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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Sign of Things to Come

The President of the State of Israel is not supposed to involve himself in partisan politics.  In fact, to ensure the apolitical nature of the role, Israeli law states that the president may "neither intervene politically nor express personal views on issues that divide the public".  [source]  Not suprsingly, he routinely comments on political matters.

Once again Shimon Peres has conveniently forgotten that the office he holds is supposed to be an apolitical ceremonial figurehead role.  Today he weighed in on a statement Naftali Bennett made regarding any Jews who would remain under Palestinian sovereignty after any peace agreement; specifically that they would be in mortal danger.

Peres poo pooed Bennett's warning with the following doozy:

"What is this fear that has struck us? That we will be killed? Today? The fear was well placed in 1948 when we had no cannons or tanks or planes against seven armies." [source]

Well Shimon, since you asked... let me help you out.

You are apparently so detached from reality there in the Presidential residence that you are unaware that according to the disastrous Oslo accords that you helped foist upon the state you nominally head, it is illegal for an Israeli citizen to enter any area controlled by the Palestinian Authority (the entity that would presumably become the government of a future Palestinian state).

In fact, at the entrance to all of these areas are big red signs that look like this:


The Palestinians didn't put up those signs... the Israeli government did!

Please note that it isn't just a matter of whether it is allowed or not.  These signs make it quite clear that the reason it is illegal to enter areas under Palestinian Authority control is because it is "dangerous to your lives".

You are the President of the State of Israel.  The state that posted those signs.  Have you already forgotten what happened to reservists Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami in 2000 when they took a wrong turn and were literally torn to pieces by a mob in Ramallah?


Someone needs to remind our President about those signs.  True, this isn't 1948... it is 2014. But Shimon... there are still a frightening number of Palestinians who, given the chance,  would like nothing better than to kill us.

Posted by David Bogner on January 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, January 27, 2014

Is a friend who spills your secrets really a friend?

Has anyone else noticed a very disturbing trend in the relationship between Israel and the United States?  Specifically that the US government seems to be ratting out just about every single military / intelligence operation the Israeli government allegedly carries out.  It's like a jealous friend running to betray a secret shared in confidence in order to impress someone else.  After all, publicly shaming Israel is a tried and true way to curry favor with much of the world.

For its part, Israel is generally circumspect about its military and intelligence operations.  This is part of its deterrence.  The unknown is often far scarier than the known.  Months and even years after Israel has allegedly struck a target, or eliminated a terrorist in an extra-judicial killing, there will be no confirmation or denial from the Israeli government regarding responsibility.

Yet in the past few years (i.e. during the Obama administration) the following 4-step scenario has played out again and again:

  1. Something (or someone) somewhere in the world is blown up (or killed).
  2. The media or one of Israel's enemies (redundant, I know) speculates that Israel is behind it.
  3. Israeli offers a demurral or refusal to comment.
  4. An unnamed White House spokesperson confirms that Israel was, in fact, behind it.

If you want to discuss whether Israel is right or wrong to be blowing stuff up or introducing terrorists to their 72 virgins, I'd be happy to host that discussion.  The primary responsibility of every government (not just Israel's) is to protect its citizens.  That means if a government identifies a clear and present danger to its citizens, and has the ability to eliminate that danger, they are not only allowed, but required to do so.  

Obviously if they can eliminate a clear and present danger through peaceful/diplomatic means via cooperation with domestic or international law enforcement agencies, friendly governments, etc., that is ideal.  

But in a few select cases, which hopefully don't require sock puppets to explain, the most reliable/expedient way to eliminate a threat against one's citizens before the threat can be realized is to blow it up / kill it.

All day yesterday Lebanese media was abuzz with reports of Israeli jets operating over Beirut and flying low over the Beka'a Valley.  Maybe true.  Maybe not.  Naturally Israel refused to confirm or deny entering Lebanese airspace.  And there the matter would likely have been left.

Except that late last night in the Syrian port city of Latakia, something big went boom.

Now, there is no lack of 'splody stuff in Syria these days, and no lack of people running around that country trying to blow up and murder one another.  But this was a particularly large explosion in a country where large explosions are increasingly routine.

According to the article I was reading, Palestinian sources immediately claimed that Israel had struck an arsenal holding Russian S-300 missiles.  For those not familiar with the S-300, it is a long range Surface-To-Air missile that has been defined by Israel as a 'regional game changer' (i.e. a weapon that would alter the current balance of power between Israel and the countries and entities with which it is officially at war).

For most observers, the fact that Israel has repeatedly called the introduction of the S-300 a regional game changer... followed by a foreign media report of S-300s located in a Syrian port being blown up, would have been enough to be able to connect the dots.  A red line was announced.  A red line was crossed.  Boom.  Nothing left beyond the red line but a smoking crater.  Equilibrium restored.

This is the very definition of deterrence.  Nobody had to take credit for the explosion.  Grown up nations with skin in the game all had a pretty good idea of what had happened.  And close 'allies', whose relationship is often called 'friendly', had almost certainly been given a 'heads-up' as a courtesy.

This past October something else went 'BOOM' in the Syrian port city of Latakia.  Despite Israel's customary silence on what, if anything, they might have had to do with the explosion, a White House spoke-person immediately gave a statement confirming that Israel had been behind the strike:

"According to the [White House] source, the target was rockets and rockets-related equipment that Israel feared would be transferred to Hezbollah".  [source]

I mention this because I'll be curious to see how many hours will pass today before an unnamed White House spokes-person confirms that Israel was responsible for last night's explosion in Syria.

If it happens (and I'm fairly certain it will), I think the time may have come for Israel to kick our tattle-tale 'friend' in the nuts (metaphorically speaking, of course) by revealing a few uncomfortable secrets that I'm sure the Mossad has about clandestine US ops.

Israel isn't the only player on the world stage with secrets worth keeping.

Posted by David Bogner on January 27, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A nudge in the (hopefully) right direction

In my last post I sent out a call for suggestions.  Apparently I didn't give enough direction.

For the record, I like most of the stuff you guys recommended.  Except for Slivovitz.  I wouldn't use Slivovitz to loosen stuck bolts on my Vespa, for fear of offending the Vespa's sensibilities.  

Slivovitz is what people come up with when trying to manufacture something, anything, intoxicating that is also kosher for Passover.  What, constipation isn't bad enough... I need burnt tastebuds and hearburn too?!

Back to the mission at hand, I mentioned Drambuie, Cointreau, Benedictine and Gran Marnier in my previous post in order to provide some parameters... some chalk lines within which I like to play the game.

It's not that I don't like those other things you suggested (except Slivovitz!).  It's just that I particularly like things that fall into that brandy-ish, liquory, aromatic realm of the four I mentioned above.

Just so you don't think I'm a snob, I used to be fond of an Israeli triple-sec-sort-of-liquor called 'Moishe Shicker' (literally drunk Moses).  I kid you not!  I used to have people bring it back from Israel for me!  But I'm pretty sure they stopped making it... and besides it was good, but not great.  

Moishe shiker

Drambuie is good.  Cointreau is good.  Benedictine and Gran Marnier, as far as I can remember, are good. But I'm looking for great.  Sabra Grand was great!

Soooo, now you say something.

Posted by David Bogner on January 26, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Crowd-Sourcing an Alternative Tipple

I rarely do this, but since the readership here at treppenwitz consists of a very diverse group of people, I wanted to ask for a little help / advice.

I'm not a big drinker.  I do enjoy a little wine and beer with a good meal.  But on occasion, I like something stronger.

I generally go in for Bourbon for sipping.  But if I want an Apéritif and Digestif, I generally like something a bit sweeter.

I like (but don't love)things like Drambuie, Cointreau and such.  And back in my pre-kosher days I was very partial to Benedictine and Gran Marnier.  I've discovered that I don't, however, enjoy straight brandy (even really high end brandy).  What can I say... I'm a cheap date.

A few years ago I discovered that the folks who make Sabra (a sweet, orange/coffee liquor) had started making a brandy based liquor called 'Sabra Grand' that was very close to perfect (for me).  It very quickly became my 'tipple of choice'.

Which of course meant that within a very short time, they stopped making Sabra Grand.

So... what I'm looking for are recommendations for kosher Apéritifs and Digestifs in the liquor family (based on brandy or some other spirit), which might fill this new hole in my life.

Thanks in advance for all the advice.

Posted by David Bogner on January 23, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tell us more about the genocidal Israelis

It has been an open secret that, unlike the Palestinian Refugee camps in Israel where nobody is forcing the residents to remain, the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon are virtual concentration camps where the residents are forced to live in open air prisons. 

For years, there have been reports of Palestinians living in Syria and Lebanon being denied the most basic freedom of movement, being barred from being able to work in a wide range of desirable fields, and being forced to live in truly appalling conditions.  

But because these were Arab regimes violating human rights and ignoring international law, the world has taken little or no notice.

Today I read a news report that in the midst of the ongoing Syrian civil war, as well as a particularly harsh winter, the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria has been kept under a stage of siege by Syrian President Assad's forces, and more than 40 people have died recently from starvation... with another 10 near death.

According to the article, there used to be 170,000 Palestinians living in this camp, but most of them fled to Jordan or Lebanon during the chaos of the recent military upheaval.  But 18,000 or so remained in the camp, and are now being deliberately starved to death by Syrian troops.

Where is the public outcry?  Where is the EU's Catherine Ashton's public outrage?  Where are President Obama's 'red lines'?  Where are the United Nations' resolutions condemning these atrocities?

Oh I know... they are all too busy condemning the construction of apartments and houses in existing Israeli communities.  It is this construction that is the cause of such outrage around the world that college students in the world's capitals routinely hold anti-Israel demonstrations, invariably waving placards about 'The Israeli Genocide of the Palestinian People' and shamelessly comparing Israelis to Nazis.

It is apparently of interest to nobody that nearly as many Palestinians in Syria have been killed in the two-and-a-half years since the start of the Syrian Civil War as have been killed in the last 25 years of the ongoing 'armed resistance' of the various Palestinian groups against Israel (a conflict to which they are an active party).

But please... tell us more about the genocidal Israeli nazis.

Posted by David Bogner on January 14, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, January 13, 2014

Making the most of a life set on 'fast-forward'

I just read the sad news that a remarkable young man named Sam Berns has passed away from 'old age'.  Sam was 17 years old.


Sam was the subject of an HBO documentary called 'A Life According To Sam' which took an in-depth look at his battle with Progeria, a rare disease which causes accelerated aging.

Watching Sam's TED talk last month, entitled, 'My Philosophy for a Happy Life', I was prepared to feel sorry for this kid... but instead came away feeling deeply grateful for the life lesson he taught me.

Take a few minutes to watch this inspirational presentation:


Rest in peace, Sam Berns.  When my time is done, I hope that I will have been able to collect and pass on as much wisdom as you managed to share in your short life.

Posted by David Bogner on January 13, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Sign Of The Times

I can still remember when I was a kid, that the sign beneath McDonalds' golden arches said something other than "BILLIONS AND BILLIONS SERVED".

That's right, when I was a boy (and dinosaurs roamed the earth), the number of hamburgers served up there on the sign was listed in the millions, not billions... and they actually had removable numbers on the sign like the ones gas stations use to show the changing prices, to announce just how many millions of their hamburgers they had sold to date.

In fact, while driving across the US with my family during the summer of 1973, I clearly remember wondering to myself if I'd get to see the numbers changing on one of the McDonalds' signs as ever more hamburgers were served... like a car's odometer rolling up the miles (it never happened).

Granted, it made little difference to me (or anyone else, I assume) whether it was 255 million or 943 million hamburgers served.  It was simply a neat marketing ploy, because it let the public know that someone was tracking how many of their hamburgers had been consumed by the eating public.  

But at a certain point, someone in McDonalds' corporate marketing department decided that this ploy had run its course, and to simplify things, they started making signs for all their restaurants saying simply, "BILLIONS AND BILLIONS SERVED".

I mention this tidbit of Americana because of a little news snipet I saw this morning that casually mentioned that "The UN's human rights office... has stopped updating the death toll from Syria's civil war since its last count of at least 100,000 in late July".

The reason given for this decision to freeze the death toll at the nice round 100,000 mark was "the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights'... own lack of access on the ground in Syria and its inability to verify "source material" from others".

Now, I think we can all agree that nobody realistically expects the UN to report exact numbers of casualties in the ongoing Syrian civil war (or any conflict, for that matter).  That would require not only a level of omniscience virtually impossible in any war zone; much less a third world war zone, but would also require a real time reporting mechanism (like an odometer readout) capable of providing an up-to-the-minute count as each new death occurred.  

As difficult as it is to fathom such staggering numbers of casualties, I think you'll agree that any thinking person can appreciate the difference between 50,000 and 75,000 dead.  And as round numbers go, 100,000 dead Syrians is certainly markedly different than, say, 150,000!

I'm sure some of you have already decided that I am either callous or cruel to have drawn a mental parallel between a fast food chain's hamburger count and the body count in an ongoing armed conflict.  What can I say... my mind goes to strange places at 5:00 AM.

I think the obvious parallel that caught my attention is that, just as McDonalds' management came to realize that nobody really cared enough about exactly how many hamburgers had been served to even feign an accurate tally... so too, the UN seems to have reached a similar conclusion about the body count in Syria.  At a certain point the numbers all become meaningless expressions of 'too many to count', so why bother, right?

I don't want to give the mistaken impression that I hold the UN to a higher standard of conduct or accuracy than the management of McDonalds.  Because I don't.  

But I find the UN's excuse of their "inability to verify "source material" from others" to ring a tad hollow, to say the least, given that they have been more than content to take a third party's word for the number of Palestinian refugees there are at any given moment.  In fact the UN quite literally set up a unique agency to do nothing but believe in the miraculously growing number of Palestinian refugees, and tend to their every need.

What do I mean by 'unique'?

Since WWII, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has been responsible for all refugees in the world... except the Palestinians.  With that one glaring exception, all refugees in the world are quickly counted up as soon as whatever upheaval created them subsides, given immediate aid, and promptly resettled.  As much as I love to criticize the UN, this UN agency actually works fairly efficiently.

As a result, reasonably accurate statistics exist for the numbers and dispensation of refugees all over the world over the past seventy years.  Except, that is, for the Palestinian refugees.

Unlike all other refugees who are defined as 'a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster', the definition of a Palestinian refugee has been expanded to also include all of the descendants of those original refugees displaced in 1948.  That means, instead of a few tens of thousands of displaced persons, there are today somewhere north of five million Palestinian refugees!  

To deal with this exponentially expanding pool of Palestinian refugees, the UN created a unique organization called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) whose raison d'être, not to mention enormous staffing requirement and budget, would instantly evaporate if anyone were to miraculously find a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue (or define them as all other refugees in the world are defined).

And unlike the excuse being used for abandoning any semblance of accuracy in reporting the body count in Syria, the UN is perfectly content to rely on the Palestinians themselves to provide the current refugee figures.  This incredible situation is allowed to exist because UNRWA's funding is based on the number of refugees under their care, which provides a hefty incentive to accept the inflated figures provided by their charges (not to mention a teeny tiny conflict of interest).

Bottom line, when deciding how /if to create any kind of accounting of hamburgers, bodies or refugees... it all comes down to who considers the numbers important.

Just as McDonalds long ago decided that the public didn't really care to see a real number up there on their signs, the UN has apparently decided that the public no longer cares, in anything more than the most abstract terms, how many Syrians have been killed since the start of their bloody civil war.

But it is a telling sign of the times that despite the UN's "inability to verify "source material" from others"... when it comes to the Palestinian refugees, they are still able and willing to provide up-to-the-minute Palestinian refugee numbers in order to calculate UNRWA's burgeoning budget... as well as Israel's ever expanding culpability.

Posted by David Bogner on January 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Because Who is Perfect?

I somehow missed this last month, but someone sent it to me over the weekend and I wanted to share it here:

 In a Zurich store window, between the perfect mannequins, they placed figures with scoliosis or brittle bone disease modelling the latest fashions. One had shortened limbs; another a malformed spine. 

The campaign was devised for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities by Pro Infirmis, an organisation for the disabled. Entitled "Because who is perfect? Get closer.", it was designed to provoke reflection on the acceptance of people with disabilities. Director Alain Gsponer has captured the campaign as a short film. 

I hope this makes your week (month... year!) as it has mine.

Posted by David Bogner on January 5, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A Complete Lack of Curiosity

I find it fascinating that yesteday's news about the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic being killed in an explosion at his official residence in Prague is being treated largely like a a common car accident by the major international news outlets.

I mean seriously, what could possibly be considered out of the ordinary about a senior diplomat being blown up in his official residence, right?  After all, diplomats routinely handle explosives in their homes while representing their countries in foreign capitals, right?  Right?!

As the story has developed in a ho-hum fashion over the past 24 hours, more details have emerged, including the bizarre explanation that "the explosion occurred while [the ambassador] was opening a safe, inadvertently setting off a security protection". [source]

Am I the only one who is just a little curious whether having explosive booby traps in safes is a common practice among diplomats?  Apparently so, because so far, not one news organization (that I have seen) has contacted any other country's ambassadors or consul generals to ask this basic question.

The media has also failed (so far as I can tell) to contact any government officials anywhere in the world to make the obvious (to me, anyway) inquiry as to whether there is any problem, from a legal and/or diplomatic protocol standpoint, with a foreign country's diplomatic staff possessing explosives in their missions and/or official residences.

The only consistent quotation I see regarding this event is the following police statement that appears in the first paragraph of nearly every article:  "[The Prague police spokesperson] said there was no indication the explosion was sabotage or a terrorist attack".

It must be frustrating for the world's media outlets to be faced with that fairly ironclad statement as it somewhat limits their ability to trot out idle speculation that Israel might somehow be responsible.  But you have to give credit to the New York Times which still managed to insert the following non sequitur into their coverage of the explosion:

"Difficult negotiations have been underway for months between the Palestinian leadership and Israeli officials over a two-state solution to their prolonged conflict."

 Well played, NYT... well played, indeed!

Yet there remains a fairly obvious line of questioning that, inexplicably, isn't taking place. Anywhere!

As you probably know, I'm nothing, if not a giver... so feel free to forward the following crib sheet to any journalists you might know to help prod them along:

Question:  Is there any possibility that the explosion was a 'work accident' which occurred while a bomb was being constructed, stored or transported?

Question:  If the explosion was, as reported, caused by a security device in a safe located in the ambassador's residence, are such security devices common... and if so, are they in use by other country's diplomatic personnel?

Question:  Are diplomatic missions required to seek permission for, or at least declare, explosives in their possession as they do for weapons used by their protective detail/security personnel?

Question:  Are there any commercial manufacturer's currently marketing safes equipped with explosive security countermeasures, or is this the type of thing which one would have to have custom built/installed by a demolitions expert?

Question:  The fatal injuries the Palestinian ambassador sustained, specifically "head, chest and stomach injuries", seem to suggest a fairly substantial explosion... certainly in excess of what one would assume would be required to destroy the contents of a safe in case of a burglery.  Unless, of course the 'security device' was an offensive weapon meant to maim or kill an intruder.  And if the latter, are there any restrictions on the importation and use of such offensive weapons in the Czech Republic or other countries where the Palestinians maintain diplomatic missions?

Question:  It has been stated that the explosion took place in the ambassador's residence and not in the actual 'Embassy' which is housed in a building next door.  Why would an ambassador be required to have materials in his residence that require such a high level of security when the formal diplomatic mission is a few steps away?

Question:  The New York Times has stated that , "The Palestine Liberation Organization, the main umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, maintains missions in a number of European capitals as part of a broader diplomatic effort aimed at advancing the cause of Palestinian statehood".  So if Palestine is not (yet) an official country, and the diplomatic missions it maintains are largely for 'advancing broader diplomatic efforts...', what kind of data/information could they possibly be safeguarding that would warrant a security system that employs explosives?

Maybe these will stir the journalistic juices and spark a glimmer of curiosity.

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

Posted by David Bogner on January 2, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Ain't Technology Grand?

Standing on the side of the road a few hundered meters from the Cave of the Patriarchs (Ma'arat HaMachpelah) in the Judean Hills, I was able to take out my portable computerized video tablet (also known as an iPad), and watch a live stream of the ball dropping in Times Square at 7:00AM Israel time. 

I was then able to pull out my pocket-sized computerized video communicator (also known as an iPhone), and make a free VOIP call to my (much) older sister on the other side of the world and wish her a Happy New Year.

I'm still waiting for my unisex metalic jumpsuit, flying car and robotic dog... but I have to admit that the future is almost everything I'd hoped for when I was a kid.

Happy (secular) New Year!

Posted by David Bogner on January 1, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack