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Just a Simple Misunderstanding

Part I

A feature of totalitarian regimes is their dehumanisation of their subjects. Your first name is the least important piece of your identifying information, most people automatically answering the question, "What is your name" with a reversed answer: "My name is Kuchar Menachem". Of course there may be more than one of these (as I have pointed out before, there are many Cohen Davids). To simplify identification, authoritarian forms of government prefer a unique identifying number for its citizens or comrades. Then there is now confusion. "I am 1557890."

The other question that is always asked on all bureaucratic questionnaires is, "What you do for a living?" As if they don't know -- they've asked you this on every approach you ever made to any government or semi-government organisation since the day of your barmitzva. Maybe it's part of their truth telling/lie detection process. Or an I.Q. test -- if you can't remember where you work or what you do, we had better send you off for re-education, or mental readjustment.

As I don't fit into one of the standard categorisations or compartments, I always make sure to answer this invasion of my privacy differently each time I am asked the question (though always truthfully of course). I'm a computer programmer, systems analyst, photographer, consultant, entrepreneur, pizza baker, stand-up comedian, web designer, etc (no Ilana, not a juggler). My kids are embarrassed by this, because they too get asked. (What do you do? and what does your father do?)

I believe they think I am a spy (I know Alexei does) -- "my dad works for the Mossad or Shabak or as liaison officer between the two". I'm pretty sure that some of my kids have told some aspect of officialdom that this is the case. So my "official" record shows that I am programmer, website builder, all illustrated with my own photographs, for the Shabak section that watches over the activities of the Mossad to ensure they are not attempting a coup d'état.

(The other question they love to ask, again as if something has changed since your 29th birthday, is "How many years of education do you have?" I always answer this with a number greater than the number I used last time I was aksed, based on the formula 0 < years_of_education < present_age. Like in Communist countries, they expect you to have stopped learning anything new since you left their official educational institution, plus later "re-education" seminars if you fall out of line. But in reality, I did attended preschool for three years, school for thirteen years, was enrolled at University for ten years, learned in Yeshivas for four years (and still turn up there a few times week -- they haven't asked me leave yet) and I believe my education continues daily. But even the "formal" portion comes to thirty years!)

Part II

I'm always suspicious of short men. It takes me a long time to warm to a short person, especially those without hair on their heads. Bald short men -- it's a prejudice that I am embarrassed about, or would be if anyone every found out about it. It's one of those secrets of which even my wife is unaware. But I suspect that the short people I meet immediately sense my bias; but all 6' 3" of me keeps them a bay.

So imagine my (pleasant) surprise when I read last night in a book called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (also author of The Tipping Point which I think is a much better book, though I still have half of Blink to go) that my prejudice is shared by most Americans (so much for a melting pot). Specifically, the average American male is 5' 9" tall (they do grow them big over there -- must be all the fast food. For comparison, I believe the average in Poland is 5' 4" -- probably due a lack of sunshine). According to Gladwell, on average, the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are a shade under six feet tall (this number six holds some magic, but I don't know why -- seems to be some ideal, that probably was rarely achieved before the twentieth century). In the total U.S. population, only 14.5% of men are taller than this magic number. However in the big 500, 58% are. Wow!

So I feel a lot better today knowing that my adverse judgement of shorty is shared by the culture of the American boardroom. Maybe I'll find some others of my partialities before the end of the book. (He quotes one experiment, in which he himself participated, which shows, his own subconscious bias against black [coloured, African American, negro] people . . . and he himself is grey, being the son of a Jamacian mother.)

At the gym this morning there was in attendance a very short, hairless man. Spike comes every now and again and works out on some of weight machines. He's quite outgoing, but I seem to have a slight communications problem with him -- I have trouble understanding what he is (trying to) saying. His language is quite clear, but our mentality seems to be poles apart. I know it's probably me. The fact that my Intelligence Quotient is over 100 doesn't mean I understand everything that goes on in this world.

While lying under a 65 kilograms (143 lbs) bench press, Spike tells me my action just reminded of some woman he saw earlier in the day doing something or other that I couldn't catch on to. After the third time, I smiled politely. My ears were still clogged with dirty pool water. Later, when he told the story again to someone else, I managed to put the picture together. I shan't bore you.

Part III

Chaim and I love Colombian Coffee (better than Java or Arabica or Barzilian or anything else). Osem packages a really good version in black sealed Aluminum foil bags. The day a bag is first opened is the best -- the smell is amazing! But it takes four or five days until we can open another. For a treat, yesterday Chaim went to the Coffee Mill and had some Colombian specially ground -- fresh. Cost him nearly double the Osem offering (which costs nearly double the Osem standard botz [mud] coffee that they call Trukish coffee over here; except when I was in Turkey I only saw the Turks drinking overly sweet tea out of tiny glass cups -- the size I use for whiskey). The fresh ground smelled great and Chaim and I where seated with Alexei, 85% chocolate and ginger.

As there was a spare chair at the table, Spike joined us. I must add one more piece of background before I continue the narrative. In Israel, expect people to ask you the most personal questions: "where do you live? work? what do you earn? what's your wife's name? how much does she earn?" The BBC ran an article, preceding the Beijing Olympics, informing visitors to Peking for the Games on what to expect there, conversationally, from the locals. "Don't be offended if they ask you personal questions relating to your income, vocation, residence or even intimate details of your sex life -- it's the norm over there!" Something like that anyway. I think this too is part of the totalitarian culture. Since everyone is [supposedly] equal (except for those of course who are more equal) information on your earnings and residence are both well known (to the authorities) and are identical, except in the fine detail, to everyone else's. They just want to make sure that no-one has a non-egalitarian, advantage over what they have been allocated.

I'll try and paraphrase what I understood of the ensuing conversation with Spike. If Alexei and Chaim had not been there to help me, it may have been even more dissonant. I have translated the conversion from the original Hebrew into English for the reader's convenience, after my two friends' assistance.

Spike starts, "Where do you live?"


"Where do you work?"

"Here." Alex adds, "Yes, we work together."

"Yeah. What do you do for a crust?"

"I am a storyteller, a novelist. I come here everyday for a couple of hours and soak up the ambience, listen to what people are talking about and observe what they are doing. And them I go home and write about it."

"You don't get paid for this? Do you? Who reads your ramblings?"

"I have a steadily growing readership. You too can join my readership. I get paid by sponsors on my site."

"Can you sell my car for me? I'm trying to get rid of it, but I want a good price."

"No, I can't sell your car for you. I don;t sell cars. I don't sell anything. I don't even place the ads. I have sponsors whose job it is to make sure there are relevant commercials attached to my writings. They (are supposed to) base the advertising on the content of my stories. If I write about the gym, the ads are for running machines; if I write about bicycles. the advertising is oriented to cycling. And so on."

"I build apartments. Can you sell apartments for me? Oh, then can you write a story about Israeli builders so I can sell my home units? What commission do you get?"

"I have no control of the advertising, beyond directing the context. Here I'll write out my url and you can have a look at my site, even though you don't understand English -- you"ll get the gist by the layout."

"So how do you get paid? Will it cost me money to read your story? How much do your readers pay you? How do they pay you?"

"No, my stories are free for anyone, anywhere to read. If they click on a sponsor's advert, I get a piece of the action. The more readers, the more the potential for action."

Now he starts to get the rub -- "if I get twenty mates to sit down and click away, you'll be rich. Can I get a piece of the action?"

"No", I say, "that's illegal -- and immoral. They have to love my stories, and my exquisitely written chronicles should lead to wanting further information related to my topic. If the sponsor feeds correctly, you'll want to go to the advertisers' sites."

"Got it -- by the way can you find me a source for scrap metal -- I'm having trouble getting all the steel I need in my current building project."

Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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