Saturday, July 22, 2017

Law of the Land, modern style

There is an Israeli play entitled I am here because of my wife.  In that manner, I was present this week at a lecture by Or Yohanon called 150 pay slips. The topic was mortgages and how to choose the correct one. I don’t regret attending it as I improved my knowledge of mortgages, relevant vocabulary in Hebrew and modern means of communications.

In terms of content, house financing in Israeli is vital and complex. I myself barely understood it until this lecture even thought I took out a mortgage only a few years ago. The basic reason is the relatively high cost of housing in terms of apartment prices and income. In simple terms, starter housing is out of reach for most young Israelis without significant help from parents. Furthermore, the majority of Israelis cannot keep a budget as proven by the extraordinariness of anyone not in overdraft. Delayed gratification in terms of spending is not a developed concept in Israel. Finally, Israel has suffered from inflation, leading to the indexing of certain types of mortgages. This has and can lead to the principle actually increasing over time and even the doubling of monthly payments. That is how the dream house turns into a nightmare.

Aside from the informational aspect, the sociological view of society was fascinating. First, the speaker himself represented the new generation. He referred to himself by his first name, wore a very faded tee shirt and jeans and used language filled with Hebrew slang and terms in English. He immediately admitted that he had no formal financial education and was an IT engineer in practice. That said, he appeared completely knowledgeable about the material and made it clear when he was not sure nor did he try to tell people which specific type of mortgage to offer. Yet, I find it hard to imagine some 20+ years ago, any financial adviser would have given a lecture to some 100 or more people looking, acting and speaking like a college student at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater. People would not have taken such a person seriously, rightly or wrongly.

On the other hand, I could sense a bit of the Banana Slug (the UCSC mascot) spirit, albeit in a modern form. He viewed his effort to educate people about how to get a livable mortgage as a personal crusade against the banks and media, which choose not to prepare people for their most important financial decision of their life. While he lacked Marxist fervency, the speaker clearly had a personal agenda to prevent banks from overly enriching themselves at the expense of naïve young and not-so-young Israelis. On the other hand, his modus operandi was perfect for his audience, including through Facebook, an Internet site (150 pay slips) and forums. His technique is apparently successful as his lectures are generally booked a week in advance. He speaks of the language of his audience, both in terms of words and means.

So, even thought I was there for the ride to ensure marital bliss, I learned about mortgages and modern communication. I honestly wish Or success in his efforts to educate people about this topic.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Toned News

Listening to the news in Israel is a cultural norm.  Summaries are broadcast every half an hour on ratio as well as during morning and evening news-related programs, making it virtually impossible to escape the voice of the news announcer. Contrary to foreign reports, Israel enjoys many days without terrorist incidents.  Actually, traffic accidents are the major non-health related killer in the country but that would not surprise anybody that has ever had the pleasure of driving in a Mediterranean country.

Curiously, it is not even necessary to hear the words to know how good or bad the day has been. The most important story is always first and sets the tone, literally and figuratively, for the rest of the broadcast. If the voice is clearly happy, the lead story is an Israeli winning the bronze medal in Judo or something similar (Israelis have low expectations of their athletes). If there is excitement in the voice, however restrained, another politician is being investigated by the police, with the peak being him entering prison. There is nothing the fourth estate enjoys more than having its accusations proven correct. The flat voice is reserved for economic data since employment and inflationary statistics are notoriously dry regardless of their actual effect on people’s lives. The dreaded tone is serious and quiet, reserved for terrorist incidents and their immediate reporting. Listeners everywhere become quiet, sensing that bad news is about to follow, for the umpteenth time. After an hour or so, when the reporters start interviewing the third cousin of a witness because there is nothing new to say, the announcers struggle to maintain their earnest tone and become more businesslike.

Just as there is a science in reading faces or, in the past, reading the Soviet government owned newspapers, listening to the news in Israel is an acquired talent, going beyond understanding Hebrew. It is all in the tone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Internet alternative plots

“How did people manage before Internet” is a rather common question today. The blunt answer is quite well and much happier but no one under the age of 30 will believe it. A much more interesting issue is how Internet would have changed the world if it had been around some 1000 years ago.

Historically, its impact would have been huge.  Clearly, the Spanish and Mongols would not have launched their Armadas to conquer England and Japan, respectively, if they had been able to access a long term weather forecast.  Logically, Alexander Graham Bell would have never invented the telephone for the simple reasons that there was no need for it. The list of world-changing potential effects is endless, limited only by a person’s imagination and knowledge. More intriguing would have been the Internet’s impact on entertainment, specifically how its existence would have changed the plots of the stories.

For example, communication issues would be much simplified. Simenon’s Maigret would not have to wait for wires and wake up operators in the middle of the night to receive the information he needed. The whos of Horton and Dr. Seuss fame would not have had to organize everybody but instead simply could have sent a message via whatsapp or tweeter.

Furthermore, characters would be more certain of where they are. Dorothy would have been certain, not merely having a feeling, that she was not in Kansas anymore anda checked for return flights instead of taking the yellow brick road. Likewise, all those characters in movies whose vehicles ran out of gas would have known where the next gas station was.

Logistics and travel would have been much easier. Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and Passepartout could have ordered tickets for all their means of transportation in advance, significantly reducing their stress. For that matter, if Brad and Janet from the Rocky Horror Picture Show had done a proper search for a well-rated B&B, their honeymoon would have much ordinary. On a humanitarian (or is that canine) level, wouldn’t it have much simpler if Lassie had been picked up by a local farmer, who published her picture on the Internet, leading to either a nice ride back to her original owners or, at worst, a new home?

How much suffering the Internet could have saved. Algernon, of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys, could have read the result of the trials on rats and realized that his increased intelligence was only temporary. Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid would have known that the last doctor is a quack, thus avoiding premature death.

I should note that I could not think of a single Shakespearean plot that would have “benefited” from an Internet retrofit, but that may be from lack of knowledge or imagination.

It is clear that the plots of countless tales would be completely different if the Internet had existed at the time of their writing. However, different does not mean better. I prefer the non-www version of these stories as they are somehow quite richer and more focused on the essential. I could argue that so was pre-Internet real life in many ways but that might sound dinasaurish.

I welcome any ideas for alternative “what if” plots.