Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Something for which I am always grateful is that discussions here at treppenwitz tend to remain quite civil, even when potentially incendiary topics are discussed. I have a bunch of theories as to why I've (we've) been so lucky, but I'm pretty sure it boils down to a few basic factors:
1. First and foremost, I try to limit the number of overtly political topics I introduce here. I don't enjoy constantly discussing politics any more than I enjoy the idea of constantly discussing hair loss. Both topics are inexorably tied up with my life... but I don't have to allow them to dominate or define me.
2. I try very hard not to speak/write in absolutes. If I've learned nothing else in my 44 years of life, I've learned that there are very few black or white absolutes in the world. Let's just say I've made my peace with shades of light and dark gray.
3. I try very hard to write (and sometimes revise) my posts so as to leave open the possibility that there are other points of view worthy of consideration. Even when I am quite sure of my position, I have found that I learn far more from (and about) others when I leave room for their opinions. Simply put, if I leave the door open, someone is more likely to walk through it than try to break it down.
4. I try to encourage those who comment on treppenwitz to address themselves to the opinions being discussed rather than the people expressing the opinions. This is the most basic form of intellectual honesty and it feels good being on both the giving and receiving end of such honest treatment.
5. While this isn't a debating society (by any stretch of the imagination), I do try to encourage (sometimes with a little behind the scenes arm-twisting) some semblance of fair tactics when arguments arise. Chief among the tactics that I will not allow here is the introduction of deliberately flawed logic / 'straw man' arguments.
Nearly everyone instinctively recognizes fallacious logic when we encounter it, but many may not be familiar with the terminology. For example there is a straw man argument which is "a rhetorical technique (also classified as a logical fallacy) based on misrepresenting an opponent's position". (i)
A good example was offered in a comment on yesterday's post:
"If almost everyone in Israel serves in the military, and the military trains people to turn off their conscience and become mindless automatons, doesn't that create a fascist or totalitarisn [sic] society?"
Besides being a classic 'Are you still beating your wife?' type question intended to put the opponent (me) hopelessly on the defensive, what the commenter is really doing is taking a weak and unsubstantiated supposition that "... almost everyone in Israel serves in the military" (far from true), combining it with a weakened and deliberately distorted aspect of the topic we were discussing; "... the military trains people to turn off their conscience and become mindless automatons" (we were discussing the mental conditioning that is required of effective soldiers), and then presenting her bright-eyed conclusion; "... doesn't that create a fascist and totalitarian society?"
In a comment she left on an earlier post she used similar logical fallacies to present her 'facts' and again drew a fatally flawed and illogical conclusion:
"Correct me if I'm wrong--but didn't suicide bombings increase as Israeli presence in the West Bank increased? The settlements grew during the 90s, the by-pass roads grew, finally the second intifada erupted and then you had lots of suicide bombings..."
Let's leave aside for a moment that the comment had nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of the post. Here she isn't so much attacking my position (since we weren't discussing suicide bombers) but rather she is setting up the case that suicide bombings were a direct result of Israeli settlement activity, and she bases this on unrelated factoids that are true, but only within very narrow context.
She states that the settlements increased in the 90s (true, but it ignores the fact that settlement activity was fairly constant throughout the 80s, 70s and late 60s as well). She points an accusatory finger at the bypass roads as if they were an attack on the Palestinians rather than a way to minimize the exposure of Israeli traffic to the nearly constant attacks they had encountered while traveling the existing roads through or near Palestinian towns. Then she connect the dots by saying "... finally the second intifada erupted and then you had lots of suicide bombings...".
Ah yes... if only life were so simple. The second intifada spontaneously "erupted"... and suddenly there were "lots of suicide bombings". Why not mention Sharon's visit to the Temple mount, Palestinian dissatisfaction with the terms of the Oslo accords, or even sun spot activity, all of which occurred around the same time and had equally little to do with "lots of suicide bombings"?
So, while the overwhelming majority of you play nice whenever you come here, I wanted to write a post to which I could link whenever someone decides to employ deliberately fallacious logic to grind an ax or further an agenda. This is that post... and here is the logo/link I will be putting up on my site as a constant reminder to fight fair.
Update: A sharp-eyed reader pointed out a similarly flawed tidbit from this same commenter's web site:
"A footnote to yesterday's post: I googled Elie Wiesel to find out if there is anyone besides myself who thinks this man is an ass. I discovered that not only am I not alone, but there is some evidence Wiesel may also be a fraud. Apparently, it's not clear that he was actually in the camps he claims he was in. Evidently honesty is not a criterion for choosing guest Op-Ed writers for the [New York] Times." (ii)
Oh my... I wish I had a time to parse that one.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
shoe boot finally drops
I hate to say 'I told you so'... but on several occasions I have written about the inherent danger of encouraging soldiers to refuse orders and include themselves in the national debate... and now we are starting to see the frightening results of doing so.
At the risk of sounding callous, I firmly believe that soldiers should have no voice in the national debate, even though they are quite obviously the instrument of national policy. The reason is as follows:
For as long as humans have been participating in warfare there has existed the necessity to use rigorous physical, and more importantly psychological training to force soldiers to abandon their individuality, and to suppress the most basic human instincts for self-preservation.
Basic training is obviously about getting potential soldiers into physical shape for the rigors of war.... but the primary goal of basic (and subsequent) training is to undo a lifetime of human mental conditioning.
Think about it for a moment... would a typical person be capable of standing up and running towards an enemy who is shooting at him/her? Would a typical moral person be able to instantly carry out an order to take another human's life? These two human obstacles must be overcome before someone can make the transition from civilian to effective soldier.
This isn't to say that soldiers abandon all aspects of humanity and morality. But the nuances of ethics and morality in combat are only re-introduced after most instincts for individuality and self-preservation are trained out of a soldier.
The problems begin when we start inviting soldiers to participate in policy debates.
At certain times in Israeli history, both the political left and right have been guilty of asking soldiers to think as individuals and encouraging them to refuse orders. Both sides have justified this dangerous practice by pointing out the larger legal and moral issues involved.
The danger that both sides have willfully ignored is that, aside from blatantly illegal/immoral orders, soldiers should possess no mechanism for complex decision making. Individual thought and expression are tools that they should have left laying next to the clumps of hair under the basic training barber's chair!
I know this sounds harsh, but the only way military units are able to operate effectively as a team and come home safely is if each soldier functions like a cog in a machine. When soldiers start to weigh decisions as individuals against the needs of the unit, military funerals quickly become a growth industry.
People, if you feel that the Israeli government should adopt or abandon a certain military policy, you need to find a way to apply pressure to the hand that wields the sword... not to the point of the sword itself.
Soldiers are the point of our national sword. Without them the nation can no longer defend itself. In a healthy democracy, the people who formulate military policy and the public that ostensibly controls them should be able to debate and formulate policy. But to invite the business end of government military policy - the soldiers - into the discussion, is to invite disaster.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Show me your papers!
As a History Channel addict and a bit of a nut for films about WWII, I have to admit that the title of today's post has the ability to elicit a dual response when I hear or read it, depending on who is doing the asking and who is being asked.
On the one hand, 'show me your papers' is the scary phrase that the Nazi officials invariably bark when they confront members of the resistance... Jews fleeing for the border... or anyone else I consider to be a 'good guy'. 'Show me your papers' in this context was usually the prelude to arrest or worse.
On the other hand, this phrase was also used by the 'good guys' when trying to apprehend Axis spies in Great Britain or the US. In this scenario, 'show me your papers' meant that a wolf was potentially hiding amongst the sheep and was about to be identified... and society would soon be the better/safer for the request.
I have mentioned in the past that I am totally OK with Israel having a standardized national identity card and a law requiring everyone above age 16 to carry one (and present it on demand). I have also made no secret of the fact that I completely understand how Israel's strained security resources are put to the best possible use through an open policy of profiling.
Our security system is far from perfect in its fairness or success, but in wartime few can argue the need to be able to quickly sort the wolves from the sheep. The question of who are the wolves and who are the sheep is obviously a subjective one.
ISM activists who work long hours to be able to enable freedom of movement and improved travel conditions for the Arab population of the west bank clearly see the Palestinians as wearing the white hats, and have cast the Israelis as the ones wearing the coal scuttle helmets and jack boots. However, they acknowledge no connection between the removal of checkpoints and roadblocks and the nearly immediate increase in terror attacks that results from the easing of these restrictions.
But by the same token, I saw first hand how the sweeping authority to stop and detain nearly anyone for security reasons was used (abused) by the Israeli government to suppress dissent and restrict the freedom of movement of those who opposed the disengagement from Gaza.
Clearly I am not opposed to allowing 'the authorities' the power to quickly identify and counter security threats. But it became clear to me during the Gaza evacuation that certain safeguards were absent from these policies if a kippah or orange car-flag provided ample cause for the police to stop and detain people engaged in lawful travel and speech and demonstrations.
I started down this train of thought because of a thought provoking web site that discusses the pending criminal case of a Denver woman who was arrested on a public bus for refusing to present I.D. to a federal officer upon demand.
It seems that the public bus she takes to work each day goes through a complex of federal buildings and facilities and therefore the passengers come under increased scrutiny when the bus enters the area.
Despite my position on such issues in Israel, I have a problem with a few aspects of this case:
1. The US currently has no uniform ID card that one can assume will positively identify anyone, nor is there a law requiring law-abiding citizens to identify themselves upon demand.
2. There is no US law that requires everyone to carry ID at all times (even non-standard ID such as a driver's license or a school ID).
3. The bus on which this woman was riding was part of the public transportation system and did not provide access to any of the buildings or facilities in the federal complex... it only traveled along a route through the complex. One would assume that anyone wishing to enter a building in the complex would be subject to a formal ID check and a search.
4. The federal officers in the case seem to have claimed for themselves a level of authority that is not based on law, but which would appear to make anyone who resisted it seem at best unpatriotic... and at worst guilty of hiding something.
5. The constitutional protections against illegal search is designed to force the authorities to sustain the entire burden of proof... not to transfer that burden to anyone who wants to combat the assumption of guilt or subversive intent.
Going back to my original cinematic examples of how one might perceive the permissibility of demanding identity papers to be directly tied to whether one viewed the asker or the askee to be the embattled party (the good guy)... I can't help wondering why the US government seems intent upon conferring such sweeping powers upon 'the authorities' without first creating an organized legal framework for their application.
If the US feels that it needs addition, perhaps temporary, powers to identify those who walk the streets, it seems to me that they need to introduce legislation for a standardized ID card and a requirement for all adults to carry one. At the same time, if citizens decide to ratify such a burdensome practice, it would seem only fair that non-citizens should be required to carry a passport from their country of origin since this is a standard document recognized as official ID under a host of international conventions.
Here in Israel we certainly need to better define and perfect the application of the existing laws surrounding the police and army's ability to demand identity and detain security suspects. This 'adjustment' may ease the daily routine of the average Palestinian while simultaneously making it incrementally harder for the authorities to spot the bad guys. But the right to identify and detain individuals is a power that is conferred by the rule of law, not taken by those who are tasked with enforcing law.
Whether in the US or Israel, there is a constant struggle between security and civil liberties, but it is not a tug-of-war between the government and the police/army. It is a struggle that the government - as the embodiment of the people's will and needs - must continually have with itself. And the ongoing results of that struggle must always manifest themselves in laws that are both transparent and universally enforced.
Or, as I often say... I could be totally full of sh*t and need to get down off of my soapbox.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
In modern usage, the word 'vanilla' is often used to describe something that is either bland or lacking in excitement. We tend to think of vanilla is the 'safe' choice when too many options abound... the default ice cream when 31 flavors (or more) are just too many to ponder.
However, since moving to Israel, it has quickly become painfully apparent that vanilla is neither a dull flavor nor some culinary wall-flower to be taken for granted.
You see, bakeries here rarely (if ever) use real vanilla extract in their products, and Israeli ice creams calling themselves 'vanilla' have only an off-white color in common with their European or American counterparts.
If you've ever tasted a store-bought Israeli pastry and been put off by an unidentifiable flavor, the culprit was almost certainly fake vanilla extract. (i)
Just as a point of information, imitation vanilla is synthesized from either eugenol (clove oil), waste paper pulp, coal tar, or coumarin (a substance found in tonka beans that is banned in many countries).(ii) Think about that the next time you bite into some store-bought rugalach!
So beware of products that have 'vanilla flavour' or any similar crap in the ingredients list. You are almost certainly getting one of the ersatz 'vanillas' I've just mentioned.
This is one of the reasons that my lovely wife does so much baking at home (the other being a strong aversion to hydrogenated fat).
The problem is that even home bakers have a very hard time finding real vanilla extract here in Israel. And when you do find the real stuff, you'd better be prepared to pay dearly for a few precious drops of the stuff!
The solution my wife (and countless others) have come up with is to manufacture real vanilla extract at home... a simple and relatively cheap process that anyone can master:
1 750 ml bottle of cheap vodka or bourbon (bourbon is more traditional but vodka allows for a more pure vanilla flavor to come through so it can be used in a wider range of recipes).
3 whole vanilla beans (you can buy these long slender brown beans in most gourmet shops or in the local produce market/shuk
1. Open the bottle of bourbon/vodka and pour out one ounce into a shot glass
2. Put all three whole vanilla beans into the now open bottle.
3. Reseal the bottle tightly
4. Place bottle in an out-of-the-way place and wait 6 weeks.
You now have pure vanilla extract... that's all there is to it!
What's that? You want to know what to do with the shot of bourbon/vodka you poured out in step 1? People, people... do I have to tell you everything? Just make it go away... how that happens is entirely up to you. Who says you can't have fun in the kitchen?!
