Thursday, May 31, 2007

And now, the rocks

Well, they're sort of rocky anyway. But you might see other things in them. I'd be interested to hear (or read) your reactions.

This one's pretty rocky, I think.

This might be considered less rocky

Ditto this one

These are my current favorites :)

Please feel free to comment on these or the previous ones. I'd really love to hear what people see in them, if anything.

Artistic Interlude

It's been some time since I posted photos of my art, so in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I thought I'd rectify that. I have quite a few newish pieces which essentially break down into two series: the first series is a harlequin series, the second is - well - rocks. First, the harlequins:

Harlequin 1

Harlequin 2

Harlequin 3

Harlequin 4

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In a surprising turn of events

Syria's foremost candidate for a charisma transplant, Bashar Assad, has apparently won a referendum in which he was re-elected for another seven-year term.

In a political battle strategically juxtaposed with the concurrent struggle for leadership of the Israeli Labor Party, Assad showed everyone how it's done, by running against himself.

At won 97.62% of the vote.

Against himself.


Not 100%. 97.62%.

Against, I repeat, himself.

Call me naive, but it seems to me that when you have no opposition, and the people only have one option, 97.62% is not really as close to 100% as it sounds.

One can only wonder whom the remaining 2.38% voted for.

Anyway, as Interior Minister Bassam Abdel-Majid noted, sagely: "The wide consensus showcases Syria's political maturity and our multi-party politics."


Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Great Global Warming ...

... Swindle?

Decide for yourselves.

(Warning - 1 hr 15 min long ... so make that cup of tea before you settle in to watch this).

(Hat tip - The wickedly wicked Danu)

P.S. - I'll reserve my position on this for the comments section, so as not to prejudice your viewing pleasure in any way :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Don't blink or you might miss it

Shavuot, or the "Feast of Weeks", is possibly one of the least appropriately named festivals in the Jewish calendar. Rather than lasting for weeks, as its name suggests, this pilgrim festival, arriving hot on the heels of the last one, is all over within 24 (ok, 25) hours. That's it. Not weeks then, but rather one day, give or take a few minutes on either side. That is, unless you live in the Diaspora (TM), in which case, you get to have two days, because that fits in much better with non-Jewish people's impressions of what Jewish holidays are supposed to be.

Shavuot occurs seven weeks (ah ... that's a hint) after Pesach (or "Passover", for the Hebraicly disinclined), being roughly the time it takes to count out the 49 days of the Omer, which is an ancient Hebrew word meaning 'the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot which must be counted so that you count seven full weeks, of seven days each, from 1, yea even unto 49." (I say 'roughly', by the way, because there's usually a lag somewhere in the middle of the Omer where people who have never before held a bow or an arrow start trying their hand at archery, while the more pyromaniacal tend to attempt to light anything that doesn't move away fast enough. The lag in the Omer is generally considered a good time for firefighters to demand a raise. Fortunately, the lag doesn't last too long.)

Anyway, seven weeks is also, roughly, the time it takes to get from the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds, or that bit of lake that was there before they built the Suez Canal) to Mount Sinai, when following a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night (thought not a pillar of salt at any time, since that can lead to hypertension and heart disease). This is apparently the only way to find Mount Sinai, since no-one seems to have found it since. (The mountain on the Sinai Peninsula popularly called Mount Sinai cannot in fact be Mount Sinai since it is crowned by a Catholic Monatery - St. Catherine's. It wouldn't make sense for St. Catherines to be Mount Sinai since even the Catholics agree that Moses was not a Catholic, so why would he have gone to a monastery? As you may have noticed, this is a story full of mystery and intrigue.)

And so, it came to pass, for this would not be a Biblical story if it didn't, that the offspring of Israel had left their bondage equipment, and Miriam's cacophonous timbrel playing, in Egypt, and after holding hands and singing Ashira Ashira Ashira!! in American accents by the Red Sea whilst Pharaoh and his legions drowned in the no-longer-quite-so-parted waters, turned their collective back on the land of the Pyramids, and headed off for a much better future in either the Promised Land, or an inhospitable desert, whichever came first.

After counting 49 days, and complaining for about 48 of them, and having traipsed variously through the wildernesses of Paran, Kadesh, Sin, Transgression and Minor Traffic Violation, they arrived at the eponymous Mount Sinai. No sooner had someone shouted "50! Coming ready or not!" that Moses - by this stage at once both Charlton Heston and Mel Brooks - started to climb the mountain in order to receive The Law.

Now, the people weren't too happy about this law thing, apparently. They were saying things like - "hang on, we've just come out of bondage, anarchy rules!" and, "pass the fermented manna", and "has this tent got cable, dad?" Really, after 49 days of traipsing, and having been promised a holiday, they just wanted some time to rest.

And rest they may have, had not the mountain, and the deity who had chosen to call it home, had other ideas. For the mountain started to shake, with colors that could be heard and sounds that could be seen. Trees and flowers sprouted on the mountain, and there were thunder, lightning and all kinds of pyrotechnics. And all of the offspring of Israel stood and gaped at the spectacle and did cry out "wow!", and a single voice did say: "ok, this is better than cable".

And then did the Lord spake the ten speaking things of spakingness - otherwise known as the Ten Commandments (not the movie) - and the power of the spakingnesses engraved the words, in a fetching sans-serif font, into two tablets of stone (which is really a bit of a misnomer for a couple of whopping great slabs of granite), which Moses then had to lug back down the mountain, since didn't deliver to wildernesses at that time.

But by the time he got down there, the offspring of Israel had gotten bored again. They'd discovered that the remote didn't work, there was no other entertainment to be had, they were stuck in a desert and no-one was due to invent a jacuzzi for around 3,000 years. Therefore, they decided to hold an orgy - an extremely logical decision for a people who had just personally heard their omnipresent deity actually say that orgies were not a good thing, but there you go.

In order to give their orgy some desperately needed style, they collected all of the gold that they had (which was apparently quite a lot, despite their having been slaves in Egypt and all that) and gave it to Moses' brother Aaron who was, you might note, the Chief Priest and told him to melt it down and make it into a golden statue of a young bull, which they might worship. Aaron had apparently already forgotten the injunction - mentioned only moments previously - not to make graven images, not to mention the one about not coveting your neighbor's ass, for instead of saying "hang on, people. Moses'll be down soon. Go home and eat some more blintzes," he decided to have a go at abstract sculpture, and made them a golden calf, which they then went on to worship, the ingrates!

Well, Moses was furious when he saw this, and cast the tablets of stone to the ground smashing them at the feet of the frolickers, who, it should be said, were not expecting such dramatics. He then put all the people responsible for this sin to death, except for (or including) those whom the earth promptly swallowed up, oh, and except for Aaron, who apparently claimed that he had been acting under duress. Not one of the people's finer moments.

Fuming, Moses sat the remaining people down and made them watch reruns of question time in parliament, whilst he went back up the hill. In this way, they learnt all sorts of other laws, including the entire book of Leviticus - a significant punishment. Moses meanwhile trudged back up the mountain, only to be mooned by god and told that he too would be punished, and would now have to write the ten commandments out by hand. In stone. With a feather. (ok, not really with a feather, but he wasn't allowed to use any magical or god-given powers and he'd left his chisel down at the base of the mountain).

Finally, after rewriting the ten commandments, sending them for editing, receiving them back with revision markings, making the appropriate corrections and lodging them with the various authorities, and noting that the one-day festival of Shavuot had ended months earlier, Moses returned to the people and spake thusly: "Ok, you lot. On your feet. We've got 40 years to make a couple of weeks' journey, so we'd better get started."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, Judaism commemorates the giving of the Torah (and the smashing of it, and the regiving of it, etc.) on Shavuot. It is customary, in certain Jewish traditions, to eat milk products on Shavuot. The usual explanation for this is that the offspring of Israel, wandering through the desert as they were, were told that when they reached the mountain, they would be given a copious set of laws. They knew, it is claimed, that some of the laws would be dietary (apparently, even God, and not just the State Comptroller, had problems with information leaks), but they did not know what the dietary laws would be. The tradition has it that since one of the laws would be dietary (though not, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments that were actually said to have been given on this day, but rather, one - or several - of the other commandments given at some other time), they would abstain from eating anything that might be problematic, and would limit their food intake on Shavuot to milk products only. This is presumably because they were traipsing through the desert with herds of milk-giving ruminants at their disposal - just the sorts of animals that your average grass-free wilderness can support in large numbers, as evidenced by the existence of the reclusive, though prevalent species of the common, or desert, cow (bos esuriens).

The story of Ruth, the Moabite women who went on to become the grandmother of King David, as told in the aptly named "Book of Ruth", is read on Shavuot, by those who are that way inclined. This is despite the fact that there are no Moabite women in the entire Shavuot story. It is presumably to make up for that unfortunate lapse, that this tradition came about.

Shavuot is also a harvest festival. It is the time of bringing of the first fruits. It is a time for Israeli children to dress in white and put leaves in their hair, for some inexplicable reason. It is a time to rediscover why you should only put guavas in your fridge if they are in airtight containers. It is a time to eat lots of icecream and to hope that the summer won't be too hot.

And it is a time to keep an all-night vigil, presumably because, with so many things to commemorate and eat and do, and so little time to do it all in, if you blink, you might miss it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"We know the answer"

So I was making use of some very well-earned time off a while back, by going into a bookstore to look for a book that had been recommended to me, and while I didn't find the book that I was looking for, I did see Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible?

Well - I thought to myself - there's a question that's always interested me, so dog-on-leash in one hand, book in other, I made my way to the check out desk, in order to make my purchase.

The sales assistant looked at me, looked at my dog, smiled, looked at the book, smiled some more and said to me "well, we know the answer to that".

I looked at her quizzically - "Excuse me?"

"We know the answer to that," she repeated, this time pointing to the book I was attempting to buy from her. "We remember it, because we were there," she concluded.

"I don't remember being there," I replied. It's true. I don't.

"No, well, of course we weren't there personally," she clarified, helpfully I might add, "but we have a collective memory of the events."

"Ok," I said. I didn't really know how I was supposed to respond to that. On the one hand, I am very interested in this topic, but on the other hand, I didn't really see any need to start debating it with the shop assistant who was supposed to be selling me the book in question. Added to that was the fact that my dog had cottoned on to the fact that I was paying for something, which is always his cue to start doing the whole 'can we go, already!' whine that he is so infuriatingly good at. I just wanted my book.

She smiled, as she rang the sale up.

"You know," she said, "there's a Rabbi who gives classes just down the road [yes, she managed to say it in italics]. He teaches all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds, including from the field of Biblical criticism," she nodded knowingly, and somewhat disdainfully in the general direction of the book. "I used to go and it was fascinating. He presented a very convincing case. You should go and hear him."

"I'm always interested in hearing and learning new ideas," I replied through a smile, trying to extricate myself and my dog from the bookstore politely, having managed finally to pay for the book.

"Then really, you should go and hear him, if you want to hear new ideas," she was relentless.

"Actually," I replied, "I'm buying this book in order to learn new ideas."

She looked confused.

"I come from a religious background," I announced, somewhat reluctantly, not having really wanted to wave my past in her face.

"Oh," she said. Apparently, that surprised her.

"This," I said, indicating the book, "represents the new ideas that I'm hoping to learn about. When I want to hear the old ideas again, I'll go and listen to the Rabbi."

She looked almost apologetic as I left.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Paradise Lost

Much has been sung, especially off-key in karaoke bars, about horrid people having paved paradise to put up a parking lot. Which is an appropriate sentiment, one imagines, until one needs to find a spot to park one's car, at which point, one probably starts declaiming platitudes about the great march forward of progress, etcetera etcetera.

However, no-one has yet endeavored (to the best of my knowledge) to write a song bemoaning the loss of the local asphalt-paved, 15-shekel a day parking lot to make way for a 40-storey residential and office block, theoretical (at least) work on which has commenced on the parking lot adjacent to my building, which has been the source of many a happy 'tootling' (Noorster, please provide the reference for that word) over the last three and a half years of my inhabitation of this particular abode.

But alas, the congested meeting place of future scrap metal is soon to be no more. For yesterday, they came and started to cut the branches off the three large and extremely messy tress that grace said parking lot, in preparation to dig them out of the ground and carry them off to a better place, while construction of the symbol of progress takes place. They are presumably to be returned and replanted once all the dust has settled.

And so I believe that I am about to become neighbor to a rather large hole in the ground. Actually, if the noise and dust don't bother me, I might stay around to watch the spectacle. But the problem is that construction workers have this antisocial habit of starting work as soon as it is light, whilst I have the far more civilized habit of waking up at the crack of noon, as my faithful readers will recall. This could quickly become a conflict of interests.

And so my own little frangipani-filled paradise looks likely to be lost, in the very near future.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The flowers that bloom in the Spring

Inspired by both Lirun down in Yafo and Wicked Danu over in Dubai, I am proud to present my first frangipani flowers of the year. Woo hoo!

Feel free to applaud at your leisure :)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Not an optimal way to learn a language

Warning: This post may be in questionable taste!!

I'm one of those people for whom a visit to the throne room is incomplete without a good book. Seriously, if there's nothing worth reading, I'd rather not even go in there. I have even been known to have two or three books piled up alongside the porcelain receptacle, just in case I get bored of one of them, as the time - for want of a better word - passes.

Not that I am unaware of the inadvisability (lots of 'I's in that word) of this particular habit. One of my mother's favorite admonitions to me as a child, in this particular context, was: "it'll give you hemorrhoids!" That, it must be said, usually as she herself made her way to the zone of contemplation, a large tome tucked under one arm.

This afternoon, as I was about to enter into a parlay with nature, I noticed that the chamber was bookless! I had finished a masterpiece yesterday and had not yet had the chance to replace it with anything suitable. So, I went to my bookshelf to see what the literary world might have to offer.

Having already read all of the novels and other assorted fiction on my bookshelf, several times, including several of them at the same time (see above), I really didn't feel like "going there" again. I mean, how many times can a person read the six-part Hitchhikers' trilogy? (Ok, lots. I admit. But after lots ...?) And although he still makes me giggle every time I reread his books, I am in desperate need of a new Terry Pratchett novel - after all, it's Spring. He must have written something new by now, right?

But if he has, it was not to be found on my shelves.

So, scrounging around the nether reaches of my own little corner of L-Space, and putting nature on hold for a short while as I did so (but being certain to hum to her, so she wouldn't think I'd hung up), I stumbled across "Mastering Arabic" - a teach-yourself-Arabic book that I bought years ago when I had thought, erroneously I suppose, that Arabic should be an easy language to learn. Noting that the book contained exercises, I armed myself with a retractable mechanical pencil (truly the only kind worth using), and skipped happily off to do what, by then, really had to be done.

Now, "Mastering Arabic" is not a novel - strange as that may sound to some. It is in fact quite a complex book of exercises which starts off with learning some of the letters, making words with those, and so on, and ends, I presume, when one is ready to read A Thousand And One Nights in the original, and then go and debate it on Al-Jazeera. I'm a fair way from that, but I've managed to work out that Jihan is the wife of Ahmad, which is probably a good thing, seeing that Ahmad is the husband (according to the book, that is) of Jihan. I had thought that Jihan was the wife of Anwar, but perhaps that is another book.

However, as fast as I seemed to be plowing through the exercises, practising the twirls and squiggles and dots that are the maze of the Arabic language, and mildly pleased with the fact that I could actually read the names Ahmad and Jihan (and several others), albeit slowly, I was horrified to realize that I had reached page 38, but was still, well, you know - there!

As I extricated myself from the plastic furnishing that was fast threatening to become a part of me, I realized, with some dismay, that "Mastering Arabic" is clearly meant for other kinds of rooms, with seats that perform a different function.

Reluctantly, therefore, I have abandoned my plan of learning Arabic during my "quality time". I shall have to try and find some actual free time for that particular pursuit. And perhaps, a teacher.

I shall also have to find a slightly lighter kind of read for those special moments.

Otherwise, my quest to learn Arabic might indeed give me hemorrhoids.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Meanwhile, somewhere in the desert ...

Archaeologists from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem appear to have discovered the tomb of King Herod. Or at least something that looks to them as though that's what it is. It was found at the site of the Herodion, Herod's winter palace, in the Judean hills, which is where Flavius Josephus claimed that it was.

This discovery will most likely leave us no wiser as to Herod himself - even his bones were not in the tomb, since the tomb was apparently desecrated by grave robbers a short time after his death. So it is unlikely that we will even know whether he died of a mysterious illness, as is sometimes suggested by scholars, based on his behavior prior to his death.

Nevertheless, even if we learn nothing more than the fact that his tomb was lavish (as is to be expected), in terms of archaeology at least, this is an important find.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I know it's been ages since I've posted (more than a month, in fact ...). What can I say in my defense? Just that I've had too much work, and not enough thinking time.

Anyway, here is an interesting (and extremely civil) debate I came across, on the topic of whether historical and archaeological scholarship affects faith.

It's just interesting, is all.