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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

All about 'thank-yous'

I'm a bit of a maniac about customer service.  If a business gives me lousy service, I will never patronize them again.  Period.  End of story.

I don't care if they're right next door and the competition is miles away.  I don't care if they have the best damned product ever invented!  Simply put, if you you treat me so badly that I leave your store feeling neglected, offended or abused, not only will I never do business with you again... but I will take it upon myself to tell everyone I know about my experience.

The flip-side of that coin is that if a business goes out of its way to make my experience with them a positive one,  I will travel miles out of my way... even pay more.. and do business only with them!  Yes, my loyalty can be bought... but the asking price is measured entirely in the level of customer service.

The cell phone I use is supplied by my company.  It isn't fancy (no camera or other gadgets), but all my calls are free and it works.  I can't ask much more than that from a cellphone. 

But last week I got a memo saying that I was entitled to a new phone... a smaller/better model... and I should go to the nearest Cellcom (our cellular provider) office to pick up the new phone and have them install the new hands-free kit in my car.

As soon as I read the memo I cringed.  In the history of the State of Israel, no such transaction has ever been accomplished in less than 5 trips! I knew with 100% certainty that despite the fact that my company had arranged everything in advance... the people at Cellcom would have no earthly idea what I was talking about and tell me to make repeated trips to bring them ever-more-difficult-to-obtain clarifying documents. 

The potential for bureaucratic hassles was nearly limitless!

But besides the potential hassle, I was opposed to the whole idea on principle since there was nothing wrong with my phone!  I'm a big fan of the saying 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it!'.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the Cellcom office ready for a fight... and before I could even open my mouth a young woman greeted me politely, invited me into her office and offered me a cup of coffee.  She immediately found my account in her computer... called the technician to take my car and install the hands-free kit... and even transferred all my stored phone numbers into my teeny-tiny new handset!

While we waited for the technician to finish up with my car, she gave me a quick tutorial on my new phone and loaded me up with free lanyards and belt holders for the phone.   When everything was done she escorted me to their installation bay and waited with me to make sure everything worked properly before waving me on my way.

As I drove back to my office I experienced such incredible cultural vertigo that I almost had to pull over.  Intellectually I knew I was in Israel... but the customer service I had just received was far better than anything I had ever experienced... even in the US!  There simply had to be a catch!

Just to make sure, when I got back to the office I called up the service center and asked to speak with the young woman who had helped me.   When she heard my name she immediately asked if everything was alright.  I told her I was just checking to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything or neglected to provide/fill-out/sign something.

There was a moment's pause while she clacked away on her computer before saying, "No, I think we covered everything... was there something else I can help you with?" 

I thanked her and hurried off the phone.  I was so floored by the level of service that I looked up the Corporate offices of Cellcom in Tel Aviv and faxed them a glowing letter about my wonderful experience with their company, and especially praising the professionalism of this customer service agent. 

Unfortunately I couldn't express my gratitude as extravagantly as I wanted in Hebrew so I had written the letter in English. 

Within an hour I got a jarring phone call from an aggressively abrasive clerk in the main offices of Cellcom.  In blindingly fast Hebrew she began asking rapid-fire questions:  "What was my problem?... What exactly was I complaining about?... Why hadn't I written my complaint in Hebrew?!"

It took my several tries before I could convince her that my letter had been a thank-you note... not a complaint.  And even then, she seemed to accept the news grudgingly... as if conceding a difficult point in a political argument. 

Even more bizarre... even though we had spoken only in Hebrew, her parting shot before hanging up the phone loudly in my ear was the following in heavily accented English:

"Vy dontsyou send a senkyu note in eebrew nex time?  You lives in yisrael now... so if you send somsing in eenglish peoples donts know what you is wanting and sinks you is complaining!"

Ahhhhh... now that's the Israel I know and love!

In other senk, er, I mean thank you-related news...

I'd like to formally and officially thank each and every person who cast a vote for treppenwitz in the JIBs.  I am deeply honored that this journal received the Gold Medal in both the 'Best Life in Israel' and 'Best Post' categories. 

I waited to extend this particular thank you because many of the JIB winners had not yet received their medal icons from the Jerusalem Post.  But looking around I see that pretty much everyone has them now.  So, thank you for visiting... for reading... for commenting... and, of course, for voting!


Posted by David Bogner on February 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Monday, February 27, 2006

Crunching your blogroll

OK, a promise is a promise... no more politics for a while.  Cold turkey.  I can do this!

I'll start by apologizing to an embarrassing number of people to whom I didn't respond over the past week.  Part of the problem is that my Gmail account suddenly decided that about a third of my regular commenters were spammers.  Nice!

Then there was the problem of my being in a really pissy mood (due to people grinding axes here).  I hate responding to comments when I'm pissed off.  Want to know why?  Go read some of my gems from the past few days.  Classic examples of how to sound shrill and lose readers.  Absolutely classic!

Anyhoo, today's little game is called 'crunching the blogroll', and I encourage everyone to play it at least once per year.  If you don't have a blog of your own, you can crunch your favorites/bookmarks list. 

Here's how it works:

1.  Count up the total number of sites on your blogroll (or favorites list).  For those of you who list every single site you've ever visited (or heard of), just count the ones you visit fairly regularly.

2.  Take a piece of paper (or if you're a geek like me, set up an excel sheet), and create some column headers.  I'll list mine later as an example, but you'll see that your headers will vary depend on your reading habits and the topics that interest you.  Just go for the most general headings possible to encompass major identifying traits of the blogs/bloggers you read. 

3.  Now take your blogroll/favorites list and place each site under all the headings that apply.  Obviously there will be some sites that fall under more than one heading... that's perfectly OK.

4.  OK, here's where the math comes in (and feel free to round off to the nearest whole number): Count up the number of blogs under each heading and figure out what percentage of your total blogroll/favorites list each heading represents.  The goal is not to have all your percentages add up to 100% since many of your blogs will be listed under more than one category. 

The point of this little exercise is to reveal neat stuff about your reading habits and assign numerical weight to reading decisions you unconsciously make. 

When I did this last year I came to the realization that I had a strangely high proportion of gay writers on my blogroll (strange, at least, for an Israeli orthodox Jew).  Since my blogroll evolves so glacially, I was completely unaware of that particular trend until I had crunched my blogroll.

So here's what I found out this time around about the people I'm currently reading:

Jewish (content): 59%
Non-Jewish (content): 41%
Gay: 9%
Straight: 91%
Male: 40%
Female: 60%
Political: 25%
Non-political: 75%
Americans/Canadians: 68%
Europeans: 7%
Israelis: 12%

This little game isn't meant to change your surfing habits.  Let's face it, we like what we like.  It's simply an opportunity to examine some patterns in our surfing routine that may be completely off our radar. 

Feel free to try this out at home kids.  The results may surprise you.


Posted by David Bogner on February 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A bad word gets a new day in the sun

[OK, solemn promise... pinky-swear even:  After today, no more political posts for at least a month two weeks a week, mmmkay?  No really... I'm serious!  I can't stand waking up and thinking/writing about politics.  Not only do I suck at it, but I'm clearly no damned good!  (Oh wait... that's the same thing, isn't it?)]

There are some disparaging words that have fallen out of use in polite society because they have their roots in a negative or maliciously stereotype associated with a particular nationality or ethnic group... or they sound like they do. 

A few that jump to mind are 'gypped' (a derivative of the word Gypsy that means to be cheated), 'indian giver' (someone who reclaims a gift), 'Jew down' (to bargain aggressively) and 'niggardly' (a perfectly good word meaning 'grudging or petty' that many people now avoid because it sounds so much like a well-known racial slur). 

But there is one such term - 'welched' (to renege on a bet or fail to keep a financial agreement) - that I may just have to start using again. 

As offensive as 'welched' may be to the sensibilities of Welsh people (among whom I count many ancestors), the recent revelation that Assistant US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch has told PA leaders that the US has backed away from it's earlier promise to withhold future financial aid to Hamastan, provides a whole new alternative etymology for the word.

Before anyone jumps down my throat, I have to cut the US a little slack because our own acting Prime Minister waffled for almost a week after the PA election on whether (and/or to what extent), to financially isolate the new Palestinian regime.  But the US and most of the quartet had seemed so adamant about shutting down the money train... that this shift in policy is very disappointing.

Oh sure, the media is saying that the aid will be going only to NGOs, charities and other 'humanitarian channels'.  But not one of these non-governmental channels, from the UN and Red Cross on down, has ever provided even a semblence at transparency when it comes to where the money ends up.  In fact, many of the Palestinian officers and workers in these agencies also hold parellel positions in groups that are considered terrorist organizations by most of the civilized world!  So, you'll have to forgive me if I seem less than confident that 'humanitarian aid' won't end up paying for weapons and explosives.

What everyone is willfully ignoring is that here in the middle east, things like food, beverages, cigarettes, cooking gas and a long list of other humanitarian essentials, are all fungible commodities that are treated as hard currency to purchase anything up to and including 21st century military hardware.  Only the most naive (or willfully blind) person would believe that the bulk of humanitarian aid will filter down to the people who actually need it.

According to the most 'pie-in-the-sky' assessments of the PA election Hamas won, not on a platform of calling for Israel's destruction, but rather on their record of playing Robin Hood with some of the overflow from their terror war chest.  Unlike Fatah, which was seen as weak and corrupt, Hamas is seen as strong and corrupt.  This small but important distinction boils down to Hamas being the ones who seem most able to deliver the goods.

Unfortunately, in the months leading up to the elections, the civilized world told the Palestinian people in no uncertain terms that if they elected a Hamas-led government, Robin Hood would no longer have the means to play benevolent benefactor.   The well would simply run dry.

Yet now it seems that the Palestinians were the ones who understood things far better than anyone.  They knew that International resolve would crumble in a matter or weeks, and that nobody would want to take responsibility for causing a 'humanitarian disaster'. 

It's the same reason that on a daily basis the Palestinians can launch dozens of rockets at Israeli targets with impunity from within Palestinian Gaza without fear of Israel turning off the water or electricity.  You see, they have plenty of money for explosives, weapons and rockets... but building a power plant or water desalinization facility would tie up too much of their working capital!

So, on this rainy Sunday morning I'd like to give a shout out to US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch... and thank him and his handlers for welching on one of the most important commitments the US has ever made in this region.

Nicely done.


Posted by David Bogner on February 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Friday, February 24, 2006

Photo Friday (Vol. LVII) ['Bit of Ass' edition]

Alright everyone... admit it; Who doesn't like to see a bit of ass at the end of a busy week?  It lifts the spirits... puts a new spring in your step...

What's that?  Oh grow up!  That's not what I was talking about, and you know it!  What, are we in third grade here???  :-)

Along my daily commute I typically see dozens of donkeys.  In fact, they are so ubiquitous that I had almost stopped noticing them altogether. They had simply become part of the scenery.

But then I realized that there are all of you for whom such sights haven't become mundane, so I decided to try to photograph a few for posterity. 

This wasn't as simple as it sounds.

You see, with the exception of the odd kibbutz, donkey's aren't exactly part of the scenery in the Jewish part of Gush Etzion and Har Hevron.  If I was going to photograph any donkeys I meant I would either have to take pictures while driving (something I've done a few times and which didn't give very good results), or each time I spotted a donkey I'd have to decide if there was a safe place to stop that wouldn't put me, or may passengers in any immediate danger.

I went with #2.

Of course, as soon as I'd made the decision to try to photograph some donkeys, they suddenly became quite scarce.  Where once there were dozens around every bend in the road, now there were one here and one there... and usually in unsafe or inconvenient places to stop.

So what you see below is the total result of two days of trying to find suitable subjects.

The funny thing is, I was fairly certain that my passengers would find the whole endeavor crazy... but one of them - a Major on his way to reserve duty - pulled out his brand new camera from his kitbag and started photographing right alongside me!

You need to look closely at this first picture to notice a metal frame sticking out from the sides of the donkey.  These pictures were taken early in the morning.  In the evening such a donkey will be loaded down with produce, firewood, and a wide array of other 'stiff', all supported on this metal frame.  The load can be larger than the donkey sometimes:

Next is a fairly typical/traditional image (sorry about the blurry pic).  In addition to being beasts of burden, donkey's are also a common alternative to walking:

Another common site is the donkey cart.  These have nice inflated tires and are often loaded with, well you name it and I've probably seen it piled high on one of these carts:

And another one:

This last image bothered me more than the others.  I've often thought that if one of those theories about reincarnations turned out to have any validity, the last thing I would ever want to come back as is an Arab's donkey.  I've seen these animals being beaten with sticks and tire-irons whipped with chains and ropes... and as in this picture, dragged along by their head rope/chain by a faster-moving vehicle.  As I prepared to take this picture I could actually hear the chain snapping taught each time the donkey's stride didn't exactly match the pedal strokes of the bike rider!   

Anyway... lots to do today.  Two blogging folk are coming to join us for brunch today: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) of 'Goblin King' fame... and Cara, of the popular Cara's World

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on February 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Individual vs. Insitutional wrongdoing

One of the joys of living in Israel is listening to people engaging in daily discussions (OK, arguments) about the actions of those they support and those they oppose.  Not surprisingly those we support are granted generous latitude, while those we oppose are held to exacting standards and the letter of the law.

I am perfectly willing to admit that I am as guilty of this sort of bias as the next Israeli.

But the basic disconnect that turns this sort of personal prejudice into something quite dangerous is the unwillingness of many people to differentiate between lawbreakers who are private citizens and those who are government agents/representatives.

Last week several bloggers linked to a very troubling news story.  It was an account of a senior police commander whose car had been torched, apparently as retribution for his role in the violent Amona evacuation.  The interview with the officer made it clear that he was not rattled by the attack.  But the mention of his family brought home the fact that this was also an attack on this man's family and their very sense of security! 

One such post about this incident was titled (appropriately, in my opinion) 'Mafia Tactics'.   I agree 100% that for anyone to intimidate or exact private vengeance against a policeman (or anyone, for that matter) is both abhorrent and indefensible.

But last night I read an article about another senior police official who, instead of being the victim of a crime, is alleged to be the perpetrator.  He is charged with causing grievous bodily harm to a demonstrator. Witnesses claim this police commander ordered the officers under his command to "lethally hit and kill everyone", and then broke a man's jaw with his boot because this man dared to try and read the name tag of the officer who had issued such patently illegal orders.

I'll admit that both of these news stories trouble me immensely. 

Private citizens using vandalism and violence to intimidate and punish government officials (or anyone else) runs counter to everything in which I believe. By the same token, police and/or soldiers brutalizing and intimidating private citizens (with tacit government and public approval) is every bit as repugnant to me.

However, the thing that far too many people seem willing to ignore in all this is that there is a crystal clear legal and moral distinction between the illegal actions of private citizens (even groups of private citizens acting in concert) and the illegal actions of governmental agents. 

A private citizen represents only him/herself no matter how much he/she may look like a representative of a larger group.  This is why the war on terror is so damned difficult to wage.  Soldiers and police aren't allowed to just bludgeon or shoot anyone who looks like their mental image of a terrorist!   And because a soldier or policeman's authority flows from the government, when interacting with private individuals (legally or otherwise), their actions represent their chain of command... as well as the government for whom they work. 

When a policeman or soldier wounds or kills a civilian in any civilized country, his/her actions immediately come under institutional scrutiny.  Questions must be asked such as: 'What orders did the soldier/policeman receive?'  'Who issued those orders?'  'Were the orders within the scope and/or limits allowed by the law?'    If any of those question receive an unsatisfactory answer, then the entire system, not just the individual actor, is scrutinized upward to every level until no more responsibility can be assigned.

Conversely, when a private citizen attacks another citizen (including a soldier or policeman) they only legally represent themselves.  Because they lack the institutional protection provided to soldiers and police (meaning they can't be found blameless because they were following orders from others), they alone are liable for their actions.  Their guilt cannot automatically be spread among others who share the same political or religious sympathies... or physical proximity. 

This isn't to say that groups of private citizens who conspire to act criminally are immune from joint prosecution.  It simply means that one can't begin from the assumption that guilt is shared among an entire group.  Each criminal connection must be proved.

This refusal to differentiate between individual and institutional wrongdoing is what has had me on edge for quite some time. 

When a religious settler throws a potentially lethal brick at a policeman during a demonstration, far too many otherwise intelligent people in this country mentally respond by condoning collective punishment against all religious settlers who demonstrate (however peacefully) against the government and its representatives. 

But when soldiers or police exceed their authority and brutalize civilians, the same people will rush to justify the action as perfectly appropriate given the opponent... or try to suggest that if there were abuses, the wrongdoing was perpetrated by individuals... not the institution/government.

Someone who has never met me might be forgiven for looking at my plaid shirt... khaki pants... pistol stuffed into my waistband... kippah and beard... and making snap assumptions about my political leanings... my feeling about violence against authority... and my fealty to democratic values.   

A private citizen is allowed to make such assumptions about me because they are legally powerless to turn their feelings into any actions that might hurt me. 

But if the person making such assumptions wears a government uniform and turns those assumptions into a justification to abuse me... that person, as well as his/her superiors and the government agency he/she represents, are collectively answerable under the law.

I have never once sought to excuse or soft-pedal violence on the part of setters.  In fact the leadership of the settler movement has been consistently and outspokenly critical of any violent acts and/or incitement.  But legally such actions, no matter how repugnant, are the actions of individuals.

Yet there seems to be no corresponding official denunciation of police and/or military wrongdoing.  Whatever small measure of scrutiny such institutional wrongdoing receives typically only comes after much denial and justification.

The police and army cannot function in a democracy if they are perceive as being an instrument of one half the population against the other.  They cannot legally deal with religious settlers as a homogeneous enemy entity and mete out collective punishment against 'those people' as a group.  We may all look alike to outside eyes, but we are all still individual citizens with individual protection under the law.

If I see a settler raise his/her hand illegally against a uniformed representative of the government, I'll personally restrain them and even turn them in to the authorities.  But if I want to peacefully demonstrate while wearing my beard, kippah and plaid shirt, and a policeman is given the tacit backing of the government (and half the Israeli population) to bash in my skull, then democracy has failed.

One is an example of individual wrongdoing that requires stiff and unflinching individual punishment.  The other is a symptom of an institutional and systemic malignancy that must be aggressively purged from top to bottom.


Posted by David Bogner on February 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A day late and a 'thank you' short

I've been wanting to share this story for some time now... if for no other reason than to remind others that they needn't experience the kind of regret that I carry around with me every single day.

I've mentioned on many occasions that I was never a very good student.  Alright... I was a disaster of a student.  In fact, using the term 'student' to describe me is only appropriate in the sense that I was physically present in a classroom for a set number of years.

However, I somehow managed to get a dazzling score on my SATs, graduate from high school, and even earn a BA in English Lit.  That 'somehow' had a name: Mr. David Patterson... and I can say without hesitation that most of what I know today about a dizzying range of subjects, I learned from this incredible man.

Between 3rd and 4th grade my family moved from New Paltz ,New York to San Diego, California.

When we arrived there I was evaluated by the new school system, given a battery of tests (including an IQ test), and based entirely on the results I was assigned to a 'gifted' program at a nearby elementary school. 

The 'gifted ' program was full of Über-smart kids, and taught by some of the most imaginative teachers on the planet. 

My 4th grade teacher was an intimidating, giant of a man named David Patterson.  He was a retired Marine with the requisite crew cut, burned/creased leatherneck, ramrod-straight posture and a deep, gravelly smoker's voice. 

Mr. Patterson didn't walk... he marched in regal, perfectly measured strides.  His voice carried across the playground much as I'm sure it had once carried across parade grounds and battlefields.  He was larger than life and a terrifying presence for an inveterate slacker like myself.  However, I quickly found that Mr. Patterson's craggy, imposing exterior camouflaged a gentle, intensely thoughtful teacher. 

This isn't to say he was a softy.  Oh my no! 

I remember on one occasion when a black girl in our class came back from recess crying about someone having made a racial slur, Mr. Patterson stood us at attention and harangued us like new recruits for nearly 30 minutes.  It was a terrifying ordeal to say the least, and I never experienced anything like it again... even while I attended boot camp in the navy!

One day Mr. Patterson handed each of us a protractor, a length of string and a lead fishing weight.  He didn't explain what we were going to do.  He simply told us to tie the string onto the tiny hole in the middle of the protractor and the weight onto the end of the string.

From there we were led out on to the enormous playground/ball field that surrounded the school on two sides and told that we were going to play a game called 'Angles and Elevations'

He placed us in a big circle in the middle of the field and let us take turns standing in the center, holding the protractor flat against our chins with the curved side away from us, measuring the number of degrees between specific classmates around us. 

This, he explained, was how the angles portion of the game worked.

After we had mastered this fairly straight-forward skill, he told us to hold the protractors upside-down and let the string hang down over the curved portion with the numbers.  He ordered (Mr. Patterson never requested) one of the more agile kids in the class to climb up onto one of the baseball backstops and then told us to look at this kid's nose from along the bottom (which was now the top) edge of our protractors. 

Once we all had this student's nose sitting on the top edge of out protractors he shouted "Now trap the string against the side of the protractor!"  Those of us who didn't drop our protractors out of shock did as he had ordered.

He then went from student to student and asked us to tell him the number on the protractor over which the strong was trapped. The numbers varied widely and we were sure we'd completely screwed up when he bellowed, "Excellent! That's the elevation part of the game! Now can anyone tell me why you all got different elevations?"

We stood in dumb silence for nearly five minutes before one of the kids realized that it was because we were all standing different distances from the backstop when we took our elevation measurement. 

I thought Mr. Patterson was going to explode from pride that we had all caught onto the basics of this 'game' so quickly, but he wasn't finished yet.

He then used marks in the sandy playing surface to show how we each had very similarly spaced strides, and that once we knew the length of these strides (it turned out to be 3 strides = 2 yards), we could accurately measure any distance that we could walk.  He also taught us how to do triangulation (although he didn't use that word) to figure out missing measurements such as height.

From there he handed out pads of graph paper and pencils, explained that each little square was two yards, and had us write down the angles, elevations and distance to various other landmarks within view.  By the end of the day we were standing in large complex shapes and accurately drawing pictures of them. 

The last thing we did was collect all the angles and elevations for the perimeter of the playground and drew a scale picture of it on our graph paper.  We were amazed to find that everyone had drawn the exact same picture of the playground... right down to the height of the chain-link fence!

The next day we came to school ready for more fun and games... and we weren't disappointed.

Mr Patterson divided us into two-man teams and each pair was assigned a specific street near the school.  We were told to measure the angles, elevations and distances of every feature we could find including the length and width of the street, the elevation of any hills and the exact location and angle of any intersecting streets.  He told us that we should take our measurements by having one team member stand at each end of whatever was being measured, site in on each-other's nose... and for each of us to compare our numbers with the other to make sure they agreed.

When we returned to the classroom after lunchtime we were surprised to find that all the desks and chairs had been moved outside and that the entire floor was covered with butcher paper with a graph-paper grid penciled over it's entire surface.

Mr. Patterson explained to us that we would spend the afternoon transferring our angles, elevations and distances onto the butcher paper just the way we had transferred the measurements of the playground to our graph paper pads the previous day. 

As the end of the school-day drew near, a map of the neighborhood began to emerge on the floor of our classroom.  Thirty minutes before the final bell a man entered the room carrying a large rolled piece of paper under his arm and was introduced to us as a surveyor who worked for the City of San Diego.  The rolled paper under his arm, he explained, was the official city map with distances and elevations, for our neighborhood that men in his department had prepared.

We sat quietly in the corners of the room watching the city surveyor move industriously over our map making comparisons to reference points on his own map.  For almost 20 minutes nobody spoke, and the only sound was the scratch of his pencil as he marked off reference points and made barely audible comments to himself.

Ten minutes before the final bell the city surveyor rolled up his map with a professional flourish and for the first time looked around at the students.  I will never forget what he said, or how his words made me feel, for as long as I live:

"I couldn't have done a better or more accurate job myself.  I'd have no problem signing my name to this map and publishing it tomorrow.  It is perfect!"

He then went on to say how proud we must feel to have mastered geometry and trigonometry at such an early age.  We stared at each other dumb-struck as he droned on with other unfamiliar words like sine, cosine and tangent, and silently wondered what the heck he was talking about.  We didn't know any of that stuff... we'd just learned a game called 'angles and elevations'.

I never did learn the proper geometry or trigonometry terms (or the concepts they described).  But those two days in the fourth grade gave me the confidence to use common sense and non-traditional methods to solve many of the mathematical problems life would hand me.

This game I've described was just one of dozens he taught us that encompassed subjects like chemistry, music, language, art, architecture and even physics.  The secret was that he never used the scary names and terminology that would have brought the shutters crashing down in many of our young minds.

Like most self-absorbed kids, it wasn't until years later that I realized what I debt I owed to Mr. Patterson.  If I had to sum up Mr. Patterson's contribution to my life, I'd have to say that he taught me the essentials of improvisation, and not to be afraid to take on an unknown challenge using my small arsenal of known skills.

I thought several times during my last year of university about getting in touch with him and telling him how much he had helped prepare me for life's myriad formal and ad-hoc problems... but I never seemed to get around to doing it.

A couple of years after graduation while moving into a new apartment I found myself with a pad of graph paper in my hand, figuring out if some new (actually hand-me-down) furniture was going to fit.  I didn't know the formulas or names for any of the disciplines one would use to solve such a problem, but I knew instinctively how to do it.  After all... I'd done it countless times on a sandy playground in 4th grade.

It was then that I decided to get in touch with Mr. Patterson to finally thank him for all his help.

Unfortunately he had long since retired from teaching and Patterson is a very common name.  So I sent a very long thank-you letter to him in care of the San Diego City School System with the request that they forward it to him at whatever address he received his pension payments.

Almost two months went by before I got a reply.  I knew it was from him because the letter had a southern California return address and was written in a firm, strong hand.

But when I opened it up I found I was wrong.  It was from his daughter.

She was writing to tell me that her father had passed away just the year before and that the city schools had forwarded the letter to her.  She had read my letter and was delighted to hear that her father had touched my life so profoundly.  She also enthusiastically concurred with my assessment that her father had been a very special man.

I've shared this story with you because I often find myself improvising my way through a difficult problem only to be struck by waves of remorse for having needlessly procrastinated thanking the person who had taught me so many of life's essential skills.

If there is someone (or perhaps several someones) like this in your past, please stop what you're doing and find a way to thank them.  Google them... email them... write them a letter... call them on the phone... do whatever it takes to track them down.

But whatever you do, don't go through the rest of your life feeling a day late and a thank you short.


Posted by David Bogner on February 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 21, 2006



tr. v.,  ized, -iz·ing, -iz·es.

The action of prolonging or perpetuating a state of infancy. *


Every single time I come across a discussion of the Palestinian people or leadership that contains the word 'infantilize', I experience one of these moments of resonating clarity that can only be experienced when a pure truth is told.

Starting from the first intifada and continuing to this very day, the news media and various well-wishers have used terminology to describe the well-planned, carefully orchestrated and perfectly executed actions of the Palestinians as if they were the involuntary , spontaneous actions of a small child.

Entire people's do not spontaneously abandon their livelihood and take to the streets in a destructive, violent rampage.   The primeval 'fight or flight' instinct would not compel an entire population to pull itself apart at the seams just because Ariel Sharon decided to take a stroll onto the Temple Mount!

When the media continuously spoke of the first intifada as a 'spontaneous uprising' as if it were something over which nobody could exercise any control... it raised some troubling issues for anyone (e.g. Israel) who might be asked to face the Palestinians in the grown-up game of making peace or war. 

Either the Palestinians were completely beyond restraint, in which case their leadership was not in a position to enter into any agreements concerning their future behavior.  Or, they were being carefully controlled/orchestrated, in which case the leadership could reasonably be expected to turn off the violence spigot at any moment of its choosing. 

Yet not one mainstream media outlet came to the logical conclusion that it couldn't work both ways.  Not one of them raised the logical fallacy of demanding Israel negotiate in good faith with a powerless leadership representing a people that were completely out of control.

What the media willfully ignored was that the entire Palestinian people didn't suddenly surge from their homes with whatever weapons were at hand as though touched by a live wire!  There were months, or even years of extensive groundwork/planning already done... complex communication networks tested and ready... multiple layers of management in place to relay instructions to the 'masses'... extensive supply lines established to place weapons, ammunition and explosives in the right place at the right time... and sophisticated media contacts in place and fully operational to feed the 24-hour news cycle a well rehearsed version of facts and figures. 

To this day the media recaps that era as if the Palestinians were little children spontaneously acting-out in anger and frustration.

When the second intifada broke out, the Palestinians were again portrayed in the press as spontaneously venting anger and frustration due to the hopelessness of living under brutal military occupation.  Far from having matured as a people from the previous disaster of an intifada, they were once again relieved of any semblance of responsibility by the media, the UN and much of the world.

All one has to do to in order to see that this trend has continued to this very day is to look at recent events with the word 'infantilization' held firmly in mind:

When the prophet Mohamed was portrayed disrespectfully in a series of political cartoons, an entire religion was portrayed to the world as being unable to control their emotional outburst. They threw a worldwide temper tantrum and began kicking and punching anything and everything within reach.   And nobody seemed particularly bothered or surprised by this.  Not the media, and certainly not the supporters and apologists of Islam.

People willfully ignored the fact that the poor down-trodden Muslims of the word who lack for every possible material possession, suddenly had a nearly limitless supply of shiny new Danish flags to burn. 

Unlike childish emotions, flags are a commodity that must be manufactured, purchased and shipped.  A sizable order requires lead time... a budget for purchasing... logistical planning... a distribution network. 

We Israelis have access to a dizzying array of communications equipment, financial credit and supporters around the world.  But if the Palestinians enraged us to the point that we wanted to take to the streets, simultaneously attack both civilian and governmental Palestinian targets and burn thousands of Palestinian flags... I can't even imagine overcoming the logistical nightmare of laying our hands on such a large number of Palestinian flags, much less convincing a large portion of the Israeli population to give up gainful commerce and become volunteer vandals!!

This word 'infantilization'  most be brought into consistent and mainstream use wherever and whenever the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is discussed.  It is untenable that Israel be the only party cast in the role of grown-up; making concessions, living up to agreements, being held accountable for actions (or inaction), simply because the other side is allowed to be portrayed as too immature and undeveloped to be held to the same standard.

There is a reason that small children aren't allowed to drink, smoke, drive, vote or own a gun.  All of these things require the ability to make an informed decision and to accept resulting consequences.  Diplomacy and war are no different.  If an entire people - or even an entire religion - is going to be granted the status of a minor who is incapable of self-control (i.e. not liable for its actions), then they cannot reasonably be expected to be able to enter into binding agreements or engage in any other accepted machinations of statecraft.

But if we are going to acknowledge that this religion, and these people, are fully capable of demanding self-determination, engaging in diplomacy, conducting legally-binding elections and managing their own financial affairs... then the world can no longer be allowed to infantilize them and pretend that each act of terrorism, each incitement to mass violence, each abrogation of agreements and each public call for the destruction of Israel is akin to a harmless juvenile tantrum... that they didn't really mean it.

The infantilization of the Palestinians (as well as the rest of the Muslim world)  can no longer be allowed to continue.  They are not children.  They are not immature.  They are not naive.  They are not incapable of understanding the difference between wrong and right.  They are none of these things for which we would understandably excuse an infant. 

They are fully capable of entering into legally binding agreements.  They are fully capable of declaring and waging war.  They are fully capable of extremely sophisticated thought and action.  And most of all, they are legally and morally aware of the short and long-term consequences of their actions.

These are the standards by which all civilized nations determine legal competency.  The time has finally come to refuse to allow anyone to infantilize our enemies. 


* Source:  The Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition 1989


Posted by David Bogner on February 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Monday, February 20, 2006


Late last week another family milestone was passed with the addition of a new member to the clan!

My brother and sister-in-law who live out in the SF bay area finally gave birth to their second child... a handsome (by all accounts) little boy named Joshua Edward Bogner.  Little Joshua took almost a week (literally) to make an appearance, but everyone is (B"H) doing well and our kids are celebrating the acquisition of a new cousin!

All this talk of babies has me looking at Yonah with new eyes.  Babyhood is such a distant speck in his rear-view mirror that I can't even remember a time when he couldn't run around and throw food at the dog!

Of course, the next big milestone for him will be 'potty-training' and I'm honestly stumped as to how that's supposed to work.  You see, my lovely wife toilet trained Ariella in less than a week while I was miraculously out of the house.  And Ariella took it upon herself to potty train Gilad while we weren't looking. 

The only downside to being spared a hand in Gilad's transition from diapers to underwear was that, thanks to Ariella's tutelage, he initially learned to pee in the seated position.  Luckily after a few weeks of fairly passive instruction I was able to break him of this unmanly habit. 

So, the fact that both big kid's toilet training went off without a hitch has me worried as to how to start the process with Yonah. 

Um, wait a minute.  Did I say 'without a hitch'?  Let me rephrase that to almost without a hitch.  Now that I'm thinking about it there were one or two small bumps in the road with Ari and Gili.

I remember now that Gilad became overly confident of his peeing prowess and for a short time would turn towards anyone standing nearby and proudly hose down their pant leg and shoes in order to show that he knew how to go standing up "like a big boy"! And on another memorable occasion after being told repeatedly to stop jumping up and down on our newly reupholstered 9', hand-tied oak-framed Danish Modern couch, Gilad stared defiantly into Zahava's eyes... pulled down his pants... and peed all over the pristine fabric.

And Ari... how could I have forgotten about Ari's big 'oops'?

You see, Ariella totally 'got' the whole concept of going in the toilet and couldn't wait to do it at every opportunity.  But she had such a tiny bladder that she had trouble making it through the night.  Each morning that she woke up wet was devastating for her self-esteem and we all cast about for a way to help her succeed.  Luckily our pediatrician realized that as a musician I was coming home late at night and made a very sensible suggestion:

He said, "Since you're up anyway at 1:00AM, why not go in and gently wake Ariella up?  Just walk her into the bathroom... sit her down on the toilet... and tell her to go.  She probably won't remember getting up, but it's important that she get to the bathroom under her own steam so her body 'remembers' the act of getting out of bed to go to the bathroom."

So, a ritual evolved where every night (whether I'd come home from my gig or set my alarm for 1:00AM), I'd go in and gently wake Ari up... guide her to the bathroom... sit her down on the toilet... rub her back... and say "It's OK honey, you can go now". 

And she would. 

Not long after we'd settled into this new ritual Zahava and I were awoken a little after midnight by Ariella shrieking at the top of her lungs.  I ran into her room and found her thrashing around under her covers, apparently in the grips of a really bad nightmare.

I instinctively scooped her onto my lap... rubbed her back and softly whispered, "It's OK honey..."

The rush of warm pee onto my lap was so sudden that at first I didn't understand what was happening.  But then it hit me that I'd uttered the magic words and she had responded right on cue.

I have a vague recollection of half carrying/half marching her into the bathroom.  But by then the damage was done.

Of course Ariella has no recollection of this - and it seems that I had almost succeeded in blocking it from my own memory as well.  But now that I've successfully dredged up these highlights of Ari and Gili's adventures in toilet training I'm fairly certain that Yonah's encounter with this rite of passage will likely give birth to some wonderful new stories for this journal.

Aren't family milestones great? :-)


Posted by David Bogner on February 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Friday, February 17, 2006

Photo Friday (Vol. LVI) ['neighbors' edition]

I've read with interest when Israeli bloggers write about the way they view our neighbors the Palestinians.

Some like to pretend that there is no such people as the Palestinians, and that arguing semantics and provenance will somehow make these people magically go away. 

Some are slightly more enlightened and acknowledge that yes, there are Palestinians 'over there'... but that from 'over here' they all look like the enemy (even if 'over here' is just the next hilltop).  Intellectually they understand that the majority of the Palestinians may or not hate Israelis... and that only a tiny minority are actually engaged in planning and executing attacks.  But since a terrorist looks exactly the same as any of his/her blameless Palestinian neighbors, people from this second group tend to see Palestinians as individual trees... yet treat them like a forest.

Then there are those who are considered by many to be the most enlightened of all.  These are the people who are the most vocal proponents of 'dialog' and 'compromise'.  They are often the ones pushing for new 'gestures' such as opening roadblocks and lifting travel restriction.  When confronted with the fact that every such 'gesture' is answered (often within hours) by shootings and bombings, they insist that Israel needs to 'take a long view' of the process and not focus on individual attacks.

Not surprisingly, I find myself firmly in the second of these three groups.

I personally think it is foolish to put one's head in the sand and pretend that by refusing to call an entire population by a particular name that everything will magically work itself out.  I also think it is foolish to propose 'taking a long view' of the peace process when an honest look at both the track record and the current PA leadership's promises for the future give no reason to hope for a change in the status quo.

I'm not saying that anyone is wrong or right, mind you.  I'm just saying that from where I sit, two of the three groups seem to be acting foolishly.  Dangerously so.

I walked to the top of the hill on which my house sits and pointed my camera down the other side.  This is what I mean by 'from where I sit':


While standing on the same spot I turned 90 degrees and took this photo:


The first picture is of the village of Abdel Ibrahim.  The second picture is of a small section of Efrat.  All that separates us from our Arab neighbors is a hilltop and a small grove of trees.

Efrat used to have cordial relations with this and several other neighboring Palestinian villages.  Many of these neighbors worked in our town, and our mayor and chief Rabbi extended free use of our emergency medical clinic (a facility built entirely from private donations) to all of these villagers. 

Then one of our neighbors walked into our emergency medical clinic with a bomb strapped to his body and blew himself up.  The most plausible explanation I've heard for his action is that his family had been threatened by the Palestinian leadership.  What choice did he have?

Efrat is not some windswept hilltop with a couple of illegal caravans.  Yitschak Rabin himself encouraged the establishment, settlement and expansion of my town.  It is the embodiment of what politicians mean when they talk about holding onto 'large settlement blocks and population centers'. 

So when I look over at the village that shares a hill with my house... I don't have the luxury of pretending my neighbors don't exist.  I also don't have the luxury of 'taking the long view' of the peace process with them.

Peace for me is not a process.  It won't come from 'confidence building gestures', increased funding, removal of roadblocks or allowing unencumbered freedom of movement.  These are all 'deeds' that have been tried time and again without success.  Ironically, when such 'deeds' have failed to bring about peace, the only hope that remains is 'words'.

In my opinion, peace will come from a Palestinian leadership that is powerful enough to threaten a poor villager into using his body as a bomb... yet reasonable enough to make (and keep) a public promise never to do so.

Shabbat Shalom.


Posted by David Bogner on February 17, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

...and the agony of defeat

I'm boycotting the Winter Olympics.

OK, maybe 'boycotting' might be too strong a word.  Let's just say I'm pretending they aren't actually going on.

It's not that I don't like watching winter sports... nothing could be further from the truth!  But with the Winter Olympics well underway I feel the need to speak up about something... if for no other reason than to suss out whether I'm the only one feeling a tad disenfranchised.

You see, I really do love the pageantry and drama that are part and parcel of the Winter Olympics.  I can watch the luge, and bobsledding forever.  I can sit through endless ski jumps and countless speed skating heats.  Regular slalom... giant slalom...  it's all good!

Just sit me in front of a TV screen with pretty much anything or anyone moving at a high rate of speed in just about any direction and I'm a happy camper.

Just please, please don't ask me to watch figure skating or ice dancing.

Unfortunately, my experience with the televised broadcasts of past Winter Olympics is that with all the fantastic events going on around the clock... about 98% of the air time is devoted to be-sequined and over-made-up human mannequins going through the same mind-numbing figure skating routines over and over and over...

My wife and daughter seem to be the target audience of the geniuses who parcel up the Olympic broadcast schedule.  They approach the winter Olympics as though all those other events (you know... the ones that I like) are like so much crumpled tissue paper in an over-wrapped gift-box.  In short, my girls seem to see everything but figure skating events as a bunch of made-up stuff thrown in to justify calling this shindig an 'Olympics' instead of simply having a quadrennial figure-skating and ice-dancing festival.

I'm sorry, I need some drama in my winter sports.  I want to see biathletes ski until their hearts practically burst from their chests and then through sheer force of will instantly slow their heartbeats to about 10bpm so they can shoot perfect bulls-eyes with their rifles.  I want to see competitors in the giant slalom cutting corners too wide and sailing off into scenic alpine oblivion. 

I'm one of those guys who grew up faithfully watching ABC's Wide World of Sports just for that intro where the announcer would say:

"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport! The thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat! The human drama of athletic competition! This is ABC's Wide World of Sports!"

While intoning the bolded words above, they would show a fantastic clip of Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj taking one of the most memorable spills in ski jumping history.

Now that's drama, my friends!

The only drama to be found in any of these figure skating events is the hyphenated kind... the kind followed by the word 'queen'.

OK, I'll admit that figure skating started to get a tiny bit interesting back in '94 when Tonya Harding single-handedly tried to turn it into a full-contact sport.  But that bit of excitement was short-lived and figure skating quickly returned to irrelevancy (at least for me).

I'm a good husband and father.  I have never denied my wife and daughter the right to cheer on Michelle Kwan (what, is she 40 now?).  I've never kept them from watching the same bevy of dour Russian skaters who smile at the world with everything but their cold, dead eyes. 

But what about me?  When do I get to watch?

The problem, as I mentioned earlier, is that roughly 2% of the Olympic broadcasts are devoted to events that I enjoy watching.  And even during those events the networks repeatedly cut away to shots of some ice-dancing couple warming up or an 'ice expert' droning on about the challenges that were overcome in order to have the rink ready in time for figure skating events. 

Personally, the only way you could get me to sit through a figure skating event at this point would be if you dragged the skaters one by one up to the top of the big ski-jump ramp and pushed them off, shouting after them "Let's see your 'Triple Salchow' NOW!"   Then I'd watch with delight as they cartwheeled off the edge of the jump and out into space like our Slovenian friend Vinko.

Y'know... given their training, they could even be scored on how many full rotations they achieved before slamming into the rocky mountainside.  And all the while we disenfranchised guys would be quietly repeating, "The thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat!"


Posted by David Bogner on February 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Civics anyone?

A few weeks ago a friend of mine from Hashmonaim sent me an email asking a fairly straight forward civics question (which I've edited for brevity):

Hi David,

There's something I don't understand and thought maybe you could shed some light.

Sharon won his position as PM through the voting process which specifically gave the Likud party enough votes to form the government and have its #1 person as PM, is that right?

The PM then left the ruling party.

Doesn't the party that got the most votes retain it's right to decide on the country's leadership and the cabinet ministers?

Why would Olmert now be acting PM - shouldn't it be a Likud person?  Shouldn't Likud as the winning party still have the authority to run the show?

Or perhaps the Likud actually did/does have the right but was/is unable to act on it?

Just seems strange that the country can vote for a party and its leader, then the leader changes his personal political direction, actually leaves the party, and what had been a vote by the people for country leadership is now ignored in favor of his new party that never received a single vote.

Is there a justification for this based on current rules and regulations of Israeli voting and the party system?

Now, I grew up steeped in the minutiae of American civics.  OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration... but I can still sing most of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm just a bill..."

Anyway, my point is that over the years I seem to have miraculously acquired a fairly respectable body of knowledge about how the US government operates.  But now that I am in Israel I can't answer even the most basic civics questions... and this question from my friend was far from basic stuff. 

So, I forwarded the email to close friend and fellow bourbon aficionado who also happens to be a member of the Likud Central Committee.

His response was as follows:

Hi David,

Your friend might be right.

The law says that the replacement will be chosen from among the members of the PM's "faction" ("siyah") which can be plausibly understood to mean the party in which he was elected. The Attorney General has interpreted it to mean "faction" in the narrow sense, namely the faction to which the PM now belongs. (This "faction" has legal standing in terms of campaign funding and other stuff.)

Yossi Fuchs, an attorney from Neve Daniel, has brought suit to the Supreme Court, arguing in favor of the first interpretation. Last I heard, he thought that the resignations of the Likud ministers was the last nail in the coffin of his case. In any case, it never stood much chance given the players.

This response was a bit of an eye-opener.  I couldn't figure out why nobody in the media seemed interested in discussing the legal interpretations and implications.  If this were happening in the US, the talk shows would be clogged with constitutional scholars espousing myriad theories, literally around the clock! 

But here in Israel? Nothing.

Then last week I saw an intriguing post on Israpundit by Akiva of M Paths entitled 'Breaking Israeli Law - The temporary PM (which I've reposted here with permission).  I don't know Akiva's background, but on the face of it, he seems to make an interesting argument:

Recent Israeli government pronouncements, especially around events in Amona, have made clear that the rule of law is of supreme concern in Israel. So lets take a brief look at the biggest public violation of Israeli law currently going on.

Israel Basic Law: The Government : Section 30 Inability to function - “(b) Should the Prime Minister be temporarily unable to discharge his duties for a period not exceeding 100 consecutive days…”

This is the current provision under which the government of Israel, in particular the Kadima controlled executive branch, is operating. It works under the assumption that the Prime Minister is temporarily unable to discharge his duties. Which, of course, is a complete and total lie, an illegality being completely ignored! The reason for this lie is…

Israel Basic Law: The Government : Section 29 Acting Prime Minister - “(a) Should the Prime Minister die, be permanently incapacitated…the Government will empower one of the Ministers who is also a Knesset member, to serve as acting Prime Minister

Meaning, the Knesset, according to party strength (the largest party in the Knesset is Likud right now) votes in an Acting Prime Minister if the Prime Minister is “permanently incapacitated”. Let’s be clear, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, had brain surgery 3 times, is on a respirator and feeding tube, has been in an extended coma, and today had part of his intestines removed. Recovery from a minor stroke takes months to years. Everyone having a major stroke is incapacitated, in a few very rare cases they may recover some very limited communication ability. By any definition of the term, Prime Minister Sharon is permanently incapacitated from serving as Prime Minister.

The current government of Israel is illegal.

Apparently someone is starting to wake up to the fact that perhaps the fluid manner in which the leadership passed from Likud to Kadima should maybe be examined more closely.  This morning there was a Jerusalem Post article about how three of the more senior Labor Party defectors (Shimon Peres, Dalia Itzik and Haim Ramon), may have either intentionally or inadvertently circumvented the law in order to remain in the inner sanctum of Israeli politics.

So, today's question, dear readers:

Has the current Kadima-led government simply strolled to the front of the line hoping nobody would notice (a classic Israeli move if ever there was one), or did legal authority to govern pass to Kadima by some obscure ruling of Israeli law that nobody has yet been able to explain to me?

Please show your work.


Posted by David Bogner on February 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Big Red Paper Heart

I have fond memories of this particular date from my public elementary school days.  Being Jewish I obviously didn't assign any religious significance to the occasion.... it was a just a rare day on which we were allowed - even encouraged - to engage in some chaste flirtations. 

The best part was that since the whole class passed out valentines to one another, we all had built-in deniability regarding the slightly-more-earnest message we scrawled inside the valentine that was handed to that certain someone.

It was an innocent time when crushes were seldom, if ever, acted upon... all 'love' was unrequited... and tiny candy hearts (the ones with messages printed on them) served as deliberately ambiguous tokens of our crushes.

As an observant Jew I am fully aware that St. Valentine's Day has nothing to do with me or my culture, but that doesn't mean I can't look back fondly to a time when this day simply provided sanction for a little platonic flirting.

So, today I'm going to do a little virtual flirting of my own and draw your attention to three special 'girls' with whom I share this big classroom known as the blogosphere:

First is Andrea of Superhero Jewelry.  I've been following her journal for as long as I can remember, and am constantly blown away by her creativity... in her writing, her photography, and of course her beautiful jewelry design.  Her designs are like candy for the neck and ears... and truly look good enough to eat!  If you aren't yet a customer or a fan, go say hello.

Next is mademoiselle a., a frequent treppenwitz commenter and long-time friend.  Ironically, 'mlle a.' and I first 'met' via a comment I left on Andrea's journal.  Over the past couple of years she's given me frequent peeks at the treasures she's found at 'flea markets' and craft fairs she frequents in Europe (where she lives).  These boxes of antique buttons... rolls of elegant lace... bolts of vintage fabrics... and the dizzying array of old world sewing notions have now been combined to create some incredibly beautiful hand-made originals that are being featured in her brand new Etsy store.  If you've ever longed for clothing or accents from a bygone era (or wished you could give such an item as a gift), you must go pay 'mlle. a. a visit at 'thymbyl designs'.

My last flirtation for today is directed at another journaler who I've been following for ages; Mighty Girl ('Famous among dozens').  Maggie's journal is a delight to read and her photography is inspired, but I recently noticed that she's set up an incredible collection of just plain 'niftiness' called Mighty Goods.  Maggie scours the web for the neatest gadgets... the funkiest clothing (for both men and women)... the yummiest food... the most interesting novelties... and the best 'stuff' for kids, and puts it all in one convenient place... just for you.  It's like having your own personal shopper!

Anyway, since I don't 'observe' Valentine's day in anything but memory... I hope you don't mind that I've taken a page from my early flirtations and send a virtual craft-paper heart to three 'girls' whose creativity and entrepreneurial talents I've been admiring from afar.


Posted by David Bogner on February 14, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 12, 2006

There's no going back

Long time treppenwitz readers may remember my New Year's post from a couple of years ago where I talked about being an incurable romantic.  So romantic in fact, that I spent all of New Years Eve engineering the trappings of perfect marital bliss; a unilaterally disengagement from our shared master bathroom.

Oh sure, I still venture into the master bath for purely, er, excretory purposes and the occasional shower... but all of my other morning and evening ablutions now take place in my masculine domain; my personal sink and medicine cabinet located on my side of the master bedroom.

I was inspired to disengage from the shared bathroom arrangement after more than a decade of Zahava repeatedly and flagrantly violating the 50/50 bathroom shelf-space treaty of 1991. 

Truth be told, I didn't really need 50% of the bathroom shelf space... but each year around spring cleaning time I would invariably find that my 'stuff' had been relegated to a tiny, undesirable spot on some lower shelf under the sink... while the medicine cabinet and all other prime shelf real estate in the bathroom would be crowded with Zahava's powders, cremes, combs, brushes, scents and G-d-only-knows what else!

So, when we purchased our house here in Israel I noticed the potential in the existing hot & cold water hook-up on my side of the master bedroom and immediately set about installing a sink and medicine cabinet of my very own.


This arrangement has allowed Zahava to officially take full possession of all shelf and storage space in the master bath and has been quite satisfactory for all parties involved.

Well, mostly satisfactory.

About halfway through a recent meeting at work I noticed that one of the female engineers sitting to my left kept staring intently at the side of my head.  I caught her at it several times and each time I glanced over at her, she quickly turned away.  I finally had to know what what the heck she was looking at... so while a coworker droned on through an endless PowerPoint presentation I whispered,"What are you looking at".

She quietly whispered back "You seem to have some kind of paint or ink inside your ear.  Have you been sticking your pen in there?"

Being a guy, I quickly took an exploratory swipe with my pinkie and came away with with what indeed looked like black ink all over the end of my digit.  I couldn't remember having put my pen near my ear... but I also couldn't come up with a better explanation, so I just smiled sheepishly at her and shrugged. 

I spent the rest of the meeting trying to look nonchalant, but I could clearly read the thought bubble over this engineer's head; "This idiot doesn't have the good sense to keep sharp objects away from his ears".

What does this have to do with my emancipation from the tyranny of the shared marital bathroom?

Being a pretty typical man, I have studiously ignored most of the little primping and preening rituals in which my wife engages.  I think most men feel, as I do, that our appreciation of the finished work is in no way diminished by not watching over the artist's shoulder. 

In short, I enjoy being presented with the finished product and feel no pressing need to know the trade secrets employed to arrive at such beauty.

So it's no wonder that I was, until quite recently, completely unaware that 'Q-Tips' might be drafted for any task other than the one for which I use them.

This probably comes as a complete surprise to many men who are reading this, but in addition to being the tool of choice for cleaning out one's ears, some women also employ 'Q-Tips' in the application and/or removal of certain pigments that are used to accent the eyes.  These can include eye-liner, mascara and/or eye-shadow... but please don't quote me here since I have only the most tenuous grasp of what any of these things might be.

These extra uses for such an innocuous bathroom item wouldn't normally be worth mentioning here on treppenwitz, except that I while I sat in that meeting trying to figure out how I had gotten ink in my ear I suddenly remembered exiting the shower that morning and swiping a few 'Q-Tips' from Zahava's stash before returning to my manly domain. 

It never occurred to me that there would be anything but fresh, clean 'Q-tips' there.  I mean, I throw mine away after each use... so it stands to reason that everyone would, right?

Anyway, when I got home from work that day of the mysteriously painted ear canal, I went exploring in Zahava's medicine cabinet and sure enough I found that instead of nice clean 'Q-Tips', I had grabbed a couple from a small pile that seems to have been set aside for applying or removing the above-mentioned eye-pigments.


If ever there was a flashing neon sign that once a man has willingly surrendered the bathroom shelves to his wife he can never, ever, go back... this was certainly it.


Posted by David Bogner on February 12, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Friday, February 10, 2006

Photo Friday (Vol. LV) ['signs of the times' edition]

As most of you know by now, I try to always keep my little digital camera with me whenever I'm out of the house.  That way if I see something out of the ordinary or strange (to me, anyway), I can snap a picture.

The funny thing is that up until recently, it hadn't occurred to me to take any pictures of a genre of items that I still find strange and out of the ordinary; Road signs.

Israel had a few major challenges to overcome when tackling the whole road sign issue.  First and foremost was the language issue.  There are three two official languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English... thanks Amechad), plus the added challenge of countless residents and tourists who speak other languages but none of the three two official ones. 

As an added bonus, the roadsign makers needed to take into consideration the small subset of the population that are functionally illiterate yet are members of the driving community.  On the few occasions I have been in line behind Bedouin men or women in the post office who have had to use their thumbprint in lieu of a signature because they couldn't read or write, I've wondered how they manage on the roads.

So it's not surprising that the road signs here are a bit different here than the ones with which I grew up.

First of all, there are a bunch of signs that don't require any proficiency in any language. There are the obvious ones such as 'Stop':


and 'caution'


... as well as some less obvious ones that  convey a general sense of urgency... without stating clearly about what:


Some are pretty obvious, like this...


... and this:


... while others are less so (perhaps this means you travel straight ahead until you bounce off something):


After noticing a decided gender bias in certain signage last year (this is a stroller/wheelchair ramp that bears the imprinted words 'For mother and baby' in Hebrew)...


... I was pleased to see a more egalitarian sign indicating that Israeli fathers do occasionally go out walking with their children:


By far, the clearest barometer of my ongoing acclimatisation to Israeli culture is the place on the tri-lingual signs to which my eyes instinctively gravitate.  When we first arrived my eyes were drawn only to the English.  But now, more often than not, I find myself reading the Hebrew:


One of the early sources of confusion for me was the similarity between how the route numbers and speed limit are indicated.  The following is a sign that for months I thought was the route number since it is located along route 60:


But then further up the road I noticed the same signs with the number 70 inside them... and I knew I hadn't changed roads. 

It turns out the route numbers are indicated inside a different shaped red border (below) and the numbers inside the red circles indicate the speed limit.  Would it have killed them to put 'kph' after the speed to make that clearer?


There are countless other interesting signs here that I haven't had time to photograph for posterity... but I'll leave you today with a sign you aren't likely to see in too many places in the world:


Shabbat Shalom.


Posted by David Bogner on February 10, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Tools for the global village [idiot]

Before I start today's post I need to do something that, here in Israel, is known colloquially as 'swallowing the frog'.

I owe a public apology to both Seth and the Bacon Eating Atheist Jew for the name calling and general unwarranted snarky tone I took with them.  Guys, I still feel you both ignored most (or all) of the issues I tried to raise with my posts over the past few days... and instead seem to have decided to use my comment board as a forum to air your opinions about settlers.  But I responded in a manner of which I'm not particularly proud. 

  • Name calling?  Check.
  • Condescending tone?  Check.
  • Baseless assumptions about someone's life experiences?  Check.
  • Holding someone up for public ridicule?  Check.

Have I missed anything?  Probably, but these four things are among the cardinal sins of commenting that I don't tolerate from anyone... and unless I'm much mistaken, I spent a fair amount of time and energy doing all of them this week.

I don't have to agree with everyone who comments here.  In fact, I prefer to see what my ideas look like alongside the opinions and ideas of others.  But I'm human.  I have my buttons... and the best way to push them is to let your dogma walk around loose in my yard without a leash.

I can't force anyone to accept my apology, but I can make it clear to all that I try very hard to hold myself to the same standards of conduct and intellectual honesty as anyone else who comes here. 

When I cross the line (as I clearly did), an apology is owed... and this is it:

~I'm Sorry~

Anyhoo... This week my Gmail account learned how to do a new trick. 

The folks at Google made a shrewd inductive leap in realizing that people are fed up with having their computers cluttered up with a lot of stand-alone, third party applications and tools.  So, instead of coming out with a bunch of stand-alone products, they've simply created tools to enhance the functionality of the apps that people are already using.

The Google toolbar is a perfect example of this. 

They reasoned that most people leave a browser window open whenever they are on the computer.  Rather than trying to lure surfers to Google's portal or change people's surfing habits, they simply created a powerful (and customizable) palette of tools that enhances the user's experience within the browser window that's already open.

Now Google has come up with a chat function that resides seamlessly within their web-based Gmail app. 

I should begin by saying that I'm not a big fan of chatting, mostly because I hate having all those chat applications on my computers.  First of all, they each come out with an upgrade or fix about every 4 minutes, so I'm constantly getting pop-up windows asking me if I want to download the latest version.  Feh.  Second of all, each has it's own settings and seems predisposed to try to wrest control of my computer's microphone and webcam from all the other chat applications installed on the machine.  This necessitates resetting my preferences each time I want to use a chat program that has recently lost one of these little cyber tugs-o-war.

But my friends and family are scattered among a wide range of incompatable chat platforms (Yahoo, MSN, AIM, ICQ, etc.)... so what can I do?

Google seems to have felt my pain. 

They made an astute observation that a lot of people out there aren't interested in the bells & whistles associated with most chat programs (at least most of the time)... and they don't want to have to remember which program each of their friends and family use.  So they painlessly pushed a bare-bones chat function into their already very clean, intuitive gmail window.

Any time they want to upgrade or change the capabilities of their chat program... they deal with it.  I don't need to do a thing.  That's just fine and dandy with me since I'm friendly with a lot of people out there in the global village... and I loathe being made to feel like the village idiot.

Thanks Google!

[Note:  If you want to find out what other tools are available from Google, go here

If you want to poke around some of the neat Beta-stuff the gnomes at Google labs are currently working on (and maybe give them a test-drive), go here.]


Posted by David Bogner on February 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Even I'm starting to find myself shrill and strident!

OK, I think we can all agree that political punditry is not my strong suit. 

This isn't to say I don't have some interesting ideas once in a while... but I find that I have no patience for the inevitable ax-grinders who love nothing better than to ignore reasonable points while hijacking the discussion to an ideological banana republic where worn-out dogmatic agendas live in comfortable semi-retirement.

It is lonely work being the only one in a discussion who is willing to entertain the possibility of more than one recipient for blame.  It just wears a person down to make a reasonable call for both government checks & balances and settler accountability, only to have the ax-grinders respond that if the unpatriotic, parasitic, violent, selfish settlers would only shut up and put the needs of Israel ahead of their own sinister agenda, then there would be no need for a silly government investigation.

But the most wearing aspect of my ill-advised forays into the political arena is, by far, the email. 

Commenters - even the semi-anonymous ones - tend to stay mostly wihin the white lines of polite discourse.  But those that send emails seem prone to gleefully ignoring propriety and going directly for the jugular.  A perfect example is this email I received during the night:

Dear Treppenshitz,

You like to play the role of 'liberal in settler clothing' but when the chips are down you always show your true kahanist colours.  Somone[SIC] else is always to blame when you settlers get what you so richly deserve, never the settlers themselves.  The people of Israel are sick and tired of religious fanatics scuttling every hope of peace.  If not for you people we would have been living in peace with our Arab neighbors for decades now.  You are the fly in the ointment and we will never have peace as long as you and your religious co-conspirators continue to resist the will of the Arabs and the Israelis.

You cry crocodile tears when teenage criminals get hurt trying to kill police but you have nothing to say for yourself when you people attack innocent schoolchildren and the Israeli soldiers that are there to protect them.

You are the biggest reason that the antisemites of the world hate us so much, and if I could think of a way to help them kill all of your kind I would be doing a huge favour to the rest of us real Jews who would finally be left in peace.

If you have any shame at all you will stop spreading lies about our police and Prime Minister and write a blog about your religious brothers in Maon, but I'm sure you will simply make some lame excuse for their terrorist acts so don't bother. Don't think I don't know what you're about asshole.

A real Jew*

Well, now... don't you all wish you could wake up to something like this in the morning?  Who doesn't appreciate a little ray of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day?

First of all, I have to give the writer full points for that parting shot.  It may seem like a small thing, but even though there was an unfortunate double negative, he/she seemed determined not to end that last sentence on a preposition, and I find that strangely reassuring.  After all, rule are rules.

Also, I would suggest to this eloquent writer that if the Palestinians had made use of settler-style civil disobedience instead of terror, they would have had their own state long since.

But ignoring the crazy factor, the kernel around which this email was constructed is a semi-legitimate dare for me to publicly criticize settlers for attacking children and soldiers. 

Let's pretend, for the sake of expediency, that I have never been critical of settler wrong-doing in the past (work with me here).  Why are a bunch of criminals from the village of Maon in any way analogous of the Prime Minister?  More importantly, who elected them as representatives of the settler movement?  Are they the moral compass of the religious right?  Have they been empowered by anyone to represent me/us?

For the record I am appalled, not only at the incident(s) described in the article to which last night's emailer linked, but by also by the seeming lack of indignation on the part of the community from which the attack(s) allegedly originated.  These are small, tight-knit villages where everyone knows what everyone else's kid got in math, who is having financial problems and what night their neighbor's wife went to mikveh.  It's not that settlers are nosy by nature, but it's hard not to know the most intimate details of what goes on in such a community.  So I find it difficult to believe that the mayor and security officer of Maon couldn't produce these mystery assailants fairly easily if they existed... and if they were so inclined.

This apparent reticence to self-police is one of the most troubling aspect of living under this big banner called being a religious settler.  But by the same token there have been many, many accusations of wrong-doing leveled against settler communities and individuals, by Palestinians and even by security forces, that have been discredited as intentional fabrications after even preliminary investigation.  So, at least some of the settler camp's image problem comes down to how much circumstantial evidence the court of public opinion requires before passing judgment.  I am a relative newcomer here, but so far it seems that many people are ready and willing - even eager -  to pass judgment and even mete out punishment without bothering with the inconvenient trappings of the legal system like 'burdon of proof'.

I don't read about Tel Aviv gangsters, drug dealers or rapists in the newspaper and say to myself 'this is what the secular left is all about... this is their agenda'.  Those bad actors are obviously marginal members of society and it would be foolish to use their actions to invalidate the law-abiding, humanist credentials of half the population.  I also don't wonder aloud why I don't hear any denunciations from that half of Israeli population or any attempt to distance themselves from such criminals.  Only the most cynical person would extrapolate such anti-social behavior as being representative of all the people among whom the perpetrators live.

So why are the violent criminals and crazies among the religious settlers seen by the Gush Dan set as representing all religious people... and all settlers?   The answer might be found in the fact that more than half the Israeli population has frequently demonstrated a disturbing willingness to believe the very worst about the remainder of their countrymen.

In my post about Amona I didn't say that all police were anti-settler or anti-religous.  I said that I believed the government deliberately deployed a police combat unit that has a long history of dealing in a very heavy-handed way with religious setters.  This was meant equally as an indictment of the government and the yasamnikim,  There was an offer on the table that would have eliminated the need for any police, much less a mounted police combat unit with a history of abuse. 

Since the clash at Amona took place, compelling evidence of systematic physical, sexual and verbal brutality against Amona protesters has been repeatedly 'pooh-pooed' by the government officials who deployed the Yasam... and all calls for an independent investigation of police, governmental and settler wrong-doing have been quashed by the very people who would come under uncomfortable scrutiny in such an investigation. 

Correct me if I've missed something, but doesn't this cry out for at least a semblance of 'separation of powers'?

Oy, here it is, time to wake up the family and I've done it again.  I have created another launching pad for the crazies and ax-grinders. 

I'm sure my statements about settler wrong-doing will be ignored.  I'm certain that my questions about who can reasonably be assumed to represent a segment of Israeli society will be tossed aside. 

But as sure as G-d made little green apples, you can bet that today's selection of comments will be chock full of sweeping generalizations about religious setters and how we all selfishly refuse to just go away for the greater good of the nation.

Just imagine what the email is going to look like!

* Full disclosure: I have removed two paragraphs from the middle of this email.  Partly because they contain excessive profanity... and partially because the author unintentionally gives away some identifying information about him/herself.  I have forwarded the email to the necessary people (ISP, police, local religious leadership), and I hope this individual will feel the pinch that being caught in the gears of due process can provide.


Posted by David Bogner on February 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Monday, February 06, 2006

Law & Order

[OK, I'll admit that being a bit of a TV Law & Order junkie I couldn't resist using that title.]

I have to add a few important things to what I wrote yesterday... partly because many people don't have the patience to pick through the comments where I've already said them, and partly because a few people took exactly the wrong message from my post.

First of all I have seen several people taking my friend Imshin to task for statements she made on her site.  You may be surprised to hear this, but I am 99.9% with Imshin when it comes to anyone making sweeping derogatory remarks about the entire police force.  No society can function without these overworked, underpaid public servants... and in a society as complicated and politicized as ours, their job is 20 times as hard to carry out.

That said, I think it is important to examine the many accusations leveled at the government and at very specific units within the police department within the very narrow scope of the events at Amona.

The role of the police is to uphold and enforce the law.  They have very clear limits on what they may and may not do in order to carry out this essential role... and in a free society the 'bad guys' almost always have a wider range of options than do the police who want to stop them.

However, what I am hearing over and over again from left-leaning bloggers and commenters are the following troubling misconceptions about the role of the government and police in these events:

1.  "It was an illegal settlement, so whatever the police had to do to dismantle it was justified".

No, this is incorrect.  Speeding is also illegal and probably puts many more people at risk than those 9 buildings in Amona.  But a policeman may not pull me out of my car and club me into submission simply because I am acting recklessly outside the law. [Note:  this should not be taken as an admission that I, um, speed.]

2.  "The settlers were planning to act violently so the police/Ashamnikim came prepared for a fight."

This is a matter for an independent commission of inquiry... something the settlers are demanding and the government authorities have thus far refused to even consider.  Given the tremendous amount of still and video coverage of the event, eye-witness testimony from both the police and demonstrators as well as medical reports on those who were admitted to hospitals after the clash... it seems odd that the authorities would shy away from having an independent investigative commission bring forth findings that would support this second quote and put to rest claims of illegal/excessive use of force.

3.  "Considering how violent the settlers were in Kfar Darom this past summer you can't blame the police for taking off the kid gloves."

Yes I can.  First of all, the events of Kfar Darom represent the exception to what everyone would agree was an otherwise extremely peaceful disengagement.  Several of the more inflammatory claims (acid, caustic soda, guns, knives, etc.) made at the time have since been completely discredited, but that doesn't set aside the fact that there was indeed violence directed against government appointed representatives. 

However, 'kid gloves' is exactly what the police must use whenever dealing with citizens.  Their role is to enforce the law, not mete out punishment.  This simple point is lost on far too many people who view religious settlers as deserving whatever they got because of real or imagined past bad deeds.  The police are not empowered to punish a perpetrator of a crime, and they are not allowed an institutional memory of past offenses.  They must know the law and abide by it. 

4.  "The injuries were evenly distributed between demonstrators and police"

Again, an independent inquiry would clear up this myth once and for all.  I grieve for ANY injury sustained in Amona... especially those sustained by the police.  I say this because, regardless of what I may say about their actions while they were there, the police had no choice about showing up for this demonstration... whereas the settlers made an informed decision to put themselves at risk.  Civil disobedience always presents a risk to those who practice it.

However, the hospital records do not bear out anything close to an even split in the injured parties.  This is partially attributable to the fact that the police were wearing protective gear while the demonstrators were not.  But it is also a pretty clear indication of who was doing most of the attacking and who was mostly on the defensive. 

There are several reliable reports of police being given orders to aim for the heads of demonstrators with their batons.  This is born out by the footage of police swinging almost exclusively for the demonstrator's heads.  This is contrary to every known military and police doctrine in the use of batons.  An independent board of inquiry would establish once and for all what orders were given, whether the orders were legal and/or whether the police exceeded the limits of force allowed by law. 

5.  "Amona was an illegal outpost... Complaining that the police removed it and not illegal Arab houses is like the burglar caught red-handed who complains because the police arrested him and not the guy breaking into the house next door."

No, bad analogy.  It is more like the government and police having full knowledge of all law-breakers (speeders, burglars, tax cheats, etc.) in a particular town, yet allowing an institutionally sanctioned policy of only apprehending the Jewish ones.  The law is supposed to be blind of all racial, religious, gender and political considerations.  If the law can't (or won't) be applied equally across the entire population which is subject to it then it can not legally or morally be applied at all. 

The reason so many people keep coming back to the fact that illegal Jewish construction and agricultural development is singled out for prosecution while illegal Arab construction and agricultural development is allowed to continue unhindered is because it offers compelling proof that the government is applying the law unequally.  This is a problem in a democracy.

6.  "Why was the government required to negotiate and/or compromise with the settlers when they [the settlers] were so clearly starting from an illegal position?"

An excellent question that has not gotten nearly enough attention.  The simple answer is the government has a responsibility to use restraint with it's citizens, even when those citizens are acting outside the boundaries of the law.  Do we shoot kidnappers on sight or do we negotiate with them to try and bring a hostage crisis to a peaceful resolution?  Do we shoot a fleeing suspect in the back or do we require the police to chase them down and handcuff them?  I could go on but you get my point. 

Nobody disputes the illegality of the settlement of Amona (although it is in a much more benign class of 'crime' than either of the examples above).  Even if it had legally 'gray' status at its inception (which is a tough argument to make), the moment the government declared Amona illegal and a closed military zone, its status became 'illegal'... black & white... end of story. 

But you also had the settler leadership who were authorized to speak for ALL the people at Amona saying to the government "OK, you win... over the past few weeks we have exhausted all our legal channels and the supreme court has now ruled against us. We will give up this site... this land... and ensure the peaceful dispersal of all the residents.  But please allow us one week to take these 9 buildings with us to the nearby legal community of Ofra.  This way you get what you want... and most important we can both exit with dignity and without the need for any confrontation."   

Was the government required to negotiate with the settlers?  No.  But were they required to use restraint in dealing with their citizens?  Yes.  However, instead of showing restraint and seizing the opportunity to bring the stand-off to a peaceful and legally satisfactory conclusion, the government inexplicably chose to send in mounted police combat troops in full battle gear with orders to inflict maximum injury on Israeli citizens.  So why did the government pursue this dangerous course of action?  I offered my theory in yesterday's post. 

Civil disobedience is an extremely effective tool precisely because it frustrates police in their efforts.  A large group of well organized people sitting or standing with linked arms presents a daunting manpower problem for the police and requires a tremendous investment of time, manpower and energy to overcome.  It is precisely because civil disobedience is so effective that many governments eventually prefer to negotiate with peaceful demonstrators rather than tie up all their police and/or military manpower in physically carrying them away.  But by law, police or government frustration with this tactic does not allow an escalation to violence and/or extra-judicial retribution.  That is illegal on a level far above civil disobedience.  As an aside, the civil rights movement in America, and the independent nation of India are two examples of how effective 'illegal' non-violent civil disobedience can be... even when met with 'legal' police and/or military violence.

Emotions are running very high in the aftermath of Amona with two very different views emerging of the events.  The only reasonable way to set aside speculation and quell the rumors is for an independent investigative body to be empowered to investigate what happened from start to finish on BOTH SIDES of the conflict.  This means requiring the government to explain its decision to turn down a peaceful resolution and pursue a potentially dangerous / violent confrontation.  This also means requiring the settler leadership to account for every documented/recorded act of offensive violence against the government forces... and any that do not meet the minimum threshold for self-defense must be identified and charged.

If such an investigation ever comes to pass, I think that it would have two important results:

a)  It would reestablish public confidence in the police and security forces by providing public proof that their actions are subject to impartial scrutiny and that both the government and it's agents are as bound by the law as the citizenry.

b)  It would reassure both the public and government that future acts of civil disobedience will in fact be non-violent by allowing the settler leadership to demonstrate its willingness to identify and root out violent actors and provocateurs in their midst.

Or, as I like to point out, I could be completly full of sh*t.


Posted by David Bogner on February 6, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (64) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Wicked Son

[The long-overdue Amona Post]

One of the lessons that has remained most firmly in my memory from the many Passovers I served as bandleader at the Fontainbleu Hotel in Miami Beach is an extremely insightful and non-traditional examination of 'the four sons' section of the seder that a very wise Rabbi shared with me:

In case you're a little fuzzy about this particular section of the Passover Hagaddah, let me refresh your memory:

"The Torah speaks of four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.

The wise one, what does he say? "What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the L-rd, our G-d, has commanded you?" You, in turn, shall instruct him in the laws of Passover, [up to] `one is not to eat any dessert after the Passover-lamb.'

The wicked one, what does he say? "What is this service to you?!" He says 'to you', but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: "It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt"; `for me' - but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!"

The simpleton, what does he say? "What is this?" Thus you shall say to him: "With a strong hand the L-rd took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves."

As for the one who does not know how to ask, you must initiate him, as it is said: "You shall tell your child on that day, `It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt.'" *

This Rabbi (his name was either Rabbi Felder or Farber... I'm embarrassed that I can't recall), explained that the traditional understanding of 'the four sons' was that they were four children of one family who are addressed differently by the parents according to their respective ability or desire to understand the story of the Exodus from Egypt. 

However, this Rabbi felt that it made more sense if the four sons were viewed as four kinds of children... and more importantly, that the reason for their demeanor and/or receptiveness to accepting the 'statutes and the laws' was based entirely upon the way their respective parents habitually answered them.

He said 'look at the end of each statement... the way the parent has spoken... and you will understand why each son has turned out the way he has'.

Simply put, the 'wise son' is wise because he is given a full explanation and is completely included in the process.  The simpleton is simple because he is spoon-fed only a tiny portion of the information.  The son who doesn't even know how to ask is completely clueless because his parents give him a completely useless explanation that doesn't in any way connect him to the seder or the events it is supposed to commemorate.

But nowhere is this cause & effect relationship more apparent than with the 'wicked son' and the way his parents have ostracized him.  When one pays special attention to the way the wicked son is addressed, it becomes clear that he has become wicked because he's had his 'teeth blunted'... and because he's been excluded from the proceedings and completely disenfranchised.

I've dragged you through this long-winded explanation because I am firmly convinced that for better or worse, religious settlers have been deliberately relegated to the unenviable role of modern day 'wicked sons'.

Starting in the run up to the disengagement this past year, the Sharon government, enthusiastically supported and abetted by the Israeli media, affected an 'about-face' in the way it related to the settler movement. 

From the moment at the Herzylia Conference that Sharon announced that he intended to unilaterally disengage from Gaza, he effectively used both word and deed to disown, marginalize and vilify his ideological child; the settler movement. 

This isn't to say Sharon was its founder or its only advocate... but for two decades he was the leading governmental cheerleader for the settler enterprise... exhorting patriotic Zionist pioneers to "settle every hilltop so no future government can contemplate giving away the land".

But in the wake of Herzylia, his official and unofficial spokespeople immediately began feeding an enthusiastically receptive public statements about various unsubstantiated 'dangers and threats from the extreme right' (code-speak for the settlers).  These statements became defacto justifications for extra-judicial suspension of various civil rights... and the smallest misdeed by a settler, no matter how vehemently condemned by the YESHA leadership, was trumpeted as proof of the danger religious settlers posed to Israel's liberal democracy.

Shockingly, the very core of mainstream Jewish theology - the patient anticipation of the arrival of the Messianic era - suddenly became analogous of the most worrisome aspects of fundamentalist Islam.  Despite thousands of years of every Jew sitting at a seder table and proclaiming their fervent wish for Messianic redemption with the phrase "next year in Jerusalem", the word 'messianist' suddenly became a dirty word.  In the blink of an eye the reasonable views of anyone with a long skirt or kippah were dismissed as the rantings of religious fanatics and zealots.

Make no mistake, there are religious fanatics among the Jews in the settler camp.  But these zealots are a tiny minority who have been 'elected' as representatives of all religious Zionists by those for whom organized Jewish observance of any sort is anathema.

Israeli politicians, both within the  government and without, took careful note of the overt 3-way alliance that developed between Sharon, the secular left and the media.  The lesson that was lost on nobody was that the antipathy with which the majority of the Israeli population viewed the settler movement had allowed self-described libertarians, humanists and liberals to temporarily set aside all the 'inconvenient' trappings of Israel's vaunted liberal democracy in order to justify the shortest possible route to a desired political end.

The irony, of course, is that the consensus among the Israeli electorate was that the only way to finally accomplish the goals of the center-left would be to temporarily adopt the most Machiavellian and extreme mechanisms ever attributed to the far right.

Unfortunately once Sharon was incapacitated, Ehud Olmert and his fellow Kadima coat-tail riders found themselves with a national election looming and quandary of epic proportions:  They had a comatose ideological figurehead and not one person on their party's list with the 'strong-man' credentials necessary to reassure a jittery electorate that they could follow through with Sharon's promise to finally establish Israel's permanent borders.

Olmert, seen by most as, at best, 'Sharon-Lite', found himself with a 'perception problem' at the worst possible time.  He needed to act quickly and decisively to reassure his core constituency that he had the ability to employ certain 'less-than-democratic short-cuts' in dealing with those evil settlers... and that like Sharon, he too was a bulldozer capable of imposing his policies through sheer force of personality.

So, despite the fact that he was the head of a caretaker government in a political party that nobody had elected to power, Olmert decided his only road to a political win was to begin a program of 'dealing firmly' with illegal settlements (many of which had been created with his full knowledge and support).  By most rational standards, such an agenda should have waited until the electorate handed a legal mandate to a coalition selected by the people.

Why he selected Amona - an insignificant collection of 8 or 9 semi-permanent structures - as his object lesson is a matter for conjecture.  My personal feeling is that he needed an easy win... and like any weak bully, he picked a victim he felt was unlikely to give him a bloody nose.

However, two problems immediately became apparent... both of which tie in with my 'wicked son' theory:

First, Olmert horribly underestimated the sense of 'otherness' and disenfranchisement that had taken hold of the teenagers in the settler movement as a result of the unrelenting and heavy-handed rhetoric directed at them.  Last summer they had watched and listened in horror as their own government and media addressed them in very much the same accusatory terms as the wicked son of the Passover seder.  The Israeli public and government in effect said of each settler youth "By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental."   

The second, and perhaps more pressing problem that Olmert overlooked was that despite the 'devil-may-care' attitude of the youthful protesters, there still remained a seasoned moderate leadership in the settler camp, including several Members of Knesset, that were determined to work within the legal system to negotiate, if not a win... than at least a draw.   Unfortunately, with the elections looming and Sharon's over-sized mantle hanging on his lanky frame like a kid wearing his father's suit, Olmert realized that a draw would appear to the majority of Israeli voters exactly like a loss. 

When Olmert refused to consider a reasonable compromise offer by the settler leadership to move the offending structures to the nearby legal community of Ofra within one week, it became clear to all involved that he was determined to foment a direct physical confrontation.  There can be no other explanation for his unwillingness to allow a peaceful, face-saving, resolution to the stand-off.  And his decision to deploy the Yesamim - a para-military police 'special missions unit' whose ranks have been deliberately swelled with non-Jews whose antipathy for religious Jews is legendary - telegraphed a clear message that compassionate hugs and tears were but a distant memory from Gaza. 

The settlers were to play the part of 'the enemy' and the government was sending in combat troops to soundly defeat them.

There are plenty of videos and still pictures from Amona floating around showing clearly what happened.  Several of my neighbors and friends were there and I have been able to hear many first-hand accounts of what transpired.  A neighbor's son heard with his own ears the Yasamim receiving orders to "club them on the head, go straight for the head"... and the films showing the police swinging freely at the unprotected heads of teenagers who were sitting non-violently with arms linked bears this out.

The media reports conveniently blur the division of the injuries by talking about "hundreds of injured protesters and security forces"... but the truth is that almost all of the serious injuries were sustained by the settlers.  There were unsubstantiated reports of a policeman in 'serious condition' yet no such case was ever admitted to the hospital.  There is one well publicized border patrolman who sustained a nasty (but non-permanent) injury to his eye, but that seems to be the most serious police injury.  Likewise, some of my fellow bloggers eagerly reported that a policeman had been stabbed in the stomach and that a settler had drawn a gun... but again, neither of these events were born out with verified injuries or arrest reports. 

Yes, a few policemen were injured... but I when the term 'hundreds' is used in the press, it cannot fairly be spread evenly amongst protesters and police.

The fact that almost nobody was arrested is perhaps the most chilling part of this event.  The role of the police in a democracy is to enforce the law and arrest those who break it.  I will freely admit that civil disobedience is a calculated breach of the law and warrants being arrested.  This is a time-honored form of non-violent protest when all legal means have been exhausted.  The majority of teenagers who showed up were fully prepared to protest non-violently and to be arrested for their civil disobedience. 

But the police showed up to this pogrom without handcuffs and without transport vehicles that one would expect if they intended to arrest large numbers of people.  They did, however, come equipped with full body armor, helmets, steel truncheons and horses. 

Extensive preparations were obviously made... but they were preparations for battle with an enemy, not preparations for enforcement of the law.

Ehud Olmert assumed (correctly, in my opinion) that the majority of Israeli voters hate the settlers far more than they do Hamas.  So in the wake of being caught completely flat-footed by Hamas' win in the PA elections, he opted to regain his composure by playing out the only scenario where he was guaranteed to be perceived as both strong and decisive:  He decided to beat Israel's 'wicked son' like a rented mule.

In the aftermath of the violence, a television crew that was stationed at a Jerusalem hospital recorded an exchange that took place between a police officer and the parents of a teenager who was in serious condition after having his skull fractured by a policeman's metal club.  Unprovoked, the policeman approached the mother and said "It's a shame he didn't die".  When the parents demanded the policeman's identity so they could file a complaint (something that by law is supposed to be displayed and/or offered upon demand), the policeman refused... and another policeman physically dragged the parents away from the scene.

Not surprisingly the public outrage that would have erupted had the para-military action in Amona instead been carried out against any of the thousands of illegal Arab building projects, has failed to materialize. 

President Katzav has expressed his 'shock and outrage' at the excessive and undisciplined use of force by the police.  But his 'shock' was roughly akin to the level of dismay shown by Captain Renault when he 'discovered' gambling going on in Ric's Cafe Americain in Casablanca.  "I'm shocked, shocked to find that [brutality] is going on in here!"

We are entering dark times now that even a weak 'transition government' has received the tacit approval of the populace to treat settlers as 'wicked sons'. 

I think that most anyone who knows me would consider me a moderate... or at least a 'compassionate conservative'.  Well, I feel disenfranchised and lacking equal protection under the law.  I feel that I have no legal recourse or protection for the legitimate expression of my views.  I feel I have been relegated to the status of 'wicked son'... a national whipping boy...  and I categorically refuse to stand passively and be beaten.

It is now a foregone conclusion that the settler blood Olmert shed in Amona will serve as the bonifides of his ability to 'deal decisively with those wicked settlers'... and a grateful left-of-center majority will certainly sweep him into office in the upcoming elections.  It also serves as a clear warning of how future 'dialogues' will unfold between the Israeli government and it's 'wicked sons'. 

Forgotten is the fact that the settler enterprise was a legal creation of successive left- and right-leaning Israeli governments.  Gone are the proud claims of paternity while the very politicians who gave birth to the settler movement and nurtured it in it's youth now actively delegitimize it.  An illegitimate, 'wicked' son is all anyone sees now, and such a child is unlikely to receive sympathy or quarter.

The one thing that Olmert has failed to take into account, though, is that once the wicked son has nothing left to lose... no hope of regaining a place in the family... the only obstacle to that son breaking the dual taboos of fratricide and patricide - is removed. 

I am a moderate... a reasonable, educated person who firmly believes in the rule of law.  But the moment I no longer enjoy the protection of law, then nobody will enjoy its protection.   If there are those in government who want to see me as the wicked son, then I will remind them at every turn that they gave birth to me and then callously sent me away.   

In short, I will behave exactly as they expect me to.

* Source: here

Posted by David Bogner on February 5, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ani Mishtatephet b’Tzarecha (I join in your sorrows)

[A guest post by Zahava]

This morning, with heavy hearts, David and I escorted Ariella to the funeral of her friend/classmate’s older brother Yosef Yitzchak Goodman (z”l). While proud of Ariella for wanting to attend the funeral and take her place among the adults of our community in comforting the family, my heart is breaking with the knowledge that the innocence of her childhood is now irreparably fractured.

David has often written about the incredible communal ties that bind each family – each individual – to one another here in Israel. Celebrations are shared as if one’s own, and funerals…. funerals are attended with hearts heavy which share not only the agony of the loss, but in the case of a young person ripped too early from this world, the knowledge that it could have all too easily been our loved one, that it could be us – me -- standing, shirt torn, asking forgiveness and bidding adieu.

This morning Mordechai and Anne Goodman of Efrat had the unbearable job of burying their second-born son. A son, who elevated the quality of their lives and the lives of all who knew him.

I had the privilege of learning Hebrew with Mordechai for 6 months last year. He is a man of great character. A man who greeted us all each morning with a modest and positive thing to say about one or another of his children. Mordechai and Anne are inspirational parents in that they deeply appreciate their children, and share that appreciation with all who know them. I never had the privilege of knowing Yosef (z”l) except through Mordechai. My heart is full with pain for this family -- their loss is truly unimaginable.

The Goodman family made aliyah 20 years ago. They have been a mainstay here in the Efrat community. They own the pizzeria in the original neighborhood of Efrat – almost everyone knows them. Both Mordechai and Anne are active in a variety of communal organizations, and by their example their children have followed suit. As leading members of the Anglo community here, the funeral was attended by a large number of ex-pat Americans. Among their discussions leaving the service could be heard a common thread – the difference between the life of a teenager here in Israel and the life of a teenager in the U.S.

There seems to be a loud but unspoken dialogue regarding the dangers which one takes upon oneself and one’s family when one comes on aliyah. And it is true, there can be no denying it, that coming here statistically increases the likelihood that one will find oneself standing shoulder-to-shoulder sharing the grief which grips life all-too-often here.

After a tragedy like this, questions of regarding the fairness of life abound – why do our children suffer these events, why do we put ourselves in harm’s way, how do we reach the communities we’ve left behind and convince them that being here is the right thing to do, how to we convince ourselves during these darkest moments?

We immigrants have our own special breed of coping mechanism. We remind ourselves that in today’s age, no one is truly safe anywhere. We wear the mantel of fatalism – if it is truly our turn, does it matter where we are? We cry and hug and comfort one another and pray that our being here, our love and dedication of a free Jewish state, will help to change and improve the current situation. In our sorrow and pain we remind ourselves that life, no matter where you are, has both ups and downs.

To those who read this from within Israel, I know there is no need to say more. To those who read this outside of Israel, I have two more things to share with you:

Even through the salty tears of grief I realize that I have much to be grateful for here. The compassion, the outpouring of love, the tremendous sense of loss that I witnessed today was a genuine expression of how tightly knit our lives are with those around us. Whatever the future holds for us, what ever joys or sorrows come our way, we will not endure them alone.

There are some who would say that my words today are precisely the reasons they would not or could not consider aliyah. I understand that there are also those who would say that our decision to come with our children was selfish, and they might use today as proof that we’ve unnecessarily placed our children in harm’s way and urge us to return to the States. To these folks I can only answer that even if I were to return, the knowledge of how linked our lives are to our land and to our people can never be erased. We could never again pause only for a moment, empathize and return to our lives untouched. And it is precisely this knowledge that comforts me and gives me strength. My life, and the lives of my husband and children have deeper meaning because of the communal relationships that bind us to one another.

May the Goodman family be comforted among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem. May they know no more sorrow. May we all merit to know peace for us and for our children.

Kiss your children. Tonight, as you honor Shabbat, bestow upon them your blessings, and the blessings of Hashem. May everyone have a Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by David Bogner on February 3, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Falling from the sky

I may be up to posting my thoughts on the terrible events that took place this week in Amona a little later... but not right now.

We just found out that one of our neighbors lost a son this evening during a parachute training jump with his elite IDF unit over Nitzanim Beach. They were apparently practicing either twilight or night jumps, going out the door of the plane in pairs when two of the soldier's chutes became entangled with one another. 

While falling through the air the two tried unsuccessfully to separate themselves, and when it became clear that the one partially-inflated canopy wouldn't support them both, the two young man took out their knives and cut themselves apart.  Unfortunately only one of them managed to successfully deployed his reserve chute.

In addition to being the son of one of Zahava's ulpan classmates, the young man who was killed was also the older brother of one of Ariella's classmates. 

In the past whenever there has been a loss in the community we have spoon-fed the news to the kids over time in order to sheltered them from the brunt of the shock.  But not only was this someone Ariella knew, but we assured her last week that she was an adult now, so along with her own wine glass at the dinner table comes some not-so-nice stuff... like hearing bad news with the rest of the grown-ups.

Almost immediately we got a call from the kid's school assuring us that the school psychologist and a team of crisis counselors would be available for the students tomorrow.  I don't know whether to be relieved that they are so on top of things in terms of looking after the students, or sad that they've had enough practice to become really efficient at dealing with this sort of thing.

Tomorrow morning we (meaning Zahava, Ariella and I) will be going to the Military cemetery on Mount Herzl to help bury this young soldier among the other fallen heroes of Israel.   

Watching the terrible events of this past week unfold on the news I felt as though the sky was falling.  But now something far worse has happened; A neighbor's son... a classmate's brother... has fallen from the sky.


Posted by David Bogner on February 2, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack