Pick any two

5 August, 2006

Ten or so years ago, friend Kees of codeblog had this bit of text in his .sig:


You can have it done FAST   |
You can have it done CHEAP  |  <--- Pick any two
You can have it done RIGHT  | 

I think of this precept all the time. More generally, the formulation has become a meme with me. For example, I’ve often observed that I can only pay good attention to 1.5-2 of the 3 areas of my life, roughly, work, play, and responsibilities/home. I’m forgoing play (which includes family and social life) until tonight to catch up on responsibilities like bills, cleaning, errands, etc — all the stuff my friend Dr. “C.S.” B. calls “flarn”. I could do work also, but it’d not be nearly as productive as if I took one of the other two off the table.

Lately I have had many opportunities to ponder another such 2 of 3, which I remember from reading Thomas Friedman’s book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” a half decade or so ago. (Even if Friedman currently annoys you, as he does me, the book is invaluable in explaining the Lebanese civil war and the first intifada, and I very highly recommend it to you. I once asked a friend with a Masters in Mideast Studies what else I could read that’d be equally informative, and she said “Nothing. Read it again.”) The formulation is something like


You can be a Jewish state              |
You can be a liberal democracy         |  <--- Israelis: pick any two
You can go from the Jordan to the sea  | 

Depressing, no? If Israelis make the state they wanted to make, defense of it will almost inevitably lead to destruction of it, either physically or in spirit. (The application of this catch-22 to the US is left as an exercise to the reader.)

While I’m near the topic, I have a bone to pick with NPR. The country’s name is “Is ra el.” They have at least two reporters on their staff who get this wrong, and have for years. Dipthonging the second and third syllables together is inevitable in English pronounciation, but there’s a right way (“rail”) and a wrong way (“real”). Hearing them say “Isreal” sends the same message to me as “nu-ke-lar”: “I don’t care enough to learn the order of letters in the middle of this word.” Does nobody else know the difference?? A reporter would never be allowed to say “nukelar!”

Anyway, back to my navel. For the first time in memory I have contacts on both sides of a Mideast conflict. A good work friend is of Lebanese extraction. We’ve had one torturously-worded conversation about the issues and that was quite enough for both of us. We are now back to our usual topics, which are far more interesting to eavesdrop in on, so I’m sure our adjacent cube neighbors are happy. Another, newer friend recently penned this. Having been raised as both a Jew and a lefty-liberal democrat, I have an uncomfortable ability to empathize with the opposing sides of these issues. If someone is saying anything more pointed than “how awful that people are dying,” a “yes, but…” of some kind is always springing to mind, as is the “but what about…” to THAT…and I just kinda sit there thinking the whole thing through AGAIN, and in the end I say nothing. So I’m glad when others coming from my sort of background can.

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One Response to “Pick any two”

  1. Momb Says:

    Loved the Eric Blair article…I do admire people who can succinctly sum up the muddle of years of confusing information that you weren’t always completely paying attention to, and who have the ability to do so with simplicity and humor.


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