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  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:42 am on July 29, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , army psychologist, , , Gefilte fish, Jewish cuisine, , Jews and Judaism in Europe, Person Communication and Meetings, , ,   


    I find Jewish humor to be one of the best ways to explain certain situations in programming. Here are two that I find particularly funny and useful.

    The first is a true story told me by a friend. I use it when I’m told that good web developers don’t use tables. It goes like this: My friend’s aunt met her religious relatives for the first time after coming to America from the Soviet Union. Horrified at being served pork sausage, they told her: “But auntie, Jews don’t eat pork!”. She replied — “Nonsense, I eat it all the time.”

    The second is an old and racist Soviet-era joke. A Chukcha serves in the Soviet Army, and is an exemplary soldier in border patrol. There’s only one problem — he tends to eat patrol dogs, considering them a delicacy (this untrue ethnic detail must have been created to make the joke setup work). An army psychologist offers to correct this. He sits the soldier down, takes out his watch, and hypnotizes him with the words “you are not a Chukcha, you are a Jew. You don’t like to eat dogs, you like to eat gefilte fish.” The patrol dogs continue to vanish even after the hypnosis seems to have worked. Authorities send another soldier to follow the hypnotized Chukcha around. This soldier reports that the Chukcha sits the dogs down, takes out his watch and hypnotizes them with the words “You are not a dog, you are gefilte fish.” I tend to tell it when I’m told that the act of turning a hack into a Drupal module somehow makes it “gefilte fish.”

  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:28 pm on July 26, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: a 28-year-old manager, , Crystal Thompson, , , , health insurance, How Starbucks Saved My Life, , , Memoirs, Michael Gates Gill, Person Communication and Meetings, Privilege Learns, , Starbucks bar   

    How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else 

    In his fifties, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned sixty, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his twenty-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects.

    One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury—a latté—brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform. For the first time in his life, Gill was a minority–the only older white guy working with a team of young African-Americans. He was forced to acknowledge his ingrained prejudices and admit to himself that, far from being beneath him, his new job was hard. And his younger coworkers, despite having half the education and twice the personal difficulties he’d ever faced, were running circles around him.

    The other baristas treated Gill with respect and kindness despite his differences, and he began to feel a new emotion: gratitude. Crossing over the Starbucks bar was the beginning of a dramatic transformation that cracked his world wide open. When all of his defenses and the armor of entitlement had been stripped away, a humbler, happier and gentler man remained. One that everyone, especially Michael’s kids, liked a lot better.

    The backdrop to Gill’s story is a nearly universal cultural phenomenon: the Starbucks experience. In How Starbucks Saved My Life, we step behind the counter of one of the world’s best-known companies and discover how it all really works, who the baristas are and what they love (and hate) about their jobs. Inside Starbucks, as Crystal and Mike’s friendship grows, we see what wonders can happen when we reach out across race, class, and age divisions to help a fellow human being.

  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:15 am on December 20, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alcohol distilling technology, ambassador, , basement of Broadway Presbyterian Church, Beatrice, Brandy, Broadway Presbyterian Church, , Cognac, De gustibus non est disputandum, , Ennesâ, , former Soviet Union, , gourmet food, gourmet soup kitchen chef, Jose Terrero, Machivenyika Mapuranga, Meal, Michael Ennes, , , olive oil roux, Person Communication and Meetings, , , , , , Zimbabwe, Zimbabwian politician   

    De gustibus non est disputandum 

    In the former Soviet Union, cognac was the expensive booze of choice, while whiskey was relatively unknown. Technically, you can only call cognac the brandy from Cognac in France, but the Soviets did not care much about that, already abusing Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée with Soviet Champagne.

    In any case, high end Armenian brandy was considered the ultimate drink. Armenians were one of the first to invent the alcohol distilling technology, and Armenian brandy, by the way was the very same drink that Odysseus used to knock out the Cyclops.

    The reason I remembered all this, is because two news articles reminded me of a Russian saying: to a pessimist cognac smells like bedbugs, to an optimist – bedbugs smell like cognac. Good cognac has a rather peculiar smell, and some say that it smells exactly like squashed bedbugs. Although I smelled cognac often enough, I’ve never smelled squashed bedbugs. Thus I can’t really say if the saying is true, or just an artifact of crappy Soviet cognac.

    Consider the contrasts:

    In Zimbabwe people are eating rats:

    “Twelve-year-old Beatrice returns from the fields with small animals she’s caught for dinner.

    Her mother, Elizabeth, prepares the meat and cooks it on a grill made of three stones supporting a wood fire. It’s just enough food, she says, to feed her starving family of six.

    Tonight, they dine on rats.

    “Look what we’ve been reduced to eating?” she said. “How can my children eat rats in a country that used to export food? This is a tragedy.””

    Zimbabwe’s ambassador to United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, told CNN on Tuesday that reports of people eating rats unfairly represented the situation, adding that at times while he grew up his family ate rodents.

    “The eating of the field mice — Zimbabweans do that. It is a delicacy,” he said. “It is misleading to portray the eating of field mice as an act of desperation. It is not.” “

    It’s hard to be optimistic about rat eating, but I guess it’s not as difficult for Mr. Mapuranga.

    On the other hand, it’s probably pretty hard to be pessimistic about gourmet food served in some Manhattan soup kitchens:

    “The multicourse lunch that Michael Ennes cooked in the basement of Broadway Presbyterian Church last week started with a light soup of savoy and napa cabbages. The endive salad was dressed with basil vinaigrette. For the main course, Mr. Ennes simmered New Jersey bison in wine and stock flavored with fennel and thickened with olive oil roux.

    But some diners thought the bison was a little tough, and the menu discordant.

    “He’s good, but sometimes I think the experimentation gets in the way of good taste,” said Jose Terrero, 54. Last year, Mr. Terrero made a series of what he called inappropriate financial decisions, including not paying his rent. He now sleeps at a shelter. He has eaten at several New York City soup kitchens, and highly recommends Mr. Ennes’s food.”

    The gourmet soup kitchen chef is an optimist though:

    “Despite the care he puts into his cooking, he doesn’t mind a little criticism.

    “They’re still customers, whether they’re paying $100 a plate or nothing,” Mr. Ennes said. “One thing we do here is listen to people and let them complain. Where else can a homeless person get someone to listen to them?” “

    I grew up with the Soviet media feeding me horror stories about life in America, and I know that indeed, looking at the world through the eyes of reporters is “looking through a glass darkly“. I trust the CNN reporter over the Zimbabwian politician because the latter has a much keener interest in misrepresenting the reality. But on the other hand, the efforts of the New York Times reporter to find the several homeless critiquing the free gourmet cuisine seem a little artificial. I bet 99% of them were rather grateful for tasty meals. But then, I don’t doubt that the New York City homeless can be rather picky — I’ve seen some refusing and even throwing offered food at the would be Good Samaritans.

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