Thursday, February 26, 2009
Wow. Who Knew?
A Guest Post by Zahava
Before today, I could honestly say that I didn’t know you could use a spray adhesive skin glue to close a dog’s “snipped” ear closed…..
On the bright side, it worked really well.
On the down side, dog’s ears have more capillaries (or so it would seem) than human ears. There was a lot of blood.
On the not-quite-so-bright-but-not-quite-so-down-side: I think that Yonah now really believes me when I tell him that scissors are only for paper.
Calgon: Take me away!
Everyone's OK... except us!
The following three headlines (in the order they appeared on the JPost site) perfectly sum up the problem with Israel's place in the hierarchy of international priorities:
Egypt urges rival Palestinian factions to end divisionsAt start of reconciliation talks, Egyptian intelligence chief tells Palestinian leaders: "Your people are looking forward to the beginning of unity."
'Turkey should continue peace role'US Mideast envoy tells Turkish PM that Turkey can have significant influence on our efforts in region.
2 houses damaged in Kassam strikeSha'ar Hanegev, Sderot hit as Palestinians fire two rockets from Gaza; none wounded in either attack.
Out of fairness I want to provide a follow-up to the post I wrote a couple of days ago about a small geography problem plaguing Eldan (Israel's largest rental car agency). If you didn't read it, you can go here for the back-story.
If you can't be bothered or are short on time, in a nutshell the problem stemmed from an ad campaign created by (or for) Eldan entitled "Nobody knows Israel like Eldan"... a slogan that appearssomewhat ludicrous when superimposed over a map of Israel with its borders incorrectly drawn (picture an ad featuring the outline of the continental US.... minus Florida). Specifically, they left off the entire Golan Heights, a huge parcel of land measuring 1200 square kilometers (460 square miles), that was effectively annexed by Israel in 1981 with the passage of the Golan Heights Law.
I was bothered enough by the ad that I called up the Eldan management's office in Tel Aviv and had some fun with some of their staff (i.e. made a complete pest of myself). Once I had sort of shamed them into taking a good look at the map in their ads, they agreed that there was indeed a problem and promised to take care of it.
But to be honest, I had my doubts as to whether they would take my complaint seriously.
Yesterday afternoon my cell phone rang and I found myself speaking with a member of Eldan's senior management. She thanked me for bringing the problem to their attention and apologized profusely for the error. She also informed me that they had pulled the offending ads from all websites where they had been running (including their own) and had ordered an internal investigation into how their ad department had approved and released the campaign without anybody noticing such a mistake (she actually used the word 'fashla'... a strong word usually reserved for really big screw-ups).
True to their word, by the time I got home yesterday, there wasn't an Eldan banner ad to be seen anywhere.... even on their own web site.
It's kind of incredible what a phone call can do. Think about it... how many times have you seen something that was just plain wrong, but couldn't be bothered to follow up in order to bring the problem to the attention of someone in a position to actually make it right?
So yeah... while it may have been my phone call that got the ball rolling, I'd just like to take this opportunity to compliment Eldan's handling of this unfortunate incident. I was completely prepared for them to blow me off with a typically Israeli "Al Tida'ag" (don't worry); "Lo Kara Kloom' (Nothing happened), or "Smoch Alai... nitapel b'zeh" (trust me, we'll take care of it)... followed by them completely ignoring me until the end of the ad's scheduled run.
But when faced with an embarrassing error, Edan stepped up with good humor, a prompt investigation and a polite follow-up call to inform me of the steps they'd taken to deal with the problem.
I may have to adjust my expectations in terms of what constitutes 'typical Israeli' behavior.
Kol HaKavod, Eldan!
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Thank G-d For Slow News Days!
When stories about one man being arrested for stealing shampoo bottles from a grocery store and another being tossed in the hoosegow for dressing up as a cowboy and waving a knife are deemed newsworthy... it is a sign that maybe we will be able to enjoy the nice weather and have a somewhat normal day.
[tfu, tfu tfu]
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
This should simplify my life... so why am I nervous?
My daily commute takes me through several make-shift and permanent check-points. This is a part of life when one lives and works on opposite sides of the so-called 'Green Line'. In the past I have taken advantage of the stops at these roadblocks to occasionally drop off cookies, cakes, drinks and other goodies for the soldiers who have the unpleasant job of checking the cars.
However, over the past year or two the larger permanent check-points have changed staffing and are now manned (and womanned) by a government-appointed civilian security service (i.e. people who get paid to do the unpleasant job). While this has lessened the need for me to deliver cookies and other snacks (don't worry... still plenty of soldiers to spoil along my route), it has made me feel more and more as though I am passing through an international border or airport security screening (which is essentially the same thing).
To cope with this I sometimes poke gentle fun at the men and women who sit in the booths at these crossings. They sometimes just say 'hello' or 'how are you?' in order to be able to hear if my response is accented or if I appear nervous.
But they also often ask "Where are you from?".
My inner civil libertarian bristles at this invasion of my privacy. When that happens I usually ignore the intention of the question (which is to find out where I live) and answer, "I'm originally from the U.S.... this guy over here is English... the two soldiers in the back are Australian and the young lady behind me is originally from Hadera". Some find this amusing and wave me through with a smile... while others become visibly annoyed.
I enjoy both reactions.
On the one hand, I know that they are just doing their job... and an important one at that. But I also hate feeling like I am crossing an international frontier when we haven't given away the land (yet).
This morning as I rolled up to the checkpoint I smiled and said good morning. The young woman in the booth responded, "Where are you from?", which prompted me to go into my routine of introducing the real and made-up nationalities and home-towns of the passengers. She got the joke and smiled. But instead of opening the gate, she asked me if I passed through the checkpoint frequently. When I nodded 'yes', she asked if I wanted a Ministry of Defense sticker for my car so I would pass more quickly through checkpoints.
Even though I had decided over a year ago not to get such a sticker when it was offered to residents of my town, for some reason today I said yes.
She waved me over to a table off to the side where a government official checked my registration and ID card to make sure they matched, and then placed a little sticker (with a serial number) inside the upper left hand side of my windshield.
As I drove on towards work, my eyes kept darting to the yellow sticker. It didn't have any words on it... just a bright yellow arrow pointing in both directions, which I suppose is designed to suggest freedom of movement.
Almost immediately I flashed back to the period preceding the disengagement when the police were routinely pulling over and turning around anyone with an orange flag on their car (and even anyone who appeared to be religious) in order to keep them from attending perfectly legal peaceful demonstrations. All I could think as I kept glancing at this little yellow emblem on my car was 'boy, it'll sure be easy to identity who the settlers are now'.
On the one hand, this little sticker could simplify my life and speed my passage through any and all roadblocks I might encounter. But on the other hand, the possibilities for abuse are almost limitless. Not only will police and other government officials now have a handy way of identifying who I am (a settler) and where I live (which is none of their damned business if I'm peacefully driving on roads paid for with my taxes)... but once it becomes widely known what this little yellow arrow emblem represents, settler's cars could become easy targets for vandalism from people who take violent exception to 'the occupation' and those they view as 'obstacles to peace'.
Don't tell me this couldn't happen. There were many reports of cars with orange ribbons and flags having their tires slashed in the country's center during the summer before the disengagement. And I recall one particular article on the 'Walla' web site where an anonymous thug suggested readers break the windows of cars sporting orange ribbons... with the helpful defense tip that, if caught, they should tell the police they thought there was a baby locked inside.
Sadly, as wonderful as this country is (especially as compared with the ruthless civil and human rights conditions in our neighboring countries), abuses of power are commonplace here, and victims of such abuse are often rebuffed with impenetrable bureaucracy while the abusers are given relative slaps on their wrists.
Once again, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Full Mind Dry Heave
Too much stuff on my mind this morning to write a cohesive post. Here's a peek at the leading edge of the log-jam:
1. If Livni is trying to play hard-to-get, she clearly doesn't understand the basic rules of the game. Specifically, to have any hope of winning you have to have something that the other player [thinks he/she] can't do without. Bibi has expressed a responsible desire to build a broad coalition, but he certainly doesn't need Kadima's 28 mandates to form a stable right wing government. Strange how Kadima is able to keep their clothes on when negotiating with Jews, but with Arabs across the table they totally put out.
2. Lower back pain is right up there with tooth-aches for its raw ability to tear your world apart. I'm currently trying chiropractic and excercise, and will soon be adding acupuncture. If that doesn't help I may look into a permanent epidural and find myself a really tricked-out wheelchair.
3. I am constantly blown away by the ingratitude and short-sightedness of people who complain about the lack of water and then when we finally get a good drenching rain they scowl at the sky and say, "Let it rain in the Kinneret".
4. Is there some kind of [hopefully temporary] mental illness that keeps teenaged boys from realizing that their parents totally know when they are being conned? Seriously, it's like bad dinner theater. Go learn your lines... and make me believe, dammit!
5. Watching a precious pet come slowly out of remission is only slightly less terrible than watching a human loved-one slowly lose the fight. Call me selfish or cruel, but I'd almost prefer the 'Old Yeller' ending in this saga.
6. Some of you may recall that finding an acceptable coffee preperation method and/or vehicle to keep pre-brewed coffee hot on Shabbat has been a bit of a holy grail with me. Well, in one of the handouts that were on the table outside shul this past Shabbat, there was an 'Ask the Rabbi' section that dealt with the question "Can one use a coffee maker with a timer to brew coffee on Shabbat". The answer made me exclaim "what?!" loudly enough during the Rabbi's speech that he began speaking louder for the rest of his 'drasha'.
7. We can go months, or sometimes years, without seeing the inside of a cemetery. And then in the span of a few days we suddenly find ourselves on the funeral circuit. Is there a 'death season' that exists on some logarithmic calendar that I'm simply not aware of?
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The nation with the Golan
The title of today's post is the text of a well known bumper sticker which is as relevant today as it was when it was first created:
Sadly, I suspect you won't be seeing too many of these bumper stickers on cars belonging to the rental fleet of Israel's largest rental company, Eldan.
My suspicions were aroused when I was surfing the Jerusalem Post web site this morning and I noticed a flash ad for Eldan in their sidebar. See if you notice anything missing from the map in this screen capture I took of the ad:
If you answered 'the entire Golan Heights'... congratulations, you move on to the bonus round!
Now before anyone starts organizing boycotts of Eldan on political grounds, let's just hold on a moment and take a close look at the map in the ad.
It would be difficult to assume a political prejudice in excluding the Golan Heights because all of Judea and Samaria (the 'west bank') is included... without so much as a dotted line or asterisk. No, I think this was just a case of ignorance on the part of whoever prepared the ad.
But just to make sure I called up Eldan's corporate headquarters and had the following conversation (all in Hebrew... I'm so proud!):
Receptionist: Hello Eldan, may I help you?
Me: Yes, I'd like to speak with whoever is handling the negotiations with the Syrians.
Receptionist: Excuse me? [side-note: one of the first times I've heard an Israeli say this!]
Me: I'm calling to speak to the person who is handling negotiations with the Syrian government.
Receptionist: Can I ask what this is about? I'm not sure how to direct your call.
Me: Sure. I was just on the JPost website and noticed your advertisement in the sidebar. You seem to have decided to give away the Golan Heights... and I was just wondering what we received in return.
Receptionist: Em (translation: Um), hold on please.
[A few minutes passed, after which a man picked up the line]
Unidentified male Eldan employee: Yes, I understand you have a question about one of our advertisements?
Me: Yes, have you seen the flash ad that is currently running on the JPost site?
Male Eldan employee: Yes, I'm looking at it now.
Me: Good, then you noticed that something is missing?
Male Eldan employee: Em, no... I'm not sure what you're talking about.
Me: The Golan Heights! Your company seems to have returned it to the Syrians without telling the Israeli government. You could have really saved Kadima the election if you'd simply told them that you'd already given it away.
Male Eldan employee: I know you think you are being funny, but I'm looking at the ad and I see the Golan Heights.
Me: Oh really? Describe it for me... where is it exactly on the map?
Male Eldan employee: It's the finger of land directly above the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).
Me: May I ask you a personal question? How many points in Geography did you do on your Bagruyot (translation: matriculation exams)?
Male Eldan employee: What?!
Me: And History... did you do any points in History?
Male Eldan employee: What?!
[As tempted as I was to try to do the whole Samuel L. Jackson "Say what again... I dare you!" speech from Pulp Fiction, I was concerned that it might lose something in the translation]
Me: OK, let me ask you this. Have you ever been to the Golan Heights?
Male Eldan employee: [proudly] Of course. I've even bicycled around it.
Me: And did your bicycle tour take you through Syria?
Male Eldan employee: What?!
[mental sound of gunshot followed by "Oh I'm sorry. Did I break your concentration?"]
Me: I ask because if you look at the map, the only way you could have ridden anything but a boat around the Kinneret is if you traveled through Syria. You see, that 'finger of land' you talked about before is actually the upper Galilee. The Golan is more like a hand to the east and northeast of the Kinneret. Do you see where I'm going with this now?
Male Eldan employee (quietly holding whispered consultations with colleagues) : Isn't the Golan Heights supposed to be over here? No, no... that's the Upper Galilee... what about over here... what's that? Who chose this map?
[after a few moments the male Eldan employee came fully back on the line]
Male Eldan employee: Sir, I see what you are talking about now. I'm not sure who designed the ad or where they got the map from, but we will take care of this right away.
Me: Thank you. It's bad enough when our government wants to give away the country. But we shouldn't do it for them. I'll look forward to seeing the Golan back in our hands.
Today is the 22nd of February. I wonder how long it will take for the Golan to be returned to the nation.
Measured... and found wanting
In my humble opinion, the true measure of a politician is to what extent he or she is willing to set aside personal ambition in favor of the greater good of the country.
Late this past week President Shimon Peres accepted the recommendations of the majority of parties (not to mention the overwhelmingly lopsided mathematical edge held by right wing parties) and appointed Benjamin (Bibi) Natanyahu to form the next government of Israel.
Given that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is now refusing outright to sit with Likud in a unity government, this leaves one to wonder what might constitute the 'greater good' of the country as seen from Kadima's vantage point; a narrow right wing government or broad national unity government?
Clearly, one would think that Livni would value a broad unity government. But her personal ambition for the premiership is so all-encompassing that since the election she has expressed the following, increasingly detached from reality statements:
"The people have spoken and Kadima will be chosen to form the next government of Israel". This despite having no mathematical possibility of forming a coalition without both Likud and Israel Beiteinu... two parties with whom she now refuses to sit.
"The only way we will agree to sit in a unity government with Likud is with Kadima as the the senior partner (i.e. with Livni as Prime Minister). We call on the Likud join with us for the greater good of the country".
"We will only agree to sit in a unity government with Likud if they agree to a rotation system (whereby the two parties will take turns holding the premiership). We call upon the Likud to join us for the greater good of the country".
When it became increasingly clear that, not only would no party but her own endorse Livni to form the next government, and that President Peres would be all but certain to give Bibi the nod, suddenly the greater good of the nation became secondary to her own ambitions:
"A broad coalition is worthless if it is not governed by values. A likud-led government will be both narrow and extreme and there is nothing for us to look for there." One can assume from the timing that by 'values' she means her own values and no others.
In a country filled with self-interested politicians, Livni has shown us a new low-water mark in self-interest... a grimy ring in an increasingly dirty bathtub. Her childish obstinacy at this precarious juncture in Israel's history is especially telling in light of the recent push from within even her own party to join a Likud-led unity government.
On the one hand, her unwillingness to accept even the number two spot (and as many portfolios as she might demand) is a tacit admission that pretty much all decisions in this country are made by the Prime Minister (democracy? what democracy?!). But even more troubling is the unavoidable revelation that her personal aspirations come well before the 'good of the country' she has been on about for so long... and even before the will of her own party.
