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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monsters or Victims

Youth violence and promiscuity are neither new nor news.  But for some reason, Israel is particularly late in coming to terms with these two negative, and likely connected, trends.

The reason this topic is on my mind is that last week a couple of 13-year-old boys drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl here in Israel.  The rape itself, though shocking, would probably have been relegated to a bit of 'tsk-tsk'ing and 'boys will be boys' type of public response had the girl not slipped into a coma and been hospitalized for almost a week (She's awake now).

Many in the press and government immediately started pointing fingers and trying to score points over this tragedy.  Some blamed the school strike that has left so many kids without adult supervision and at loose ends.  Others blamed the increasing sexuilzation of teen society and the pervasive sexual/sensual content on TV and in the movies.

But what few seem willing to do is blame the parents.

Israeli parents have a well-deserved reputation for spoiling their kids and being permissive to a fault.  If confronted they will often tell you some variation of the following:

"...but what can I do, they grow up so fast here in this stress-filled country and then have to go into the army to face G-d-knows-what kind of horrible dangers.  I want them to have as few responsibilities as possible and remain kids for as long as possible... because who knows what the future might bring!"

While certainly a mindset that begs understanding, if not sympathy, I always feel my blood pressure climb when I hear it.  Don't they see that by abdicating parental responsibility they are not extending their kid's childhood, they are shortening it.  They are prematurely setting their kids adrift in the trackless ocean of adulthood without even a semblance of the decision-making tools they'll need to navigate such dangerous waters.

I once confronted an Israeli mother when I noticed her 12 or 13 year old daughter smoking right next to her outside a mall.  I fully expected her to tell me to simply mind my own business (or worse).  But instead she surprised me by shrugging helplessly and saying:

"All her friends are smoking... and she's going to do it anyway... so I have to make a choice:  I can lock her in the house and become her enemy... or I can let her have her way and remain her friend.  Between being my daughter's friend or being her enemy, I chose to be her friend." 

With that she took out a cigarette and lit up as well.

I was floored to hear a parent feel they had so few options in child-rearing.  Not only that, it revealed an underlying fear that many Israeli parents seem to have of losing their children's affection if they attempt to impose discipline and order on their kids 'tipesh-esreh (loose translation: stupid-ager) pre-army years.

I can understand a certain feeling of helplessness if society at large lacks the legal and social prohibitions/taboos to bolster a parent's resolve.  But c'mon people, we're talking about our children's lives here!  How can we just shrug and look away when the kids are, quite literally, killing themselves (and each-other) with rampant underage drinking, drug abuse, promiscuity and violent confrontation?

Look, I'm also an imperfect parent (of imperfect teens) who struggles daily to find that elusive balance between being too permissive and overly strict.  But I (and hopefully they) understand that hard choices need to be made... and that for every choice there is a consequence. 

It isn't about whether they will be my enemy or my friend.  I can't really be either and make a reasonable claim to having done my job properly.  I would dearly love to be my children's best friend as they are some of the most wonderful people I know.  But they have plenty of friends, and one more or less isn't going to make a real difference.  Whether they know it or not, what they really need are parents, not another friend! 

Look at it another way: Most people would love to be a starting pitcher or a star Short Stop (Europeans think star Striker or Goalie)... but without umpires (referees) there would be bedlam on the playing field, and the game would be neither fun nor safe.  So with little modest compensation (beyond the personal satisfaction that comes with the job) and little fanfare, some people choose to become umpires.

In a Talk-back  thread on YNET where people were discussing the the rape case I mentioned at the beginning of the post, one commenter shared the following to point out how differently the futures seemed for the rapists as opposed to the girl they'd attacked:

"The two offenders will be sent to clean bathrooms for a month or two; she's on her way to vomiting up her soul in the bathroom for a year or two.  They will be sent for counseling for a week or two to make sure they know that what they did was wrong; she'll be in treatment her whole life to try to cure just one little sliver of her soul.  They'll walk around with no fear, calm and happy; she will look behind her back in fear her whole life, jumping at even the slightest touch.  They'll take aspirin if their head hurts; she'll live on tranquilizers and anti-depressants.  They'll sleep well at night; she'll sleep with tears her whole life.  They will live; she's already dead.  Everyone should be ashamed." *

While I agree with what the commenter wrote, I think he/she ignored the larger framework within which this tragedy took place.  He/she seems to imagine that the crime was committed in a vacuum... and it was not.

When I realized this I also realized why the mother who I chastised for smoking with her daughter was so incredibly wrong about her perceived choices.  But as usual, only now is it clear to me what I should have said to her (treppenwitz):

"Lady, the choice isn't between being your daughter's enemy or her friend while she's a child.  It is whether you want to have even the slightest influence over her choices, happiness and safety... now, as well as throughout her adult life. 

You're correct in saying that so many of her life experiences here in Israel are dictated by the actions and choices of those around her.  But you aren't giving her more choices by trying to be her friend... you are limiting her choices and maybe even endangering her. 

By allowing society to raise your child you are leaving her important choices to other people... or to chance.  And given the limited choices now faced by the parents of those 13-year-old boys and the 12-year-old girl, it seems that a parent should want more control of their children's fate than whether they become monsters or a victims."

[Note:  Although some may see the above as somehow blaming the victim, please know that that is the furthest thing from what I meant.  I was simply trying to make the point that crimes such as this are becoming more and more commonplace and one can't look at them as isolated incidents anymore.  They are symptomatic of something dreadfully wrong with the way society views parenting roles and responsibilities.]

* Source

Posted by David Bogner on October 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Light Horse return to Beer Sheva

Tomorrow, the 31st October 2007, is going to be a big day in the town where I work.  No... not Halloween... but rather the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Beer Sheva.


I'll assume that many of you have no idea what I'm talking about so I'll insert a brief recap from a previous post to bring you up to speed.  Longtime readers can follow along or skip ahead as you see fit:

WWI had many theaters and many battles... but the battle for Beer Sheva between the British/Commonwealth troops and the Ottoman Turks should be of particular interest to anyone who counts themself a Zionist. 

We tend to think of the British only in the context of the Mandate period and the struggle for Israeli statehood.  But it is now clear to me that without the efforts of these mostly forgotten young British and ANZAC (Australian & New Zealand) soldiers, buried in a Beer Sheva cemetery so far from their homes, there very likely would not be a modern state of Israel!

Here is a passage from a book called '800 Horsemen' by Col Stringer upon which I can't improve:

"The key to the battle were the Gaza-Beersheba fortifications. Beersheba, meaning "well of the oath", so named by Abraham in the book of Genesis... Any army approaching its life-giving wells has to march for days through the waterless desert. All the Turks had to do was hold off an attack for one day and the merciless desert sun would do the rest. Despite constant assaults by the combined forces of the British and Australian armies, the place could not be taken. Then came the fateful day of October 31 1917. The generals were desperate, 50,000 British infantry with tank support had been driven back into the desert. With the sun about to set and with no water for many miles, disaster stared them squarely in the face. The Australian Light Horse Commander [General] Chauvel's orders were to storm Beersheba, it had to be won before nightfall at all costs. The situation was becoming grave as they were in urgent need of 400,000 gallons of water for men and horses.

Chauvel concocted a crazy plan. Why not let his 800 horsemen charge the Turkish artillery? A cavalry charge across 6000 yards of open terrain straight into the face of the massed Turkish guns. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. No wonder the German Officer commanding the Turkish defences described the Aussie Light Horsemen as "madmen!" For a start the Light Horse were not cavalry, they were mounted infantry. They had no swords or lancers but were equipped with rifles and bayonets designed for infantry warfare. But left with virtually no alternative the desperate General gave the order for the last great cavalry charge in history! The 800 young men mounted their magnificent Walers (horses) and lined up to face the Turkish guns, their young faces bronzed and tanned from the desert sun, their emu plumes swaying in the breeze from their famous slouch hats, rifles swung across their backs and bayonets in hand. History was about to be written. These 800 young men were about to open the doorway to the liberation of Jerusalem!

