Wednesday, June 30, 2004

It's amazing how easy it is for one to trick oneself.

Lately I've been feeling depressed. And I was blaming it on my job. "This is too stressful for me," I'd say. "I can't handle working in such a high-profile job. I can't handle having to find newsworthy stories every single week. I can't handle not having enough time to do the reporting I need to do. I miss freelancing. I want out." And then I'd feel really lousy, first because what kind of idiot gets a coveted job like the one I have and then doesn't like it? But moreso because I felt like a failure. Why can other people handle the pressures of being a reporter for a high-profile paper, and I can't?

But then I realized, this isn't about my work at all. Because really, it's not. First of all, for all the pressure I put on myself, and my feelings of inadequacy, neither my editor nor anyone else at the paper has given me any indication that they think I need to improve. It seems safe to say that they are generally happy with my work. Second, my editor happens to be one of the best bosses I've ever had. He's even-tempered, fairly consistent in his instructions (not always, but 90 percent), answers my phone calls, is polite to the employees, etc etc. Considering that he's a newspaper editor, these qualities are even more unusual for a boss! And third, yeah, it's a lot of work, but not so much that I couldn't have a life, if I were organized enough to have a life. The work is a lot, and stressful, but not so much that I should be feeling overwhelmed.

No, the problem is just that I'm depressed, and it's easier to blame my work than to confront all the other things in my life that I can't handle. There are other things that have been disappointing, and I haven't been taking care of myself. It's so easy to say "I'm not taking care of myself because I have too much work," but it's not true. I'm not taking care of myself because I'm just not.

Monday, June 28, 2004

In graduate school I took a class called "The Law and Mass Communication." It was basically about libel law and the right to privacy, taught in a most organized and fascinating fashion by Professor Stephen Solomon, who is truly one of the best university instructors out there.

Anyhow, the assignment for the big paper was to choose an actual, current, court case involving communications law and explain all the background for the case, the precedents that the judge might look at, etc etc. This involved lots of research in the NYU Law Library, which is both very beautiful and very full of religious Jewish men, so I didn't mind.

Being full up on libel and privacy information, I decided to choose a case on copyright and trademark infringment, instead. Mattel had recently launched a lawsuit against an artist named Tom Forsythe, who had created and sold a series of photos of Barbie dolls in, shall we say, compromising positions. Naked Barbies in a blender. Naked Barbies melting in a toaster oven. Naked Barbie bent over a martini glass with, um, an electric whisker, um, attacking her from the back. (The color appendices made my paper the most visually interesting of any in the class.)

So, Forsythe had made some disgusting photos making fun of Barbie and everything she stands for. They are crude and either very misogynist or very feminist, depending on what you think about Barbie dolls. They are anti-consumerist, weird . . . and don't sell well. He'd sold only a few thousand dollars worth of pictures. Who would put this up in their office? Meanwhile, Mattel, a company which apparently is run by a group of lawyers with electric whiskers up their . . . . well, anyway, with no sense of humor, slapped this no-name, bizarro artist with a heavy lawsuit.

It was obvious even to me, a lowly journalism student in a basic law class, that the case was frivolous. The Copyright Act is meant to protect you from those trying to make a buck off of copying your work, not those trying to make a buck off of making fun of your work. At the time, Judge Ronald Lew had denied Mattel's request for an injunction against the artist, indicating that he agreed with me. After the course ended, the judge ruled in favor of Forsythe, but the whole thing got appealed a few times. Mattel was being their self-rightous selves, and Forsythe wanted reimbursement for legal fees.

Well, it's all over now. My favorite part is where Judge Lew basically tells Mattel "your lawyers are idiots and you have poles up your . . . " Well.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Next week I'm throwing a party in honor of the one-year anniversary of my Aliyah and (so far) successful klitah. If you know me personally and didn't get the evite, drop me an email at chayyeisarah [at] yahoo [dot] com and I'll send you one.
Well, the Shabbaton was a very nice event. The people were very normal, all the same age range and basic religious wavelength, and, for the most part, socially competent, which is an unusual combination. I enjoyed meeting the people, and the event was well-organized. Overall, a positive experience.

Will it lead to anything? Who knows. No one asked me for my phone number, but the organizers had announced that they'll help "connect" people after the Shabbaton, if anyone calls asking for other participants' phone numbers. And there wasn't much time between havdala and my departure from the event, as my ride was leaving.

So, who knows.

All I have to say is, after a year in Israel I've come to the conclusion that what they suggest in the movies is true: Men with French, Italian, or South American blood in them really do have a certain "it" quality.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

This weekend I’m going to a singles’ Shabbaton. I don’t know why I bother. I can stay home and be alone and have it come to nothing, or I can spend 200 shekels, get my hopes up, and have it come to nothing. Worse than nothing, because I’ll have made myself vulnerable and been disappointed. And I’ll be out 200 shekels.

There are two kinds of singles’ Shabbatons. There are the ones where the men are so not for me that I just have to laugh. At such a Shabbaton I relax and have a great time meeting the other women, people-watching, and in this case perhaps, improving my Hebrew. I’m not sure this type of Shabbaton is worth the time and expense, but at least I come home with my dignity intact, since I didn’t want any of the men anyhow. I chalk it up to “an experience,” glad that I met new people for the sake of meeting them, and move on.

The bad Shabbatons are the ones where theoretically some of the guys there could be for me, but they don’t ask me out. I spend the whole Shabbat trying to mask my disappointment with a sparkling smile and disarming laugh. This takes a lot of effort. I’ll put on my prettiest Shabbat outfit, my favorite lipstick, and a big smile, and force myself to get out there and talk to new people and be charming, and it will come to nothing. I’m posting this so that in a few days, when I post that it came to nothing, you’ll have proof of my prophetic powers.

There are 3 kinds of women at singles’ Shabbatons:

1. The Veela. These are the 3 or 4 stunningly attractive women who, starting on Friday night, become the object of pursuit for every man at the Shabbaton, who spend the next 25 hours competing with each other for the Veela’s attention. Being a Veela is actually not so great, because the Veela don’t get asked out much. Oh, the men flirt with them. A lot. But then they chicken out about actually asking for phone numbers, because they are afraid of being rejected. And none of the other women want to hang out with them, either; sitting next to a Veela is depressing.

2. The Winners Circle. These are the 4 or 5 women, out of about 30, who will actually get a date as a result of the Shabbaton. Some might be Veela, some might be Wallpapers whose efforts at sparkling and disarming actually worked. Unfortunately there is no way to know whether you are in this category until several days after the Shabbaton is over, though if you are never, by far, going to get in the Circle, you can usually tell by Shabbat morning. By the end of lunch, it’s Game Over. At that point you may as well go home, but you are trapped in a community in the middle of nowhere until after havdala.

3. The Wallpaper.
These are the women – most of the female attendees—who are neither pursued during the Shabbaton nor asked out afterward. In an attempt to gain a spot in the Circle, most of them act the good sports, participating in the activities and, unless they are very shy, talking charmingly with the men when the men aren’t busy with the Veela. They may also spend time avoiding the shlumpily-dressed man who is obviously a good 10 years older than the age limit set by the organizers, and who has an IQ of 80. By seudat shelishit, most of Wallpapers have mentally given up on all the effort and are focusing more on getting to know the other women. For 200 shekels one should at least make a new friend.

Monday, June 21, 2004

So today I found out that if you ever need an ego boost about your Hebrew skills, you should hang out in an Ulpan.

I visited Milah, a school in Jerusalem's "city center" area that gives intensive Hebrew courses for immigrants. I wanted to sign up for their Level-4 morning class, which meets only twice per week and therefore fits nicely with my work schedule. I knew that Level 5 might be a better fit, but it's only offered in the evenings and conflicts with my weekly meeting with my editor.

I'd told them on the phone that according to the government's post-Ulpan exam, I'm a "high Level 4, for all intents and purposes Level 5," but they said "no, no, we have our own exam which you'll have to take." So today I took it.

According to Milah, I'm in Level 5 bordering on Level 6. That's cool! The lady who graded my exam, who I suppose is used to dealing with people who speak no Hebrew at all, kind of gave me a very impressed look and asked "where did you learn Hebrew?" I said in the States, and in Ulpan Etzion, and she said "which class were you in? The highest one, right? Why do you want more Ulpan?" So I told her that I want to improve more and gain more confidence in speaking, since my comprehension is much better than my spoken Hebrew. I also told her that the only class that fits in my schedule is Level 4. "Your test was great and I can hear that you speak Hebrew very well," she said. "Don't bother taking the Level 4 course. You should take the Short Stories course or the Business Writing course."

In the end I signed up for Short Stories, which meets every other Sunday morning (if enough people sign up) for 6 sessions, at the cost of about $50. Sounds nice.

All I can say is, if this lady thinks my Hebrew is so good, it proves only that she's used to people coming in and not knowing how to say "Ani rotzah Ulpan." Because my Hebrew leaves a lot to be desired. As the secretary said, "You did well on the test so I can explain the registration procedure in easy Hebrew, right?" -- ie in Hebrew, but not with any hard words. Nothing too complicated. The questions at the end of the test, which I got wrong, were pretty much on a 7th-grade reading level.

Still, it's nice to know that someone out there thinks my Hebrew is impressive. I'll take my pats on the back where I can get them.
So I was just poking around on a site with a bulletin board on which some mega, MEGA Harry Potter fans had shot trivia questions at each other. It was pretty frightening, the details these people remember about Harry Potter. Of course, I'm the one who throws Star Wars parties just to have worthy opponents in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, so I can't call the kettle black.

One fascinating thing came up, though. It seems that in book 2, Nearly Headless Nick is celebrating his 500th deathday party, and he mentions at some point that he died in 1492. Which means that book 2 takes place in 1992. Which means that Harry was born in 1980. Which means that this July 31st, Harry Potter turns 24 years old! Whoa! Wait! Where is he? Did he become an Auror after all? Is he married to Ginny Weasley? How'd he kill Voldemort?

Oh, man, I gotta get some sleep.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

A friendly reminder to all Americans living abroad (like, in Israel, for example):

Remember to call your Dad today; it's Father's Day in America.
Last week I went with Natalee and Shuli to see "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" on the big screen.

One of the things I like about Israel is that when you buy a ticket to a movie, your seat number is printed on your ticket. The earlier you buy the ticket, the better your seat (they start with middles of rows in the center of the theater, and work outward from there). Since Shuli had ordered the tickets over the phone that morning, we had wonderful seats, and we didn't have to rush into the theater to claim them. We met in front of the theater 15 minutes before showtime, took our sweet time ordering (kosher!) popcorn, and sauntered in to our two-thirds-of-the-way-back, middle-of-the-row seats. I love that.

As for the film, here are my thoughts (no spoilers, don't worry):

* If you didn't read the book, you will still be able to follow the basic plot outline of the film, but you will miss a lot. Many important plot points or explanations happen so quickly that if you blink you miss them. Still, it is scary and funny in all the right places, and visually appealing.

* As always, the book is better than the film, if only because there is much that the movie, by necessity, leaves out. The film leaves out the explanation of who made the Marauder's Map! Perhaps more astoundingly, it completely leaves out an explanation of why Harry's patronus looks like a stag, which makes certain elements of the climactic scene a bit confusing for anyone who hasn't read the book.

* I really like the new actor who has taken over the role of Dumbledore from Richard Harris, zichrono livracha. Truthfully, Harris never exactly fit my image of Dumbledore -- the voice was all wrong-- and the new guy fits my mental picture much better.

* The "you should have quit while you were ahead" award goes to Rupert Grint, who once again has but one facial expression in this film, which serves for "Oh, no, I'm very scared" as well as "I'm bored," and "I'm confused," and "I'm attracted to Hermione but won't admit it."

* Daniel Radcliffe comes in second for the same award, having 2 facial expressions: One for "Yay! I'm on a broom or other magical thing that flies really fast!" and another for "Oh, no, I'm very scared/bored/confused/ not attracted to Hermione but the director wants some dramatic tension so we're going to make it seem like I am attracted to her, to keep the audience guessing about what will happen."

* Emma Watson, as Hermione, is terrific.

* All three of the main cast members look a little too old for their parts. They are supposed to be 13, but look 15, which makes sense because that's what they are.

OK, I gotta go work. Bye!

Noa Hirsch emailed to me this American legal perspective on the Heart of the Ocean question, which I'm posting here with her permission:

Okay--I'm no halachic expert, but the first brief I ever wrote in law school was on more or less a very similar topic.

According to the Heart Balm Act of 1935 (not sure if this was a Pennsylvania only law, but I know it applies in New York too) a gift given "in contemplation of marriage" only vests when the marriage is complete. So, the bling-bling was NOT rose's from the "engagement", as it never turned into a marriage. (The same would hold true for an engagement ring given, where the fiance, say, cheated on his fiancee and then asked for the ring back. Legally, she'd have to return it)

Now, 1935 is well after the Titanic's unfortunate sinking, and case law from before the Heart Balm Act, shows that it was on a case-by-case basis. Doesn't seem like Rose would get to keep the diamond since she broke the engagement.

From a jurisdictional standpoint, the case occurred in international waters, so it would sort of depend where the Titanic was registered, to determine which law applies.

When Cal gave the coat to Rose, he did not intend to give her the diamond. And although we often say possession is 9/10 of the law, where intent is lacking, it seems likely that the diamond would belong to Cal.

Since Cal cashed in his insurance policy on the diamond, the diamond seems that it would belong to the insurance company, though one might argue that the premiums Jack paid over the years were the cost the insurance company received in exchange for the premium payout.

A very weighty legal conundrum indeed. Finders keepers, losers weepers.

So, what we have so far is that it would seem that halachically there is a strong case that the diamond belongs to Rose, but according to Pennsylvania/New York law it would belong to Cal.

I'm wondering how much halachic weight is attributed to Cal's having "lost hope" of finding the diamond. First, because from Rose's perspective . . . well, she knows exactly to whom it belongs. Furthermore, it's a very distinctive diamond; any random person could have found out who its owner is without too much research. But Rose for sure!

My question is: If I were to find an object that I knew for a fact belonged to a specific person -- I wouldn't have to do any research to find out to whom it belongs, because I already know it for certain-- and I also know for a fact that that person has lost hope of finding it, do I have a halachic obligation to return it?

Ethically I would imagine that I do.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Via My Urban Kvetch, here's an insufferable article about Madonna.

You know, I'm happy that Madonna has found some spirituality and that she has changed and grown. Really, I am. But the concept of her, for example, taking on the Hebrew name "Esther" so that she'll have the "energy" of another name, while not dissimilar from ideas in mainstream Judaism, sounds, from her, so plastic and new-agey that it could only have come out of Los Angeles.

Besides her calling Kabbalah "incredibly punk rock" and suggesting that by believing in it, one can achieve immortality (there was an article about this somewhere . . . about how the Kabbalah Center is telling people that if they follow Kabbalah they can live forever . . . does anyone remember where that was?), and besides her having the presumption to give characters in her books typical Orthodox names like Binah and Yakov, there is this horrible, horrible line, which may be the fault of the copy editor:

I pray every day and I believe that it is a very powerful way to communicate, to heal, to affect change.


Effect change! E-ffect.

Check it out! I post something about Madonna and Kabbalah and within hours the New York Times posts this article on their website. As Keanu Reeves would say, "Whoa." It must be . . . uh . . . karma!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

So tonight I watched Titanic on my new VCR. God, that movie makes me cry every time!

Here's something I like to think about to take my mind off the horrible tragedy of Titanic, and the contemporary tragedy that I'm still single and have never experienced anything remotely close to the relationship between Rose and Jack (not that I'm expecting a relationship so dramatic, or one that becomes so intense in only 4 days, or which somehow inspires me to completely overhaul my entire lifestyle, or which ends in a luxury liner sinking into freezing water, but you know what I mean).

The question is this: From a halachic perspective, to whom does the Heart of the Ocean belong?

Step 1: Calvin Hockley purchases the diamond and buys a large insurance policy for it.

Step 2: He gives it to Rose as an early engagement present. I'm not sure how important the intentions are here; often in halacha they are important. On one hand, he gives it to her as a gift. On the other hand, there is a clear understanding between them that the diamond is part of an arrangement: She will marry him, and he will continue to ply her with riches. In this sense, the diamond can be seen as the price of "purchasing" the bride. It's clear to both of them that by accepting the gift, she is also accepting a future with him.

Step 3: Rose has an affair with Jack, and tells Jack that when the boat docks, she's getting off with him. At this moment, Rose has reneged on her part of the "deal" with Hockley. She no longer has any intention of marrying him.

Step 4: Rose goes off to save Jack from the bottom of the Titanic, and Hockley says something like "What? You're going to be a whore to that gutterscum?" to which Rose replies "I'd rather be his whore than your wife," spits in his face, and walks away. So now Hockley has been notified that the engagement is officially off.

Step 5: After almost drowning together, Rose and Jack return to the ship's deck. Hockley finds them and gives his coat to Rose. He has forgotten that the diamond is in the coat pocket. He did not intend to give Rose possession of the diamond, but now she in fact has possession of it.

Step 6: Hockley, believing that his former fiancee, his coat, and the valuable diamond have all sunk to the bottom of the sea, loses hope of ever finding it and files an insurance claim for it.

Step 7: An insurance company gives Hockley a lot of money to cover the loss of the diamond.

Step 8: Rose finds the diamond in the coat pocket, but keeps the fact that she has survived a secret. She never informs anyone from her "old" life that she is alive, and goes off to live a life of freedom and adventure - "making it count," as Jack would have wanted her to. She keeps the diamond in her underwear drawer or something for the next 84 years.

Now, we all know what Rose does with the necklace after those 84 years. And from a practical standpoint, it was probably the best idea. If she'd died and left it to be found by someone else, a court circus would have ensued and no one would have been happy, really.

But what was she obligated to do according to the strict letter of halacha? And for those who don't know enough about halacha to answer this, then what about ethically? Should she have given the diamond to the insurance company? To Hockley's heirs? To her own heirs?

This keeps me up at night. I'm not kidding.
Every so often when I stop at, I check out the "featured blogs." It's a way to be exposed to lives of people totally outside the realm of my life, to see how other people live differently from the way I do. Anyhow, today I randomly went to "Life at TJ's," which turned out to be the blog of a guy who works at a strip club in the Midwest. The first thing that amazed me about this blog is that it is well-written. The second is that his coworkers -- all these bouncers and waitresses and strippers-- turn out to be real people with real lives and feelings. It's fascinating.

But then what amazed me -- this is for the "sad but true" category -- is that the discourse in the comments on that blog are more civil than the ones at Protocols these days. What a chillul Hashem that site has become. I could write more but I think the site speaks for itself.

Monday, June 14, 2004

This past weekend some friends of mine, who moved here from Columbus, Ohio, showed me last month's issue of the New Standard, Columbus' new Jewish newspaper. There was a fascinating article about Agudas Achim, a heretofore OU-affiliated synagogue which was undergoing something of an identity crisis, and deciding whether to remain in the OU or join the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. (The article is not posted online, unfortunately.)

The reason I find it interesting is that it raises some questions about the consistency of the Orthodox Union in enforcing their bylaws.

Here's the story, combining what I read in the paper with commentary from my friends who are from Columbus:

Since moving into their current building in 1951, Agudas Achim has had three seating sections in the main sanctuary: women-only, men-only, and a "mixed" section in the middle. All these years the synagogue was part of the Orthodox Union. Well, one of the synagogue's rabbis inspired a large portion of the congregants to greater observance, and a "mechitza minyan" was created in the basement. A few years ago, the basement minyan split off and created the Main Street Synagogue, which has completely separate seating. Agudas Achim liked their "neither here nor there" seating arrangement and hired an Orthodox-ordained rabbi who would allow them to keep things the way they are.

Well, lately, the OU woke up to the fact that one of their member shules has mixed seating (more about this later), and gave Agudas Achim an ultimatum: If you want to remain in the OU, you have to have completely separate seating.

The thrust of the New Standard article was that reps from both the OU and the USCJ had visited Agudas Achim to address the congregants about what each organization expects from their member synagogues, the stance of their respective movements about various social and congregational issues, etc. The congregation was then going to vote about whether to remain under Orthodox auspices and get rid of their mixed section, or join the USCJ. The vote was scheduled for yesterday.

One of the factors here is that Columbus already has several Orthodox and Reform places of worship, but only one Conservative synagogue.

My friend tells me that she called someone in Columbus yesterday who told her that Agudas Achim had voted to become Conservative.

What interests me in all of this is why the OU allowed Agudas Achim to maintain their membership for all these years, ignoring the shule's mixed-seating section. My Columbus connections tell me that a member of the highly wealthy, highly philanthropic Schottenstein family had been a member of Agudas Achim, but left to form the Main Street Synagogue. It was after he left that the OU decided to give an ultimatum to Agudas Achim.

Coincidence? I think not.

The good news: I got my VCR to work, all by myself. Turns out that I had to use my TV remote to go into the TV's menu and do this complicated thing, which I'm not sure what it means but intuitively I figured out what to do. So now my tapes work, hurrah!

The bad news: I was up all night, sick as a dog. Since I was sick a few weeks ago, I'm nervous about "calling in sick" to work. Would they believe that I'm really sick this much? I've got 4 articles to submit on Thursday morning, plus 3 small freelance assignments due next week. Meanwhile, the only thing I'm ingesting is water, and even that is sort of iffy. I really would rather spend the next day or two in bed, moaning. But a girl has to earn a living.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Oog I'm sick again. Not hacking-cough sick this time. It's a fever-nausea-shaky-crawl-into-bed sick. I hate this! I feel yucky and miserable.
UUuuuurrgh! I bought a new VCR and now I can't get it to work! I'm usually good at this stuff but I'm stymied!

I plugged the VCR into the TV (there was only one cord with the VCR, which plugged into one place in the VCR, and the TV only has one place to plug into - the spot for the antenna). I plugged the VCR into the wall. I set the channel on the TV to 39, which according to SHARP is the channel I'm supposed to set it to in the Middle East.

But when it came time to match the VCR's "output" channel to the 39 on the TV, nothing happened. I followed the instructions exactly, and nothing happened. I tried putting in a tape so as I changed things I could see whether it started to work, but nothing worked.

I tried calling the Sharp number in the US, but they are closed on Sundays. So then I went to their online customer support and sent an email inquiry. We'll see how long it takes to get an answer.

Meanwhile, any tips? I'm really frustrated. I just wasted about an hour and half trying to get this to work, to no avail.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Let me know what you think of my new template!

It sure took me long enough to move the code over for the "comments" section, so that all of your great comments, from my wonderful readers, wouldn't be lost, along with the counter (Thanks, Haloscan and Bravenet!) I feel so computer savvy, moving all that HTML all by myself, and figuring out what to do with it!

Next up, a newly reconstructed list of links, which was lost anyway, no thanks to Blogger. :-(

Can someone tell me what this "Trackback" thing is next to the "Comments"? It looks like it might be useful but I don't know what it is.

Also, do you all like having links on the right-hand side to "recent posts," or should I get rid of it? It looks a little "busy" to me, but if you all like it, I'll keep it there.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

In which we discuss the politics of my building . . .

(all names have been changed to protect the innocent)

1. There's a single woman downstairs from me, Merav, who is a little odd. I don't like her because the day I moved in, after searching high and low for my apartment and spending a lot of time changing the lease with my new landlady, she said "You are paying too much to live there. You shouldn't pay so much." I was like "I do not want to hear this, leave me alone." Also, I used to have a bow on my door, which was pretty and so I could tell people that I'm "on the first floor on the right, with a bow on the door." Well, she stole the bow while I was in America! A little cookoo, I'd say.

2. Above me is an American named Shirley. She arrived about 3 months ago under the auspices of some Christian organization and is volunteering for the old age home around the corner. We're not sure what religion she is. Normally I wouldn't care, but the woman next door to me, Miri, has a "thing" about "the Christians in the apartment upstairs." Anyhow, Shirley seems nice enough, and I have some pity for her because she seriously has no family at all, anywhere, but the old lady across from HER has been very mean and tells Shirley that she makes too much noise. It's not true because I live directly below Shirley and she's very quiet. But the old lady harasses her and has even come to her volunteer job to complain to her face in front of her coworkers. Also, Shirley started off on a bad foot here because she likes to feed the wild cats outside, and most of the building doesn't like to encourage the cats.

3. Miri, like I said, lives next door to me. She's from France and is also a freelance journalist. I've had her over for Shabbat meals and have gone to her place, and she seems like a nice person. A little eccentric, perhaps, but who am I to talk. Anyhow, Miri has a housecat named Mushi. While Miri was away once on vacation, I saw a note on Miri's door, from Shirley, that said "take better care of the cats on your porch or I will report you to the police. They are hungry and a kitten fell off the porch!"

I don't know what that was all about, but Shirley likes to complain about Miri because, according to Shirley, Miri's cat has kittens on the porch, and the kittens keep falling off, and Shirley has to walk around the building and save them. Miri denies all of this. I don't know what is going on, but they do NOT like each other.

4. I'm also having trouble with Shirley myself. Like I said, she seems basically nice, and I've invited her to come to my place to hang out or for Shabbat meals, but she's never come. I let it be known to her when she moved in that I don't think she should feed the cats, but didn't make a big deal out of it (the old lady was already making a big deal out of it), especially when I found out that she has no family. I figure I wouldn't take away her joy of taking care of the wild kitties.

But a few weeks ago, water started pouring into my window from above. I ran outside and saw that Shirley had overwatered the plants on her windowsill so much that there was like a waterfall happening. So I politely pointed it out and said it's not a problem or anything, but it startled me because the water was coming into my apartment. She said "Oh, man, I can't do anything right around here." I felt bad and said "I'm not angry or anything. It's OK. It just surprised me." But she did say she won't do it again, so I was OK with that and let it go.

Well, today I finally said something to her about the laundry. About once a week I put laundry on my line outside. And every week I have to keep it out there for days, because just when it's dry, Shirley does HER laundry -- every day -- apparently by soaking it in the bathtub and letting it drip profusely all over my almost-dry clothes. So I leave out my clothes for another day, and the next day they get soaking wet again. I asked her --so nicely -- if maybe if she sees that my clothes are hanging below, she could knock on my door and give me a chance to take in my clothes. She said that would be a big hassle for her, since my clothes are out all the time. I said "yeah, they are out a lot because just when they are almost dry, they get dripped on again." So I politely suggested that maybe she can hang up her clothes on the left-hand side, since my clothes are further to the right (2 of my lines don't rotate around, so I can't move the clothes over). She agreed, but as she left I heard her sigh, like I'm yet another of the mean neighbors.

I feel bad making her feel bad, but I can't keep having my clothes get wet!

5. The other day I ran into Merav outside, and she told me that she's collecting 35 shekel from each apartment, to hire someone to "clean the garden." We have a space in the front of the building with lots of brush and some thin tree-looking things that extend up past my window on the first floor. I couldn't understand why someone would take about 350 sheks (the total from our 10 apartments) to pick up the garbage in the garden-- ie "cleaning the garden"-- but I didn't want to argue with her, so I put out the money.

Well, today I go outside and there is a gardener, and the garden is . . . gone!!!! All the brush has been cleared and the tree-spindly-things had been cut down! It looks so depressing! I said "why did you do that?" and he said "I do this once a year, cut it all down and leave the roots, so it won't get too wild. Don't worry, in two months you'll have brush again and it will look very nice." Well, I was depressed. Now I have no shade in front of my windows, and THAT certainly will not grow back in 2 months! If Merav is going to arrange this once a year, why not in the fall when we don't need the shade?

The garbage is still out there, by the way.

6. Meanwhile, the old lady -- the one who harasses Shirley-- stops me whenever she sees me to demand that I tell her who is feeding the cats. She knows that my window overlooks the place in the garden where the cats hang out, and she tells me every time "you keep your eyes open! I'm sure it's THAT GIRL but I think there is someone else too . . . if you see them, tell them to stop it!" I just say "hm, yes" and wish her a good night.

All that having been said, I do, in fact, like some of the people in my building. I like Miri, though I do wonder whether Shirley's accusations about the falling kittens are correct. Don't know what's up with that.

And across the hall from me is a really nice Israeli woman, who ALSO works in media, for the Israeli Broadcasting company (3 apartments on my floor, all occupied by single women from 3 different countries who work in media! - a lot of newspapers accumulate on my floor in the mornings . . . ) I like her a lot, but she's hardly ever home.

And downstairs is another immigrant, a young man from Ethiopia who is studying Economics at Hebrew University. We bump into each other sometimes at the mailboxes and he's very friendly and happy-seeming.

But with all the politics, I feel like I'm living on Melrose Place, except without the handsome men and passionate sex.

I just went outside to take out my garbage. The cats who live in the garden look very, very confused about having lost their ground cover. (What does a confused cat look like? You ask. I don't know, it's an intuitive thing, OK?)

I also noticed that, while I thought we only had 3 cats living out there, actually there are 5. They aren't hurting anyone, and they keep the scorpions away, so as far as I'm concerned they can stay. I just wish they wouldn't whine at each other at 6 in the morning . . .
Last night I finished reading Joan Haslip's book "The Lonely Empress," a biography of Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. I have great respect for the author, because this book was obviously well-researched and she neither idolizes nor excoriates the Empress. We're given to see that Elizabeth was a complicated character who deserves pity but was no angel.

What really struck me about Elizabeth herself is how similar this woman, who lived from 1837-1898, was to Princess Diana. Both women's husbands had been slated to marry their older sisters. Both got married in their teens to a ruler/Crown Prince. Both were considered exceptionally beautiful and were generally idolized by their subjects. Both were anorexic. Both felt constrained by Court life and engaged in actions that were disapproved of by the royal family. Both had strained relationships with their mothers-in-law. Both became estranged from their husbands. And both died suddenly from unnatural causes.

Weird, but true.

Next up is either Marie Antoinette or Nellie Bly. I've got biographies of both on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. Who should be first?
Lately a lot of people from a certain organization have been calling to yell at me about something I wrote. At first it really upset me, because they were 5 percent correct. Had they been totally wrong, I would have been indignant, but not upset. But I like to think that I'm mature enough to listen to people's criticism of my work and carefully consider whether they have a point. In this case they had a point. So I apologized for those actions which were indeed mistakes, took responsibility, and explained how the rest of their complaints were based on incorrect assumptions. Each person, in the end, so far, has ended the conversation understanding my viewpoint and being able to move on (at least, that's what they said, and it sounded sincere. One of them even proceeded to give me a story tip).

I think a piece of this is that I've learned that when someone is angry at me, it's best to let them finish whatever they have to say. I let them get it all out, without interrupting them. Just the act of my waiting patiently until they finish diffuses most of their anger, I've noticed. People get angry, and they need to express it to its object, and once they've done so a lot of it goes away before I've said a word. This is something I've just figured out in the last few days and I'm pretty proud of myself for being able to do this instead of getting defensive.

The other thing I've learned in the last few days is how not to get "sucked in" to other people's issues. If the source of their anger turns out to be connected to something that has nothing to do with me, well, they can tell me all about it, and I'll freely (and sincerely) express regret that something I did has become a piece of their problem, but I simply do not take responsibility for things that are out of my control. Interestingly, I find that people respect this.

Anger is a really interesting emotion.

Monday, June 07, 2004

In response to my previous post about "Shattered Glass" (see below), my friend Susan, who until recently worked as a reporter in the U.S., sent me the following email, to which I say "hear hear!" (She gave me permission to post it).

So, here's Susan:

"I have very little sympathy for Stephen Glass.

For most journalists, even when we're exhausted, and running on deadline, and the story is falling flat, the thing that keeps us from fabricating details is a commitment to getting the facts right to the best of our ability. Sometimes this is very hard, and sometimes it is very dull, but that is the job. My impression of Stephen Glass is that he had no regard for the truth, and the importance of telling the truth.

It is my firm belief that newspaper and magazine articles should be written well, with vivid detail, in narrative form when appropriate. However, if style comes at the expense of truthful content, then it is a mere sham. Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair are very good writers, but journalism is not just about good writing.

A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine covered a gathering of family members of passengers from Flight 93 in which they had the opportunity to hear the audio recorded on the plane before it crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. The reporter was not allowed to hear the recording, and was not even allowed into the room where it was played. So, he thoroughly interviewed those who had heard it, and the following day he went back to the hotel conference room, and asked a hotel worker how the room had been arranged, going so far to ask what color the tablecloths had been -- they were yellow. From these details, he wrote a very vivid account of what had transpired.

That's what journalism is about -- finding out the color of the tablecloths, the name of the policeman's dog. It's asking John Smith how he spells his name, in case it turns out to be Jon Smythe. We all have our tired and lazy days, we all make mistakes, and we all have our temptations to liven up a quote, but most of us don't entirely disregard the truth. It makes me angry when people like Stephen Glass rise to the top of their profession by
spinning tales (even if they are eventually caught) when so many of us who work hard to get the facts right have to struggle for the opportunity to work in journalism."
Last night I saw "Shattered Glass," about the fall of Stephen Glass, the New Republic reporter who made up stories right and left and finally got fired after a Forbes reporter figured out that his stories were a sham.

That movie struck me with the fear of God. Because I totally related to the pressures that led Glass to do what he did. Who among us hasn't considered embellishing a quote, working on an assumption, or even making up a source? A writer has a lot of power, and it takes huge amounts of integrity not to abuse it. So far I've resisted the temptation, as I believe most journalists do, but the devil likes to whisper in one's ear about how much more colorful a story would be if only a quotation were written out of context, or how much quicker the story can be filed if the facts are not verified . . . . This truly is not a job for the weak.

The vision I have of this is of a dark abyss. As a journalist, I have, out of curiosity, walked to the edge and peered over to see how deep it goes. The difference between most reporters and Stephen Glass is that instead of walking away from the edge and doing real work, he jumped over.

This movie showed us how deep and dark that abyss really is. It was painful to watch his descent.

Poor Stephen. He really needed UYO.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

OK, so, like, this is so weird, man.

A few nights ago I noticed that when I went into the Blogger system to change the "template" for Chayyei Sarah -- ie to go into the HTML and tweak a few things -- it didn't pull up all the code, only the code for the stupid banner at the top. So I wrote to the Blogger people saying "um, hello, I see my blog, I can hear my blog, and I can taste my blog, but the code . . . it ain't there! Where'd it go?"

So they send me an automatic response that's all "we got your message and will write back soon." Whatever.

Next thing you know, my blog is down! Well, not the whole blog. But everything after the stupid banner, was down!

So I wrote again, this time with the subject "Emergency! My blog is down!"

This time they wrote back a few days later (like, yesterday maybe), saying "Sorry, but we lost your template. We found your posts, but your template is gone."

So, you'll notice, friends, that all those nice links I had up for, like, 10 minutes on the right-hand side are now gone forever. And unfortunately, I did not save the code in another document.

So now I have to go reconstruct all the links.

Fie on Blogger. Shimmy's suggestion that I switch to LiveJournal is looking more attractive every day.