Askew

Joel Schatz

Joel Schatz offers a slightly off-center look at the news.

Askew

Cardboard bikes, subpar sperm, and a touching farewell

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 Bikes from boxes

Don't throw out that cardboard box the delivery guy just dropped off. You might want to turn it into a bicycle.

An Israeli inventor didn't think that idea is as ridiculous as it may sound. So after a lot of trial and error, he's done just that. And he believes his cardboard bicycle just might change the world.

Izhar Gafni spent years trying to develop cardboard strong enough and durable enough to be turned into a bike, Reuters reports a bike with absolutely no metal parts and tires that can't puncture. But achieving that technological breakthrough, he and his business partner, Nimrod Elmish, say, is just the start.

The resulting 9-pound bicycle is assembled in a way they claim will make local manufacturingand employmentmore economical than using distant factories in cheap-labor locales. The resulting bikes will sell for no more than $20, and even that price is just so dealers can make some money. In fact, many of the bikes could be given away for free in poor areas, because government grants and recycling incentives should entirely offset the cost of production. Manufacturers would make their money by selling advertising on the bikes.

"This is a real game-changer," Elmish says.

Production will begin in Israel in a few months, Reuters reports, and the bicycles should go on sale within a year.

 Sperm quality takes a dive

Israeli sperm banks report a troubling trend: The quality of deposits being offered just ain't what it used to be.

While declining sperm quality is an international phenomenon, a Los Angeles Times report says the drop-off in Israel is occurring twice as fast. Two decades ago, one sperm bank there rejected a third of its potential donors. Today, if the same standards were used (they have since been changed), that number would be 80 percent. Another facility offers a "premium" line of the highest quality. Originally, one in 10 samples met the standard. Today, one in 100.

There's plenty of speculation, but no one really knows why. Some suspect cellphones tucked in front pockets. Others suggest depleted uranium. Scientists are looking at estrogen in the milk and water supplies.

In a nation obsessed with demographics, and the balance between Jews and Arabs, there is real concern, the article reports. So far, there's no sign of a declining birthrate. That's actually up, as it is elsewhere. But a significantly higher percentage of infertility in couples is being blamed on the male partner.

And, one scientist notes, since sperm bank donors tend to be younger and healthier than the rest of the population, the potential problem could be worse than suspected.

 Iranians and Israelis agree!

If you think there's not much a typical Iranian loves about Israel (or at least admits to loving), you obviously don't know Rita.

Rita Jahanforuz is a major singing star in Israel. But the release of her latest album, "All My Joys," suddenly turned her into an underground sensation in her native Iran, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Rita's family moved to Israel more than 40 years ago, when she was a child. Since the '80s, she has performed in Hebrew and English. But the current album, featuring updated versions of old-time Persian songs she calls the "soundtrack of my childhood," is entirely in Persian. Despite that, it went gold in Israel within three weeks.

Then it was discovered in Iran. According to the Journal, fans use special software to bypass government filters to download her songs, and DJs play bootleg CDs at secret underground parties. They have bombarded her with emails and online messages, and Iranians around the world flooded a Tel Aviv internet radio station with calls when she was interviewed.

Along with her music, Rita delivers a message decrying war and a hope that her songs can break through the tension.

Her popularity has not gone unnoticed in official Iran. The Journal says that Fars, the official news agency, has called Rita "Israel's 'latest plot in a soft war' to gain access to the hearts and minds of Iranians."

 Ash Wednesday

With divestment from Israel a popular "calling" among Israel's adversaries, the late Chilean ambassador Joaquin Montes Larraín's last diplomatic mission and parting gift to his host country was a moving gesture of friendship that gives a poignant touch to the immortal words of medieval poet Yehuda Halevi, who wrote "my heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West."

The 61 year-old diplomat, who died in an Israeli hospital in a last-ditch battle to beat a rare form of leukemia, requested days before his death that his body be cremated and half his ashes scattered in Jerusalem, half in his native Chile as a symbol of his deep personal attachment to Israel.

On a Wednesday, after a Mass was said for Larraín in a Jaffa church and a farewell ceremony was held at Ben-Gurion airport, all that remained was to fulfill the second half of the Chilean diplomat's last request.

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com

 

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