Archive for the 'Culture' Category

International Opera Program, part 2

July 25th, 2005

On Thursday I have been to another master-class in the International Opera program.

As before, due to reasons of traffic, I had to arrive some time before the actual show started. It being a warm day (outside. The AC inside worked fine, but I did have to cross from the car to the hall), and me being a little thirsty, I decided to take a risk and sample the food stand they opened up in there.

So I went for the iced-vanilla drink. On the good side, it didn’t taste just like chicken. On the bad side, it wasn’t all that iced, and worse – it wasn’t all that vanilla. It did have an odd sweet and sticky taste reminiscent of cheap artificial-vanilla-flavour powders that I didn’t get to try for years and years. Next time, I’ll drink before going out.

There was a fire hydrant outside which was spilling a lot of water all over the place, making a huge pond in the park’s grass (The conservatorium is located inside a small public park). We went to look for someone in charge of the facilities, and failing to find anyone we went to the musical admin instead, and informed a guy who said he’ll pass it on. [update:Been there again today for another master-class. As we went out, we saw the same fire hydrant happily leaking water]

[update: Forgot to mention the bit in this paragraph on the original post] When we entered the hall we found two women sitting in our seats. And the seats are numbered, and issued on the ticket. We double checked the row and seat numbers, which matched what we recalled. One of the women pulled her own tickets, and showed us they listed the same row and seats. What she didn’t notice was that her tickets had the wrong date. Once we pointed out this minor detailed they found their actual tickets and moved. They didn’t show any inclination to go do something about the already torn tickets, but I hope they did or they won’t be able to use them on the actual date.

The master-class was taught by John Norris. He does not work with the singers about their singing, but rather on acting, and pose. While some of the older members of the audience seem to be stuck in the opinion that nothing besides singing matters, thing beside singing do matter. The singers have to appear as if they’re convincingly singing what they’re actually singing. Seeing a passionate love song sung in a completely indifferent face is bad, and quite jarring.

Not only that, but by making the singers concentrate on what the aria is about, they also sing it better, in a way which is more fitting of the mood and atmosphere. So while he doesn’t directly work with them on the singing, it is still affected.

This time all the singers, except one, were not Israelis. The all came from the area of the Americas. There was also one less singer, since one did not arrive due to reasons which were not specified to us.

On a further technical issue, the lighting were arranged wrong, and it was hard to see the singers, so after the first one we took an early recess while it was being taken care of.

Lea Friedman, from Hawaii, was the first singer, singing Juliet’s Waltz from Romeo and Juliet by Gounod. She had a very clear voice, but sang a little bit too quietly. She was also too wound up and tight, and this is what John worked with her on, trying to get her to loosen up, so she could express more of the joy that the aria should have.

The first trick included letting her fall backward a bit, let him catch her, and push her back up. The sensation of falling is liberating, and it’s enough of a shake to make it hard keeping too tight. He told her to just drop back whenever she felt the need, and that he’ll catch her. This worked very nicely, except this one time when he a little farther than usual, and gave her a start when he only caught her up a bit after she expected…

Also, to get from her the proper posture and behaviour she should have when thinking of a handsome guy she may meet at the ball she’s invited to, he told her to imagine that someone she believes attractive is standing there, and they settled for Brad Pitt. It was amusing, and she did perk up properly.

Another thing the did near the end was to get her spinning several times, and at a point he had her throw off her shoes before spinning. Not something she should do on an actual performance, of course, but a good way on practice to get into the feeling of the proper mood.

Pascale Beudin from Canada came next, singing Pamina’s aria from The Magic Flute. She had a bit of an overly squeaky voice. Mostly John worked with her on getting a more emotional response, fitting the different stages in the aria.

He used a common technique, getting someone else to sit on the stage, to serve the role of Tamino. Since the point in the aria is for Pamina to get Tamino’s attention, Tamino sat with his back to her, and she had to act like she’s trying to get him to notice her and turn around.

They went over the aria, going through the several different emotional states, pausing occasionally for her to say and act in her own words what Pamina says in the aria. This is also a very common technique, and helps the singer see how their body language relates to the words. It’s easier to connect to emotional phrases in your native tongue. Since she’s a Canadian he gave her the option of going with English or French, and she decided to go with English.

He went with her over several different kinds of moods/attitudes that could fit. One was an attempt to show Tamino what will be denied him. Which rolled the crowd in laughter with her modern version, “No nookie for you!”.

Another amusing part was near the end, at the death threat. After saying “I’ll kill myself!” in the spirit of the aria, there was a comment (I don’t remember if from Pascale or someone else) “I’d actually rather kill him”. After the laughter subsided John replied that it may be so in “modern times, but in the olden days” it was different.

Rachel Mondenaro, from the US, sang Violetta’s first aria from La Traviata. She had a strong and deep voice, but somewhat too breathy, and she mostly looked like she was singing to the floor. John worked with her on trying to appear more dazed, more shocked, as she contemplates Alfredo and the discovery that he so deeply loves her. During the aria he had her act like she’s almost fainting and falling on a chair (which she did far too carefully and daintily, but it’s a start). Later on they went through sobering up, and at the end of the aria, when Alfredo arrives, he said that she should show some strong reaction. It can be either a good one, or a bad one, to be suddenly confronted by Alfredo and the reality, but there should be a reaction.

Angel Ruz, from Mexico, sang Quanto è bella, quanto è cara from L’Elisir d’Amore (Love Potion). He was the only male singer this evening, and a sole Tenor against all the other Sopranos. Even the singer who didn’t arrive was a soprano. His singing originally wasn’t entirely smooth, like there was some noise in the background of the sound (A poor description, I know, but the proper terms seem to elude me for the moment). He also seemed totally unconvincing as he sang the self deprecating love song from Nemorino to Adina.

Here John also used another person to sit on the stage as Adina, and give him focus. For most of the, very short, aria they worked on getting Angel to say the words in his own language, so he could put himself on the proper posture and expression.

One amusing part was when john, trying to help him understand what he wants him to say, told him to say in his own words something like “I’m pathetic, I suck”. To which Angel, the Mexican, replied with “What does it mean suck?”.

Most of the times his Spanish versions of “you are so beautiful” etc, were very much inane instead of passionate, but on some cases he did loosen up with his Spanish ending up with much more… er… powerful descriptions, which amused the crowd to no end.

