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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Throwing a stew

There was a kerfuffle in the comments section of my last journal entry. 

Insensitive and angry words were exchanged (the angry ones being mostly mine)… and now I feel a little guilty.

I feel like the host of a dinner party who silently stews while washing the dinner dishes over having allowed himself to yell at one of his guests... despite the fact that the guest desperately deserved the rough treatment.

This isn’t to say I think I was completely in the wrong! But I can't ignore the fact that on the rare occasions that treppenwitz has been host to inconsiderate behavior, I have always ended up angry with myself for not being big enough to simply ignore the [real or imagined] offense and let the party go on as if nothing had happened.

On the drive home from work yesterday I did a lot of thinking about this and I came up with a couple of important insights which helped calm me down:

One’s blog or journal is a semi-private domain.

It is not a public square or a village piazza where anyone can get up on a soapbox and challenge all within earshot to accept a particular agenda or provide a compelling reason to reject it. 

It is more like a pot-luck dinner party where the host has deliberately left the front door open and the porch light on in lieu of sending out formal invitations. This is an important distinction because the rules governing how one comports him/herself in a public place are quite different than those that hold sway in a semi-private setting.

I can say whatever I want (within reason) in the town square and a passerby is free to respond in kind or ignore me as he/she wishes. However, if I am in somebody’s salon, the rules of etiquette require that I follow the host’s lead on issues of decorum, and be sensitive to others in attendance.

On the two or three occasions when I have ended up feeling as I do now (terrible, guilty…), it has always resulted from someone coming into ‘my salon’ and treating it as if it were a public square.

Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t deliberately provoke your host at a dinner party, don’t come here and walk rough-shod over my (or any of the other guest’s) sensibilities. I have never had a problem with people debating a wide-ranging of issues and opinions here, but I do insist on both civil discourse and intellectual honesty .

Which brings me to the following:

Intellectual dishonesty is defined (in this case by Wikipedia), as:

"…the creation of false impressions or advocacy of false ideas and concepts using rhetoric, logical fallacies, or insufficient or falsified evidence. It often stems from self-deception or a covert agenda, which is expressed through a misuse of various rhetorical devices. The unwary reader may be deceived as a result. It is often very difficult to distinguish whether the intellectual dishonesty is due to conscious dishonesty by somebody or due to unconscious self deception.." [my emphasis added]

We all do this. A lot.

Here’s the deal. In neighborhood barber shops… amongst our closest friends… nestled warmly in the bosom of our cultural, political and/or religious groups… we are all intellectually dishonest. We routinely ‘quote’ from such sources as "I read somewhere…", "A good friend once told me…" and "they say that…", in order to support all sorts of bigoted, wrong-headed ideas and opinions.

We allow ourselves this ‘freedom from scrutiny’ because we are among people who either completely share our opinions or who know us well enough to tolerate our vague internal documentation.

Looking back at the three occasions in 18 months where I have acted badly and had to apologize to my guests, each case was triggered by someone who made a combination of these two blunders:

On the one hand they acted as if they were in a public gathering place where no quarter is asked or given in a lively debate. Yet they also couched their arguments in a manner that indicated they were more accustomed to airing their agenda among like-minded people (i.e. people who not only wouldn't ask them to offer proofs, but who also will routinely let canards and conventional wisdom pass for real scholarship).

There is a delicate trust that has developed amongst the regular commenters here (treppenwitz’s round table). It is clear we come from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds, and there is certainly no uniformity of opinion on political, religious or even sexual matters in our little group. Yet it makes me proud beyond words that conservatives, liberals, gays, straights, Christians, Jews, pagans, men, women, (have I missed anyone?), and every imaginable hyphenation of these groups, somehow manage to share their views here without angry words… with a great deal of sensitivity… and occasionally with even a tad of self-deprecating humor.

My younger sister and her husband throw fairly regular ‘Stews’. These are informal gatherings at their home where a steaming cauldron of my brother-in-law’s incredible stew (as well as his impeccable selection of wine and beer) serves as the focal point of the evening.  But the gathering’s raison d'être is really the lively discourse and eclectic mix of people who regularly grace their salon.

That’s the direction in which I would like to see treppenwitz continue.

I’ll serve up a passable pot of stew a few times a week… and you all can feel free to stop by and eat or converse, as you see fit.  All I ask is that everyone please keep in mind that you are in my salon… and that you are mingling amongst people who will politely listen to your (and my) well-considered opinions without necessarily sharing them.

Bon appétit!

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Posted by David Bogner on May 5, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Blowing Mom & Dad's mind!

One of these days I really expect my parent's heads to simply explode from the frequent shocks I throw their way!

Longtime treppenwitz readers may remember a journal entry I wrote during my parent’s visit last year entitled ‘The Smoking Gun’. If you’re interested you can go back and read it… but the post basically talked about the ‘tension’ (for all parties involved) which resulted when my Liberal East Coast Jewish Parents (there has to be an acronym in there somewhere!), arrived in Israel to find their oldest son going about his everyday life with a pistol tucked into the waistband of his otherwise preppy attire.

Needless to say, wackiness ensued.

Once mom & dad had come to grips with the fact that being armed was not a rejection of my liberal upbringing, but rather a pragmatic reaction to the current facts on ground, they were immediately thrown another curve ball:  A good friend from our community stopped by one Shabbat afternoon for tea with an M16 assault rifle casually slung over his shoulder.

At the time I simply watched with amusement as my mother struggled to act nonchalant in the face of this new development, and sure enough; as soon as he had left, mom blurted out, "Why was your friend carrying a machine gun???"

Again, I was very impressed when she and my father calmly accepted my explanation that he was a member of our town’s emergency response team (Kitat Konenut, in Hebrew), and that most towns in ‘the territories’, as well as many within walking distance of the ‘Green Line’ (some 300 in all), were forced to maintain such anti-terror response teams.

Well, during the year since their last visit I was asked by the commander of Efrat's emergency response team (a Major in an elite combat unit of the IDF reserves) to serve... and I had accepted.

In addition to being issued a small arsenal of equipment (M16, ammunition, flak-jacket, helmet, radio, etc.), and having to undergo one or two days of live-fire training per month at the local army base, all members of the team are expected to carry their weapons when they are in the community but away from their house.

The fact is, my IDF-issued M16 (and other equipment) spends most of its time in a well-locked closet. I don’t take it to work… and if I’m at home, or around the neighborhood running errands there isn’t really a need to bother taking it out of its safe hiding place.

The only thing that I have to keep with me 24/7 (even on Shabbat) is the small radio/telephone on my belt that connects all the members of the team and the local army commanders.

However, on Shabbat morning when I am away from home for several hours (in synagogue), it is expected that I’ll have the M16 with me. In addition to taking a 15 minute shift of guard duty outside the synagogue during the course of morning services (something most of the man who have served in the army do), there is the assumption that if (G-d forbid) there is any kind of infiltration or attack, the members of the response teams will not have to first run home and get their weapons before responding.

There have, unfortunately, been enough attacks on towns and cities throughout Israel that it’s hard to find a flaw in this rationale.

Truth be told, I didn’t really give much thought to how this would all play out with my parent’s visit because, well, when you are a husband/father living in a community where there exists even a nominal need for an anti-terror team… ‘what mom & dad might think’ isn’t the main thing on one's mind.

As I said, I really didn’t give much thought to how all this would play out with my parents… that is, until the first Shabbat they were here.

As I walked into the living room on Shabbat morning carrying the M16, I looked at my mother’s shocked expression and thought to myself, "Self… this is probably a discussion you should have had with mom & dad sometime during the past couple of days."

Yes, I am a bit of an idiot sometimes.

To give proper credit to my parents, they took my rushed explanation in stride, and even managed a few jokes about it during the course of the day ("Is this supposed to make me feel safer now?").

If someone were to ask me if I thought the emergency response teams around the country were an adequate defense against a determined terrorist, I would have to say ‘no... of course not’.  I honestly don’t think there is very much that can interfere with the trajectory of a person who has made the decision to become a human missile.

However, I think the combination of the IDF, the police, the network of emergency response teams, and armed civilians is the only defense we can muster here in this part of the world.

The new security fence will certainly reduce the need for many of these other lines of defense… but I don’t think it will completely eliminate their necessity.

I hate that my children have become accustomed to seeing soldiers and guns everywhere. As a society we have made it more palatable by glorifying the elite units of the IDF and linking patriotism with military prowess. But the very thing that requires the omnipresence of the Israeli Army is the very same thing that requires the police and border patrol to equip and train themselves as para-military units… requires the towns and cities within striking distance of areas under Palestinian control to maintain emergency response teams… requires many civilians to carry pistols tucked into their khakis, jeans and purses!

‘Normal’ societies who aren’t surrounded by terrorists don’t have to live like this!!!

The only thing that will make it possible for liberal guys like me to stop shocking the bajeezus out of their mothers will be for a profound sea change to take place in the societies that create and honor terrorists.

I pray for a day when my children will be as shocked by the idea of me carrying a gun as my mother was.

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Posted by David Bogner on May 3, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Monday, May 02, 2005

Three Dog FortNight

I haven’t made a big fuss about it beyond a few passing references… but my parents have been visiting with us for the past two weeks. They arrived bearing gifts … and two dogs.

It would have never occurred to us to suggest that my parents leave their dogs at home. For a stay of almost a month it would have cost them a small fortune to board their dogs in a reputable Connecticut kennel. So, everyone was on the same page, as it were, when my parents booked their airline travel for themselves… as well as their dogs.

Don’t get me wrong here, we are ‘dog people’ of the first order, and our own black Labrador mix (Jordan) is on nearly equal footing with our children for our affection, not to mention sleeping accommodations.

But three dogs in the house for the past two weeks has presented certain, um, challenges.

To help you get a better sense of the menagerie, let me tell you a bit about each animal:

Jordan (our dog) is a medium sized dog of mixed ancestry who most closely resembles a black Lab. She spent the first two years of her life as a companion dog to an elderly woman with Huntington’s disease, and came to us when this woman needed to be admitted to a nursing home. Almost nothing bothers Jordan. The baby can climb on her… hug her… pull her tail… or even try to hitch a ride on her back, and she takes it all in stride. Quite simply, if she had opposable thumbs I honestly believe she would clean up her own sh*t!

Humphrey (my parent’s little dog) is a Border Terrier. He is a sweet dog, but always seems to have a low-voltage electrical current running just under the surface of his skin. He constantly explores and paces and digs. He seems to have been bred to dig holes and escape from well-fenced yards because these have been his nearly full-time endeavors since arriving.

Adelaide (my parent’s big dog) is a large shepherd mix who is, unfortunately, a bundle of neuroses. She was a rescue dog who had been both abused and neglected as a young animal. As a result, she feasts on any tiny shred of affection she is shown, and slinks around, seemingly expecting the worst from everyone she meets. If you show Adelaide even the smallest kindness she will attach herself to you forever. Picture the neediest person you have even know… now multiply that by a factor of 10! No amount of petting is ever enough… and a heavy paw will constantly remind you that you have inexplicably stopped paying attention to her.

Of coure, all of the dogs (ours included) have little idiosyncrasies:

Humphrey is a loud, irrational barker. He will bark at anything. A car driving past… a cat walking outside… a person turning over in their sleep… a cloud passing over the moon… any of these are sufficient reason to send Humphrey into the barking equivalent of the drum solo in the extended version of Inagodadavida*.

Adelaide is a howler AND a gifter. For the sake of clarity I’ll separate and define these two things: Lets say Adelaide hasn’t seen you in five or ten minutes while you’ve been in the kitchen getting something to drink. When you re-enter the room all 90+ pounds of Adelaide will charge across the room and stand baying up into your face like the Hound of the Baskervilles. If you aren’t expecting it, this unique greeting can shave years off your life. It will also wake the dead, not to mention anyone who is simply sleeping at the time. Adelaide is also a conscientious gifter. By this I mean that no one can enter the house without being presented with a gift. Shoes are the most common gift in her arsenal… but it is not uncommon to be presented with slimy toys, dolls, clothing or even couch pillows when you walk through the front door. Once the gift has been passed over, the abovementioned howling and baying ensues. The only way to stop the ear-splitting din is to drop everything and give her your undivided attention.

Yesterday we saw my parents off to a hotel/spa near Haifa for a few days.

Bringing the dogs along with them was not an option since the place doesn’t even allow cell phones. So for the next few days we are providing around-the-clock dog therapy to two dogs that think their owners have abandoned them… as well as our own dog who is feeling jealous over having to share our affection.

When my parents get back from the north, I’m going to suggest that perhaps it’s our turn to go to a spa.

* A song by Iron Butterfly with a great drum solo... oh never mind.  If you didn't catch the reference, nothing I tell you here will help.  :-)

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Posted by David Bogner on May 2, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

Holy jumpin’ jeebus it’s good to be back!!! Computer habit? What computer habit??! :-)

Passover was wonderful... thanks to everyone who sent wishes.  My super wife spent a good part of last night putting away the holiday dishes and switching the kitchen back to the year-‘round stuff.   

Every year I am amazed at the mountain of work that goes into this holiday!  And every year Zahava reminds me that it was obviously a man who thought up the details of Passover. Her hypothesis hinges on the fact that if women had had any input whatsoever, instead of one week each year, Passover would be a whole month every four years! Then, she posits, it would already be worthwhile to completely switch over the house to an entirely new set of dishes and utensils! But one week?… clearly a man’s idea!

By the way…if you’ve never done the whole Passover preparation/switch-over/switch-back thing (or witnessed it being done), picture building the pyramids at Giza in the hot Egytian sun… and then add in some real work!

Where was I during all this preparation?

Well, during the couple of days before the holiday, like most Jewish men, I was doing the ‘supermarket shuttle’. This is a 48-hour period of pretty much non-stop trips back-and-forth to the store. It’s not that my wife isn’t organized… she is amazingly organized, with lists of everything she needs. But for some reason each time I returned from the store there were always "just a few more things."

On one of my trips I finally noticed a bunch of husbands hunkered down in the ice cream shop next door to the supermarket. When I went in they were all sitting around eating ice cream and glancing nervously at cell phones out on the tables in front of them. The consensus seemed to be that if they were going to be sent out again anyway, the longer the interval between stops at home, the fewer trips to the store they would have to make.

You can’t argue with that kind of logic… especially if triple fudge and coffee ice cream is involved in the argument!

As I sat talking to a few friends there in the ice cream parlor, occasionally a cell phone would ring… a hush would fall over the store… a crumpled shopping list would be taken out and carefully amended… and a few serious ‘yes dears’ would be offered. When the call ended conversation would spring up again, and everyone would look nervously at their cell phones wondering if theirs would be next to jangle to life.

As we sat in our air-conditioned bunker licking ice cream cones… the bell tolled for each of us… sometimes more than once.

Anyway… I have lots of stuff to share so this should be a fun week.

Stay Tuned!

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Posted by David Bogner on May 1, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack