Yesterday, when I got the news that Samuel J. "Joe the 'Plumber'" Wurzelbacher was going to troop off to Israel to be a war correspondent for Pajamas Media, to let "average Joe's tell their story" and, I guess, warn them that the election of Barack Obama signals their imminent destruction, I reacted like anyone else would, wondering if this news might make a lick of sense to me if I received several sharp blows to the back of my head.
As it turns out, this did no good at all, leaving me, like you, wondering what one is supposed to do in a world where Joe The Plumber is to be the new, right-wing version of Michael Ware. And so, I embarked on my most dangerous, high-wire pursuit yet: an attempt to take all of this seriously. Results were mixed!
Look, I think that one can and should muster a baseline amount of respect for anyone who agrees to leave the comforts of home behind to head to a war-torn land in order to bring back stories to people Stateside. For the Joe The Plumber, it's actually a pretty significant move outside of his comfort zone. Whatever you think about the exploit, or how you prejudge the work he's likely to bring back to Pajamas Media, traveling abroad and experiencing the daily lives of average people in the Middle East is a far more admirable profession than say, writing a blog that charges a membership fee in order to gain access to it.
If I have an extant concern for this career move, it's couched mainly in the fact that one can easily see this war correspendent job as just another in a long line of pursuits that Joe The Plumber has taken up only to later abandon, like being a country singer, running for office, flacking for John McCain, publishing books, complying with various tax laws, being named "Samuel," serving as an authority on digital teevee conversions, and - oh yes! - PLUMBING. Never forget: plumbing. So, in an effort to provide Joe The Plumber with the sort of knowledge he'll need to enable a certain amount of "stick-to-itiveness," and to disabuse him of the idea that life with the IDF is in any way akin to this unfortunately placed advertisement found by Alex Balk on the Haaretz website, I reached out to the Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman, who's had experience being in war zones, being embedded with actual soldiers, and bringing the hopeful message of The Gaslight Anthem's new CD The '59 Sound to our troops (Joe, you should TOTALLY buy that record).
Spencer was happy to respond:
OK, here are a few tips:
1. Pack baby wipes and toilet paper. You are going to shower much less than you think you will, and so much less than you want to. If you want to be a fancy-boy, pack some Febreze. Otherwise, refreshen yourself the way infants do. Take the minimum of outerwear -- like one pair of multipocketed, comfortable pants -- and the maximum of underwear and socks that is practical.
2. No electronic equipment that isn't absolutely necessary. Everything that can break will. However, you'll be in Israel, which is a first world country, so you won't really need to.
3. In Israel tell everyone you meet that you're an American. They love you. In Gaza tell no one you're an American. If you manage to get into Gaza -- good luck with that, by the way -- two words to know are 'Sohofe Canadi.' That's pidgin Arabic for 'Canadian Journalist.' Come to think of it, ask someone who knows Arabic better than I do how to say that properly, since an ignorance of Arabic is probably a dead giveaway that you're American.
4. Jews love to be told about Jesus. Don't be fooled by people pretending to be offended. You know how 'ethnic' Jews can be. Jesus is like oral sex -- a total icebreaker. Don't miss an opportunity.
I think that most of that is pretty solid advice! And I'm sure that Spencer would also want you to know about this news story he pulled yesterday that indicates that someone with the plumber skill set is desperately needed in the region:
Human rights groups and Palestinian officials are reporting a sewage crisis, with human waste bursting from antiquated pipes as the Israeli blockade of Gaza doesn't allow for sufficient diesel to power the pump-station generators. This, of course, has significant health implications for one of the most population-dense places on earth:
Sadi Ali, project manager for the Palestinian Water Authority, said the health risk from sewage on the streets was clear.
"There is a risk of the spread of all sorts of water borne diseases such as dysentery and cholera," he said.
Chances are Pajamas Media won't look to kindly on Joe schlepping off to Gaza for some public works project, but in places like Sderot, which has been shelled by Hamas' Qassam rockets, there's likely to be similar needs, so no matter how the whole "war correspondent" thing goes, Joe The Plumber will have his chance to test his mettle in the shtetl.