Chin Yui Yat Sang (Theme song from the movie "The Killer" (1989) directed by John Woo) - Sally Yeh
If dogs could speak...
Monday, December 25, 2006
במרשמי מ"ה, תהליך זה אורך מספר ימים
One of the things I did during my three-month blog hiatus was to make a two-week trip to Israel. The trip was enormously fun and the Israelis were surprisingly warm and open. I say surprising because my previous extensive interaction with them was through dealing with camera salesmen in Brooklyn, and I now realize that they were a special breed of their own and it was utterly unfair to judge an entire nation and people by their actions. It would be like saying that all New Yorkers behave like their taxi drivers, which is not true. Maybe a bit true, but not entirely.

The other surprising thing is that this is a country constantly surrounded by old wars and new conflicts, and I was expecting that most people would be reserved and suspicious of strangers. But, I found that everyone was uniformly welcoming and friendly. In this case, not unlike the New Yorkers.

But this post is not about Israel, but about my flights there and back. The trip over was on a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv. Most of the passengers were Israelis going home (perhaps they came over to buy cameras too). For 13 hours, I felt like I was getting an early introduction to the country, except that no one offered me a very special deal on an excellent Nikon, very cheap, “just for you my friend.” But everyone spoke in Hebrew, argued in Hebrew, sang in Hebrew and read stories to their kids in Hebrew.

Even many of the flight announcements were in Hebrew. Since this was an international flight, the flight attendants would speak first in English, then repeat presumably the same thing in Hebrew. Except that the English part would be one sentence short, and the Hebrew announcement was several minutes long each time, and that made me very nervous. I was wondering, what was it they were telling the other passengers that they were not telling me?

The same thing happened the last time I visited Japan when I took the bullet train. They were also telling the natives a lot more than they were telling us foreigners. Sure we knew that the next stop was Hamamatsu, but was everyone getting a refund on their train tickets, or were they having a buy-one get-one-free sushi sale in the dining car? The only consolation was that most of the Japanese seemed totally uninterested and just sat there slurping their noodles, so I knew I wasn’t missing out on anything much. A friend later told me that the announcer was simply reminding passengers to not forget their umbrellas on rainy days, and telling them that the exit at the next stop would be on the right side or left side. And you’d want to know that well in advance, because each stop was only for a few nano seconds (it’s a bullet train, remember?) and if you hesitated, you’d be off for another hundred miles. No wonder I met so many foreigners on Japanese trains – they just didn’t know how to get off.

But, I digress. Unlike the Japanese on the bullet trains, the Israelis on the Delta flight were very alert and paid close attention to the announcements. And many of my neighbors often got up and went to the first class section for long periods of time, and came back smiling and refreshed. I imagined there was an open bar in the front, and I was not invited. And it was no bar Mitzvah either, although apparently many gifts were exchanged. For the rest of the flight I just sat there feeling sorry for myself, probably the only unhappy passenger on the plane while everyone else had a grand party.

They also celebrated when the plane landed, with a big round of applause for the pilots, the flight attendants and each other, happy with the free drinks or the excellent camera deals everyone got. I remember one time the pilot getting congratulated after an unusually turbulent flight to Denver on a stormy day. But this time the flight was completely smooth and uneventful, so I didn’t know what was the big deal. Certainly nobody applauded on the return flight when we landed. Maybe that had to do with the fact that we came back to Atlanta, but still. At least nobody got out to kiss the ground or scoop up a bag of dirt for souvenir. And that’s another way where the Israelis are very different from the Pope.

And speaking of the Pope, Merry Christmas everybody, and Happy Hanukkah to you Delta fliers.
Friday, December 22, 2006
I’m Back
Hello again everydog and loyal reader (yes, both of you). Sorry I’ve been gone for a while without much warning. So that nobody worries, I should tell you now that everyone is fine. The dogs are doing great, and the people are OK too, just a little weird as usual, but what do you expect? I can make up some story about how I discovered a whole other world out there beyond mushing, eating, sleeping, howling and blogging, but that wouldn’t be true. Instead I’ll just say that I’ve been in rehab, for something much more insidious than alcohol and anti-depressants, and if I work up enough courage, I’ll tell you at the end of this blog.

So what happened while I was gone? Well for one thing, people and dogs kept reading the blog reruns and my reader count went above 33,000. Quite an honor, I have to admit. But I kept asking myself, if I had been more diligent with the blog, perhaps we could have gone over 100,000. That certainly would put me in elite company, with people who are much more witty and certainly do a much better job of writing every week. If I did it, if only I did it! Nah, that sounds too much like the title of a book that might never get published.

One other thing that happened – and this is a honest-to-goodness true story that was in the news this week – is that they discovered that the upscale department store Macy’s has been selling winter coats lined with dog hair. They have been advertising the jackets as “faux fur,” but it turned out that the fur in fact came from a dog indigenous to parts of Asia and Siberia, perhaps, you know, like Siberian huskies? This is now making me very suspicious of the people who have been saving bags and bags of my fur in the garage. Here I was thought they were being nice by brushing me and saving the fur to make warm blankets for the children of Katrina (or Darfur, I forgot which), but it now looks like they’ve been selling it to Macy’s. Does it ever cease, the so many ways dogs are exploited? They toil away at blogs, and even their fur is harvested for profit. Just unbelievable.

There is one more thing I should tell you. For Christmas the people bought a nice digital camera. Probably with the Macy’s money, now that I think of it. The camera is a Canon SD800 IS, an superb shiny little thing, very compact so it can be taken everywhere, unlike the 10-year old brick they used to carry. But perhaps the nicest feature of this camera is face detection capability. Basically it scans the picture for faces and automatically adjusts focus and exposure conditions to best capture the subjects, so they don’t come out too dark indoors or too bright when a flash is used. It might sound like a gimmick, but in reality it comes in very handy, and for these people it is just about necessary – until now everyone in their pictures looks remarkably like the unfortunate children of Darfur.

So how does well does this face detection work? It is amazingly effective, I must say. It works best when you look straight at the camera. Using little focus boxes on the LCD screen, it tracks faces when they move or when the camera moves. You can fool it by turning sideways, but partial sideways is still OK, and it kept going even if you put on a hat or headphones. It even works with pictures in magazines and on computer screens. The ultimate test was that it had no trouble detecting doggy faces like mine (naturally. I would have made them return it otherwise), but it failed to recognize our dear great leader George Bush. As I said, an incredible little camera. The people had so much fun playing hide-and-seek with it they almost forgot to take pictures. I had to bite them before they snapped out of it.

OK, so you ask what was the addiction that sent me away for three months? It was thoroughly embarrassing but now is the time to admit it. My name is Woofwoof, and I am a cataholic.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Never Forget

Monday, September 04, 2006
For reasons that are too complicated to explain here, I was in Washington state last weekend. I like Seattle as I do all of the Northwest, and I love Seattle even more during the summer when the weather is beautiful, and the city is green all over from the drenching rains that keep it wet most of the year. This time I visited not only Seattle but also went to a parade in Federal Way, a 80,000-resident city about 25 miles South of downtown Seattle. This is a smaller, quaint town unfortunately with all the suburban trappings like big-box stores and strip malls, most of them containing a liquor store, a laundromat and a taqueria of some kind.

Normally I try to stay away from all things federal, like the presidential elections or Homeland Security or the IRS. But as I discovered in my research later, the town got its first name some fifty years ago as "Federal Highway 99" due to its proximity to that highway when it was originally built. Over time, residents decided to shorten the name to just "Federal Way." Now "Bob" and "Littletown" are shorter names too, and I am certain that they haven't been taken by any American city, so I don't know why these folks chose something strange like Federal Way instead. But it was true that the town did look and smell a bit like a 1040 tax form. During my visit, I was afraid that at any moment the authorities would pull us over and demand $15,327 or 27% of our income as shown on line 14b, whichever was more.

We were there to watch a parade from the main city park to the Borders bookstore through one of the main town roads (there were only two, one that runs North-South that is the Federal Way, and the other that intersects it and has most of the big shops). The parade was dominated by marching bands from their many high schools and middle schools, preceded by football cheerleaders and players who tossed footballs back and forth -- it's going to be a long season, judging from the number of dropped passes.

The kids were joined by the mayor, a Korean-American who looks like any other mayor, bright tie and big phony friendly smile, more cheerful than the cheerleaders themselves. There were also assorted state senators and assemblymen riding in convertibles surrounded by huge American flags fluttering in the wind (I looked, and fortunately there was no grassy knoll). And they were followed by wannabe state senators and assemblymen who had no flags but plenty of election signs of their own, and busty assistants who tossed candies out to kids and other little people. After them came a Scottish pipe band (men in skirts blowing into big bags) and not one, but two Korean dance groups (mostly women in skirts, but no bags). Maybe they were all relatives of the mayor -- after all, it's really a small town. And finally, insurance company representatives who looked remarkably like the politicians. I guess they share the same goal of taking money from you with as small a deductible as possible.

The best part was the mascots. Naturally the schools had their mascots, but so did the businesses that participated in the parade. The Old Country Buffet restaurant was represented by a large bumble bee that looked like it has been at the buffet line and dipped into the pollen a few times too many. But nothing topped the ridiculousness meter as the two dog mascots that accompanied a float run by Bark Busters, a self-proclaimed animal service that offers "dog obedience training." The idea, I suppose, is to teach people ways to get their dogs to behave: listen to commands, stop digging, and stop communicating. All crazy talk, but funny as hell. The dog pretenders almost tripped over themselves while doing a dog dance, and they greeted the crowds without any food stealing or butt sniffing, clear signs that they have a long way to go before mastering the canine art.

A good time was had by all. It was a brilliant sunny day, almost as warm as California. We got to shake hands with the mayor and get stung by a chubby bee, and the dogs enjoyed the Bark Busters comedy skit and almost mated with their mascots. And we left town just in time, without having to fill out a single tax form.

The Classics
Some things are just too good to not enjoy over and over again. Like a husky song or a Bark Busters show. There are two classic works that will make their reappearances after long absences. The first is "The Far Side" calendar. After Gary Larson stopped publishing his cartoons years ago, his fans could still get their daily fixes of weirdness with a cartoon-a-day calendar. But even that stopped a few years ago around the time our President Bush was elected, perhaps because there was more than enough funny stuff in the news. Well, the nerdy kid and the cavemen and the talking cows are back. For 2007, Larson is publishing an "encore edition" of the calendar, using the proceeds to support wildlife conservation. I saw it on sale already at Costco, and I must say that the demented humor remains intact.

The second encore event is a new edition of the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Sometimes people ask you, if you were stuck forever on a deserted island, what movie would you want to have with you? For me the answer has always been and will always be: Blade Runner (my runner-up choice would be The Blue Lagoon). Blade Runner came out on DVD in 1992 back when the format was new and the picture was muddy, but because of movie copyrights and artistic disputes, that was about all there was for over 20 years. Until now.

This week a remastered edition will finally be available, unfortunately still the Director's Cut version, but with vastly improved picture quality. Then next year if all goes right, a new super duper ultimate DVD set will come out in time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the film, possibly with the many versions combined into one set to settle arguments once and for all. It is hard to justify double-dipping now and again next year, but if ever there is a movie that deserves it, this is the one. If Ridley Scott took some broccoli and called it "Blade Runner - The Sequel," I still think you should watch it. So save your money, everyhusky, steal credit cards, run auctions and bank scams, but whatever you have to do, go out and get Blade Runner, and get The Far Side. You are no cat, and you live only once.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I've been busy the last few weeks and returned to find that I've been tagged by Raisa the Brazilian Husky. As I understand it, I am supposed to reveal five weird things about me (wow, tough choices), and turn around and tag five new dogs. This blog tag game has been going on for a while, and it appears that every husky in the world who blogs has been tagged at least once, some twice. I don't want to tag them again, so I will give you ten weird things about me, and hope we can call it even. So, here goes...

1. My real, complete name is Doctor His Eminence Sir Woof. People also call me Woofwoof (they think it's cute doublespeak. I think they stutstutter), Bigfoot (to run better in the snow -- in my dreams, that is), Wookie (from Star Wars fame -- we have the same woo), Darwoof (after Charles Darwin since I revised his theory of evolution), Wolfowitzki (after Paul Wolfowitz who was Deputy Secretary of Defense and is now President of the World Bank. The -ki at the end is due to my Siberian heritage), and Wolforamaaaaaaaaa (more aaa's the harder I bite them).

2. I generally disdain water. When it rains, I tiptoe around the puddles, trying not to dirty my big feet. But I dig big holes in the yard, let them fill up with water, and jump in and sit there motionless, hot tub-style, water up to my neck. People freak out when they look out the window and see a dog head lying in the grass. It's usually their first real-life Godfather experience. I tell them some people have rock gardens, and they have dog gardens.

3. Like most huskies, I howl mournful, soulful Siberian songs. But I like to climb to the top of a shed in the backyard and howl at the neighborhood on hot summer nights. No reason to waste such a beautiful singing voice, so I might as well broadcast it to the world. The reflection from the steel roof of the shed helps carry the songs miles and miles. Hey, what do you expect? It's free. Would you rather listen to William Hung instead?

4. Did I mention I climb ladders? Yes I go up ladder steps just like people, well, maybe better than some people. The big feet help. It doesn't matter if the ladders are made of aluminum or fiberglass or wood. I climb them just the same. The view from up there at night is incredible. The neighbors call me the Homeland Security patrol. Not an enemy cat or squirrel will enter these territories without delicious consequences.

5. I usually sleep on my back, big feet up in the air. But when I lay on my belly, I like to cross my front legs, right leg first then left leg on top. If you uncross my legs or try to switch them left first then right, I will cross them back in the right order. Once. The second time I bite (hence the nickname Wolforamaaaaaaaaa).

6. I am not a picky eater. The type of food I like best is called "lots of." For desserts I prefer carrots, and bits of that Chinese spinach called "gailan" that the neighbors throw over (it's leafy and makes my poop green). But my most favorite snacks ever are raccoon (I've caught three -- bake them in the sun for two days until they acquire that beef jerky toughness and smell) and Cheez-It (a Nobel prize for whoever invented this heavenly thing).

7. It's no big secret that I blog. I also read lots of books. To keep me inside the people built a tall fence around the yard but one time I dug a tunnel under it and got out. I went to the city library about five miles away and walked up to the second floor before someone stopped me. They saw the house phone number on my tag and sent me home. I never found the roadkill barbeque recipe book. That's how I got to improvise the raccoon jerky method.

8. I once received a credit card application addressed to Woof Wolfowitzki. No kidding, and no Nigerian bank scam either. They gave me a credit limit of $7800, probably because of my World Bank connection, although I have more raccoon bones than pennies. Of course I didn't bother sending it in. The people have plenty of credit cards already, and they never noticed a little charge here and a little charge there to Big Dog Sled Repair Service, Raccoon Anonymous and HULA (Husky United Liberation Army).

9. The people keep a very large bag of my dog hair in the garage. Maybe they plan to knit it into a blanket for the children of Sudan, or the endangered chickens of PETA. But wait, you want to know weird things about me, not weird things about them (that would fill volumes).

10. I jog. The people jog. At different speeds. When I was a puppy my little feet couldn't keep up with them. They would run ahead of me and look back, shouting encouragement "Come on Wolfie, come on Wolfowitzki!" like mad dorks. It was utterly embarrassing, but it didn't take long until my feet got bigger and I outran them. Now they hang on for dear life at the end of the leash, screaming "Slow down, Bigfooooot!" You should see the look of sheer horror on their faces. Priceless.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Asahi Super Dry Weather
Weather is complicated business, even before the arrival of Michael "The Hurricane" D. Brown and FEMA. First there is this confusion about Fahrenheit and Celsius. Personally I think the use of Celsius should be limited to police reports and autopsies where numbers don't really matter anymore. For example, the patient dies of acute interoginkoba sceptomicenkolititis, and had a body temperature of 419.2C when found. See, something like that might make you think that the physician really earned his golf club membership, even if the most doctor-like thing he ever did was to spend several months at Club Med.

But it is not only temperature that influences weather. There is also humidity and wind speed, both of which can change how comfortable you feel. 75.2F at 22% humidity and 9 mph wind might feel like 23C at 59% humidity and 12 mph wind. But you can't really expect people to always have a supercomputer with them to calculate these things, or to run to weather pages on the web to look it up each time they plan a trip.

Leave it to the Japanese to figure it out, and what they came up with is truly ingenious, better than anything they have ever put into your Toyota SUV or Mazda submarine. Yahoo Japan's online weather service has started to provide four new indices this summer to tell you just exactly how it is outside. They have a "UV index," a "sweat index," a "heat exhaustion index," and finally a "beer index." The first three are somewhat self-explanatory. The last one is too, I suppose, and here they rate each day on a scale of 0 to 100, and that rating value helps you decide how many beers are best to drink. For instance, a 0-19 day deserves one beer, a 20-39 day gets two beers and so on, up to five beers for a 80-100 day.

Instead of saying that it is partly cloudy in Tokyo with a temperature of 79F, humidity of 83%, and wind of 9 mph from the South, you say simply that today is a four-beer day in Tokyo. Very straightforward and to the point. We all understand what a four-beer day is, no further explanations needed. I am sure that some people might claim that every day is a many-beer day, but at least now they can point to the supporting evidence. If it's on the web, it must be true.

That really makes these dog days of summer a lot easier to accept. I have a feeling that today is going to be a beautiful six-pack scorcher already.

Sunday, August 06, 2006
Dog Howl
Susan Butcher, 1954-2006
Four-time Iditarod champion, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990

Saturday, August 05, 2006
Crappy Update
In case you have been wondering, it is now safe to go to Japan without bringing along Whiff the poop smell eliminator. Last September there was a story about Kazuo Hoshino, an eccentric Tokyo resident who seemed to enjoy harassing his neighbors by storing his "bathroom waste" in a hole he dug in the backyard, then cooking it in a small pot so that the stink permeated the entire neighborhood. Kinda like what dogs do, minus the cooking.

The neighborhood collected a thousand signatures in a petition to police and the city government to make Hoshino stop his daily routine, but officials claimed that they were powerless since city laws against foul odors applied only to factories and businesses, not to individuals. This went on for about three years. The stench was so bad that some neighbors had to move away, and some nearby businesses shut down for lack of customers, all except for the local McDonald's which was thriving. That's not to suggest that Big Macs smell like crap. The taste, however, is a whole other matter.

Well, things have changed. Last month, police arrested Hoshino for violating an environmental protection ordinance of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Why it is a violation now and not in the last several years isn't clear. I suppose the environment is even more fragile today than ever before, and needs all the protection it can get. Police went to Hoshino's house and removed over 250 lbs of waste from the pit, probably to be used as evidence in his trial. Life must be good again in Tokyo. You can now open the windows to hear birds sing and let the fresh air in, and not have to put up with the smell of Hoshino, only the smell of the local McDonald's.

So there you have it. It is certainly not big news, but I do hope to give you closure.

Sunday, July 30, 2006
Zoom zoom zoom
Those lucky Alaskans! They have so much oil money that instead of paying tax to the state, they get an annual loot-sharing, I mean, "dividend" check back from the state. Just for living there. On top of that, they sweet-talked the federal government into giving them another tanker-load of money to build a bridge to nowhere. When they decided later not to build it, they were told to just keep the money - so basically it's money to build no bridge to nowhere.

And they get tons of snow in the winter, meters and meters of dog-sledding quality, cold and fluffy snow, a true Husky paradise. And in the summer while the rest of the country was broiling in high heat, they bragged about their 79F weather, ideal for oil-drilling, tree chopping and moose hunting, all the fun things that Alaskans get to do. The last time we saw anything near 79 degrees here in California, I think it was in Celsius or deciliters or something weird like that.

The Alaskans just struck it rich again. Last Monday a huge cargo ship suddenly tipped over to almost horizontal, about 240 miles off the coast of Alaska. The Cougar Ace was perhaps carrying goods from Far East sweatshops to gadget-starved Americans, things like Floo-Bees and iPods, but onboard were also over 4,800 spanking new Mazda vehicles fresh off the paint shop. 30% were CX-7 SUVs, and the rest were mostly Mazda3 hatchbacks. The CX-7 is a new model for 2007, getting excellent early reviews. One insurance firm estimated the automobile value alone was $72 million, give or take a few front-disc brakes, airbags and leather seats. Even that seems conservative, but you know how these insurance companies always try to low-ball you and raise the deductible.

Initial analysis suggests that the massive ship was thrown sideways when the ballast tank was adjusted incorrectly in the open seas. It was also possible that the few remaining whales that the Japanese haven't caught and eaten yet got together and used their blowholes to push the ship over to its side, but that is still unconfirmed. By Friday, the vessel had drifted from international waters into US territory, only 150 miles south of the Aleutian Islands, but it stayed afloat at an 80 degree angle. By next week, some of the cars will probably wash ashore, perhaps a bit wet and salty, with a few squid and shrimp stuck to their mufflers, but nothing that a good car wash cannot fix. And of course, since the oil is right there, all you have to do is to stick a pipe into the ground and pump some of that luscious black gold out, and in no time you can have a new SUV parked in front of the log cabin.

That's it. I'm packing and moving up North with the Huskies. Snow, moose, oil and imaginary bridge, and now with zoom zoom zoom. How can I resist?

Saturday, July 29, 2006
Raining Dogs
It's summer over here, dry as a bowl of lamb and rice dog food, but in Poland it's raining dogs, and not just any dogs, but enormous hundred-pound dogs. On Monday in the southern Poland city of Sosnowiec, a man was walking down the street minding his own business when suddenly a Saint Bernard fell from the sky and landed on his head.

It turned out that the dog, named Oskar, had been pushed out of a second-story window by his people at that exact same moment when the man walked by. Police arrived at the scene and found a couple in their thirties living in the house with their three-year old daughter. The adults were totally intoxicated, having just downed a large bottle of liquor, when they decided to test the flying skills of their giant dog.

Thanks to the pedestrian, Oskar had a turbulent but soft landing, and suffered only a few scratches. The passer-by was more in psychological shock than physically hurt, and the skunk drunk couple are now in jail, charged with child endangerment and animal abuse. And good weather has returned over the city, with not a single animal floating in the deep blue sky.

In related news, the big event in dogdom today is that a Siberian Husky named Meeshka will be participating in a Blog-a-Thon to raise money for Northern dogs that need a permanent home. I think it's a 24-hour blog fest, although I am not sure if that is measured in dog, human, metric or prehistoric time.

One thing Meeshka promised to do to generate even more interest and sponsorship money is to post a picture of her sitting on her human woman's head. Not quite like flying out a window, but a delicate exercise nevertheless, requiring tremendous balance and humiliation (I mean for the dog. For the woman it must be a big honor to be sat upon by a dog while she is sleeping). I am sure you will agree that such a sacrifice is worthy of a few, or a lot of your hard earned dollars. It's a great cause and a huge spectacle, so go over there TODAY and donate generously. Good karma will flow your way, I swear. May no fluffy dog ever fall on you.

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