Most importantly, the guy did improve noticeably afterwards. Not only did he looked to be far more into it, but his voice became more appropriate and more clean.

As a side note, someone looking very much like him (Well, it was him, but since I’m not 100% sure I don’t want to say it) was wandering around before the performance started, holding tightly and kissing some good looking girl. So supposedly he should be capable of expressing his love.

Next on the printed plan for the evening is Gal James. [update: fixed an uncertainty about her name I had in the original post]She sang Adriana’s Aria – Io son l’umile ancella, from Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilèa. She had a good deep voice, but sounded like she tried to avoid going to the high notes.

She did well, and John mostly worked with her on properly portraying the Diva part. There were improvements, but nothing too exciting happened during that part of the performance.

Overall, again, a good and enjoyable show.

International Opera Program in Tel-Aviv

July 20th, 2005

On Monday started the annual International Opera Summer Program, aka International Opera Program in Tel-Aviv, aka (as they call it in Hebrew) International Opera Workshop in Tel-Aviv. Yes, they’re having a hard time deciding on a name, and keeping the same name in all the publications, in both English and Hebrew.

This program has been going on for 19 years now. The moving force behind the program is the amazing Joan Dornemann from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. For all these years she manages to arrange and bring a great team of singers, musicians and choreographers, who give a series of public master-classes, and raise several arias concerts and operas. The student singers who perform, and take the master-classes, come both from Israel, and from many other countries, and are usually very good, and right before (or during) embarking on actual performance careers.

The city of Tel-Aviv is partially funding the program, and ticket prices are lower than the excessive amounts one need to pay to see an actual opera production. Despite that over the years the prices have climbed pretty high. Originally (Not when the program started, but when I started going, about 12 or so years ago, give or take a few years) they took prices which were about a third of the current ones. Still, 45 ILS for a master-class, and 90 ILS for an opera production (even if the music is usually adapted for a single piano), are relatively not expensive these days.

Over the last several years, as in this year, the first two weeks are master-classes, and the last two are arias concerts and operas.

Sadly as time goes by less and less people seem willing to come here to give master-classes, and Joan herself carries more of the burden. This isn’t that bad, because Joan is quite amazing. She’s interesting, entertaining, and very nice. While she does wonders with the student singers, and seem to be able to give ideas for improvement for each one, she is well aware that she is appearing in front of an audience, and fills the master-class with explanations, stories, background information, and even opera gossip.

And yet, less artists who give master-classes directly translates to less master-classes. Overall I enjoy these, and certainly learn from these, a lot more than the actual operatic productions they make. Plus, this becomes less and less of a way to get exposed to artists I would normally not get to ever see and hear, even if they’re not singing themselves on the master-class. Like for example this one year she managed to bring here the incredible Federico Devia, on the year before he died.

I’m booked for several master-classes this year, as well as one opera and one concert. I’d have gone to more, but finding people to go with to the opera is difficult. As it is, there are very rarely any people in the crowd in my own age group, not including other student singers on the program who come to see the others perform. The crowd is mostly comprised of people around their 80s, and some people around their late 50s. So I can go to a few master-classes with my father, but his work hours overlap most shows (19:30 on the evening of workdays. That’s way too early). Occasionally I manage to drag a friend for one of the evenings, but most years that’s a problem, and even when I do it’s not many.

One of the master-classes I did book was the first one, on the opening night.

That 19:30 hours is also a problem, since it’s high traffic time in the Tel-Aviv area. I had to leave work early to make sure I have enough time. Happily the roads were not very crowded on this specific day, though I still have some more to go, which statistically would be. But as things were, I didn’t need all the spare time I allocated for the drive, and I arrived about half an hour early, as did my father

Before entering into the hall we saw in the crowd a local well-known actor, Moni Moshonov. The guy looked… horrible. Baggy pants, T-Shirt with a large print, in desperate need of a haircut, and bloodshot eyes. I myself don’t ever go as far out as to wear a proper suit and tie, but I’d still never would have gone to a cultural event like that looking even half as bedraggled as he did. It took me a while, and several repeated looks, to make sure it’s really him. But I suppose actors and artists make their own rules, eh?

His presence may have been explained by the fact that one of the student singers on the master-class was named Alma Moshonov. True, there are more Moshonovs in the country than him, but the name isn’t very common. So I assume a relative. But I may be mistaken, maybe he just likes opera. Or maybe he was there for a different reason, the hall was one belonging to a conservatorium, after all. [update: She's his daughter. Plus, her mother's brother is an opera singer himself, Gabby Sade]

The hall itself was jam-packed. It looked like there were only two unfilled seats on the entire place (and that hall can contain about 500 people, by my own rough estimate), just on our two sides. Yes, really. Hardly an empty chairs, except nobody sat near us. One has to love these little ironies. In any case the extra elbow space was welcome, since the chairs are slightly too small, and this provided us with some more room.

As the master-class started, and Joan started to speak, the sounds of shutting-down cellphones started. For some obscure reason many of the cellphones refuse to shut down quietly, and must chime to let everyone know. Mine does so as well, but if I want to shut it down quietly I just pull out the battery. Some people didn’t think of that, though. Heck, those same people didn’t think to maybe turn the phone off before the show started, instead of waiting until it’s too late. So Joan stopped, and repeatedly asked everyone to turn their cellphones off. In her way she did it very nicely, making a joke of the thing, but it was obvious the phones should be turned off. This, though, did not stop a phone from starting to ring later on while one of the singers were singing their aria. Sadly, we do not have anything like the death penalty in this country, not even to idiots who keep their phones open during a performance.

The format of these master-classes is fairly standard. A singer comes on the stage, introduce themselves and the aria they will sing, sings the aria, and then the teacher running the master-class goes with them over it. This can include, depending on the person and the aria, and on how the actual singing went, tips, pointers, explanations, and corrections. Normally the singer will practically sing the aria a second time, but in small pieces, some with repetitions, going over specific aspects and points with the teacher.

This one went like that as well, except that Joan opened up with something slightly different. She had all the six singers appearing that evening in a line, letting them sing a scale, the same scale, one by one. She then turned them around, and had one sing the same scale (She also asked the audience to close their eyes, but you can guess how well that went). She did that a couple of times, asking the audience after each time which of the singers sang the scale, based on how they did it the first time. With some it was fairly easy, since some aspects of their voice and singing were very unique, and with some it was a bit harder. Harder not necessarily because the singer was like another one, none of them exactly were, but because it’s hard to remember six different voices after one hearing, and the similarities are more than the differences. Still, overall the audience did well.

This was of course also a way to show the students that their voices are indeed different enough to separate, to help illustrate the point that they should sing in a way that fits their own voice. You’d be surprised how many singers don’t do that, but tend to assume there is just one way to sing an aria and they have to totally standardise themselves.

For musical accompaniment in the program they usually use a single piano, and all the scores are adapted for piano. The adaptations are usually very good, though. The piano player this time was John Lidal, and I’m afraid I can’t say much more beyond that he sounded quite well, since I was listening to the singers and not the music.

Noa Danon sang an Aria from the opera L’Amico Fritz by Mascagni. She has an amazing voice, and I think could be a great singer once she’ll smooth out her technical problems. Smooth being the key word here, since while her voice is incredibly smooth and flowing, she goes on to smooth everything too much. When the aria needs to flow, this is excellent. But when she needed to make stops and sudden changes, she went smooth instead. And when she needed to exactly pronounce words, she smoothed syllables over. It was very pleasant to hear her sing, but it wasn’t always the way the aria was supposed to sound, and was hard to understand many of the words. She also kept herself a little bit too quiet, on the few times she needed to go louder.

Another problem she had, actually a problem that all the singers that day had to some extent, was on the acting bit. Many people think, entirely wrongly, that singing opera is only about the sound. That it doesn’t matter how you look like, how you act, what you do, and how you move. But acting is a big part of it. A person cannot sing about the love of their life, and look slightly bored. A person shouldn’t lament on their great suffering, and look bland. And those few standard hand gestures that singers like to endlessly repeat while singing about anything, they don’t look even mildly convincing. When you understand the words, seeing improper acting hurts the performance, since things don’t feel natural. When you don’t understand the words, seeing improper acting makes it much harder to understand what is going on. The difference acting can make is huge. But I’ll talk more about this on a future report, on one of the master-classes of John Norris, who is a choreographer for the Met and works with the singers on their acting. Joan herself overall works on about everything, including sometimes acting, but this time focused almost exclusively on the singing (except for one of the singers, on one of those repetitive movements. She went over with her on what is going on in the aria, moving her hand with her saying something like “and you give him the bowl of cherries, and you give him the bowl of cherries, and give him the bowl of cherries. How many times can you give him the same bowl of cherries?”. It was much funnier when she did it, honest).

Moran Abouloff sang the worst version I ever heard of Una voce poco fa, one of the loveliest, and well know, arias from Rossini’s opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). I know, it sounds harsh, but I heard this aria quite a few time, I really like this aria, and yet this performance didn’t to anything to me. Bland voice, screechy high notes, badly mispronounced words, and inappropriate acting. I know it’s not nice to say that, but I really think she needs a lot more work before she’s ready to go on stage. Either that, or she was having a really bad day.

Limor Ilan sang an aria from the opera Roberto Devereux by Donizetti. Nice singing overall. She seemed to had some problem holding her breath. Her main problem, and what Joan mostly worked with her on, was the she sang too slow and static (probably not the right term here, but the best description I have). She held her voice on the same notes and tone instead of letting it flow and revibrate. Joan made her sing the aria again, only while she sings she also had to fastly rotate her hands in circles over each other quickly. It’s a simple movement, but doing it makes you keep going. And again and again Joan stopped her and had her repeat the part, since whenever the went to higher notes, or had to hold a note, she very noticeably slowed down the hand movement. This is actually a very neat trick. When she slowed down her singing, the hands naturally slowed. When she really tried to keep the hands going, her singing went on as well.

Rinnat Moriah sang the first Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). It was very nice singing, enjoyable, but somewhat week. Joan started off by asking her “How old are you, 44?”. All the singers were on the 20-24 range (mostly around 23), so this was a rhetorical question. Rinnat answered that she’s 20. So Joan said something like “come back when you’re 30″. She complimented her on having a low and sweet voice, but said that this aria requires a much more strong, high, and metallic voice to do right. “This is not the dress for you”. For a practical advice she told her that this is a nice aria to do at a party, or a fund raiser, but if she’ll do it now on an audition she doesn’t have a chance. Some of the singers work on several arias, and arrive when they have some sort of either fallback, or some other aria they’re less practised on but can try. When Joan asked her is she has the score of anything else with her, she said she didn’t. So they went over this aria again. Basically Joan tried to make her sing it much louder, even if, as she told her, it would feel to her too loud and coarse. It did sound better like that, and when she was done she looked like she really worked hard.

Alma Moshonov sang Monica’s Waltz from Menotti’s opera The Medium. This one was in English, so the words were much easier to understand. At least for me, that is. I do manage somewhat with Italian operas, since many of the words are similar to English and Latin counterparts, but it’s not nearly as clear as hearing English. And I usually don’t get many words from the German ones, though there are exceptions as well. Still, English is easier to understand, though the amount of good operas in English is much smaller. Family relations notwithstanding, Alma has a good and strong voice. She has some serious potential. On the first run the aria sounded a lot like something from a musical, though, instead of from an Opera. I liked it, since I like musicals, but some of the parts were not like they were supposed to sound. As Joan put it to her, she has a very big voice, and felt like it won’t fit into the aria, so she tried to make it sound more nice and elegant by limiting her voice, causing her to extend her breath too much and making it sound like a Broadway musical. Joan encouraged her to sing it as it’s supposed to be, and stay within her own voice. It did sound much better, which I suppose is the whole point.

Talia Or sang another aria from The Magic Flute. She was simply excellent, good voice and excellent control. The words were well pronounced, and she reacted very well to all the dissonances and jumps in the piece. Her only problematical side was the acting, when during the entire aria she had an expression and pose like my mum would have had if as a small boy I’d have left dirty laundry on the floor. Not appropriate for what she was singing. Still, if I remember correctly, I saw her on master-classes in the opera program two years ago, when she had problems with her acting as well. Her singing is, like I said, excellent. In fact, as she, with Joan’s encouragement, let us know, she was performing for real during the last year. Actual paid jobs, as well as participating in a couple of large contests and getting into very good places there.

This time all the singers were Israelis. I expect there will be variation over time, since they do have other singers.

Overall a good show, and I certainly enjoyed the evening.

I doubt that was by design

June 14th, 2005

Christianity Today, the Evangelical Christian periodical, also publishes various specific studies and publications, which they sell for a modest fee to pastors. Not being an evangelical Christian, I never noticed them until I stumbled upon the page for this study, titled Sex as God Designed It. Catchy name, and since I find it hard to take such a thing as designed, I decided to take a look.

I did not actually pay for the article, but there’s plenty on the product page to explore. Now, I know that Christianity is a big supporter of marriage. And I know that it probably isn’t too enthusiastic about free sex. But from there, to what this study seems to claim, well, there’s quite a bit of a distance.

The church has a vital part to play in spreading the good news about sex.

Good news? News? As in something new which people didn’t know until now, and was just recently discovered? And here I thought the church was somewhat conservative and old fashioned, not running cutting-edge research on topics like sex.

Overview:

Western civilization is overstimulated and oversexed, says Philip Yancey. We are thoroughly saturated with sexual images and constantly surveyed about sexual attitudes and practices.

I don’t know about Mr. Yancey, but personally I am not (unfortunately) overstimulated and oversexed. Not only that, but I am not constantly surveyed about sexual attitudes. Come to think of it, I think I was never once surveyed about my sexual attitudes. So who the heck keeps coming back to Mr. Yancey to survey him?

But something essential and precious has been lost. Sadly, a persuasive Christian approach to sexuality is missing that could act as a balance to secular cynicism and obsession and help believers rediscover the elements of sacredness in a healthy sexual life.

I know sex should be great, but people who refer to it as sacred, or holy, are usually taken away by the nice people in white jackets, and hospitalized. Besides, if the purpose of a sexual relation was to be sacred and worship god, it would have been, like other things in that category, even more exciting and fulfilling, right? Sex might have been as fun as taking communion, maybe even as exciting and uplifting as praying, or going to confession. But since sex really pales in comparison (Right? Be honest, which would you rather do? So there you have it), then it should be obvious it can’t be nearly as sacred.

In this study, we’ll endeavour to understand God’s design for sex and discuss how the church can help spread the word.

About the only seriously good thing I have to say about this study, is that at least the author think that it’s possible, and desired, to understand God’s working and decisions. There are plenty of religious attitudes that claim trying to understand and analyse God is wrong, and thankfully this isn’t one of them.

Still, there’s really no need for the church to spread the word about sex. People know. It’s one of the worst kept secrets of all times.

So far for the overview, let’s take a look at the main points of the study article, see what it’s really about:

—Teaching point one: God created and designed sex and sexual expression to be experienced in a marital relationship.

So what Mr. Yancey is saying here, is that God is a terribly bad designer, and had no idea what she was doing during the design phase, no? Because, let’s face it, the fact that sex and sexual expression were designed specifically to be experienced in marital relationship explains a lot. It explains, for example, why nobody is ever sexually attracted to a person they’re not married to. It also explains why people always remain sexually attracted to people that they are married to. And, last but not least, it explains why nobody who is married is ever sexually attracted to anyone beside their spouses, for even the briefest of instants. Yes, wonderful design job. If you’d have bought something home with that design spec, and that actual performance, you’ll be running back to the store for a refund, and sue the company for false advertisement and sloppy design.

Ah, and let us not forget, this of course means that ever since the day of creation, everyone married. Historically speaking, there was never a time, and never a civilization, that had sex, but did not have marital relationship. The two come hand in hand. Right? Otherwise it would mean that through major parts of human history all people were just blatantly ignoring God.

—Teaching point two: When society loses faith in God, the purposes and practices of sexual expression become perverted.

Because, of course, nobody who isn’t Christian ever had a proper marriage between a man and a women, just like Mr. Yancey God likes. And we should be grateful for being notified that if society will lose faith in God then, among all the other horrors, something terrible will happen… People may come to think that sex is… fun. Dreadful, isn’t it?

—Teaching point three: The church must reclaim its teaching and pastoral role to provide a godly perspective and a well-grounded witness for sexuality.

The way I read that point, he says that priests and pastors should provide sex-ed classes in church, and should sometime sneak into people houses to make sure the sex they are having is only with their spouses. But that can’t possibly be what he means, can it?

Apply Your Findings

No, I’m not kidding. In the study about sex, and the dangers and perversion of out-of-marriage sex, one of the topics is getting the priests to apply their findings. I have nothing to say about that, except to wonder if that refers to the married evangelical priests, or the unmarried evangelical priests. Probably both. Well, have fun applying your findings then, guys. Darn, I like that euphemism, and predict it’s only a matter of time before it will hit the mainstream. I wonder how “Hi there, gorgeous. Would you like to come with me and help me apply my findings?” will go as a pick-up line…

How to reduce violence at bars and clubs. Maybe.

May 17th, 2005

A special committee has recently served the Minister of the Interior with its recommendations on ways to prevent violence in bars and clubs. The committee members come from the Ministries of the Interior, Justice, Education, Welfare, and Transportation, from local authorities, and from the Police. I read the article on the highlights (The full article is in Hebrew. there’s a much shorter version in English, which sadly lacks almost all of the interesting bits) of their recommendations, and overall I’m not impressed.

Bars/pubs and clubs will not be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks after 3AM. This is in order to “dissipate the effect of alcohol on those late for the ball“. Whatever that may mean in this content. I don’t recall any study pointing that alcohol has a stronger effect if imbibed after 3AM. Maybe they know something I don’t. The way I see it, even if most of the violence cases occur later than that, people will just get the same amount of alcohol sooner. Worse, since there’s a deadline, they will get it at a higher concentration as it comes near, since they know they won’t be able to order another drink later.

Club owner will be forced to install CCTV systems, and put someone to monitor it. So it will be easier for them to notice if… something… was going on. So there will be a cost for the clubs to install the surveillance cameras, and to hire people to monitor them. And since most of these places aren’t very large, it will still not provide a much better observation than simply putting someone inside the club to watch using their own eyes. Like, here’s a new thought, having the bartenders pay a little attention and call security if they see a problem. This won’t do much to help, but will raise costs which will of course fall on the customers. Not to mention that people tend to feel a lot less comfortable when they know they’re being photographed, and maybe recorded on film. Having fun, and being self concious, don’t quite go together, so this will cost the clubs plenty of customers

Those same CCTV cameras are to be placed on the entrance to the toilets. Which is supposed to help, how? Is the person observing it supposed to memorize everyone who comes in, and get worried if they stay there too long? Do they really want to bust in every time someone is having number two? No. So it won’t help. Unless they want to put the cameras inside the bathroom, since the claim on the article is that some of the violence occurs there. And this is going to be such a huge success, once people find out that the bathroom is on tape. Right.

Separate bathrooms for men and women. I don’t quite get it, since many people already have those. Some places do have some sort of a single entry/waiting chamber leading to both, but the costs of rebuilding this, or rebuilding totally different facilities for the places which don’t have these, are prohibitive. And I assume the problem they think they have (Doesn’t sound like violence, per se, but more as using the opportunity for the sake of not having people make-out over there. Something which is outside their mandate) is caused by people of different genders willingly going in together. Having different bathrooms wouldn’t stop it in that case.

Forming a group of paid cops/detectives/security-guards who will patrol in the area of the clubs, paid for by a toll the municipality will charge from the clubs. So in addition to their own security, bar owners will need to pay to people who generally patrol the street and supposedly provide security for the entire area? That’s very nice for other business and private homes nearby, I think. Not so nice for the bar owners. Or for their customers who will have to pay for it. Mostly, the problem is that those who will pay will not have any control or guidance over the actions of these rent-a-cops, they just pay the bill, and someone else will give the orders. This is never good. Hey, if having more people patrolling the neighbourhood is a good thing that customers are willing to pay for, then make such decisions public, and let the business compete by publishing how seriously they take it. Let the customers decide if they want to pay for it. But don’t put another tax on these businesses without them having anything to say about it.

Modifying the law forbidding selection, to allow selectors to prevent entry to people who may “endanger the public safety”. It was deemed unfair, prejudicial, or whatever, to allow pubs to put employees outside who will decide that they don’t want some people as customers. I don’t really get it, since it’s their business, and being far from monopolies they should certainly have the right to refuse customers, but that’s the way it is. So now they want to allow this practice, but only for people that they think are dangerous. This is far worse than either having no selection, or having full selection. First, the costs issue again, since this is in fact just a job of another trained security guard, that the bar will need to pay, but who will not provide the value that a proper selector does. Second, people who will be denied entry will raise the exact same complaints they did before. Instead of being told that they don’t look cool enough (or whatever the criteria may be) they will be told that they’re dangerous. This will certainly raise again all the ethnic discrimination issues, just as before. But people will be even more offended, because instead of just being told they don’t fit in with the rest of the crowd, they will be told they’re dangerous. This is very insulting if you don’t see yourself as dangerous, and could actually encourage violence if you really are dangerous.

Classify laughing gas as a dangerous drug. Yes, they want to change the law defining dangerous drugs to also include laughing gas. Why? Because they discovered that sometime criminal elements tend to sell laughing gas outside clubs. And this is supposed to be relevant how exactly? Making something a controlled and legally dangerous substance, just because some criminals sometime sell it near areas where sometime there is violence, strikes me as an enormous overkill and out of all proportions. As well as totally outside the scope of what those drug laws are supposed to deal with. Not everything sold by criminals is a dangerous drugs, and being sold by criminals is certainly not a reason to do classify anything as such.

People with criminal history will not be allowed to own, or be partners in, a club or bar. On the surface, this could make sense, since these people may be more likely to allow criminal activity in the premise. Is this criminal activity directly related to the violence, though? Or just people being drunk and stupid? Because most of the article implies that it’s the latter (after all, this committee was formed to deal with violence, not a crime problem with a side-effect of violence). And so this is outside their mandate again. Not only that, but officially serving prison time is supposed to be the punishment, and people who are released are supposed to be given the option to reform. And this is an explicit discrimination against ex-cons.

I saw another version of the article, on a print paper, which also mentioned something about placing cops who will measure the breath alcohol levels of people leaving bars and pubs. Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, since being drunk is legal. So unless someone parked right in front of the bar, and they stop them from entering the car (All of which is nice, but again totally outside their mandate on the violence issue), this doesn’t help. The exception being if they want to put a cop who will follow every single drunk person leaving the bar on foot, to make sure they don’t drive, or get involved in violent acts, until they sober up a bit. That’s totally unrealistic, and is also not legal, so that can’t be it as well. For now I just prefer to believe that this particular tidbit may have been a mistake of the paper I read, but given the other recommendations above I’m afraid I’m not so sure.

That same printed article also mentioned showing educational films about the dangers of violence in those clubs. The popularity of which is bound to skyrocket the amount of people who will actually go there to have fun.

Overall, like I said, I’m not impressed. Or rather, I am impressed, by how badly done this is. And they intend to turn everything into laws and regulations during the next three months…

Business ethics and private correspondence

May 10th, 2005

In the recent year my company started to sell a certain system worldwide. One of the systems went to a rather large company, L, which can also act as a reseller for our system as part of their own production line. And which also intended to also use if for presentation purposes, in exhibitions and the likes, as part of their product lines and solutions. L asked for a discount price, and due to the fact that we were trying to push the system, and the fact that this would also provide publicity for our own system, my boss decided this would be a good investment, and gave them a nice discount.

Fast forward to last week. My boss met with the head of a different company, G, who was also interested in purchasing such a system. And started the discussion by asking for the same price we gave L. When my boss asked what price he was talking about, the guy from G pulled out a printed copy of the email that my boss sent in the past to L’s representative.

My boss explained to the person from G that the price cut there was an investment, and that now we are also not so avid to push the system, since it’s not so new and we have sales. And that due to that we cannot sell him a system at such a low price (which is break-even, or even a loss for us. I’m not entirely familiar with the cost analysis, but it would in any case not allow us to make any profit from the sale).

The bigger problem was that the email was a private one. As a rule, individual price quotations are not something which companies are supposed to pass along to other companies. Not as a general rule, and certainly not when it is clearly specified that this is a one-time offer and is a special discount under special circumstances, as that email did specify. So G should never have seen that email.

My boss called the guy from L, to complain, and asked him why did he give the owner of G this message. The guy from L was stunned, claiming that he never did passed along that email…

As it turns out, the G boss was visiting L’s headquarters for business, a short while ago. And for some time they left him alone in the office, going to check for some data. And he used that time to open their file cabinets, browse through folders, and photocopy documents. Which included a printed copy of that email.

This was a senior of a rather large international company, during business meetings with another large international company… Lesson learned: Do not leave anyone in an office unattended, no matter how respectable he may seem.

Needless to say, he won’t be getting that discount.

Would you like a song with that?

May 9th, 2005

A young women called in to one of those radio shows that play songs by request. The show’s host said hi, and asked her what would she like. So far so good, and quite normal.

Then she answers “Could you give me something?“, which leaves the host in a bit of confusion. You could hear it in his voice when he asked her “Wha… what do you… er… mean, give you something?“.

So the girl answers him that she wants a gift, like they give everyone. Sometimes they do give callers some semi-promotional gifts, after they ask for songs. The stunned host says that sure, no problem, they’ll add her to the list, and transfers her off the air to the receptionists in charge of taking caller’s details.

During the entire exchange, she didn’t ask for any song to hear. Talk about missing the main point.

Naked art

May 5th, 2005

If people make a performance which requires practice, careful choreography, and special costumes, that’s art, right? Apparently in Oslo they think so too, which is why a Judge decided that striptease is art.

Here’s a nice quote by one of the strippers artists:

“Ninety percent of the guests here tell me that what I’m doing is art.”

Sure it’s art, baby. Now please shake them for me once more, then go and see if in addition to tax exemption you can perhaps also require state funding. After all, I’m sure things like theatres, galleries, and museums get funding, so why not other art forms?

IM usage study, with some interesting findings

April 11th, 2005

This is a long study about Gender Issues in College Student Use of Instant Messaging. But if you can’t read the whole thing, these are the highlights.

Mainly, they claim to find clear differences between the way men and women use IM. I read their differences. And you know what, I actually know college/university students who use their IM
accordingly. But I also know just as many, if not more, who don’t.
Heck, if what they claim was true, then I would just have to be an
hermaphrodite.

Which I’m not. Seriously.

But what I find most amusing is the general claims, beside the main
interest of the study, that most subjects were found to not use those
obnoxious shortening of words which are so common on SMS and IM conversations (Oh, wait, did I say common on IM?! Well, guess I did… Imagine that…). And that there is an extremely low percentage of spelling errors in those IM conversations (about 1%).

So very little occurrences of "10x u r gr8", and very little occurrences of people forgetting a few letters, or slightly twisting words.

That’s absolute rubbish, you know. I use IM,
and mostly with university/college students and recent graduates,
considering I’m a part of that group myself. Personally, I try very
much to keep my spelling, and using full words. And I fail on the
spelling front occasionally. Many people don’t try, or care, to work
for spelling, and some don’t care to work to write whole words. A much
higher percent than this study find...

Heck, most of the time people don’t even bother commenting
when they’re conversation partner shorten a word, or misspell a word,
because of how common it is, and how everyone is doing it anyway.

What is the difference between betting on horse races, and gambling?

April 7th, 2005

I saw this little article in today’s paper announcing that the
department of tourism declared its intent to build an hippodrome in the
Negev, to be used for horse racing and bets. They expect it to be a centre of
tourism, and to cause other tourist attractions to be built in the same
area. The minister of tourism is quoted as saying that "The state would
benefit from the bets that will take place in the hippodrome, and the
Negev will enjoy the creation of many labour sources".

First, I’m really not so sure about the merit of the idea. Sure, there
are horses in Israel. But we’re pretty far from being well known as the
equestrian capitol of the world. So people who are seriously into
horse races won’t come, due to it being too amateurish. And are people
who are just enthusiasts, or want to experience a race for the first
time, really expected to come to Israel of all places? This makes very
little sense to me.

Unless we expect serious horse breeders and racers to bring their own
horses here. A lofty ambition. Too much so, I think, considering
freight for a race horse to Israel would probably cost a lot more than
inside Europe or the US. They won’t bring them until we get a good
reputation, and we won’t ever get that good reputation without people
bringing them.

All of which doesn’t matter much, because the way I see it, and the way
I can’t believe my esteemed minister of tourism doesn’t see it, the point
is to allow gambling. Yes, bets on horse races are gambling.

So how come this goes on so quietly? There were discussions once about
opening approved casinos in Israel. It suffered from many loud
objections, citing things like increased crime rate, or people losing
too much of their money. It reached such a state that on the last
election we had a potential party running that was only about making
gambling legal (which it now isn’t), and they didn’t get enough votes
to enter the Knesset.

So how come betting on card games is illegal and much contended, but
opening a hippodrome and betting on horse races doesn’t raise any
hackles? This is the exact same thing – gambling. Or am I missing something?

Hitting the bar scene

April 6th, 2005

Last Sunday I was invited by a friend (let’s call him H) to go to a
show by an Israeli rock band, Rockfour. The performance was in a pub in
Tel-Aviv, was supposed to be an acoustic concert, and was free of
charge (Meaning they didn’t charge a ticket for the show, not that you
could be in the pub for a long time without being expected to order
something).

We arrived at about 22:00, and the show was supposed to start at
23:00. An hour in advance was supposed to serve the dual purposes of
giving us some time to eat and drink before they start, and to get a
good sitting place before the onrush of the crowds.

Well, one and a half out of two ain’t bad. There were still some
seats by the bar when we arrived, true, but they were on the distant
side of the bar, far from the stage and without a line of sight to it.
Still, we could sit, and for the time until the show starts, that’s
plenty.

Things starting a little late is an all too common occurrence, but
this was more exaggerated than usual. The performance only started at
about 23:50. Not that it was much of a problem, since we are friends,
and definitely had enough to talk about. Plus, there were some amusing
incidents helping to pass the time, which I’ll get to shortly.

Their songs are in English, and, at least according to my friend,
who is a fan, they sang the more well-known ones. At least, he managed
to identify all of them based on the first few notes. At most, I
managed to recognize that some of them sound vaguely familiar…

The performance itself was good. The music is the calmer type of
rock, which I like, and they play and sing well. Although, frankly, I’m
not sure that I’d have labelled it an acoustic show, because apart from
an acoustic guitar, it didn’t seem that anything else fit the bill. In any
case, we received more than good value for our money, so no complaints there.

Before the show started we were sitting, as I mentioned, next to the
bar. At some point some guy arrived to the bar, put down a glass of a 1/3 litre of beer, pointed at it emphatically, and asked the bartender for "another 1/2".
She looked at him oddly and asked "Another 1/2, or another 1/3?". The
guy looked at his glass, looked a larger glass of 1/2 litre that stood
nearby, and pondered. Eventually he came up with "Er… a small 1/2.
Like this." and pointed to his 1/3 glass again. The bartender deserves
a lot of credit, she managed, though barely, to keep a straight face. A
lively discussion ensued, and eventually the guy agreed that he wants
another glass of the same size as the 1/3 glass he had with him (notice
the lack of admittance that it may not be a 1/2 litre glass).

Another guy arrived next to the bar at a different point, and asked
for "diet coke". Mind you, here in Israel, when speaking Hebrew, you
call it "Cola", or in this case "Diet Cola". The only people actually
saying "Coke" are some tourists. This guy wasn’t a tourist, he was
local. Which places him in the different category of people who, very
mistakenly, think they’re very cool.

In any case, he asked for his "Diet Coke", to which the bartender
replied that they don’t serve soft drinks, only alcoholic beverages.
"What, not even a diet coke?". Yes, apparently not even a diet coke.
She asked him if there’s anything else she could give him. The guy gave
it serious consideration, and asked for… soda. Me and H were trying
very hard to avoid bursting out in laughter, I’m not sure we managed.
The bartender, again, kept an almost straight face, and explained,
exactly as she did several seconds ago, that they don’t serve soft
drinks, only alcoholic beverages. The guy gave up, and ordered a beer.

H and I were discussing this, reaching the conclusion that it’s a
silly policy, since they surely stock non-alcoholic beverages for
various mixes, so why not offer to sell them if people are willing to
buy? I came with the classical example of asking if they have a Bloody
Mary (Vodka with tomato juice and some flavouring, if it’s news to
anyone), and when they said yes, asking for a Virgin Mary instead (Same
thing, only without the Vodka. Yes, technically you can call it tomato
juice, but it doesn’t sounds as cool when you sit next to a bar).

But the discussion was moot. Someone else approached the bar, and
asked for mineral water. We were waiting for the bartender to give him
the explanation about serving only alcoholic drinks. Instead, she gave
him mineral waters. We failed to see how mineral waters are an
alcoholic beverage, or to understand why this, apparently available,
option wasn’t suggested to the previous guy.

Later into the evening, a girl squeezed next to H to get to
the bar. This was about the time the show was supposed to start, so the
place was jam-packed with people. Those sitting places of ours were at
a premium. The girl waved at the bartender, but she had to wait for
quite some time, since there were a lot of people waiting in queue. So
in the meantime, apparently to discourage idle small talk, she turned to
my friend and told him that she only wants to order a drink, but she
isn’t social, and so he doesn’t have anything to talk with her about.
Not lacking in ability for retorts, my friend replied that if it becomes difficult they could
always talk about the weather.

Which should have been the closing phrase of the conversation.
Instead, this girl started to talk about the weather. With great
enthusiasm. This is the first time in my life that I saw a "So, how
about that weather" type of line actually working as a conversation starter.
Amazing. So the girl (Let’s call her D) and H started chatting with
each other, and I was trying not to snigger too much in their faces.

Since it was a long wait, a friend of D arrived, offering her a sip
of her own glass. Which contained some sort of a white wine. To which D
replied that wine is for nerds, and refused. An amusing reaction,
isn’t it? Well, not amusing at all, compared to the fun-value of what
she eventually ordered… Yep, wine.

Somewhat later, the show finally started, and H wanted to go closer
to the stage. We decided to be polite, and offer our seats to D and her
friend. So H stood up and went looking for her. There was a coat on his
chair. And I placed my arm over his chair in a very obvious manner. Yet
it took less that three seconds for the first person to arrive and ask
if we’re leaving, and if he can take the chairs. I had to fight a bunch of
them off with a stick, figuratively speaking, until D and her friend
arrived.

H, in the meantime, offered D the seats, in exchange for her phone
number… He was joking of course, and she really would have gotten the
seats regardless, but I’m not sure how obvious it was to her. In any
case, she gave him a number, and the number even turned out to be
real…

So we moved closer to the stage, and actually managed to make our
way very close, so got a good look at the band members and their
equipment. At which point we did have to grudgingly give them the
acoustic guitar, but it still didn’t make this an acoustic performance.

And during the show I needed to go to the toilet. I made my way
through the thick crowd, only to discover that there are several
people waiting ahead of me in line. The first one entered a freed booth
straight away, leaving one guy, and one girl that arrived immediately
after me. The girl was very agitated, and jumped up and down all the
time, expressing her urgency. Eventually she knocked on one of the
booths, yelling at the occupant to move it. A while later, probably
longer than was necessary, just to spite, the occupant left, and
started throwing choice expletives at her. The guy that was first in
line wanted to enter the booth, but a cleaning guy just arrived, and
insisted that he needs to go in and clean first. During the distraction
of the arguments, another booth opened, and some jerk who was behind us
all in line run immediately in and locked the door behind him.

Eventually the cleaning guy, who has won the previous round, went
out, and the first in line got in, leaving me, the jumping girl, and a
couple more guys that arrived in the meantime. The latest one asked
about the queue order, and was dismayed to discover that there are so
many in front of him. At which point the girl, and the guy that arrived
after her, explained that they know each other, and don’t mind
sharing. Yes, just what you’ve heard.

Eventually the hijacker went out, and the girl gave me an agonized
look, asking me to please hurry it. I told her she can go in first,
since it looks like she needs it much more urgently than I do. She
uttered a thank you, and dashed over, only to be stopped by the
cleaning guy that entered before her and started cleaning the booth…

But eventually he went out, and she went in. Alone.

All in all, the evening, or night, went very well. I did made the
mistake of thinking that it won’t be crowded. Which was a very stupid
assumption given that it’s both a popular pub on it’s own account, and
had a free music show by a good band. The thing is, I really don’t enjoy
crowds.

Or, what’s worse at bars, the cigarette smoke. People smoke in
bars. And when you put a lot of them in a closed room… Let’s just say
that the first thing to do after each and every bar visit is throw all
the clothes into the washing machine, to take the stench of the smoke
out.

Both facts, the crowds and the smoke, may help explain why I very
rarely find myself in bars. That, and the loud meaningless noise many of them
like to play as foreground music (yes, that was a snipe at it being
overly loud). But the latter wasn’t a problem in this bar, at this evening,
of course.

Music and Sports don’t mix

March 29th, 2005

On Saturday evening I went to a performance by Shlomit Aharon.
A terrific singer, with a wonderful voice (She has been at it for a
number of years now, and a friend asked me if she isn’t too old by now,
so to make it absolutely clear, she’s far from it).
Also accompanying were:

  • Peter Wertheimer on a saxophone. He was excellent, and
    it’s not the first time I get to hear him play in some capacity. He
    usually plays (at least the bit I got to hear) Jazz, as was also
    evident when in some of the songs in this show he did a little solo
    parts and slight improvs. He’s a good player, and has a good sound.
    Also seemed like a nice person, but that could have just been a little
    stage persona, hard to tell.
  • Michal Rahat on the drums. Don’t think I heard her before.
    She played alright. But a bass drum was set to a resonant frequency for
    something most people carry inside their chests, which made all the
    bass strokes very uncomfortable. I know that music that touches your
    heart is supposed to be good, but I think that sentence really did not
    intend for it to be taken literally…
  • Dror Alexander on the keyboards. Didn’t hear him before as
    well, and I may have misspelled the name here, not sure. Also did good
    enough a job, if there were any big glitches, I missed them. He ran
    some small banter with Shlomit, as a part of the show, and managed to
    sound almost like it’s all fresh, even though the conversations were
    apparently nearly identical to previous shows of them together.

Anyway, the show was excellent, I like her music, and love her singing.

The show took place in the hall at our city country-club. Tickets for members were at a ridiculously low price, as usual.

This was also the night of some big sport game (soccer?), between an
Israeli team and Ireland (I think). As you may sense, I’m not that much
into sports…

But plenty of other people are. Enough so that the country-club also
had, in their second large hall, a huge-screen cast of the game,
starting at 19:30 (Local time, that’s GMT+2).

The performance was supposed to start at 21:00, but at some point
they realized the game won’t be over, and many people are in the same
target audience, so they delayed it to 21:30. This only took place at
Thursday, two days in advance, so some people missed the notice and
arrived for 21:00, but better late than never.

Of course, sport games never end on time, or so I’m told. We arrived
in plenty to time to 21:30… Plenty of chair occupied by jackets and
bags, but the people were all in the other room watching the game.

The performance itself started only at about 22:00. But at least
people seemed happy, apparently the game was 1:0 against us (I use us
for Israel here, though I don’t particularly feel for any side in this
matter) from about 3 minutes after the game started, and changed to 1:1
at about 3 minutes before the game ended. Personally, it doesn’t strike
me as a huge victory, but what do I know?

It was interesting to see that Shlomit isn’t more of a sports buff
than I am. She mentioned the game, and seemed just as puzzled over the
whole thing. I’ll hazard a guess she wasn’t too thrilled about having
to sit and wait for an extra half an hour, but if that’s true, she
certainly didn’t show it.

Maybe I should start watching more MTV

March 24th, 2005

Again from the long line of people who have too much free time on their hands, so are wasting it doing idiotic research.

The latest one? Checking how much sexually explicit content is there on the MTV channel.

In 171 hours of MTV programming, PTC analysts found 1,548
sexual scenes containing 3,056 depictions of sex or various forms of
nudity and 2,881 verbal sexual references

And they found a lot. So much so that it’s absolutely ridiculous.

And it is. I don’t really watch the MTV
channel on television. But occasionally I do get to to tune in for a
clip, or have it open for a little while in the background when I’m
doing something else. And there really isn’t that much sex there.
Seriously.

Heck, I doubt hard-core porn channels have so much sexual scenes on
them. Makes me wonder what MTV channel they were watching, since it’s
certainly not the one I have on TV…

German planning

March 21st, 2005

I’m not saying explicitly that it’s a German trait, but it is the
second time something like that happens to me with a German, and it
never happened with anyone from anywhere else.

I needed to talk with a person in a company we work with in Germany.
Couldn’t catch him the at the office all day. Finally we got hold of
his boss, who informed us that he isn’t in the office. He will be sick until Wednesday.

He’s sick, but there’s already a date set for him getting better and being back. What, are
German germs and viruses really that more disciplined than the rest?!

If you thought gender discrimination crazes were just an American problem

March 11th, 2005

It looks like the Norwegians have joined the bandwagon.

Anyone heard of the large furniture selling network, IKEA ? Well, most of the furniture comes in pieces, as "flat pack", with instruction manuals explaining how to assemble them.

So what’s the problem? Some manuals contain drawing of human figures
alongside the pieces of furniture, illustrating positions and movement
needed for the assembly. And the Norwegian prime minister is furious
because all the figures are either of men, or of indiscernible gender.
So it must be sexual discrimination, you see?

Do you? Really?

Especially those indiscernible gender figures. Have they no shame?!

He’s absolutely right. Next time I buy something in IKEA I want the
instruction manual to be jam-packed with drawings of scantily clad
females. And be accurate and elaborate, so there won’t be room for
confusion. We have to know these are real women, and not men in
disguise. Equality is important, dammit! Are you listening IKEA?

On a side-note, the CNN news article
managed to get IKEA’s name wrong in the title. The web page title, in
the HTML, not the headline. The article itself is correct all the way,
but on the title it’s spelled ‘Ikea". An overzealous copy editor?

Hat tip to Common Knowledge.

Pre-Eurovision

March 3rd, 2005

The Pre-Eurovision show was just broadcasted here. The supposedly best
singers and bands Israel has to offer were competing to decide who will
represent us in the Eurovision contest.

And I must say that so far I’m impressed. No, not with the songs, those are all seriously bad. They’re so bad, that I think it must be done on purpose.

Think about it. International relations are not too hot for us this
year. We’re practically bound to lose votes due to politics, even if
the song would be excellent. The result would be a lot of angry people
complaining about it. Complaining about how all those countries (which
would be labelled by the angry people as anti-Semitic for that) vote
against us on purpose. That’s not the way to encourage harmony and
peace. So instead, someone found out a way to prevent that.

We’ll send a bad singer, with a bad song. That way when we get poor
votes, nobody will take it too hard when we get voted down. It’s
downright brilliant.

And how do you make sure that the winning song here is bad? Easy! You
make sure all contestants are bad. Which they were. Some were plain
horrible, but the best were merely unimpressive and uninspiring. Either
the song was bad, or the singer/s were bad, or both. Mostly both.

Very sad. We do have some good singers here, good musicians, good
songs. Honestly, we do. But none of them made it as far as the
Pre-Eurovision contest…