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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bricklayer's Wisdom

An old friend of mine - a periodontist (you and I might ignorantly call him 'a dentist') from the US - dropped by chez treppenwitz yesterday and shared a story that he'd heard from one of his patients... a story with potentially far-reaching applications in the middle east.

It seems this patient - a master brick-mason by profession (you and I might ignorantly call him 'a bricklayer') - weighed in with a simple solution to the ongoing land-for-peace scam that has left Israel holding the bill as each of the entities receiving our precious land has refused to pay up with even a little of the promised peace.

In typical old-world style, instead of speaking directly to the topic at hand, this elderly brick-mason shared a lesson from his trade experience that could (and IMHO, should) be applied at the international level.

It seems that this master brick-mason has built hundreds of chimneys in his career.  Now, each chimney obviously represents a sizable investment in both time and materials for a brick-mason.  Yet, because the typical arrangement in the home-building industry is that money often doesn't change hands until after the entire house is completed and sold, the humble bricklayer is forced to expose himself to considerable financial risk with each chimney he builds.

Apparently this conundrum occurred to enough of his fellow tradesmen over time that a widespread practice came into being that offered security to the brick-masons without negatively impacting honorable contractors and home-buyers.  The way he explained it (presumably around a numb mouthful of cotton wadding and dental instruments) was as follows: 

As a matter of routine, when a chimney reaches approximately half it's required height, the brick-mason morters a pane of glass across the flue and then continues laying the subsequent courses of bricks until the chimney is completed. 

If the contractor/homeowner pays the bill on time, the mason returns to the job site and surreptitiously drops a brick down the flue, breaking the pane of glass that obstructs the chimney.  If payment isn't forthcoming, the bricklayer goes on to the next job secure in the knowledge that at some point a complaint will be lodged about a smoke-filled living-room and his payment will have to be arranged before he will agree to come back and 'solve' the problem.

The beauty of this security arrangement is that it is as iron-clad as it is undetectable.  Anyone running a scope around the jag in the chimney above the fireplace will see only an unobstructed passage to the sky.  Yet until payment is made (and the pane of glass is broken), the chimney will remain completely non-functional.

I don't think I've made any secret of my staunch opposition to the land-for-peace formula by which Israel has become the only nation in the history of the world to have won its wars and then been forced to sue for peace by offering up sizable chunks of land to the vanquished (or worse, to parties that had no legal standing whatsoever in the conflict).  So you can imagine I was initially dazzled to hear such a brilliant way of ensuring that large investments won't be made in vain.

However, like much of the wisdom gained in taxicabs and barber chairs, the secret of how to apply this 'bricklayer's wisdom' to the real world was left for the listener to work out.

Think about it... if only Israel could come up with a similarly fail-safe way to ensure that we were actually buying something with these parcels of land we keep giving away, I might actually become a grudging supporter of this whole land-for-peace concept. 

But until we can find a way to properly insure ourselves against the potential intransigence of our various 'peace partners', I think Israel needs to get out of the peace business altogether.  There's simply no viable future in continuing to build anything with/for someone who can't be forced to pay their bill.


Posted by David Bogner on May 27, 2007 | Permalink


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Snopes reports this as an urban legend. In any event, if it were true, it would sort of depend on total secrecy, which your acquaintance has now blown...

The whole "peace process" assumes that the Palis have some interest in peace and are simply being duplicitous, trying to get the best deal possible. The reality seems to be otherwise. In such a case, they should be treated as inherently dishonest and another strategem entirely employed. For example, a declaration (and determination) could be made that for every missile or bombing against Israel, Israel will completely raze a square mile of Palestinian-controlled territory. Land with no hiding places is considerable easier to monitor for military activity.

Posted by: Russell | May 27, 2007 11:37:59 AM

Russell... Ouch! I'm the guy who usually chastises people for not checking Snopes before passing on stories. However, in my own defense I did check snopes... I just used the wrong search terms. However, even knowing that this is not an accurate business tactic, it doesn't have any impact on the need for that kind of 'air-tight' way of ensuring compliance from our 'peace partners' before we give anything else away. Agreed?

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 27, 2007 1:13:56 PM

Don't all peace treaties have to have some foundation of trust? If Israel can't trust its partners, shouldn't she not be involved in brokering deals? (Sounds so simple...)

Posted by: Sara K | May 27, 2007 4:21:21 PM

What about dropping several bricks on Meshaal and Haniyeh. Perhaps an entire chimney.

Sorry, not very diplomatic but the thought of it is more pleasing than I wish to admit.

Posted by: Jack | May 27, 2007 7:55:38 PM

It’s not a valid analogy.

A better analogy is this:

You’re a master brick-mason. Some home owners hire you to build them a chimney and offer you a price (to be paid on completion) that you think is fair. You build the chimney, leaving the secret pane of glass half way up. The job takes you a bit longer than usual, but you’re not sure why. The customers don’t pay. You wait for them to call about their smoke-filled house, but they never do.

Another family from the same tribe hires you to build another chimney. Again you leave the pane of glass. This time you notice why the job is taking you a long time: your ladder is kind of oily and it takes extra care to get up and down it without slipping. Again they don’t pay. Again you wait for them to notice that their chimney is not functional but they never do.

A third family in the same tribe hire you to build another chimney. This time you notice that they greased your ladder and left a puddle of oil at the foot of the ladder so that the ladder isn’t standing stably against the house. That’s when you understand: they don’t want a chimney. None of the other families have ever lit fires in their fireplaces. That’s why they don’t notice that their chimney doesn’t work. They don’t care about the chimney. They’re just using the chimney-building as a ploy to try to kill you.

The glass pane addresses a non-existent problem. The appropriate solution is to shoot them.

The Palestinian leadership wants neither land nor statehood nor “right of return” nor a cessation of “humiliation”. They just want to stay in power and kill Jews.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 27, 2007 11:23:34 PM

Sara K: Actually no peace treaties have a foundation of trust. All peace treaties have a foundation of one side which is utterly defeated. That's what missing in this peace process -- the war part.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 27, 2007 11:46:06 PM


Your analogy is too complicated for a lazy sunday afternoon. I like the second part better;

All peace treaties have a foundation of one side which is utterly defeated.

Posted by: Jack | May 28, 2007 1:09:34 AM

Jack: Didn't mean to strain your neurons. Read it again after a nap. It's not so complicated. Anyway, Trep is in Mensa, so he'll get it!


Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 28, 2007 1:36:00 AM


You're right on the money in both posts. One side has to be beaten down before they'll make nice.

As an acquaintance of mine likes to say:

"Nations don't survive by setting an example. They survive by making an example of others."

Posted by: K Newman | May 28, 2007 6:37:13 AM

It's not so complicated.

No, it is about as difficult as conducting a prostate exam. Not really that hard but you'd rather not think about where you have just stuck your finger.

And in the spirit of our fearless host and his blogging endeavors, may I say that I am ever so happy that my doc has small fingers.

Posted by: Jack | May 28, 2007 9:53:07 AM

Sara K... Trust... or the threat of total destruction.

Jack... No, these guys need to be vaporized.

Doctor Bean... What you say about the Palestinian goals is especially true of Hamas. Their charter and public statements all call for the destruction of Israel but do not really have specific plans for a Palestinian state. They are part of a larger, global Islamic movement that views this part of the world as a battlefield of the larger war against the infidel.

K Newman... Fundamentalist Muslims cannot be simply 'beaten down'. Look at how they are still harboring an active grudge over their defeat in Spain! Their calls to avenge their defeat in Europe more than 500 years ago should be a big clue to anyone who is paying attention that victory or death is the only way with Islam.

Jack... Hey now, this is a family site! :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 28, 2007 11:36:19 AM

I worked for my dad's construction company all through high school and college, so I've seen the trade from both the employer and employee side. I know how subcontractors actually cover their financial exposure - it isn't as sneaky as the urban legend implies. (In fact, it's even more transparent than a pane of glass.) They simply receive progress payments as their work is done. The truth gives a much better analogy to the problem facing Israel. Just as workmen receive payment befitting their finished work, so the Palestinians should receive payment in kind for what their actions have earned them. For rockets into Jewish communities, one should not expect more land from which to launch rockets.

Posted by: Bob | May 28, 2007 6:20:53 PM

David, you're preaching to the choir.

Of course, fundamentalist Muslims have to be killed. The problem is, the majority of Muslims aren't fundamentalists. There is a core of them who lead the rest. The 'rest' tend to sheep who are easily led or fair weather terrorists. If that were not so, then Israel's wars would have been much tougher because hard-core Muslims would not have quit, despite being pounded on the battlefield.

Take Iraq for example. It's the Sunnis in the provinces around Baghdad that are stirring up most of the trouble. Yet, the tribal leaders in those areas have figured out that they have lost the battle to expel the infidels and that the Shia are about to make some payback for what Saddam and the Sunnis did to them over the years. Now most of those tribes are cooperating with the Coalition to get rid of the al-Queda and Baath terrorists in their midst. Faced with being wiped out....beaten down as it were....they've changed their tune.

Posted by: K Newman | May 28, 2007 7:50:10 PM

One more thing....are you sure that the problem with the Palestinians is really a Muslim issue? Or are they using Islam as a cover for their real agenda? Although there is a religious angle, this whole problem with the Pals seems like it's about power and control more than it does religion. Methinks the ongoing civil war between Fatah and Hamas is proof of that.

Posted by: K Newman | May 28, 2007 7:57:24 PM

My father was a general contractor so I am familiar with the concept of progress payments (thanks, Bob). But there is another tool available.

If the homeowner does not pay, the mason -- or carpenter or plumber or roofer -- may get a materialman's lien on the property. If the homeowner still refuses to pay, the mason may evict the homeowner and repossess the ENTIRE property.

Posted by: antares | May 29, 2007 7:57:19 PM

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