Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Once Upon a Prostate

Approximately eleven years ago, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unnerving to be sure, but given that Dad is a "cup is half full" kind of guy, he approached the situation with his usual happy go lucky optimism. My mother, on the other hand, while not exactly a "cup is half empty" sort (more of a "cup is half full, but lets keep an eye open for cracks and chips just in case" gal), refused to accept this upheaval with my father's typical blasé attitude. She was the one responsible for researching the complexities of the disease and the different options; she was the one who researched various treatment centers.

In my dad's case, we were lucky in that the cancer was caught early, making it possible for him to undergo a course of treatment that was, relatively speaking, not too invasive. As I recall, his treatment, known as "brachytherapy", included a combination of mild course of radiation and the placement of radioactive seeds directly on the tumor, which had already been shrunken by the radiation. All treatment was managed by a very capable medical team at Sloan-Kettering in New York City, and lasted for approximately six weeks, during which time, my father stayed alternatively with friends in the City or family on Long Island, often accompanied by my mother.

Despite their reasons for being there, they enjoyed their extended stay in NYC, taking advantage of the situation by going to the theater, hitting the museums, and making the rounds of the restaurants. They spent time with friends and family, and generally made the very best of these somewhat unfortunate circumstances.

The success rates for prostate cancer are quite high, and Dad's prognosis was excellent. Indeed, he has been cancer-free ever since (tfu tfu tfu). Being far away, I was, of course, concerned, but given what I knew of this particular type of cancer, I wasn't overly worried. And, not to belittle the seriousness of the disease, but if you can imagine that my father and I have a similar sense of humor (as some of you can verify), you can also imagine that we managed to have fun with his illness. At gatherings of family or friends, he would say something to the effect that, "isn't it wonderful that my cancer is bringing us all together like this". When people gave him books to read during treatment, he would often ask, "if I survive, do I have to return the book?" As a result of such outbursts, I used to say that if the cancer didn't kill him, Mom would.

In the years since my father was sick, many of his friends have battled and beat prostate cancer. Colin Powell has beaten the disease as well (not to mention a host of other celebrities). While cancer is cancer, having witnessed both my father's battle with prostate cancer and my mother-in-law's battle with colon cancer (a battle she lost painfully just under ten years ago), when caught early, I'd have to say that prostate cancer doesn't make my heart skip a beat as some of the more lethal forms do.

Which is probably why I didn't go beyond the eyebrow-raising stage yesterday upon hearing that Prime Minister Olmert has been diagnosed with the Big C. Unlike former Prime Minister (and currently comatose) Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert is in good physical condition. He exercises and goes for regular medical check-ups, and his prostate cancer was caught early. Chances are excellent that he will be fine, though his choice of treatment – surgery – may result in both incontinence and impotence (of course, there are those of us who already believe he is rather impotent, albeit from a political standpoint...), neither of which must be terribly welcome prospects.

Though having cancer certainly isn't a lot of fun (my father's bout not withstanding...), prostate cancer is usually (though unfortunately not always) far less lethal than many other cancer types. And, while I can certainly understand how a sick Prime Minister is a hot news item, especially following the drama of the Sharon affair, I shudder to think that for the next few months, the media will be force-feeding us sound bytes related to the prime ministerial prostate. It's one thing to know that the man is sick, but quite frankly, viewing diagrams of a diseased prostate during dinner and hearing intimate details about the upcoming surgical procedure is just a tad more information than I need to know...

Amazing how far the guy will go for the sympathy vote, though, innit?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

80s Music Video Sunday #42

While in Israel during the winter of 1991, two friends and I decided to go to Cairo. Once we'd gotten all of the required bureaucracy out of the way, the trip involved a very long, tedious bus ride from Tel Aviv, through the Rafah crossing (more about that later, but keep in mind that the crossing was administered at the time by Israel and Egypt, prior to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority...), across the Suez Canal, past the charming seaside town of El Arish, and endless hours across the stark, barren desert.

Cairo was fascinating, and I wouldn't be exaggerating if I added that it was a serious assault to all of my senses. The sites, the sounds, the smells... The city is crowded and lively, and the people we encountered were friendly. The Egyptians who thought that I was Israeli (on account of my winter jacket at the time being like the ones worn in the Israeli military) often greeted me in broken Hebrew with a smile. The pyramids were stunning, and the Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art were exceptional. I even managed to teach myself how to read and write Arabic numerals while at the Egyptian Museum, and if hard-pressed, I might even remember a few of them...

As I recall, Egyptian drivers were worse than Israeli drivers, and for those of you who have encountered Israeli drivers, you can imagine what the streets of Cairo must be like for drivers and pedestrians alike – especially pedestrians like me, who tend to act like a deer caught in the headlights while crossing the road as cars bear down on them, whizzing past and making one feel as though they were trapped in a real-life version of the game Frogger. Buses barely stopped at the designated stations, slowing down just enough for more people to jump on, often hanging out of doors and windows, crammed in like sardines and hanging on for dear life as the driver made his way through the streets, clearly imagining that he was traveling along the German Autobahn instead of the traffic-infested roads of Cairo.

Driving across the Egyptian desert after dark was often nerve-wracking, as it seemed to me that vehicles would drive using either high beams or no lights at all. At one point, you feel like your bus (or car) was the only one on the road, an illusion that was frequently shattered in an instant when you were suddenly blinded by the high beams of an oncoming vehicle whose driver had clearly opted to use only the slivers of moonlight to find his way.

And then there was the border crossing. I had difficulties in both directions, and my passport was always the last one from our bus to come out (once, the person responsible for our group even had to go into the offices to retrieve it). This was prior to obtaining Israeli citizenship or being in possession of an Israeli passport, and while traveling on my American passport (the only passport I had at the time) the folks at passport control were convinced that I was trying to hide the fact that I was Israeli, despite my protestations that I was American. For some reason, they had gotten it into the heads that I must be Israeli, because my last name is "Rosenberg", which was, according to them, a very Israeli name. I did my best to convince them that it was also a very Jewish name, and in the end, I prevailed, but it was frustrating nonetheless, as I could see that they weren't terribly keen on the idea of believing me.

While I enjoyed my trip to Cairo, to be honest, I'm not sure that I'd want to go back. It was a huge, crowded, congested, dirty city, and frankly, one that I am too timid to take on. I have a feeling that as far as Arab capital cities go, Amman or Beirut would be much more to my tastes. Of course, missing my trip to Cairo would have meant that I'd never have discovered that, when it comes down to it, the Cairenes perambulate just like everybody else. In other words, I didn't come away from my visit knowing how to walk like an Egyptian...

Walk Like an Egyptian
The Bangles

All the old paintings on the tomb
They do the sand dance, don'cha know?
If they move too quick (Oh-Way-Oh)
They're falling down like a domino

And the bazaar man by the Nile
He got the money on a bet
For the crocodiles (Oh-Way-Oh)
They snap their teeth on a cigarette

Foreign types with their hookah pipes sing:
Walk like an Egyptian.

The blonde waitresses take their trays
Spin around and they cross the floor
They've got the moves (Oh-Way-Oh)
You drop your drink then they bring you more

All the school kids so sick of books
They like the punk and the metal band
When the buzzer rings (Oh-Way-Oh)
They're walking like an Egyptian

All the kids in the marketplace say:
Walk like an Egyptian.

Line your feet astreet, bend your back,
Shift your arm, then you pull a clock
Like Sergeant O (Oh-Way-Oh)
So strike a pose on a Cadillac

If you want to find all the cops,
They're hanging out in the donut shop.
They sing and dance (Oh-Way-Oh)
They spin their clock and cruise on down the block

All the Japanese with their Yen
The party boys call the Kremlin
The Chinese know (Oh-Way-Oh)
They walk along like Egyptians

All the cops in the donut shops say:
Walk like an Egyptian
Walk like an Egyptian

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

But we were on a break!

I guess you've all realized by now that I'm on something of a break. I hadn't planned it, but my mind has been feeling rather dry and empty lately, and I can't seem to summon up the energy to blog the way I'd like to. Hopefully, things will return to normal shortly. In the meantime, you can find me over at Israelity today and Thursday, so please feel free to pop on over and check it out.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

80s Music Video Sunday #41

In the grand scheme of things, I've come to the conclusion that I'm a bit weird when it comes to remembering inane bits of trivia and assorted episodes from my past. I remember people much better than they remember me, and it can be rather alarming when I can spew the most minute, trivial details about past encounters when the person in question doesn't even remember my name. I've got a collection of birthdays filed away, mostly for friends whom I haven't spoken to in years, and I can remember my login name for my very first computer account (back in elementary school, when we used small black-and-white televisions as monitors and connected to the local network by dialing a certain telephone number and placing the receiver in a specially-designed piece of equipment).

I can remember plots from random episodes of 70s television shows, not to mention the names of actors and actress from various shows. In college, no one was more surprised than my roommate S when I was able to quickly name the actress/singer who played the role of Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days, and quite frankly, I'm not surprised that I actually remember how the subject came up. My friend C shares my appreciation for entertainment trivia, and our emails often incorporate these useless tidbits of knowledge to evoke memories and provoke raucous laughter on a regular basis (though chances are, no one else will get the joke but us...).

I'm also good at remembering numbers, whether it be dates, addresses, telephone numbers (a skill that's deteriorated with the advent of the cellular phone, of course), and so on. I can still remember my grandmother's phone number in Brooklyn, though the number hasn't been in service since 1984 or so, and I remember the phone numbers of some of my old neighbors in the town where I grew up. I can reel off my aunt and uncle's home address and phone number as necessary. Like many of my peers, I've memorized the mailing address for Zoom (that's 350, Boston, Mass, 02134), but I'm not sure that I can recite it without actually singing it as the Zoom kids did. I can also still do Bernadette's butterfly – can you?

Of course, for those of us who grew up in the 80s, there's one telephone number that none of us are ever likely to forget, belonging to a certain young lady named Jenny. Thanks to Tommy Tutone, an overwhelming number of telephone calls were made to increasingly frustrated individuals in a variety of area codes whose greatest misfortune was to have the phone number 867-5309.

Tommy Tutone

Jenny Jenny who can I turn to
you give me something I can hold on to
now you think I'm like the others before
who saw you name and number on the wall

Jenny I got your number
I need to make you mine
Jenny don't change your number
867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309

Jenny Jenny your the girl for me
you don't know me, but you make me so happy
I tried to call you before but I lost the nerve
I tried my imagination but I was disturbed

Jenny I got your number
I need to make you mine
Jenny don't change your number
867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309

I got it, I got it, I got your number on the wall
I got it, I got it, for a good time, for a good time call

Jenny don't change your number
I need to make you mine
Jenny I got your number
867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309, 867-5309

Jenny Jenny who can I turn to (867-5309)
for the price of a dime I can always turn to you

Friday, October 12, 2007

Back to the Future...

Greetings and salutations, my trusted readers. As many of you know, I've begun writing for the Diplomatic Post which, unfortunately, is not online at this stage. Since a few of you have been clamoring to see my columns, I received the approval of my editor to post them here. The column below appeared in the second issue of the magazine, which was distributed on August 31st (to Jerusalem Post subscribers only). The column is known as "Page Before Last".


When it comes to dealing with the future of Israel and the Middle East, it seems that there are primarily two kinds of people – those who like to talk about it and those who try to do something about it (and then, there's a fringe third group – those who like to talk about the fact that they're doing something about it, a group comprised almost solely of politicians. But I digress...). Seminars and conferences focusing on the subject of Israel and the Middle East abound, and indeed, the complexities of this region provide a never-ending supply of fodder for think tanks and institutes around the world.

What is it about this region that causes the ears of otherwise apathetic individuals to perk up at its mention? The lad who probably can't tell you where the Middle East is located fancies himself an expert, and the local English professor goes apoplectic whenever the subject comes up in conversation. The quest for knowledge is seemingly insatiable, and academics and politicians hot on the lecture circuit make the rounds, recycling nuggets of information to wide-eyed audiences hungry for information. After all, the future of the Middle East has been a hot topic for thousands of years, and while the names and faces change, one fact remains constant – nothing ever changes.

Okay. Maybe that's not completely accurate. On the plus side, Israel (whose creation itself was certainly one of the bigger changes the region has seen during the past 100 years) has garnered peace agreements with two of its neighbors and maintains low-level ties with several other countries in the region. Changes for the worse are too numerous to mention. They're also too repetitive to mention; when it comes down to it, the changes don't really change. You'd think that given all the time spent discussing the future of this region, we'd have been treated to far more success.

Which brings us (albeit rather circuitously) back to our main topic – the proliferation of conferences purporting to shed light on the future. One can't help but be amazed, not only by the diversity of sub-topics, but also by the diversity of approaches to each sub-topic. Who knew? Who knew that there were so many ways to discuss the intricacies of the Arab world? Who knew that there were so many perspectives for analyzing Israel's prospects for peace? Who knew that these same subjects would be dissected ad nauseum for generations without resolution, with each speaker trying to put a unique spin on things, attempting to sound original?

The past few months in Israel have seen at least two events on this subject, one entitled, "Israel and the Middle East at a Crossroad", and the other creatively named "The Future of the Middle East", a symposium that included a staggering number of panels on a wide variety of topics. These affairs were organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations – organizations that might not catch your attention were it not for their voracious ability to organize conferences and produce a dizzying array of publications.

It's starting to become a bit too predictable, these conferences. "The Future of the Middle East"? "The Middle East at a Crossroad"? The names say it all. Or perhaps they don't say anything. I suppose these names allow for a certain amount of latitude with regard to subject matter, but seriously. We need a new angle, something to get us into the proper frame of mind given the grand scheme of things.

First on the agenda is a unique line-up: We’d need someone like Jimmy Carter, Shimon Peres or Bill Clinton telling us how great the future can be, and someone from the World Bank to extol the virtues of how lucrative it will be. Then, we need a few historians to explain whose fault it is that we’re still in this mess (without alienating anyone, of course). This would, of course, be followed by the resident Arab-basher (probably from the Foreign Office or some such, in order to lend a degree of credibility) explaining how dangerous Iran is becoming and – just to make it even – your token Arab (preferably a poet). For a change, maybe the venue should be a Bedouin tent or perhaps a casino… in New Jersey (or possibly a Bedouin-themed casino in Vegas...). Oh, and we need a catchy title. Something that broadcasts a new trend in thought.

I was thinking along the lines of "The Future of the Middle East: Rehashing it all yet again", or perhaps "Israel and the Middle East: Past, Present and Future – It's all the same, really". Or maybe, someone should just make a movie.

Back to the Future, anyone?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

80s Music Video Sunday #40

One day last week I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with Benji at a small resto near my office. Over humus and salad, we discussed a variety of subjects – work, living in Israel, bloggers and blogging, writing, and so on. One of the main topics of conversation, however, was summer camp. Benji recently returned to Israel after spending his summer working at our old summer camp, and I was anxious to hear all about it. Benji was more than happy to share, and regaled me with story after story about our old stomping grounds.

I loved hearing about the activities being done these days, how things have changed, etc. Many of my fondest memories were created during my summers spent there, and to this day, random interactions, sites and smells can trigger flashbacks (the smell of wooden planks on a hot summer day reminds me of the smell of camp cabins). Seeing Benji opened a floodgate of old memories, and given that he shares my love of 80s music, I find myself remembering songs that were popular in camp. My mind drifts back to the annual talent show, and I can recall with incredibly clarity a group of my bunkmates preparing their song and dance routine. I can remember the cool arm twists, the bit where they jumped around, turning from back to front in order to face the audience. The song they chose was Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear it for the Boy", from everyone's favorite movie of 1984 – Footloose.

While I couldn't find an actual video of the original song, what you're going to see below is a clip of Williams singing the song on Solid Gold, a show that probably deserves its very own blog entry...

Let's Hear it for the Boy
Deniece Williams

My baby he don't talk sweet
He ain't got much to say
But he loves me, loves me, loves me
I know that he loves me anyway

And maybe he don't dress fine
But I don't really mind
'Cuz every time he pulls me near
I just wanna cheer

Let's hear it for the boy!
Oh, let's give the boy a hand
Let's hear it for my baby
You gotta understand
Maybe he's no Romeo
But he's my loving one-man show
Let's hear it for the boy!

My baby may not be rich
He's watching every dime
But every night he holds me
And we always have a real good time

And maybe he sings off-key
That's alright by me
But what he does he does so well
Makes me wanna yell

Let's hear it for the boy!
Oh, let's give the boy a hand
Let's hear it for my baby
You gotta understand
Maybe he's no Romeo
But he's my loving one-man show
Let's hear it for the boy!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Help me! I'm melting!

A constant source of interest among bloggers is visitor statistics. We like to know who are readers are, where they're from, and how they found us. In my case, many of my visitors find me while performing a Google search for one term or another. Sometimes the search terms are unusual (I had a hit for "underwear parade" earlier today), and many border on lewd or even outright perverse in nature. Many people want to know more about potty training, especially as it pertains to little boys. It would also seem that many people are making travel plans to Amsterdam, as I frequently receive visitors searching for touring suggestions in this fabulous city. I get a lot of hits from people looking for information on pregnancy and fertility-related subjects (and interestingly enough, the overwhelming majority of these hits originate in India, which leads me to wonder about the availability of pregnancy-related literature in this vast, fascinating country), to the point where I've considered creating a page or blog entry that consists almost solely of helpful pregnancy and fertility links. I hope to get to this little project as soon as I have some free time on my hands (one of these years...).

If I had to pick the single topic that draws the greatest number of visitors, it would probably be music, and 80s music in particular. People are always searching for their favorite songs and artists, not to mention quirky bits of song and artist-related trivia (the terms "Nena hairy armpits" pop up more frequently than I'd have imagined...). I get a tremendous number of hits from people looking for songs using random song lyrics. Sometimes, the lyrics are spot on, and other times, I'm rather surprised that the correct song was actually found, given how far off the mark the person's guess was, in comparison to the actual lyrics. Occasionally, I just stare at the line of text, wondering how someone decided to search using those specific terms (such as the recent searches for the term "Diggy dang diggy diggy".

Of course, we all know how hard it can be to understand the lyrics of some songs, and can't help but smile once we discover what the actual lyrics are. I've gotten some doozies since I started, but none of them even come close to the one I discovered in my stats this morning. Back in May, I wrote an 80s Music Video Sunday entry featuring the song "I Melt with You", by Modern English, a rather catchy tune, and to be honest, I've never considered the lyrics to be all that unintelligible. Maybe I couldn't pick up every word, but I wouldn't have had any outrageous misunderstandings (and certainly none with any potentially anti-Semitic undertones...), which is why the water I was drinking almost shot out my nose when I noticed that someone had come across my blog by searching for "I'll stop the world and melt the jews".

Ummmm... Yeah... Exactly...

Somewhere in The Bronx right now, sits an individual who (I hope) is utterly astonished at having gotten this one so, so wrong.