The Light Horsemen charged magnificently across the dusty plains, so fast that the Turkish artillery could not keep pace with them and the "mad" horsemen were able to slip under their guns. As they leapt the trenches laced with machine gun bullets, a magnificent cheer went up from the British ranks, even some of the Turks stood and applauded, such was the magnificence of the feat. Although hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned they charged on. Beersheba - the gateway to Jerusalem, fell that day, not to the Crusaders, not to the British, German or US Armies - but to the Australian Light Horsemen!

Let me quote from the book "True Australian War Tales" by Alec Hepburn. "...the British swept towards Gaza. They stormed the city on 26 March but were thrown back by determined enemy resistance. A second attempt on 17 April also ended in failure. The Turks, with German and Austrians of the crack Asia Corps, stood firm along a fortified line from Gaza on the coast, to Beersheba, near the Judean Hills. The key to victory was Beersheba. Many nations claim to have mounted the last cavalry charge in history, but most of these actions were minor skirmishes of no real significance towards the outcome of the war in which they fought. The Australian Light Horse attack on Beersheba was the last important cavalry charge in history and the last to win a resounding victory that altered the course of a war." (And the course of a nation - Israel).

"The late afternoon sunlight flashing from their bayonets, Australian troopers of the 4th Light Horse Brigade made a proud sight as they spread in a khaki flood over the stony Palestine plain. The thundering hoof beats of their mounts rolled over the arid land ahead like some macabre overture . ... Wearing their distinctive feather-plumed slouch hats at a variety of jaunty angles the troopers seemed nonchalant in the face of death.... Topping the last rise Beersheba suddenly came into sight, the graceful minaret on its Mosque pointing the way to glory, in what was to be the last important cavalry charge in history. Almost as one the big, brown warhorses surged forward in a mad gallop, their hoofs striking thunder from the hard sun-baked earth."

"Then from somewhere within the barbed-wire-encircled town, heavy artillery began firing. The first shells roared overhead, exploding in fiery geysers amid the charging ranks. Yelling men and bellowing horses went down in tangled heaps, their screams filling the choking smoke clouds that swirled everywhere, But not even shrapnel could halt their fierce onslaught. Leaping their mounts over fallen comrades, the horsemen swept towards the Turkish line. Soon the shells were falling harmlessly behind the advancing ranks. With the first gauntlet behind them the Australian horsemen raced into the next. From the flanks Turkish machine-guns took over the defence. Many more men and horses went down, but still they came on. The tough Turkish infantry had been unnerved by the seemingly invincible horde bearing down on them. Wild with fear, for they knew their foe by reputation, the Turks put up a formidable rifle barrage in a frantic effort to stop the mounted madmen. Troopers pitched from the saddle; others had their mounts shot from under them: and yet the suicidal charge swept on. As the Light Horse galloped nearer the excited Turks forgot to lower their sights and found themselves firing high. With bullets now buzzing harmlessly overhead the leading squadrons thundered in line across the last kilometre then jumped their mighty Walers over the trenches."

The rest is history. "Beersheba - well of the oath, was in Australian hands by the time the last rays of fading daylight had gone from the desert sky. This deed would live on as the proudest achievement in the colourful story of the legendary Light Horse, the force that was probably the most uniquely Australian fighting unit ever raised. The Light Horseman was the best mounted soldier in history, finer even than the Cossack or the American Plains Indian."

In fact the British General Allenby rated the Cavalry charge as one of, if not the most magnificent in history. Eight hundred Aussie Light horsemen had achieved what 50,000 British troops with tanks could not do, what even the Crusaders or Napoleon could not do! They had opened the doorway to Jerusalem against seemingly insurmountable odds.

I am in no way attempting to glorify war, it is terrible. But I believe we need "to give honour where honour is due." Many of the Light Horsemen were visibly moved when they realised they had opened the gateway to the Holy Land, a doorway which had been firmly shut for centuries. One writer put it this way "Without the ANZAC involvement the modern state of Israel would not have come into existence!" On December 11th 1917 the Australian Light Horsemen rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, so far from their homes, their emu feathers proudly fluttering in the breeze, to be greeted with a hysterical welcome by Jews and Christians. A far cry from the scenario when Godfrey of Bouillon and his bloodthirsty Crusaders had entered the city in 1099. Centuries of Moslem rule was over. As the triumphant British General Allenby entered the city through the Jaffa gate, his honour guard was made up of slouch hatted Aussies. Opposite him as he stood on the steps of the Citadel of David he was encircled by another honour guard of proud ANZAC Light Horsemen! Their magnificent effort was being honoured by the world!"

Tomorrow I will be taking part in the commemoration ceremonies in Beer Sheva which will include a parede of the Australian Light Horse Society (many of who, I'm told, are grandchildren of the original Light Horsemen) through the city to the Commonwealth War Cemetery, starting at 10:00AM.

At 11:00 AM there will be an official ceremony a the cemetery.  Dignitaries from all the countries involved in the battle will be present, as will many from the Israeli government.

At noon everyone will walk to the nearby monument to the Turkish soldiers who fell in the battle (the monument stands next to the old Turkish Railroad station building on Rechov Uziahu) for a commemorative ceremony presided over by the Turkish Ambassador. 

At 3:30 in the afternoon there will be a reenactment of the charge of the Light Horse from Beit Eshel to the Turkish railway bridge, followed by a closing ceremony at the bridge where the riders will be awarded medals of recognition.

Needless to say, if anyone would like a free tour of the cemetery and battle sights around Beer Sheva during the day, I will be more than happy to share the little I've learned over the past few years.  Of course I will also try to take some pictures and post them later in the week.

If you'd like more information about the Battle of Beer Sheva, the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery or the Australian Light Horse, you can feel free to read these older posts:






Posted by David Bogner on October 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Monday, October 29, 2007

The best beer glasses to toast the best team

I don't know whether I'm happier for the Red Sox or for myself now that I can actually get a full night's sleep!  Let's just call it a draw and leave it at that.

But we can't really leave it at that, now can we?  This calls for some sort of celebration.

There's nothing like a pizza party to celebrate the World Series Champs... complete with lots of toppings, soda and beer.  And it just so happens that I have some Boddington's set aside for just such an occasion...


... and thanks to one of my daily reads, I have the prefect glasses from which to drink this creamy amber nectar.

Here's the deal:

I have frequently encouraged you to visit the quality website of, if not the only blogging anesthesiologist, then without question the best; Book of Joe.

This past May, Dr. Joe ran his second write-up on what he (and the New York Times) insisted were, without a doubt, the best beer glasses ever (not to be confused with beer goggles).  I figure if Joe felt strongly enough about something to mention it twice, it was worth looking into.

Knowing how you are loathe to actually follow a link, let me save you some lifting and share everything you really need to know about these incredible glasses:

The local beer, Kölsch, is brewed only in the Cologne region and must not only conform to the German Beer Purity Act of 1516 but must also be served only in these special slim, graceful 1/5 litre (6.8 fl. oz.) glasses called "stangen" (rods).


These are the champagne flutes of the beer world, only 2" in diameter and just shy of 6-1/2" tall.

Their appeal comes not only from their history and their classic design but also from the thin (0.040") sidewall glass; it is like drinking from fine porcelain or crystal.

They are suited to any tall, cool drink.

With a 3/8" thick bottom they are both stable and sturdy, yet only half the weight of usual glasses of the same volume.


We have had these under test for over 20 years and find their look and performance to be just right.

Needless to say I simply had to have these... so you can can imagine my delight when Joe shared the good news that these light, elegant glasses are just $8.95 a dozen!  That's right... that works out to about 75 cents apiece!! 

After using these glasses at home, and also giving a dozen to my parents as a housewarming gift (I know... can you believe what a sport I am?!), I have to tell you that these are the kind of glasses that would make even typical Yankee or Jets fans involuntarily extend their pinkies while drinking, and mutter unfamiliar words like 'please' and 'thank you' to whoever was providing them with shelter, televised entertainment and liquid refreshment.

Go buy some now...  You can have them in time for your Super Bowl party! 

And ferkripessake, start reading Book of Joe already!  I can't keep ripping off his ideas telling you about his neat posts all the time!

Posted by David Bogner on October 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'm watching the game... what about you?

As promised, here is a nifty little chat box so you can help make the whole World Series experience seem, well, a little less isolated (to put it mildly).  I will be monitoring the chat (and jumping in, obviously) from right after they throw out the first drunk, um, I mean pitch,

C'mon, you're just aching to say something... you know you are.

Posted by David Bogner on October 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

When did "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" stop being enough?

I grew up loving (and playing) baseball.  One of the great things about this wonderful pastime is that every single game begins with the singing of 'The Star Spangled Banner'... so much so that to this day I mentally append the words "Play Ball!" directly after " ... and the home of the brave" no matter when or where I hear it.

From the point where the crowd starts to cheer and the athletes don their caps, the game of baseball has always been enough.  The players play their hearts out and the crowd does its part to participate... but the only de rigeur participation from that point on is the singing of 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' during the seventh inning stretch. 

The sport simply slays me with its beauty and simplicity!

In fact, every single time I watch 'Field of Dreams' I cry like baby when James Earl Jones (as Terence Mann) intones:

"Ray, they'll come... And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."

Dammit!  I'm even crying now just writing that!

Then, at the end of the 2001 baseball season, a despicable act of terrorism awakened a full-throated, flag-waving patriotism in America that had been slumbering since the end of WWII.  Suddenly flags that had languished in dusty closets for decades were flying around the clock from every porch and balcony (sending octogenarian 'Legionaires into fits over the sight of 'old glory' flying in the rain and in the dark). 

And overnight, 'God Bless America' became a fixture during every ball-game's seventh inning stretch.

Don't get me wrong, during the year following 9/11 the painful memory of our losses, and our repeated public acknowledgment of our love for America, brought a cathartic tear to every eye as we paused from the American Pastime to revel in our incredible good fortune at being Americans.  For many of us, singing this song became the grown-up analogue of facing the flag flying in the corner of the classroom and reciting 'The Pledge of Allegiance'... a collective experience with deeply personal significance.

But as time marched on, a strange thing began to happen:  People began to forget.  While they continued to dutifully sing 'God Bless America' at every sporting event and public gathering, they began to forgot why they were singing it. 

And while we continued to sing 'God Bless America' out of habit, the reason we were singing it - the war on global terror - somehow became a partisan issue.  Somewhere along the way an alarming number of people arrived at the horribly illogical idea that the war on terror was entirely to blame for terror in the first place.  Yet even as many began to flee from overtly patriotic behavior, they also shrank from the very idea of removing this vestigial act of patriotism from their sporting events.

Personally, I think that the singing of patriotic songs is a wonderful thing that should be encouraged and never, under any circumstances, looked down upon as corny or old-fashioned.  But the same can be said of folk songs and 'classic' rock.  Heck, if we somehow worked 'My Country Tis Of Thee' into the rotation we might even snare a few British fans for the quintessentially American sport since they are passingly familiar with the tune. 

The point I'm trying to make is that anything that has become part of our national memory/consciousness has the power to evoke rich emotional memories of simpler times... of simpler decisions... of innocence.  But these bits of our collective past should be shared freely, not under duress.

Just as I would never oblige anyone to sing 'Take me out to the ballgame', I find that the singing of 'God Bless America' has become just that; an obligation.  I get the feeling that the first major franchise to completely drop the practice of letting some quasi-celebrity belt out a wince-worthy rendition of this patriotic anthem at their big games would risk being labeled un-American.

America is a great nation full of great people, and we have earned the right to refuse to do anything reflexively or out of a sense of obligation.   We pride ourselves on our traditions and our pastimes but have forgotten that both were borne of choice... not guilt or pressure. 

Nobody demanded that beer be designated the very best beverage to wash down peanuts and Crackerjacks... it just became so. 

No one mandated that a well-turned 6-4-3 double play be described as 'Tinker to Evers to Chance' by sportscasters who hadn't even been born when those storied players trod the grassy infields of summer.  But rare is the fan who doesn't catch (and love) the reference.

I'm here to suggest that maybe... just maybe it's time to put 'God Bless America' back in the closet with our dew-soaked flags... ready to be brought out for spontaneous ceremonies and annual holidays.  You see, playing baseball in October is, in and of itself, a patriotic act that needs no other additional pomp or ceremony to render it a source of deep national pride. 

As far as I'm concerned they should make a basic understanding of the game an essential part of the test for anyone wishing to become a naturalized citizen.  Knowing how many Representatives sit in the house or how many votes it takes to override a presidential veto will not help an immigrant become a better American.   But having a solid understanding of the logic behind the infield fly rule and a healthy disdain for the DH are both essential to a smooth absorption into American society.

I think it's time we reminded ourselves what a wonderful country the United States is and how fortunate we are to have so many fine cultural touchstones to carry us through good times... and bad.  And by all means, let a tear drip from every eye during the singing of the national anthem at the start of each game.

But the only thing dripping during the seventh inning stretch should be our beer as we carry it - and an arm full of peanuts and Crackerjacks - back from the concession stand while singing 'Take me Out To The Ballgame' along with whoever has inherited the august mantle from the late, great Harry Caray .

Note:  For anyone who feels like saying hello during game 4 of the World Series tonight, I will be setting up a chat box here on treppenwitz so I won't feel quite so all alone.   Just don't try to talk to me during the seventh inning stretch because I'll be upstairs waking Gilad and Ariella with a whispered rendition of 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' so they can come down and watch the last few innings of the game before getting ready for school.

Posted by David Bogner on October 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Have your people call my people [~air kiss~]

A few weeks ago I was interviewed for an article in 'Globes'.  Don't feel bad if you don't know what Globes is.  At least you didn't admit as much to the person who called to interview you.

When I asked what 'Globes' was, I got an incredulous "You don't know what Globes is?  It's the Wall Street Journal of Israel!".

Smoove.  [~open mouth to change feet~]

Anyway, it seems they were planning a supplement on immigrants who work in high tech fields... and someone with a sense of humor thought it would be a hoot to put them onto me.

Anyway, I just got finished reading the article... and hard as it may be to imagine, I don't come off sounding like a complete imbecile.  Not much, anyway. 

The only problem is that 'my' Hebrew, as it appears in the printed interview, has been juiced up about 10 levels above anything I could have managed, even after a couple of stiff drinks...  (I learned this little trick for improving language facility - even in languages I have never spoken - while drinking my way sailing around Asia in the Navy).

Anyhoo... the suppliment doesn't actually hit the news stands until tomorrow, but if you want an advance peek at the wonderfulness that is me (in Hebrew, no less), feel free to read the article.  Oh, and daaahling... have your people call my people.  We simply must do lunch.

[~air kiss~]

Posted by David Bogner on October 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

On second thought...

Not much has changed since I wrote that rant this morning.  I still think the Mufti of Jerusalem is a dangerous lunatic, and that he is actually a fair and accurate representative of his religion.

However, I had not intended to publish that particular rant.  In fact, few of my rants ever see the light of day.  I find that writing them was really what needed doing, but having them out there on the site... not so much.

Unfortunately, in the euphoria of a game one win for the Red Sox (and having stayed up half the night to watch) I hit 'publish' instead of 'delete'.  Imagine my surprise when I checked the site.


... to those of you who commented; thank you.

... to the curious; you can view the post here.

... to those who were shocked or disappointed; I stand by what I wrote... but I'm sorry you had to read it.

... to those who were offended; isn't there an ancient statue of Buddha you could be dynamiting off the side of a mountain somewhere?

Posted by David Bogner on October 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The dangers of outsourcing

[If anyone knows who wrote the following I'd love to give proper attribution.  It is posted on literally dozens of blogs and message boards, but pretty much all of them simply give the source as "I got this in an email"]

I was feeling a bit depressed the other day, so I called the suicide hotline.

I didn't realize they had gone offshore to save a few bucks and I was transferred to their "call center" in Pakistan.

I explained that I was feeling suicidal.

They became very excited at this news and wanted to know if I could drive a truck or fly an airplane.

[Again, I didn't write this, I just decided to share.  Don't thank me... I'm a giver]

Posted by David Bogner on October 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Just a big romantic lug

I've already established my bona fides as a hopeless romantic, but it never hurts to reinforce the point.

Here's the deal...I can sleep just about anywhere, anytime and under just about any circumstances.  I've even slept soundly through gunfire (my bunk was only a few feet behind a 5" 54 Caliber naval gun).  Seriously, so long as I am warm, dry and reasonably well fed, sleep can't be very far off.

Unless there is a television operating within earshot.

As I've mentioned before, I am powerless to look away when a TV is on in the room... no matter how little interest I may have in the content of the current program.  This has been a source of friction between myself and my lovely wife for many years.

You see, when I'm tired I simply climb into bed, and within seconds I am asleep.  Just like that.  But Zahava is apparently wired differently.  She needs to channel surf and do a crossword puzzle or two at the end of her day in order to decompress.  So, if we happen to turn in at the same time, instead of going immediately to sleep... I am inevitably sucked into whatever crap she is watching on the TV.

This wouldn't be so bad if my sweetie would always remember to use the automatic sleep timer feature on our bedroom television.  This handy feature is designed so that you can set the thing to go off after a certain number of minutes... allowing the viewer to go to sleep without fear of leaving the TV (and husband) on all night.

I can't tell you how many times I've gone to bed at 10:00PM, only to find myself hopelessly invested in some pointless 'straight-to-video' movie at 4:45AM... just because Zahava forget to set the timer.  Of course she passed out ten minutes after turning on the TV, leaving me to float helplessly along on a river of horrible late-night programming.

It finally got so bad that I started banishing her to the living-room for her late evening TV fix.  She protested that she couldn't unwind unless she was watching in bed, but grudgingly agreed that it wasn't fair to me if I ended up having to stay up much later than I wanted as a result of her bed-time routine.

And for a while this worked.  I went to bed and once again enjoyed the luxury of diving head first into the dream pool whenever I felt like it.  But it didn't take long for my conscience to catch up with me.  I started lying awake in bed listening to the faint sound of the TV from upstairs... feeling like a selfish heel for banishing my wife from her own bedroom.

So yesterday I brought home a make-up gift for my lovely bride.  I left it casually in the middle of the dining room table so she couldn't help but notice it. 

What did I give her?  I gave her a gift that will allow us to once again co-exist... a gift that will let her do her bed-time decompression session in front of the tube, while keeping me beyond the reach of that oh, so bad CSI dialog.  I got here a set of wireless TV headphones.

I'll bet you didn't know that you can buy a little wireless transmitter that plugs into your television's headphone jack that will broadcast the audio to a set of special headphones so that the person watching TV doesn't bother anyone else around them?  Well gues what?  You can!

Don't say it... I know... I'm just a big romantic lug.  What can I say?

Posted by David Bogner on October 23, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Monday, October 22, 2007

Like an Englishman in New York

The title of today's post is not a reference to Sting's 1987 hit by the same name, but rather a sudden surge of empathy I'm feeling for the strange, isolated existence Brits (and other transplants) must lead in the Big Apple, far from the sports they know and love.

When we were still living in the U.S., I never gave much thought to those 'other sports' - you know, soccer, rugby and cricket - that I occasionally clicked past on the upper cable channels in the middle of the night.  It stood to reason that someone must be watching these unfathomable games since the cable companies aren't in the business of broadcasting content unless there is an audience.  But I never really stopped to consider who, exactly, that audience might be.

Also, while there always seemed to be a bunch of West Indians and the odd Aussie or South African playing cricket, soccer or rugby in New York and Connecticut's less visited parks... I still never stopped to think about the fact that there had to be quite a few fans of these sports who, by necessity, were setting their alarm clocks to ring in the wee hours of the morning so they could watch hotly contested matches in the UK, Australia and even such far flung places as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

This sudden burst of empathy comes in no small part thanks to being an American Baseball fan living in Israel in October... far from where my Boston Red Sox are playing out an exciting post season. 

I am bleary-eyed with self-imposed 'jet lag' after several nights of going to bed after dinner and getting up at 2:30AM to watch my team battle back to win the American League Championship Series. 

It was a great night ov viewing... but it wasn't perfect.

You see, in between innings, and during pitcher changes, Fox Sports broadcast Cricket, Rugby and Soccer trivia!  It was absolutely maddening.  I mean, what possible interest would a baseball fan have in knowing Manchester City's unofficial theme song (Blue Moon... bellowed as if it were a heroic anthem, in case you were wondering), or what team was formed in 1886 by workers of the Woolwich Armament Factory (answer: 'Arsenal'). 

Instead of singing along with 'Take me out to the ballgame' during the seventh inning stretch, I was treated to an excruciating segment designed to test the viewer's knowledge of obscure Cricket rules (for your information, a googly that glances off the batsman's shoulder rather than his bat or hands, and which is subsequently caught... oh never mind!)

So, now that I think about it, a foreign fan in New York watching a test match late is probably subjected to an equally horrifying deluge of baseball or worse, Nascar trivia.

In our old life we would have had plenty of friends over to share the big games, and plenty of friendly rivals to call up and razz after a particularly satisfying win.  But here in Israel, the games are enjoyed in relative solitude... on the upper cable channels at strange hours of the morning.  And celebrations are more modest affairs, usually taking place quietly over breakfast.

There are a couple of other Red Sox fans in my neighborhood (transplants like myself), and we've spent the summer nodding approvingly at one another in shul or shrugging in shared resignation as our team's fortunes have ebbed and flowed.  But these gestures have passed between us, unnoticed by our Israeli friends whose interest in foreign sports is probably limited to European soccer or basketball.

This morning at 5:30AM, as the big kids and I high fived quietly so as not to wake Yonah or disturb the neighbors, and I struggled to purge my mind of all the soccer, rugby and cricket trivia I'd been exposed to, I suddenly realized that this must be what it's like to be an Englishman in New York.

Posted by David Bogner on October 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I am so totally adopting this as my new name!

Forget 'trep', 'treppy' or anything like that.  As of today I've officially adopted a new nom de blog.  I discovered it quite by accident while vanity googling, er... I mean checking out my site's technorati links.

I noticed that a German language blog (based in Beer Sheva) had linked to my post about Private S.W. Watts.  When I clicked over I saw the following:

"David von Treppenwitz [emphasis mine] hat ueber einen jungen Briten geschrieben, der auf dem britischen Soldatenfriedhof in Beer Sheva begraben liegt: Writing home for someone who can’t.  Ich kenne diesen Friedhof natuerlich und andere britische Soldatenfriedhoefe in Israel auch. Sie sehen sich alle sehr aehnlich. Auf mich wirken sie beruhigend, eher troestlich als erschreckend."

Holy cow... how cool is that?  David Von Treppenwitz!  It's like being a rock star, mad scientist and army general all rolled into one!!!  Hmmm, maybe I need a monocle.

Just a heads up... I'm going to be a tad insufferable for the next few days.

[clicks heels together, pivots, and strides haughtily from the room]

Posted by David Bogner on October 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Friday, October 19, 2007

Breaking news

It has been reported that Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon issued a statement that he planned "to fight the destruction of olive trees belonging to Palestinians by Jewish settlers.*

In unrelated news, Israel's Tourism Minister addressed Christian concerns about visiting the holy land saying he "will do everything in my power to stop religious Jews from using the blood of Christian babies in the manufacturing of traditional Matzoh for Passover". **

* Source

** Source

Posted by David Bogner on October 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The brain drain may be the least of Israel's problems

This morning I read an article about how an alarming percentage of Israel's academics are fleeing the country in search of more lucrative teaching/research positions in the UK and US. The article laments the impact this may have on the quality of higher education available at Israeli universities and upon the breadth and depth of the body of published Israeli research.

The quote that really illustrated the alarming scope of the problem:

"Across all academic fields, Israel has a higher percentage of its researchers, 24.9%, living in America than any other country. The next-highest, Canada, has 12.2%. And Canada itself is an exception, with the next in line, the Netherlands, with 4.3% and Italy with 4.2%."

However, an even more alarming result of this academic exodus is likely to be an increasingly negative trend (if that's possible) in the way Israel is perceived in America and the UK.

You see, Israeli academic institutions (like their counterparts abroad) tend to be bastions of lefty politics.  In principle I have no problem with this.   A quote attributed to Winston Churchill puts it best: "Anyone who isn’t a liberal by age 20 has no heart. Anyone who isn’t a conservative by age 40 has no brain".   Whether or not he said it, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.  I think it is much healthier to approach conservative ideas with a good early grounding in liberal thought than the other way around.

However, an alarming number of the academics I have known (and studied under) have grown into adulthood without having outgrown the Utopian ideas they explored so enthusiastically as students.  Quite simply, the ivory tower and surrounding campuses don't demand such a change since their lofty ideas are never put to real world tests.

Not only that, but it seems to me that anyone who would leave the country purely for greater financial reward would, by definition, tend to be less ideologically bound to Zionist/nationalistic ideals. 

The problem with all this is that Israelis living and working abroad have historically been our most visible and vocal ambassadors / spokespeople.  But as the scales tip overwhelmingly towards an expat-Israeli population of highly educated, eloquent spokespeople who have neither idealogical nor sentimental loyalties to Zionism or Israel's current policies... well, the results are likely to be devastating.

Not only will the US and UK media - already predisposed to be critical of Israel - have an ever-expanding pool of new 'representatives' to interview when an Israeli point-of-view is called for, but the next generation of young minds (and the one after that...) will learn about the middle east conflict from 'reliable sources' who likely have no idea how explosive their candid (and careless) opinions will be to an unsophisticated audience that is just starting to form opinions about things beyond their doorstep.

Here in Israel it is normal - even expected - to be hypercritical of the government and its policies.  This is all fine and good when everyone involved in the discussion is equally informed (or at least equally invested in the outcome).  But abroad... in front of uninitiated students who would skew left even without such a helpful nudge... the result will be a bumper crop of receptive minds, ripe for the anti-Israel propaganda machine.

If you thought Israel's PR problems were bad before... just wait a few years.


Posted by David Bogner on October 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Writing home for someone who can't

This is a story about a boy... actually, a young man, if you can really call a 16-year-old that... who was in an awful hurry to grow up.  His name was Sidney William Watts, a big name that seemed to mark him for big things.  It was a name appropriate for a bank manager... a chairman of the board, maybe... but perhaps a bit too big for a boy in his mid-teens. 

Maybe his friends called him Sid, or Bill or some nickname unrelated to his given names.  I don't know that part of the story because Sidney William Watts was in too great hurry to leave his boyhood behind and make his mark on the world. 

At the age of sixteen when most boys are absorbed with childish pursuits, this young Sidney was looking hungrily out towards a world in turmoil... a world at war. 

How many sixteen-year-olds do you know that follow the news and concern themselves with problems half a world away, much less entertain any illusions of being able to have some personal impact on the world stage?  To put this in perspective,  at that age my biggest concern was getting my driver's license so I could finally take girls out in my parent's car. 

Sidney, on the other hand, seems to have set his sights a bit further from home.  He ran away, lied about his age to a recruiting officer, and joined the army.  It was a time when such things were still possible... when record-keeping was a cumbersome thing of hand-written pages... a time when an able-bodied young man was taken at his word - with a wink and a nod - if he was ready to volunteer to wear a uniform and carry a gun for his country.

Sidney was assigned to the storied West Somerset Yeomanry, trained long and hard alongside men many years his senior, and upon completing training was sent with his unit to Egypt where he quietly celebrated his seventeenth birthday.  As will soon be made clear, by this time his comrades and officers were certainly aware of his real age.

Once in Egypt, his unit was tapped to form the 12th battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry and officially became part of the 229th Infantry Brigade, 74th (Yeomanry) Division, XXI Corps. Palestine.

All around them war was raging.  It was 1917, and although Sidney couldn't know it, the insanity that would later be called the first world war would end in just a few short months.  In fact, it would end, in part, due to his unit's heroic efforts against the Turks defending the seam-line between British strongholds in Gaza and the heart of Ottoman Palestine; Jerusalem. 

Of the 19 battalions raised under the banner of the Somerset Light Infantry during WWI, nearly 5000 men would be killed in battle, and countless more maimed for life.  But to a seventeen-year-old, I'm sure the possibility of a tragic outcome was beyond consideration.  I mean, what teenage boy isn't immune to danger... completely immortal... the center of the known universe?   Surely he was slated for greatness after distinguishing himself in the war!

In late 1917, word arrived on the doorstep of 21 Church St., Sturminster Newton, Dorset, that young Sidney had indeed achieved greatness.  It was a letter informing John William Watts that his son, Private Sidney Watts, had been killed in action against the Turks on November 6th, and that he'd been interred in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in a place called Beer Sheva alongside many of his fallen comrades. 

It was the custom of the time to allow next of kin to select an inscription for their loved one's headstone... and this task now fell to the grieving parents of a young man who ran away to seek adventure, and who would now never have the opportunity to grow into his name.  They settled on "Rest in Peace", likely too distraught to formulate anything more elaborate.

I came upon the details of this small heroic tragedy thanks to someone doing a Google search stumbling across a couple of my posts about the importance of Commonwealth forces in defeating the Turks in Beer Sheva, and how that victory laid the foundation for the British Mandate... and on its heels, the formation of the Jewish State.

The reader who wrote to me was seeking information about a great uncle of his who had run away to join the army and who was buried in Beer Sheva.  He wanted to know if I could visit the grave of this young man and find out a bit about his final resting place. 

What a silly question. 

It was both an honor and a privilege for me to be able to 'write home' on behalf of this young man... and in some small way, put his family's mind to rest as to his whereabouts

Sidney's grave is situated in the front, right-hand block of graves Row 'L' grave 85... very near the great stone monument upon which annual commemorations are conducted by various Commonwealth military societies that visit this far-flung corner of the former British Empire. 


His final resting place is among the friends and comrades with whom he served, and who fell with him during that fateful autumn.   He lies between two fellow privates in his regiment - one aged 29 and the other 36 - with whom he died that day in early November 1917.


Sidney and his comrades were killed in the fighting that raged durinig the weeks following the fall of Beer Sheva on October 31st.  The fighting was especially heavy as the Turkish forces tried desperately to keep the British and Anzac troops from consolidating their control of the area and advancing towards Jerusalem.  In just over a month General Allenby marched into the old city of Jerusalem and the Ottoman Empire's rule was finished in Palestine.

To the gentleman who wrote to me (and any of Sidney's family who may read this), please know that this brave young man rests in a well-tended cemetery in the heart of a grateful country that might never have come to be without his sacrifice.

Thank you, Sidney William Watts.  You didn't get to grow into your name in the way that your parents would have preferred; as a bank manager... or as a chairman of the board.  But to those with whom you served and died, you were a man... and can rest proudly upon the great things you achieved in your short life.

As you can see (below), his correct age appears on his tombstone.


Posted by David Bogner on October 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Monday, October 15, 2007

Letters... oh we get letters

Seriously, I never cease to be amazed by the stuff that people find to comment/email about on this site. 

Here are two recent missives:

Dear Trep,

I noticed that your status in the TTLB (The Truth Laid Bear) Ecosystem keeps changing back and forth between 'Large Mammal' and 'Marauding Marsupial'.  What's up with that?



Dear Mike,

The TTLB Ecosystem (for those of you who aren't bloggers) is a very neat, but essentially valueless rating system devised by an anonymous blogger/coder who calls himself N.Z Bear (update: NZ just outed himself - his name is Rob Neppell - in order to plug his new company, Kithbridge).  TTLB uses a complex algorithm based on a combination of site traffic, inbound links and a few other factors, to rank member blogs into cute categories. 

That said, treppenwitz has teetered on the cusp of 'Large Mammal' and 'Marauding Marsupial' for a couple of years now.  Apparently evolution isn't nearly easy as those show-offs in the Galapagos Islands make it look.  Seriously, here's how it works: Depending on how many people visit treppenwitz on any particular day and how many sites link to a particular post, my TTLB rating gains or loses ten or twenty points on my total 'relevance score', which results in my either being crowned king of the marsupials... or relegated to a mammalian also ran.   It's worth noting, however, that today I am #1 in the marsupial category... but Dave Barry's Blog is #2.  I'm just saying.  ;-)


The reason I find TTLB to be essentially valueless is that the list of blogs that I read regularly includes 'Higher Beings', 'Insignificant Microbes'... and representatives from just about every niche on the bloggy food chain in between.  The only useful aspect of the TTLB Ecosystem rating mechanism that I can fathom would be to serve as a means to avoid blogs of drastically different sized readerships having to compete against one another in popularity contests blog competitions such as the JIBS.

Which brings me nicely to another recent communique:

Dear Treppy,

I seem to remember you won three first place JIBS ('Best Large Blog', 'Best Personal Blog' and 'Best Slice of Life in Israel Blog') and one second place JIB ('Best Overall Post') in the last competition.   How come you haven't posted the JIB award icons on your site yet as you did in previous years?  Is this some sort of protest statement?


A Fan

Dear 'A Fan',

I should begin by saying that either you have a remarkable memory for details or your use of the phrase 'I seem to remember...' is code-speak for 'I went back through your archives and looked it up'.  Either way I'm both impressed and touched.

I'd love to tell you that I made a conscious decision not to post the award icons on my sidebar as some sort of political protest or to make a statement of some kind.  But I'm just not that deep.  The real reason I haven't put them up yet is embarrassingly anticlimactic: Laziness.  That's it.  Bone-laziness, pure and simple.  I have the absolute worst work ethic of any blogger you are likely to encounter. 

I've been meaning to add categories, widgets, technorati tags and other newfangled tchotchkes to the end of my posts for ages.  Have I done any of that?  Psheah, right! 

I've got a list a mile long of people that I need to add to my blogroll, and a bunch of dead links representing bloggers who have moved their sites or stopped blogging.  Have I done anything about that yet?  Aaaaaaany time now... really!

My 'about me' page is the same one I dashed off the day after I got the bright idea to start this weeping eyesore site back in 2003.  It even has the original broken link in the banner that I always meant to fix!  I cringe when I look at it now... so full of 'oooooh look at me and my fabulously interesting life'.   I'm surprised I didn't put up a professorial photo of myself affecting a thoughtful pose with a pipe and tweed jacket.  But for all that, have I taken down that festering boil on the arse of the blogosphere and posted a helpful 'about me' page?   Guesses anyone?... anyone?  Bueller?!

So yeah, I'll probably get around to putting up those snazzy icons you guys were nice enough to give me sometime in the not-too-distant future... almost certainly in a month ending with 'T', 'Y', 'R', 'E', 'L' or 'H'. 

Keep those cards and letters coming.

Posted by David Bogner on October 15, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A little light doomsday reading

I know that some (perhaps most) of you are curled up this morning in your PJs, munching on bagels and grazing lazily through the thick Sunday paper while your coffee slowly cools (I miss those days!).  So, I'm guessing that you're probably not going to be that receptive to suggestions of additional reading material. 

But just the same, I recently finished a couple of incredible books - one old, and one new - that should not be missed... so if you really aren't in the market for books, this is your chance to bail out.

Oddly, these two books share an odd theme that I hadn't noticed while they were sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read; they both deal with the extinction of the human race.

First up is an oldie but a goody; 'On the Beach' by Nevil Shute.


This book was written in the late 1950s (and set in the early 1960s), so there are more than a few details in the book that are correct for the period, but will probably tug anachronistically at the corner of the modern reader's attention here and there.  But this is a tiny price to pay for what will certainly be a watershed in your reading life.

'On the Beach' is without a doubt the most disturbing book I have ever read. Full stop.  A treppenwitz reader mentioned it to me as a book that had forced him to re-evaluate some of his priorities in life.  That sounded like a crashing bore to me, but then I started seeing cultural references to the book here and there... so I decided to have a go. 

Without providing any spoilers, this story - set mostly in Melbourne Australia and its environs - is about how survivors of a nuclear war come to the stark realization that the advancing fallout from the destroyed northern hemisphere is creeping inexorably towards them in the last bastion of life on earth. 

Stop.  Do not click away!  This is not really science fiction as you've probably imagined it... or even a little bit geeky.  It is a at once heartwarming and horrifying.  I had bad dreams the night I finished it, and have not been able to get it out of my head since.

Bottom line:  You will not be the same person after reading this book.  Plenty of used copies floating around, and it is still in print for those of you who want to plunk down the whole $6.99 for the paperback.  I found mine on Abebooks - the official bookseller of treppenwitz - for $1!


The second book I'd like to recommend also has a doomsday theme, and yet manages to lay reasonable claim to a spot on the non-fiction shelf: 'The World Without Us' by Alan Weisman.


I first heard about this book before it was published this past summer and managed to get my sweaty little hands on an advance reader's copy (thanks again to abebooks.com) just as the NY Times was starting to sing its praises.

'The world without us' is an incredible thought experiment that takes a scholarly look at what would become of the planet if a virus (or some sort of 'rapture'-like event) were to suddenly pluck the entire human race from the world.

I remember being bothered for months after reading Steven King's 'The Stand', a story about a 'superflu' wiping out 99.9% of humans.  It took me that long to realize that King's brief descriptions of how quickly nature would effortlessly reclaim all of our cities and infrastructure was just a tease, and I felt vaguely cheated that he hadn't devoted more ink to that fascinating topic. 'The world without us'  is the answer to my long-ago prayers. 

The author consulted with architects, engineers and scientists in a wide array of relevant disciplines to find out how the world would make short work of pretty much everything we've every created (except perhaps plastic). 

In addition to dozens of scenarios that could play out, we are also treated to some that have already done so.  Places like the DMZ between the two Koreas and the area surrounding Chernobyl are but two of the many examples given of areas that, given the opportunity, nature has quickly taken back.

We are also told some scary truths about places we know intimately.  For example, he reveals that most the streams and rivers that existed in Manhattan before humans settled that expensive bit of real estate are still there under the thin crust of civilization we've created.  The author reveals that there is a small army of electrical pumps that work around the clock to stay ahead of these bodies of water conspiring to flood New York's vaunted subway tunnels.  I was shocked to learn (from the people who maintain these pumps, no less!) that within a couple of days of the electricity going out, the entire network of subway tunnels would be flooded to the roof!  Think about that the next time you are waiting for the A train at 59th Street.

Being non-fiction, you may find the lack of a plot/story line a tad disconcerting as the author takes you on a whirlwind tour of every Continent and explains (with the help of his expert advisory sources) what could happen... what is happening as we speak... and what has already happened (for good and for bad).  I found this to be a plus as I kept this book in my backpack for odd moments when I'd have some time to read without having to re-establish contextual continuity.

While not nearly as disturbing as 'On the Beach', 'The world without us' lingered at the back of my mind for weeks after I finished it.  It has changed the way I look at the world (and how I see my place in it), and will certainly remain a well-thumbed reference manual in years to come as some of the predictions found in the book are put to the test of time.

You can find it here, or also at abebooks.com... but whatever you do, find it!  Trust me when I tell you that you will be missing something special if you let this one go by unread.

Note from the management:  I do not accept compensation for reviewing or recommending books (which is one of the reasons I rarely do it).  I often receive review copies of new books from authors and publishers.  They send these to many bloggers in hopes we'll read them and like them enough to write something nice on our sites.  To date, none of the books I've acquired this way have been good enough to make me want to share them with you... and life's too short to waste time/space on a hatchet job. 

I did just receive a promising book from a publisher - an eyewitness account/analysis of the Black September (1970) hijackings, not surprisingly titled 'Terror in Black September' .  If I like it, I'll let you know.

Posted by David Bogner on October 14, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Left or right... a non-political post

Seriously, I'm talking about the left and right sides of your brain.

Follow this link and look carefully at the spinning figure for several minutes.  Does she turn clockwise or counter-clockwise?  The answer can tell you a great deal about which side of your brain dominates.

I saw her spinning only to the right.  No big surprise there. 

Huge hat tip to my friend Lioness

Posted by David Bogner on October 11, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (33) | TrackBack

A workable solution... perhaps

I knew I could count on you to step up and take on the smoking issue intelligently and without rancor.  Thank you!

As promised, I want to respond to some of the points you made and lay out what I think may be a workable - albeit imperfect - solution that I've been mulling over for some time.

First of all, it is a bit pointless to argue over where smoking should or shouldn't be allowed.  Legislation has been drafted and passed on this point, indicating that the public is making its wishes known regarding both sides of the public smoking issue.  Therefore, I have to respectfully disagree with those who try to make a case for exclusively adult gathering places being appropriate venues to allow smoking simply because children won't be there.  The problem is not exposing kids to passive smoke... it is exposing anyone to passive smoke against their will when the law clearly states that it shouldn't happen! 

A waiter/bartender who wants to work should not have to risk lung cancer and skin damage in order to scrape out a living.  Likewise, going out to enjoy one adult vice (drinking) should not mean being forced to endure another (inhaling smoke).  Smoking and drinking are two separate pleasures/vices.  If someone wants to go to a social setting to smoke a cigarette you can't reasonably defend forcing that person to also have a drink, can you?  Yet that is exactly what you are suggesting if you imply that going to a bar for a drink indicates a willingness to smoke, if only passively.

I will qualify this by saying that if a coffee house or pub can provide rooms with powerful ventilation systems that prevent smoke from becoming part of the ambient atmosphere, then special permits should absolutely be issued to allow smoking in such places.  Likewise, if someone thinks there is a profitable business model in 'cigar bar'-type places that cater only to smokers and those who enjoy the cloudy life (sort of modern-day opium dens)... so long as smoking is legal, special permits should exist for them as well.

But otherwise the problem of public smoking boils down to compliance with, and enforcement of, existing laws... not whether or not public smoking should be allowed.  That ship sailed.

So what's the solution?

Obviously, restaurants, bars, malls, coffee houses and other establishments catering to the paying public don't want to risk driving away customers by being heavy handed.  Their livelihood (and that of their employees) depends on providing friendly service to the public, not alienating them with punitive, bossy behavior.   

A frequent - and double-edged - refrain I hear whenever this issue is discussed is how the buying power of a particular group is the the potential deciding factor.  Some argue that if public places would only enforce the smoking laws they would recoup the absence of angry smokers they drive away through increased non-smoking patronage.  Others say exactly the opposite; that non-smokers are there in public spaces anyway and that enforcement will only drive away droves of patrons who smoke.

I think the truth lies somewhere in between. 

There are probably about an equal number of smokers and non-smokers who would dramatically alter their public shopping, drinking and eating habits if the smoking status quo were to shift towards greater enforcement of existing legislation.  Likewise, there are probably equal numbers of smokers and non-smokers who wouldn't change their dining, drinking and shopping habits in the face of greater enforcement, resulting in a financial 'wash' for the mall owners and proprietors of public establishments. 

But there is a non-financial factor that has been largely ignored in this argument that could tip the balance I've just mentioned in favor of greater enforcement.  You see, like other legislation such as those aimed at reducing flagrant parking, speeding and reckless driving, there is money to be made in enforcement.  Big money.

Municipalities who plead poverty when asked to enforce the laws are being deliberately disingenuous.  It would be a very easy matter to negotiate a sharing arrangement whereby the national and municipal government split the fines paid by smokers in much the same way that cigarette taxes now get divvied up between government and health-care pockets. 

Not only would fines more than pay the salaries of enforcement officers (the way 'meter maids' more than cover their own salaries with the tickets they write), but it would also take the onus of enforcement/confrontation off of owners of public spaces, and their employees/security guards. 

The suggestion that many of you made about reporting/suing establishments that allow their patrons to smoke in violation of the law has merit and will certainly force some of them to act.  But it feels wrong to force providers of hospitality to behave in an inhospitable way towards their patrons.  I say let the government be the 'bad guy'.   Many laws designed to ensure public safety/comfort are unpopular and somewhat burdensome, but traffic cops and meter maids who enforce these statutes reduce the incidence of bad/dangerous behavior while providing the government with an ongoing, predictable revenue stream in the form of fines. 

As always, I could be totally full of it, but it seems to me that there are plenty of intelligent, able-bodied people collecting unemployment benefits who could just as easily be walking around malls, and in and out of public gathering places, handing out tickets to those who smoke where they shouldn't.    Hell, they wouldn't even need uniforms... just a badge and a radio.  They would be incognito, like air marshals... or more correctly, 'clean air' marshals. 

It is far better (IMHO) that a waiter, bartender or barista be able to advise a customer not to smoke in order to spare them both a fine.  That way patron and host remain conspiratorially on the same side of the law, yet with the same result; a smoke free environment.

What do you think... a workable solution?

Posted by David Bogner on October 11, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Continuing the conversation

You know, it's interesting... but in reading through the comments from yesterday's post I feel like I tapped into a vein of latent frustration on the part of many readers.    Apparently, for whatever reason, many of you have felt the need to sit quietly and simply 'take it' in the face of line-cutters and other bad behavior you/we encounter on a daily basis.

Lest anyone accuse me of being too hard on Israelis, I should point out that bad/rude public behavior is far from an exclusively Israeli trait.  In fact... in continuing down an avenue of thought prompted by some of yesterday's comments I'd like to ask your advice about something that - while certainly an ongoing cause of friction in Israeli society - is also a point of friction pretty much everywhere in the civilized world.

I'm talking about the ongoing struggle between smokers and non-smokers for protection/freedom from one other.

I should begin by letting on that I am a lifelong non-smoker with most of the knee-jerk puritanical intolerance that comes with that.  But I am also intellectually honest enough (I hope) to admit that both sides of this particular debate have been terribly unfair - often deliberately so - to the other.

Therefore before we get to the substance of what I'd like to ask you, let me place a couple of well-ground axes out where everyone can see them:

1.  Smoking is not something that only impacts the smoker.  It has both immediate, and far-reaching, consequences ranging from second hand smoke-related health issues to staggering long term health costs directly linked to entirely preventable smoking related diseases.

2.  Smoking is a perfectly legal indulgence/pleasure for those who partake, and as such should not be viewed as criminal or deviant behavior.  But like alcohol consumption, there must be clear acknowledgment of the potential consequences to both the participants and secondary/tertiary bystanders.  People who are forced to breathe in secondhand smoke in the workplace, public spaces and homes are at risk for many of the same health issues as those who have made a conscious decision to smoke.  By the same token, those who share the roads and workplace with drinkers are forced to assume many of the same dangers as those who chose to imbibe.

Having said all that, I generally trust the effectiveness of lively public debate and the resulting fair legislation to help minimize the impact that smokers and drinkers can have on those who choose not to partake.  By the same token, I think it is perfectly reasonable that pressure be exerted from the opposite direction to ensure that concern for public safety/comfort doesn't wander into the realm of puritanical zeal in such a way as to prohibit the ability of individuals to enjoy these perfectly legal pastimes.

Looking back on the past three or four decades should convince anyone who has been paying attention that a balance  - albeit imperfect - can be achieved over time.  But when viewed through the lens of only a few months or years it can be frustrating to those who feel that not enough - or too much - is being done.

The two things that conspire to make the issue of public smoking much more fractious here in Israel than in, say, America are:

1.  A larger percentage of Israelis smoke than in the US.

2.  It is much more common in Israel than in the US for legislation to be enacted without providing effective mechanisms or funding for enforcement.

These two things make the public smoking issue much more visible and contentious to those who come here from abroad... and this is, IMHO the logical jumping off point for soliciting your reasoned (and reasonable) input.

I can't tell you how many times I have been confronted in a bus station, shopping mall or restaurant with smokers puffing away within plain sight of signs proclaiming that it is forbidden to do so. 

The proprietors/management of these spaces generally feel their responsibility ends with posting the signs.  I can sort of understand this.  Fearing unnecessarily alienating customers, they leave enforcement to municipal authorities and/or police. 

However, the government, under whose authority the municipalities and police function, tends to pass anti-smoking legislation without regard to the cost of enforcement... dooming such laws to the status of well-meaning-but-unfunded (i.e. toothless) initiatives.  This tends to leave management/proprietors to police their own spaces.  While not a classic Catch-22, it does cause a frustrating bit of circular blame-storming.

The end result is that it often falls entirely to those who are bothered by public smoking to either sit quietly and take it or appeal to the smokers to abide by the law. 

Unlike line cutting and other anti-social/rude behavior, the smoking issue is nominally backed up by law... so one would think it would be easier for people to speak up.  But in my experience this is not the case.  You see, regardless of who you are or where you were raised, lodging a complaint directly to someone who is causing offense is never an easy thing to do.  Even if the recipient is responsive and immediately takes steps to abate the subject of the complaint, the complainer risks coming off as being argumentative and unnecessarily confrontational. 

On the other hand, anyone working up the nerve to complain to someone smoking in a public space is faced with the 'what if...' scenario... as in, 'what if the person simply says, "Piss off, I don't feel like stopping/moving to another area and there is nothing you can do about it"'.  Even if the response is couched in more polite terms than that, a flat refusal to comply with a request/complaint leaves the person who has complained feeling angry and impotent.

So I put it to you... without being overly shrill or strident... what is the the best working solution in a situation where the authorities abdicate their responsibilities and leave public compliance/enforcement to the public?

[I'll share my own thoughts -of which I have many - later in the thread.  I'd prefer to hear what you have to say before jumping in and potentially preempting anyone]

Posted by David Bogner on October 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Monday, October 08, 2007

[Waste] My time... [spend] your money

Israeli supermarkets are the bane of my (and most non-native-born Israeli's) existence. 

We will never understand the folks who walk into the supermarket, park their shopping cart on a checkout line as a place-holder, and then proceed to wander around the store casually picking out items.

We will never understand the people who walk into the meat department, tap someone on the shoulder and say "I'm after you" and then go off to make other purchases... then swoop back into line 20 minutes later, pissing off all the frayerim (suckers) who were dumb enough to actually wait on line.

We will never understand the absolute shamelessness with which many shoppers will stand and argue with the cashier that they should be entitled to a particular special/discount despite the fact that they have clearly picked out a different product/size/number of items than the special advertised in the circulars.  They will do this for as long as it takes until either the cashier gives in and lets them have the better price... or until they decide to casually stroll back to the aisle to get the correct item(s)... while a long line of angry shoppers waits helplessly behind them.

We will never understand why Israeli supermarkets haven't figured out that the only remaining bottleneck in the check-out process is the additional time everyone spends bagging their own groceries.  This single task defeats all the speed and convenience gained by the bar-code scanners.  After scanning a cartful of groceries in recored time, the cashier can't complete the transaction or go on to the next customer until the previous shopper's goods are bagged and off the end of the conveyor belt.

I could go on... but I won't.  Because yesterday I had what is, without a doubt, my most enjoyable Israeli supermarket experience ever!

After work I ducked into the local 'Mega' because Zahava had called to ask me to pick up a few things.  I needed to buy a box of Splenda (actually, the Israeli version of it), some cold cuts, a bag of sandwich rolls and a package of cheese (don't worry, I wasn't going to eat these together... sheesh!).  The list was so short that I didn't even have to take a shopping cart. 

When I finished picking out the goods I walked up to the 'Express Checkout' line and noticed that it was fairly long.  However, I wasn't overly concerned since the sign clearly stated '10 items or less'... so things should move along quickly.

Yeah right.

Directly in front of me in line I noticed two women with a shopping cart that was 2/3 full.  I politely pointed out that they were in the express line and that they had too many items.  But instead of begging my forgiveness and going to another line, one of the women gave me a mirthless grin and said, "We're together... we each have ten items".  The two of them stood with arms folded across ample bosoms, daring me to challenge their clever ploy.

I took another look at their shopping cart and my blood pressure started to climb as I noticed that just the items on top approached the stated number... there must have been two or three times that number of things buried underneath.

This is the moment of truth that most immigrants are intimately familiar with.  Do you marshal your limited Hebrew and make a fuss... risking having unhelpful idiots around you jump in with "What's the big deal... just let them go... it isn't worth all the yelling"?  Or do you sit quietly and feel like the biggest frayer in the world because somebody is flouting the rules and wasting your valuable time in the process?

This time I decided to make a fuss.  I had a small armful of items (as did all of the people in the line that had formed behind us), and we were going to be trapped in what was supposed to be the express line while these two thoughtless women bought a huge cart of groceries!

I cleared my throat and calmly said, "Excuse me, but even if you are together, there are a lot more than 20 items in your cart.  You have to go to another line."

The second woman, who had remained silent up until this point chimed in, "It's close enough to twenty... and who are you anyway, the shopping cart police?"

By now most of the people behind us were watching with interest... as were some of those ahead of us.  It infuriated me that none of them spoke up in support, but at least they hadn't told me to pipe down, so I continued, "No, I'm not the shopping cart police, but I'm also not a frayer.  Anyone who can count can see that you have too many items to be on the express line.  Forget about 20 items... you have at least twice that number!"

Both women remained facing me with arms folded, but I was pleased to see they were no longer smiling.  The one who had spoken first said, "What does it matter... it may be a few more or a few less, but we have about twenty items... and so we're not going to another line!"

At this point I decided to take another approach.  I said, "OK, I don't want to argue with you... but I also don't want to be a frayer... so let's be fair.  Since it's possible I'm wrong, I'll make you an offer:  If there are twenty items or less - no forget that - if there are twenty five items or less, I'll pay for your entire cart of groceries.  But if there are more than 25 items, you pay for my few things, OK?

Suddenly, the people around me began to come to life.  A chorus of "That seems fair" and "if you're so sure then you should accept his offer" joined a general consensus of nods.  The women sputtered and tried to wave me off, but I pressed my advantage:

"No, no... I'm offering you a great deal.  If you don't want to take it you can go to another line.  But if you really feel you have the correct number of items to be on this line, you have nothing to lose by accepting my offer."

They were trapped.  Pride wouldn't allow them to go to another line, so they both nodded. 

A Yemenite man standing behind me offered to count the items and there was general agreement that an uninterested party be responsible for verifying the number of items.  When he reached 46 there were still a number of uncounted items in the cart... so I stopped him.

By this time the family in front of the women was finishing up with their small purchase so I smiled and gestured chivalrously for them to start loading their 46+ items onto the conveyor belt.  The cashier took a jaundiced look at the nearly full shopping cart and seemed poised to say something, but several people in line preempted her, saying 'It's OK, we don't mind". 

When the cashier was scanning the last of the women's groceries, I casually dumped my few things on the belt and said (loud enough for everyone on line to hear) "Also these please... my friends have offered to pay for my things too." 

The cashier just shrugged and continued to beep the products past the bar-code scanner.  The two women just glowered at me, but the happy stares of my fellow shoppers kept them from giving voice to the protest behind their eyes.

While they were still busy bagging their groceries, I breezed past the two women and walked towards the exit of the store.  There was a tense moment when the security guard asked to see my receipt, but he seemed satisfied when I gestured vaguely towards the two women who were busily reloading their shopping cart and said, "It's OK, my friends have the receipt."

Posted by David Bogner on October 8, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (63) | TrackBack