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Sunday, December 09, 2007

The risk was not theirs alone to take

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post about a naive student on Hebrew University's one year program (for foreign students) who got himself kidnapped late one night after going to have a latte in a coffee house in Nablus.  Apparently there wasn't a drop of coffee to be had in all of Jerusalem.

At the time I honestly couldn't locate enough scorn to spill on this thoughtless idiot who needlessly endangered himself  - and others - by illegally going to a PA controlled area (although if you read the post, you'll have to admit I sure tried!). 

This kid was one of those loathsome people who exhibits a far more insidious form of racism towards Arabs than even the most strident Kahanist could ever muster.  By this I mean he objectified and infantilized them and got his thrills by venturing into dangerous places that were technically off limits in order to show off the rapport he enjoyed with the noble savages held captive in the evil Israeli cage.

However, my anger was not directed at his underlying racism, since we're all more than a little racist, (although we may hide behind labels like 'red lines', 'irrational fear' and 'the matzav' to quiet our conscience over looking a little too closely at Arabs who get on the buses we ride).  No, what burnt my toast was that he hadn't considered for a moment why it was illegal to visit PA-controlled areas. 

Being from abroad it never entered his mind that if he were kidnapped, someone's son - actually, probably a whole unit of 'someone's sons' - would have to risk their lives to go in and try to rescue his unworthy @ss.  And barring a military option, his ransom might ultimately run into untold hundreds of terrorists freed needlessly... just to return this witless imbecile to the bosom of his upper middle class American bubble.

In that post I recounted the following conversation I'd recently had with a journalist /fellow blogger about wanting to force people to confront the very real dangers in the people and causes they embraced:

"I once joked with her about wanting to drive a Joo-hater we both loathe into the center of Nablus and throw him out of the car just to see him pleading to the advancing crowd, "No, wait... I'm not a Jew... I hate the Jews more than you do!!!" 

Naturally my journalist friend, who has spent a great deal of time in Nablus and other Arab cities, was appalled at the implied prejudice in my statement and chided me for assuming that any white face in Nablus would automatically become a target.

I reluctantly agreed that I was simply indulging in a little schadenfreude fantasy, and that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who might glimpse such a person being thrown from a car in Nablus would have no interest in him... for good or for bad.

But I did bite my tongue just a little.

What I really wanted to tell her is that, as a journalist, most (if not all) of her visits to Nablus and other Arab locales are carefully coordinated with Palestinian politicians and/or journalists.  She is nominally escorted to and from most of her interviews, and as a known journalist, she represents arguably the only segment of the Israeli/international population to whom it would be expedient to show one's best face."

This was back when this journalist and I were still on speaking terms, so she chimed in with the following comment at the end of the post:

"Nice try, David, but, em, no cigar.

Yes, I do have a "connected" driver in Gaza - as do all journalists in that area - because things are a bit unstable over there lately.

But in the West Bank I get around on my own - in Palestinian taxis, mostly. I also travel by Palestinian "sherut" from East Jerusalem to Qalandiya checkpoint, which I cross on my own by foot. I would like to emphasize that none of this is unusual, by the way. That's the way lots of Israeli journalists travel to and around the West Bank. I ain't special.

I've got the "inside" story about what happened to silly Benjamin, and as usual most of the details that were rerported are incorrect. There was a lot more going on than the public knows.

And, as a Palestinian journalist asked me today, What would happen to a Palestinian Arab guy with a long, orange beard a la Muhammad Abu Tir, and a keffiyeh wrapped around his neck, if he wandered into the Kikar Shabbat neighbourhood of Jerusalem?"

As I read her comment I couldn't help but glimpse the same kind of potentially-destructive bravado I'd sensed in the student whose kidnap was under discussion... as if to say "Look, nothing to be afraid of here!".   

Of course, this was long before the fall of Gaza, but her 'expert' assessment of that population as "a bit unstable... lately", revealed volumes.  It was as if she were a lion tamer explaining to the crowd that the chair and whip were only temporary measures due to the big cats being unusually agitated... only at the moment, mind you.  Usually they're pussy-cats!

But the real problem with her comment was the head-shakingly bizarre assessment that a Palestinian walking into a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem was somehow taking the same chances with his life as a Jew going into the heart of Nablus.  Besides being a clear swipe at the religious community, the inescapable implication was:

a) that Arabs are a rarity in Jewish areas of the capitol (who does she think does all the construction and heavy lifting, for crying out loud?).

~and~

b)  that any Arab who ventured into a religious Jewish neighborhood was taking his life in his hands (because, you know, you read about Arabs being lynched in Mea Sha'arim all the time).

I and several other commenters asked this journalist some hard questions about her comment... but apparently she didn't feel the need to defend what she'd written and never returned to rejoin the thread.

Flash forward to last week when I was sitting on line waiting to get my car tested (an annual rite here) when I heard the news report on the radio that three Israeli journalists had been questioned on suspicion of having traveled to an enemy country without permission from the Israeli government. 

Granted, to use the word 'suspicion' in this case is just silly since none of them had government permission to visit Lebanon or Syria... and their stories filed from those countries pretty much remove all doubt of their presence on enemy soil.  But I digress.

The point I wanted to make was that not surprisingly, one of the three journalists under investigation is this same woman from my comment board who had tried so hard to soft-pedal the inherent dangers of breaking Israeli law and visiting territory controlled by one's enemies.

I remember seeing her report from Lebanon on Channel 10 at the time and wondering out loud what exactly she'd hoped to gain by going there.  Beyond the admitted novelty of seeing an Israeli reporter filing a story from a country where just months before our soldiers were under fire, the report itself was a complete fluff piece.  No scoop... no inside information... no revelations that couldn't have been gleaned from over here. 

This was not long after the cessation of hostilities and it seemed she was there simply to say "Hey, look where I am!  See, there's nothing to fear from these nice Lebanese folks.  I'm up here and I honestly don't know what all the fuss was about.  Why can't we all just get along?!"

While not exactly a Hanoi Jane-worthy performance, there was absolutely no justification for breaking Israeli law to file such a story, and certainly no justification for potentially risking who-knows-how-many lives if someone had decided to disappear her. 

Seriously, what if she (or one of her two colleagues) had been kidnapped?  How many bus-loads of terrorists would Israel have had to release to buy their freedom?  How many Israeli soldiers would have had to put their lives on the line simply because the Israeli Government's assessment of what is - and isn't - unreasonably dangerous (and illegal) didn't cross the minds of a few arrogant journalists trying to make a name for themselves?  How much more impotent would our government have appeared if the worst had happened and, for whatever reason, we could not gain the necessary support to act???

Not surprisingly, the press has closed ranks behind these three journalists while ignoring the perfectly valid reasons why such stunts are illegal.

We'll leave alone the many well-intentioned public and private individuals who have succumbed to the urge to carry out free-lance diplomacy and travel to meet with our enemies.  While they represent a liability to the government's ability to make/coordinate policy, their presence on enemy soil is generally high profile enough to push kidnapping to the outer realm of statistical probability.

But for those - like our intrepid journalists - who are below the radar, but who feel they are above the law... the likelihood of coming to harm becomes very real.    It's all very well and good that these three felt it was worth the risk... but I contend that it wasn't only their risk to take.

Posted by David Bogner on December 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Friday, December 07, 2007

Seasonal Music (it isn't all about Xmas!)

Most Jewish families have their own musical traditions.  You know, like songs that are sung at the Passover seder just so... and everyone else's versions sound, well, wrong.  Other holidays have their own musical traditions too, but Hanukkah seems to have gotten short shrift in the music department. 

Maybe it's just the natural comparison to the wealth of other music  - secular/seasonal as well as religious - we hear during the ramp-up to Xmas.   But with the exception of old stand-bys like Yevanim, most of the Hanukkah songs that come to mind seem to be kiddie tunes ('I have a little dreidle', 'Sivivon sov sov sov', etc.) that we quickly outgrow.  This leaves us stranded in adulthood with nothing much to do while the Hanukkah candles burn.

Oh sure, most of the people I know sing Maoz Tzur and  'HaNerot HaLalu' after lighting each night's candles.  The former uses the very warm 'Rock of Ages' tune (you can listen to a midi file here) which is all fine and good... but the latter uses a completely forgettable tune (listen to midi file here). 

When I was still single I heard another version of Hanerot Halalu that really caught my attention and seemed much closer in spirit to the traditional Maoz Tzur.  I later met and worked for many years with the talented musician who wrote and performed the new Hanerot Halalu; Gershon Veroba.  *

Unfortunately, the album which contained the version I liked so much (Called Man to Man) was a very small release (on vinyl only) and never got the kind of exposure it deserved.  Never-the-less, this was the version that Zahava and I adopted as our family tradition when we got married and celebrated out first Hanukkah together.

Here it is. (the hisses are due to the fact that I had to rip the track from the vinyl record)

I'd like to wish everyone a great weekend... a restful Shabbat... and a very happy Hanukkah.

* Gershon Veroba has a new album out called 'Reach Out' that has remakes of many of his older hits... including Hanerot Halalu.  It has great production values and is all around a 'better' album.  But I wish he'd re-released 'Man to Man' on CD.  It was a much more innocent album, in large part because of the less sophisticated studio work.

Posted by David Bogner on December 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Eggnog in my coffee

Yes indeed, it's that time of year again.

The weather is finally turning chilly... the leaves have all turned... people are bustling about in heavy coats and hats... Hanukkah candles are twinkling in windows wherever you look... and last night I whipped up our first batch of eggnog!

Can you tell I'm a transplanted New Englander?  :-)

One of the traditions I hope never to give up is that of enjoying the occasional glass of eggnog during the Thanksgiving/Hanukkah season.  But unlike when we lived in Connecticut, I can't run out and pick up a half gallon of this rich, creamy stuff at the local grocery story.  Instead, it has to be made at home... the old fashioned way.

Here is the recipe I use most often which serves about 6 people (recipes for larger and smaller batches can be found in this archived post):

Traditional New England Eggnog (source here):

INGREDIENTS:

6 eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup brandy
1/3 cup dark rum
   [Note: We use a cup of bourbon and leave out the brandy and rum)
2 cups whipping cream
2 cups milk

PREPARATION:

All liquids should be very cold. Refrigerate in advance.
Beat the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed until very frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off and stir in the cold brandy, rum, [or bourbon] whipping cream and milk Chill before serving. Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg.

Additional note:  You can leave out the alcohol altogether for a yummy treat the kids will ask for again and again!

Makes about 2-1/2 quarts

We are going over to my parent's place in Jerusalem Saturday night for our traditional fifth night latke and eggnog celebration Saturday night.  What's that you said?  You don't remember what's so special about the fifth night of Hanukkah?  Shame on you!  Go here and catch up!

In the mean time, I have to leave for work now... but not before I add a big splash of eggnog to my coffee.

Posted by David Bogner on December 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The 'Killer App' just keeps killin'

A year ago - almost to the day - I wrote a post about what I considered to be one of the most useful new web applications out there; Jajah.

Without going into too much detail (since you can click here and go read that post in it's entirety), Jajah was a very slick - but slightly buggy - alternative to Skype in that it allowed cheap (and sometimes even free!) international calling... but without Skype's big pitfall; having to be chained to a computer throughout the call. 

Even with the new wireless 'Skype-enabled home phones', you would still be out of luck if you were at work or on the road.

With Jajah, the only role the computer played in the entire equation was placing the call.  Like Skype, you had to register (free)... and you still needed to buy small blocks of time (even $5 would do)... but that's where the similarity ended.  It worked something like this:

1.  You logged into your Jajah account (from any computer in the world) and told the system which phone you wanted the call to be connected to; Work, Home or cell.

2.  You entered a country code and telephone number (or selected a number from your handy Jajah phone book which lists work, home and cell numbers for as many people as you chose to list)

3.  You clicked the 'Call' button.  Within seconds your phone rang... as did the phone of the person you wanted to reach.  From that point on the computer was out of the loop.

Realizing that being dependent on the computer - even in the limited way it was - made Jajah too similar to Skype to entice people to adopt the new program, the programmers at Jajah set out to develop a mobile version that could be stored on modern cell phones.  It required a little fumbling with menus, but in the end you could call from anywhere to anywhere... without the pesky ball & chain computer.