Anyhoo, after 6 weeks you will have a ready supply of real vanilla extract that will last even a frequent baker a year or two. As time goes by the vanilla flavor will get even stronger, so there is no hurry to use it up.
So, next time you're tempted to use the word vanilla in a back-handed or disparaging way, just remember that real, bold, vanilla flavor in ice cream, baked goods or anything else is anything but bland.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XLVI) ['tamar' edition]
Back in January I wrote a post about the countless orange trees lining the streets of Rehovot, and wondered out loud if anyone actually ate the fruit.
This week Photo Friday takes us to another city to look at another kind of fruit tree that has me asking the same question; Be'er Sheva and her date palms. I've also been thinking about them because in Hebrew dates are called 'Tamar'... which is also my daughter's middle name. I can't help smiling when I notice that, like the tree, she too is growing up tall, straight and graceful (tfu tfu tfu).
A recent news story about a 2000 year old date seed that was found on Masada being germinated and having sprouted into a healthy sapling (hat tip Gail at Crossing the Rubicon) got me to look around and notice that the city where I work has thousands of these tall graceful fruit trees lining its streets.
Because of its desert climate, the Beer Sheva city planners assumed (correctly) that these trees would thrive here, and that the splash of color added by the developing dates would lend an oasis-feel to an otherwise drab cityscape.
As with Rehovot, I wonder what becomes of the countless dates that grow on Beer Sheva's trees? Clearly someone must harvest them because at some point they are simply no longer there.
Do the town residents harvest them? Do the Bedouin take them back to their camps? Perhaps the municipality sells them?
I had wanted to take some pictures of the trees nearer the center of town, but I didn't get over to that part of the city this week. This is over near Ben Gurion university (in the background is a vacant area that is about to undergo some kind of construction):
By the way... I got your emails about my, less-than-optimistic thanksgiving post.
Yes, I know it was a bit of a buzz-kill. Yes, I'm aware that I should be thankful for having too many friendships. Yes, I know I sound like I'm ungrateful.
An hour after I wrote that post I was out of my funk and had moved on with my business. Unfortunately, you got to see the results of my morning mood for the remainder of the day. I hope I didn't put anyone off their turkey.
As my way of offering compensation for the depressing thanksgiving post, here are a couple of pictures I took from my back mirpeset (balcony) one morning this week during a sun shower. I think you'll agree that they are a bit more up-beat:
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Thankful... but sad on Thanksgiving
There's a cute (and totally fictional) story that has been circulating on the Internet for years about a physics professor who gives his students a take-home thermodynamics exam with only one question: 'Is Hell is exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)? Support your answer with a proof'.
The rest of the story goes like this:
Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant.
One student, however, wrote the following:
"First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So, we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand as souls are added.
This gives two possibilities:
1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.
2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.
So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Therese Banyan during my Freshman year, 'That it will be a cold night in Hell before I sleep with you', and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in sleeping with her, then 2 cannot be true, and so Hell is exothermic."
This student got the only A.
The reason I've shared this made-up story with you today is because I've recently started asking myself whether my available time for keeping up with friendships and relationships can possibly be expanding at the same rate as my ever-growing circle of friends and acquaintances... and I didn't enjoy the answer I came up with.
You see, with the daily rat-race of work and family, one can consider him/herself pretty lucky if the actual time left over for social interaction remains static. But the reality is much less optimistic.
Expressed in mathematical terms, the number of existing and potential friendships/relationships we enjoy during the course of our lives can be expressed as an ever-expanding quantity... while the amount of free time we have to pursue these precious friendships and relationships is, at best, constant... and at worst, a constantly dwindling quantity.
Regardless of whether one understands the math behind the equation... our personal hell comes down to the fact that we lack adequate time to spend with the people whose company we enjoy.
Therefore, though I'm deeply thankful for every friendship and acquaintance I've made in my life... it saddens me to accept that it will likely be a cold day in hell before I find the time to spend with even a fraction of these wonderful people.
Enjoy your turkey... and please don't be too hard on me if I haven't been the kind of correspondent or friend you would have wanted me to be.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Who knew my wife was so influential?
On a good day my wife can sometimes bully me into taking out the trash or washing the dinner dishes after only two or three tries.
Yet after a couple of casual Shabbat morning conversations in our kitchen with Noa, suddenly people are married and moving off to far-away places!
Maybe my wife should go into politics, because clearly she has persuasive powers of which I am unaware!
Monday, November 21, 2005
Al Kol Eleh* (All these)
I would hope that most of you are at least passingly familiar with the Naomi Shemer song 'Al Kol Eleh'. It's one of those sappy emotional songs that nobody will admit to liking but nearly everyone who hears can't help but sing along (and tear up in the process).
I've known the words for almost half my life, but I had never considered them particularly profound. However, I learned something new about that song today. I learned that Naomi Shemer had more than a passing knowledge of beekeeping... and that she knew a thing or two about life as well.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning:
On Friday I was out working with my bees, and was forced to perform one of the more disruptive procedures a beekeeper can inflict on his/her charges; splitting a very large hive into three smaller ones.
This required that I open and disassemble the hive, isolate the queen, remove several frames of brood comb (those containing developing larvae) and honeycomb (those containing, duh, honey) and put both of these into two smaller hive boxes called 'nucs' (short for nucleus hives).
Then in order to populate the new hives with adult worker bees, I picked up a few more frames of comb and shook the bees into the nuc boxes.
The bees are never really happy to have me poking around inside their home under the best of circumstances, but when the weather is warm and there is a good strong nectar flow somewhere in the area they allow me to take small liberties with them here and there.
But when I flat out wreck the place and expose them to a cool autumn afternoon when nothing is in bloom... they get downright pissed!
I was wearing a full bee suit, veil and gloves, but with all the bending and lifting it was inevitable that some bees were going to get into the gap between the cuffs of the bee suite and the tops of my work boots. Others found the pucker at the edge of the veil... while still others got inadvertently crushed in the folds of the suit itself (while I was bending down) and stung me right through the material.
By the time I had reassembled the hives and introduced the new queens to the nuc boxes, I had been stung almost 40 times. That's more then four times the number of stings I've gotten all season!
I guess one could call it an occupational hazard.
The stings themselves are something a beekeeper gets used to fairly quickly, so the pain was minimal. However, the cumulative effect of so many stings (i.e. mucho bee venom) at once was something I had never experienced before and I sat down for a little while to take stock of what my body was telling me.
I'd read all the literature about what systemic allergic reactions to bee stings would feel like and I had my Epi-pen (something I always have with me when working with the hives) in my pocket just in case. But thankfully the only lasting effect seemed to be localized itching and a general weariness which could just as easily have been attributed to lifting heavy hives full of bee larvae and honey.
The last chore I had to perform before I was done for the day was to bring the two nuc boxes to a temporary location a couple of kilometers from my bee yard. This is done because the bees will naturally want to return to their old hive location unless I take them to a new place and force them to memorize a new landscape. Bee brains work on the same basic prinicpal as an Etcho-Sketch (tm)... in order to draw/learn something new you have to erase the old.
After the nucs were nicely settled in their temporary location I dragged myself home and got undressed and admired my bee suit which was littered with the stingers of bees who had tried to sting me through the thick white canvas.
Just so you understand the biologics of what happened, when the first bee stings (and loses its stinger) it releases a strong alarm pheromone which directs other bees to the invader (me) and stimulates them to attack as well. With each successive sting (whether it penetrated the suit or not, the alarm pheromone got stronger and stronger. This is why beekeepers use smoke when they open a hive... it masks the alarm pheromone and calms the bees. But sometimes no amount of smoke is enough to keep you from getting the big neon sign painted on you that shouts "INVADER" to every bee in creation!
I made a mental note to wash my bee suite twice in hot water to be sure to get that 'invader stink' off of it.
Once out of my clothes I surveyed the damage.
I had stings all over my ankles and wrists... a few on the backs of my knees... a few more on the, ahem, back of my upper thighs... and a few really nice ones on the top of my head. None of them really hurt, but I knew I'd be in for a couple of days of serious itching.
I rooted around in the medicine cabinet to see if we had any antihistamine in the house, but all I found was a half-full bottle of grape flavored kiddie allergy stuff. I chugged the contents of the bottle.
The good news is that for almost 8 hours I didn't have any swelling, and only minimal itching. The bad news is that I was nearly comatose from taking an elephant dose of the kiddie antihistamine.
I'm sure the doctors out there will have plenty of kind words about my foray into pharmacology.
By Shabbat morning the grape-flavored horse tranquilizer had worn off and I was starting to get little messages from my body that perhaps not everyone had reported to work in my central nervous system.
It took me about 15 minutes just to get out of bed, and even a gimongous cup of ass-kickingly strong coffee didn't get the elevators to go all the way to the top floor.
I knew I hadn't had an anaphylactic reaction to the stings, but there was sure-as-sunshine something going on with my overall well-being. The best way to describe it is an achy, flu-like malaise. Also, my ankles and wrists were a tad swollen.
I ended up coming home early from Shabbat morning services, having failed to stay awake for even two of the seven sections of the Torah reading (much to the amusement of my neighbors)... and promptly went to bed for the rest of the day.
By Sunday morning I was feeling back to normal, but the anticipated itching where I'd been stung had arrived with a vengeance. I did my morning thing and drove a car full of eager young soldiers and students to Beer Sheva and then went to work.
I had every intention of picking up some more antihistamine (the grown-up kind thankyewverymuch) at the local drug store, but before I got the chance to run out I got a call from Zahava informing me that one of our closest friends had lost her father. He had gotten up Sunday morning... gone to the dentist, and had a sudden, fatal heart attack by 9:30 AM.
The funeral was scheduled for 3:00PM in Natanya, so I'd have to try to fit a day's worth of work into a few short hours before leaving for the drive north.
While I fidgeted and scratched through an excruciating meeting and saved a few files to take with me for after the funeral, the itching began to reach impossible new heights of agony. A full body case of poison ivy would have been a welcome vacation from this kind of torture.
But if I was going to make the funeral by 3:00PM there was no way I could stop at a pharmacy.
I arrived at the cemetery just as the first eulogy was about to be delivered, and watched my friend, her brother and her mother say the most difficult good-bye of their lives to a good man who had no idea when he woke up that he'd end the day asleep forever.
Throughout the brief service I tottered between deep despair at having to witness my friend's grief, and the kind of personal agony from my itchy bee stings that could easily have inspired Dante to add a sub-sub-sub-basement to his blueprints for hell.
However, when it came time to actually bury my friend's father I started to feel the first hopeful signs of relief from the itching.
I'm sure it was simply that the raging histamines had finally run their course, but for those first few moments of blessed relief, I started thinking guiltily of how shallow and self-absorbed a person must be to take a moment as fraught with emotion as the burial of a close friend's father and squander it in a momentary sense of personal deliverance.
This was the point where the late Naomi Shemer barged in on my thoughts.
The song 'Al Kol Eleh' (for those who don't know the song) is actually a long list of cherished things that the lyricist beseeches G-d to guard/watch over. But the more realistic chorus is about not just the cherished things, but also the acceptance of the world as it actually is... with both the honey and the sting... as well as the bitter and the sweet.
As the sun rushed towards its appointment with the west, and the mourners began to disperse to the other three corners of the compass, it came to me that my payment for the honey I take from my bees is having to endure the occasional sting. But our shared payment for the sweetness of a lifetime of parental love and guidance comes due on the bitter day when their comforting presence is taken from our world.
If you are blessed to have parents... what are you waiting for? Go call them.
* Here's a really sketchy translation... if anyone has a better one (or would like to take a crack at it themselves) I'll be happy to post it here.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XLVI) ['1000 words' edition]
Modern photojournalism has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that pictures can, and often do, lie.
For many years now, the American and European public have been treated to a very careful selection of images from my part of the world. These images have completely swayed a large part of the world into thinking that we are land-grabbing, militaristic monsters.
For instance, the overwhelming majority of Israelis pictured in the western media have been soldiers in full battle gear. These images are usually juxtaposed against those of Palestinian women, children and elderly. The kinds of pictures that almost guarantee a photographer's work prominent placement are those containing both of these misleading demographic cues (e.g. soldiers in a tank near a boy on a donkey, Soldier holding M16 near a Palestinian woman, etc.)
If one were to think about this trend, it would strike the critical mind as odd that Israel seems to be populated almost entirely by active duty soldiers, and that there seem to be almost no adult Palestinian men. Unfortunately, when perusing newspapers and magazines, few of us have our critical minds engaged. Rather, we tend to let headlines, photographs and captions wash over us... leaving behind the ideas and messages that the photographers and editors intend.
This isn't to say that photos are an enitirely untrustworthy medium. On the contrary, there is an important aspect to actually seeing something (as opposed to just reading about it) that helps people internalize a message.
Today's Photo Friday will (hopefully) provide a view of a 'settlement' (mine) that many in the press would prefer you not see.
Efrat (the town where I live) is not some windswept outpost with a rag-tag collection of caravans on a hilltop. It is a large town of almost 10,000 people with two large shopping centers, several fully subscribed schools, apartment buildings, town houses and private homes.
The land on which Efrat sits is a combination of 'national land' (land for which there was no documented owner that was claimed by the State of Israel) and privately purchased land that was acquired from the original owners in legally binding transactions.
The town itself is shaped like a long string of sausages stretched across a number of hills. The reason for this odd shape is that this was the way the land grant/purchase was shaped. Here is a look at one small section of the town (perhaps 1/8th of the total area:
The cultivated area you see in the foreground is all Arab land. This isn't to say that it was cultivated before Efrat came into existence (I have seen photographic proof that it wasn't), but here in the middle east, one can claim and maintain ownership of unclaimed land (land that has no deed and which has not been cultivated for three years) simply by using it.
The pattern that has invariably occurred around each settlement is that the Palestinians wait to see where the fence/border is for the settlement and then they start plowing the fields right up to that line.
Efrat has always sought to maintain good relations with the neighboring villages, so whenever someone has come with a claim (documented or otherwise) to unused land on the periphery of the town, they have been allowed to cultivate it.
At the top of the park is a rectangle of land that a local Arab claims (even though he waited until well after Efrat was several years into development to do so) and he has refused to sell (which is his right). Therefore each year he and his donkey come into town... he plows his field (he doesn't plant anything) and he leaves. This is enough for him to retain ownership.
My question to all the people who claim that the settlers stole the land from the Palestinians is as follows: If we were going to steal the land, wouldn't we steal a nice convenient chunk of it and not have Arab fields in the middle of our town parks?
So again, If we were the land-grabbers everyone says we are... why wouldn't we make our lives easier and make our town borders a nice safe, secure oval?
The reason is that we aren't the ones grabbing land.
It is also worth pointing out that a week or two ago there were a bunch of teens who went out to begin settling a neighboring hill that is owned by Efrat and which has been part of the municipal plan since the town was founded 22 years ago. The police and the army came and threw them off the hill quite roughly and even took a few people to jail.
There is not one settlement in Judea or Samaria (the west bank) that was built on land stolen from the Arabs. There is not one settlement built on the ruins of an abandoned Arab village. However, there are countless Israei towns and cities inside the green line that can not make this claim (including large parts of Tel Aviv).
So I guess what I'm asking when I post these pictures is for you to think critically about what you are reading in the press about Jewish settlers stealing Arab land and making land grabs for more. If there is any expansion of settlements going on, it is on land that is either state owned or privately owned by Jews.
There is only one party in the present conflict grabbing land... and it isn't us.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
With slight variations here and there, most dictionaries define hibernation as 'the act or condition of passing the winter in a torpid or resting state'. That definition also describes what I do on Shabbat afternoons... especially during the winter months.
Here in the Mediterranean region there is a time-honored tradition of taking a daily afternoon 'siesta' (this is the reason that many stores still close between 2 - 4 PM and then reopen for the late afternoon). But for the sake of brevity, let's confine our discussion to the Saturday afternoon nap... specifically the Shabbat nap one takes during the winter months.
On long summer Shabbat afternoons it is possible to go for a walk... visit with friends... and still have time to sneak away for a nice long nap. But as the days grow shorter and shorter, priorities must be weighed and difficult choices made. This means that for all intents and purposes, I won't be walking, visiting or otherwise socializing on Saturday afternoons until, um, well, until springtime! I'll be, well, hibernating.
All I know is that there is something simultaneously intoxicating and decadent about sneaking off after a big lunch of comfort food like chulent (a kind of long-simmering stew), cold cuts, kugels and tea, and then slipping under the duvet for a few hours.
I'm not sure how accepted this practice is among the secular set, but so ingrained is the Shabbat nap among the religious crowd that at the end of lunch this past past shabbat we had the following perfectly normal exchange with a nice couple that was visiting us from Jerusalem for the weekend:
Guests (1:30PM): That was a delicious lunch... thanks so much.
Us (1:31PM): You're very welcome... glad you enjoyed it.
[all of us begin making stretching gestures and start looking meaningfully at our watches]
Guests & Us (1:31PM): Well, I guess we're gonna go lie down for a few minutes... see you in a bit.
Me (5:10PM): [knock, knock] Hey, if you want to join me out in the parking lot for Aravit (evening services) you should think about waking up!
Honestly... are there really people out there who can function without naps???
Monday, November 14, 2005
Going to the dogs
There is a hot-button issue in my community that periodically gets the emails flying and the tempers flaring. It isn't a political or a religious issue... and this issue has no right or left side.
The issue that is able to get nearly everyone's panties in a bunch is dogs. Well actually, not dogs in general (although there are those who object to the very existence of the canine species) but rather a couple of specific issues related to dogs:
First is the issue of Stray/loose dogs. Israel's problem with feral cats tends to eclipse the nuisance value of nearly every other animal species, but in truth there are many places in the country with a very real problem with feral and/or loose dogs.
My town, like many relatively affluent communities, has a fairly high number of pet dogs. I make the connection between relative affluence and dog ownership because it makes no sense to host a perfectly tuned protein digestion machine under one's roof if putting protein on one's table is sometimes an 'iffy' thing.
So with the relatively large number of dog owners in Efrat, it is inevitable that there are going to be a few (OK, a bunch) that are not the most responsible people on the planet. Many dog owners don't spay/neuter their pets, and many of these make only a token attempt to keep their dogs at home.
Add to this the fact that there are plenty of feral dogs from the surrounding Arab communities that come to Efrat for its superior culinary and romantic opportunities, and you have a problem of ever-expanding proportions.
The second issue, which is tangentially related to the first, is that of dog sh*t.
Not only do the strays avail themselves of our streets for the purposes of completing the digestive process, but many dog owners who responsibly keep their pets on leashes refuse to pick up after their own dogs!
One particularly memorable Friday morning I was playing center field in a pick-up softball game on the town's baseball field. In the middle of the game a 30-something woman walked her German Shepherd right through the outfield and stood patiently by while it deposited an ankle-high, steaming, Tom Carvel-worthy pile of crap within 3 feet of where I stood. When the dog had finished its business the two of them calmly began walking away.
I called time out and yelled after the woman to pick up her dog's mess. With the two teams watching, she indignantly said, "This is a public place, I don't have to!". and turned again to walk away.
I'm not normally in the habit of threatening women, but I very calmly got her attention by saying, "Lady, you are going to take your dog's sh*t with you... it's up to you whether you carry it off the field wrapped in a piece of paper or smeared across the back of your sweater".
She began shrieking that she would call the police and that I had no right to threaten her. But she didn't walk away, either.
We waited there staring at each other for almost a full minute without speaking... with two teams of softball players waiting to see how things would play out... and then I finally said, "Nu... time to choose... paper or sweater?"
With an enormous amount of dignity (nobody does dignity like angry Israelis) she picked up an old windshield leaflet that was laying on the ground nearby, scooped up the crap and walked off the field. Her parting gesture was to look pointedly back at me and toss the crap - paper and all - into a bush at the edge of the field.
I'm sure in her mind she showed me!
As most of you know, I am a dog owner. Like most dog owners I have a blind spot when it comes to many of the fears and neuroses that some people have about dogs. But that doesn't mean I let my dog run wild or leave land mines on which unsuspecting pedestrians might trod.
I know that some communities have enacted stiff ordinances to deal with some of these issues and some have even gone so far as to put up little dispensers containing plastic glove/bags with which to clean up after one's pet. These are all good ideas, but I'm wondering how to overcome the nearly universal Israeli willingness to overlook 'quality of life' ordinances in the face of a nearly universal Israeli municipal unwillingness to enforce such statutes.
Suggestions are welcome.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
One of the few things I miss about our former life in the 'burbs of Connecticut is the Sunday New York Times.
Despite its name, the Sunday Times would actually show up on Saturday morning, giving us the entire weekend to fight over the various sections and wade through our favorite features. Even when the Times' politics would piss me off, I still loved it for its comforting heft... its smell of affluence... its smug exclusiveness.
Therefore, as an homage to the 'Gray Lady', I've decided to provide a treppenwitz Sunday wrap-up.
[Note: It's worth mentioning that I regularly break nearly every rule set forth in the 'New York Times Manual of Style and Usage')]
Anyhoo... here you go:
Metro Section: This past Friday night I was asked to address an intimate mob of people at my synagogue. Here it is two days later and the reason they asked me to speak (as opposed to, say, anyone else on the planet), still eludes me. Suffice it to say I dislike public speaking in English to the point that I refused to even offer public remarks at my own wedding!
Friday night I spoke for about 15 - 20 minutes in Hebrew (a language over which I hold only the most tenuous command), on a topic that even the small children in attendance grasp better than I.
The extent to which one bombs at such events can best be measured by the number of days later one is still getting 'pity pats' on the back from people who witnessed the spectacle. I got two such 'pity pats' on my way to fetch the newspaper this morning.
Society Page: His Aussiness, Dave of Israellycool and his wife have welcomed a new member to the tribe (actually, he won't officially be given membership in the tribe until Thursday), a little boy weighing 4.050 kilo/8.9 pounds (keneynahora, tfu tfu tfu)! Go on over and wish him Mazal Tov!
Health & Fitness: There is a longstanding tradition in some Israeli neighborhoods of holding Saturday evening services under the streetlamps to spare the menfolk the trouble of walking 'all the way' back to synagogue. In an effort to raise bone-laziness to new heights, last night the usual crowd of my neighbors gathered less than 200 meters from the synagogue to usher out the sabbath queen.
The thing that made this shameless display of sloth noteworthy was the presence last night of a familiar face that has been missing for many months from our weekly gathering:
Apparently Elroi was home from the rehab facility for shabbat and a few soldiers from his unit had joined him at his parents house for the weekend. It was wonderful to see his friends wheel him out to the parking lot in his wheelchair and to see him joking and shaking hands with everyone like old times.
He has regained a little bit of movement on his left side... but it is still premature to say that he has any meaningful 'use' of his left arm or leg. However, looking at how far he has come, and the determination on his handsome face, tells me that the end of this story has yet to be written. Please keep Elroi Refa'el ben Galia Glynis in your thoughts and prayers for a full recovery.
Classified: A few of you have continued to look for fresh ads to click over on the lower right hand side of the page. I would just remind you that each advertiser you visit makes it possible to put cake, cookies and drinks in the chilly hands of the young men and women who have the thankless task of manning the outposts and roadblocks throughout the Judaen hills. Keep up the good work!
On Language: I don't know how I managed never to have heard this word before, but until recently I had been blissfully unaware of the word 'tzimmer'. But as usually happens, now that I've heard it once, it seems that nearly everyone I know is sprinkling their conversations with it.
Unlike William Safire, who would have done exhaustive research on the etymology of the word and then provided a detailed definition and usage guide, I can only offer my vague contextual understanding of the word 'tzimmer':
The word 'tzimmer' seems to encompass a range of vacation accommodations from stand-alone bungalows to full-service bed-and-breakfasts. Typical usage: "We had wanted to go camping up north for the weekend but it rained so we stayed in a 'tzimmer'''. The origin of the word sounds to my untrained ear to be Yiddish... but that is the wildest of guesses and should perhaps be taken with the usual grain of salt.
Religion: I try not to discuss religion or politics here too often in deference to the diverse readership that treppenwitz is privileged to enjoy. But a passage in this past Shabbat's reading always makes me marvel that anyone can deny the scripture's prophecy:
"You shall call him Ishmael... he shall be a wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him."
Hmmm... Someone remind me again... who considers themselves to be the descendants of Ishmael? Oh yeah, now I remember... that would be our cousins; 'The religion of peace'.
Opinion: Most of the time the
moonbats in the tinfoil hat brigade reality-challenged members of treppenwitz's readership confine their manifestos thoughtful inquiries to emails that you, dear reader, never get to see. But once in a while an 'interesting' comment is left and you all get to glimpse the glamour pageant known as being a blogger/journaler.
This past week treppenwitz received another such
communique from the edge insightful comment which has made me feel compelled to make the following clarifications:
a) I am not now , nor have I ever been, a Rabbi (although I've played one on television).
b) I am not the elected representative of all religious Jews. In fact many self-respecting religious people actively deny any affiliation with me or my
sinfulsometimes irreverent journal.
c) My brand of humor is best described as 'an acquired taste'. If it offends you or you 'don't get it', please don't feel bad. The problem is clearly with
your medsme, not you.
Well, that's pretty much all the news that's fit to print for now... so enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
Friday, November 11, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XLV) ['Go' edition]
When my dad was in the army during the Korean War, he he learned a Japanese board game called 'Go'. I don't remember the details of where or how he learned it, but he enjoyed the game enough that he continued playing it long after he returned to the US and married my mother.
When we were kids, my dad taught my older sister and I to play both Chess and 'Go', but I can remember that I enjoyed 'Go' much more than I did chess. Instead of one strategic battle going on (as in chess) 'Go' had multiple battles being waged across the board... many of which could spill over into one another creating new strategic possibilities. And unlike chess, there were very few complicated rules to remember. Each piece (stone) placed on the board had the same status as any other... a very egalitarian game as compared with the different powers assigned to the array of chess pieces.
I recently taught my older kids how to play 'Go'. They are both quite good at chess, but they easily made the transition to 'Go' and have been paying me (and each other) ever since.
I'm sure my dad will be very proud of the family tradition he started.
If anyone is interested in learning the very easy rules of this game, there is a wonderful site called KGS that has a server on which people from all over the world can play 'Go' against one another. The link to the interactive 5 minute tutorial on how to play can be found here.
The nice part about the KGS site is that you can find a game any time of day or night... and if you simply want to lurk and learn from watching others play you can do that as well.
I hope at least a few of you look into this... it would be nice to play a game against a treppenwitz reader some time.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Back when I was a denizen of midtown Manhattan conference rooms, I learned to tune out certain buzzwords because of their tendency to derail my train of thought.
It was both annoying and distracting when speakers would deliberately employ such words knowing full well that few people would admit they didn't fully understand. Until I learned to ignore words/phrases like 'synergy', 'drill down', 'paradigm', 'leverage' etc., such cryptic words would invariably make me lose the flow of any meeting I attended.
Clearly I wasn't the only person suffering from this aversion to corporate vocabulary because in the 90's games like Boardroom Bingo sprung up to help distracted/bored meeting-goers stay focused and pass the time.
Now that I spend a sizable portion of my days in Israeli conference rooms, it seems there are some new words and phrases that I need to learn how to overcome/ignore. They can be divided into one of two categories:
1. Words/phrases borrowed from a foreign language (including English) that sound odd/inappropriate when tossed into a Hebrew sentence:
Ki Bini Mat - A Russian vulgarity that roughly translates to 'Go f*ck yourself' but is used as a common expression of dismissal (e.g. "If we go to them with a price that high they'll tell us ki bini mat")
F*ck (pl. f*ckim) - The ultimate in English no-no words has become a fairly benign Hebrew expression meaning 'mistake'. Especially jarring when used by otherwise shy, modest religious girls.
Boolsheet - Exactly as it sounds... but like the previous word, it has a much milder connotation in Hebrew; nonsense.
America - An adjective used to describe anything perceived to be glamorous or cutting edge (e.g. "Wow, ze America!").
Bardock - Another Russian word which (I'm told) means 'brothel', but is used to describe anything messy or disorganized. A messy/disorganized person is a bardokist.
2. Words/phrases in Hebrew that sound like English, but aren't (there are a bunch of these but I can only come up with two right now):
Shatap (sounds jarringly like shut-up!) - The spoken acronym for the words SHeeTuf Pe'ulah (cooperation).
Saveer (sounds like severe) - Reasonable
I'm sure there are many more that I can't think of right this moment... but these are a few examples of what's been distracting me in meetings lately.
Maybe I need to create 'Immigrant Boardroom Bingo'
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Casting about for the point
One of the journalers I follow recently asked a fundamental question about podcasting that has been puzzling me as well:
"Am I missing something?"
Back when I was commuting from Connecticut to Manhattan every day, I became something of an 'Imus in the Morning' devotee. I had never been a talk radio fan, and I didn't consciously go looking for a radio program to follow. It just sort of happened. It happened partly because my politics were in a state of flux, and partly because, well, I had some time to kill.
Imus' politics and mine weren't a perfect match, but he always had a nice mix of political/literary guests and his humor was irreverent enough to make me laugh without making me squirm. So instead of watching people pick their noses and apply make-up on the Merritt Parkway, I listened to Imus.
But since Imus isn't available via the Internet (for me to record and play during my current commute), my drive time is either passed in conversation with my passengers or shuffling through the hundreds of albums on my ipod.
For the most part, I have replaced the daily current events fix I used to get from Imus with my 30 - 40 minutes of surfing through my favorite blogs/journals.
When the podcast craze first began, I downloaded the latest 'casts that were posted by people on my reading list and listen to them via my iPod. But I did so mostly because of the novelty and/or because I wanted to hear how they sounded (as opposed to the voices I had given them in my head).
But now that the novelty of podcasting has worn off (at least for me) and I've satisfied my curiosity as to how these people sound, I'm finding that I really don't have the 15, 20 or even sometimes 30 minutes (for each podcast!) to sit and listen to what, at best, sounds like good college talk radio.
I read blogs/journals because the writers have earned my interest / respect with their written ideas. They put those thoughts/ideas out there for me on a semi-regular basis and I drop by and thoroughly enjoy the minute or two I spend with each of their well-considered posts. Heck, if someone is long-winded like me, I might even stick around a bit longer!
But I spend little enough time with my wife and kids as it is... and I can't see myself trying to figure out where I can steal 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there in order to listen to the podcasts... no matter how good they are!
This isn't to say that people should give up podcasting. By all means, if someone enjoys doing it and it improves the quality of their lives (the way writing immeasurably improves mine), they should definitely continue doing it!
But I can't help wondering about the tremendous expenditure of time it takes to produce, record and 'mix' these podcasts... as well as the corresponding investment in time one has to make in order to actually listen to them.
Or maybe I'm just full of sh*t and totally missing the point. It certainly wouldn't be the first time!
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Justice? You're soaking in it!
scha·den·freu·de (shädn-froi d)
Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. *
Like treppenwitz, shadenfreude has no perfect English equivalent... and as a word, is truly indispensable once you know what it means. For those of you who are new, you can find the definition of treppenwitz near the bottom of my sadly outdated 'about me' page.
So, why am I rolling out a fancy, shmancy word like shadenfreude today?
One word answer: FRANCE
Better informed folks than I have already written on what has been going on in France lately, so I won't burden you with my poor attempts to sound well informed. Go read them at your very first opportunity.
As for me, I'm just sitting here savoring my shadenfreude. This, my friends, is justice... and France is soaking in it.
The single murmur of discontent that France uttered during it's decades-long decline into 'self-dhimmitization' was the whole headscarf issue. For a fleeting moment it seemed as though they were on the verge of 'getting it'. But then the moment passed and the French went back to sleep allowing the 'Fifth Republic' to continue sailing blissfully towards the abyss.
Now France will have the honor of becoming the test case for much of Europe.
Denmark, the UK and Sweden, with their enormous Muslim immigrant populations, will be especially interested to see how this all plays out. France has bent over backwards to be accommodating to it's growing Muslim population, even playing to their sensitivities by wagging an accusatory finger at any country that dares to confront Muslim insurgency/terrorism or [gasp] invade a Muslim country.
A special dose of Gallic scorn has traditionally been reserved for Israel because of our audacious insistence upon remaining in a region from which France herself was unceremoniously booted in the twilight of her colonial aspirations.
The problem is that the French - the great egalitarians - have mostly ignored their Muslim underclass the way a proud family might ignore it's poorer relations. Well Jacques... guess who's coming to dinner?
While wagging her finger at the rest of the world, France didn't realize she was being invaded herself... and that an insurgency was taking place within the welcoming bosom of her 'enlightened' welfare state.
Most of all, France forgot that Muslim leaders have made no secret that Islam has been waiting patiently for 513 years (give or take) for the opportunity to reconquer Europe and avenge previous defeats with a more lasting conquest of the world.
Obviously I take no pleasure (personal or otherwise) from the individual loss of life or property in France. But after having listened for years to France telling one country after another (especially Israel) that the reason they are experiencing domestic unrest in their streets is that they are not as nationally evolved... nor as socially enlightened as the 'Republique Francaise'... well, let's just say it's good to see the French finally get an opportunity to soak in a little justice.
Unfortunately, as momentarily satisfying as it may be to indulge in some serious shadenfreude while the Citroens and Peugeots burn throughout France, I can't help but worry about who will really burn should a Muslim-controlled (assuming that, true to character, France capitulates to the mob), France casts about for a likely target for its arsenal of hydrogen bombs.
* Definition from Dictionary.com. (hint) if certain unnamed blood relations with high-level contacts within the upper hierarchy of 'The definitive record of the English language' would gift me an online subscription for Hanukkah, I wouldn't have to resort to such plebeian sources as Dictionary.com and Wikipedia. (/hint)
A lesson to start the week
Like most people, I have a couple of friends who have a history of leaving long, meandering messages on my answering machine.
I've been able to gently train most of them to get to the point in 5 minutes or less... but there are still a few characters out there that I love enough to sit through a lot of 'ums' and 'ya knows' before the real point of their message finally emerges.
I mention this because of a funny email exchange with an old friend that was sparked by the penultimate line in Friday's post ("...it's time to... welcome a different kind of queen!").
You'll see the connection in a second:
Good Friend (in response to the line about 'another kind of queen'): You're going to see Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler?
Me: Funny stuff... I'll bet you don't even have to use the laughing gas with your patients [he's a dentist... one of the fancy kind that hate being called dentists].
GF: I have a bad habit of not listening to messages ever... a close friend of mine is dating Harvey Fierstien and my birthday was last week. [Name of close friend] called to wish me a happy birthday and I erased the message as soon I heard his voice, appreciating his good will but not having patience to listen to a long drawn out message. This morning I get an email asking if I loved "Harvey singing happy birthday to me in Yiddish on my voice mail."... arrgh... I am such a putz!
There are actually a couple of lessons one can take from this exchange:
1. Always compliment people's jokes... even the bad ones. Not only does it cost you nothing, but there is often a good story lurking just beyond the punchline, waiting to be told.
2. When someone takes the time to leave a message on your answering machine, listen to the whole thing. I'm not saying that every message has the potential to contain a personalized celebrity rendition of Happy Birthday... but if you erase it you may miss out on the real reason for your friend's call.
I'm just saying...
[Unrelated note: Good job clicking those ads, people... but one day isn't going to do it. There are always new ads and new opportunities to click. If you clear your cache/cookies you can even click on ads you've previously visited.]
Friday, November 04, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XLIV) [royalty edition]
Two apologies are in order:
1. Sorry that Photo Friday is up so late today. I was out early to go mingle with some local royalty. By this I mean that I had to go see a beekeeper friend in Kfar Bilu about buying two new queens to lead a couple of new hives. It seems that my bees have been reproducing so nicely that I will be able to create two new hives this week, but they each need a queen. While I was there I spent a couple of hours working alongside this 3rd generation beekeeper in one of his apiaries and watched his technique. He doesn't wear gloves and only puts on a veil if he is really going to spend a long time poking around inside a particularly atsbani (quarrelsome) hive. He didn't get one sting!
2. Sorry that there aren't more pictures. I ran out this morning without the camera and all I have for you is a picture of the two queens in their cages (they have a few attendant bees in there with them to feed and clean them).
Oh, yeah... and also a picture of the kids. If you look closely you can see
Yonah sitting on the couch grinning like an idiot. Just let him spot a camera and he he will smile until you give in and take his picture. The big kids have asked to be
able to each keep a queen in their room until I install them in their
new hives this week. Zahava doesn't even want to know they are in the
I know... some of you (very few, I'm guessing), are saying "oh wow... neat!" The rest of you... not so much. :-)
Anyway, looking at my watch I see it's time to put aside the queen bees and get ready to welcome a different kind of queen!
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Israel is only lately starting to catch the 'low-fat- and 'no-fat' craze in packaged/processed foods. But unlike in the US, it is still pretty easy to find the 'regular' full-fat versions of just about anything you want.
I've written on several occasions about the incredible range of delicious dairy choices here in Israel. I was even considering writing about a new flavor of yogurt I've fallen in love with lately (blueberry cheesecake). But then yesterday I discovered something that went beyond even my wildest dreams of dairy deliciousness.
But first a little backstory:
On the way home from work yesterday Zahava called to ask me to stop off at our makolet and pick up a few things: fresh cream, milk, cheese, butter and sour cream. This made things pretty easy because the entire mission would entail standing in front of my favorite part of the store; the dairy case.
Fresh cream for the coffee was easy, as were the other items on the list. But when I went looking for sour cream I noticed something new that I had never seen before. Next to the regular Tnuva shemenet (sour cream) there was something called 'shemenet shel pa'am' (old fashioned sour cream).
Now, it's important to understand that in the US, regular sour cream is generally around 18-19% milk fat. The really decadent, high-end US sour cream might even be around 20%.
This 'shemenet shel pa'am' was 27% milk fat!!! I must have been making little happy noises because the makolet owner came over to make sure I was OK.
After being assured that I was indeed OK, the owner pointed at the sour cream in my hand and assured me that if I had never tasted it, it would ruin me for anything else... I'd never be able to go back to regular sour cream again.
Last night after a nice dinner of sauteed sole and creamed spinach (thank you honey!), I decided to treat myself to a taste of this 'shemenet shel pa'am' for dessert. Just a taste, mind you.
Oh. My. Gawd!
It was like eating the richest, creamiest custard on earth. I had mixed in some Splenda® to make it a bit more 'desserty', and it was soooo good that I ended up finishing the whole container!
When I say I 'finished the container', I should point out that under normal circumstances I would usually let the dog lick out the little dribbles left in the plastic container. Last night Jordan sat and watched with dismay as I licked every last trace of goodness from carton!
Sorry Jordan... it's a dog-eat-dog world out there and I'm the 'alfa dog' in our household! :-)
The makolet owner was right... I'm ruined! I will never be able to eat regular sour cream again.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Click some cake and coffee to a soldier
I know, I know... back when I wrote this post I sort of promised never to use my site to beg or busk. But back then I was talking about people who 'shnor' money in order to support their web habit.
What I want to try is something that will raise funds for a worthy cause without any of my readers actually having to shell out a penny/agorah.
You may have noticed that a few weeks ago I started allowing Typepad to place ads on the lower right hand column of my page. They allowed me to pick the general types of ads (by subject) and I figured that so long as it didn't become bothersome to the look of the site, or offend anyone's sensibilities, it would be a nice way to offset the modest cost of keeping up treppenwitz.
So far this arrangement has more than paid for the hosting service and I haven't gotten any complaints from anyone.
Well, in the wake of the recent
resumption continuation of hostilities here in the region, the IDF has reinstated several of the roadblocks along my commute which had previously been removed as 'confidence building gestures' to the Palestinians.
At the same time that more soldiers are being stationed out here, far from hearth and home, the weather is starting to get cold and wet, and I am once again starting to drop off cakes and drinks for the soldiers stationed in these remote spots.
Here's where the fund-raising comes in.
Since the pay-per-click advertising has already covered my blogging costs before making this appeal, I'd like to ask that you help finance some of these 'care packages' to the soldiers by clicking on some or all of the ads.
I promise that every penny/agorah from this increased 'clickage' will go towards making the lives of these soldiers/reservists more comfortable... and I will even provide photographic evidence of your generosity from time to time.
What could be bad? As far as I can tell it's a classic win-win!
The advertisers get a few moments of your attention that they probably wouldn't otherwise have had... the soldiers will get more frequent care packages from me (and now you) than the usual once a week... and you won't have to dig into your morning coffee money in order to experience the warm glow of philanthropy!
My plan is to try to keep this funded throughout the winter (or at least through Hanukkah). What do you say?
[Note: I'm going to ask my lovely wife to design me up a nice gift card to accompany all the care packages so the soldiers know that the food and drink is being provided by you nice folks. ]