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Monday, June 30, 2008

Woke up late

Thank you all for such great feedback yesterday on the whole profanity thing (the poll will remain open until midnight tonight, so if you haven't provided your responses... feel free).  It has helped me gain a much better understanding of who is coming here to read and what their expectations are.  I honestly don't anticipate changing the way I write... much.  It's just nice to know who I'm writing for.

I woke up late this morning so I'm sorry to say you're stuck with yet another picture.  This one comes to us via the world's most prolific blogging anesthesiologist; Book of Joe

Apparently there is much money to be made betting friends and colleagues that the two table-tops pictured below have identical measurements and surface area.  Don't believe me?  Measure them or put a piece of paper over one... trace the outline... and then lay it over the second.


Weird, huh?

Apparently there is some scientific explanation for why your mind has such problems with this.  Go over and check out the explanation for yourselves.  He knows about this stuff.  After all... he's a doctor.

Posted by David Bogner on June 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The care and feeding of a family blog

One of the few things I've consistently tried to do from the inception of this site is to keep the language as 'family friendly' as possible... even if the topics aren't always so. 

By this I mean that if there was no pressing reason to use one of George Carlin's (A"H) famous words you weren't allowed to say on Television, I generally opted for a word that had less potential to offend.  I also endured a bit of ridicule from some quarters for 'Bowdlerizing' certain words so that they only resembled their naughty linguistic counterparts... or replaced them altogether.

I have admit that this kind of self-censorship often feels disingenuous since I am not nearly as careful to avoid 'bawdy language' in my private life.  And in some cases I feel like I'm giving readers the false impression of a 'Leave it to Beaver' existence that simply doesn't exist here at chez treppenwitz.

So with that in mind, I want to come clean (pun intended) about a few things, and for your input on the importance of this topic in your enjoyment of online reading.

First and foremost is the admission that I sometimes have a bit of a potty mouth. 

I can't blame it all on the four years I spent in the navy... but my vocabulary was certainly enhanced by shipboard life among a cross-section of the population that skewed heavily towards the lower socio-economic sectors of the American south. 

However, during that time I also gained an appreciation for the difference between gratuitous profanity that added nothing to a story (except maybe to reveal gaps in the speaker's vocabulary)... and 'colorful' words/expressions that added appreciably to the topic at hand in the form of nuance and emphasis.

So when writing blindly for a diverse audience such as I do here on treppenwitz, I've tried (with limited success) to err on the side of caution in order to keep the site 'accessible' to as wide an audience as possible.  On the few occasions when I've inadvertently (or deliberately) allowed a bit of profanity to creep in, I've gotten pointed complaints in the comments board, and via email, from a group I've come to think of as 'the church ladies' (even though one or two of them are men).

This is where I need your help with a reality check.  We all know that the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease... meaning those who speak up and/or complain are generally the ones who are heeded.  But that doesn't mean the complainers are statistically representative of the audience.

For instance, if an airline gets a a flood of complaints about seats not being wide enough, they need to figure out if the traveling public is indeed getting too fat large for the standard sized seat or if there is a tiny minority of obese travelers who are lobbying for suitable accommodation.  One requires a universal solution while the other may require (at most!) the addition of a few specialized seats on each flight.

Another example would be if a Major League Baseball franchise began getting complaints about the lack of kosher/hallal concession stands at the stadium.  In such a case they would need to ascertain whether there was suitable audience to justify the change in the status quo (such as in the New York, Boston and Baltimore areas) or if the complaints were coming from a tiny, but vocal, group that really had no reasonable right to expect accommodation (think Minnesota or Seattle).

A last (and probably best) example would be of a radio talk show that catered to a wide audience, but had traditionally attracted a more 'straight-laced' following - which was in actuality a tiny percentage of their listening audience - because they tend to tone down or avoid the more 'racy' topics.  On the rare occasions when bawdier language is used or 'less-wholesome' topics are discussed on the air, their inbox fills up with complaints... but it quickly becomes clear that the complaints are coming from a narrow sliver of the listening audience that is not statistically representative of the audience at large.  If something interesting but 'slightly off color' happens in the world, to what extent is the station management obligated to cater to this tiny-but-vocal demographic when deciding whether to discuss it on the air?

Look, I'm not looking for your permission to 'cuss' here on treppenwitz.  I'm also not asking if it is OK to discuss some of the less savory topics.  It's just that the readership here has grown and changed over the years to the extent that I don't feel like I really 'know my demographic' anymore.

Your responses to this poll, and any thoughts you'd like to add in the comments, will be greatly appreciated. 






Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Br'er Rabbit ("Brother Rabbit") is the main character of the Uncle Remus stories.  He is a likable trickster prone to getting into trouble who is often opposed by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear.  In one tale, Br'er Fox constructs a lump of tar and puts clothing on it. When Br'er Rabbit comes along he addresses the "tar baby" amiably, but receives no response. Br'er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as Tar Baby's lack of manners, kicks it, and becomes stuck. Now that Br'er Rabbit is stuck, Fox ponders how best to dispose of him. The helpless, but cunning, Br'er Rabbit pleads, "Please don't throw me in the briar patch," prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br'er Rabbit escapes. Using the phrases "please don't throw me in the briar patch" and "tar baby" to refer to the idea of "a problem that gets worse the more one struggles against it" became part of the wider culture of the United States in the mid-20th century.  [Source]

For weeks now the newspapers have been telling us that forcing Kadima to hold internal primaries would spell the end of Ehud Olmert's political career.  Apparently Ehud Barak believes what he reads in newspapers, because immediately after Labor and Kadima leaders signed their midnight agreement forcing Kadima to commit to holding internal primaries (instead of dissolving the Knesset and forcing early elections), Barak and other labor dimwits began crowing about how they had humiliated Kadima (in general) and Olmert (in particular).

It now turns out that Olmert - our very own Br'er Rabbit - was pleading "Please don't force us to hold internal primaries", when in fact that is precisely what he wanted.

You see, had the bright bulbs at Labor done their homework they would have realized that even if primaries are held and Olmert loses (or doesn't even run, for that matter)... there is nothing in the Kadima bylaws preventing him from staying on as Prime Minister for as long as he likes.  Nice huh?

I don't know who I'm angrier at in this scenario... 'Br'er Rabbit' (Olmert) or 'Br'er Fox' (Barak).   Either way, this failed government seems to be our very own 'tar baby' from which we may never get unstuck.

Posted by David Bogner on June 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Best quotes so far

As a follow-up to my earlier post today, I've been following the reports of today's Knesset session and the predicted outburst:

"You are against the government because you [simply] don't want peace"

~Prime Minister Olmert~ 

Yeah that's it.  Because Everyone to the right of Kadima simply wants to see the bloodshed continue.  Excellent point!

"[Labor MKs are] wimps from the land of wimps"

~Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar~

Not the height of diplomatic discourse... but hard to argue with.

"[Kadima and Labor] don't have a shred of confidence in each other. But that doesn't bother [them] making dubious deals in the dead of night"

~Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar~

It does seem fitting that this bit of skulduggery took place late at night.

"This is a coalition of cowards and your night-time agreement is an agreement of cowards. You are scared to death of elections and of the public"

~Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar~

That's it exactly.  We are being led by people who are more afraid of the public than of our enemies!

Posted by David Bogner on June 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Feeling betrayed... again

I'm sure my friend Ben Chorin can parse the latest betrayal of public trust far better than I can.  But I am so angry (not surprised, mind you... just angry) about this latest flip-flop on the part of the Labor party that I need to vent.

For those who don't follow the news, here it is in a nutshell:

Ehud Olmert's Kadima-led government, of which the Labor Party is the 2nd largest member, was finally ready for a long-awaited burial.  The corpse, which had been rotting from the head down almost from the start, had finally been declared dead and the bunch of dumpster cats known as Olmert & Co. seemed to have used up the last of their political lives (and them some).

The Shas party, which is also part of the ruling cabal, had threatened several times to bring down the government, but had always managed to couch their threats in such a way as to give themselves an easy out.  Nothing was sacred to them... not the unity of Jerusalem... not the holiness of the land of Israel... not the lives of the people living on the periphery of the county (who are disproportionately represented among Shas's constituency). 

Oh yes, sorry... I almost forgot.  There was something sacred to them; money.  So long as Olmert continued to fund their special interests and institutions, and give a 'Shastitute' or two a government ministry, they weren't going anywhere.

But Labor.  What about Labor???  Ehud Barak publicly promised that he would bring down the government by supporting the Likud bill to dissolve the Knesset... a move that would automatically trigger new elections.  I don't like Labor's politics and I deeply distrust Barak.  But he is a highly decorated general who has served his country bravely for his entire adult life.  Doesn't the man have a shred of moral fiber?  Apparently he too is completely driven by self-interest... and his only interest is keeping himself and Labor in power (the interests of the country be damned!).

I woke up this morning to the news that Labor had abandoned its promise to dissolve the government and had instead agreed to allow the Kadima party to remain in power so long as they schedule primaries. 

What this essentially means is that this inept government full of corrupt and incompetent people will continue sailing the ship of state further and further onto the rocks... while Kadima will hold an internal vote at some as-yet-undisclosed date to decide who will replace Olmert as Prime Minister. 

But wait.  Don't start breathing in those fresh winds of change just yet.  It could very well be that Olmert will remain in charge after all since he has made it clear he intends to run in the Kadima primaries.  Who knows what leverage he holds over Kadima party members who will be casting ballots?  So the best we can hope for is that Livni - an entirely unqualified and unrepentant failure - will prevail.

I'm heart-sick with disappointment!

Ehud Barak should know better.  As a former soldier he should be disgusted with a government that has presided over the elimination of the last shred of our national deterrence and allowed the IDF to suffer defeat at the hands of a terrorist army. 

Barak, more than anyone should know that a country should wage war from behind a veil of secrecy and make peace in the open for all to see... not the other way around.  Yet he has watched as every thought and preparation Israel has made towards potentially defeating our enemies has been broadcast and dissected on the news... while 'peace negotiations' are held in closed sessions, giving the public no idea what terrible price we may have to pay for... well, we don't even know what we'll be getting in return!  It's insanity!!!

With the talk of elections in November there was at least the sense that the Israeli public would be able to have a small say in their future.  They would have a chance to support parties who shared their views... and use their ballots to punish parties that had failed to uphold previous promises and betrayed the public trust.

I'm sure in the coming days we will hear Barak mouthing platitudes about 'not the right time for elections'... 'for the good of the country'... 'too precarious a security situation for elections just now'... etc.  But what he will really be saying is "Anything but Bibi". He would rather keep his wagon hitched to a horse that is headed for a cliff than allow the ascendancy of his arch political rival, Benjamin Natanyahu. 

Barak knows that Likud would win as many as 30 - 35 Knesset seats in a Fall election, and that the Labor party would be punished for their ongoing support of Olmert.  So he has decided to put his own, and his party's, interests before the interests of the country.

You may not like or trust Natanyahu.  Heck, I can think of 3 or 4 other people I'd rather see as Prime Minister.  But Bibi's the only one who has a realistic shot of beating the current bunch of clowns right this very minute.   He has also been a responsible opposition leader, being quietly supportive during wartime and bringing measured pressure to bear on the government at critical junctures.

Many don't trust Natanyahu because he failed to deliver on many of his promises during his last tenure as PM.  But they conveniently forget that he was hopelessly saddled with the suicidal Oslo Accords which he had inherited from his predecessors.   

Setting aside existing treaties is not an easy thing to do.  This is one of the big reasons it is doubly troubling watching Olmert and Co.try to ram through new agreements at the last minute before the ax falls.  If elections are held before the current government does too much damage Natanyahu would have no Oslo-like albatross around his neck and he would have the advantage of a nation that is ready for a complete change in the way we conduct our internal and international business.

To say that Ehud Barak and the Labor party have betrayed the Israeli people and the State of Israel doesn't begin to describe what happened behind closed doors last night.  I can only hope that (someday)when elections are finally held that the Israeli public will punish them severely for this knife in the back. 

Posted by David Bogner on June 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"you're hard to shop for"

After hearing this nearly every year in the weeks/months leading up to my birthday, I finally admitted to my wife that I really don't feel the need to get formal presents. 

From time to time I treat myself to gadgets or some new gewgaw that catches my eye... but even I don't know what will catch my fancy until I see it.  So yeah, I'm hard to shop for.    But for my birthday I much prefer something the whole family can enjoy... like a nice dinner out or a few new DVDs for family movie night.

Before last year's birthday I published my list of 100 Movies I'd like to own on DVD (with handy asterisks to denote the ones we already owned).  It worked like a charm... Zahava and the kids came through with some classics.

We've now added a few more films to the family collection:

    • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark
    • Papillon
    • My Cousin Vinny
    • Modigliani
    • Life of Brian
    • Gladiator
    • Four Weddings and a Funeral
    • Dances with Wolves
    • This Is Spinal Tap
    • There's Something About Mary 
    • Monsters, Inc.
    • Bee Movie
    • Kingpin
    • Airplane!
    • When Harry Met Sally...
    • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 
    • Cast Away

Not all of these were on my list of 'must own films', but hey... when I come home from the supermarket not everything in the bag was on Zahava's list either.  :-) 

So at present, this is what the list looks like (and no, this isn't a hint for more gifts):

[* = We have the film on DVD]

