Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doing my Bit for Medical Science

I decided that in the interests of advancing medical science, ensuring that Israel remains at the forefront of medical research, and to slightly increase my bank balance, I would sell my body for medical experiments. Not when I'm dead - I'm interested in my bank balance now, not in the afterlife. So, recalling the oft-voiced threat to our children to sell them for medical experiments to try to maintain our fiscal integrity, I am setting the example.

About a month ago, I saw a posting on an email list calling for volunteers to participate in a trial of a new Anti-Flu Vaccine. Altruism to the fore, in went my application: back bounced a questionnaire, forehand return of the duly- (and truthfully) filled-in questionnaire; backhand cross-court return- "You're allergic to cats!" Yes, I volleyed, but I live with four of them and I only start sneezing if the big on sits on my face for more than 20 minutes. "Then come for tests," they snickered, thinking they had won the set...

I went for tests. Blood tests - "hold your arm still please, this won't hurt..." as they filled six vials of my life blood; urine sample: "...mid-flow please"- don't even BEGIN to imagine that; Eh-Keh-Geh (ECG), blood pressure, interviews: "Tyell me pelyese..."(Russian doctor): "Chwen you had adenoid and tonsil out chwen you arrr 5, chwat did you feeyel after...?" That done with, a few days later, I received a formal, gilt-edged approval to participate in the trial....the first day staring at 7:00 am, at the research labs in the center of Tel Aviv.

Nothing daunted, I was up before the sparrows passed gas, fed the cats early (they loved that) swigged my only allowable cup of extra strong "machinetta" brewed Costa Rica (no coffee for the rest of the day) and off I jogged to catch the train which would deliver me within walking distance of the labs.

The world looks very different from an early morning train, as it glides through the darkness, toward the pink glow on the horizon evidence that another day was indeed dawning; most of the apartment blocks still in darkness, a few cars on the city's as yet unclogged vehicular arteries.

Arriving on time at the Medical Research Center, truth-to-tell, a little trepidatious of what was to come, I found myself in the company of 10 men and an equal number of women - all apparently sane, consenting adults who had agreed to lend their bodies, their most precious possessions, to the cause of medical advancement.

This vaccine is supposed to defend the frail human organism from all types of 'flu, from Spanish to Swine, from Bird to Cat, Dog and Mouse - if there are such things, and I'm pretty sure that one day somebody will find a mouse that sneezed and declare that they have discovered Mouse 'Flu...

Should we pull through the two-month trial, we will have played our role in making the world safe for humankind once again...yay for us!

"Men this way, please, women in there" - directed Big Nurse..."find a bed, get comfortable, wait!"

Ten men, all "seniors" i.e. well above 35 (!) - Seven Russians, one Israeli, one American and one South African...ready to give our all for the cause; we happy few, we band of brothers...

And then the slew of tests and treatment started: blood samples again - this time EIGHT vials, blood pressure and Eh-Keh-Geh (ECG, remember?): "...shirt up please," some icy cold water daubed on my chest, six leech-like, flesh-sucking electrodes applied above my heart, one of each wrist, one on each ankle - Jeez, is this what it's like for a condemned prisoner strapped to a gurney to receive his last medical rites?

, ...and then - the NEEDLE. Here comes Big Nurse, brandishing her collection of experimental fluid-filled ampoules and needles, all neatly laid out on a sterile towel.

And then it was done: followed by a set of instructions delivered in rapid-fire Russian, until they realized that I don't speak much Russian even though at least one of my grandparents came from those climes. "Ah, Ivrit, - lo la'zuz, ti'skav, te'nuach, ha kol yiheye beseder - dont move, just will all be OK."

I hasten to add that I don't normally get 'flu: not in the doses that most people to seem to catch it (claiming multitudinous days off work...). I get it once a year, for 24 hours - that's it. For that one full day, I am a sneezing, dripping, dribbling remnant of a grouchy old fart - and then it's gone. No flu shot, maybe an Acamol (Paracetamol) or two, and certainly a good hot toddy (two tots of Scotch - spoon of honey, warm water...aaaahhhh.) And then I'm back to my normal, pleasant, sunny self.

The trial lasts for two months: the first day was a marathon - we had to be there for eight hours while they checked our vital signs every few hours after the first shot. The rest of the day passed in something of a daze - not a side-effect, just the result of lying about doing nothing except reading, or playing some stupid games on my cellphone when I got tired of reading (I'm becoming a whizz at Sudoku - easy level! ) - then back to my book, then back to my cell-phone, then another test, then back to my book:

Oh, they did feed us (if that's what you call it...) Breakfast was brought in at about 9:00 am - a gourmet rubber omelet (cold) with chopped kibbutz-style salad, kibbutz-style cottage cheese and some vile hot liquid they had the audacity to call herbal tea.

Then at about 1:30, when my stomach thought my throat was cut, (we'd been warned: DO NOT EAT BEFORE THE TESTS); we were served a bowl of that Jewish cure-all which obviously works, because it's served at every hospital throughout Israel - chicken-noodle soup (cold) alongside something in a plastic container. I was sitting at a table with the American member of the team, who asked me what we were supposed to be eating. Was it fish, was it schnitzel, was it some indescribable concoction dredged up from the depths of the hospital’s industrial kitchen...? It turned out to purport itself as schnitzel - cold - with some other stuff and rice, cold...nope, hospital food is NOT for me.

And now we head off into the great unknown: I have to keep a daily record of my temperature (I don't think I'm pregnant), a check on the pinprick where the magic elixir was injected into my system and record if it becomes swollen, or red or itchy. To do this, we were given a square of plastic with various sized holes in it to measure the size of the redness or swelling...and then we go back for a short session next week; and then onward right through until early February. If we survive, we get paid.

Watch this space for the next exciting episode of "General (Research) Hospital..." Sorry, no Dr. Drake Remore, no Grey's Anatomy, no McScrumptious or whatever he's called, no sexy nurses or female clinicians with a mission...just a group of grumpy old men at the mercy of a busy team of dedicated medical staff, trying to find a cure-all - if not for the common cold - then something pretty dam close to it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

For the Past 2,000 Years...

For the past 2,000 years or so, my people have been hounded, persecuted, murdered, tortured, expelled from their homes, beaten, burnt at the stake, gassed and cremated in ovens.

I hardly have to explain that I am talking about the Jews, the people who brought humanity and civilization to the world, who developed a code of ethics and behavior to which most of the modern “civilized” world at least pays lip service; and that gave the Christian world its Savior...

For the past 2,000 years, we have had to endure excruciating trial by fire, be barred from lands in which we had lived for many generations, and be the butt of jokes, derision, hatred, false accusations and calumny.

And yet, we the Jews, forced as we were into trades and professions which the ruling classes didn’t – or couldn’t – handle, became tailors and shoemakers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, because these were the only trades and occupations open to us. Were we good with money? Yes, some of us...because we had to be to survive. We devised strategies to keep us and our families together and alive. We knew how to stash our gold and diamonds and precious possessions, so that if we had to run from a pogrom or an enraged mob in the middle of the night, we only had to grab a pouch containing said valuables and get the hell out of our burning hovels.

We traipsed around Europe for two millennia, moving from place to place to find somewhere we could call home; somewhere we could rest in relative safety; we may have found it in various countries from time to time – we found it in England, when Cromwell allowed the Jews back after they were exiled in the centuries preceding his rule. We found it in Spain in the so-called Golden Age, in which Jews and Moslems are said to have lived in peace and harmony...although there are some that would dispute it was a Golden as it has been made out to be.

We found it in Germany, in the 19th century for a while, where we Jews blossomed, giving rise to philosophers and musicians and cultural leaders, and we assimilated, becoming more German than the Germans: much good it did us.

And then we started finding it in the great emigration movements to the New World: America, Canada, South Africa, Australia – finding that modicum of “shalva”, of being allowed to live and learn, grow and develop without officialdom breathing down our necks, without us being hounded because we were Jews.

That’s not to say that there was a complete absence of anti-Semitism, a complete lack of ignorant hatred or envy or jealousy. Oh, it was there all right: it was always there just below the surface– it was always: “The Jews have got all the money”- well, damn it, I don’t have even a small amount of ALL THE MONEY – and I know quite a few co-religionists who also don’t have any share of ALL THE MONEY...; the Jews are so smart, they’re so clever, why are they the doctors and the lawyers and the bankers? (I for one, am not any of these, and I don't think I'm that "clever" either...)

Well, my friends, as explained above, we were FORCED into those professions because everything else was reserved for everybody else. And there are other logical reasons why the Jews are so "clever" – and yes we ARE! But there’s nothing magic or arcane about it. It’s called genetics and it’s not very difficult to understand. You see, the Jews have always, but always, revered learning; it was the Jews who were the only literate communities in the Middle Ages, when most of the population hardly even had names they could understand. Why do you think the Dukes and Barons and Kings of the day wanted Jews to handle their finances and run their estates for them? Because Jews could read and write...everybody else was pig-ignorant, kept that way by the Church intent on holding on to its own power base.

Even more to the point, from the Middle Ages onward – and probably quite a while before that as well – the eldest Christian son became a knight or at very least a foot-soldier; and more than likely he was killed on the battle field, so there were few progeny there; the second son, usually went into the Church, so because he was supposed to be celibate, there was no progeny (to speak of) there either...but the JEWS!!!! Ha – their sons became Rabbis, and teachers – even if they still had to earn their living as tailors and shoemakers, or moneylenders. Their daughters – homemakers, nurturers par excellence – helped them follow the Biblical injunction: "Go forth and multiply", and they did! And so the brains and the love of learning and the innovation and “cleverness” and family cohesiveness was passed on from generation to generation...through all the fire and brimstone, hatred and death, stoning, beheading and strangulation; persecution and damnation we’ve had to endure.

Until today: In the middle of the 20th century, after the most calamitous, atrocious, terrible, horrendous, brutal, vicious and wicked crime ever perpetrated against man-kind, we found our home. OUR home – Israel; the country for which we had been praying for more than 2000 years; the Golden city we turned towards in hope and grief and penitence every single day of those two millennia since the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans...

And just when we began bidding you in the “Enlightened West” and the “Exotic East” a putative farewell, with the hope of settling quietly and peacefully and industriously in our OWN country – you have the AUDACITY, after all these thousands of years of everything described above, to tell us that we are not allowed to defend ourselves in it!

You have the GALL to say we are acting like barbarians – believe-you-me, we KNOW how barbarians act, we’re experts at barbarian behavior, we’re pretty dammed experienced in it...and you, the so called egalitarian Western world, afraid of offending the forces of evil, afraid of your own shadows lurking in the darkness and fearful that you may be accused of racism and hatred, instead turn your invective against US, the Jews, for wanting nothing more than to live in our own tiny piece of real estate, unmolested, untroubled and unafraid.

If we have to achieve that by being “unfair” to others who would seek bring explosives and weapons into our territory with which to murder us, by searching them, stopping them from entering certain areas, subjecting them to checkpoints and suspicion, well that’s just tough. If the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty, well, blame the guilty, not us. If terrorists use ambulances in which to hide their weapons and bombs, then don’t be surprised if we start searching ambulances.

So now you can justifiably point fingers at us and say, “See, the Jews are no better than the Nazis – see how they treat people, see how they herd them into restricted areas, see how they kill them and murder them...”

Yes, don’t know what you are talking about. You haven’t a clue. You mouth off with platitudes, and falsehoods and half-truths, and pollute the airwaves and the TV channels and the Internet with invective and ignorance. You accuse our soldiers, our young men and women, most of them barely out of school, of deliberately targeting civilians; demanding of them standards which no army in the world can achieve – and yet these young men and women maintain a purity of arms and an ethos in battle which no other army in the world can hope to live up to. Our young soldiers have to exercise moral judgments at a level far beyond their years and life-experience; and they do it, often in a split second. Do they always make the right decisions? No. Do they err on being sometimes too lenient or sometimes too aggressive? Yes, absolutely. Are there those among them who are vicious and racist and only out to “get an Arab, any Arab...” I’m dammed sure there are, and they should be rooted out and punished – and they are.

Are we a perfect society? No – far from it: Do we make mistakes, ya betcha, but we are a society, we are a country, struggling against vastly disproportionate forces (...aah, there’s the “D” word – disproportionate!) trying to stay alive and viable with a tad of sanity in this cesspool of the Middle East. I don’t think we are better or worse than any other modern, democratic, advanced country. We have our dunces and we have our professors (perhaps more than a normal quota): we have our tradesmen and we have our high-tech geniuses (perhaps again, more than the normal quota) and we have our gangsters and we have our lawmakers...some good, some not so good. We have the highest rate of NASDAQ companies, and we have a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners (Jews and Israelis together); we spend more per capita on scientific development than almost any other country in the world: and we have the highest earnings per capita of ANY country in the Middle East – check it out: you see, we are intent on remaining the brainiest, the smartest, the cleverest, the richest...We take in refugees fleeing from despotic regimes while our neighbors are killing them at the border: we absorb thousands of immigrants every year; and we cope with all this with a population smaller than that of New York City.

So, what's my point? Simply that Israel is a modern, democratic, vibrant, innovative, albeit imperfect country. Simply that after all these thousands of years of being the football of the world, kicked from pillar to post, we have found our home and we intend keeping it. Does this sound like rightwing rhetoric to you? Call it what you will. But you would probably be surprised to find out that I am NOT a right-winger; I didn’t vote for Bibi, I have been an ardent supporter of the left-wing parties since my arrival here 22-years ago and I still support their policies (with a few differences of opinion, but that’s my democratic right, not so?).

I would love to see us freeze – in fact, give up, evacuate – the illegal settlements. I would be very happy to see a vibrant Palestinian state established and thriving alongside – and in cooperation with – Israel. But ALONGSIDE Israel, not INSTEAD of Israel...aye, there’s the rub. Because the rest of the world would be quite content to see Israel dismantled in place of a “democratic (sic) one state for its all people” entity. Here’s a news flash, we are already one state for all its people; anybody who is an Israeli citizen – and many who aren’t – enjoy all the benefits of National Insurance, outstanding health care, the protection of our security forces and the police (often imperfectly, but hey, shit happens), freedom of speech, of worship, of association...point out any other country in this region – and in many other regions – that can boast the same.

We don’t need you to love us and we don’t need to love you: but we will respect your right to sovereignty and self-protection and we expect the same in return. We don’t want you to give us special treatment; just the treatment you would accord any other self-governing, disciplined, well-behaved state. We don’t crave your indulgence – just accept what we are, call us if we do wrong or make mistakes (we will, just like you), as good friends are supposed to, but don’t vilify us and don’t demonize us.

We are not demons: we are just human beings, trying – sometimes failing, but more often than not, succeeding  – to make some significant contributions to the human race.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Iran Calls for Ban on Striking Nuclear Facilities

VIENNA, Austria Iran, whose nuclear facilities are under threat of possible Israeli military strikes, proposed Wednesday that a 150-nation conference convening in the fall ban such attacks, according to the Charlotte Observer (

Was there ever such "chutzpah"? Iran threatens to anihilate Israel with nuclear weapons, and yet it seeks a ban on attacking the weapons that would carry out the anihilation...! And the world will probably go along with this upside-down logic. The web site goes on to report:

Iran says the proposal, revealed to The Associated Press by diplomats and confirmed by a senior Iranian envoy, is not linked to veiled threats by Israel of an attack as a last resort if the international community fails to persuade Tehran to freeze its nuclear activities.
Instead, all of the diplomats said the Iranian initiative seeks support for a generally worded document prohibiting all armed attacks against nuclear installations anywhere, when 150 nations convene for the September general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We are not worried about Israel," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief envoy to the IAEA. "Nobody dares to do anything against Iran."

He said an Iranian resolution will seek a worldwide ban on such attacks as "a matter of principle."

Ah, principles! yes, Iran is such a pricipled nation these days that it denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe out Israel, arrests French and American tourists, - oh, almost forgot - rigs its elections and then executes members of its opposition.

Iran has a many "principles" as an alley cat: I wonder if the world will notice when 150 nations convene for the September general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

UN hails Ahmadinejad win: 69 Opposition said killed in protests

The United Nations said on Tuesday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose contested re-election sparked violent protests across the country.”

Thus it was reported in Ha’aretz this week, from a Reuters feed...

What is it with the UN? Have they finally, after so many, many, reprehensible actions – not least allowing Arafat to address them wearing a uniform and with his pearl-handed revolver strapped to his hip – actually lost their minds and their moral compass?

Fair-handeness is one thing: so, let’s be fair, Idi Amin was only looking after his own interests after all, and as a sovereign state was allowed to do what he wanted: Pol Pot was another beneficent mass-murderer who just got away with it for so long; the Sudan, Darfur, Eritrea, the Lebanon, Zimbabwe – where do they actually draw the line and say: “Enough”?

The answer is simple: they don’t. Iran can posture and fulminate and call for the destruction of Israel (another “member” state, mind you). Their scruffy little president (reminds me so much of another scruffy little corporal who came to power somewhere 75 odd years ago...) can deny history’s MOST iniquitous crime, riggs an election, throws the opposition into prison, murders them and the UN SecGen CONGRATULATES him???!!!

I think Ban Ki Moon should also send a congratulatory note to the rulers of Burma for the way they have treated Aung San Suu Kyi; or perhaps to the rulers of Darfur for their successful ethnic cleansing program. How about a medal parade for the brave Taliban, struggling against democracy and modernism and a tickertape parade for Robert Mugabe? After all, he’s won Zimbabwe’s elections a number of times - one man one vote rules: he was the one man with the one vote...

Am I pissed? You betcha...but I’m also highly amused, because we have to find some humor in this situation. You see, it’s just as Orwell predicted: Love is Hate, Peace is War, newspeak rules. And this (what follows) is how the world’s most enlightened 9sic!) leaders have reacted to Ahmawhatsitsface “official” re-election:

Among those leaders who withheld their congratulations to Ahmadinejad were U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A UN spokeswoman said Ban's letter, sent Monday, was a "customary letter on occasion of inauguration" but added that the text would not be made public. The United Nations routinely releases the content of such congratulatory messages.

Meanwhile, a top aide of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi said Tuesday that he had handed over a list of 69 victims of the post-election crackdown to parliament. "The list, which was submitted Monday, included only those they could verify," added Ali Reza Beheshti when speaking to the Associated Press on Tuesday. He said the list also includes 220 detained and should by no means be considered exhaustive. He said the names came from the families of the victims and there were more coming all the time.