her place in Jerusalem. Turns out she has a new boyfriend. Now I am really happy for her. Really. Lord knows she should be with someone who wasn't me. We got along well in some ways, but were were just not suited in all ways. Fine. (She is still the esserest;)

But now I am a bit stuck. I was hoping that I could stay there. Now even if she says it is OK, I'd really feel odd. I really don't want to step on the boyfriend's toes or anything. (Guys can be jealous sometimes, and it just wouldn't be right.) So I have to have contingincy arrangements. I am working on them.

This, by the way is the first of many installments of problems that make up my excellent summer adventure. You will hear much more of this later.
I keep thinking that New York -- the city that never sleeps -- needs to turn in to a 24 hour city. It ought to put its proverbial money where its proverbial mouth is. Why do we bother having locks on our store doors? The doors ought to be open all the time. Why should they close? How many times do you spend hours looking for a 24 hour pharmacy, or a restaurant that is open as late as when you get out of a show? Why do bars have "last calls"? Here are 10 reasons I came up with, off the top of my head, for why stores and businesses in New York should not close.

1) You will be able to get anything you want at any time. What excuse does a resturant have for closing at 11 PM? Why shoun't everything be always available? I want my services all the time.

2) More Jobs. If all stores and businesses were always open, they would need to be staffed. That will force them all to hire more people. They can spread thir staff ouver the course of 24 hours, so it won't triple the staff, but it will increase it.

3) People will be able to work on a more comfortable schedule. Why get up at 7 AM to get to work by 9 AM? Just get up when is comfortable, and work out a schedule that works for you. Day people can take day jobs and night peopel can take night jobs.

4) No rush hour. People will be getting to work at all hours, thus spreading the traffic out throughout the day. Deliveries can come at any time, and there will be no time consttraints. Hence there will be less traffic. Parking will be easier too.

5) Stock markets in other countries will always be watched. There will be no worrying that the change will affect some company. There will be people there monitoring it all the time. All financial companies will be awake all the time.

6) Stores will have shorter lines. People will all be on such different schedules that they will shop and see movies and do other entertainment things at different hours. Lines will be a bit shorter.

7) No Jet-lag for tourists. I am sure they will appreciate just continuing on their schedule. (Good attraction.)

8) Safety -- If the streets will always be used, at all times, they will be safer. Is many people start work at say, 2 AM, then there will be many people about. That has to increase safety.

9) School facilities can be used round-the-clock. It will make more efficient use of the existing buildings, and relieve overcrowding.

10) If everyone works the same hours then, as anyone who had to work and pick up a package from their home post office knows, things are twice as hard to get done. How can you accept delivery of something if you are at work? If UPS and you work the same hours, then one of you has a real problem. Imagine all the hassle that would be saved by never shutting companies down.

This is something that should lefinitely be encouraged. Maybe the mayor should announce a new NY-24 campaign -celebrating the city that never sleeps.

I think that any movie I have seen that had a number in its title wasn't too bad. (Think: 2001, 12 monkeys, 9 1/2 weeks, Seven . . .Four Rooms)
I am in middle of a boring conference on some stuff I barely understand. Hell, execpt for the speaker there are probably less than 100 people on the planet who understand or care to. What the heck am I doing here?

Monday, June 10, 2002

Brooklyn life

Brooklyn (where I am right now) seems to have a political life of its own in a way that other boroughs do not. There is a lot of stuff that happens here. When you watch the news in New York it seems that people in Queens get hit by cars (which is quite sad), but people in Brooklyn have issues with cars. There are many kinds of people here and that seems to make for good controversy. We also have our accent. I always liked that.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

Modern life

It is amazing that someone can be on a plane to Moscow on three and a half hours notice.

New York

New York (Manhattan) is a lonely city sometimes on a Saturday afternoon.