Thursday, May 31, 2007
An Open Letter to the Government of Spain
Dear Shameless, Unreconstructed Schmucks,
I just read with utter dismay that your sorry little country has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. courts against a salvage company (Odyssey Marine Exploration) over the contents of a treasure ship that was recently discovered off the coast of Florida. It isn't even clear yet whether the treasure ship they found is of Spanish origin, yet you just had to be sure to stake your greedy little claim to it.
According to what I read, your Culture Ministry spokeswoman, Susana Tello, had the temerity to declare, "If the vessel was Spanish or was removed from Spanish waters, any treasure would belong to Spain."
I have a silly question for you: Assuming that this ship is, in fact, of Spanish origin, where did Spain happen to find all that treasure in the first place? Was it just lying around on desert islands waiting to be picked up like pretty sea shells on the beach? No, that's right... I remember now... it was actually the property of several indigenous Mesoamerican and Andes civilizations.
And while we're on the subject, Miss Culture Ministry spokeswoman... what about those cultures your country destroyed in the process of stealing all their treasure???
Let me see if I understand this (correct me if I've gotten anything wrong):
a) You guys gave your Conquistadors a charter to rape, pillage and murder an entire indigenous people in order to help finance your goal of world domination.
b) Most of the natives who weren't immediately ransomed or put to the sword were decimated by the diseases that arrived with your invading pirates.
c) In the process of transporting all that plundered gold and other assorted treasure back from the 'new world', a small number of your galleons got smited by the wrath of G-d and ended up on the bottom of the Caribbean.
d) Over the course of several centuries your once-powerful country faded into an impotent back-water with little relevance beyond its own borders (some would say even within those borders).
e) Finally, when some entrepreneurial treasure hunters find some of your lost blood money sitting unclaimed on the ocean floor, you have absolutely no compunction about trying to get your bloody little mitts on it.
Did I miss anything?
Now I'm no legal scholar, but it seems to me that if a bank robber dropped a few bags of loot while fleeing the scene of the crime, he wouldn't have a stronger legal claim to the money than, say, someone who found it lying on the side of the road... or the bank from which it was originally stolen, would he???
So I have a suggestion for you:
Why not establish a national marine salvage company of your own and task it with locating some of that lost Inca and Aztec treasure? Then, as you send some of your own citizens out to risk their necks trying to bring up this sunken gold, you can publicly pledge to use every last Doubloon you find towards improving the lives of the descendants of these once proud and prosperous native peoples you tried so hard to wipe out.
Or barring that... you could just bite me.
David 'Trep' Bogner
"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"
[OK, admittedly I may have lost some of my objectivity about Spain due to that whole 'Inquisition' thingy]
Um, guys... I was kidding!
Apparently, members of 'The Quartet' * didn't read my 'Ambiguity Alert' post all the way to the end where I indicated (for the benefit of the sarcasm-challenged) that I was only kidding.
I say this because, after their most recent meeting, they came out with the following incredible statements (As reported by The Jerusalem Post):
"Israel must exercise restraint during its military operations in order to avoid civilian casualties"
Um, like maybe the Palestinians should be requested to use restraint in their ongoing unprovoked military operations against Israeli civilians. I'm just sayin'.
"[Israel] must not react in a way that would harm civilians or cause "damage to civilian infrastructure." "
OK, but what about the nagging problem that the Palestinians refuse to dress their combatants in uniforms or insignia (as required by the Geneva Convention) or designate anything as a military
target installation? Not only that, but almost all of their munitions factories, weapons warehouses and and 'barracks' are deliberately placed within densely populated civilian areas. Why does Israel always have to be the one fighting according to 'Marquess of Queensberry rules' while the other guys get to use guns and knives?
"The Quartet raised concerns over the incarceration of Palestinian Authority (PA)government officials and called for them to be released by Israel."
Make up your minds! You don't want us firing artillery rounds into apartment buildings in Gaza and you won't let us attack the perps... so what's left? Arrest the guys calling the shots, right? Seems perfectly logical to me... but then again what do I know? I only did two years in Hebrew University's department of International Relations before deciding it was too similar to 'Chelm' and opted to do an English Lit degree instead.
"[they recommended] the resumption of transfers of tax funds by Israel on behalf of the PA, [saying it] would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy. "
Uh huh... specifically the portion of the Palestinian economy that goes towards funding the guys launching rockets into Israel several times a day. What the hell are these guys thinking???
"The Quartet expressed concern over the deterioration of a cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah members in the Gaza Strip and called for an immediate stop to factional fighting."
Helloooo, can you say 'exceeding the scope of your mandate'? The Quartet is supposed to be mediating the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians... not the dispute between the Palestinians and the Palestinians! Sheesh, the only thing Israel has going for it these days is the fact that these dirt-bags seem more interested in killing each other than going after us. I say don't mess with a good thing!
"The Quartet also called for an immediate release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit."
Oh jeez, thanks a whole hellavalot for remembering that before you adjourned for coffee and donuts. How about setting your sights just a little lower... like demanding a humanitarian visit to Israel's captive soldiers by the International Red Cross (again, something required by the Geneva Convention) or simply a 'sign of life' (something required under the heading 'basic human decency')?
One has to wonder about the objectivity of this so-called neutral body of mediators called 'The quartet' when they make absolutely no demands of the aggressor and place the entire burden of 'fighting fair' on those being attacked.
* 'The Quartet' is the collective title for the four actors involved in meditating peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians: The United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. Source
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
When did clock radios become extinct?
After several days of fruitless searching in local stores, I am convinced that the humble bedside clock-radio/alarm clock (chronos cubiculum domesticus) has quietly passed from modern culture.
Perhaps it is because pretty much all cell phones have built in alarms these days. Maybe it's because there are other home electronics such as stereos and televisions that can be set to turn on at a particular time. But I have to tell you... I've been to dozens of stores looking for a new clock radio in the past week and have completely struck out.
The big electronic warehouse-type stores have every conceivable home convenience from curling irons to waffle irons... but when I ask to see some clock radios they all tell me that they stopped carrying them ages ago.
Similarly, when I've looked for this once-ubiquitous item in home stores and office-supply outlets, they too tell me that they no longer stock them.
One tchotchke store at the mall (you know... the kind that carries executive desk toys and tacky bartender accessories), had a modern incarnation of the venerable round-faced wind-up clock (with the two bells on top), but these were cheap imitations of the original and used a 9 volt battery instead of a mainspring.
The truth is, I have never really used the radio function on any of my alarm clocks, so I'm not going to be a fanatic about this feature being present. But one would think that most electronic stores would have at least a few in stock, no??? What has happened to the public's need for alarm clocks??? When exactly did the humble bedside alarm clock become extinct???
I know that the possibility exists that I'm simply looking in the wrong places and that there is some alarm clock superstore out there where all the various models have been concentrated.
But somehow I doubt it.
Anyway, just on the off chance that one of you has a lead for me, let me tell you what I'm looking for in an alarm clock (my requirements are really quite modest):
1. It must be rugged. By this I mean it must be able to stand up to regular banging, as well as the odd toss across the bedroom on the rare occasions when operator error or divine intervention causes it to malfunction (this could, theoretically, explain my current search for a new clock radio).
2. It must never malfunction nor be subject to operator error or divine intervention. Ever.
3. It must have brightly lit numbers/face so that I can tell what time it is from across the room.
4. It must not be so brightly lit as to bother other (ahem) sleepers in the room.
5. It must have very well thought-out controls for setting and resetting the alarm and clock times, as well as for turning the alarm on and off. If I can't perform these functions with one hand at 2:00AM after half a bottle of Merlot, I don't want it!
6. It must have a snooze interval that makes sense (meaning I can do the mental math when half-asleep). Intervals of 5 or 7 minutes are fine since I actually remember those two sections of my multiplication tables. All others need not apply.
7. The snooze bar must be large enough, and ergonomically located, so that any swat in the general direction of the clock will activate the snooze function. Any clock whose snooze bar and alarm on/off control are close enough to one another as to be accidentally confused will have it's toss-resistance (see # 1 above) vigorously tested before being unceremoniously retired.
8. It must have a 9v battery back-up so that the odd power outage in the middle of the night won't result in morning psychodramas.
10. It must be loud without being too annoying. By this I mean that it needs to be just loud enough to roust a hibernating bear without being so annoying as to cause frequent testing of its toss-resistance.
That's not too much to ask for, is it?
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Can prejudices ever be anything but bad?
Jackie Mason is famous for one of his trademark stand-up routines which, if not actually racist (debatable), certainly is close enough to racism to make people look around carefully at who is sitting nearby before laughing too loud.
In this routine he justifies being wary of encountering certain minorities on the street at night with the back-handed statement, "Nobody ever crossed the street to avoid a group of Jewish accountants".
I mention this joke because I experienced something during my last business trip to India that left me with a similar 'vibe'.
I was waiting in the line for the security check at the Chennai (Madras) airport before an internal flight to Mumbai (Bombay). Posted on the wall a few yards before the X-ray machines and metal-detectors was a fairly typical poster listing all manner of objects and substances that were prohibited beyond that point.
Most of the items on the poster were pretty much what you would expect; guns, explosives, spray cans, knives, etc. ... and a few, like the prohibition of carrying a Cricket bat onto the plane, were uniquely Indian.
But near the bottom of the poster was a small statement that advised members of the Sikh faith to inform security personnel if they intended to board a flight carrying a 'Kirpan'. I had never read or heard the word 'Kirpan' before, but this wasn't particularly surprising as I had never had a reason to look too closely at the Sikh religion or culture.
But since a Kirpan was mentioned on the security poster of potentially dangerous stuff, I decided to spend my wait-on-line time trying to reason out for myself what it might be using only what I did know about Sikhs.
I looked around the airport for a Sikh (there were plenty to choose from) on which to focus my staggering powers of deduction, and quickly settled on a tall, be-turbaned gentleman a few people behind me in the slow-moving line. To my foreign eyes he looked remarkably like all the Sikhs I used to see driving cabs around New York city (how's that for a knee-jerk prejudice?).
Turban? Check. Beard? Check. Loose-fitting clothing? Check.
I knew from having
suffered through watched 'The English Patient' with Zahava that underneath those turbans was almost certainly a whole lot of uncut hair.
Now we were getting somewhere!
As I snuck surreptitious peeks at my Sikh neighbor in line I began to reason that something must be holding all that hair in place under there... perhaps a big hair pin of some sort???!
As I passed through the security check point I was silently congratulating myself on having figured out the mystery of the Kirpan so quickly. It had to be a hair pin!
Once inside the gate, though, I started wondering if that was really it. I looked around and saw that several of my fellow travelers were availing themselves of the WiFi in the waiting area so I took out my laptop and googled 'Sikh' and 'Kirpan' to see if I could shed any light on the subject.
The following Wikipedia entry jumped out at me:
The Five Ks, or panj kakaar/kakke, are five items of faith that some Sikhs wear at all times at the command of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh who so ordered at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanchar in 1699. They are Kesh (uncut hair), Kanga (wooden comb), Kaccha (specially-designed underwear), Kara (iron bracelet) and Kirpan (strapped sword). The five Ks are mainly for identity and representation of the ideals of Sikhism, such as honesty, equality, and the concept of a "warrior saint or saintly soldier", meditating on God and protecting the downtrodden.
Holy cow... A sword?!!
I had actually been correct in assuming that there was something holding all that hair together under the turban (the wooden comb or Kanga... not the Kirpan), but somewhere on the person of the traditional Sikh passenger with whom I would be sharing an airplane was a small ceremonial sword.
Strangely, the idea of this tall, bearded Sikh having a hidden sword on the flight really didn't bother me... and this is where we come back to Jackie Mason's Jewish accountant joke. You see, other than some sheltered suburban idiots who, through the fog of their post-9/11 hysteria, couldn't differentiate between the appearance of a Sikh and an Afghanistan Taliban, it would be an odd thing to see someone actually cross the street to avoid a bunch be-turbaned Punjabi Sikhs.
Further googling reinforced this when most of what I could find about Sikhs spoke of a people almost universally known for honesty, bravery, loyalty and obedience to a completely inoffensive faith. In fact, one entry I found that was meant to illustrate the latter attribute was a story from the Indian period of the British Raj (likely apocryphal) about a Sikh soldier in the British Army who allegedly starved to death because nobody came to relieve him on watch and he refused to abandon his post to forage for food.
It isn't exactly surprising, then, that a Sikh character (Punjab) was selected by the creators of 'Little Orphan Annie' as Daddy Warbuck's faithful bodyguard and fearless protector of the title character.
But getting back to the airport and the hidden Kirpan/sword, I started thinking about the thinly veiled prejudice that allows Sikhs to travel within India (one would assume) with a large knife, and others not. A few more google searches turned up news stories about Sikhs who had bumped up against airline security regulations in the post-9/11 world in various places in the world. In most cases the issue of the Kirpan was handled quite amicably with the offending weapon being slipped into the checked baggage or handed over to the cabin crew for the duration of the flight.
But that really wasn't the point for me. The heart of the issue was that I really had no personal problem with a Sikh boarding my plane with a sword... but I would refuse to fly with a similarly armed Muslim.
Can you imagine what the world of travel would look like today if, like Guru Gobind Singh, Mohammed had commanded his followers to always carry around a sword (rather than simply instructing them to spread Islam via that particular weapon)? I imagine in that scenario that even the most strident civil libertarians might give the nod to curtailing a few religious freedoms in the name of arriving at one's destination in one piece.
I'll be the first to admit that many prejudices are not only baseless and wrong, but that they tend to throw up impregnable barriers to understanding and coexistence. But just as at the heart of many jokes there is a kernel of truth... so too, at the heart of some prejudices there can be found a legitimate shred of common sense.
Call me a bigot, but I choose to recognize as an acceptable prejudice that not everyone should be allowed to carry a sword (ceremonial or otherwise) onto an airplane. Oh yeah... and for the record, I wouldn't cross the street (or skip a flight) to avoid a Sikh.
Take from that what you will.
Monday, May 28, 2007
For some time there have been deep divisions among the Israeli public as to what the Palestinian leaders really mean when they make public pronouncements that sound a tad 'abrupt' to western ears.
For instance, last night, an official Hamas spokesperson made the following cryptic statement:
"The time has come to kill the occupier" and then went on to encourage "Muslims to take whatever weapons they manage to obtain and to kill Jews wherever they find them, without hesitation." *
So it is now incumbent upon us to figure out what such vague statements are actually designed to communicate to the outside world and to the Palestinian 'Street'.
Perhaps it's a plea for more 'confidence building measures' from Israel, or for a restoration of foreign aid to previous levels. After all, we're talking about an extremely proud people... and asking directly for concessions and hand-outs must be a terribly humiliating thing.
Clearly they don't really mean for their followers to do actual physical harm to random Israeli civilians (A.K.A. Jews), as that kind of threat would require that every Palestinian be viewed as a potential terrorist... something that would doom the burgeoning peace process.
No, this is obviously an example of that poetic hyperbole for which these romantic desert dwellers have become so famous.
Let's face it, deciphering the hidden meaning behind such ambiguous statements is extremely tricky work, and is best left to professional diplomats and journalists.
For my part, I'm willing to do my civic duty and assume a 'wait and see' attitude.
Related post: Here
Sunday, May 27, 2007
An old friend of mine - a periodontist (you and I might ignorantly call him 'a dentist') from the US - dropped by chez treppenwitz yesterday and shared a story that he'd heard from one of his patients... a story with potentially far-reaching applications in the middle east.
It seems this patient - a master brick-mason by profession (you and I might ignorantly call him 'a bricklayer') - weighed in with a simple solution to the ongoing land-for-peace scam that has left Israel holding the bill as each of the entities receiving our precious land has refused to pay up with even a little of the promised peace.
In typical old-world style, instead of speaking directly to the topic at hand, this elderly brick-mason shared a lesson from his trade experience that could (and IMHO, should) be applied at the international level.
It seems that this master brick-mason has built hundreds of chimneys in his career. Now, each chimney obviously represents a sizable investment in both time and materials for a brick-mason. Yet, because the typical arrangement in the home-building industry is that money often doesn't change hands until after the entire house is completed and sold, the humble bricklayer is forced to expose himself to considerable financial risk with each chimney he builds.
Apparently this conundrum occurred to enough of his fellow tradesmen over time that a widespread practice came into being that offered security to the brick-masons without negatively impacting honorable contractors and home-buyers. The way he explained it (presumably around a numb mouthful of cotton wadding and dental instruments) was as follows:
As a matter of routine, when a chimney reaches approximately half it's required height, the brick-mason morters a pane of glass across the flue and then continues laying the subsequent courses of bricks until the chimney is completed.
If the contractor/homeowner pays the bill on time, the mason returns to the job site and surreptitiously drops a brick down the flue, breaking the pane of glass that obstructs the chimney. If payment isn't forthcoming, the bricklayer goes on to the next job secure in the knowledge that at some point a complaint will be lodged about a smoke-filled living-room and his payment will have to be arranged before he will agree to come back and 'solve' the problem.
The beauty of this security arrangement is that it is as iron-clad as it is undetectable. Anyone running a scope around the jag in the chimney above the fireplace will see only an unobstructed passage to the sky. Yet until payment is made (and the pane of glass is broken), the chimney will remain completely non-functional.
I don't think I've made any secret of my staunch opposition to the land-for-peace formula by which Israel has become the only nation in the history of the world to have won its wars and then been forced to sue for peace by offering up sizable chunks of land to the vanquished (or worse, to parties that had no legal standing whatsoever in the conflict). So you can imagine I was initially dazzled to hear such a brilliant way of ensuring that large investments won't be made in vain.
However, like much of the wisdom gained in taxicabs and barber chairs, the secret of how to apply this 'bricklayer's wisdom' to the real world was left for the listener to work out.
Think about it... if only Israel could come up with a similarly fail-safe way to ensure that we were actually buying something with these parcels of land we keep giving away, I might actually become a grudging supporter of this whole land-for-peace concept.
But until we can find a way to properly insure ourselves against the potential intransigence of our various 'peace partners', I think Israel needs to get out of the peace business altogether. There's simply no viable future in continuing to build anything with/for someone who can't be forced to pay their bill.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
You guys rock! (a belated thank you note)
What with all the preparations for the Shavuot holiday (those in the diaspora are still
doing a penalty lap celebrating their second day) and my , erm, digestive problems, I never got around to properly thanking you all for voting for treppenwitz in the JIBs (Jewish and Israeli Blog) Award finals.
First of all, the fact that so many of you continue to slog through my posts day after day is a rewarding vote of confidence all by itself. But to win a gold medal in three categories and a silver in a fourth is just, well.... you guuuuuys!
For the record, treppenwitz was nominated in four categories: 'Best Large blog'; 'Best Personal Blog'; 'Best Slice of Life in Israel Blog'; and 'Best Overall blogpost'. Here's how we (yes WE) did:
There are so many truly productive things you could be doing with your lives. Thank you for opting to waste a little of your valuable time over here.
David 'Trepp' Bogner
"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"©
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I'm always on the look-out for new and interesting stuff to snack on that doesn't have a lot of carbs. The other day I was at the store and happened to notice a little round tin of candies in the impulse rack next to the cash register. I wish I hadn't.
Be Right Back.
Sorry about that... anyway as I was saying, this candy came in a colorful circular tin and went by the catchy name:
Klipp Klapp ... der magische Verschluss (the magic lock)
Bonbons Aux Vitamines A C E
How could I resist? Three languages... three vitamins and a magic lock (whatever that is) to boot! The clincher was looking at the side of the tin and seeing that it contained no sugar whatsoever and was, instead, sweetened with something called 'Isomalt'.
Now, I don't know much about sweeteners, but, um... Be Right Back!
Like I was saying, I don't know much about sweeteners, but if there's no sugar in there it's gotta be OK, right. RIGHT?!!
Um, now that I'm lying here next to my desk in the fetal position I'm guessing I should have maybe, kinda, sorta taken a moment to look up 'Isomalt' before popping these things like, well, candy.
Here's the belated wisdom, courtesy of Wikipedia:
"[Isomalt] has only a small impact on blood sugar levels, does not promote tooth decay, and has one half the calories of sugar. However, like most sugar alcohols, it carries a very real risk of gastric distress, including flatulence and diarrhea, when consumed in large quantities." [emphasis mine]
I don't know what constitutes 'large quantities' over at Wikipedia, but I had like 8 or 10 of these little orange sucking candies over the course of the morning and the results have been, well, dramatic. The only thing that might have enhanced the overall affect would have been the presence of a heavy sedative in the ingredients so that I could pass out and lose all control of my bodily functions!
Oh G-d make it stop!
think know the pretty electrical engineer whose desk is next to the bathroom is never going to be able to look at me the same way again. The first couple of times I forced myself to believe that nobody could hear the motorboat sounds what was going on in there... but walking out this time, I could see written on her face a silent plea not to make eye contact. Ever. Again.
What the hell is this Isomalt, and why haven't I ever heard of it??? Is this like the Olestra of the Atkins crowd? At least with Olestra there was that helpful warning on the label (again, thanks to Wikipedia):
"This Product Contains Olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K have been added."
As a follow up, the Wiki people helpfully point out "This condition became popularly known as "anal leakage", though those words never actually appeared on the label."
Shyeah, I think the words 'loose stools' appearing on food packaging is pretty much all a consumer would need to read... er, BRB
Look, a word to the wise. Stay away from 'Klipp Klapp ACE-FIT' (more like A$$-FIT) candies... and for G-d sakes, stay the hell away from anything containing Isomalt. Unless, of course, you enjoy feeling like that guy in the movie 'Alien' just before the space monster came poking out of his stomach!
Uh, I gotta run...
Monday, May 21, 2007
Looking [up] a gift horse...
People... we've been down this road together before.
I totally get the whole 'oh look what I just found in my inbox... I absolutely must share it with everyone in my entire address book right this very second' thing... really I do. We've all been there. We open an email and find a stunning gift inside; a beautiful picture... a juicy rumor... a hilarious joke or an eloquently written political op-ed, and we suddenly have the uncontrollable urge to bestow this 'gift' on everyone we know (and quite a few whom we don't).
We'll leave aside, for the moment, the broader issue of those rumors and urban legends that so many of you insist on forwarding without trying to verify first. You know how I feel about those. [~glare~]
The big problem (as I've pointed out in previous rants), is that these 'gifts' of pictures, jokes and op-eds you forward so easily with just a click of your mouse, aren't really yours to give.
Now don't get me wrong... in most cases, I doubt anyone would mind having their work forwarded around the world... so long as proper credit is given, that is. But still... think about it... those beautiful 'gifts' didn't spring into the world fully formed. They were created by someone. And with the miracle of powerful search engines such as Google, it is a rare picture, joke or op-ed that can't be traced to its source within 30 seconds of checking.
So why aren't you checking???
A perfect example of this phenomenon is the following series of stunning images that landed in my email inbox overnight. They show a bunch of life-size equine sculptures that have been fashioned from driftwood:
The effect is absolutely breathtaking... and they are so realistic in both form and [implied] movement that I kept expecting the horses to pick up their head, glance in my direction and then run away!
The only thing lacking was a shred of information about the artist!
I was running late for work, but a I quickly submitted the search terms 'driftwood' and 'horses' to Google... and guess what? The first hit I got was the artist's website! How hard was that???
I contacted the artist (Heather Jansch) at her studio in England's Westcountry, and she very graciously gave permission to republish the images. If you would like to see more of her work, please go to her gorgeous site.
The lesson we learn from this, boys and girls, is that while we may consider the stuff that washes up in our inbox to be exempt from the usual rules of polite society... each of these 'gift horses' was created by someone.... so please take the time to give credit where credit is due.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Open to interpretation
One of the most shocking things I learned in High School English class was that there was no single 'correct' way to interpret a poem.
I found it terribly unsettling that a poet could spend time crafting a poem with a very clear and specific meaning in mind... only to have a reader take from it something completely different. I remember voicing this objection to my teacher, only to have her provide the following response:
"David, while you are in the process of writing a poem, it belongs only to you and it means only what you intend it to mean. But the moment you release it out into the world, you no longer control its meaning. Not only that, but the very worst thing that a poet can do is to try to defend a rigid interpretation of his/her work after it has been published. When people ask "Did you mean 'x'...?" about any aspect of a poem, the smartest thing a poet can do is to smile cryptically and reply, "That's one way to interpret it.""
To be honest, I retained very few of the academic lessons from my high school days [cough], but I somehow managed to hold onto this particularly unsatisfying one. It is one of the main reasons I choose not to write short posts here that could be left to each reader to decipher. If anything, I tend to bludgeon the reader with so much information and direction that he/she can't help but receive the meaning I intend.
A perfect example of the inherent dangers of brevity can be found in what seemed (to me) to be a very straightforward slogan used by the Israeli right during the struggle over disengagement: "Yehudi lo migaresh yehudi" (Translation: A Jew doesn't exile a Jew").
I found this to be an extremely clear and powerful sentiment, and was pleased to see it used on bumper stickers since, to me, it spoke to the very core of the tragedy of the internecine nastiness over disengagement. After all the centuries during which Jews had been exiled from one place after another by non-Jews, how could any of us be so callous about throwing fellow Jews from their homes and land? Surely there had to have been a gentler, less confrontational way to approach the issue of shifting borders and redrawing battle lines... of consolidating land and securing vulnerable population centers for the common good!
To my way of reading it, "'Yehudi lo migaresh yehudi" asked the reader in the most simple and eloquent way how it was possible that we were treating each other in a manner so reminiscent of our worst treatment at the hands of the non-Jewish nations?
But it wasn't more than a few days after this slogan began appearing on bumper stickers that I began hearing a completely different interpretation. Many from Israel's left interpreted "'Yehudi lo migaresh yehudi" to mean that the Israeli right considered it perfectly OK to exile non-Jews from their land and homes... but not Jews.
I was flabbergasted!
Not only was the concept of population transfer (a delicate, deliberately-obfuscating term for ethnic cleansing), a very divisive discussion on the political right, but even some of the political thinkers on the left had voiced support for limited land swaps and population transfers in the past. In short, this was not even remotely a right wing platform... and it certainly wasn't the sentiment that the slogan "'Yehudi lo migaresh yehudi" had been intended to convey!
Yet there it was. Once it had been released out into the world, a sizable portion of the population who were predisposed to assume the most sinister motivation to anything emanating from 'the other side' had interpreted the slogan according to their own world-view.
This past week Allison Kaplan Sommer drew my attention to a a brilliant poster created by a very talented artist. I found it brilliant because the artist had managed (using very few words) to sum up my frustration with the world's morbid fascination with Israel... a fascination out of all proportion to Israel's role on the world stage or what might be going on elsewhere.
Amongst decades of brutal civil wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing, only Israel seemed to have been singled out for the world's attention and censure. A newcomer to the scene could be forgiven for assuming from the resolutions issued by the United Nations over the past 40 years, that the U.N. had been created to deal only with the middle east conflict in general, and Israel specifically.
This poster's concise wisdom read:
"Right now entire villages in Darfur are being murdered. But please, keep talking about Israel."
I understood this to be a criticism of individuals and organizations around the world who continued to focus negative attention on Israel's real or perceived violations of human rights while ignoring large-scale genocide in places like Darfur.
But once I'd published the poster here on treppenwitz, the lesson I'd learned so well in high school English class once again came into play.
Some treppenwitz readers took one look at the poster and understood it to be a self- criticism of those of us who spend so much time protesting Israel's victimization, for not having expended our energies on highlighting other [real] victims in the world.
Others seemed to find in the poster a message that we should concentrate on only one problem at a time and asked why we couldn't discuss Israel AND Darfur?
Still others found the poster to be a springboard to criticize the world's relative silence over the belligerent behavior of the Palestinians in Gaza towards Israel... as if the world wasn't talking enough about Israel's victimization!
Graphic artists such as Idan are indeed modern-day poets, but I don't envy them the lack of control they have of their message once it is published. I'll stick to beating readers over the head with plodding, heavy-handed prose thankyouverymuch! :-)
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Perspective? You're soaking in it!
Which came first, the gribenes or the schmaltz?
Many an attempt has been made to elevate some of the peasant fare we Jews call food to the level of haute cuisine. I've personally heard some of my more uppity suburban friends trying to pass off chopped liver as pâté... kreplach as gnocchi... and mandelbread as biscotti. But there are certain things that absolutely defy all efforts at gastronomic gentrification. Among them are two lowly (and related) delicacies; gribenes and schmaltz.
Gribenes, which I'm told means 'scraps' in Yiddish, is simply fried chicken skin. This is the Jewish equivalent (l'havdil) of that redneck staple; fried pork rinds.
Gribenes is a crispy, salty treat that is prepared by simply taking the scraps of chicken skin that the butcher trims off when cutting up your whole fresh chicken (or when preparing chicken breasts for schnitzel), and cooking them up in a frying pan. I usually call ahead and ask the butcher to start putting aside the chicken skin scraps for me since the few pieces from the one or two chickens I buy each week will not be nearly enough for a batch of gribenes.
Schmaltz, or chicken fat, is actually a byproduct of preparing gribenes. You see, as you slowly heat the chicken skin in a nice big skillet, the schmaltz is released and begins to fill the pan. The more hot schmaltz fills the pan, the faster the scraps of chicken skin turn into golden brown gribenes!
Late in the process some people like to toss in some onion and a pinch of salt. I forgo the onion.
Once the gribenes is a deep golden brown, you fish it out of the hot schmaltz with a slotted spoon and place it on a dish that has been lined with a couple of paper towels. Once all of the gribenes is on the plate, another couple of paper towels are placed on top and any excess schmaltz is blotted away.
In this day of 'lite' cooking, schmaltz has all but disappeared from the Jewish kitchen... but I always keep some on hand. After the last of the gribenes has been removed from the skillet, I let the schmaltz cool a little bit and then pour it into a container that lives on the freezer door. When the schmaltz freezes it turns a pure white and can be neatly spooned out whenever needed.
Now as a responsible host, I think a couple of warnings might be appropriate at this point:
First of all, while gribenes is a delicious treat, it is just that; a treat. It is truly one of the most unhealthy snacks imaginable if consumed in large quantities or with any kind of regularity. I cook up a batch maybe twice a year when my schmaltz supply runs low. When I do, each member of the family gets a small handful of crispy gribenes to munch... and that's it until next time. If you make a habit of eating these things you're likely to end up with a comma in your cholesterol count! No joke!
Same goes for schmaltz. Gone are the days when this delicious condiment was shmeared thickly on a thick deli sandwich (yes, my 'standing order' at Shmulke Bernstein's on Essex Street was Roast beef and chopped liver on club with onion, tomato, lettuce... with extra schmaltz!).
Schmaltz should be used very sparingly as a soup-starter... to add flavor to couscous or rice... to enhance chopped liver... or to grease the skillet before frying up some onions or a batch of salami and eggs. A tiny amount of schmaltz goes a very long way.
I've gotten to the age where I have to watch my cholesterol (my LDL is borderline, but luckily my HDL is in exceptionally good shape), so I indulge much less frequently than I used to. But as much as we use a lot of the healthier oils in our day-to-day cooking, I honestly can't imagine a Jewish kitchen without schmaltz... or without the occasional treat of gribenes from which it was created.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
A Yom Yerushalayim tradition
[This is the third year I'm posting this. Sorry, but I can't improve on the original. Go ahead and try not to cry... I dare you!]
It's Yom Yerushalayim today... the anniversary of Jerusalem being reunified during the Six Day War.
Every year on this day, no matter where I am, I find a way to listen to the recording of the radio broadcast of the recapture of the old city by Col. 'Motta' Gur's Paratroop forces.
Yossi Ronen was the news broadcaster reporting the event. Rav Shlomo Goren, who was the Chief Rabbi of the IDF at the time (and also held the rank of General, having served as a soldier in the Haganah - Israel's pre-state army), joined the Paratroopers at the Kotel HaMa'aravi (Western Wall) and led them in prayer. Colonel 'Motta' Gur was the Military commander of the forces that recaptured the old city.
This a pretty fair translation that was done by IsraCast*. I strongly recommend that those who understand Hebrew go to their site and click the yellow link (about a third of the way down the page in the middle) and listen to the recording. It might help to read along with the translation as the sound quality is sketchy.
To properly appreciate this you need to imagine being somewhere in Israel at the time, listening to this broadcast over your radio at home (perhaps in a bomb shelter)... or wherever your reserve unit was stationed at that moment. Go get the tissues before you start listening!
Colonel Motta Gur [on loudspeaker]: All company commanders, we’re sitting right now on the ridge and we’re seeing the Old City. Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan’s tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion’s Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above.
[The open square of the Temple Mount.]
[Sound of applause by the soldiers.]
Yossi Ronen: We are now walking on one of the main streets of Jerusalem towards the Old City. The head of the force is about to enter the Old City.
Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.
[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]
[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]
[More soldiers’ footsteps.]
The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.
We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.
Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!
All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over.
Commander eight-nine here, is this Motta (Gur) talking? Over.
[Inaudible response on the army wireless by Motta Gur.]
Uzi Narkiss: Motta, there isn’t anybody like you. You’re next to the Mosque of Omar.
Yossi Ronen: I’m driving fast through the Lion’s Gate all the way inside the Old City.
Command on the army wireless: Search the area, destroy all pockets of resistance [but don't touch anything in the houses], especially the holy places.
[Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam blows the Shofar. Soldiers are singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’.]
Uzi Narkiss: Tell me, where is the Western Wall? How do we get there?
Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.
Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou L-rd G-d King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day]
Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are thou, who comforts Zion and bulids Jerusalem]
[Soldiers sing ‘Hatikva’ next to the Western Wall.]
Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel:
El male rahamim, shohen ba-meromim. Hamtse menuha nahona al kanfei hashina, be-maalot kedoshim, giborim ve-tehorim, kezohar harakiya meirim u-mazhirim. Ve-nishmot halalei tsava hagana le-yisrael, she-naflu be-maaraha zot, neged oievei yisrael, ve-shnaflu al kedushat Hashem ha-am ve-ha’arets, ve-shichrur Beit Hamikdash, Har Habayit, Hakotel ha-ma’aravi veyerushalayim ir ha-elokim. Be-gan eden tehe menuhatam. Lahen ba’al ha-rahamim, yastirem beseter knafav le-olamim. Ve-yitsror be-tsror ha-hayim et nishmatam adoshem hu nahlatam, ve-yanuhu be-shalom al mishkavam [soldiers weeping loud]ve-ya’amdu le-goralam le-kets ha-yamim ve-nomar amen!
[Translation: Merciful G-d in heaven, may the heroes and the pure, be under thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to G-d and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.]
[Soldiers are weeping. Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.]
Rabbi Goren: Le-shana HA-ZOT be-Yerushalayim ha-b’nuya, be-yerushalayim ha-atika! [Translation: This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!] *
We should never forget or take for granted the sacrifices that were made so that we could have our city back under Jewish Control after 2000 years! It makes me sad to think about how many people would re-divide Jerusalem again in a second on the off chance that it might buy us a few weeks of a shaky 'truce'.
How soon they forget.
BTW, if you feel like taking a virtual tour of Jerusalem via full screen 360-degree panoramic photos from the comfort of wherever you're sitting... go here and click on some of the incredible views. (thanks Michelle).
Reminder: Today is the last chance to vote in the JIBs if you haven't already done so. You guys have really come through for me... but we're still trailing in one category. If you haven't cast a vote in the finals, go do your civic duty! :-)
* The historic radio broadcast of the liberation of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall was researched, transcribed and translated by Yitschak Horneman / Quality Translations, Jerusalem
© 2004 IsraCast. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
"Allah is a mouse?!"
Being an immigrant to any new culture means having nearly limitless opportunities to humiliate oneself. The cultural and linguistic land-mines that await the newcomer are so numerous as to force the newbie to constantly choose between the following options:
1. Stay close to home and only interact with folks from the 'old country'... a strategy that pretty much eliminates the risk of public humiliation... but also reduces to approximately 'zero' the number of learning opportunities.
2. Venture out into the countryside and 'go native' as frequently as possible... a strategy that pretty much guarantees a slow acculturation, as well as a fair number of embarrassing stories with which to regale friends.
What follows is an example of the latter.
Shortly after we moved to Israel, Zahava found herself at Rami Levi, a popular supermarket chain in Jerusalem. As supermarkets go, Rami Levi is a cross between the extensive inventory of the gleaming American-style mega-stores, and the 'everyman' earthiness of an old-time, open air shuk.
While Zahava was navigating the nearly empty aisles... using a combination of intuition and knowledge to identity the mysterious contents behind the inscrutable Hebrew packaging... her cell phone rang. On the other end was a friend (another Anglo) who, knowing Zahava was at the store, asked if she could pick up a couple of mouse traps while she was there. Zahava quickly agreed... hung up the phone... and added the traps to her shopping list.
However, within seconds of closing the connection, Zahava realized that she didn't know the Hebrew words for either 'mouse' nor 'trap'... a serious potential impediment to locating one.
When she tried to call the woman who had made the request for mouse traps (so she could ask her how to ask for them in Hebrew), she watched in horror as her cell phone beeped its 'low battery' swan-song and died in her hands. No amount of pleading or shaking would bring the phone back to life, so Zahava began wandering the aisles in search of an English speaker.
The thing is, there are very few English speakers in Rami Levy on a typical weekday morning. By eavesdropping on various conversations Zahava discovered that the few shoppers in the store were a mish-mash of Israelis, Russian immigrants and Arabs.
So, with no alternative and no prospect of help, Zahava scratched the mousetraps off her list and went on with her shopping.
Yeah right! If you believe that, you don't know the first thing about my wife. You see, when it comes to personal challenges, my lovely wife has a personal tolerance for shame just slightly higher than door-to-door salesmen and street mimes. If Zahava wants something, she will ask anyone... and submit herself to just about any humiliation... rather than admit defeat.
Once the old 'ask an Anglo' option had been eliminated, Zahava marched up to the first stock-boy she could find and threw herself at the problem:
Zahava: "Slichah Adoni... Atah yechol la'azor li?" [translation: Excuse me sir/mister, can you help me?]
Teen-aged Arab stock-boy: [with a shocked expression on his face at having just been called sir/mister]: Ken [translation: yes]
Zahava: [continuing in broken Hebrew, but I'll spare you the agony of transliteration and just write from here on in English] "I'm trying to find something, but I don't know how it's called. It's about this big [holds her two hands about 6 inches apart with thumbs and middle fingers extended towards one another in the approximate dimensions of a mousetrap], and is used against [she didn't yet know the Hebrew words for 'trap', 'catch' or 'grab'] little animals. These animals are about this big [again, fingers were used to indicate size], they have little ears like this [she pantomimed mickey mouse ears], little teeth [she pantomimed an anthropomorphic rendition of mouse teeth by tucking her lower lip behind her upper teeth and making little sucking noises], they make little 'eek eek' sounds, and women don't like to have them in their houses."
After a few moments of standing in rapt amazement at the improv being played out before him, the stock-boy suddenly realized that this lunatic American woman was looking for a mouse trap, so he led her over to the housewares section.
Once there, though, the language barrier once again imposed itself:
Teen-aged Arab stock-boy: [reaching for one of several types of traps] Are you looking for a 'Malkodet Achbar' [mouse trap]?
Zahava: [with a huge sense of relief sweeping away any vestige of her sense of self-respect] "Yes! But how did you say it again?"
Teen-aged Arab stock boy: [puffed up at having been elevated to the level of Hebrew teacher] 'Malkodet' [indicating the entire device with a wave of his hand] 'Achbar' [pointing to the picture of the mouse on the trap's label].
Zahava: [who is nothing if not a quick study, immediately set about practicing her new phrase]: Malkodet [pointing to the trap] Achbar [pointing to the picture of the mouse], Malkodet Achbar, Malkodet Achbar, Malkodet Achbar...
The teen-aged stock-boy nodded enthusiastically along with the deranged-American woman's new mantra, and when she had finished saying it a few dozen times loudly enough for people in the neighboring aisles to hear, he helpfully said it one last time himself: "Malkodet achbar!"
But something about the way the young Arab had pronounced it caught Zahava's ear, and her Ulpan-trained instincts immediately set about trying to make a linguistic connection that, quite simply, wasn't there:
Zahava: "Wait... 'Malkodet Achbar'... like 'Allah Achbar'? [long pause] Does that mean that Allah is a mouse?
It still isn't clear to me after having heard this story from Zahava several dozen times whether the look of shock on the stock-boy's face was due to having had his religious sensibilities offended, or if he was more concerned about Zahava's shouted question perhaps sparking a mini-Intifada amongst the store's Arab patrons and employees. Whatever the case, without dragging Allah into the discussion, he quickly shushed her and explained in a rushed whisper that "No... 'Achbar' [with the 'ch sound scraped deep in the back of his throat] meant mouse. Akbar [with the 'k' sound coming percussively from the roof of his mouth] , was... something completely different."
When Zahava got home from having nearly started a holy war (not that there wasn't already one raging back then in 2003), she related the mousetrap story to a few friends over a nice meal. Of course, any such story is bound to bring forth other similarly embarrassing immigrant tales, and someone dutifully offered one about a new immigrant who went into the local hardware store looking for a fly swatter and unflinchingly offered the following request in pidgin Hebrew:
"I'm looking for something to [pantomimes a fly buzzing around] zzzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzZZZZZ [pantomimes swatting the fly] whap... whap... WHAP!"
Several more similar stories were told, and as the tears of laughter were dabbed away with tissues and hands, one of the women asked Zahava, "But wasn't that humiliating for you? I mean, why would you subject yourself to that?"
To which Zahava shrugged and offered, "I don't know... I figure I'll probably never have to face any of those people again. And at the end of the day, I added two new words to my vocabulary that I will absolutely, positively NEVER forget!"
You can't argue with that kind of logic. But still... every time I think about this story I have to giggle.
'Allah is a mouse', indeed.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The chupchik for the kumkum
The title of today's post literally means 'the thingy for the tea kettle', a common phrase repairmen hear since rare is the Israeli who actually knows what the heating element inside their hot water urn is called.
Not too long ago I discovered this dirty little secret about Israelis that has boosted my confidence immeasurably in all my Hebrew dealings... that most of them have enormous holes in their active vocabularies, especially when it comes to their knowledge of the correct names for various objects one encounters in everyday life.
For example, every man, woman and child here knows that a bicycle is called an 'ofanayim' and that a motorcycle is called an 'ofanoah'. But when it comes time to get more granular... say, to point out some moving part of either of these common conveyances... well, let's just say you're gonna to hear a lot of 'ha-chupchik m'tachat ha zeh' (the thingamabob under the thingy), even from sabras (native born Israelis).
This is where it becomes possible for immigrants and tourists to level the playing field just a tad. You see, while your Hebrew may have holes in it large enough to walk through... you can assert a bit of power over the conversation by positively identifying an object in a deliberate and timely manner. This can often be accomplished by simply placing your finger on the object of the discussion.
But what to do when that object is out of reach? Let's say the thing you are looking at is high on a shelf or you have a question about a part deep under your car's hood? Or, as often happens to me, what to do if you have a question about some aspect of a chart or diagram on the screen during someone's power-point presentation?
Here's a handy tip for anyone visiting (or moving to) Israel who may not be armed with fluent Hebrew skills but wants to empower themselves with the ability to correctly identify anything they can see:
Buy a laser pointer and carry it everywhere with you.
I can honestly say that the single most valuable tool I have for making myself understood here in Israel is my humble laser pointer. With the exception of Shabbat, I never go anywhere without this handy tool in my pocket. You see, there is a basic rule of the jungle that is as valid here as anywhere else on the planet:
"If you can't name it or describe it... you'd damned well better be able to point to it."
I can't tell you how many times I have been in a store... at the mechanic... in a meeting, etc., where I have had to ask about something... that 'thing' right over there!... but was not close enough to actually touch it or pick it up.
During my first year or two here I would point impotently with my finger in the general direction of what I was inquiring about... "y'know, that green/brown/red/blue thingamabob right over there". Or if I had a captive audience I might grab a napkin or scrap of paper and draw a crude rendering of what I was interested in discussing.
But last year I realized that if I simply carried a laser pointer around with me I could easily point to anything I could see and I would immediately be understood.
Not only that, but once an item had been targeted by the little glowing dot, the salesman/mechanic/coworker would helpfully exclaim, "Oh, you mean the [fill in the correct Hebrew word for whatever I had indicated]", if he/she knew it. This has allowed me to continue the conversation, confident that we are discussing the same thing... but now armed with its proper name.
Laser pointers come in such tiny, inexpensive packages these days (many small enough to fit on key-chains) that there is no excuse for not carrying one. One word of caution, though: Many airlines don't like them in the cabin, so put them in your checked bag.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver!
On an unrelated note, I see that the final round of the JIBs (Jewish Israeli Blog Awards) is well underway and treppenwitz has managed to advance in several categories. If you like what you find here (and feel like stroking my ego a tad), why not click over and show your support?
This year it is a one-person-one-vote system in each category so each vote is weighted much more heavily than usual.
Thanks in advance for your support!
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Does this man represent you?
Before and during the disengagement from Gaza, one of the recurring tropes heard from the the center/left of the Israeli electorate was that the settlers were acting violently and against the laws and interests of the country... therefore they deserved whatever violence came their way from the uniformed representatives of the state (i.e. IDF, Border Patrol and Police).
Through the lens of time I think that most reasonable people would have to agree that the actual number of people who acted violently against the laws, interests and representatives of the country were such a tiny percentage of the disengagement's opponents as to be statistically insignificant... and certainly not representative of the mainstream center/right.
This is not to minimize the serious nature of any violent acts, but rather to make sure we're all on the same page about whether such actions were a right-wing trend and/or in any way representative of the way the settlers and their supporter comported themselves before and during disengagement.
In short, while the acts of a violent, misguided few should certainly have been universally criticized and renounced, one would have to admit that it was terribly unfair of the mainstream center/left (i.e. Labor voters) to condemn the anti-disengagement movement as if they had condoned and even supported such actions... or for anyone in a democracy to suggest that anyone "deserved what they got" (including blatant brutality).
Fast forward a couple of years to, well, yesterday, and see how things look in the mirror.
Yesterday a group of extreme left wing activists took it upon themselves to try to dismantle an IDF roadblock at the entrance to an Arab village called Semo'a in the South Hevron hills. They have attempted (unsuccessfully) to dismantle other IDF roadblocks in the past few weeks, but in this case the army got wind of their plans in time to completely head them off, and sent a group of [mostly] reserve soldiers to confront them.
At some point, as the soldiers attempted to disperse the activists, the confrontation turned violent and pushing turned to exchanging blows... and even a few well-documented jabs with rifle butts and barrels.
It is important to point out that, just as with some of the extreme right wing elements in Israel, there are those on the extreme left with a well-documented history of fomenting violent confrontation with the police and army. Not only that, unlike their right wing counterparts, those on the extreme left are quite media-savvy and made sure to invite plenty of press to the site to provide coverage of their actions and any subsequent confrontation.
Some like to call these extremists 'anarchists', but in fact, that is an unfairly oversimplified characterization that seems (IMHO) intended to distance the bad actors from some of the more focused extreme left wing agendas.
Anyhoo, back to yesterday's action. We now had a situation where a security roadblock that was put in place by the IDF under direct orders from the Defense Minister was being dismantled by a group of people who felt they were not obligated to obey the lawful orders of the government's representatives to leave what had been declared a closed military zone.
Instead they refused to stop their illegal actions, thereby forcing a physical confrontation with the soldiers.
Thanks to the extensive media presence on site, much of the confrontation was captured on film. As I mentioned earlier, in order to carry out their orders to stop the activists from removing the roadblock and force them to leave the area, the soldiers had no choice but to physically engage the crowd... and in some cases it appears that some of the soldiers may have used excessive physical force to do this.
Now, in a democracy... especially one with a healthy media... one would expect the government to open an investigation into the incident... review the testimony of the soldiers and their officers... view the media coverage and interview journalists on the scene... and in the end release their findings along with some assignation of blame, and perhaps level charges against some of the participants on one or both sides.
And then there would be Amir Peretz's way.
Instead of following the logical course of action I've outlined above, the Defense Minister immediately made statements to the press that the soldiers had used excessive force, and criticized them for clashing with the left wing activists.
This is the head of the Israeli military chain of command, mind you, taking sides with lawbreakers who forced a confrontation with soldiers who were following his legal orders, without any investigation or inquiry whatsoever!
Where are the statements from the disengagement era center/left that "acting violently and against the laws and interests of the country make one deserving of whatever violence comes their way from the uniformed representatives of the state"? Even the veritable pogrom at Amona was defended with that flawed logic by the center left... so what changed yesterday?
What changed is that the activists were ostensibly acting on behalf of the Arab residents of Semo'a... a nice lefty cause... apparently a fact that made Peretz (the head of the largest left wing faction) forget for a moment that since he is Defense Minister, the soldiers were actually acting on his orders.
So here it is... I'm a big man. I can honestly say without reservation that these extreme left wing activists are in no way representative of the mainstream Israeli center/left, and should in no way be allowed to tarnish the mainstream social and political agendas of the left.
So why is there this deafening silence from that segment of the political spectrum about yesterday's events? Why is nobody from the mainstream left criticizing those who acted violently against the interests and representatives of the state? Why is there no criticism of a defense minister who would rather abandon his men in the field than actually open an organized investigation of the events?
I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
No apology needed for surviving
Remember that scene from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' where Indiana Jones faces off against a sword-wielding assassin? There is a moment of silent tension as the assassin masterfully spins his scimitar from hand to hand, and Indy's situation seems dire. And then suddenly Indy pulls out his pistol and shoots the assassin.
I remember when I saw this scene in the theater that it seemed perfectly natural that the audience would spontaneously erupt into cheers and enthusiastic applause. After all, this wasn't just the triumph of modern weaponry over crude, outdated technology... it was also the triumph of the film's hero over a nameless, random bad guy.
But as my focus has shifted from silver screen conflicts to those in the real world, I have become increasingly alarmed that not only does the world seem mixed up about whether, metaphorically speaking, bullets should be allowed to triumph over swords, but also about who exactly are the good guys in our region.
The best example of this apparent confusion was revealed in one of the more heated semantical arguments that raged during the second Lebanon war over Israeli spokes-people's tendency to use the words 'rocket' and 'missile' interchangeably when describing the ketyushas and other flying ordnance being fired into Israel by Hezbollah.
Whenever the word 'missile' was used, the talking heads on Sky News, BBC and CNN would quickly interrupt the speaker to patiently point out that Hezbollah's weapons were 'rockets', not 'missiles' since they lacked a guidance package (as if this semantic distinction somehow made them less offensive... or for that matter, lethal).
But in retrospect, not only is that overly-pedantic distinction not correct*, but it revealed a deliberate attempt on the part of the Main Stream Media (MSM) to sway the viewer/listener from what I had assumed was the natural tendency we'd all experienced while watching 'Raiders'... specifically, to scream at the screen, "How stupid do you have to be to start a fight with a sword when the other guy has a gun!".
However, the more I followed the news, the more obvious the reason seemed to be for these continuing pedantic arguments over the imbalance of armament available to the Arabs and Israelis. You see, in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', everyone in the theater was rooting for Indiana Jones. For that brief instant when we'd all forgotten that Indy had a gun and it appeared that he was going to have to face off against the evil assassin's sword with nothing more than his trusty whip, we were stunned silent with moral outrage at the unfairness of the duel.
Now, I'm no student of cinema... but I think that just might have been Steven Spielberg's intent.
But what if the roles had been reversed and we'd remembered about the gun from the beginning of the scene? Given the same disadvantage, would the swordsman have enjoyed - even briefly - the same moral backing from the audience that we gave to Indiana Jones? The answer is no... it simply wouldn't have worked because at the root of the cinematic magic of that scene was our unswerving loyalty to Indy.
It is my humble opinion that at the root of the MSM's obsession with pointing out the technological mismatch in the region is their essential loyalty to Israel's enemies. What I had failed to realize before was that the MSM (and their core audience) view the Arabs as Indiana Jones, and are therefore understandably outraged at the prospect of their hero facing off against the bad guy armed only with a whip... regardless of who started the fight.
Consider the following:
Stone Throwing: The MSM constantly claims that Palestinian stone-throwing at Israeli motorists does not warrant a lethal response. Not only does this posit that stones are not potentially-lethal weapons, but it is in direct conflict with their frequent 'David & Goliath' imagery used to portray the Palestinians as the little underdog. If memory serves, Goliath didn't make it home with just a cracked windshield... he was killed.
Molotov Cocktails: Again, there seems to be the assumption among journalists (and by extension, their audience) that since these home-made weapons are cheap and hand-delivered to their targets, that they do not warrant the use of deadly force in response. A trip to an Israeli hospital's burn ward might go a long way towards dispelling this wrong-headed assumption.
Kassams/Ketyushahs: Aside from their range and payload, the MSM doesn't really differentiate between these weapons when it comes to their opinion of how Israel should be allowed to respond. As with rocks and Molotov Cocktails, the conventional wisdom is that it would be unchivalrous for Israel to respond to a relatively crude mode of attack with advanced weaponry.
Simply put; Israel's problems with the world audience don't stem from bad PR. They are rooted in the fact that the MSM and the world audience view Israel as that sword-wielding assassin, a small plot complication that must be resolved as quickly as possible for the regional story to reach a satisfactory dénouement.
IMHO it is the height of silliness for Israel to place too much hope in positive 'Hasbara' (PR/propaganda). No amount of positive PR would have made an Indiana Jones fan care a wit about the fate of the assassin with the sword. He was a two-dimensional, un-named villain with no back-story and no possible reason for redemption. We never stopped to consider whether he might have had a family that depended on him for sustenance or perhaps if it was a crushing mortgage that had driven him to a life of crime. We simply wanted him dead so that our hero could advance to meet the next challenge.
Israel would do well to forget about trying to reclaim the hero status it enjoyed in the early days of its existence.
Those days are gone.
What remains is the challenge of simply meeting each threat with the only thing we have going for us; superior weaponry. They pull a whip we pull a sword. They pull a sword, we pull a gun. They pull a gun, we pull a cruise missile.
This isn't a movie set... and Israel needn't apologize for surviving. It may be that the rest of the world is rooting for our enemies to prevail and ride happily into the sunset, but that doesn't mean that we have to lay down and act like some pesky plot complication.
As an actor on the world stage, Israel has a rich back-story and is worthy of survival.
* Most dictionaries define a missile as "an object or weapon that is fired, thrown, dropped, or otherwise projected at a target; a projectile.". The few definitions that dealt exclusively with modern weaponry (e.g. "Missile: a rocket carrying a warhead of conventional or nuclear explosives; may be ballistic or directed by remote control"), specifically point out that the presence or lack of a guidance package is irrelevant.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Let's review, shall we...
I know it is hard to keep track, but let's take a moment out of our busy day and look at the latest peace overtures that have come our way since Friday (that's less than three days for those reading this in the archives) from the poor, beleaguered Palestinians who want nothing more than to be left in dignity to pursue their dreams of self-determination:
According to the IDF, no less than ten (10!) Kassam rockets have landed inside Israel since Friday. One hit a house... another struck a gas station (wounding a teenager with shrapnel) and the latest one landed outside a kindergarten.
A security guard working at a facility where fuel is transferred from Israel to the PA was critically wounded when as many as three Palestinian gunmen opened fire, hitting him in the head and leg. His condition is still extremely unstable and he has lost the leg and an eye.
Sadly there have been too many rock and Molotov cocktail attacks over the weekend to count (but see here, here, here, here and here to get some highlights). Multiple vehicles have been damaged and at least two individuals were injured.
Yet amid all this mayhem, the US is still pressuring Israel to move ahead with more confidence building gestures. They want Israel and the PA to agree to a short timetable during which each must achieve a series of steps in hopes of getting the stalled peace process back on track. IMHO this is a lot like getting a deer and a hunter to agree to work together towards their shared goals.
On Israel's side this series of steps includes such lunacy as removing security check points and easing restrictions on Palestinian movement. It also involves the incredible requirement for Israel to supply the Palestinian security services with more weapons and ammunition!
On the Palestinian side, the PA government is being asked to commit to far less tangible steps such as 'deploying security forces' and 'endeavoring to reign in rocket fire'. But even these seem plain silly in light of the fact that Hamas not only hasn't recognized Israel, but its top political leaders still say that open attacks on Israel - what they call 'resistance' - are among the basic rights of the Palestinian people.
My question is this? Why bother with this charade? The Palestinians will never be made to be deliver on any of the commitments they make, and each side's obligations are independent of one another, meaning that Israel must meet her obligations regardless of whether the Palestinians meet theirs. Good deal, huh?
While I personally maintain that there is a need to provide a hugely disproportionate response to each and every attack on Israeli citizens / sovereignty, it is beyond me that we continue to risk Israeli lives to provide basic services to the Palestinian population.
It is untenable that Israel should be simultaneously required to show restraint, arm its antagonists and provide fuel, water and electricity to a population that is unambiguous about its dedication to our destruction. Show me any other time and place in history... just one... where this kind of arrangement has ever been tolerated.
As far as I'm concerned, if they shoot an Israeli electrical worker (as happened last month), Israel needs to cut off their electricity. If they shoot someone safeguarding a fuel transfer facility, stop delivering gas. It's really that simple. This isn't about collective punishment. It is about it being just too damned dangerous to continue providing the services. Sorry. Stop trying to kill the people providing the services and maybe we'll send someone out to see about getting the lights back on.
Seriously... don't believe me? Go ahead and take a couple of pot shots at the cable guy and see what it's like to do without CSI and Desperate Housewives for awhile.
In the mean time, I think I'm going to have to dust off the old bullet proof vest for my commute. [sigh]
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Grumpy old men
Every so often I stumble across an object whose placement (or very existence) makes me go 'hmmmmm'. I experienced such a moment this past Friday morning while Zahava and I were out running some errands.
Among the many places we needed to visit on our rounds was a moshav near Ashdod called Nir Galim.
Nir Galim is an old religious moshav that was founded in 1949 by Hungarian survivors of the holocaust. As a result of their founding member's tragic past, Nir Galim is home to one of Israel's 'Batei Eydut' (testimony houses) where survivors and witnesses to the holocaust can go to record their experiences into an official, search-able record).
Among the many industries found in this moshav is a tiny carpentry shop that also caters to the needs of Israel's beekeepers. The shop sells hive parts, protective clothing and other tools of the apiary trade, and is run by two old men... both of whom are well past what would be considered retirement age anywhere in the world.
Generally only one of these men is on duty at a time (I assume they continue to work at their advanced age by splitting the shop hours between them), wearing the traditional faded blue work clothing of the collective agricultural settlements. Being old men who probably have known each other for most of their lives, they are the picture of polite cordiality when together... but they continually gripe about one another's work habits when they are apart. Specifically, neither is happy with the way the other keeps up the office.
Pretty much every time I go there to buy something, whichever old man is on duty runs into some snag in finding what I want and blames it on the other's sloppy work habits. Every real or perceived problem is immediately addressed in long, hand-written notes that are left conspicuously taped on, or near, the site of the transgression.
Here are a few of the gripes I have heard muttered by one or the other of the old men as he wrote out a fresh accusatory note:
"The files belong here... not there... when will he learn?"
"He didn't balance the ledger before he went home yesterday... again!"
"Look at this mess! Now I have to go through and re-count all the gloves since he didn't mark how many he took out of the box!"
You get the picture.
Anyway, when I had finished picking out a couple of queen excluders (a screen that keeps the queen from laying eggs in the honey supers) and a new veil on Friday, I excused myself to use the shop's, er, rustic bathroom while my bill was being prepared. However, once I was standing inside the little room, I was struck by an extremely odd addition that seemed particularly out of place: There on top of the toilet tank sat a new spray can of 'potpourri' scented air freshener.
I can hear you already. You're probably wondering what could possibly be out of place about a can of air freshener in a bathroom, right?
Well, here's the deal:
I neglected to mention that the carpentry/beekeeper supply shop is located directly in front of (and down-wind from) one of the moshav's other industries... an enormous dairy shed that houses an impressively large herd of Holstein cows.
While I was attending Hebrew University I spent most of my weekends and vacations milking cows on kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, so the smell of cow manure is full of fond, wholesome memories for me. But make no mistake... it is a powerful smell, none-the-less.
The bathroom of the carpentry/beekeeping shop is a little, unadorned side room that faces directly into the cow shed... and the bathroom's single window above the toilet is left open, no matter what the season.
One would think that there is nothing either of these old men could possibly do in that bathroom that could compete with the combined excretory prowess of an entire dairy herd. But it seems one would be wrong.
Apparently, having run out of real or imagined offenses about which to gripe, one of the old men came up with the idea of adding the other's, um, bathroom habits to the list of things that require amelioration.
I can just imagine one of the old codgers writing a pointed note to the other about the unacceptable state of the 'facilities', and taping it with a flourish to the newly purchased can of 'potpourri' as it was placed on top of the toilet tank.
As I left the rustic (and fragrant) little bathroom to pick up my purchases and rejoin Zahava back at the car, I could only smile and shake my head at what had to have been a master-stroke in the ongoing war of one-upmanship being waged between these two grumpy old men.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
An inherited case of ' the wants'
Our kids seem to have inherited certain traits from each of their parents... for good and for bad. For example, Ariella's gotten a healthy dose of her mother's artistic talent... and Gili seems to have inherited a whopping case of 'the wants' from his dad.
What's that? You aren't familiar with the term 'the wants'?
Here's the deal... I'm a hopeless impulse buyer. It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally I will see a sleek new toy... a sexy new Mac laptop... a piece of camping/outdoors equipment... or a mobile phone with more features than an astronaut would ever need... and suddenly I want it RIGHT THAT VERY SECOND! It's like a fever comes over me and I am incapable of thinking about anything else until it passes.
Luckily, Zahava and I have hammered out an understanding (she knows me too well) whereby if either of us wants to make a purchase involving a price tag above 'a certain amount', it must be discussed with (and approved by)the other spouse.
This is actually a very sensible system since my 'want' spells don't usually last very long, and the 'cooling off' period required for me to reach home and talk over a potential purchase with Zahava is usually long enough for me to realize that I can easily live without whatever had me in a desperate lather of consumer lust a few hours earlier.
The list of truly foolish stuff I have never gotten around to asking her permission to buy is embarrassingly long.
Gilad's spells of 'the wants', however, seems to have a bit more staying power than his old man's. Once a shiny gewgaw gets under Gilad's skin he will mount a relentless one-man harassment campaign until he gets it... or until I kill him, whichever comes first.
The latest object of Gilad's desire was my fancy-shmancy Gary Fisher mountain bike. If you aren't a bike enthusiast, just take my word for the level of envy that really high-end Gary Fisher bikes arouse in the two-wheeled crowd.
When I bought my bike (many years ago) it was the latest word in off-road, man-powered locomotion. It had all the bells & whistles you could ask for... Rock Shocks, edgy geometry, a bazillion gears, silky-smooth derailleurs... and it had a matte purple and cannary yellow paint job that you couldn't look away from.
Today there are endless new space-age components available for mountain bikes, but my old Gary Fisher still turns heads (even if the old rider doesn't).
Anyhoo, about eight months ago Gilad got a serious case of 'the wants' for my bike, and from that point on he mounted an unrelenting campaign to try and woo it out from under me (not that it's actually under me all that much anymore).
His first attempt was a full frontal attack... a hopeless non-starter that went down in flames before he'd even gotten his argument off the ground. First of all, he had a perfectly good mountain bike I'd bought for him not long before. Second of all, he didn't have a track record of taking particularly good care of his stuff. Lastly... well, dammit, just keep your mitts of my bike!
However, after several months of plotting a more subtle approach, Gilad sprang the trap... and it was so slick that I didn't realize I'd been bamboozled until hours after the fact.
It went something like this:
The Wind-up: "Hey abba, have you noticed that Ariella has pretty much outgrown her bike?"
[I should have known something was up right there since Ari and Gili are not particular protective of each-other's interests... except on the rare occasions when those interests overlap.]
The Pitch: "Look, I know that bikes are really expensive, so instead of buying Ari a new one, why don't you sell just her old one to someone... I'll give her mine, since it's much better than her old one... and I'll just, y'know, use yours for the time being."
The Close: "This way Ari will end up with a much better bike... and instead of you having to buy her a new one (which costs money) you'll actually make money on whatever you get from selling her old bike!"
I must have been distracted by a fly in the room or something while all this was going on, because it wasn't until hours later when I was getting ready to go to sleep that I realized that he'd deliberately left out a crucial factor: Zahava's bike (a very high-end 'Specialized' mountain/road hybrid which is seldom used) had not been taken into account, and would have been a perfectly acceptable bike for Ariella to move up to.
Gilad had so dazzled me with the concept of not having to plunk down cash for a new bike for Ariella (and perhaps maybe making a couple of bucks in the deal!) that I didn't feel the sting of him stealing my precious Gary Fisher!
But the damage was done. I'd already agreed to let Gilad have my bike, and Ariella was already gushing about the prospect of upgrading to Gili's old one. Zahava was none the worse in the deal since she was keeping her bike... which pretty much left me as the only chump who was ending up with bupkas!
As gently as I could I broached the topic of a new bike for myself with Zahava... but in truth my heart wasn't in it. We both knew that anything likely to give me a case of 'the wants' as bad as when I'd first set eyes on my Gary Fisher would mean spending mucho dinero.
A slog through the bike shops near my office at lunch time confirmed my suspicions... that while there was much to covet in the latest mountain bikes, the sticker shock was enough to throw cold water over the first tingling of 'the wants'.
As I was walking out of the last bike shop (a Trek/Gary Fisher dealership) to return to my office, the shop owner (who had introduced me to the various bikes on the showroom floor in a manner reminiscent of a proud father introducing his children) tossed an innocent question after me:
"It seems to me that you have your heart set on a high-end bike but your budget is holding you back. Can I show you one of our used bikes?"
I spun around as if he had me on a string.
It hadn't occurred to me that a fancy-shmancy high-end bike dealership would have 'pre-owned' models for sale. It turned out that he had a very respectable selection of well-cared-for bikes with names (and more importantly, bells & whistles) I could propely lust after.
As I stood there perusing the possibilities and noting with glee the bargain prices, a burning case of 'the wants' welled up in my chest. There, in the center of the rack, sat a beautiful used Trek... with Rock Shocks, edgy geometry, a bazillion gears, silky-smooth derailleurs, and a flashy canary yellow and silver paint job that I couldn't look away from.
Admittedly, the ending of this story isn't exactly worthy of O'Henry... but it's a happy ending none-the-less:
- Ariella upgraded her ride and is quite pleased with the results
- Zahava held onto her very respectable bike
- Gilad obtained the object of his 'wants' (and did so without my having to kill him).
- And after being bamboozled out of a bike that had been used far too infrequently, I was provided with an unexpected new object of 'the wants' that might actually get my aging carcass out of the house a few times this season.
It's all good.