Voting in the 2014 Hungarian election in Los Angeles

I wanted to vote in the Hungarian election and in order to do so I had to travel to a consulate. Here is how it and the first half of my day went down. (Voting part starts in the seventh paragraph.) My flight from our small, local, Northern California airport was scheduled to leave at 6.30 AM for Los Angeles, where the nearest consulate was. I set my alarm for 5 AM, but woke up at 4. I tried to sleep a bit more, but no luck, so I started my day after four and a half hour sleep. After finishing up a few things at home I got to my airport at 5.30 and had an uneventful boarding.

The first few minutes of the flight were beautiful. The patches of morning fogs looked magical around the neighborhoods, that I know so well. I could almost see my house as was ascending. It was truly a sweet experience. My phone was turned off as I was saving the juice in it for later and I had no other camera, so I didn’t capture it.

The building the consulate is in

The building the consulate is in

At the Los Angeles airport, I didn’t have to go through any security, which was unusual for me, as I usually fly international. At one point during the long wandering in the tunnels of LAX I asked an airport employee which direction should I go and he just took me there on his glorified golf-cart, which went surprisingly fast. This was the first time I ever sat on one of these. Hence, I enjoyed the second new experience of the day.

art

Artwork in front of the consulate building

I had to wait less than a minute for the shuttle that took me to the rental car agency, but there I “made up” the time, as it took about half an hour for the two clerks to process the 5 people who were in front of me in the line. When it was my time I had a nice chat with the clerk. He jovially asked me the purpose of my visit and I told him. Then I asked where he is from: Lebanon. He volunteered how the voting goes for Lebanese living in the US. The government pays for their flight ticket back to Lebanon, in exchange for their vote. They have to vote, the government takes that seriously, but otherwise they get a free flight  ticket. And yes, there is a Lebanese consulate in LA, but no, they cannot vote there or via mail.

I also re-learned that every company is sneaky. I bought my flight ticket online and was under the impression that the price I paid included the car rental and extra insurance. Turns out that my impression was wrong the, or rather “an” insurance was part of it, but the price for the car renting that I saw during the booking process in big letters, was just an estimate of how much it might cost. I was annoyed by that, but a close look at my printout clarified that indeed that was the situation. And while the car rental clerk explained this to me, he did the same thing. He asked whether I am interested in a convertible Mustang. I told him that I feel safer in a car that has a real roof. He said, OK, than just a regular Mustang. I said sure. When it was time to look through the paperwork I asked why the rental fee is so high? Well, because I upgraded my basic reservation to a higher category. Yep, sneaking in the Mustang was a costly upgrade, which I ended up not going for.

flowers-on-willshire

Flowers at the same place

I walked out to the car, familiarized myself with it, looked up the map to the Hungarian consulate and drove off the lot. Of course, I missed my exit from the freeway and got off the next one. Instead of hoping back on the freeway I opted to take the low ways back to where I was going. All day I had the unusual feeling that I am not in a rush. I had no reason to drive fast or to be in a hurry in any way. So I enjoyed driving on Barrington Avenue to Willshire Blvd and looking at neighborhoods I would never see otherwise. I scored: parking on Willshire Blvd and the streets next to it costs money, but I found an empty spot two blocks away from this main artery of the city.

welcome

Sign in the lobby

The consulate was on the fourth floor of a tall building. I, like every other visitor, had to sign in upon entering the building and the elevator only worked with the keycard of the doorman. There were well placed sign, English only in the lobby and Hungarian only on the fourth floor’s minor labyrinth pointing to the election office. Its door was wide open and in the first room 4-5 people were standing. One of them greeted me in Hungarian, asking whether I came to vote. I guess he knew I would understand Hungarian as my t-shirt had a Hungarian radio station’s logo and name on it. Or maybe they greeted everyone in Hungarian on this auspicious day. He ushered me to the second room, which looked like most other voting rooms I’ve seen.

consulate-sign

The consulate’s sign

In the inner room I was asked whether I vote for Budapest representative or countryside. Upon learning the former I was directed to one end of the table, that had 4 people sitting at. I presented my ID and address card, they checked and found them valid. They repeated the world “valid” (as in not expired) several times from which I surmised that this might have been a problem for other voters. I got my cards back and had to sign my name on a dotted line. I paused for a second to make sure that I sign my name the Hungarian order (last name first) as I’ve gotten used to signing it the American way. The sheet I signed my name on had about 15 names on a page and maybe 8-10 sheets were stapled together. So I think at the LA consulate no more than 150 people registered to vote from Budapest and maybe a similar number of people from the countryside. Although I can’t really have any real guesses for the latter.

Segment of the parties’ list voting sheet

I got my two sheets: a long, neh, make that wide, one for the parties’ list with 18 numbered options and a shorter one with 5 people for the local representative for the (heavily gerrymandered) district I belong to. There were two voting “booths”. One of them was a properly screened off part of the room the other a portable paper booth. I had to go to the latter as the other one was taken. Nobody could really see what I was doing, but the booth’s three “walls” only separated a small writing area. The walls didn’t extend to my side, so I felt a bit exposed. It was just a feeling, so I cannot have any real complaints. Scratch that, I am Hungarian I can always complain. The first sheet was so wide that it barely fit on the writing table, where I was supposed to make my mark on the paper. I managed though.

I stepped out, folded my sheets, put them on a green envelope that had my district’s name on it and nothing else. Then I dropped it into the box, that had a slit on top, but otherwise was sealed on the sides. I particularly enjoyed the touch, that there was a big piece of paper on top of the box, covering the slit where the voting slips should go in. It was only taken of for that 2 seconds I cast my vote and was then covered again. It made me feel that no paper can accidentally slip in. If I’d be cynical I would say it was good theater. Unlike the US election I got no sticker, just a sense that I did my civic duty.

Select one of these for local representatives

On my way out, in the first room, I asked now that I am here, by any chance I can renew my expired Hungarian passport. Sure, all I need to do is make an appointment on Monday. When I told them that I am an out-of-towner and won’t be here on Monday the mentioned that sometimes in the second half of the year the consul will come to San Francisco and I can make an appointment there. The consul, a young polite man, also was concerned that I voted for a local representative in Hungary, while I clearly live habitually in the US as my expired passport shows. When I informed him that we pay the social security in Hungary his concern evaporated, because that’s all that really matters. My Hungarian address card is valid this way for voting purposes. (Thanks Mom.)

While I was there 3 more people came to vote, but I didn’t chat with anybody else. If I have time I will write up the rest my day, but the voting related part ended before 10 AM.

a-voter

A voter on his way out, in the elevator

Timeline:
4:00 – get up
5:15 – leave for airport
6:30 – flight leaves
8:00 – flight arrives
9:00 – leave airport in rental car
9:30 – arrive to consulate
9:50 – leave consulate

Books posted on my Jewish Books blog in March

I have tumblr/blog about Jewish books. Most of the time I post about new books, sometimes about events, book sales or older books. Here is the list of books that made it there during the month of March:

Infected Mushroom @ Phoenix, Petaluma, California – March 15, 2014

Poster of Infected Mushroom's concert at the Phoenix, Petaluma, California - March 15, 2014I surprised myself by enjoying Infected Mushroom last night. Don’t worry it isn’t as bad as it sounds: it is a band from Israel that played in the Phoenix Theater. When a teen relative asked me a few weeks ago, whether I am interested in going I latched onto the opportunity as I go to so few shows, either because the drive to San Francisco–where most shows I would be interested in locally would be– is too much for me or because I don’t have anybody to go with who would enjoy the concert.

Never having heard (of) the band I educated myself in advance and watches some of their videos and learned a little about the genre they helped to usher into existence: psytrance. I liked what I’ve heard, so I was ready for the show. The support “band” was a DJ, whose name I didn’t catch and whose music I didn’t care for. He was good at building up tension and then instead of rocking it out or chilling it down, he came down with mid-tempo beats that was confusing.

The headliners started to play at 10 PM. The online schedule said they would play till 11.30, at the door there was a sign saying that the show ends at 11.45. As their encore song was 15 minutes long they played till after midnight. I only danced for about half an hour, towards the end of the show. The vast majority of the 300 kids, and by that I mean mostly teens, danced through the night. I saw maybe half a dozen people of my age, but must have been a few more, as I was told parents of the teens made their helpful and protecting appearance too.

I’ve been to this venue half a dozen times but this was the first time the balcony was open. The first two of four videos I shot, see below were made from there. Can you help me identity the titles of the songs?

1.

2.

3.

4.

Top US songs 1944-1964

Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters: Don't Fence Me InI had to find the top 2-3 US hit songs from every second year between 1944 and 1964 for the anniversary celebration of organization where I volunteer and was founded 70 years ago. I found all the songs on YouTube and you can see all of them below.

I  worked from three sources. I started with the List of Billboard number-one singles of 1944, 1946 and 1948 from Wikipedia. I took the snogs that were on the top for the most weeks. After that year the similar lists got complicated, e.g. 1950), because they got split into three: “Best Sellers in Stores,” “Most Played by Jockeys” and “Most Played in Jukeboxes”. So from that year on I used Billboard Top 30 Songs of 1950 – Year End Charts (1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964). That list didn’t include though the harsher sounds, i.e. rock and roll, beat or rock, till the very last of the years examined, so I also checked this list Top Ten Songs Of Each Year (1950 – 1969) combined the results from the two.

The I had to make sure that no single artists is there twice and that the combined list would fit under 80 minutes. I ended up with the charts below, where the artists’ name is linked to the Wikipedia page, the song’s title to the YouTube version and the MP3 to the downloadable version of the song at Amazon. Have fun going down this memory lane. I sure had, while working on the project.

1944-1: Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters: Don’t Fence Me In (MP3)
1944-2: Jimmy Dorsey: Bésame Mucho (Kiss Me Much) (MP3)
1946-1: The Ink Spots: The Gypsy (MP3)
1946-2: Frankie Carle: Rumors Are Flying (MP3)
1948-1: Peggy Lee: Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me) (MP3)
1948-2: Dinah Shore: Buttons and Bows (MP3)
1950-1: Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers: Goodnight Irene (MP3)
1950-2: Nat King Cole: Mona Lisa (MP3)
1950-3: Anton Karas: Third Man Theme (MP3)
1952-1: Leroy Anderson: Blue Tango (MP3)
1952-2: Kay Starr: Wheel Of Fortune (MP3)
1952-3: Johnnie Ray: Cry (MP3)
1954-1: Bill Haley & His Comets: Rock Around The Clock (MP3)
1954-2: Perry Como: Wanted (MP3)
1954-3: Rosemary Clooney: Hey There (MP3)
1956-1: Elvis Presley: Hound Dog (MP3)
1956-2: Nelson Riddle: Lisbon Antigua (MP3)
1956-3: Little Richard: Long Tall Sally (MP3)
1958-1: Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode (MP3)
1958-2: Eddie Cochran: Summertime Blues (MP3)
1958-3: Everly Brothers: All I Have To Do Is Dream / Claudette (MP3)
1960-1: Shirelles: Will You Love Me Tomorrow (MP3)
1960-2: Roy Orbison: Only The Lonely (MP3)
1960-3: Percy Faith: Theme From “A Summer Place” (MP3)
1962-1: Booker T. & the MG’s: Green Onions (MP3)
1962-2: Mr. Acker Bilk: Stranger On The Shore (MP3)
1962-3: Sam Cooke: Bring It On Home To Me (MP3)
1964-1: Beatles: She Loves You (MP3)
1964-2: The Righteous Brothers: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (MP3)
1964-3: The Temptations: My Girl (MP3)
1964-4: Louis Armstrong: Hello, Dolly! (MP3)

Lunch (2012, USA)

Poster for  Lunch the DocumentaryThe most important thing about the series of Lunch is the people who are attending it. If you followed the US pop culture –that includes films, musicals, TV  and radio shows–from the  1950′s to the 1980′s you will get a lot out this documentary. You will have a chance to encounter the charm, sharp mind, fun nature of the aging writers, actors and directors behind some of the most famous cultural artifacts of past decades. Even if the names don’t mean a lot to you, you will enjoy the jokes and anecdotes, but you will not be as star-stricken.

Let me give you the list of names that appear at the end of the movie as “cast”, with a short credentials of their works I think they may be the most famous for:

  • Sid Ceasar (IMDB, Wikipedia, Official site): Coach Calhoun in Grease
  • Monty Hall (IMDB, Wikipedia, Official site): Host of Let’s Make a Deal TV show
  • Arthur Hiller (IMDB, Wikipedia): Director of Love Story
  • Austin “Rocky” Kalish (IMDB): Producer/writer of Family Affair
  • Hal Kanter (IMDB, Wikipedia): Longtime host of the Oscars (Passed away in 2011)
  • Arthur Marx (IMDB, Wikipedia): Writer of Alice, Maude and other TV shows (Passed away in 2011)
  • Gary Owens (IMDB, Wikipedia): Voice actor in lots of cartoons including Space Ghost
  • John Rappaport (IMDB): Producer and writer of M*A*S*H
  • Carl Reiner (IMDB, Wikipedia, Official site): Comedian/writer for The Dick Van Dyke Show, won 9 Emmy awards,
  • Matty Simmons (IMDB, Wikipedia): Writer/producer of the National Lampoon magazine/films
  • Ben Starr (IMDB): Writer of Mister Ed, Diff’rent Strokes, All in the Family

These luminaries of their era are slowly getting forgotten by newer generations, while they still seem to have a lot of fun. Great movie against agism as it shows that in the failing bodies there are sharp intellects, talented people, full of life. I would have enjoyed the movie more if I had known their work. I am inspired to check them out now though.

Links:

  • Official site
  • IMDB summary: For the past 40 years, a group of writers and directors has been meeting for lunch every other Wednesday. The members and their meeting places have changed over the years, but their appetites for the ties that nourish their friendships have remained. Lunch goes beyond a single meal, and into the lives and successes of each comedy legend.
  • Trailer:

As a member of the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

In the Fog (“V tumane”)(2012, Belarus)

Poster for In the FogHow many Belorussian movies did you see? (IMDB knows of 141.) For me In The Fog was possibly the first one. I say possibly, because I’ve seen plenty of films from the Soviet Union, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you if any of them were shot in Belarus or not. Furthermore it looks like this one was shot in Latvia, so maybe I didn’t see any.

I grew up on steady supply of “partisan” films of a different kind. Those were all extolling the heroics of the the men and women who worked against the Nazis behind enemy lines. They were all spotless heroes, shining brighter than white while the people they fought against were sadistic animals, darker than black. Here black and white becomes grey that becomes sepia. Yes, the Germans are still killing machines, who create special ways to torture the partisans. However because these methods include cruel social psychology, the result of which the victimized partisans have to struggle with their choices and not just shooting at targets.

In the Fog is about how they make those hard choices. On one hand they are aware of the possible consequences, so they are clear. On the other hand there are only bad choices, that will lead to perishment. So the title is crystal clear that the fog refers to the moral landscape they find themselves. Opposing values work in each of the three partisans. These are no longer heroes to be lifted on pedestal, like in the Soviet times, but humans who struggle and become grey. By the end of the movie this sentiment/quote wins over others: “In the face of death, everything looks the same. But when you want to live, you live with hope. If not for yourself, then maybe for your children.

Some people call the movie slow, but I prefer to think of it as real-time. Conversations, walking through meadows, eating, being on guard in a forest… all actions and inactions are shown with the pace they might happen in real life. I enjoyed being transported to a world so far not just form my every day reality, but also from the traditions of fast-paced Hollywood movies.

This was a bucolic immersion experience. Most of the objects and surrounding of the place where the viewers were immersed, looked timeless. With the exception of guns and cars/trucks, this could have been a 19th or even 18th century story. The simplicity of country living wasn’t idealized, just presented. Material culture was seemed less important than relations and values. Less cloud, but more fog.

The movie was based on the book of Vasili Bykov, a national pride. Belarus’ official site says about him: “Bykov’s creative vision centres on the drama and tragedy of war, and is distinguished by the richly expressed thoughts and feelings of his characters, developed in compelling narratives with a thoughtful philosophical subtext.”  I found about 14 books in English by him, but none of them at my local library, so I have to wait a bit, before I can read anything form him.

The acting and directing was so smooth and natural, that it was non-intrusive. The story, the village/forest, the struggles, life and death were much more in the forefront, than any individual actor’s accomplishment. When you want to be in a quiet contemplate mood give yourself the two hours it takes to watch this beautiful and bristle study.

Links:

  • DVD@ Amazon.com.
  • Official homepage
  • Review in the The New York Times
  • Review in the The Los Angeles Times
  • IMDB summary: Western frontiers of the USSR, 1942. The region is under German occupation, and local partisans are fighting a brutal resistance campaign. A train is derailed not far from the village, where Sushenya, a rail worker, lives with his family. Innocent Sushenya is arrested with a group of saboteurs, but the German officer makes a decision not to hang him with the others and sets him free. Rumours of Sushenya’s treason spread quickly, and partisans Burov and Voitik arrive from the forest to get revenge. As the partisans lead their victim through the forest, they are ambushed, and Sushenya finds himself one-to-one with his wounded enemy. Deep in an ancient forest, where there are neither friends nor enemies, and where the line between treason and heroism disappears, Sushenya is forced to make a moral choice under immoral circumstances.

Trailer:

High Plains Doctor: Healing on the Tibetan Plateau (2012, Canada)

DVD cover of High Plains Doctor: Healing on the Tibetan PlateauDr. Sobol, a Canadian, Jewish doctor, and his team has been going to Tibet for years, one month at a time to heal the people who cannot afford the pay-only healthcare there. High Plains Doctor is documenting the rewards and challenges of one of these trips.

The cover of the DVD promised “gorgeous scenes of natural beauty”, which we had, but not enough. That part of me that the opening lines of the movie was talking about–westerners, who have romantic notions about Tibet–was not satisfied. Nevertheless I found this quote from the movie quite true:

“Three of Asia’s most important rivers have their sources in Yushu. We can therefore say that Yushu is the source of our life, our civilization and our history. All of these things make Yushu one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

The sociologist in me also appreciated the explanation of the damage done to indigenous people when the rules and culture of modern “civilized” society is forced upon them. I felt revolted when I learned that there is no social safety net there: only those get treated by the local healthcare system, who can pay for it. The specific case studies, shown sometimes in gory details, drove this inequality deep.

On the other hand it rubbed me the wrong way that the opening and closing credits were edited onto Tibetan prayer flags. It felt sacrilegious, dishonoring the very people the subjects of the film wanted to honor. Dr. Sobol explained his ambivalent feelings about the locals’ belief system, and after decades of getting to know them he accepted that they are different than his own. Another thing that annoyed me was that about half of the movie was tagging along Dr. Sobol as he was rapidly walking on the desolate streets of Yushu. It was disorienting that I didn’t really know the destination and he was walking too fast for the cameraman, who had to walk sideways, to hold the camera steady enough. There must be better ways of making a “talking head” segment of a documentary more dynamic.

The film helps to understand how Dr. Sobol got impressed for a lifetime by Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche in his depressed youth as even from the limited exposure I got from this movie Rinpoche seems a truly kind and authentic person. I read in an 8 year old article that Dr. Sobol “spent five years studying Tibetan Buddhism.” The length of his studies wasn’t clear form the movie and it would have helped to explain his connection to the land and its people.

I admire the work and dedication of the doctor and his volunteer team. I am glad that I  learned about their efforts and wish that they would have the resources (time, money and personnel) to keep going even after the devastating earthquake.

Links:

  • Official site
  • Facebook page
  • IMDB summary: Follows Dr. Isaac Harry Sobol, Chief Medical Officer of the Northern Canadian Territory of Nunavut, and his volunteer medical team as they assemble and conduct a primary care clinic in a remote Tibetan village. Shot over one month, the film documents the team’s treatment of nearly 1,500 indigent patients. Although gratifying, this work is not easy. The team labors for long hours, encountering late-stage conditions they wouldn’t ordinarily see in Canada, and ethical complexities that are at the core of our North American health-care debates. High Plains Doctor brings viewers a rare window into the uncensored pain and disharmony in an isolated part of Tibet. Bridging health-care in Nunavut and Tibet, the film reveals disquieting parallels facing these aboriginal peoples. High Plains Doctor captures unforgettable images of life in a village since devastated by a 7.1 level earthquake.
  • Trailer:

As a member of the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

White Panther (2013, Israel)

Poster for White PantherWhite Panther was too complex and too simple at the same time. Too complex, because it tried to pack too many themes into a single movie including:

  • Tension between Israelis of Russian and Moroccan descent
  • A son’s duty to his mother
  • Brotherly differences
  • Romance between members of different clans
  • The issue of patrilineal vs matrilineal descent
  • Escaping from a modern ghetto via sports

Having this many focus made it unfocused. Yes, life is complex and we often have to balance many issues like the ones above. But the beauty and challenge of real life is that the end is not predictable. Unfortunately here, once the scene was set, the end was too easy to foresee. The story held no surprises in the second half of the movie for me.

While the writing wasn’t too exciting I enjoyed the work of the actors and the director (Danni Reisfeld). The fatherly policeman (Ze’ev Revach) and the sick Russian mother (Natasha Manor) seemed the most authentic. Alex and his eventual love interest Yasmin  were played by two good-looking actors (Yevgeny Orlov and Meital Gal)  who didn’t work as hard to express emotions had they been more plain. The pacing of the movie was great, fast and slow, dark and night pictures came one after the other in great rhythm.

The movie gives a basic peek into how children of Russian immigrants to Israel formed a violent gang; a topic that is worthy a deeper look into. This is not that movie. But if you want a a not too substantial drama, covering multiple topics, you will enjoy this one.

IsraeliFilms
IMDB summary: In the 1990′s a million former USSR Jews arrived in Israel. The immigrants were despised by the local population who feared their ‘invasion’. While many embraced the Israeli lifestyle, others chose to live in self-made Russian ghettos. These ghettos were a fertile ground for the creation of self-hating Jewish skinheads. ‘White Panther’ is the story of Alex, a young Russian immigrant who joins a skinheads’ gang, led by his older brother. An unexpected meeting with David, a religious Moroccan Jew, gives Alex a chance to pursue his longtime dream of becoming a boxer like his father. Alex finds himself torn between his two father figures – his violent older brother and his new Jewish trainer, only to find out the truth about those he so admires.

Trailer:

As a member of the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.