12 Angry Men
2001: A space Odyssey*
A Clockwork Orange
A Fish Called Wanda*
A mighty wind
A Streetcar Named Desire
All that Jazz
Animal House*
Annie Hall
Apocalypse Now
Being There
Ben Hur
Best in Show
Blazing Saddles*
Blues Brothers*
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Brighton Beach Memoirs
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid*
Cast Away*
Cinema Paradiso*
Dances with wolves*
Dead Poet's Society*
Dr. Zhivago
Driving Miss Daisy*
East of Eden
Ferris Bueller's Day off*
Fiddler on the Roof*
Forrest Gump*
Fried Green Tomatoes
Gone With The Wind
Harry Potter Movies*
Indiana Jones & the last crusade*
It's a mad mad mad mad world*
It's a wonderful Life
Notting Hill*
Life of Brian*
Marx Brother's Anthology*
Monty Python & the Holy Grail
Murder on the Orient Express
Mutiny on the Bounty
My Cousin Vinnie*
My Fair Lady*
North by northwest
Oh Brother Where Art Thou*
On the Waterfront
One flew over the cookoo's nest
Planet of the Apes
Princess Bride*
Pulp Fiction*
Radio Days
Raiders of the Lost Ark*
Rain Man*
Rear Window
Saving Private Ryan*
Scent of a Woman
Singin' in the Rain*
Stand by Me
Star Wars Movies*
Steel Magnolias
Taxi Driver
That thing you do
The African Queen
The Big Chill
The Big Lebowski
The Dirty Dozen
The Godfather Trilogy
The Good the Bad and the Ugly*
The Graduate
The Grapes of Wrath
The Maltese Falcon
The Manchurian Candidate
The Meaning of Life
The Russians are coming*
The Shawshank Redemption*
The Shining*
The Sting*
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Untouchables*
The Wizard of Oz*
There's Something about Mary*
This is Spinal Tap*
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Sir with Love
Trading Places
West Side Story*
When Harry Met Sally*
Yellow Submarine
Young Frankenstein

Just to head off any comments about the 'couch potato' family... we also do plenty of outdoors stuff (touring, hiking, camping, cycling, etc.) with the kids.  Movie night is just a Thursday or Saturday night thing to have everyone together sharing some laughs or tears.  And that is a precious gift indeed.

Posted by David Bogner on June 24, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Monday, June 23, 2008

100 Things To Do Before I Go

This morning I enjoyed a lovingly prepared breakfast of buttered toast with jam, 3 farm fresh eggs (over easy), a glass of fresh orange juice and a cup of delicious Sumatran coffee.  Zahava gives me the royal treatment far more often than I'm really entitled, but today there just happened to be a reason; It's my birthday. 

Every year during my pre-birthday funk I try to put together a list of 'stuff' about myself to post here on treppenwitz.  These lists tend to be part self-discovery and part exhibitionism.  They also happen to be very therapeutic for getting me out of the above-mentioned funk. 

This year I wanted to do something a bit different.  Instead of only looking backwards towards stuff I've done, I wanted to also look forward... towards things I want to accomplish. 

I've seen variations of the old '100 things to do before I die' list floating around the blogosphere and admit to having been tempted.  But I've never been happy with the 'cookie cutter' aspect of the meme. 

I mean seriously; "Give birth to my own baby" might be a laudable goal... but it might be a bit of a reach for me, wouldn't you agree?  And "Eat junk food for an entire day without feeling guilty" isn't particularly note-worthy in my world.   How about doing that and actually feeling guilty for a change?! 

Also, so many of the things on those pre-made lists seem so passive: 'Go to a rock concert?'... "Be a member of an audience for a TV show"?  "Go to the World Series... or Super Bowl"?    While those may be fun things to do... why not just write a nice catch-all like "Become an anonymous, faceless member of a herd?'"   This is supposed to be a list of individual wants, needs, desires, yearnings... right?  Just checking. 

So, in honor of my 47th trip around the sun, here is a first draft (in no particular order) of my '100 Things To Do Before I Go' (checked items in Bold have already been accomplished... at least partially):

1) Write (commission) a Sefer Torah

Checkmark_4 2)  Swim with dolphins

Checkmark_43)  Swim with sharks

Checkmark_44) Skydive

Checkmark_45) Have my portrait painted [the following is actually a photo I had taken for my parents that the studio painted over for effect.  Remember, this was before the days of photoshop.  [Note: The small ribbon on my uniform was mis-colored by the painter because he couldn't clearly see the unit citation (Battle 'E') I was actually wearing at the time as it is similar in color to the uniform.]:
                [click to embiggen]

Checkmark_46) Learn to speak a foreign language

Checkmark_47) Go skinny-dipping at midnight in the South of France (OK, it was Maui at 3AM, sue me!).

Checkmark_48) Save someone's life.

9) Learn to swim perfect laps in a pool (I can sidestroke and breast stroke for miles in the ocean, but I never learned that smooth, perfect crawl I see the fit old men and women doing at the local pool).

10) Have a piece published in the 'Lives' section of the NY Times magazine or in 'The New Yorker'.

Checkmark_411) Drive the old Route 66 all the way from Chicago to LA.

12) Own (us, not the bank!) our home

Checkmark_413) Make my own wine

Checkmark_414) Work on an archaeological dig

Checkmark_415) Become an amateur beekeeper and have my kids help me with the hives

Checkmark_416) Drive the Merrit Parkway (Connecticut) during the Fall Foliage season

17) Visit Venice with someone who understands and appreciates art (my wife)

Checkmark_418) Learn to sail competently

19) Fly an 'Ultralight' plane and/or glider

20)  Try to live my life so that I actually overhear someone referring to me as a 'Renaissance Man'

Checkmark_421)  Be written up in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal (OK, it was Globes, but still!)

Checkmark_422)  Spot a complete stranger reading treppenwitz in an Internet coffee bar... and not say a word

Checkmark_423) Send a message in a bottle

Checkmark_424) Ride a camel into the desert

25) Take an African Safari and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise

Checkmark_426) Plant a lemon tree and serve guests in our home icy cold Limoncello made from the fruit

27) Learn not to say 'yes' when what I really mean is 'no'

Checkmark_428) Write a fan letter to my all-time favorite hero (sadly, it arrived after he had passed away)

29) Buy a ridiculously expensive (but fantastically comfortable) bed

30) Learn to wear a sun-hat without feeling self-conscious

Checkmark_431) Learn to cook and bake so that people seek out dinner invitations

32) Build a real Scandinavian sauna and share it often with friends and family

Checkmark_433) Fall deeply in love — helplessly and unconditionally

34) Take an overnight train trip and sleep in a Pullman (or the European equivalent thereof)

35) Visit all 50 US States (I'm only missing Alaska)

36) Write that novel

37) Frame and hang all those wonderful old family photographs

38)  Be well known enough (for good reasons) to have a legitimate Wikipedia page written about me

Checkmark_439) Drink beer at Oktoberfest in Munich (It was August in Heidelberg, does that count?)

Checkmark_440) Be someone’s mentor

Checkmark_441) Shower in a waterfall (Photo taken in southern Luzon the Philippines)

                [click to embiggen]

42) Become so close with my children that they'd want me to come along on their post army trips abroad (not that I would)

Checkmark_443) Cycle around the island of Oahu on a perfect summer day (this was taken near Hanauma Bay.  I'm the guy on the right)
                          [click to embiggen]

44) Make my own Root Beer

45) Cycle through Holland with my family

46) Hike the length and breadth of Israel with my family

47) Cycle the length and breadth of Israel with my family

48) Have a lap pool in my back yard (you know, the small single lane ones where the water moves and you swim in place)

Checkmark_449) Keep the list of countries I've visited larger than the number of trips I've made around the sun

Checkmark_450) Tell the people in my life I love them as often as possible

Checkmark_451) Experience weightlessness

52) Give bone marrow, a kidney or a liver lobe

Checkmark_453) Fly in a helicopter

Checkmark_454) Camp across America from coast to coast (twice!)

Checkmark_455) Institute a weekly movie night with my family to share the classics (and not-so-classics)

56) Have 'The Talk' with each of our kids in such a way that they will try to remember it verbatim when they have kids of their own

57) Write my/our will (one nagging detail keeps us from doing this!  Very bad!!!)

Checkmark_458) Sleep alone under the stars

59) Build and fly a radio controlled glider with my kids

Checkmark_460) Learn to play a musical instrument well

61) Book a conference room with a big round table at the Algonquin Hotel, invite the smartest and most interesting people I know to share ideas over excellent food and drink.  Make it a recurring event.

Checkmark_462) Make (and enjoy) homemade ice cream with the kids

Checkmark_463) Scuba Dive in exotic locations (Hawaii, Maldives, Philippines, Australia, Thailand, etc.)

64)  Get intentionally locked inside a high-end bookstore (the kind with overstuffed chairs & couches) overnight with a backpack full of gourmet picnic food/drink.

65) Learn to accept compliments without blushing

66) Learn to accept criticisms without blushing

67) Take a carpentry/cabinet making course

68) Own and use fine woodworking tools

Checkmark_469) Raft through the Grand Canyon and hike from both the northern and southern rims to the canyon floor

70) Learn how to blow glass and how to work with gold/silver

71) Live in such a way that smart and influential people seek out my opinion... but be wise enough not to feel the need to offer it

72) Grow a well-planned vegetable garden

73) Get into optimum shape

Checkmark_474) Drive a convertible with the top down and music blaring

75) Accept myself for who I am

76) Figure out what I want to be when I grow up

Checkmark_477) Spend a night reading a good book in a tent during a wild rainstorm with lightning flashing overhead

78) Go up in a hot-air balloon

79) Spend a night in a Scandinavian Ice Hotel

80)  Become adept at river sculling and/or ocean rowing

81) Become a compulsive 'Thank You' note writer.

Checkmark_482) Give to a charity — anonymously

83)  Rent a large sailboat and sail the Greek islands with two or three other couples for a week or two

Checkmark_484) Show off my family at places where I experienced the greatest feelings of self doubt in my youth to prove to the ghost of my younger self how well I've lived my life

85) Throw casual dinner parties (stews) for friends at least once every couple of months

86) Learn to play electric Bass competently (I'm learning... but am not far enough along to check this one off the list)

87) Learn to quilt

Checkmark_488) Go fishing and eat the catch before the day is out

Checkmark_489) Let my children overhear me complimenting them to others (Note to self: Do this often!)

90) Convert our home entirely to Solar power (electricity & heat)

Checkmark_491) Take a cruise (heh, does 4 years in the 'Big Gray Canoe Club' count?)

92) Be granted hereditary arms by the College of Arms (I technically qualify due to a branch of the family tree that left the UK in the 19th century)

Checkmark_493) Create my Family Tree

94) Take batting practice in Fenway Park, put one over the 'Green Monster'... and casually trot the bases.

95) Listen to Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture while sitting in Fingal's Cave off the coast of Scotland

Checkmark_496) Ski a Blue Square run on Telemark Skis

97) Retire to the Golan or northern Galilee with enough land to keep a few domestic animals (cows, chickens, sheep, etc.) and raise a few small crops

Checkmark_498) Climb a mountain in a winter blizzard and camp near its snowy summit (bonus points for setting up the spare ten at 2:00AM when the first one gets ripped apart by high winds and driving snow)

Checkmark_499) Hike at least part of the Appalachian Trail

100) Really finish all the things on this list (and then some) before I go

[Here is a collection of lists from previous years for any newcomers to the party.]

Inspired by: Mighty Girl

Posted by David Bogner on June 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Late night last night

Family movie night went late last night and we all slept in this morning.  I got nothin'.

See if you can come up with a suitable caption for this one:

                                              [click to embiggen]

Posted by David Bogner on June 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Friday, June 20, 2008

It happens every time

Every single time Israel lifts travel restriction (removes roadblocks and check points) on the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria (the west bank) we are rewarded by terror attacks.

Am I the only one who sees a cause and effect going on here?  When we make concessions, terror is supposed to decrease... not increase.  The only people who seem to be gaining confidence from these 'confidence building gestures' are the terrorists. 

Israel has given back 89% of the land it captured in the Six Day War and made 'painful concessions' pretty much every time we've been asked.  The Arabs have given up exactly nothing (except every opportunity they've been offered for a normal life).  Squat. Nada.  Zilch.

I'm done. 

Roadblock every village and make them wait in line at check points until they die of old age.  There's obviously nothing Israel can do (short of giving the entire country away) to make them stop trying to kill us.  So let's at least be smart enough not to make it easy for them. 

I hear Dubai is giving away citizenship and jobs to anyone who asks... go move there you murdering bastards.

Posted by David Bogner on June 20, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Well, they have to come from somewhere, right?

I've always wondered where all those flags come from for those 'spontaneous' demonstrations you see on the news.  Now I know:

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Hat tip: Karl Newman (a longtime treppenwitz reader/commenter)

Posted by David Bogner on June 20, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 19, 2008

You say tomato...

I don't know if there is a statute of limitations on holding back embarrassing information about friends and posting it on the Internet.  But I've been sitting on this particular gem for about a year now and I feel like enough time has passed that most people who could connect this incident with a particular individual will probably have forgotten the connection by now.  Or not.

Oh who am I kidding?  Anyone who heard this first hand (or even second hand), has it indelibly burned into their memory and knows exactly who I'm talking about.  But I'm still going to withhold the names to (sort of) protect the innocent.

A friend of ours, who is arguably one of the most modest, aidel (gentle) and innocent people I know, was working for an Israeli religious educational institution that primarily recruits from among very observant high school aged girls from the US and Canada.

One of our friend's jobs while working for this school was to travel to communities around North America speaking about the merits of this particular school, and interviewing potential students for admission.

At one particular stop on one of his speaking tours, our friend found himself in an auditorium of a rather right-wing religious community, speaking to a large group of potential students and their parents.  His prepared remarks went well and he was feeling quite confident as he easily fielded some of the more common questions about the physical layout of the school and dormitories, as well as some more challenging ones about the school's hashkafa (guiding philosophy). 

Then a young girl stood up and asked what should have been a fairly easy one:

"Is there a dress code?"

I say 'easy' because our friend was prepared for the question and knew exactly how he wanted to answer.  His response was designed to strike just the right balance between school mandated religious decorum (tzniut) and allowing the students enough autonomy to make individual decisions on attire. 

What he meant to say was something along the lines of "Look, we assume a certain level of maturity in our students so we don't have a firm dress code per se.  But at the same time we don't want the girls dressing too informally in the Beit Midrash (study hall)".

He actually got the first part of that thought out the way he wanted... but the second half fell victim to his having grown up in New England where we have different words for some things, like say, articles of foot-wear, than the rest of the country.  What came out of his mouth was:

"...but at the same time we'd prefer that the girls didn't wear thongs in the Beit Midrash."

I'm told you could have heard a pin drop in the audience as that little gem echoed around the stunned room full of black hats, floor-length skirts and wigs.  It wasn't until sometime later that someone took our friend aside and gently informed him that not everyone referred to those rubber 'flip-flop sandals as 'thongs'.

[A request: If you know who this is about DO NOT give any indication of it in the comments section!  We love him dearly and this anecdote is only funny because it is related about an anonymous gentle, wise, frum yid who still probably blushes when he thinks about making such a public gaffe.]

Posted by David Bogner on June 19, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dealing with disappointment

I wasn't happy with the post I wrote this morning.  Oh who am I kidding... it stank like week-old gym socks.

I've moved on.

In the mean time, you guys have been doing a nice job chewing over yesterday's post... perhaps there's more to be said on that score.

See you tomorrow.

Oh OK, an astute commenter just pointed out that the last time I left you guys high and dry, I at least posted one of the funny pictures people are sending me all the time.  So here's one for yas.  Discuss:

                                            ~click to embiggen~

I'm nothing if not compliant.

[I hope we're all grown-up enough to let the small obscenity pass without sicking the Church Ladies on me]

Posted by David Bogner on June 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sticker Shock. Not!

I've been following the rash of gas-related posts on U.S.-based blogs as people begin to see prices cresting the $4 per gallon mark at their local fill-up stop.

Far be it from me to call anyone provincial (being somewhat provincial myself), but I feel the need to offer some much needed perspective on this issue:

Here in Israel, average take home salaries tend to be anywhere from 25% to 35% of the average U.S. take home salary.  Please note that I didn't say 25% to 35% less than U.S. salaries.  You read that correctly... I intentionally wrote that. apples-to-apples, an Israeli doing the same job as an American will likely take home 65% - 75% less in his or her pay envelope.

With that in mind, take a gander at our gas prices:

If you shop around you can find stations selling cheap unleaded gas for about 6.6 NIS (Shekels) per liter.

(Diesel, which used to be kept artificially lower than gas to appease the taxi and truck drivers, has crept up over the past couple of years and now costs even more than gas!)

There are 3.7483 liters to a gallon so that means the price of a gallon of gas here is 24.74 NIS

At the current exchange rate of 3.44 Shekels to the Dollar (or .29 dollars to the Shekel if you prefer), Israelis are shelling out about $7.17 USD per gallon at the pumps!   

Yes, I know we have socialized medicine here and our public school system does away with the need to waste money on day school tuition.  I am also aware that it costs less than $3,000 per year to send our kids to the best Israeli Universities.    If you think about it, all that makes sense in light of our paltry average take-home salaries.

But it hurts just a little hearing my American friends complaining about paying $4 a gallon for gas when I sometimes pour 10% of my take home pay into my gas tank.

A little perspective is all I'm saying.

Posted by David Bogner on June 17, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (58) | TrackBack

Monday, June 16, 2008

A taste of my own medicine

This post is directed at those apathetic, self-hating, post-Zionist, latte drinking, draft-evading lefty Tel Aviv Israelis I insulted a few months back.  I've owed you this for some time... and yesterday the check finally came due.

A coworker of mine came into my office yesterday, red in the face and clearly agitated over something.  He and I are good friends and have become quite close while traveling abroad together on business.

I asked him what was wrong and he began nearly yelling at me in a rant that went something like this:

"What's wrong with you settlers?  Why is it that you think the law doesn't apply to you?  Don't you realize that the Arabs are people too?  Are you so simple-minded as to think that by beating up women and children you are hurting the terrorists?  Do you think that acting this way will ever bring peace???!

I was completely taken aback by his outburst and didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about.  I waited for him to finish venting and then asked him to sit down and explain what had happened to get him so upset.

He didn't want to sit.  He just stood with his hands on his hips and said, "You mean to tell me you don't know about the settlers from Susiya who beat up the Arab shepherds... women!, children!... you didn't hear about it?"

I was still drawing a blank.  Susiya is community along my commute and I consider myself pretty up-to-date on news from my area... but I had heard nothing and hadn't seen a hint of the story in the news.

"Did this just happen?" I asked him, already reaching for my computer mouse, "because I check the news every couple of hours and I didn't see anything about this!"  As I said this I surfed over to the Jerusalem Post site... then Ynet and finally Haaretz. 

Nothing.  Not a whisper or hint about such an incident.

He had finally calmed down enough to take the offered seat next to me and he explained that the incident had happened the previous week but he had been too upset to talk to me about it until now.

That kind of freaked me out because he had been close to throwing stuff when he walked into my office, so I couldn't imagine how angry he'd been a week ago.  Also, it worried me that something fairly serious had apparently happened in my neck of the woods and I had completely missed it.

When I told him I couldn't find any mention of it on the regular news sites he explained that someone had sent him a link to a video on the ISM (International Solidarity Movement... a pro-Palestinian organization) web site.  I did a Google quick search using the words 'Susiya' and ISM and bingo... within seconds was looking at the film of the incident on the ISM site.

The brief 'facts' presented there were as follows:

"On Monday 9 June six masked Jewish settlers from the nearby outpost of Havat Ya’ir, armed with automatic weapons and cudgels, attacked a small group of Palestinians, mainly women, in their tent village in the Susiya location of the South Hebron Hills."

For the purposes of full disclosure I am posting it here so everyone is on the same page with what I have to say about this.  Go ahead and watch it... I'll wait.

OK, so I watched the film with my angry coworker/friend sitting next to me.  When it was finished I looked at him and asked a few questions:

Me:  First of all, there were four men, and not six as stated on their site.  Also, the attack seems to have taken place in a meadow and not in a tent village as the site indicates.   But what makes you so sure these were settlers?  You can't see who they are... They aren't wearing tzitzit (the ritual stringed garment that religious Jews wear under their shirts), no kippot on their heads... they aren't speaking Hebrew. What makes you so sure they are Jews, much less settlers?

Him:  Well, it says so on the ISM site.  I assume they looked into it.

Me:  OK, but if they didn't catch these guys why should we take ISM's word for it.  It could just as easily been a violent dispute between Arab clans, right?  That happens all the time.  Also, it says right here on the ISM web site that the settlers are carrying automatic weapons as well as clubs.  Did you see any weapons other than the clubs the four men were carrying?

Him:  Well no... but they could have left them at home.

By this time I was starting to feel some of my own anger welling up.

Me:  Do you hear how crazy that sounds?  You show me less than 45 seconds of shaky film that could be anyone - including Arabs - beating up these shepherds... and you want me to believe the written commentary on the ISM site about them being automatic weapon-toting settlers when there is no sign of automatic weapons... no sign of them being settlers... in fact, no sign of them being Jews!

Him:  [~silence~]

Me:  Think about it... why didn't something like this make the news?  It doesn't even pass the laugh test over at Haaretz!  Believe me, when it comes to accusing settlers of bad behavior the mainstream Israeli media isn't particular about fact-checking... but the only place I see this story is on sites like ISM, Peace Now and B'Tzelem.  If this had even a whiff of credibility it would have been in the headlines and stayed there for days!  I guaranty you that if anyone did report it in the MSM, it was pulled very quickly because there isn't a hint of it anywhere right now and it is less than a week later.

Him:  OK, but you have to admit that settlers are doing this sort of thing all the time. 

That's about the time I lost my mind.

"Are you kidding me?  You come in here and act as though you've just seen me personally beating up your children.  When I point out to you that there is a lot of room for disagreement about what the film actually shows, your answer is to say that even if it isn't settlers this one time... that the evil settlers are doing this sort of thing all the time! Is that really what you're saying???!!!"

"That would be like me wagging my finger in your face every time some drug-addled teenager gets stabbed in a Tel Aviv night club... or when a grenade gets thrown at a Gush Dan politician... or for that matter, I should have stormed into your office and screamed at you when that lawyer got blown up in his SUV last week in Tel Aviv!  I mean seriously... What the hell is wrong with you secular Tel Avivis... Why is it that you think the law doesn't apply to you?"

He didn't miss a beat before answering, "But those things you are talking about were done by criminals... they don't represent me or anyone else from the Merkaz!"

I immediately made that Israeli 'Ah!' sound that is roughly equivalent to the English 'Ah-Hah' to let him know that his statement could also be used to defend my position.

"Don't you see", I replied, "that  even if that film had shown settlers acting criminally - and you have to admit there is no evidence that it was settlers - they are criminals!  Why would you think it's fair to appoint four criminals to represent more than a quarter million hard-working, law-abiding, tax paying Israeli citizens who just happen to live over the green line?"

By now I was nearly breathless with anger.  But with my last outburst I began feeling the beginnings of a new feeling bubbling to the surface; shame.  As my angry words were still echoing off the walls of my office I began thinking about the countless times I've made sweeping generalizations about secular Israelis from the center of the country... and tagged them as if they were some sort of monolithic Golum.

To his credit, my coworker immediately apologized for his unfair generalization.  He admitted that he didn't have a particularly high opinion of the whole settler enterprise and that it had colored his opinion of settlers.  He also pointed out that since I was the only settler he knew he had unfairly unloaded on me.

We shook hands and went back to work.

Since my coworker was big enough to not only take ownership of his personal prejudices, but to also apologize to me... I figure the least I can do is come clean for some of my past mis-deeds.

So I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for my unfair characterization of people from the center of the country as apathetic, self-hating, post-Zionist, latte drinking, draft-evading lefties.  Statistically we may be part of groups that reside on different sides of many issues.  But I have assigned some pretty unfair things to you as a group, while ignoring the fact that people on both sides of the green line (and those various issues) are good, bad, secular, religious, left, right... and most importantly; individuals.

Please accept my apology.  I'll try very hard not to do it again.

Posted by David Bogner on June 16, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What victory looks like

"You can't strive for victory if you can't even agree on the identity of your enemy".  I can't tell you how many times I've said this in discussions about middle eastern politics. 

Ask any Israeli (or Jew, for that matter) how they envision 'victory' in our ongoing struggle with our enemies, and you are likely to get an earful about resettling refugees... the location of final borders... an end to Israel's economic and physical isolation... and perhaps even the wording of some theoretical document signed by our various antagonists stating that hostilities were - at least for the time being - at an end. 

But for some reason we shy away from naming our enemies.  And I am certain that this is among the primary reasons we are still at war. 

We have 'peace partners'  We have 'militants'.  We have restive neighbors galore.  But to point a finger and say 'That is my enemy' is very un-PC, I guess. 

Better not to risk giving offense.  After all, if we really want an end to the conflict we need to stop using the terminology of war, right? 

Forget the nearly daily calls to wipe Israel off the map... the de-legitimization of Israeli sovereignty... the Arabic language speeches in mosques that allude knowingly to the 'war of stages' against the Zionist entity... the secret 'peace negotiations' where Israel's most painful concessions are assumed by all (including our leaders) to be the starting point (or even precondition!) to any official cessation of hostilities.

I mention this because over the past couple of days a few different friends have forwarded an email containing a photograph that, in my mind, relates to victory far more poignantly than any of the chatter I mentioned above.   I have no idea who took it or how long it has been floating around the ether. [If you know, please tell me so I can provide attribution.]

I'm sure this photograph has moved people in many ways and has proven itself worth at least twice its alloted 1000 words.  But when I look at this photo for the first time, I saw a litmus test... a test that crystallized in my mind who and what our enemies are.

Anyone who disputes the simple truth of the physical and moral victory pictured in the photograph below cannot reasonably hide behind the 'acceptable' term 'anti-Zionist'.  They are anti-Semites.  They are our enemies... and it tortures their very soul that we have already won.   


[UPDATE:  Thank you to several sharp-eyed readers who have informed me that *The award-winning picture was taken by Karen Gillerman-Harel.  The picture won the contest "Israel Sixtieth Birthday Flag".  ON another blog where the image was posted Ms Gillerman-Harel wrote: "I am proud and happy to have this oppertunity to deliver the message of hope & optimism of our future via my photograph.
The old lady's hand is my best grandmother's childhood friend Yaeli. Dora Dreiblatt was born 1922 in Poland and is an Aushwitz Holocaust survivor. The baby's hand is her great grandaughter Daniella who is the 4th generation in their family. they are a very special and close family to me." ]

Posted by David Bogner on June 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Racism: It's all about the packaging

The first 'news headline' I spotted this morning was about a kibbutz near Kfar Saba named Nir Eliahu having announced the admission of its first Arab Muslim member.

Like most people I tend to decide, based on the headline, whether to read the story.  But since this didn't really seem to qualify as 'breaking news' I skipped over it and instead read the more pressing stuff about Olmert trying (in vain, I hope) to keep his Kadima party in power with primaries... Labor and Shas lying about claiming they will vote with Likud to disband the Knesset (while giving themselves plenty of wiggle room for when they eventually renege)... and how the security cabinet has decided to shelve the pointless 'medium operation' in Gaza in favor of a complete surrender to negotiated truce with Hamas via Egypt.

But when I'd finished with all the 'real news' my mind went back to that odd headline:

"First Arab Muslim accepted to kibbutz"

That seemed like a strange precedent to trumpet.  I couldn't resist... so I clicked over to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out that most of the article was made up of statements from various kibbutz movement representatives making it perfectly clear that this was not a trend they hoped would blossom, but rather a one-off fluke. 

Apparently this all came about when an Arab Muslim woman began working on the kibbutz as a nurse.  She eventually moved to the kibbutz (as a non-member) with her sons, and they were apparently well liked by the kibbutz members to the extent that a decision was finally made to offer her (and her sons) full membership.  A heart-warming story, right?

I'll be honest... the first thing that popped into my mind was the social aspect of a single Muslim woman and her sons living on a kibbutz.  Who are her sons going to date?  Is she still in the market for a husband?  I'm sorry... for someone who moved to Israel to increase the odds that his kids would marry Jews, that's where my mind goes.  I can't help it.

I live in a nominally 'mixed' community (meaning there are religious and non-religious Jews), but assuming that my kids were to end up dating someone from our town... or even if they meet someone in the Army or university from elsewhere in Israel, there is still an excellent chance that I'll one day be bouncing Jewish grandkids on my knee. 

Assuming that Jewish continuity is important on a cultural, social  and/or religious level, this would be a positive outcome and something to strive towards, no? 

But if I were living on that kibbutz, the introduction of non-Jews into my kid's immediate social circle would obviously mess with the odds a bit.  And what about this woman and her sons?  For a single Muslim woman and her sons in a kibbutz environment... well, you'll have to admit that the odds are better than average that they will end up marrying Jews. 

With all this in mind, this news article was just chock full of cognitive dissonance.

First and foremost is the odd fact that the [secular] kibbutz movement - a vast bastion of liberalism - took so long to admit an Arab member.  After all, during the heyday of the foreign volunteer craze in the 70s and 80s, there was nary a kibbutz that didn't have a few non-Jewish Scandinavians or Europeans as full members as a result of kibbutz members marrying foreign volunteers who were just too tempting to leave alone.  So why all the fuss over an Arab?

Then in re-reading the article an odd paragraph jumped out as a possible explanation:

"The kibbutzim were always very Zionist Jewish communes. The left-wing ones tried to encourage Arabs to build kibbutzim for themselves - but they never admitted Arabs. The purpose [of the kibbutz movement] was to create a Jewish working class. The Arabs were irrelevant to that... Although times have changed, that that mind-set persists to the present day. "

Oh, I see now... according to an expert on the secular kibbutz movement, Zionism means keeping Jews and Arabs apart.  Fascinating!  I sure am glad it wasn't a guy with a kippah who said that!  Can you imagine the scandal?  The outcry!? 

From my point of view, an Israeli Arab (of any religion) should, on paper, be an easy 'fit' for most kibbutzim since there are far fewer personal and cultural hurdles to overcome than with say, a typical European or Scandinavian:

  • They already (presumably) speak fluent Hebrew. 
  • They already understand the subtleties of middle-eastern politics and social interaction. 
  • They are far more likely than a European or Scandinavian to come from an agrarian background. 
  • They are less likely to stand out physically from a typical kibbutznik.

Given all of these things (and I'm sure you can think of many more), the real news story should be that it has taken this long for an Arab to be made a full member of a kibbutz! 

Of course... if you scratch a 'liberal' kibbutznik, you're likely to find someone just as conservative (and apparently 'racist') as I am.

Posted by David Bogner on June 12, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My brother's keeper?

A good friend emailed me late last night with the following question:

"when we in israel are enjoying isru chag [ed: the day after a holiday] jews outside must keep to the same standard for their second day of chag.  it is for this reason that I try to avoid emailing anyone who may be jewish, or calling anyone, in order to avoid either the "lifnei iveir lo titain michshol" or the "m'saiyeya lid'var aveira" transgression [ed: basically causing someone else to 'stumble' or transgress'].

so I was wondering if you ever asked your rav about blogging on isru chag, and if it was your responsibility to take into account the two factors that could shine the interrogation spotlight on you, those being 1)  many of your readers are jews outside of israel and 2) many commentors are as well.

yes, of course they are online anyway, and it is their "choice" to surf over, read and reply - you are not forcing or pushing.  however, the but-for argument can certainly be made, enough at least to warrant the investigation.

have you ever asked?"

[My note: Just a little background for the uninitiated...  Jews in Israel keep one day of holidays while Jews outside of Israel keep two.  You can find out more about this practice here.  The second day here in Israel, called isru chag, is free from all of the work prohibitions... but as stated here, many have the custom to add a little extra levity to the day.]

So, aside from my friend's very e e cummings-like scorn for capitalization, he makes an excellent point... and asks some equally excellent questions.

What my friend was essentially saying was, 'While Jewish law certainly permits the use of computers in Israel on isru chag, by posting on the blog, aren't you encouraging Jews in the diaspora to transgress by giving them an invitation to read your site and perhaps even comment?'

My knee-jerk reaction was to email him, saying that I don't respond to Jews outside of Israel when it is still Yom Tov for them.  But after I hit the send key I realized I was completely full of **it.  I have become so accustomed to having only one day of holiday here that I honestly didn't even think about the restrictions still in force outside of Israel.  I absolutely responded to several Jewish readers yesterday!

So... thinking out loud here... let me share the following things that crossed my mind just now:

Arutz 7, an Israeli news site that shuts down for shabbat and holidays, resumes publication on isru chag.  I have to assume that they have a large readership outside of Israel and have taken that into consideration.  They also allow talk-back comments, although I haven't checked to see if they disable this function while it is still holiday or shabbat in the diaspora..

It isn't as though I called someone in the Diaspora up on the phone and yelled 'SINNER! when they answered the phone.  I have to believe that the siren song of fresh content at treppenwitz is not the only reason someone is turning on their computer in New York or LA.

By acknowledging someone's comment I may, indeed, be sort of initiating a dialog of sorts... but again, there is no immediacy as with a telephone call.  They may not go back and see my response until hours or even days later!

What if someone comments on an older post that was up days or weeks before the holiday.  Is that OK or do I need to take down my site altogether on Shabbat and holidays (don't laugh... there is a service that will do exactly this for you if you want!)?

As my friend pointed out, there is certainly a prohibition in Judaism against placing a stumbling block in front of someone or causing them to 'sin' (for lack of a better word).  But to what point is a Jew responsible for his/her fellow Jew?  To what extent are we our brother's (and sister's) keepers?

OK, I'm done thinking out loud. 

Your turn.

Posted by David Bogner on June 11, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'Entrecôte'; Hebrew for 'take it or leave it'

After the Shavuot dairy fest (think lasagna and chocolate Kahlua cheesecake), I feel like I need to address a meaty issue... y'know, just to get my metabolism back on an even keel.

Go into most Israeli meat restaurants looking for a steak and you are likely to find your choices a tad limited.  In fact, with the exception of bonifide steak houses, the choice will usually be between Entrecôte and... Entrecôte.  No seriously, they may give you a choice of weight (from 300 grams all the way up to a kilo!) but not of what cut of steak you get. 

But if you were brought up (like I was) hearing about Porterhouse/t-bone, Sirloin, Chateaubriand, hanger, rib-eye, skirt and fillet mignon (to name but a few)... well, the lack of choices in Israel steaks is likely to make you pine for the bistros and butcher shops of the old country.

The problem is that 'Entrecôte' is supposed to be a premium cut of meat from the rib eye... but in Israel it can be just about any medallion-type steak from anywhere in the cow.

If you go into a supermarket looking for steaks you will be met by two choices;  fresh cut Entrecôte or 'aged' Entrecôte vacuum packed in plastic.  Neither gives much clue to the meat's provenance (other than the fact that it is certified kosher) and if you don't have an eye for meat it is purely hit or miss as to what kind of cooked steak will end up on your table.

We used to go to a butcher shop in Jerusalem which had a beautiful selection of different cuts on display.  The roasts and steaks we enjoyed from that place very nearly justified the astronomical prices they charged.   But alas, a dispute between the owners and rumors of non-kosher meat closed the place down.

By sheer chance I happened to be waiting on line for chickens at the meat counter in my regular Beer Sheva supermarket last week, when I noticed an older man in the back expertly butchering a side of beef.  There was quite a line, so I was able to watch for some time as he skillfully reduced the half carcass into its logical segments and then went to work with a boning knife to remove the ribs from the roast/steaks.

When it came my turn to order, I asked the woman behind the counter if I could have a word with the old man in the back.  She shrugged and went to fetch him.

What ensued was probably a bit comical to watch since my grasp of meat terminology in English is shaky (at best), and his English was non-existent.  But since both of us were trying to discuss a topic near and dear to our hearts, cultural and linguistic bridges were built... and crossed.

At once he seemed to sense a kindred spirit and began spouting a rapid-fire stream of terms that meant exactly nothing to me.  Seeing my uncomprehending stare, he fetched a big sheet of paper and began sketching out a cow and its various segments, but even that did little to break the impasse since I had only the vaguest sense of where the various steaks come from.

Then I did some sketching of my own.  I drew a classic T-bone... some spare ribs... a rib roast.  I drew a steak marbled with fat instead of the more common (and less flavorful) lean steak with a strip of fat around the edge.  And as I drew he nodded enthusiastically and assured me that he knew what I wanted.

He went to the back and carried out a segment of short ribs on his shoulder that must have weighed roughly the same as he did.  We began discussing the various possibilities with an interested crowd gathering to listen in.  With a combination of words and gestures he demonstrated what kind of steaks were possible... and after a brief deliberation, I asked for six generously cut steaks (on the bone).

After he had wrapped my order I thanked him and went to complete my shopping.  But I was gratified to see several other people immediately start gesturing that they wanted the same kind of steaks that I had ordered.

When I got home I fired up the grill before even walking into the house.  The kids husked the corn (don't get me started about how Israeli corn doesn't measure up to its New England counterpart!) and Zahava prepared a salad.. Within minutes we had a repast fit for a king.  Even Yonah (who is a picky eater at the best of times) plowed through a nice chunk of meat without having to be asked twice!

The moral of the story is that there are some excellent steaks here in Israel for those who take the time to look for them.  Go ahead... throw off the tyranny of the poorly defined (yet ubiquitous) Israeli Entrecôte.  Dare to look for something more!

Note: Only 52 grilling days left until the beginning of 'the nine days', so what are you waiting for?! *


* The nine days are those preceding the fast of Tisha B'av, during which many Jews traditionally refrain from eating meat as a sign of mourning.

Posted by David Bogner on June 10, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Part of the larger body of work

Being the son of an English Literature professor, as well as the proud bearer of a B.A. in that august (but largely unmarketable) subject, I am amazed at the sheer volume of excellent poetry and prose that has been written over the centuries that has been deemed unworthy of study by modern students.

The undergraduate student of English Lit. usually does little more than scratch the surface of this enormous body of writing, and graduate students tend to specialize quite narrowly.  The end result is that a vast sea of writing exists that will rarely if ever see the light of day.

I am please and proud to let you know that as of this week I joined the ranks of writers whose work will probably be largely ignored for generations to come. 

Here... let me explain:

A couple of years ago I wrote a post here on treppenwitz about my experiences at my Israeli barber shop in Beer Sheva.  Shortly thereafter I got an email from an English Lit professor at the University of Houston in Texas.  It turns out he was compiling an anthology called 'The Barber in Modern Jewish Culture' and wanted to know if he could include my essay.

Naturally I said yes... and that was that.

Well, this week I received a handsomely bound book in the mail from Dr. Irving N. Rothman... and sure enough, it was the above mentioned anthology (you can buy it here for only $158).  It is arranged chronologically from an entry dated 1150 B.C.E. through a piece written in 2007. 


There are relatively few modern essays in this genre (mine was the sole representative for 2006), so I feel like I'm in a fairly exclusive club.

BTW, I should point out that any of you who commented on that post are also included in the anthology since he opted to pubilsh the comments on the post as well! 

Granted, it's not like having one's work selected for inclusion in the Norton's Anthology of English Literature.  But seeing one's name in print... even in a tome that may not see wide circulation/interest... is heady stuff indeed.

So this is my way of saying 'Hey dad... I may not have written the great American novel (yet), but being published in a serious anthology ain't bad'. 

Posted by David Bogner on June 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Second thoughts

I have been dealing with a particular company in the service industry for a couple of years.  I started using them on the recommendation of a friend and have been particularly satisfied with Pretty much all aspects of this Israeli company.

They have polite, professional employees who seem to take pride in being very good at what they do.  They have regular business hours and one can speak with anyone available.  But once you are a customer you have an agent who is assigned to you and he/she can be reached by email or phone for more personalized service.  Additionally, they also have a 24 hour number for emergencies and have computerized record-keeping so that any of their employees can access your file and provide immediate answers / support if someone is out or unavailable.

As I said before, all of my dealings with this company have been pleasant and professional... until this week.

I had been dealing with my regular agent on a transaction and was waiting for an email reply from her.  When it arrived I was in a meeting and didn't see her response until almost 4:00PM... about the time I know she normally leaves the office.

Her email had mentioned pricing that was 'good for today', so not wanting to risk losing out on the quoted price, I called right away rather than waiting until the morning.

When I asked the receptionist for my regular agent, she said, "She's leaving now and doesn't want to talk to anyone."  I was momentarily non-plussed.  She hadn't said "she can't talk to anyone"... she had specifically said "she doesn't want to talk to anyone", (note: we were speaking in Hebrew but there was no chance of my misunderstanding).

I suspected this might be the case but was still a bit put-off by her choice of words. So I gently asked "OK, but she just sent me an email saying the price she quoted is for today.  I need to know if I need to complete the transaction today or risk losing the price".

Rather than relating to what I'd said, the receptionist immediately responded, "I'm sorry, I told you she was leaving... you'll have to call back tomorrow.", and promptly hung up the phone.

Rather than call her back and yell at her (which I'll admit was my first impulse), I simply sent an email to my regular agent telling her I had called, and related word-for-word what had transpired with the receptionist.

The next morning my agent emailed me right away to apologize for not having been able to take my call the previous day.  She also apologized for any confusion she had caused by including the words 'prices for today' in her email as she could still give me the same price.  Lastly, she wrote that she was not happy with the way the receptionist had handled things and had forwarded my email to the owner of the company.

Within an hour I got an email from the owner of the company saying that he had read what had happened and apologized for the unprofessional treatment I had received.  He closed by saying "That is not how we normally do business here".   

I probably should have accepted his apology and left it at that... but I wanted to make sure he understood what was bothering me.  I really didn't care so much that the receptionist had been rude (I did, but I have come to accept a certain cultural abruptness with Israeli receptionists and clerks), but rather that I had been upset because she hadn't seemed to grasp that I was only asking her to verify whether I needed to speak with another agent to complete the transaction or if it could wait until the following day.

He responded almost immediately:

"Thanks for your email. I completely concur with both your assessment and analysis of what the receptionist should have done.  Thursday is her last day of employment."

I sat in complete shock reading the email.  That was not the outcome I had anticipated or wanted. 

After a few moments I responded:

"Not to pry into what is entirely an internal matter, but I sincerely hope that she has not been fired because of this incident.  That was not my intention. I had only wanted to point out that the situation could have been handled better."

He responded:

"Shalom David.  It was a combination of factors; your complaint, though, tipped the scales."

I'm feeling terrible over this on so many different levels that I can't even enunciate them.  I'd love to know if any of you think I (or they) should have handled things differently... and/or what you think of the outcome.

Posted by David Bogner on June 5, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack