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Friday, June 30, 2006

Photo Friday (vol. LXVIII) [jumbled cave edition]

There are a host of complex formulas that retailers are supposed to use to measure how much profit they are earning per square foot.  This kind of analysis has led to narrower aisles in clothing stores and to gas stations converting their repair bays into convenience marts.

Well, it seems that Israeli retailers have taken this concept of maximizing profit per square foot (er, I mean meter) to completely silly lengths.

As exhibit 'A' I present to you one of my local hardware stores.  We actually have two in town but except for the man behind the counter they are otherwise absolutely identical.

Lest you think we are primitive cavemen, Israel has had hardware and office supply superstores for many years now.  But the neighborhood 'mom & pop' hardware store is still holding its own in smaller towns.

These stores have a dizzying array of merchandise.  And what they lack can be ordered and picked up a few days hence.

Here is the cave-like first aisle of the hardware store.  See what I mean about trying to maximize every possible inch, er I mean centimeter of space?:

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I showed you that aisle first because it was the neatest one.  Here is the next one:

The space between the towering shelves is so narrow that a person almost has to turn sideways to pass.  Two people at a time?  Fagetaboudit!  My claustrophobic wife won't set foot beyond the door in this place!

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Anyway, since I probably misled some of you with my title I feel like I should show you a real cave.

Here is a cave I pass on my drive through the South Hevron Hills every day.  It is set into the side of a large hill and overlooks a rolling valley through which a stream gurgles (the stream is out of sight behind the hill that is in the foreground on the right.) If you look closely there is a shepherd and his flock on the lower left side of the picture:

Cavemanfar

I am absolutely convinced that this cave must have seen thousands of years of occupation in the mists of pre-history because of the following factors:

  • It is set high enough on the hill that it would be easily defensible against wild animals and men.
  • It has a commanding view of the entire area.
  • There is plenty of agriculture and grazing land within line of sight.
  • The entrance to the cave (on the left side) is set back and there is an overhang that would keep rain and sun from reaching the entrance.

I have been hankering to go explore it... or even to get close enough to look directly into the entrance.  But it is set back behind Arab fields and is nowhere near a 'friendly' area.  So, I (and you) will have to settle with this zoom shot for the time being:

Caveman

Shabbat Shalom!

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Posted by David Bogner on June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Unsung Swarthy Heroes

One of the regular commenters here at treppenwitz shared a troubling thought on yesterday's post that I seem to get nearly every time I mention my belief that most Palestinians are regular people who have the same kind of family and financial concerns as we do, and who are not actively working towards, or even actively hoping for, the destruction of Israel. 

He said:

"I have a suggestion for all the wonderful Arabs who want to make nice with Israel from Gaza and the West Bank.  You want hostilities to stop and to have a normal life?  Become spies for Israel within the murderous terror orgs of your brothers."

This commenter is no dummy.  He has been around the Sun a few more times than I have, and has a lot of good solid information at his fingertips with which to support his worldview.  His only problem is that he is human, and has fallen into the very human habit of willfully ignoring inconvenient facts that don't jibe with what he sees and hears.

Spying is a dirty, dangerous business.  When people do it against our national interests (think Mordechai Vannunu, Udi Aviv, Marcus Klingberg), we want to string them up from the nearest lamp post... or at least let them rot in jail forever. 

But when someone, for whatever reason, does it for us (think Eli Cohen, Jonathan Pollard and countless others who's names we will probably never know), they are heroes of the first order!

So with that in mind, let me tell you a story.  Pay close attention to the details.  I can almost guarantee you'll miss the important ones:

Prologue: A Palestinian terrorist gets on a bus or walks into a crowded restaurant and blows him/herself up, snuffing out a few dozen innocent lives and maiming scores more in the process.  The public settles in to follow the familiar acts in this well-worn libretto:

Act One: 'The pas de duex'... This opening dance features terse sound bites exchanged between a suitably somber public official (usually a police or government spokesman) and an inappropriately eager/bright-eyed media talking head.  They have no real information to share at this point so instead they rehash a standard police statement that there had been 150 individual intelligence warnings of an impending attack during the previous two weeks.  This act is mostly filler used to kill time while the camera crews arrive on scene.

Act Two: 'Impressionist Dreamscape'... Through the weird tunnel vision of a zoom lens the first camera crews on the scene show the audience their first glimpse of the carnage... an exhibition of ordinary everyday objects (cafe tables, buses, bus shelters, mall entrances, etc.) bent and mangled into improbable angles and locations that would make Salvador Dali proud.

Act Three: 'Blair Witch Videography'... The press video crews, having become emboldened, leave their distant vantage points behind the police tape and venture on foot towards the epicenter of the carnage.  This transitory act takes it's name from the choppy news footage that is so reminiscent of the shaky hand-held camera work in the low budget 1999 film from which the act takes its name.

Act Four: 'The Voyeur'... Though we want to look away at this point, the Blair Witch camera crews have dashed in past wildly gesturing security personnel and treated us to the grisly images of blood oozing out from under lumpy plastic tarps, and ZAKA crews buzzing around like bearded yellow bumblebees bagging bits of unidentifiable matter that our minds would rather not catalog.

Act Five:  'The justification'... Now that our emotions have been primed to be properly receptive, we are introduced to a Palestinian 'spokes-liar' doing his best 'We condemn this unfortunate act' bit where he says with great resignation that "EEZ-RAH-EYL-EE [they always pronounce it in that 5-syllible cadence that makes it sound like an Arabic curse... which it sort of is if you think about it], atrocities and genocide against the Palestinian people have led to this unfortunate, spontaneous display of Palestinian frustration." 

Act Six: 'The Celebration'... The last image we are usually shown... and therefore the image that stays with us the longest... is the obligatory tight angle shot of celebrating Palestinian crowds dancing in the street and passing out sweets to little children.

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OK, let's look at this tragic opera for a moment through more critical eyes and talk about what we have actually seen... as well as what we probably haven't:

  • Yes, there was a terror attack which - Palestinian claims of spontaneity not withstanding - required a fair amount of advanced planning, funding and logistical support to carry out.
  • Yes, the suitably unctuous Palestinian spokes-liar might as well send in file footage for all the variation in his usual statement.
  • Yes, it is infuriating to see anyone celebrating the murder of our people.

But let's think for a moment about how many Palestinians we have actually seen in action here: 

  • There's the bomber and his support/logistics crew... which might be as many as 30 or 40 people. 
  • There's the spokes-liar and the government he represents... that's another 150 or so.
  • And of course there are the celebrants we saw dancing in the street... another 75 to 100 people (remember that tight camera angle?  That was so the film crew could get the bunch of day laborers and coffee drinkers who were sitting quietly in the cafe two minutes earlier to look like an enormous crowd). 

So in fairness, what we have seen here is no more than 300 Palestinians.  What we usually do with this information is extrapolate the words and deeds of those people onto the millions of Palestinians we don't see in order to formulate our worldview.

Don't feel bad... you're in good company here.  The typical Palestinian (heck, most of the world!) uses this same kind of flawed statistical sampling to form their opinion about Israelis/Jews as well.  The only difference is that we cry foul... and they mostly don't. 

But there is one small piece of information we are given during nearly every performance of this tragic opera that almost all of us dismiss without a second thought.  Didn't catch it?  Think back to Act One

While the talking heads were killing time waiting for the camera crews to arrive on the scene, they rehashed some seemingly inconsequential information that every Israeli news outlet receives on a daily basis; the number of terror warnings that were received.  This is a stupid factoid that only becomes relevant when a terror attack takes place... or when one is averted. 

However, few of us actually stop to think about the ramifications of this information's existence. 

Even when we read in the paper about the execution of a Palestinian 'collaborator', it still never dawns on us to put that event together with the innocuous statements about terror warnings.

Much as we would all like to believe that there is a Mossad agent hiding under every rock in Ramallah, the truth is that almost all of Israel's hard intelligence on the various Palestinian terror networks comes from Palestinians.  All the satellite imagery and electronic eavesdropping in the world can't hold a candle to 'HUMINT' (human intelligence) provided by a well placed spy deep inside the enemy camp.  These men and women risk their lives... and the lives of their families... for reasons that still elude me. 

A friend once told me how, during a stint of reserve duty, he was horrified to see an IDF officer walk over to one of a large group of Palestinian prisoners who had been rounded up in the previous night's sweep and begin slapping him viciously in the face.  Within minutes the man was dragged away from his fellow prisoners and led bleeding and groaning from the room.  One-by-one the others got the same treatment.

It was only the next day that this officer confided in him that one of the prisoners was a regular informant who had urgent information about an impending suicide attack (it was averted, thank G-d).  He had signaled his handlers that he didn't trust his regular channels of communications and needed to be debriefed in person.  The only way to do this without raising the suspicions of the villagers was for the IDF to round up a random bunch of men from his area and then, during a bit of staged (but very real) brutality, drag him off to a suitably private debriefing room.

As I said, I'm not really sure what motivates these informants.  It probably isn't overt patriotism since they can't really expect to ever have a real stake in the Zionist enterprise... at least not the way we imagine our stake.  And it probably isn't financial motivation since whatever the IDF and Shin Bet are spreading around among the literally thousands of Palestinian informants, it can't possibly be worth risking a bullet in the back of the head. 

So who knows... maybe these brave men and women just hate to see innocent people killed.  You and I are capable of this noble sentiment, so it really just might be as simple as that.

Whatever the reason, even though I still firmly believe that we are at war with the Palestinians, and that the entire Palestinian people are my enemy (at least until such until such time as peace breaks out), I know with perfect certainty that each time I hear about IDF troops catching a bomber on the way to to carry out an attack (which happens several times a month), or when a bunch of wanted terrorists are rounded up without incident in the middle of the night by a team of IDF commandos... that one of these unlikely spies has stepped up and risked his life in order to save a bunch of people he will almost certainly never meet.

So please remember these unsung swarthy heroes the next time you read the news about a successful IDF operation... and before leaving thoughtless comments on anyone's blog.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The danger in coming out of the trenches too soon

On my daily commute through the many small Arab villages along my route, I often force myself to think about the people I see as individuals instead of as members of some real or imagined monolithic group.

I've written in the past that it is important to remember that just as their blanket assumptions of me and my countrymen are at least partially incorrect ... so too, no single idea I might hold about Arabs/Muslims could possibly apply to all (or even most) of them.

This perfectly rational humanist sentiment is at the core of the thinking of many Israelis I know and respect.  Their in-person and on-line contact with Palestinians and Arab/Muslim bloggers from around our region has convinced them (quite correctly, I might add) that these people are not monsters and that they want their lives to return to a semblance of normalcy as much, or even more, than the typical Israeli.

Intellectually I totally get this, but it is in total conflict with the another semi-rational part of my brain... the part that deals with the ultimate human instinct; self preservation.  And for whatever reason, even with wise counsel and information from friends on both sides of the political chasm, I have not had any success in getting my inner humanist to sit quietly alongside my inner human.

This morning I woke up understanding what I think is the crucial stumbling block to achieving this inner peace.

During World War II the Allied governments went out of their way to deliberately vilify the Germans and the Japanese.  Admittedly they had a much easier time turning our Asian enemy into a sub-human devil because of the natural suspicion that accompanies large cultural/racial divides. 

But even with the Germans, our leaders were extremely successful in portraying a people who had historically epitomized the very apex of continental civility and culture as something suitably evil and sub-human to be considered an enemy.

So why was this intentional vilification process necessary?  Why wasn't it enough to hate the German and Japanese leadership and leave the perfectly nice German and Japanese people intact in our collective imagination as wholesome, family raising, hard-working people?

The simple answer is that it is impossible to wage war only on the leaders of a country or national entity.  You can argue all you want that the people are essentially good and more like you than not... but entire nations and national entities wage war, not just their leaders.  When the leadership of a national entity declares war on another, everyone is at war. 

With the decision to go to war the nature of the citizens doesn't change.  But no matter how many individuals you can locate who are wonderful upstanding people, the entire population is now actively part of an entity that wants to do another entity (yours) harm. 

To make it possible for soldiers to mow down human beings with machine guns or level cities with bombs, a great deal of mental groundwork/preparation has to be accomplished whereby the enemy ceases to be completely human.

For a perfect illustration of this dilemma we have to go back to Christmas of 1914 during World War I:

During the terrible trench warfare at Flanders during the winter of 1914, the German and British lines were less than 60 yards apart and the two sides were doing unspeakable things to one another with some of the most vicious weapons imaginable.  The Pope had begged both sides to call a truce for the Christmas holiday but both sides rejected it as 'impossible'.

However, on Christmas eve some German officers placed Christmas trees on the parapets of their trenches and began leading their men in traditional carols.  The English troops didn't understand the language but many of the tunes were familiar enough that they stopped shooting and crawled closer to listen.

Christmas morning saw both sides out of their trenches exchanging rations and tobacco, singing traditional songs and even playing several well documented games of soccer in the muddy no-man's-land between the trenches.  During this spontaneous recognition of the enemy's essential humanity, both sides were able to put aside hostilities for a little more than a day.

This may seem like a heartwarming story to most... and is even retold by those who would like to illustrate the futility and folly of war.  But in doing so they will always sidestep a couple of crucial issues.

First of all, this was 1914 and the war would rage on for another 4 years before one side would be beaten into submission and forced to accept terms of surrender.  That it took so long was as much a result of fairly equally matched combatants as the leadership's refusal to contemplate a non-military solution.  In fact so long as a military victory remained in the realm of possibility, a diplomatic solution was never seriously considered by either side.

But more important was the demotivating/demoralizing effect this impromptu holiday truce had on the troops who had eaten and drunk with their enemies as well as those who had heard about this startling event.  Discipline broke down for several weeks up and down the lines while both sides sent angry messages through the chain of command demanding that the soldiers in the trenches resume hostilities.

Obviously the war resumed in all its horrible manifestations and millions more died after the leaders on both sides ignored this potential opportunity to emulate their citizens.  But was an opportunity for peace really missed in 1914?

The answer is 'no'. 

For hostilities to have ceased long-term, both sets of leaders would have had to agree to pursue an exclusively diplomatic solution.  For only one side to have done so would have been tantamount to suing for surrender terms.

This is the situation in which we find ourselves today.  The Arabs who live in the countries that surround Israel are not bad people.  They do not have horns and do not have a thirst for Jewish blood.  And the Palestinians who live in Gaza, Judea and Samaria (or whatever terminology floats your boat) are not bloodthirsty killers or sub-human monsters.

Granted the cultural gulf that exists between them and us is more reminiscent of how we and the Japanese viewed one another during WWII.  But even if the conflict more closely resembled the cultural fratricide that existed between the various European combatants during WWI, we would still be left to deal with the only thing that matters; the decisions and orders issued by the leaders.

You can write all the heartwarming anecdotes you want about mothers in Gaza and students in Bethlehem.  Those nice people are not in a position to call the shots and are as much victims of this conflict as we are. 

Until their leaders (and by this I mean the unambiguous, democratically elected leaders of the Palestinians people) unequivocally and finally denounce all armed hostilities against the people and nation of Israel, the two peoples... ALL OF THEM... will remain in a very real state of war.

If in 1914 the German and English leaders had decided to sit down and negotiate a peaceful solution while the German troops continued to wage an open war against the British troops who had agreed to respect a cessation of hostilities, the negotiations would have broken off immediately, and rightly so. 

It wouldn't make any difference that the majority of Germans were ready, able and willing to have an end to hostilities and see their beautiful children out from under the destructive cloud of war.  So long as even a few organized German units continued to perpetrate substantive lethal attacks against the Allies, no allied leader could consider an offer of peace to be even remotely credible.

I don't care what the rest of the world tells Israel it should do.  They have their own agenda in mind and it doesn't matter what motivates that agenda. 

What concerns me is that nearly half the Israeli population... MY PEOPLE... are willing to delude themselves that the reasonable voices they hear from 'the other trenches' are actually the voices of the decision makers... and they are not!

To act as though friendly, reasonable Palestinian journalists and bloggers speak for their leaders... and to attempt to influence our government's foreign policy according to this mistaken perception while the elected leadership of the Palestinian people continues to actively work towards the destruction of Israel (a country whose name many of their leaders won't even publicly utter)...  is to aid and abet the enemy in time of war, and this is tantamount to treason!

The German troops who came up out of the trenches on Christmas morning of 1914 were not the exceptional in any way.  They were absolutely representative of the humanity and goodness that the German people possessed.  But their leaders, like the Palestinian leaders today, were not ready or willing to seek a peaceful solution... and therefore the Allied leaders were forced to continue pursuing the only solution at their disposal; a military one.

Our leaders seem to be listening too closely to the 'men playing football in the mud between the trenches' and those who have been witness to such heartwarming events, while ignoring the enemy leaders who are unambiguous about actively pursuing their next military offensive.

This will be our national undoing.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Just call me 'Monk'

No, I'm not referring to the robed European or Tibetan monastery dwellers who live out their lives in silent, meditative poverty. 

I'm referring to the title character in the popular TV show about a detective with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Monk_season3_1

You see, ever since I was a kid I've had this a 'thing' about... er, germs.

This 'thing' got its start during a 1st grade science class where we all got to look through a microscope at the gazillions of little beasties that were teeming on our eyelashes, in our saliva and on our hands.  What the hell was Mrs. Sprague thinking???

For some reason the whole eyelashes thing never bothered me much... but the flora and fauna extant in saliva and on hands sorta wigged me out.

My parents had no idea of this budding phobia... but my older sister (in the manner of all older siblings) immediately picked up on my sudden reluctance to let others touch my eating utensils or share food from my glass or plate and turned it into a game of endless possibilities and permutations.

It became her habit to wait until my parents' backs were turned and then casually take a sip from my glass or stick her spoon into my bowl of cereal.  Just like that it would be 'game over'... I was done with whatever was being served.

Before anyone starts picturing a little boy in a bubble, I really didn't change much about the way I related to the rest of the world.  I still ate in the school cafeteria without a thought to how clean the trays and utensils might be.  I didn't become a neat freak or start lining up my pencils in orderly rows.

I just didn't take a sip when bottles of soda were passed around among friends... and I remained quietly protective of my place setting at the table. 

No big deal.

Of course when I started dating, I discovered with growing horror that many girls are under the misconception that guys find it endearing when they eat off our plates or casually take a sip of our drink.  I never let on that it bothered me, but to this day there are probably a lot of women walking around who's only memory of me is that I was exceedingly generous with my food and beverages.

Just as a side note, I never made the inductive leap to find kissing to be a potentially germ-filled experience... so go figure.

My lovely wife, who is perhaps a bit more perceptive than all of the unsuccessful applicants for the position, figured out almost as quickly as my sister that I had a few extra 'boundaries' than most guys.  To her credit she stuck around in spite of my germ mishigas.

In fact, probably the only time I can remember Zahava openly ridiculing me over the whole germ thing was on a crosstown bus in Manhattan after we had come from visiting my little sister and my first newborn niece in the hospital. 

The conversation went something like this:

Me: [taking a small bottle of alcohol gel hand sanitizer from my pocket] Here, you can have some of this when I'm done using it.

Zahava: Remind me again why I'd would want to use that?

Me: Hellooo, we just came from the hospital!

Zahava: and...?

Me:  Oh c'mon, those places are teeming with bacteria and germs.  We're probably covered with pathogens that haven't even been discovered yet!

Zahava: [looking at me with that same amused eyes my older sister used to give me as she plunged her spoon into my bowl of Captain Crunch] You know they have doctors that can help you with this problem of yours, right?

I'm guessing Zahava factored in the 'entertainment value' when she accepted my proposal of marriage.

Anyhoo... so why am I telling you all this?  Because moving to Israel has presented a whole new set of hurdles for a sightly germ-phobic person like myself.

It seems that Israelis know how to use bathrooms (well, most of them)... and even enjoy [~shudder~] talking in them.    But I could abide even that breach of etiquette if they would just consistently wash their hands when they were finished!

Yes, I can say after some fairly scientific observation that about 50% of Israelis (the men anyway), don't seem particularly careful about washing their hands after their turn at bat.

Let me put that another way that will help you better understand my current dis-ease: 

Roughly half of the men who extend their hands to me in a universally accepted form of greeting and respect, haven't made even a token effort to wash away their bathroom cooties!

Not only has this made the whole handshaking ritual fraught with displeasure for me... but even the simple act of exiting the bathroom has become a bit of a contortion act. 

You see, if about half the people who use the bathroom are going straight from the batters box out onto the ball field, it means that the door handle of the bathroom is a veritable petri dish of things that could make me want to hide in bed under the covers forever.

Not only does my post-at-bat ritual include turning the water on and off with a paper towel... but a few more trees are sacrificed so I can grasp the door handle!  I remember once when the bathroom was out of paper towels I had to wait until someone came in so I could ever-so-casually grab the edge of the door about halfway up its height so I wouldn't have to make contact with the pathogen-laden handle.

C'mon, that's not so weird, is it?  It's not like I keep a box of latex gloves in my desk drawer or anything.

Hey, wait a minute...!

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Posted by David Bogner on June 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Monday, June 26, 2006

What Gilad's father is thinking

Since hearing about yesterday's attack on an IDF position near Gaza in which two of our soldiers were killed and another taken hostage, I'm embarrassed to say that I've had few thoughts for the dead.  Quite simply our government and our country failed them and there is no 'do-over' after such a failure. 

I'm not talking about the newly revealed report that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had provided the IDF with specific warnings of an imminent attack which included intelligence of where the attack would take place and that it would likely involve the use of tunnels. 

I'm talking about the government's cynical, self-interested failure to protect its citizens from an enemy that has been given no incentive whatsoever to cease hostilities.  I'm talking about a country that has failed to keep faith with it's citizens and fulfill the most basic tasks of providing secure borders and defending against hostile foreign aggression. 

I'm talking about a government too high on the opiate of potential peace to realize it is actually still at war.

But thinking about such things once there are fresh young bodies in the ground is an exercise in futility.  The families of the dead won't be comforted by the lessons learned from their losses (assuming, of course, that the government was ever capable of learning), and will in fact be outraged to find that their losses will be treated by blind ideologues as an aberration... or worse; as a positive stepping stone towards this elusive nirvana called peace.

So since I couldn't bring myself to think about the dead today I found myself fixated on Gilad Shalit, the young corporal who was wounded in the attack and then taken hostage by the retreating Palestinian forces. 

All I could ask myself was what would Gilad's father consider the right course of action in this situation? 

Should the government negotiate for his safe return, further whetting the Palestinian's appetite for kidnapping soldiers?  If so, how many security prisoners with blood on their hands should be considered a fair price to pay for this boy's life?

There is a very well written source here that discusses the various Rabbinic/ Talmudic evaluations of redeeming (ransoming) hostages.  But the real essence of the issue boils down to weighing two separate but related issues:

1.  The need to save the hostage's life, if at all possible.

2.  The prohibition of saving one person while actively putting others in certain mortal danger in the process.

So if the Israeli government frees terrorists in exchange for the kidnapped soldier, they will have saved the hostage's life... but at the cost of causing two mortal dangers to others:

1.  The security prisoners themselves, who have already proved their readiness and willingness to carry out deadly attacks, would be free to continue on this bloody path.  We have seen the the level or recidivism among freed prisoners to be extremely high.

2.  By giving in to the kidnapper's demands the government would be absolutely assuring future kidnappings (and the associated violence associated with such incursions) since this would prove to be an effective (not to mention lucrative) means of locking the government into inaction as well as securing the release of terrorists who would otherwise sit forever in jail.

The first of these two rationales concerns me less since there is certainly no lack of Palestinians willing to carry out violent attacks against Israelis.  But the second rationale is a taboo that the Israeli government has begun to break in recent years at it's own peril.

Early Israeli governments had an ironclad rule of not negotiating with terrorists.  They understood that there was no end to this tactic once it had been legitimized with an exchange. 

But somewhere in the 80s during our long sojourn among the cedars of south Lebanon we seem to have forgotten this lesson.  Whether correctly or incorrectly, the government sensed that the public's resolve in the face of hostages had weakened... and rather than remaining strong when the people could not, the government joined them in their weakness. And in so doing, they handed the terrorists one of the most powerful weapons known to man; the willingness of a father to do literally anything... even sacrifice his own life... to redeem the life of his son.

This is the manner in which our government finds itself being tested today.  And considering its record of appeasement and capitulation, I fear it is a test that they will not pass.

I am also a father of a Gilad.  In a few short years my Gilad will be donning the uniform of his country and will potentially be asked to walk in harms way. 

I know with absolute certainty that there is no price I would not pay to secure the release of my son if (G- forbid) he were ever taken hostage by the enemy.  I would endanger the lives of 100... or even 1000... other people's sons, and would throw open the doors of every prison in the land if it would mean having my precious son home again safe and sound.  I would even gladly exchange my own life for the chance to let my son marry, have children and enjoy a full life of his own. 

This is the reason why fathers should not make the decisions in such cases... and why the depths of an individual father's love for his son should never be considered by the government in matters of national security.  The government must be strong when the soul of every mother and father in the land screams out that this one life must be saved at any cost... because the alternative is to allow ourselves to become a nation held hostage.

Such is the power that kidnappers hold over a nation of parents, and our only hope of fighting this repulsive tactical weapon is to have our government return to the wiser days of refusing to negotiate... and to responding in such a terrible and disproportionate manner that the the stings take way any value the honey might have once held.

The value of the hostage is not set by the kidnappers, but rather unwittingly by those who want him/her freed.  If the government allows itself to think like a mother or father, it exponentially increases the potency of this cowardly weapon and assures that it will continue to be employed.

The only way to potentially save the lives of countless future Israeli hostages is for our government to take away the value of the currency the Palestinians think they possess.  The latest additional threat of chemical and biological weapons (all mention of which were suddenly pulled from most of the major Israeli media sites this morning), is just further blackmail intended to hold the Israeli government hostage and tie its hands in the face of clear and present danger.  This unconventional threat too must elicit such a violent and disproportionate military response that no enemy would ever dare rattle this saber again for fear of total annihilation!

As much as it pains me as a father to say this, our government must act as though there is no hostage being held, and punish the Palestinians so severely that they could not possibly consider taking one of our citizens captive again.  We must pretend that there are no unconventional weapons aimed at us and return to the days when an Israeli death was answered with 100 enemy deaths... and 10 with 1000! 

A scorched earth policy must be employed without mercy if we are to avoid finding ourselves in this situation again.

We all watched the ineffectual Jimmy Carter taken prisoner in his own White House by a few Iranian 'students' and how the mistake he made by acting as a father instead of as a head of state provided the blueprint for the potent tactic the Arab/Muslim world has used against the sentimental west ever since.

This is the supreme test any government can face in time of war and I fear our government will fail miserably.  Our leaders will likely negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit... and in return 50 or 100 security prisoners will quietly be handed over to rejoin their brothers in arms. 

When this happens, mothers and fathers around the country (myself included) will hug their children and cry tears of joy at the happy outcome that our wonderful government was able to provide to the parents of Gilad Shalit. 

But our joy will be short-lived as the price on the head of our own children will have suddenly increased 1000-fold the moment our government hands over the ransom.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wanna see my rant collection?

Sorry to dump this on you so early in the week, but sometimes a boy's just gotta vent.  If you don't like seeing me angry and prefer the tear jerkers and family anecdotes... come back tomorrow.

<Rant>

Rant # 1:  There are still quite a few prominent/well-read bloggers out there who somehow found the time in their busy schedules to report that the IDF was behind the massacre on the Gaza beach a couple of weeks ago... but have still not been able to find the time or interest in setting the record straight.

Look, I know we bloggers and journalers do this for our own enjoyment and we don't hold ourselves to typical journalistic standards of fact-checking and objectivity.  But you can't hold yourself up as  heroic grassroots truth-tellers who are severally and collectively forcing the the Mainstream Media (MSM) to do a better job when you are acting with less scruples and journalistic integrity than a bad high school newspaper!

Nobody put a gun to your head and told you to cover the story of the tragedy on that Gaza beach.  It's no secret that we all cherry pick the topics about which we blog to match our interests as much as our agendas.  To pretend otherwise would be ridiculous.  But once you've put something out there and it turns out to be 100% wrong... you need to step up and own it.

I am so tired of reading about how it doesn't really matter... how writing about who was responsible for the tragic death of her family won't make any difference to this orphaned little girl. 

That's just a bunch of tap dancing... and not very good tap dancing at that.

It was important enough for you to say the IDF did it, right?  That piece of information didn't do anything for this poor little girl either.... yet you just had to gleefully include it in your posts! 

Well guess what?  For that reason, and that reason alone, it's important enough now to tell your readers that you screwed the pooch... rushed to judgement... jumped the gun... made a bad call... trusted the wrong source... or quite simply; f*cked up

You need to sit down at your keyboard and type the words: "It wasn't an IDF artillery barrage that killed those people on the beach... I was wrong".  If you don't then you might as well stop pretending to to be the real deal... the unvarnished truth...  the writers with the courage to tell the hard truths to the world when the MSM won't.

Before I get a lot of denials and rationalizations from anyone let me make it clear I am angry with a lot of bloggers in general over this issue... but nobody in particular. 

I can tell you from frequent personal experience that few things in this world taste as bad as a crow sandwich served on two thick slices of shoe leather with a side order of hat.  But that's what's on the menu.  Eat up!

I don't care how busy you've been or how many other topics you've covered that have taken up all of your time.   You found the time to join (and help) our enemies around the world in making the IDF appear criminally negligent (or worse; like premeditated murderers).  Find the time to own your mistake!

Rant #2:  Did you hear about the bomb that blew up on a Tel Aviv beach popular with teenagers this past Friday afternoon just moments after the last teen had left the area?  No?  Here let me fill you in:

It was a very large and fairly sophisticated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) packed with bits of iron re-bar instead of nails.  It was fused to be detonated remotely using a cell phone... and only luck or the grace of G-d averted an unspeakable tragedy when it exploded moments too late to harm anyone. 

Still doesn't sound familiar???

Oh wait... I know why it doesn't ring a bell.  It's because it didn't happen at a teen hang-out on a Tel Aviv beach, but rather at a teen hang-out near a natural spring fed pool across the wadi from my house here in Gush Etzion. 

Forget what you've heard the PM say about Gush Etzion being an integral and inseparable part of Israel.  Forget what you've heard him say about Gush Etzion being part of the national consensus.  Forget that this attack took place in a place that is 100% legal in the eyes of our government and was intended to kill Israeli teenagers!

If you are not Ashkenazi... if you live in a development town... if you are religious... if you are a settler... and especially if you are any combination of any of these things... the Israeli press and government have no interest in you and don't value your life. Period.

Anyone who says otherwise is either blind or a liar. 

Rant #3:  This morning's attack where IDF soldiers were killed by infiltrating Palestinians and at least one soldier kidnapped is yet another escalation in the open military war being waged by the democratically elected Hamas government against the sovereign State of Israel. 

They promised they would do it during their campaign.  They said they would do it once they were elected.  There have been multiple clear acts of war including missile attacks, shooting attacks, attempted infiltrations and successful and attempted terrorist attacks inside Israel EVERY SINGLE DAY since the Hamas election. 

Yet our government can only wag its finger and warn that the next attack... the very next one... will require a strong response.  I honestly don't know anymore if I'm reading our press releases or Saeb Erikat's!  Oh I know... the main difference is that the Palestinians are actually making good on their promises.

I'm a moderate.  I'm a centrist.  I'm open minded.  I've listened and nodded my head as friends who voted for the current government told me about how things would be different this time.  If we would just leave Gaza we would have the freedom to act.  If we just give them more confidence building measures and let them elect the government they want we will finally have a partner with whom to negotiate.

F*ck that... and f*ck you if you think I'm going to stay stupid forever!

</Rant>

OK, enough of this primal scream therapy.  Hopefully I'll be back to my usual self by tomorrow.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Friday, June 23, 2006

The birthday boy gets a weekend off

What a nice way to spend my birthday!

My Father-in-law is watching the kids and the dog this weekend and Zahava and I are off to a nice hotel in Zichron Yaacov, a beautiful little community overlooking the Mediterranean that is home to one of Israel's largest and best known wineries.

I'm sure I'll have stuff to share next week, but for now you'll have to settle for a link to a story from my last visit to Zichron that still hits me right in the heart.

You can read it here.  (3 tissue warning!)

Shabbat Shalom.
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Posted by David Bogner on June 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

It goes without saying...

... that the government will now call for the careful screening of left wing conscripts in the IDF and for the disbandment of any units that are made up of a majority of liberal soldiers.

After all, last summer when a couple of small right wing religious groups urged soldiers to refuse to participate in operations on moral grounds the political left began loudly urging the government to dismantle religious units and to carefully screen right wing soldiers entering the IDF.

C'mon... fair is fair.  Or is what's good for the goose not good for the gander?

I'll be interested to see the tortured rationalization necessary for this one to pass the smell test. 

If the 'open minded enlightened left' sits by and allows this call for refusal to go unchallenged, then it will be a clear indication that last summer's shouts against the illegality and danger of refusing orders were really just religion/conservative hating masquerading as respect for law and order.

Either (as I believe) it is both illegal and dangerous for soldiers to refuse orders (and to encourage them to do so), or it is not.  You can't only support refusal when it lines up with your politics.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Another list for Midsummer's Eve

45 can be a lot of things. 

It can be the caliber of a bullet, a malt liquor popular among uptown stoop-dwellers or it can be a 'single' record (or lacking a single, it is the speed at which 33 RPM long-playing records can be made to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks). 

But 45 can’t possibly be my age... can it?

I guess it's that time again (at least it will be at midnight tonight, anyway)... time for yet another list of random stuff that may or may not help you understand your host:

  1. I was born during the Kennedy administration.
  2. Need a parallel frame of reference? David Ben Gurion was Prime Minster of Israel at the time of my birth.
  3. I am a consummate 'baby boomer' (for all the good and bad things associated with the term)
  4. I prefer to keep my life compartmentalized (think George Costanza), and I get very anxious when my various 'worlds collide'.
  5. My wife is the opposite, and seems genuinely delighted when such collisions occur (especially if she has precipitated one of these collisions).
  6. I would rather eat 'famunda' cheese (you know, the cheese famunda yer toes) than Brussel sprouts.
  7. My sympathies are easily manipulated by those nature programs where they show a vicious lioness mercilessly killing a wildebeest only to leave a poor baby wildebeest orphaned... followed by a shot of her cute little lion cubs suckling their mother's milk thanks to the nutrition provided by the wildebeest kill.
  8. I think most people who don't have a 'dog in any particular fight' are just as easily emotionally manipulated by the news media.  It's really all about camera angles and what they showed you last.
  9. I am proud of the fact that Jews of nearly every stripe (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Re-constructionist, Crypto-, Convert, Kara'ites, Unaffiliated...) feel comfortable pulling up a chair and participating in the discussions here.
  10. I am equally proud to note that non-Jews of every stripe seem to feel equally at home tossing in their $ .02.
  11. I love watching ideas being exchanged by liberal and conservative commenters here... especially when they are offered and accepted politely and with minimal judgment.
  12. It makes me a little sad that we all seem to find it so hard to conduct ourselves this way in real life... especially among friends who could use a little gentle enlightenment.
  13. I will never again take for granted the ability to fall asleep instantly and sleep soundly through the night.
  14. Although hard on my aging body, my soul has been enriched beyond measure by my recent opportunities to wander our darkened house in the wee hours of the morning and watch my family sleep.
  15. Our dog seems to take equal pleasure in joining me on these nocturnal rounds.  Who knows... maybe she's been doing this all along and is happy to finally have some company.
  16. My neighbor's front yard looks and smells like the garden of Eden.  Mine looks and smells like the aftermath of Sodom (although this is the year I'm going to finally do something about that!).
  17. I frequently rail against the knee-jerk hatred I hear in the ridiculously one-dimensional, xenophobic statements secular Israelis make about their religious compatriots. 
  18. I am embarrassed at how often I am silent in the face of equally ridiculous and venomous pronouncements made by religious friends and acquaintances against their secular countrymen/women.
  19. Every person I know thinks they are far too multi-faceted and complex to be defined by a single term.
  20. So why do we all feel so comfortable tossing around over-simplistic terminology to describe others... especially those with whom we disagree?
  21. I've had a beard for all but a few days of the last 26 years and have no earthly idea why.
  22. I think ponytails on young men are just silly... and on old men; sad.
  23. There are few things that compare with watching Bugs Bunny cartoons with my kids and hearing them belly laugh at the same stuff that cracked me up as a kid.
  24. My big kids are starting to notice my flaws and failings.  This is both scary and a relief!
  25. I'm just now coming to the realization that my wife has always know about these flaws and failings of mine... and chose me anyway.
  26. My parents have seen and experienced the very worst of my flaws and failings, yet miraculously continue to love me unconditionally.
  27. I am much more conservative today than I was a year ago.
  28. I am much more liberal today than I was a year ago.
  29. I have learned enough about the world (and myself) this year to realize that only a very simplistic, narrow-minded person would feel that the previous statements are at odds with one another.
  30. There is a very Zen-like quality to the typical Israeli's blind faith that everything will eventually turn out OK (Y'hiyeh B'seder) which is at once infuriating and enticing.
  31. A bunch of my regular trempistim (hitchhikers/passengers) got together and gave me a thank-you gift (a nifty little camping coffee service including a little stove, canisters for coffee, sugar and tea, and a small Ibrik).
  32. They have no idea that the opportunity I've had to surreptitiously observe them as they talk about the army, school and life, and to learn about Israel through the simple osmosis of their physical proximity, is a far more precious gift than anything they could have bought me.
  33. I sense that both of our big kids are approaching the top of the roller coaster and are about to go roaring down the other side.  I'm holding on tight.
  34. I act annoyed when our 2-and-a-half year old gets up and demands to snuggle in bed with me before he can go back into his own room.  Even he knows it's all an act.
  35. With the exception of decent Bourbon, I'm completely over all the longings/cravings for American products.
  36. OK, maybe I also still miss the Sunday NY Times... but that's really it.
  37. It's strange that when I turned 40 I used the term 'mid-life crisis' sarcastically about myself knowing that it was probably an exaggeration.  But at 45 I feel like the term 'mid-life' might actually now be cautiously optimistic.
  38. I am constantly amazed when I can magically speak effortlessly with Argentinians, Russians, Romanians, Ethiopians and other 'foreigners'.  This common denominator called Hebrew makes it possible to miraculously communicate with people with whom most Americans would be reduced to awkward hand-signs and shouting over-enunciated pidgin.
  39. I want to explore Italy and Greece, not as an American tourist, oohing and aahing over the ancient pedigree of their respective history and culture... but as a member of an even more venerable culture that knew them when... and outlived them both.
  40. In the almost three years I've been keeping this journal I have permanently banned only three people from commenting.  I gave each one of them ample opportunity for a 'do-over'... and in perfect Wyle E. Coyote fashion, each of them opted to run full speed over the same exact cliff. 
  41. I didn't realize it as a kid, but the Road Runner cartoons were all about Darwinian natural selection, and that no matter how many chances they are given, some people are just going to select themselves out of the equation.
  42. Anyone who watched Road Runner as a kid and laughed at the impossibility of the Coyote's ability to order absolutely anything he wanted, hasn't really stopped to consider what is currently available on-line these days.  Internet = Acme.
  43. I know my journal entries are long-winded and time-consuming to read... and that this has caused many readers to eventually drift away.  But one of the things I've discovered from keeping treppenwitz is that while my mind is capable of brevity... my heart is not.
  44. Given a choice between revising/editing a post and living my life I will always chose the latter.  This is my blanket excuse for the long-winded posts, spelling and grammar mistakes and the shameless mis/over-use of ellipses [...], you'll find here at treppenwitz,
  45. While waiting for my coffee order in a shop on Jerusalem's Emek Refa'im Street last month I overheard the word 'treppenwitz' and noticed two young women with a laptop open to my site discussing something I'd written that morning.  It made me feel like a bit of a celebrity.  And no, I didn't let on who I was (we celebrities are tricky that way).

As always, mental health professionals may now begin their analysis.  Please show your work.

[previous birthday lists can be found here: 43 & 44)

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Posted by David Bogner on June 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (52) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

♪ 132 Palestinian legislators on the wall... ♪...132 Palestinian legislators ♪

...You take one down...

Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I didn't realized how upset I was about the subject of yesterday's post until I saw some of the rationalizing and historical amnesia represented in some of the comments.

People, this is not an issue that requires thinking in shades of gray.  It is a binary I/O decision tree up and down the line.

Are we at war or at peace with the Palestinians?

The Palestinians want to force Israel to relate to them in an open forum as if they and we are two countries at peace who are simply having a border dispute.  In such a case any demands/offers made publicly or privately by them must be considered part of an ongoing negotiating process.  Under such circumstances to ignore an offer to negotiate is viewed by the outside world as obstructionist and lacking in good faith.

However firing missiles over the borders of a sovereign nation is a clear casus belli according to any definition.  Israel is under no obligation to negotiate borders, populations or any other aspect of a potential settlement while under military attack.  Any country that would continue to negotiate while under direct military attack would be negotiating a surrender to a hostile enemy, not an amicable compromise with a peaceful neighbor.

Are the Palestinians entitled to the protections of the Geneva convention?

Quite simply, No.  The Palestinians want Israel to relate to them as an autonomous nation with all the protections provided under current conventions.  However They do not conduct themselves according to any existing conventions (i.e. excluding civilians from conflict, honoring the neutral, inviolate nature of hospitals and ambulances, etc.), and most importantly they do not dress their active combatants in uniforms with recognizable insignia.  Therefore they (the leaders and the combatants) are not entitled to protection under current conventions of military conduct.

Clear so far?  Good.

So after listening to some of yesterday's hand-wringing comments ("we're doing everything we can... there is nothing else we can do... what would you suggest, David...") I posted my plan for stopping the Qassams in two easy steps.  But since most people don't read the comments I decided to re-post it here in the light of day:

Treppenwitz's 2-Step Plan for Stopping the Qassams

Step 1:  Send a public message to the PA and Hamas leadership telling them that starting tomorrow, for every single day that even one Qassam falls inside Israel, one member of the PA/Hamas Leadership (including the Palestinian Legislative council) will be targeted with one of our much more accurate missiles.   

Step 2:  Make good on that threat.

I figure we will probably burn through two, maybe three PLC Ministers before they figure out we're not bluffing.

And puleeeze don't tell me that such a move would open up our leaders to attack.  Not only did the Palestinians remove that taboo when they murdered our Tourism Minister in a Jerusalem Hotel back in 2001, but it's probably about time that the lily-white people making the decisions in our government started sharing some of the risk with the rest of us colored folk.

Make no mistake, the PLC absolutely has the ability to make the missiles (and other hostile acts) stop any time they want to. We just haven't given them a compelling enough reason to do so... yet.

Qassam missiles, like suicide belts, cost money to build and deploy.  Even if one accepts the hypothesis that some of the funding for Palestinian weapons originates in places like Syria and Iran, those countries aren't sending the money and materials directly to Mohammad Q. Shahid.  It is being sent to administrators, planners and strongmen who are either in the PLC or have a first-hand connection to someone who is.

As I said to a commenter yesterday, the IDF practice of shooting expensive artillery shells into vacant lots and open fields after the Qassam crews are long gone is worse than futile.  It makes us look weak and ineffectual... something nobody can afford to do in time of war.

And talking about a massive ground offensive to reoccupy the northern Gaza is just silly.  It would be roughly analogous to a massive police task force being sent into a bad neighborhood to arrest all the drug dealers and junkies.  It wouldn't touch the big fish who control the supply of both drugs and money... and within days a new crop of dealers and junkies would be back on the street conducting business as usual.

In short, if we're at war (and I challenge anyone to show me a working definition of the word that doesn't fit our current situation), then it's time to use our military might... intelligently.

If our enemy is an irregular force that refuses to comply with existing conventions and rules of engagement, then it's time we informed them that they do not enjoy the protection of such rules and conventions.

If they want to talk... great, let's talk. But the moment something that originated on their side of the border blows up on our side... the time for talk is over.  Full stop.

C'mon everyone... sing it with me...

♪  "132 Palestinian legislators on the wall...♪... 132 Palestinian legislators.  You take one down..."

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Posted by David Bogner on June 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An Unspeakable Choice

I was listening to the radio in the car on the way to work and stumbled on a talk show featuring people from Sderot (the southern Israeli city which has been under almost constant missile attack since the end of dissengagement). 

The format of the show was pretty straight forward: People from Sderot were calling in and being interviewed about how their lives had changed since the Qassams had started falling.

My sympathies have always been firmly with these Sderot residents.  It was pretty clear to anyone with half a brain and a map that once disengagement was completed, Sderot would come under daily bombardment.  It was also equally clear that the government wasn't going to do much more than posture thanks to the socio-economic make-up of the city's population.

Yes, you understood me correctly.   It has been clear for some time that the Israeli government places a higher value on the lives of Tel Aviv residents than it does on the lives of those who live in less, um, shall we say cosmopolitan communities around the country.

You can go ahead and argue this point 'til you're blue in the face.  But before you do, can you honestly tell me with a straight face that the IDF would still be sitting on its hands if hundreds of missiles had already fallen on Dizengoff or Azrieli? 

Gee, it suddenly got quiet in here!

Yes, our government seems to have an extremely high threshold for pain... other people's pain, that is... which is why I found this radio talk show at once moving and infuriating.  One after another I heard the angry callers yelling about their feelings of abandonment and isolation. 

As a religious setter I have some idea where they're coming from.

As I was pulling into my office parking lot a woman came on the line and was asked by the interviewer how her life had changed since the Qassams had started falling.

I was ready to turn off the car, but something stopped me.  Perhaps it was the tired sigh that escaped her lips while she was formulating her answer.  Maybe it was the complete lack of expected anger in her voice that caught my attention.  But whatever the reason, I sat there with the engine running, waiting to hear what she had to say.

After a moment she said something that didn't seem to make any sense.  She said that the hardest part for her was deciding where her children would sleep.

The interviewer also seemed confused by her response and asked her to explain what she meant.

As she began speaking, you could tell from her tone that she felt she was explaining something that should have been fairly obvious... as though she was telling a child why the sun came up in the morning. 

She patiently explained that there wasn't enough room in their 'armored room' * for her entire family.  It went without saying, she continued, that she and her husband slept outside the armored room.   But they (thank G-d) have a big family, and each evening she struggled with the terrible decision of which children would sleep unprotected in their bedrooms... and whether to spread them out around the house or put all of her 'precious eggs' in one basket.

Like a kick in the gut, it suddenly dawned on me that this poor woman is forced to play a daily shell game with her precious children, knowing that if (G-d forbid) one of the dozens of missiles fired each day lands on her house, she will have to live the rest of her life with the consequences of her unspeakable choice.

I can only hope that someone in the government was also listening to the radio on the way to work.

*  By law, all Israeli homes must be constructed with a concrete and steel reinforced room where the family can take refuge in an emergency.  These rooms tend to be rather small and are meant for brief occupancy... not to provide sleeping accommodations for an entire family.  Ours doubles as a library/storage room.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Monday, June 19, 2006

Since you forced me to answer… let me just say, uh, ‘No’

Last week I got an email from a very well known blogger with whom I have never corresponded.  As if that weren't enough to pique my curiosity, the email seemed to be a blind copy of a response he had sent to someone else with whom I had no connection. 

It said:

“Shalom!  Here are a list of influential bloggers with good-sized readership:”

Listed below that intriguing sentence was a list that included treppenwitz... as well as the email addresses of such august bloggers as Aussie Dave (Israellycool), Yaacov Kirschen (Dry Bones), and Ted Bellman (Israpundit). 

My initial reaction was to be quite chuffed.

But then I started wondering what had been in the earlier correspondence (none was attached or nested) to which this list of bloggers' email addresses would constitute an answer. 

So I responded politely:

“Thank you... I'll take that as a compliment.  Now if only I knew what the question had been.  :-)”

Within a few minutes I got the following reply:

“First, the staff of Arutz 7 and I are trying to do a media campaign to stop the gay-pride fiasco in J'lem. You are very respected David, and your help would be a major Kiddush Hashem [ed. note: sanctification of G-d's name]. This worries me more than the Hamas. Could you mention something on Treppenwitz?

Second, as long as I have you ear, If you'd agree, I'd be privileged to exchange links with you.”

[~blink~]

Clearly this person doesn't read me very often.

Well, the second request didn't require any thought on my part.  I never respond to such requests because if you are already reading me you should have me on your blogroll without the need for reciprocity.  And if I read you on a regular basis you wouldn't need to ask to be listed.

But I digress since it is the first paragraph that really raised my hackles. 

However, after a moment's thought I realized that the phrase ‘gay-pride fiasco in J'lem’ was just ambiguous enough that I wanted to make sure I wasn't jumping to an incorrect conclusion.  I mean, maybe he was calling the attempts to block the parade a fiasco, right?

So I responded:

“I admit I haven't been following the municipal news very carefully.  Can you clarify 'gay-pride fiasco'.  Is something happening that is different from the same posturing and name calling that has gone back and forth in years past? “

I didn't have long to wait, because within seconds (a response time that suggests a cut and pasted source) I received the following:

“They intend to bring 300,000 people to a happening in J'lem, Aug. 6. It's a super provocation. I don't call others names, and don't interfere with anyone's free choice.  But, when a person wants to flaunt his garbage in front of the eyes of our children and  in the Holy City, we have to mobilize.”

Well, that removed any ambiguity, no?

Now, I know better than most that one shouldn't fisk an email without thinking about it for a few minutes.   But the glaring contradiction between, ‘I don't call others names, and don't interfere with anyone's free choice’… and the sound of the other shoe dropping;  ‘But, when a person wants to flaunt his garbage’,  kinda challenges a reader's willing suspension of disbelief.

So now I was faced with a dilemma.  Do I respond and risk getting into a whole 'thing' with the guy... or do I just blow him off and hope he doesn't follow up? 

I tend to avoid confrontation so I opted to simply not respond.

But almost immediately it became apparent what that original email (the one listing all the blogger email addresses) had been about.  It was a widely distributed chain letter intended to try to shame bloggers who are perceived to be conservative/religious into using their on-line space to take up this anti-gay cause.

I found this out because I began getting emails like the following from people asking/begging me to use my influence to reverse the evil decree:

"Shalom!

I am writing to you as one of the most influential bloggers that have to do with Israel and love for their people.

Please post a protest of the scheduled World Gay Pride parade and week long festival that is due to take place in the Holy City of Jerusalem (and other places in Israel where they will be hanging out) this August 2006.

The GLBTQ Community (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer -their terminology, not mine )  has chosen Israel as its destination and will be having their parade on the streets of Jerusalem.

I am devastated at the thought, that in a few short weeks, there will be a HORRIBLE defilement of my sensitivities, a threat to my family's innocence and a desecration of the sanctity of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe that everyone is free to do what s/he thinks is right for them, within the confines of their own personal space, and certainly behind closed doors.

I am referring to the "International Gay Parade" that is soon to sully the atmosphere of Jerusalem.

From past experience we know that this is not just an innocent parade or conference. (I wouldn't be so vehemently against it).  We have seen the disgusting public display of their actions and their desire to receive acceptance and purification of their abominable perverted behavior.

This cannot be! I demand that my rights and the rights of my family be respected.

Now is the time to stand up for Jerusalem!

a concerned mom"

Yikes!

Well, I hate to say it, but the best way to make me publicly come out for something is to try to shame me into coming out against it.  I'm a contrarian that way.

So, let me just say the following for the record:

I am not pro- or anti-Gay any more than I am pro- or anti-woman, black or left-handed.  These things simply 'are' and to publicly demand a stance against any of them is to fly in the face of the Creator who made people with any and all of these attributes. 

100 years ago women weren't much more than property.  200 years ago blacks actually were property.  To this day, if you are left-handed you are probably resigned to stumbling around awkwardly in a society constructed exclusively for right-handed people. 

All of these things changed (well, we're still working on the whole left-handed thing) because society was grabbed by it's collective lapels and forcibly shaken until it had no choice but to confront a new reality in its midst.  The Gay Parades that periodically arrive in our cities are intended to shake us up.  Perhaps after seeing a 260lb. bearded drag queen kissing a body builder wearing nothing but chaps, the sight of a two guys wearing khakis and oxfords holding hands in the corner coffee shop won't seem so, well,  shocking.

If you want to lure me into a discussion on immigration, abortion, smoking, drugs, government oversight, etc., bring it on.  You see, all of these things are within man's control and require an active choice for them to happen.

But being gay is not a choice any more than, say, being a black left handed woman is a choice. Some people simply 'are'.   We don't need to keep the queers hidden away from polite society.  Your little dears aren't going to catch the whole gay thing like the flu.

Just as with women, minorities and yes, even lefties... historically there has been the equivalent of a swift kick in the pants (in the form of protests, public activism and often even violence/war) before the necessary accommodations are made for people who don't fit into the existing cookie-cutter mold society naturally wants to create for it's members.

As for me (and here's my real response to the emails) I won't be drawn into a discussion of wrong and right when it comes to any of G-d's creations.  I don't have that say... and in the absence of a theocracy and the reintroduction of divine prophecy, neither does anyone else!

You don't consider it 'a HORRIBLE defilement of my sensitivities, a threat to my family's innocence and a desecration of the sanctity of the Holy City of Jerusalem' when Hassidim in Mea Sha'arim throw rocks at fellow Jews or are led away in handcuffs for child\spousal abuse and fraud.  Yet these are all acts of choice that take place in the holy city by purported guardians of all that is holy and sanctified. 

So, where are all the pious letters to bloggers protesting all of that?

Are these miscreants representative of the Hassidic/Haredi world?  Of course not.  But they are a Chilul Hashem (a public desecration of G-d's name) to which you seem perfectly willing to turn a blind eye.   The big difference though, is that these black-hatted coreligionists are perpetrating acts of choice... not simply walking around as nature/G-d created them. 

The truth is, I'll admit I find the various Gay Pride Parades around the globe to be a bit off-putting. But that is probably their goal.  I am a fairly conservative guy who finds the idea of two men kissing to be mildly revolting.  I'm hard-wired that way.  The outrageous drag queens and public groping shock my traditional sensibilities.  But that's what they are supposed to do.  Any small semblance of rights/ equality that gays currently enjoy under the law is entirely due to these very public acts of ostentatiousness that force people to become acclimated to something outside their normal range of personal experiences.

Sure, I'm a bit intrigued/titillated by the whole idea of lesbianism... but that's probably only because I can appreciate the object of their desires.  But I admit that I would be disappointed if my daughter announced one day that she was 'batting for the other team'.  Not because I am anti-gay... but because I would naturally want her to experience the same male-female intimacy I have with her mother.  But her announcing to me that this was not possible would not indicate to me that she had rejected my way of life, but rather that she had been created by G-d according to a different blueprint.

In my humble opinion, the worst sort of hypocrisy is to 'magnanimously' proclaim that you support a person's right to live however they choose... yet demand that they not do so where you can see them. 

In Biblical times there was the concept of forcing people with diseases, deformities and forbidden lifestyles to live outside the company of mainstream society. 

But until you can demonstrate to me that we have returned to such a state of divine intimacy with our Maker and He has directed you to speak on His behalf... kindly shut your cake hole and spend a little more time becoming a shining (but silent) personal example of how we should all be living our lives.

Note:  There are two reason I have deliberately avoided mentioning this blogger's name here (and why I would appreciate other's following my lead in this regard). 

1.  After watching my daughter spend half a year studying 'Shmirat HaLoshon' (the laws of guarding one's speech), and then seeing how diligently she has incorporated these important guidelines into her everyday life... I am trying to follow her example so as to possibly secure a less-toasty seat for myself in hell.

2.  Even though he seems to have sent my email address to every moonbat on the planet, the blogger in question does a lot of very important/very good community work.  I would hate to provoke a flame war with him that might result in anyone's opinion of him being lowered.

Posted by David Bogner on June 19, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (87) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 18, 2006

In which karma catches up with treppenwitz

[Note:  I don't do a lot of bible-thumping around here, mostly because treppenwitz's readership is extremely diverse and I don't want to exclude or offend anyone.  So when I do drag religion into a post you can rest assured it is applicable to everyone... regardless of their interest in theology.]

Anyone who has been reading along for any length of time has probably noticed that I occasionally poke gentle fun at regular commenters (meaning people who are not likely to take offense) when they misuse/misunderstand a word.  I did this to my sister this past week with a line borrowed from one of my favorite films; 'The Princess Bride':

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Well, karma being what it is, it was inevitable that I would discover over the weekend that a word I say at least twice a day doesn't even remotely mean what I thought it did. 

Yesterday we read in Parshat 'Shlach' about the spies who were sent by Moses to scout out the Land of Israel.  The Hebrew word used used here for 'scout' is ' וְיָתֻרוּ'  (V'yaturu).

[Interesting side note: The logo for the Israel Ministry of Tourism - Two men carrying a pole between them on which hangs a huge bunch of grapes - is a literal depiction of two of these 'spies' returning to show off the impressive fruit of the land. What the logo doesn't depict is how these spies went on to say, 'Um, yeah... the fruit is huge, but so are the people so don't go there!']

Anyway, this same word that translates as 'scout' at the beginning of the reading makes another appearance towards the end of the parsha where the reason for wearing ritual fringes on our four cornered garments is explained:

וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים, אַחֲרֵיהֶם

Literally,  you should look at these fringes and be reminded of all the commandments... and therefore "You should not seek/scout out after your heart and after your eyes".  Literally it is seems to be saying 'look at the fringes... not at something that is likely to tempt you to go astray'.

This last bit about not 'seeking out/scouting' is said twice a day by observant Jews as part of the morning and evening 'Shma' prayer.  In this context I had always assumed that the word for 'seek out/scout' literally meant to actively 'look', and that it was talking about the very human trait of seeing something forbidden and then giving in to temptation and running after it wholeheartedly.

But Friday evening a friend pointed out to me that I had unconsciously reversed the order of the words.  The Torah says 'heart' and 'eyes'... not 'eyes' and 'heart'.

I had indeed mentally revered the two words because it made no sense to run after something that first appears in your heart and which is then seen with the eyes!

Then my friend pointed out a tendency that we all possess (especially we bloggers), and it all began to make perfect sense.

This 'scouting' or 'seeking out' mentioned in the end of the parsha was not a physical act, but rather the mental act of creating an agenda... of prejudging a person or event in one's heart before seeing it with ones own eyes.

I look at my own archives and at the writing of many of the bloggers and journalers around the Jblogosphere and I see that we all do this.  A lot.  We all start with a very carefully crafted agenda/worldview in our hearts and only then do we approach events we see unfolding in the news.

For those who think that religion and science are mutually exclusive domains, it is worth noting that both G-d and science seem to demand the same extremely sound methodology:  Observe first... hypothesize and draw conclusions second.

I need to do more of that... what about you?

A huge word of thanks to Dave over at Balashon (a great Hebrew lexicography resource blog written in English) for providing the sources in such an accessible format.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 18, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Friday, June 16, 2006

Photo Friday (vol. LXVII) [zig-zag edition]

I mentioned a few months ago that I have been photographing WWI war graves in Beer Sheva as part of a volunteer project with the British War Graves Commission. 

As I started seeing the names and dates on the headstones I realized that a good portion of the British, Welsh, New Zealand and Australian soldiers buried in this one cemetery had died within a period of about a week to ten days.  This piqued my curiosity and led me to start researching what had happened between the last week of October and the first week of November in 1917 in the sleepy Ottoman outpost of Beer Sheva.

If you want to read about the battle for Beer Sheva, you can go read my previous post in which I have quoted a couple of gripping accounts... especially about the last great mounted charge in history by 800 brave Australians which ultimately turned the tide of the battle and captured Beer Sheva.

Since that time I have been poking around on the outskirts of Beer Sheva in my spare time, looking for any remnants of the Turkish fortified positions and trenches that the British and Anzac troops had found so formidable.

During this time, I also got an email from a Captain in the Australian Army stationed with the Multinational Forces in Sinai who had seen my previous post and asked if I could help set up a visit to Beer Sheva for him and his men to be able to explore this shining bit of Australian military history.  I readily agreed.

Before bringing all of his soldiers, this Aussie Captain and his unit Sargent made a pilot trip to join me in Beer Sheva and the three of us went exploring to the south west of the city in search of the Turkish positions.

Unfortunately we seem to have been looking in the wrong place because the desert refused to give up her secrets so easily.

But with the impending visit of a large group of Australian soldiers looming, I spent some time with a local historian and he explained to me where he had first seen the remains of Turkish trenches back in the 1950s before all the building and urban expansion had taken place.  He explained that some of them should still be just outside the current city limits and gave me detailed instructions as to how to get there.

Sure enough, the moment I turned off the main road near an IDF base and went a few hundred meters down a dirt track, an imposing ridge rose up in front of me... and across the top of the ridge was the unmistakable remains of a network of trenches.

The funny thing is, in the WWI era maps of the Battle of Beer Sheva, the Turkish defensive lines are depicted as zig-zag lines.

Mapbs_2  

It never occurred to me that this was more than some cartographer's way of showing a specific feature... and that this was actually how the trenches were dug! 

Well guess what?  The trenches are drawn that way for a reason:

Turkish_trench

When I got back from exploring the old Turkish trenches I did another Internet search and lo and behold, I found a picture of Turkish soldiers in a trench outside of Beer Sheva (it could even be the same trench I visited), and if you look closely the trench is zig-zaged.

Turksbeersheba_2

This makes perfect sense if you think about it.  If the trenches were straight an enemy soldier could jump in at one end and fire down the entire length of the trench.  Likewise, if a lucky artillery shell fell into the trench, it would spread shrapnel down the entire length if not for the zig-zag design.

That's it for today... Off to the local cherry festival with the kids.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 16, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wooden dreams of varying sizes

From the moment we bought our house, my wife and I have been involved in that most sacred of homeowner pastimes; Dreaming about renovations and additions. 

Most such dreams are destined to remain unfulfilled, either because they are impractical or because they require the participation or demise (G-d forbid) of a rich relative.

My wife's dreams tend to revolve around the inside of the house...  expanding and completely redesigning the kitchen... pushing back the rear living-room wall... creating a master bath worthy of a magazine layout.

While I share my wife's dreams, I also harbor my own, more impractical dreams (hey, husband=impractical)... and these dreams come in varying sizes... and are constructed of a commodity that I miss more and more here in Israel; wood:

Small Dream:

I would love to build a nice Scandinavian Sauna behind our house.  Nothing fancy, mind you... and not too big. 

Saunasfpc2

But because I'm the only one in the family that would enjoy such a luxury, I doubt very much if this dream will ever reach fruition.  Maybe when the kids get a little older they might want to take a 'shvitz' with their old man.

Medium Dream:

Ever since I read about it on NYC Gadget Girl's  blog I have been dreaming of building a yurt overlooking the wadi out back.  It could be a combination studio/office for Zahava or a honey house (a place where one extracts honey from hive frames) for me... and/or a wonderfully private guest suite for friends and family. 

15_gallery_lrg

But the truth is we have a very nice guest suite... and once Yonah moves upstairs from the nursery Zahava and I will each have our own private workrooms/offices.

Large Dream:

This last dream is so far into the realm of impractical and expensive that it's almost not worth mentioning.  But heck, if you can't write down your dreams in a journal where can you put them, right?

I've done a fair amount of driving and cycling around this beautiful country and I would put Israeli landscapes, farmland and wilderness scenery up against almost anything in America.  However, with all the agriculture one sees here... the fields of grain... the lush vineyards... the expansive orchards... there is one thing missing:  Barns.

I'm not talking about the cow sheds and equipment buildings made of cinder-block and corrugated iron one sees throughout Israel.  I mean a real honest-to-goodness wooden barn.  The kind with faded Burma Shave ads painted on the side.

Barn_2

The lack of reasonably priced wood here makes it a poor choice for a building material.  But my dream would be to buy a plot of land in the upper Galilee or Golan Heights and import a nice old weathered barn from somewhere in New England or perhaps Pennsylvania.  I would finish the inside as a rustic vacation home, and the outside would remain a nice brick red (with a copper weather vane on top) to satisfy the longings of transplanted Americans who might pass by in their cars.

Heck, if they can bring London Bridge to Arizona, stone by stone, I imagine it wouldn't require too much to import a barn, right.  :-)

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Posted by David Bogner on June 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Speaking of ringtones (and not about other stuff)

I want so badly to write a rant this morning, but I'm going to show some restraint. 

I won't write about bloggers who are scrupulous about publishing information that jives with their worldview (e.g. acid throwing settlers or beach shelling armies)... but who feel no sense of obligation to subsequently provide updates, corrections, retractions or (G-d forbid) apologies when that information turns out to be flawed or, ahem, incorrect... even within the very narrow context in which they reported it.

No, I won't write about the dangers of bloggers acting just like 'real' journalists... except without the dual safeguards of securing bonafide sources and editorial oversight.   

I want so badly to write/rant about these things today that I can actually taste it, but I won't...

...other than to ask a rhetorical question:

'Am I the only frier (sucker) who posts apologies and retractions after rushing to judgment or having included inaccurate, extraneous or simply biased information in one of my posts'?'

AM I???

OK, I'm glad I decided not to write about that topic!

[See, I'm occasionally capable of exercising restraint]

Moving on...

I want to talk about cellular ring-tones today.

Leaving aside students and other non-working indigents who are unfettered by the yoke of convention, I have always assumed that most people have fairly sound criteria for selecting the ringtone for their cell phones... or more correctly for changing the ringtone from the default setting it came with right out of the box... to something else.

For instance, the most obvious (to me, anyway) reason for changing the default setting is that if everyone used the same ringtone it would be difficult to tell who's phone is ringing when in a crowded public place.

However, once the decision has been made to change it, the questions remains; change it to what?

It seems that some people like to select ring tones that they feel closely match their self-image (which shouldn't be confused with, say, who they really are).  This might explain the thousands of middle-aged hausfraus walking around with the theme to 'Sex and the City'  blaring naughtily from their cell phones.

Still others seem to select their ringtone based on how easy it is to discern in a noisy environment. This requires that the ringtone have a wide harmonic range (lots of both low and high frequencies to compete with what's going on around you), as well as a supplemental vibrate mode for noisy outdoor environments.

But no matter what the primary rationale for one's ringtone choice, I have to imagine that every gainfully employed person also takes into consideration how their ringtone will sound to their coworkers, supervisors and customers if their phone should happen to ring during an important meeting, right?

I mention this because, based on my limited observations, this last consideration doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone I know. 

Or perhaps people here simply haven't considered the potential loss of face at being in a large conference room full of high-level colleagues / executives and having 'The Mexican Hat Dance' suddenly come blasting from their pocket.

Of course, there's also the possibility that things like embarrassment/shame are not part of the Israeli emotional palette.  Being a transplanted 'Anglo', I still possess a modicum of shame so if this is the case I may not be able to answer these questions due to a lack of sufficient local cultural knowledge.

I bring this up for two reasons:

1. Nobody here seems the least bit embarrassed when some foolish song blasts from their pocket during a business meeting.

~and~

2. Where I would instantly snatch my ringing phone from my pocket and stab at the off button (thoroughly embarrassed at not having put my phone on 'silent' before the meeting), most Israelis I know will leisurely remove their phones from their pocket and stare intently at the incoming number on the screen for 10 - 15 excruciating seconds while everyone in the room waits patiently through three or four choruses of the theme song to 'Fame' while the culprit mulls over the difficult decision of whether or not to take the call.

Incidentally, it seems to be about a 50/50 split as to whether or not a typical Israeli will actually answer their cellphone during a meeting... and then even odds again as to whether they will carry on the conversation right there in the conference room or walk casually out of the room while loudly explaining to the caller why he/she has to make it short because there is an important meeting going on.

[sigh]

Every time I think I'm starting to become a teensy tiny bit Israeli, an issue like this pops up to remind me what a total gringo Anglo I am.

[Full disclosure:  My current ringtone is 'La Valse D'Amelie' from the film Amélie]

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Posted by David Bogner on June 14, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Too funny not to share

A post over on a Canadian blog called 'Almost Aliyah' caught my eye because it talks about something that I've encountered on numerous occasions.  The post is called 'Aliyah Eyes' and it refers to the funny looks and reactions the author gets when people in his [very pro-Israel] town hear about his plans to move to Israel.

It reminded me of my last trip to the states and some of the looks and comments I got as well.  A friend sent me a picture that perfectly sums up the sentiment:

Teaneck

[Note to non-Hebrew speakers:  Parnassa = making a living]

People... I'm begging you to just stop with the self-inflicted guilt/head trips.  It's not good for you and it's just weirding me out. 

If you want to move to Israel... Great!  If not... that's perfectly OK too. 

This tension that exists between those who are moving and those who feel the need to justify why they aren't is just getting out of hand.

Israel needs tourists too. 

Really.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 13, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Monday, June 12, 2006

Yet another mystery solved

Without being indelicate or revealing too much, my wife occasionally suffers from bouts of, er, intestinal distress.  Oh who am I kidding... when one of these episodes strikes, she ends up in the fetal position for hours (or sometimes days) writhing in agony.

She has spoken to doctors and done intensive research on the Internet... but the source of her discomfort (there's an understatement) has managed so far to evade her.

Being a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to other people's illnesses, I have always assured her that it was certainly stress-related since her debilitating stomach cramps would almost always coincide with the run up to dinner parties or some other sort of entertaining.

However, I just read something on Snopes that made a little 100w light-bulb go on over my head.

We have always enjoyed making 'Sun Tea'. 

For those who don't know what this is, instead of brewing tea with boiling water and then placing this hot liquid in an already overworked fridge to chill... you simply take a big glass jar of cold water, hang some teabags into the water with the strings over the top, screw on the lid and put it out in the sun for a couple of hours.  The sun heats the water and brews the tea.  Very easy.

However, I just read that since this method only warms (rather than heats) the water, it encourages the growth of dangerous bacteria that are commonly found in the water, on the inside of the jar or even in the teabags!

"According to the Centers for Disease Control, using the sun's rays to make tea can facilitate the growth of bacteria. Tea steeped in a jar on your porch won't get any hotter than 130° Fahrenheit, about the temperature of a really hot bath and not nearly hot enough to kill nasties lurking either in the water or on the tea itself. For that, water needs to be heated to 195° for three to five minutes.

Alcaligenes viscolactis, a bacteria commonly found in water, consequently turns up in sun tea.  While the caffeine in black tea will help prevent that microbe from flourishing for a few hours, its effects won't last beyond that. Herbal teas are an even worse bet for brewing in sunlight because they tend to lack caffeine, which means even that barrier to Alcaligenes viscolactis turning your summertime drink into its own breeding ground is missing." (emphasis, mine)

Hellooooo... Not only do we tend to make a big jar of sun tea when we are getting ready to entertain, but my wife insists on preparing it with decaffeinated herbal teas so she can drink it an any time of the day.  Not only that, we routinely let it sit out on the counter (rather than taking up precious space in the fridge) and then simply add ice before serving.

It makes perfect sense that Zahava would suffer from these bacterial nasties while I never noticed a thing.  I have been to over 30 countries and drunk the water and eaten the local produce without any ill effect.  But my wife insists on using the Britta Filter even when we're at home because of her sensitivities to water-borne nasties.

Continuing to quote from Snopes:

"The following rules have been recommended for those who brew sun tea:

  • Use a container that has been scrubbed in warm, soapy water. As an additional precaution, dip the container in a bleach solution made with 1-1/2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
  • If the container has a spigot, clean it carefully after each use, preferably by taking it apart. If you can't clean inside the spigot, don't brew sun tea in that vessel — find yourself something else to use.
  • Do not leave tea to brew in the sunlight for more than three to four hours.
  • Do not prepare more tea than you plan to use that day.
  • Refrigerate the drink as soon as it is ready and keep it refrigerated.
  • Discard tea if it appears thick or syrupy. Those ropy strands are bacteria.
  • A safer alternative to "sun tea" is "refrigerator tea." To make it, fill a pitcher with a quart of cold water, add four to six tea bags, and refrigerate it at least six hours or overnight. Squeeze and remove the tea bags, and serve the tea over ice. "

No need to thank me honey... I'm a giver.

Source: Here

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Posted by David Bogner on June 12, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Aaaaand we're back

Immediately after I published this morning's lame excuse journal entry, I managed to forget...

  1. ...to kiss my beautiful wife goodbye.
  2. ...to take my trusty Starbuck's travel mug full of 'Sumatra's finest' out to the car.
  3. ...that one of my regular passengers had told me before the weekend that he was taking the day off today... so I woke him up to ask 'where are you?'

Results:

  1. My first conversation with Zahava today is bound to be a little, er, frosty.
  2. I had to drink two cups of liquid cat sh*t Israeli instant coffee before I could manage to focus on the computer screen.
  3. When I go to pick up this regular passenger tomorrow, his demeanor is bound to be a bit, er, frosty.

Well, it's lunch time and the day can only get better from here, right?

Wrong! I made the mistake of taking lunch at my desk and reading the news.

It seems that overnight a naive imbecile budding young student journalist went and got his-stupid-self kidnapped in Nablus (Shechem).  Don't worry... he's OK now.

This 20-year-old exchange student named Benjamin Bright-Fishbein (don't get me started about the flashing neon arrow pointing to an ultra-liberal upbringing inherent in his hyphenated name... or the irony, under present circumstances, of one half of that name being 'Bright') is an undergraduate at Brown who decided to split his year abroad between the American University in Cairo and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Funny thing is, I went to Hebrew U. back in the 80s with a naive young Ivy leaguer who had chosen exactly these two schools for his year abroad.  This classmate of mine was so far to the left that most of my liberal friends thought he was loony.  He failed to realize that the American University in Cairo was a protected little bubble which effectively insulated him from the harsh realities of Egyptian politics and street crime.  And upon arrival in Jerusalem he felt that his brave forays into the Cairo souk entitled him to affect a world-weary persona... not to mention the right to look down his nose at any of us provincials who failed to realize that Israel was indeed the last evil colonial power left left on the planet.

I mention my old Hebrew U classmate because during those far safer times he made a regular practice of 'going native' (translation; frequenting the Arab coffee houses of east Jerusalem and Nablus) late at night.  He continuously tried to ingratiate himself with the locals by buying rounds of coffee and leaving extravagant tips.  But for his trouble he ended up getting rolled on numerous occasions on the way home by those 'natives' who were unable to resist parting this young American fool from his substantial money clip.

In short, though he would never admit it (even to himself), my old classmate looked upon Arabs in general... and  Palestinians in particular... as noble savages that he could sooth/join at will simply by singing a few bars of his ultra-liberal song. 

What he failed to realize is that the Arabs/Palestinians are neither noble nor savages.  They are a complex/diverse population made up of good, bad, rich poor, honest and criminal people.  And no amount of fawning and saying 'I soooo get your suffering and oppression' will mean a whit to someone who sees a strange American as a meal ticket or political hostage.  There are a lot of these 'natives' around these days who haven't received their promised paychecks in a few months!

I've had a version of this conversation with a journalist friend of mine. I once joked with her about wanting to drive a Joo-hater we both loathe into the center of Nablus and throw him out of the car just to see him pleading to the advancing crowd, "No, wait... I'm not a Jew... I hate the Jews more than you do!!!" 

Naturally my journalist friend, who has spent a great deal of time in Nablus and other Arab cities, was appalled at the implied prejudice in my statement and chided me for assuming that any white face in Nablus would automatically become a target.

I reluctantly agreed that I was simply indulging in a little schadenfreude fantasy, and that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who might glimpse such a person being thrown from a car in Nablus would have no interest in him... for good or for bad.

But I did bite my tongue just a little.

What I really wanted to tell her is that as a journalist, most (if not all) of her visits to Nablus and other Arab locales are carefully coordinated with Palestinian politicians and/or journalists.  She is nominally escorted to and from most of her interviews, and as a known journalist, she represents arguably the only segment of the Israeli/international population to whom it would be expedient to show one's best face.

Young Benjamin (of the hyphenated name), on the other hand, possessed no such contacts or immunity from harassment.  Though right up until the moment he was blindfolded and tossed into the car he surely fancied himself a seasoned newsman because of his political punditry with that august publication; 'The Brown Daily Herald'... what he failed to realize is that Nablus is no safer for an unescorted outsider than Falujah (or some parts of Holon/Bat Yam for that matter).

During his captivity our hero made the obligatory video claiming that he would be executed unless a bunch of Palestinian terrorists scumbags murderers activists were released from Israeli prisons.  But by the time he was released this morning, any threats torture undue pressure that might have been applied to force him to broadcast such a provocative statement seem to have been both forgotten and forgiven.

I honestly don't know if young Benjamin got himself released by flashing his Brown University press credentials, or if someone in a position of authority in Hamas decided that holding an American hostage might not go very far towards swaying congress to release funding to Hamas just now. 

But once he was free, our intrepid young reporter seems to have decided to let bygones be bygones and was able to sum up his feelings about his captors in the following cheery sound bite:

"I had the feeling they were in over their heads."

Ah yes, our worldly veteran emerged from the belly of the beast without a single negative word for his captors other than to say that they didn't seem up to the task.  No mention of being denied liberty for several harrowing hours.  No mention of the death threats.  No mention of kidnapping/execution as an accepted tool throughout the Muslim world.  Just a one line 'boys will be boys' type statement in an attempt to laugh the whole thing off like some fraternity prank taken too far.

I'd have to say that 12 hours has to be a new world's record for developing Stockholm syndrome!

Anyhoo...

My journalist friend will doubtless continue to visit with her friends and press contacts around the region... and so she should.  Her access to 'the other side' provides everyone an essential conduit for information.  This isn't to say that all of the information she gleans is accurate or perfectly objective.  But it is far better than the information vacuum that would exist without such orchestrated contacts.

Look, I don't wish anything bad on this young idiot for pulling this stunt... particularly not a 'Falujah shave'.

But think about all the bad stuff that could have happened as a result of his stupidity. If he hadn't been released in a timely manner, a bunch of IDF commandos (i.e. husbands, brothers, sons of regular Israelis who do understand the potential dangers of going into Nablus without an invitation) would have had to risk their lives to go in and get him. 

I can think of almost a dozen student bloggers I've read this past year who think they've earned their 'liberal street cred' by wrapping a kafiyah around their neck and going into Nablus late at night to drink coffee with the natives.  That they lived to tell the tale has given legs to the misconception that rumors of the 'dangerous Palestinians' are simply so much Israeli propaganda.

The truth is, in every society there are dangerous elements.  It is foolish to 'go native' if you really aren't a native.  With the exception of one ill-conceived bar-crawl through Manhattan's Alphabet City and East Village (remember 'King Tut's Wawa Hut' at 4:00AM, Alan?), I can honestly say I have never attempted to ingratiate myself with a crowd to which I had no real claim of membership.

A perfect example of this concept is the scene from Animal House where the Deltas, out on a road-trip, make an unscheduled stop at 'The Death Delay Club' to see their favorite frat-house party band; 'Otis Day and the Nights'.  They realize only as they are running for their lives that the love was not exactly reciprocated by 'Otis' and his core fan base.

Add to this lesson the growing anarchy in PA 'controlled' areas, and one can't help but realize that unescorted travel by westerners (regardless of their genuine affection for the plight of the Palestinians) is simply an invitation to disaster.   

Did Mr. hyphenated-Bright really think his presence would somehow help the Palestinian cause?  Did he really think Palestinian/Israeli relations couldn't get any worse? 

Just think about what would happen - especially in light of the current tensions over the tragedy in Gaza this past Friday - if this Jewish American college student had gotten killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time... or if some Israeli soldier had lost his life going in to rescue said student. 

Yes, things could get far worse for both sides... and very quickly at that.

So do me a favor:  If you find yourself prancing around campus wearing your oh-so-trendy kafiyah and you suddenly get the urge to take a road trip into Nablus to commune with your Palestinian cousins... either find yourself a reliable escort who REALLY knows the lay of the land... or stay in your dorm room and email another 'scathing and controversial' editorial about the evil Israeli occupiers to your classmates back home.

Thanks.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 11, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Oh yeah... Sunday's a work day.

Note To Self:  If you can't break your aging carcass free from the History Channel's glowing blue tractor beam until after 2:00AM, you probably aren't going to be able to wake up at 5:30AM and write a coherent entry for your journal.

Dumb

Point [hopefully] taken.

In the mean time, you readers should count yourselves extremely lucky that I had the wherewithal to hit the flush delete key before exposing you to my incoherent ramblings this morning. 

Four more hours of sleep please!

~ Hat-tip to Lachlan for providing the perfect icon/saying for today.  I knew in my heart when you posted it months ago that I would find an opportunity to use it.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 11, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack