Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Departed: chuckle, chuckle, chuckle

Just back from seeing The Departed, latest movie by Scorcese.

Will he finally win an Academy Award, for Best Picture?

The Departed is very well acted (Sheehan, DeCaprio, Damon, Baldwin, etc.) and intense, but it sure is violent and bloody.

In fact, by the end of the movie, so many people are dead from splat-shots to the head, that a whole bunch of us in this crowded theater were laughing out loud. It just seemed a bit silly.

I wonder if anyone else had a similar experience.

Are "real people" actually laughing at Scorcese's latest effort?

If that is the case, I do think that it would be a bit ironic and amusing if he won his Academy Award for this one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A glimpse into the reality of life for Palestinians

Amira Hass is an Israeli journalist. She compiles below the list of restrictions on movement by all Palestinians living in the West Bank.

The striking thing about this list and the reaction of many to it is that Israel now routinely applies collective punishment to an entire people (restriction of movement, denial of human rights, denial of access to health services and to food). Yet this is of no or little concern to most Israeli and American Jews -- even though one of the most revolting aspects of Nazi oppression of Jews was its pervasive use of collective punishment, and particularly the punishment/killing of innocents. No, no, no...I don't think that what the Israeli Defense Forces is doing to Palestinians is the same as what the Nazis did to Jews (and Gypsies and homosexuals and Russians and...). The IDF is not committing genocide. But so what? Is there really a relativity test to apply to brutality, torture, slow and fast death? I think not.

Impossible travel

by Amira Hass

19 January 2007

All the promises to relax restrictions in the West Bank have obscured the
true picture. A few roadblocks have been removed, but the following
prohibitions have remained in place. (This information was gathered by
Haaretz, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs and Machsom Watch)

Standing prohibitions

* Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are forbidden to stay in the West Bank.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter East Jerusalem.

* West Bank Palestinians are forbidden to enter the Gaza Strip through the
Erez crossing.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter the Jordan Valley.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter villages, lands, towns and
neighborhoods along the "seam line" between the separation fence and the
Green Line (some 10 percent of the West Bank).

* Palestinians who are not residents of the villages Beit Furik and Beit
Dajan in the Nablus area, and Ramadin, south of Hebron, are forbidden entry.

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter the settlements' area (even if their
lands are inside the settlements' built area).

* Palestinians are forbidden to enter Nablus in a vehicle.

* Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are forbidden to enter area A
(Palestinian towns in the West Bank).

* Gaza Strip residents are forbidden to enter the West Bank via the Allenby

* Palestinians are forbidden to travel abroad via Ben-Gurion Airport.

* Children under age 16 are forbidden to leave Nablus without an original
birth certificate and parental escort.

* Palestinians with permits to enter Israel are forbidden to enter through
the crossings used by Israelis and tourists.

* Gaza residents are forbidden to establish residency in the West Bank.

* West Bank residents are forbidden to establish residency in the Jordan
valley, seam line communities or the villages of Beit Furik and Beit Dajan.

* Palestinians are forbidden to transfer merchandise and cargo through
internal West Bank checkpoints.


Periodic prohibitions

* Residents of certain parts of the West Bank are forbidden to travel to the
rest of the West Bank.

* People of a certain age group - mainly men from the age of 16 to 30, 35 or
40 - are forbidden to leave the areas where they reside (usually Nablus and
other cities in the northern West Bank).

* Private cars may not pass the Swahara-Abu Dis checkpoint (which separates
the northern and southern West Bank). This was canceled for the first time
two weeks ago under the easing of restrictions.


Travel permits required

* A magnetic card (intended for entrance to Israel, but eases the passage
through checkpoints within the West Bank).

* A work permit for Israel (the employer must come to the civil
administration offices and apply for one).

* A permit for medical treatment in Israel and Palestinian hospitals in East
Jerusalem (The applicant must produce an invitation from the hospital, his
complete medical background and proof that the treatment he is seeking
cannot be provided in the occupied territories).

* A travel permit to pass through Jordan valley checkpoints.

* A merchant's permit to transfer goods.

* A permit to farm along the seam line requires a form from the land
registry office, a title deed, and proof of first-degree relations to the
registered property owner.

* Entry permit for the seam line (for relatives, medical teams, construction
workers, etc. Those with permits must enter and leave via the same crossing
even if it is far away or closing early).

* Permits to pass from Gaza, through Israel to the West Bank.

* A birth certificate for children under 16.

* A long-standing resident identity card for those who live in seam-line


Checkpoints and barriers

* There were 75 manned checkpoints in the West Bank as of January 9, 2007.

* There are on average 150 mobile checkpoints a week (as of September 2006).

* There are 446 obstacles placed between roads and villages, including
concrete cubes, earth ramparts, 88 iron gates and 74 kilometers of fences
along main roads.

* There are 83 iron gates along the separation fence, dividing lands from
their owners. Only 25 of the gates open occasionally.


* Road 90 (the Jordan Valley thoroughfare)

* Road 60, in the North (from the Shavei Shomron military base, west of Nablus and northward).

* Road 585 along the settlements Hermesh and Dotan.

* Road 557 west from the Taibeh-Tul Karm junction (the Green Line) to Anabta
(excluding the residents of Shufa), and east from south of Nablus (the
Hawara checkpoint) to the settlement Elon Moreh.

* Road 505, from Zatara (Nablus junction) to Ma'ale Efraim.

* Road 5, from the Barkan junction to the Green Line.

* Road 446, from Dir Balut junction to Road 5 (by the settlements Alei Zahav and Peduel).

* Roads 445 and 463 around the settlement Talmon, Dolev and Nahliel.

* Road 443, from Maccabim-Reut to Givat Ze'ev.

* Streets in the Old City of Hebron.

* Road 60, from the settlement of Otniel southward.

* Road 317, around the south Hebron Hills settlements.

Travel time before 2000 versus today

Tul Karm-Nablus

Then: half an hour, at the most. Now: At least an hour.

Tul Karm-Ramallah
Then: less than one hour. Now: Two hours.

Beit Ur al-Fawqa-Ramallah
Then: 10 minutes. Now: 45 minutes.

Katana/Beit Anan-Ramallah
Then: 15 minutes. Now: One hour to 90 minutes.

Bir Naballah-Jerusalem
Then: seven minutes. Now: One hour.

Then: five minutes. Now: "Nobody goes to Jerusalem anymore."

Friday, January 12, 2007

New Year's Eve 2006

New Year's Eve in the hills of Puerto Rico...

What did you do on New Year's Eve? usually, we don't even go out, just hang out at home. 2006 was very different, though. Here's what we (me, my wife, my son, Chris, and his girlfriend, Lauren) did:

We made a big pile from two queen size mattresses, along with their box springs, a large couch and a small couch, all of which had been badly damaged by rats and termites as they sat in an unoccupied house on the west side of Puerto Rico, which is nestled in an old coffee farm that is now more like a mini rain forest.

Chris then poured some gasoline on the furniture and applied a match.

Whoosh! An enormous fire immediately engulfed the pile, as Chris ran backwards as fast as he could to avoid having his eyebrows singed right off his face.

The flames rose some thirty feet in the air, throwing off a beautiful, but scary, fountain of sparks and burning fragments of upholstery. Even twenty feet away from the fire, the heat was awesome.

Click here (12MB file, sorry) to watch a short video of these amazing New Year's fireworks.

After I doused the glowing embers with water, we all agreed that it was an awful lot of fun, but also kind of dumb and careless. But the house didn't catch fire, the trees and plants nearby didn't catch fire (though lots of the leaves closest to the fire, turned brown and shriveled a bit), and no one was badly burned (well, I did do something really stupid and ended up with a couple of small burn blisters on my foot, but we won't get into that).

May your 2007 be as bright and intense, and result in no damage done, as our furniture bonfire!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Some of my favorite fortune cookie fortunes

"Alas! You are the apple of my eye."

"To get what you want you must commit yourself for sometime."

"Beware the fury of a patient man."

And the perennial favorite....

"More money and travel is in your future."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Be a hero or heroine: save a life through blood donations!

I like reading science fiction and fantasy. And I most like those books whose plots unabashedly offer a clash betwen good and evil, with the stakes being the future of humanity or the universe. Hey, if you're going to write (and read) fiction, why not put it all on the line?

[ One of my favorites: the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. It is a rigorous first person narrative -- you only see and hear and know what the "I" character sees, hears and knows. That's my favorite form. It's very hard to write, but it is the most rewarding. Beyond that, it is a great story line. Check it out. ]

Certainly, one of the central appeals (to me, and I believe to others) of these books is the heroics of the main characters. Saving the world, saving your loved ones, saving hundreds, thousands, millions of lives -- what a great thing to be able to do!

But for just about all of us, such heroics are out of the question. Or are they?

Sure, we probably can't save the lives of millions, but wouldn't it be great if you could save the life of even one person, or perhaps dozens?

I've been doing just that for the last twenty-five years, and it makes me feel great.

How am I able to achieve such heroic accomplishments? By donating platelets and white blood cells on a more or less monthly basis through a procedure called apheresis. In fact, last October (2006), I celebrated my 100th platelet donation in Chicago, with a small party at the Norridge Lifesource center.

You are very likely familiar with the idea of donating blood: you visit a donor center (or a mobile unit visits your workplace or institution), and in just a few moments the trained staff will extract a pint of your blood. This act alone with help save lives and make you a hero.

Apheresis is a variation on that theme. Rather than simply remove a pint of blood (which can only be done every 52 days), blood is taken from one arm and run through a complicated and very impressive machine built by Baxter Laboratories. This machine centrifuges the blood, isolating its various components. Lifesource keeps the white cells and platelets, and gives me back the rest of my blood through my other arm.

These blood components are critical for patients with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and for others who have undergone surgery.

I especially enjoy my apheresis donations because the procedure takes upwards of two hours. That means that I am forced to stop working, and I get to watch a movie. Afterwards, I enjoy all sorts of free snacks and drinks (my favorite snack were the Lorna Doone cookies, but Lifesource swapped those for Oreos. Very disappointing, but I decided to not let that get in the way of my continuing donations).

You can also donate white cells and platelets more often than whole blood. More movies. More snacks. More opportunities to save lives. Because that is what I am doing. There is no way to know for sure, of course, but I think it is reasonable to think that my donations have saved (or helped to save) the lives of dozens of fellow human beings.

I like that. I am a hero.

And you can be, too, with little or no sacrifice on your part. Your body replenishes your white cells, your platelets, your whole blood. It is a wonderful gift to give to another person. All it takes is some of your time.

Please....if you have never donated blood before, visit the nearest blood donor facility and give it a try. If you used to donate, but fell out of the habit, make room for it in your life again. And if you can spare the time, please consider becoming an apheresis donor. They are harder to find, but oh so important.

Then hopefully someday you can, too, celebrate your 100th donation!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Don't use charcoal lighter fluid! YUCH!

Do you ever barbecue food in a grill? We had barbecues all time, as I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island (Wyandanch, to be specific). Lots of family would come over, and my dad would "man" the grill -- pretty much the only time he cooked.

It's funny - when I grew up, barbecuing was the dad's job. But in my family, the mom, my wife, is definitely the main barbecuer. It's not that I can't do it. Heck, I can do it. It's just that Veva is so much better at it, than I am. Her barbecued chicken is always moist on the inside. Hey, she even barbecues an entire turkey for Thanksgiving. Delightful!

Anyway, the barbecues were wonderful, all the cousins playing in the backyard, the grownups hanging out on the patio. One Uncle Max would tell jokes, another Uncle Max would do magic tricks and play chess with me. And through it all permeated the smell of lighter fluid.

Squirt, squirt, squirt....out comes the gelatinous liquid, dousing the uniformly shaped, black chunks of processed charcoal, then the application of the match to produce glorious flame.

So easy....and so very dangerous and nasty. While we never had a tragedy in our family, certainly many other people were badly burned by the stuff, especially when they squirted more fluid onto coals that were already hot, but not fully "cooked." Sure, that was a dumb thing to do, and the instructions on the can were explicit about not doing it, but of course accidents still happened -- and happen still.

Beyond that, think about what it must be like to work in a factory that makes the lighter fluid, and fills up those cans. It must be an incredibly toxic and dangerous environment, leading to many injuries and deaths each year.

And it is all totally unnecessary. If I had my eye, I would ban the sale of lighter fluid -- because a much safer, simpler, cheaper, cleaner alternative exists.

It is usually called a Chimney Charcoal Starter

Essentially it is big a metal cylinder, with two separate chambers. You pour the unlit charcoal into the top chamber (which takes up almost the whole height of the cylinder). Then you stuff a piece of newspaper in the lower chamber of the cylinder, and light the paper. The little bit of intense flame from the burning paper lights the enough of the charcoal to get the whole thing rolling, and within 10 or 15 minutes, the entire column of charcoal is ablaze. It is a wonderful invention and I really don't see why anyone in their right mind would continue to use lighter fluid once they were aware of this alternative.

So I am doing my part to make everyone aware.

Don't buy charcoal lighter fluid! Avoid possible injury and increased toxification of our environment.

Buy a Chimney Charcoal Starter and enjoy cleaner, safer, less expensive barbecues!