Personally, I would rather see Meretz sitting in the government (not that their 3 seats would help much) than a Livni-led Kadima. As much as I abhor Meretz's inexplicable love affair with failed (and dangerous) policies, at least they were/are true to their party's ideals and genuinely want the best for the country above all else. The loss of Meretz's Zahava Gal-On from the Knesset (after she offered her #3 spot to someone else as a gesture of respect) is truly the loss of one of the more principled and conscientious law-makers. That is more than anyone will be able to say about Tzipi Livni when enough people finally wake up and toss her out of politics.
Where once I was almostswayed by the argument that Bibi and Barak had had their chance as PM and it was now time to let Livni have a chance... it is eminently clear that we have been saved from a lengthy and costly experiment in self-indulgence. Without the need to see what sort of prime ministerial stuff she was made of, Tzipi Livni has already been measured... and has been found wanting.
Friday, February 20, 2009
A question of loyalty
I have a new/original essay up on the OU site today. Here's a taste:
To answer him, I pulled down a book I had just finished on the life of (Confederate General) Robert E. Lee. Apparently, when Lee was a Colonel in the U.S. Army and was asked by one of his junior officers if he planned to resign his commission and fight for the Confederacy, he had responded:
"I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty."
You can read the whole thing here.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
It is surprisingly easy to confuse the prompt; "Do you want to navigate away from this page? You have unsaved changes..." with the standard; "That file already exists, are you sure you want to replace it with... " at 5:45 AM. Trust me, I know.
I had a decent post all written, and was 99.99999% sure I'd already saved it... so when I went to navigate to a new page I assumed that the annoying beep and prompt message on my screen were just telling me that I was saving the most recent version of it. Not so much.
Anyway, after that moment of 'Wait... what did that prompt say?!', I feel like I should offer you something, seeing as you made the long trip all the way over here. So instead of a post today, you get to see a baker's dozen of the funnier [subjective!] bits of flotsam and jetsam that seem to constantly wash up in my inbox.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver:
[as always, click to embiggen]
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The 'connectedness' of being an Israeli
Long time readers know that from time to time I write about some of the people who hitch rides with me on my morning commute. Sadly, not all of the stories are happy ones, although some have happy endings and almost all seem to be intertwined in some way.
One of my former travel companions was a young elite IDF Paratrooper named Yosef Goodman who was killed in a tragic training jump. He and his commander had become entangled in each other's parachutes after exiting the airplane, and Yosef had heroically cut away his own chute at the last minute, saving the life of his commander... but at the cost of his own.
Another of my regular hitchhikers was a young woman named Gila who was studying at the time at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. Gila's and Yosef's families lived a few doors away from one another in Efrat, and knew each other quite well... to the point that just a few weeks before he was killed, Yosef had tried to 'set up' Gila with his former army commander who had already finished his army service. However Gila was seeing someone at the time and Yosef's former commander was about to depart for an extended teaching assignment in Australia, so the meeting was never arranged.
Or more correctly, Yosef never lived to see it.
After the funeral, Yosef's family sat shiva in their home, and quite naturally, Gila was a regular visitor among those who came to comfort the mourners. But unbeknown to her, so was Yosef's former commander, Ben. They ended up meeting at the shiva... and in words far more eloquent than mine (I recommend reading the whole thing)...
"... on the day of their wedding, [Gila and Ben] each went to visit Yosef Goodman's grave in order to thank him. Ben left the wedding invitation at the grave."
I'm still friendly with Gila and her family, although I don't see her much since she transferred to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to finish her degree. But her husband, Ben, is now studying in Beer Sheva, and is a regular member of my carpool.
To be sure, not all of the connections that exist in this small country are happy ones. There are very few Israeli families or extended groups of friends who don't share some painful memory of a tragic death... by terror or in the line of duty. But I can't help feeling that there is something almost electric about the connectedness that exists among the special people who call Israel their home... as well as the hope that sometimes springs from the ashes of even the most tragic losses here.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Learning new phrases all the time
Scenario: A friend/colleague is explaining the need to protect one's business interests when multiple companies are involved in a potential business deal with one of my clients. He explains in rapid-fire Hebrew how each company will present their own products and services to my client in as positive light as possible, and will usually also try to position themselves as the prime point of contact... even at the cost of making the other 'partners' in the deal (including me) look incompetent.
At the end of this helpful little business lesson he stresses the importance of always being physically present for any and all discussions with my client... even if the topics being discussed aren't directly related to my part of the deal.
When I asked why, he looked bewildered at the stupidity of my question and practically shouted: "Acheret hashutafim shelcha ya'asoo l'cha peepee b'cafay!" (translation: 'Otherwise your partners will pee in your coffee!').
After I stopped laughing and got up off the floor, I realized that while you probably won't hear that particular phrase in a typical American MBA curriculum, and an accredited online MBA school might worry about losing their accreditation if they tried teaching it to students, here in Israel’s no-holds-barred business environment, it might be wise to include it.
[Update: I've been thinking about this funny phrase all day, and it occurs to me that the equivalent English expression to having someone 'pee in your coffee' is having someone 'stab you in the back'. Upon reflection, I think I prefer the non-lethal, Hebrew idiom for betrayal.]
Monday, February 16, 2009
Gee, I wonder what the heck prompted Starbucks to say all that?
"Facts about Starbucks in the Middle East
It is disheartening that calls for boycotts of Starbucks stores and products, which are based on blatant untruths, have had direct impacts on local economies and residents, and have also led to violent situations involving our stores, partners (employees) and customers.
Our more than 160,000 partners and business associates around the globe have diverse views about a wide range of topics. Regardless of that spectrum of belief, Starbucks Coffee Company remains a non-political organization. We do not support any political or religious cause. Further, allegations that Starbucks provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way are unequivocally false. Unfortunately, these rumors persist despite our best efforts to refute them.
What we do believe in, and remain focused on, is staying true to our company’s long-standing heritage -- simply connecting with our partners and customers over a cup of high quality coffee and offering the best experience possible to them – regardless of geographical location. Though our roots are in the United States, we are a global company with stores in 49 countries, including more than 230 stores in nine Middle Eastern countries. In countries where we do business, we are proud to be a part of the fabric of the local community -- working directly with local partners who operate our stores, employing thousands of local citizens, serving millions of customers and positively impacting many others through our support of neighborhoods and cities.
Is it true that Starbucks provides financial support to Israel?
No. This is absolutely untrue. Rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false. Starbucks is a publicly held company and as such, is required to disclose any corporate giving each year through a proxy statement. In addition, articles in the London Telegraph (U.K.), New Straits Times (Malaysia), and Spiked (online) provide an outside perspective on these false rumors.
Has Starbucks ever sent any of its profits to the Israeli government and/or Israeli army?
No. This is absolutely untrue.
Is it true that Starbucks is teaming with other American corporations to send their last several weeks of profits to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army?
No. This is absolutely untrue.
Is it true that Starbucks closed its stores in Israel for political reasons?
No. We do not make business decisions based on political issues. We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market. After many months of discussion with our partner we came to this amicable decision. While this was a difficult decision for both companies, we believe it remains the right decision for our businesses.
MIDDLE EAST PARTNERS AND OPERATIONS
Do you work with a Middle East partner to operate Starbucks stores?
Through a licensing agreement with trading partner and licensee MH Alshaya WLL, a private Kuwait family business, Starbucks has operated in the Middle East since 1999. Today Alshaya Group, recognized as one of the leading and most influential retailing franchisees in the region, operates more than 274 Starbucks stores in the Middle East and Levant region. In addition to its Starbucks stores, the Alshaya Group operates more than 1,700 other retail stores in the region, providing jobs for more than 15,000 employees of more than 35 nationalities.
We are extremely fortunate and proud to have forged a successful partnership for the past ten years and look forward to building on this success.
In which Middle Eastern countries do you operate?
We partner with Alshaya Group to operate Starbucks stores in Egypt, Kuwait, KSA, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Jordan and Lebanon in the Middle East region. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many communities, and we are committed to providing the Starbucks Experience while respecting the local customs and cultures of each country we are a part of. We are also committed to hiring locally, providing jobs to thousands of local citizens in the countries where we operate.
Are you still operating Starbucks stores in Israel? If not, do you have plans to re-open should the opportunity arise?
We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market.
When and where the business case makes sense and we see a fit for the Starbucks brand in a market we will work closely with a local partner to assess the feasibility of offering our brand to that community. We will therefore continue to assess all opportunities on this basis. At present, we will continue to grow our business in the Middle East as we have been very gratified by the strong reception of the brand in the region. We continue to work closely with our business partner, the Alshaya Group, in developing our plans for the region."
The questions, answers and disclaimers posted above are from Starbuck's website, but have been advertised in heavy rotation on Google Ads. apparently they really want to get the word out to head off any further disturbances. Is anyone out there having any trouble imagining a scenario that would prompt this kind of Public Relations damage control from Starbucks?
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I give up! HELP!!!
It was bad enough when the TTLB Ecosystem had some sort of a brain aneurysm and ended up on life-support just after (or perhaps because) I finally got solidly ranked as a Large Mammal.
But when Blogrolling.com got 'brutally hacked' (their words, not mine... I've never actually heard of anyone's site being 'gently hacked'), some of us who lack basic coding skills were thrown into a twilight world without the ability to add or delete blogs in our sidebars.
Now, I can survive without the neat little functionality that moves recently updated blogs to the top of the list (although that was a nifty time-saver, to be sure). But it has been almost four months now since blogrolling.com was taken off-line andI really need to do some house-cleaning over there in my blogroll.
Aside from several quality blogs I've been wanting to add to my blogroll, there are more than a few blogs over there in my sidebar with whom I desperately need to have the "We need to talk..." speech. You know, the one whose second line is "It's not you, it's me...".
Oh who am I kidding? It's you!
I'm talking about those of you who have simply abandoned your blogs without so much as a good-bye post or a forwarding URL. I'm also talking about those of you who started out with such promise (funny, insightful, deep, useful, etc.), and have since devolved into meme factories, Youtube mirror sites and saccharine chain-letter pushers.
Then, of course, there are those of you with whom I strongly disagree on almost every issue, but who I used to read religiously for balance and to receive a regular reality check. Until, that is, you lost your freaking mind and dropped even the thinnest pretense of sanity. Now I just look at your blog name and ask myself 'what was I thinking'?
So I guess what I'm really saying here is that I need to do some housecleaning and am desperately in need of recommendations for a new, user-friendly blogroll host.
P.S. Yes, I know that everything would be right with the world if only I would set up a home server, host my own site and hand-crochet every last nugget of code in my template myself. But people... I have trouble with telephone Interactive Voice Response systems, so any suggestion that I leave my warm, safe WYSIWYG world will be viewed as ridicule, and resented forever.
Excuse me, did we sleep together last night?
Early one morning I rushed into a female coworker's office with an arm-full of files and a long list of urgent questions on my mind. The questions I had for her were dependent on the contents of several of the files, so I began speaking to her while leafing through the papers in my arms.
Almost immediately she cleared her throat and stopped me with an upraised hand; employing the classic Israeli 'wait' gesture with the palm upraised and the fingers and thumb meeting at the tips. When she had my full and undivided attention she asked: "Excuse me, did you sleep with me last night?"
I was sure I hadn't heard her correctly so I asked her to repeat the question. She fixed me with a pretty smile and said, "I asked if we slept together last night?"
I honestly didn't understand why she would ask me such a question since the answer was clearly 'No'... so I just stared at her with my mouth agape.
She let me stew in my confusion for a few seconds and then said, "If we'd slept together I could maybe understand you not offering a formal greeting today... but since we didn't sleep together last night, 'Good Morning' would be a nice way to start the day, don't you think?"
Ouch! Point taken.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Wooden shoes and windmills
Last night I had the privilege of speaking to a group of about 25-30 elite Dutch university students who came to Israel under the auspices of the prestigious BKB Academy. As part of their program these students travel to various countries to observe the elections and study the various processes and issues.
During their short stay here in Israel they had meetings around the clock with government officials, business people and private individuals. A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a charming young woman (who is originally from Holland, but now calls Tel Aviv home) asking if I would like to speak to the group. She told me that they had an opening in their schedule right after meeting with Shimon Peres' foreign adverser... would I be interested?
Hold on, I need to check my ego, um, I mean schedule... yeah, I'm free!
I don't know quite what I was expecting, and I was really a bit conflicted about what I could possibly tell these students that would be worth their time. But I decided that while I could only realistically represent myself, they probably didn't have many religious settlers on their agenda... so let them at least meet one, right?
When I arrived at the venue it was late in the evening (I was to be the last speaker of a very long day), I was warmly met by one of the organizers of the group. He explained that the previous speaker had finished a bit early so the students were spread around the place having refreshments, updating their blogs and generally just decompressing.
I was initially worried that it would be impossible to get them back together and focused... but within seconds of our entering the room, every seat was occupied and I had the undivided attention of a group of the most handsome people I think I have ever seen gathered in one place. Seriously, I felt like I was in looking at a catalog for some high end outdoor-wear company.
As I began to speak, all worries that their long day might have rendered them too tired to focus were swept away. I looked around the room and saw nothing but rapt attention and furious note-taking.
I figured they had probably heard enough about the nuts and bolts of the Israeli electoral system and the basic issues at stake; topics with which I'm just coming to terms. So I decided to tell them a few things about Israel and Israelis that they weren't likely to read in any position paper. I shared some anecdotes about myself and the community to which I nominally belong. But I also tried to emphasize the complex geography of the Israeli human landscape, as well as where the various fault lines seemed (at least to me) to exist.
Where possible I tried to dispel some myths about Israel in general... and Israelis in particular. To this end I pointed out that one couldn't reasonably complete the sentences "Israel is..." or "Israelis are..." with any degree of accuracy any more than one could do the same for their own country and culture.
For emphasis, I pointed out that they would probably be annoyed (or even outraged) at the ignorance of someone who would ask, "Oh, you're from Holland... do you wear wooden shoes and have a windmill in your back yard?" So to pigeon-hole Israel via the stereotypes found in the press and in the preconceived good or bad prejudices of foreigners was unfair, to say the least.
One student made the observation that many supporters of Israel living abroad seem to hold more extreme views than even the people they are supporting. I agreed, but added that the same could be said of Israel's detractors. It is always easier to have extreme views about someone who is 'over there' rather than someone you know intimately. I pointed out that this problem of distance was also at the root of both the internal Israeli cultural struggles (left/right... secular/religious) as well as the exaggerated suspicion/antagonism between Israelis and their Arab 'neighbors'.
I tried to be fair and balanced in my remarks, and I went out of my way to indicate where I was crossing the line from objective to subjective (which happened frequently). But I also wanted them to know that my reality was likely to be very different from that of a secular Israeli living in Tel Aviv, an Israeli Arab living in Haifa or a Palestinian Arab living in Ramallah. The point being that my experiences and perceptions are no less accurate or 'true' for the fact that they differ substantially from the experiences and perceptions of those other individuals.
When it came time for questions, I was again impressed by the active and insightful nature of the minds in the room. And even after the session was officially concluded (with embarrassingly loud applause), many of the students came up to ask follow-up questions or to express thanks for my having come to speak to them.
As I was saying my final good-nights and thank-yous to the small group of students who saw me to the door, I looked around and saw several others sprawled out on chairs and couches with open laptops... cleaning up their notes and updating their blogs. Several students have promised to send me links to their sites, but I am afraid that Google Translator probably won't do justice to the work of such agile minds. Just another opportunity to regret not having grown up with a European facility with languages.
The whole ego thing aside, the evening was one of the truly positive, life-affirming experiences I've been fortunate enough to enjoy. Not only do I have confidence that these students came to absorb as much information as possible about my country, but it was reassuring to think that the next generation of Dutch leaders will likely come from among this clear-eyed, intelligent bunch.
If any of these students happen to read this... thank you for the opportunity.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
"Honor [the people's] decision!"
These were the words spoken by Kadima Chairman Tzipi Livni late last night... and for once I agree with her!
Of course, one has to keep in mind that her party received only one more mandate than the rival Likud in the Knesset elections... far from a decisive victory.
And it also bears a mention that this declaration of victory comes well before all the votes from soldiers and government officials serving abroad have been counted (and a full week before the final tally has been certified). But yes, strictly speaking, Kadima seems to have edged Likud in the number of seats each respectively won.
But just for fun, let's take a peek at 'the people's decision':
As it stands now, Kadima garnered just 28 mandates... not even 25% of the 120 possible Knesset seats, and only one seat more than Likud (for now). However when one backs up far enough to look at the right/left split of the overall votes cast by the people, their choice is overwhelmingly in favor of the political right over the left... with left wing parties garnering only 55 mandates to the right's 65.
Add to that the fact that the Labor party (the second largest party on the left), stinging from a sad showing of only 13 mandates, seems inclined to sit in opposition regardless of the wooing that will be going on this week... as well as the fact that some of the Arab parties (with their 11 combined mandates) won't necessarily want to sit in a coalition with Kadima once Livni starts courting Leiberman and the small religious Jewish parties... and the 'people's decision' becomes even clearer.
So yes, while I am in full agreement with Ms. Livni's statement (for once), I don't think she has yet grasped the fact that the people have decided that they overwhelmingly prefer the policies, platforms and parties of the political right to those of the left.
I hope she will take her own advice and honor their decision.
Monday, February 09, 2009
[mostly] for my mother...
For those who are not familiar with the physical process of voting here in Israel, allow me lend a hand:
Unlike many countries that have mechanical, or even computerized, voting machines, Israel still uses paper ballots and a simple ballot box. At the end of the elections, the ballots are counted by hand under the supervision of multiple representatives of the interested political parties, and the results are tallied the old fashioned way.
And because this is a country of immigrants where nearly everyone is highly literate... although sadly not in a common language... we have eliminated the need to mark a ballot or write in a name. All the political parties are represented by one, two or sometimes three letter symbols printed on individual ballots that the parties themselves have chosen and registered with the National election authorities.
These letters often, but not always, spell a word or acronym that is supposed to serve as a positive mnemonic for that particular party. For instance, the Labor party's symbol is the three letters Aleph- Mem-Taf which spells the Hebrew word Emet (truth), Kadima uses the two letters Chaf-Nun which spells the Hebrew word Ken(yes), and the Alei Yarok (Green Leaf) party uses Kuf-Nun (the first two letters of the word Cannabis) as their symbol. A few parties with short names, such as Meretz and Shas are able to use their full name as their symbol.
In order to avoid confusion in the voting booth, almost all the parties use an image of their ballot as a prominent part of the advertising campaigns. The idea being that if someone (like my parents) really wants to make sure they don't vote for the wrong party, they can take the campaign flyer for the correct party into the booth and compare the letter-symbols in the ad with the letter-symbols in the tray.
So far so good?
I haven't stumbled across a comprehensive list of parties and their symbols, but here are a good portion of the major parties/factions contending in tomorrow's election:
New Arab Party- עם
Balad - ד
Green Leaf- קן
Hadash- ו (vav)
Ichud Leumi (National Union)- ט
Israel Is Our Home (Yisrael Beiteinu)- ל
Jewish Home- ב
Pensioners (Gil)- זך
Shas - שס
Yehadut HaTorah (UTJ)- ג
OK, so I hear some of you asking, what about the Arabs... why are they forced to vote using Hebrew letters? I'm glad you asked, because they aren't. In Arab communities, all of the ballots use the Arabic equivalent to the Hebrew letters, and in mixed communities (such as Haifa and Yaffo) there are both Hebrew and Arabic ballots in the booth from which the voter can select their preferred party. Since English and Russian (the next most commonly spoken languages in the country) are not 'official' languages, we have to make due with either Hebrew or Arabic.
There will be almost 10,000 light blue Ballot boxes spread across the country tomorrow, including 194 that are taken to hospitals (so bed-ridden patients can vote) and 56 that will be taken to prisons (yes, you read that correctly).
Active duty military personnel and border patrol soldiers who will be away from home on election day already cast their ballots yesterday at military bases across the country, as did consular/embassy staff stationed abroad.
Incidentally, with the exception of consular/embassy staff stationed abroad and Israeli citizens stationed on Israeli flagged ships, Israel does not allow absentee ballots. If you want to participate in the country's elections, you need to be here on Israeli soil. Personally I like this idea since it means that, with the exception of the few who fly in especially for the elections, all of the people voting will be around to reap the consequences of their decisions.
This will by my parent's first national election as Israeli citizens. They've already voted in Jerusalem's municipal elections a few months ago, so the process won't be entirely foreign to them. During the municipal elections my parents went to hear a few speeches, read the basic positions of the major parties/candidates, and then asked me to show them the correct letters for that party/candidate so they could vote. And yes, I showed them the correct letters (and will do so again this time around)
But still, if you don't read Hebrew, or are not completely comfortable with it, walking into the voting booth can be a little daunting.
Basically, you stand in line at your designated polling place, walk in and show them your ID card and are given an envelope with your info printed on the outside. When it is your turn, they direct you to a little cubicle (usually a table with a three sided cardboard screen set up to shield you from prying eyes) and there on the table top is a tray that looks like this:
Your job is to take one (and onlyone) paper ballot and place it into your envelope. Then you go back out to the table where they registered you on the way in and you drop your sealed envelope into the pretty blue ballot box.
That's it. That is your vote.
If only the decision-making was as easy as the physical act of voting.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
I'm an Observer (according to 'France 24')
I was interviewed by 'France 24' this week... along with an Israeli Arab and a left wing Tel Avivi. I guess that makes me the right wing settler in the bunch.
The segment is published in both English and French. I hope that nothing was lost in the translation. It was a phone interview and the woman who asked the questions seems to have done an excellent job of faithfully relating what I said... at least in English. But it would be nice if someone who is comfortable in French did a quick comparison to make sure I haven't called for anyone's assassination, mmkay? :-)
Cafestol; Mornings may never be the same again
My mother may have just robbed me of one of life's great pleasures; my morning coffee. Not intentionally, mind you... and certainly she acted out of love and a desire to protect me. But the end result is the same: I may have to find an alternative to my beloved French Press for preparing the family's morning brew.
It began rather innocently with a casual remark that was tossed out when I was at my parent's apartment this past week. My mom said that a friend of theirs had commented in passing that coffee prepared in a French Press contains a dangerous chemical that is not present as a byproduct of other preparation methods.
My first instinct was to ignore the comment since attacking my preferred method of brewing the morning coffee is akin to telling a love-struck teen that the boy / girl they've set their sights on is no damned good!
Also, while most of my parent's friends are well educated and intelligent, as a group they are mostly retirees with way too much time on their hands to peruse the latest rumors and scare-mongering that goes on in the health-care periodicals. In other words, according to them anything and everything one eats/drinks these days is no damned good!
But in this case, the guy who dropped the bit of unwelcome news about French Press coffee was a chemist in his former life and (one would assume) able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to health care rumors about dangerous chemicals.
My mom couldn't remember the name of the chemical, so I went over to their computer and began Googling word groups like 'dangerous chemical french press coffee', and immediately began getting consistent hits on the word 'Cafestol'. A few minutes of reading about Cafestol revealed that it was, indeed, a potential cause for concern.
It seems that there is ample evidence that Cafestol, which is present in significant amounts in Scandinavian boiled, Turkish, and cafetière (French Press) coffee, is "the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound known in the human diet". [source] Apparently there is something in the lining of the human intestine that regulates the body's production of cholesterol. While scientists aren't really sure why, or how, they do have pretty compelling evidence that Cafestol interferes with this mechanism for regulating cholesterol and, in fact, makes the body's production of the artery-clogging stuff skyrocket.
According to another source, regular consumption of coffee prepared by the methods listed above increases serum cholesterol by a whopping 8% in men and 10% in women. This got my attention in a big way. You see, Zahava and I have never had particularly high cholesterol. Even when I was eating like a Neanderthal on the Atkins diet, my good cholesterol was in a happy place, and my bad cholesterol was relatively low. But in the past few years both of us have seen a significant rise in our cholesterol numbers... to the point that our family doc has gently prodded us to examine our diets for likely culprits.
Here's the problem: There is simply no comparison between the taste of drip/filter coffee and coffee prepared in a press, espresso machine or ibrik/finjan. In our early married life in the U.S. we had one of those fancy Aroma Drip machines* that allowed the water to linger among the grounds for a few extra seconds before letting it pass through the paper filter... and it wasn't bad (as far as filter coffee goes). But once someone showed us how to use a press pot, we shelved the old drip coffee maker and held on to the thermal carafe simply as a serving vessel.
I'm really torn now. I don't drink a lot of coffee; one big cup in the morning (okay, it's a really big cup) and occasionally another in the early afternoon. Zahava's coffee consumption is similar. So we're really more about the quality than the quantity when it comes to the morning cuppa.
And as if the news wasn't troubling enough, one of the sources indicated that, in addition to Cafestol's deregulating affect on cholesterol production, it also demonstrated strong anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties in lab rats. So now we have to choose between giving up press coffee because it might be clogging our arteries... and continuing to drink it because it might save us from cancer. If I had any hair to spare I'd be pulling it out in big clumps right now!
So, here's where things stand:
I'm not going to ask for a second (or third) opinion on Cafestol's potential dangers. I've read enough of the online literature to be convinced that this isn't something to be taken lightly. However, I need to find a flavorful alternative to my beloved press-pot that will fill the aesthetic hole in our morning routine without sacrificing the necessary jolt.
Any ideas (other than taking Lipitor and continuing to drink press coffee)?
* I haven't seen any of these all-in-one coffee drip machines (timer, thermal carafe and delay mechanism to let the coffee grounds steep a tad more before passing through the filter) here in Israel, and the need for the proper voltage/cycles is essential in order to be able to use the timing function. Maybe they have them in the UK. Anyone?