I've been using Jajah for the past year and have watched as they have steadily worked out all the bugs in the system... and even brought more (and better) pricing options into the picture.  But I have to admit I was less than happy with the cumbersome cell-phone interface (Jajah Mobile) and the need to use a computer the kick off the call when calling from a land line (work or home).

Well, as if they were listening to my prayers, the developers at Jajah have now launched 'Jajah Direct', the long awaited snubbing of the computer in the VOIP game.  What they've done is take every phone number - no matter where in the world - listed in your Jajah phone book, and assigned a local phone number to it.  For instance, if I want to call my brother in the S.F. Bay area... I simply dial one of the handy local Israel numbers Jajah assigned to each of his three listings in my phone book (office, home and cell)... and within seconds his phone is ringing as if he lived in Ramat Gan!

But don't take my word for it... go check it out!

[Note from the management:  I have never received any sort of compensation or incentives from the owners or developers of Jajah... and I don't anticipate ever being in a position to do so in the future.  I simply wanted to share something very useful with the readers here. 

I also gain no benefit if any of you decide to sign up to use the Jajah service. 

No need to thank me as this is quite simply, yours truly once again being a giver.]

Posted by David Bogner on December 5, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sorry about that

[Update:  A huge shout out / thank you to Naomi Ragen who shared my 'cab ride' post with her mailing list.  'Chuffed' doesn't begin to describe the feeling!]

You'll have to excuse yesterday's screed.  I'm not apologizing for the content, mind you... just for your having seen it.

That was a perfect example of the kind of post I usually delete immediately after I finish writing it.  In fact, I was pretty sure I'd done just that... until I happened to glance at the site around mid-afternoon, that is.

My bad.

You have to understand that, for me, this blogging/journaling thing is half exhibitionism, half creative outlet and half therapy couch (... and also, in the words of 'The Sneeze'; "half not good with fractions").

Yesterday's post was mostly about therapy. 

I didn't write it to change anyone's mind or to try to put new information in front of anyone.  I didn't say anything that hasn't been said a thousand times before (and by far more persuasive writers). 

But when I woke up yesterday and saw the combined news of the latest prisoner release and the fact that PA policemen had been behind the latest terror attack... well, I kinda lost my mind and needed to log some serious time on the treppenwitz couch.  Yesterday's post was the result.

Let's just try to pretend nothing happened and speak no more of this little incident, mmmkay?

In the mean time, I'd like to wish those who will be lighting the first candle tonight Chag Urim Sameach (happy Hanukkah)!

Warm Regards,

The Management

"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"

Posted by David Bogner on December 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Monday, December 03, 2007

Peace shouldn't require victims

One of the more cynical things that Yitzhak Rabin ever said in reference to the hundreds of Israelis who were slaughtered in the wake of the failed Oslo Accords, was to call them 'Peace Victims'. *  It was as if he (and Shimon Peres, et al) considered peace to be some kind of primitive g-d that demands human sacrifices before it will bestow favors upon the lowly supplicants.

Yet, like primitive savages who prostrate themselves and dance before idols for rain and sustenance, all subsequent Israeli leaders have continued to act as though this illusive thing called 'peace' remains just out of reach because we have not yet proved ourselves worthy... as if peace would fall like rain - or manna - from the heavens if only we offered more concessions... more sacrifices.

Ido Zoldan (Z"L) was just the latest in the litany of 'peace victims' to be offered up.  And now it has come to light that he was murdered, not by random Palestinian thugs, but by PA Policemen!

When will our leaders stop trying to wash away their personal sins and slimy indiscretions with cynical sacrifices to a g-d they know to be false? 

When will the media stop protecting and coddling them (like precious etrogs) from responsibility for their crimes? 

When will the Israeli public stop lining up like the ovine villagers in Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery''... wondering blandly who will be next?

How can we expect anyone to recognize Israel as a Jewish Nation when our leaders continue to pray to the antithesis of a Jewish G-d... a blood-thirsty deity who can't seem to get its fill of Jewish sacrifices?

The G-d of Israel has never followed through on a demand for human sacrifice in order to test our worthiness for reward!  The closest He ever came was in asking Abraham to offer up his only son.  But peace shouldn't require victims or offerings!  It isn't something that comes only to those most willing to make/bring sacrifices. 

The meek will inherit only what the strong allow... and not a scintilla more. 

Israel needs to set aside mis-applied prophesies of peace being miraculously achieved by 'beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks'.  Isaiah presented this as a vision of some future time when weapons would no longer be necessary.  He wasn't advocating the need to lay ourselves open to slaughter by negating our ability to fight!

Real peace will only be achieved when we elect leaders who are equally familiar with the Biblical books of Isaiah and Joel:

"Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears; let the weak say: 'I am strong."

~Joel 4:10~

* Source

Posted by David Bogner on December 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday Shorts

Let him have his say!

There has been far too much hand-wringing and protesting over Oxford University's having extended an invitation to allow a Holocaust denier to defend his position at a debate.  People... This is exactly the sort of venue where you want this kind of crackpot to have to defend his 'theories'! 

Forget the fact that even the government of the country that perpetrated the Holocaust (Germany) admits it happened on precisely the scale that the Jews claim.  More and more files are being opened each year which support mainstream reports of the scope of the Holocaust, making the claims of Holocaust deniers like this seem like the rantings of 'flat earthers'... which is essentially what they are.

I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on this topic on BBC radio last week (you can download and listen to it here), and I said then (as I will repeat here) that this is NOT a freedom of speech issue.  It is just common sense.   Trying to ban certain objectionable viewpoints through legislation gives them far more legitimacy than an invitation to a speaking engagement or debate might have lent them.  And you need to ask yourself, where are this guy's theories bound to get the best 'Fisking'; at a neo-nazi rally or at debate hosted by one of the world's premier institutions of higher learning?

Scary movie night... scarier than planned

Last night I treated the big kids to a scary movie night - complete with popcorn and soft drinks - in our living-room.  The featured film was Stanley Kubrick's classic 'The Shining' (based on a novel by Stephen King).   They were both pressed deep into the couch cushions throughout the film, with pillows and blankets pressed to their chins to stifle involuntary screams. 

However the classic moment came during a tense stretch in the action when our youngest - Yonah - began shrieking from his upstairs bedroom like a 'B' movie actress in a shower stabbing scene. It turns out his dinner hadn't agreed with him, and by the time I'd run upstairs he'd managed to cover roughly half his bedroom in vomit.   But watching the two big kids actually levitate off the couch in terror (screaming louder than Yonah!) was almost worth the clean-up and laundry I had to do before getting Yonah settled back in bed.

If they think that was offensive...

I don't know how many of you have been following the story, but apparently a British teacher working in the Sudan made the mistake of allowing her 7-year-old students to name the class mascot; a stuffed teddy bear.  Naturally, the little kids named it 'Mohammed'... and wackiness ensued.

Immediately the Muslim authorities in Sudan lost their collective minds (as Muslim authorities are wont to do) and charged the teacher with 'insulting Islam.   Long story short, the teacher was convicted of the crime which carried the potential punishment of public lashes... but luckily she got off relatively easy with a modest prison stay and a deportation order.

However, it turns out that now there is an angry mob (heh, what Muslim country doesn't have one of those standing by to lose their collective minds?) calling for her death for having insulted Islam!  Yes, you heard me correctly.  There is now a grass-roots effort to have this hapless woman executed for allowing her students to name a stuffed animal 'Mohammed'!

As luck would have it, I have had several inquiries lately about the Feral Cheryl doll I blogged about a while back

Mohammed

It turns out that the manufacturer has stopped producing this earthy, correctly-proportioned doll which sports tattoos, piercing and, um, realistic body hair.  So several collectors have asked about buying mine. 

In an effort to level the playing field and give everyone an equal chance to acquire this nifty doll, I propose the following contest:

Rules:

  1. To avoid inadvertently going astray of any copyright rules with the original manufacturer, for the sake of this contest I have taken the liberty of renaming this fetching doll 'Mohammed'. 
  2. Anyone who would like a chance to win 'Mohammed' should leave a comment explaining your religious, political and/or personal reasons for wanting to give little miss Mohammed a new home.
  3. Humor will almost always win out over anger (or sincerity, for that matter), so don't hold back.
  4. Void where prohibited by Shariah law (I don't want your execution on my conscience).
  5. The decision of the judges (moi) will be both arbitrary and final.

That should just about do it for today!

Posted by David Bogner on December 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack