Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yesterday was one of those ‘Only in Israel’ days. I love this crazy country.

Not that it started out all that auspiciously – quite the opposite. I was dreading it. I had to do bureaucracy, never my favorite activity.

Mr. Micawber aside, I’d reached the point where I could no longer procrastinate in getting my Metrodan ‘Smart Card’. Metrodan, the local bus system here in Beersheba, changed their ticketing system. Before you could just buy a punch-card ticket, and the driver would punch a number each time you rode.

Now they’ve switched to a ‘Smart Card’, a plastic credit-card like thing that includes your name and photo. You can “load” it, prepay, for a number of rides, each of which will be digitally deducted each time you ride. I’m not sure what the advantage is, quite frankly, except that the cost of a bus ride when up a little bit. Nothing worth complaining about. I can’t imagine why anyone cares, but now, if they want to, they can monitor who, specifically, is riding where, and how often.

In any event, the switch meant that everyone who rides buses with any regularity had to acquire one of the plastic cards, complete with photo. That sounds like pure chaos. There are 205,000 people in this city, and a goodly percentage of them would need these cards. Worse than that, there appeared to be only one location where the cards were being made – if there were other locations, I couldn’t find anyone who knew where.

So I showed up at the designated location – just outside the busy Egged bus station – and indeed, there was quite a line, eight or nine people, waiting in two lines. Most seemed to be young religious girls who were enjoying the whole thing, talking and giggling, checking each other’s hair and makeup for the anticipated photo. Only two clerks were working -- both very young girls themselves – sitting inside a tiny kiosk behind metal bars, the better to protect them (I guess) from assault or robbery.

Everyone was required to complete a hand-written form and sign it. Only then did you go to stand in line.

I filled out the form as best I could, and then stood waiting when another group arrived – senior citizens from some common home, maybe, or else they just decided to come together. Holding on to each other, some with canes, they chatted away in Russian. As I struggled to write in Hebrew, a few of them were having the same trouble, in Russian. I don’t know about them, but I expected trouble when I reached the clerks. I wasn’t at all sure they could understand what I’d written.

Oddly enough, the line moved pretty fast. The Smart Cards were still free at this point – next week they start to charge for the service – so no money changed hands. That made it simpler. Each customer would approach the clerk, squeeze the paper form through the bars, together with a teudat zehut – identification papers – and then wait. Within just a couple of minutes, the customer was instructed to stand behind a white line and a photo was snapped – through the bars. The cameras looked like regular ordinary Canons mounted on tripods. They must have been pretty carefully aimed to avoid the bars.

My turn came, I handed the paper and my ID papers in, and waited for the fallout. I was pretty sure the clerk would ask for clarification of something, but no. That didn’t happen. Instead, I was amazed at how anything at all could get done inside that kiosk. The two clerks were not only carrying on a non-stop conversation with each other, but now they’d been joined by a young man and all three were talking and laughing. Making the Smart Cards for the lines of people in front of them seemed incidental.

There being no apparent problem with what I'd written, I was told to stand behind the white line. Pop! The camera flashed and that was it. Within another minute, I was handed my new Smart Card, complete with a photo that made it clear that I’m a dead ringer for Goldie Hawn.

(Ma Kettle is more like it. I was just checking to see if you’re paying attention.)

In any event, I had the card. My name was correct. The photo will do. I was done.

Total elapsed time? Maybe ten minutes.

How did they do that? Smooth what could easily have been utter chaos into a pretty darn simple system? Without a single break in their own conversation? I have no idea. Not that I’m complaining.

Having finished that, I decided to walk over to the nearby shuk and pick up a few things I’d missed at the grocery store – nothing exotic: cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs and onions.

This was late Thursday morning, probably the day and hour when the shuk is at its most insane. Vendors shout, people push through the aisles, standing several deep in front of every vendor, vying to have their purchases weighed and paid for first.

I had way too much to do yesterday anyway, so instead of seeking out one of the vendors I normally buy from, I went to the closest guy who offered nice-looking produce. I picked out what I wanted, finally got my turn to pay. I took my purchases, dropped them into my ogala, cart, and walked away. Like an ocean wave, other shoppers flowed into the place I’d vacated.

I was half way down the aisle, pushing through the crowds, trying to get past people loaded down with bags, shopping carts, children and overloaded totes, when I heard a commotion behind me, someone shouting “Geveret!” Since that simply means, “Lady!” every woman within earshot turned around. I looked back and there was the guy I’d just bought my tomatoes and cucumbers from. He was holding out his hand – with 20 agorot. “Here”, he said, “I didn’t give you the right change.”

Can you imagine? In this incredible chaos, the produce guy abandoned his stall and ran after me to give me the right change. I hadn’t noticed -- never would have noticed. It amounted to something less than four cents.

I took it, thanked him. He smiled, said ‘LaBriut!’ – to your health – and ran back to his stall.


The rest of the afternoon was less pleasant. I was struggling to translate a very long brochure that I needed for an article I’m writing. As I sat with my dictionary and a pen, trying to make sense of vowel-less printed Hebrew, I realized I’d never finish in time – it was taking me much too long. Nor was I sure I was getting any of it right, which mattered. Oh yes it did.

By 6 pm, I gave up. My brain had shut down. So I emailed a perfectly bi-lingual friend – who would be embarrassed to be named, so I won’t – who also had a copy of the brochure. I asked if I could call her, and she could read me the parts I needed most in English.

“Sure”, she said. “I’m here. Call anytime.”

I did – and even though this was at the end of a very long and exhausting day for her, too, she spent an hour with me, going over the brochure, not just translating, but adding tidbits of information here and there that helped me understand the significance of the whole thing.

Eventually, we hung up. Thanks to her, I had everything I needed for the article.

I had my Smart Card.

I not only had the best cucumbers the world has ever known, I had also been given the correct change.

Geez, I love this crazy country.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Last night I found myself thinking the whole world had followed Alice down the rabbit hole. The world has become so bizarre it seemed beyond explanation. But after reading the news reports this morning, I saw something I’d missed last night.

We’re looking at a new dawn here – at least in Israeli policy toward the ineffable buffoon who occupies the White House.

The Community Organizer is the key to all the insanity – both here and in the US. Looking at it from a legal prospective, let’s just say that if you placed an order for a carload of idiots and the company sent only Obama, there’s no question it would be considered substantial performance.

So here are excerpts from the two different news items that set me off:


Israel National News: In Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) was received with an Honor Guard and hero’s welcome when he arrived in Washington to meet with the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Why? Before departing Israel, Barak had orchestrated the destruction of several Jewish homes in villages throughout Judea and Samaria, a gesture much appreciated by the Community Organizer, who is demanding the forced expulsion of all ethnic Jews from these areas.


Jerusalem Post: Also on Tuesday, Robert Gates -- who had just honored Israel’s own pander-bear, the home-destroying Ehud Barak – then held a press conference in which he warned that Lebanon’s primary terrorist organization, Hezbollah, is rapidly acquiring a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles supplied by Iran and Syria.
Where are those rockets and missiles aimed? At Israel, whose northern border is shared with Lebanon.

“Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with rockets and missiles of ever-increasing capabilities,” Gates said. “Hezbollah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world.”

Gates doesn’t get much credit for being much of a sleuth, by the way. The news of the missile transfers was reported in Kuwait’s Al-Rai newspaper earlier this month. What’s interesting was the timing. Gates, the Community Organizer’s henchman, chose to express his concerns about Hezbollah’s rocketry immediately after honoring the man who had just helped weaken Israel.

Could the regime’s message possibly have been any clearer? I don’t think so.

So there’s their plan: force certain Jewish Israelis out of their homes, force Israel to withdraw to Abba Eban’s ‘Auschwitz’ borders. Then, at the same time, allow Syria and Iran to supply missiles and rockets to terrorist forces on Israel’s northern neighbor – “far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world have”.

And then what? The combined forces of Hamas, Al- Qaeda, the PLO, Hezbollah -- plus any other rag-tag terrorist group who wants part of the action – will have an easier time in their drive to wipe Israel off the map.

But what’s the regime’s purpose? Beats me. I don’t understand why they think they’ll gain something if Israel is eliminated. Maybe the Community Organizer thinks this might protect him from some bad press. After all, if Israel bites the dust before Iran’s nuclear bombs are ready for launching, then he can’t be blamed for not taking timely action against Iran.

Surely Dear Leader can’t possibly be so naïve as to think that there will be any kind of “peace” in this area after Israel is gone, can he? Most of the world’s terrorism right now is Muslim against Muslim. That wouldn’t stop even if Israel were no more (Gd forbid). All that will happen then is that the Muslim terrorists – flush from having destroyed Israel – will set their sights on the US.

How can that possibly be helpful?

But here’s the new dawn. The Obama regime has become so odious in these parts, so criminally naïve and so profoundly inept when it comes to dealing with the conflicting interests over here, that now – to some extent, at least – Bibi & Crowd have decided Dear Leader can safely be flouted. At least a little bit.

It looks like we’re wising up.

I’ve always wondered why it is that when previous “agreements” regarding Israel and its neighbors fall apart, the Arabs never seem to think that they are, or ever were, ever bound by anything. The world lets them get away with that. But not Israel. We, on the other hand, are supposed to observe all parts of the agreement that we WOULD have observed, if the Arabs had ever submitted themselves to the agreement in the first place.

Imagine that, in the real world. You work hard to negotiate a contract with another party. For whatever reason, the contract is never signed – but now you’re told that you're still be bound by all its terms. You, and only you. The other party isn’t bound by any of it.

Abiding by the tenets of various breached agreements with the Arabs was one thing. It became much more serious when the Community Organizer announced that he didn’t consider the US bound by any of the agreements previous US Presidents had entered into with Israel, either.

Finally, now, there’s some indication that Bibi & Crowd are getting tired of being kicked around. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel has let it be known it has no intention “in the foreseeable future” of dismantling any of the 23 “unauthorized” outposts that were created in Judea and Samaria under Israel’s Ariel Sharon administration – despite a commitment to do so in Ole’ Bubba’s infamous “road map”.

Isn’t that refreshing?

Israel is saying ‘Fine. Don’t consider yourself bound by any previous agreements that existed between Israel and the US. But that being the case, don’t expect Israel to abide by those agreements, either. Fair is fair. If you’ve decided you’re not bound, then there’s no reason why we should be.”

There’s even talk of legalizing some or all of the 23 “outposts” – which is, by the way, a decidedly unfortunate term. Most of these are small villages, home to several families up to a few dozen families. Migron, the largest, has 46 families. So if by “outpost” you’re envisioning a make-shift structure perched on some lonely hill, forget it. Heck – if you think about it, most of these “outposts” are bigger than half the “towns” in my home state of North Dakota.

None of this is firm policy of course. It’s probably just chatter, posturing. But it is refreshing that finally, finally, Israel is acquiring a backbone where the Obama regime is concerned. And not a minute too soon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yesterday we celebrated all the great things that Israel is and has accomplished in our 62 years of existence. Lots of people composed “62 things I love about Israel” lists, several of which appeared in newspapers and websites.

Only one such list -- as far as I saw, anyway – mentioned anything about one of Israel’s big assets: that we are not a litigious society.

Which means that when the newborn arrives with some defect – heaven forbid, spit, spit, spit – the first thought Israeli parents have is not, ‘We’re gonna sue the pants off the doctor and take the hospital to the cleaners.”

It means that when we don’t get the job, we don’t sue anybody for discrimination.

It means that when we’re mixed up in a car crash, we rarely decide to turn this lemon into lemonade by suing the other driver, the State as well as highway safety officials.

Simply put, the notion that lawsuits can be used as an alternative version of the lottery hasn’t caught on here. Yet.

That’s good.

Except that there are a few things that need fixing, and occasionally, a well-placed lawsuit might be the most effective way to do it.

Remember that when Dick the Butcher, in Shakespeare’s Henry VI said, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”, the context is that what he and Cade were trying to do was take over as rulers, something they couldn’t accomplish if there were lawyers who’d object. Occasionally lawyers do some good. (And yes, I spent 35 years as a lawyer, and once in a while I probably did some good, too.)

That said, trying to solve a problem by filing a lawsuit is rarely a good idea – although I ran into one of situations myself last week in which it might indeed be necessary.

My problem isn’t new. In fact I’ve been aware of the situation for years, mostly because I’m an inveterate reader of community email lists. I’ve seen other people complaining about this, over and over. It’s just that I’d never experienced it myself.

What happened was that I opened my online credit card statement and saw a charge for $30.29 that I knew I hadn’t made or authorized. My Visa had honored a payment to “012 Smile”, which is what one of the ISP – Internet Service Providers for you in Rio Linda – calls itself. I don’t have 012 Smile. I have Netvision. And of course also on my Visa statement there was a payment to Netvision -- $29.02. The difference was, Netvision provides my internet service. 012 Smile does not.

But here’s the dirty little secret. Almost eight years ago I did contract with the 012 Smile people – although they called themselves something different then. I used their services for three years – and stopped them only when I switched to a cable internet connection and found that Netvision offered a better deal.

I switched ISP’s – and of course duly notified the Smile people. They tried to win me back, I said no, thanks. They finally gave me up – I would henceforth use another ISP.

What they didn’t do was to stop billing me for their service.

After that, the Smile people acted like hydras – every month they’d bill me, which is to say, they’d charge my credit card. Every month – or just about every month – I’d call and scream. They’d promised not to do it again. Month after month they promised. Month after month they kept billing me.

Now understand, I was fighting this in a language I hadn’t mastered. Even finding a human to talk to was difficult. So finally I had a friend call – an Israeli, no American accent – who made various and sundry threats. He wormed his way up to some manager type, who ultimately apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. No more charges, he promised.

It worked. For awhile.

Two more years passed and I’d almost forgotten about it when – wham! – I checked my credit card statement again, and once again the Smile people had billed me for “services” they hadn’t provided for nearly three years! On their own, they’d resurrected my credit card number and started charging me.

Again I went through the process – asked my Israeli friend for help again. He called, obtained their apology as well as their promise to stop. Again I forgot about it.

Last month, do you believe? They were back! The Smile people billed me for ISP for services they had not provided – almost six years after I’d quit. Again, on their own initiative, they’d dug out my Visa number and started billing me again.

This time I have a US bank that’s much easier to deal with – Chase, which has such excellent customer service I sometimes wonder if it’s really a bank. Online, I challenged the charge, and with a few hours Chase notified me they had reversed it and credited my account. Not only that, they said they’d also located a similar charge for the month before, and did I wish to challenge that one too? Huh – how did I miss that? Yes, of course I did.

The problem may or may not be solved – I may have to do this every month.

But here’s the funny thing. The same day I was dealing with Chase, TWO other Israelis posted email messages warning their counterparts of similar false charges. They advised everyone to check their credit card statements. Both warned that “012 Smile” had recently charged their credit cards for service they hadn’t provided – and in fact had not provided for many years.

Our problems with this ISP is -- unfortunately – not unique. In fact, it may be just about impossible to ever stop this particular kind of ISP abuse. Bad as the Smile fraud is, it’s common. I may very well have the same problem if I ever tried to leave Netvision. Once these ruthless pirates get their claws into your credit card information, they will bill you, at their option, every time they think they can get away with it.

One of the sad tales another Israeli told said that after battling this for month after month, the only alternative he saw was to cancel his credit card entirely and get a different one. He gave up. He couldn’t find any other way to stop the unauthorized charges.

The problem is part of one of Israel’s remaining deficiencies: the concept of “customer service” is as rare as bagels over here. Yes, there are a few businesses who treat their customers well, most of them ‘mom ‘n pops’ who have grasped the wisdom of being nice to customers. There are others – I’ve praised IKEA, who treats customers well. But IKEA is a foreign corporation, not Israeli. They came into the country with a different mindset.

Here and there, individuals have sued these various ISP’s in Israel’s rudimentary version of Small Claims Court – and they won. But that’s a highly inefficient way of handling the problem. One person manages to score a victory – that does absolutely nothing to stop the ISP from continuing to abuse millions of other customers. (And besides, I’m just enough of a cynic to wonder if, even after they won, if the ISP really did stop billing them. Maybe not.)

This is a problem that cries out for action. Not another law – theft is already illegal in Israel. So is fraud. It’s that the enforcement of these particular laws – against powerful corporations, on behalf of mere customers – isn’t anybody’s priority. (Why not? Well, I have bleak thoughts about that, too.)

As far as I can see, the only thing that might work is to make it so uncomfortable for these companies to continue this obnoxious practice that they’d quit. A well-timed class action suit filed by some snarling, merciless and relentless group of lawyers might do the trick. If in fact these companies knew they’d be sued -- and incur horrendous legal fees – every time they falsely billed some former customer, sooner or later they’d stop doing it. It would no longer be profitable.

The reason they submit false claims now is because they can. Sure, here and there they have to make a refund. But I’d guess that for about 98% of the false claims they make, they get away with it for at least a month or two. That’s a powerful incentive to continue the fraud.

Class action suits are almost never my remedy of choice. I know very well that in any such litigation, the customers who were defrauded would ultimately be awarded something like coupons entitling them to two months free service, while the lawyers would walk off with millions in “fees”. That’s the way those things work.

But. It might stop the abuse. If simple morality doesn’t work – and obviously it doesn’t, among ISP’s – then we need to try something else.

This might be the time when what we need is a snarling lawyer. One who can’t be bought off.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu at Israel National News summed it up best:

Modern Israel, only 62 years old Monday night, is a world leader in society, technology medicine and dozens of other fields. National-religious Rabbi Shlomo Aviner says, “Think what we could do if the world were not against us.”

Israel as a country dates back to the time of King Saul, and its ancient success is recorded in the Bible with the compilation of the Book of Psalms by his successor King David, whose son King Solomon built the First Temple.

Following the Destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent end of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel for 2000 years, the modern State of Israel has astonished the world with its achievements since it was established in 1948.

Israel, only a fraction of one percent of the Middle East land mass and 2 percent of its population, Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees per capita in the world. The country, by a large margin, produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation in the world and has the highest number of scientists and technicians per capita in the world.

With those achievements, it is not surprising that Israel has the highest number of PhD's and the highest number of physicians per capita in the world.

Israel also is the only nation in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.

Taking care of Jews around the world, the nation is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on Earth while respecting other religions. It is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown over the last 50 years and is the only country in the Middle East where Christians, Muslims and Jews are all free to vote.

In spite of all that, Israel also leads the country in United Nations Security Council resolutions against the Jewish State. Of the 175 U.N. Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel. Of the 690 U.N. General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel.

Nevertheless, Israel remains undeterred. Critics of anti-Israeli boycotts often point out that those supporting sanctions of Israeli products and inventions would have to live without cellular phones, which were developed in Israel, and would gave to forego many life-saving drugs that were discovered and made in Israel.

Anti-Zionists also would have to do without anti-virus program for their computers because there were first developed in Israel, as was voice technology and instant messaging. In the early 1980's, IBM chose an Israeli-designed computer chip as the brains for its first personal computers.

In the field of economics, Israel hosts the world's largest wholesale diamond center and is responsible for most of the cut and polished diamonds in the world. It also has the largest number of companies on the NASDAQ stock exchange, outside of the United States and Canada.

Another modern marvel is the revival of the Hebrew language, the only dead language that ever was revived.

The ”People of the Book,” as Jews are known, publishes in Israel more books per capita than any other country and has the most independent and free Arabic press in the Middle East.

(Read the whole piece here:

And on a very contemporary note, it’s been interesting to watch the extreme lengths to which Israel has gone to bring Israelis home from abroad for Independence Day.

As volcanic ash stranded some 30,000 Israelis abroad, and while hundreds of thousands of other world travelers were stranded, many without resources, Israel was the only country in the world to make special efforts to being its citizens home.

El Al, Israel’s national airline (and two other Israeli airlines, Sun D’Or and Arkia) sent more than two dozen planes Sunday morning to airports in Italy, Greece and Spain which had remained open. El Al arranged for overland travel -- Israelis renting cars to drive 18 to 24 hours overland – to reach these terminals from which they could be flown home.

That’s interesting for two reasons: first that these individual Israelis abroad believed it was so important to be back home for our National Birthday Party, and second, that the airlines themselves would go to these lengths. El Al had originally planned on sending smaller planes to some locations then revised their plans and sent jumbo airliners when they realized the demand.

What can you say? There’s no place in the world like Israel! Period.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I have a regular visitor in my yard these days – an odd creature, no question about that. Every time I see the little guy out there I run for the camera. Invariably, though, by the time I get back, he – or she – has flown off.

But here he is. Looks like something put together by a committee, don’t you think? Such an unusual assemblage of colors and patterns! My visitor has an even bolder black and white chevron pattern to his wings. Very strange looking bird. Still, he digs his very long beak into the sand and seems pleased with what he finds there. The pickings must be good.

The first couple of times he came, I was puzzled about what kind of a bird he might be. I sought out Beersheba’s Primary Keeper of Odd Knowledge, my friend Aaron, and from the briefest of descriptions, Aaron identified my visitor as a HOOPOE, which just happens to be Israel’s National Bird.

Huh! Who knew? A royal guest!

Now that I looked into the whole ‘National Bird’ issue a little bit, it’s actually quite interesting.

We didn’t have a national bird until just about a year ago, when the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel launched a year-long program to select a National Bird. Some 155,000 Israelis participated in the first level of choosing our mascot. Then in December 2008, 1,000 bird lovers convened at Tel Aviv University and cut a very long list down to 50.

Ultimately that list was cut again to ten finalists: The Bulbul, the Red Falcon, the Goldfinch, the Biblical Vulture, the Spur-winged Plover, the Honey-Sucker, the Warbler, the White-chested Kingfisher, the White Barn Owl and of course the Hoopoe.

Voting ensued, and the Hoopoe won with 35% of the official votes. YNet, a internet news service, also conducted a voting contest, and the Hoopoe won 20% of the vote from internet surfers, too.

The Hoopoe won the plurality, but almost everyone weighed in with their own opinions.

President Shimon Peres led the pack. As Israel’s official ribbon cutter, baby-kisser and dinner guest (it appears that no Jewish or Israeli function anywhere in the entire world -- most especially dinner parties – are permitted to occur unless that grinning old gad-about is there, too) Anyway, Peres admitted that his favorite had been the Biblical Vulture, but then added, as any good Leftist would, that “It’s a pity the dove wasn’t nominated.

"The dove is equipped with a homing system, which can lead it home from anywhere it may be. Despite limitations and long distances the dove is a true Zionist," he said.

Okay -- that’s better reasoning than the norm, for Peres.

Many people favored the Bulbul, including Haaretz, the only Hebrew-language Arabic newspaper in the Middle East, as Steve Plaut likes to say.

In a truly clever feature by Avirama Golan, Haaretz began by poo-pooing Peres’ lament, that the dove wasn’t listed. “The dove is a sanctimonious fowl that waited in false modesty until the raven failed in its mission, and only then consented to fly away to return holding the olive branch,” Haaretz sneered. “It’s become an overly festive symbol. The term that it represents is exalted and vague, and waning from awareness.”

Neither -- of course – did the Biblical Vulture meet Haaretz’ exacting standards. (Maybe if it had been called the Koran Vulture it would have won Haaretz’ approval.) In any event, Haaretz eliminated that one too by noting that the Biblical Vulture was on the ‘endangered species’ list, and did we really want such a creature symbolizing Israel?

No, the bird that should have been chosen, Haaretz said, was the Bulbul – an Arabic word, by the way. In other parts of the world birds of the same family are called nightingales. So Haaretz goes on: “Bulbul suits us because of its name - stolen from the Arabic like humus and falafel, which became the ‘Israeli national dish’ exported in our name - and because of its distribution: It is present everywhere in Israel. It flies in circles and wanders around, but remains local. And also because of the noise that it generates without interruption.”

That’s the Bulbul, above. Haaretz continues: “The Bulbul, unlike any other bird, does not limit itself to chirping and dancing as a form of communication. In other words, a handshake and polite greeting is not its style. Two bulbuls that meet are so overcome by affection that they trample each other's heads, touch, taunt each other, and jump around as if they ate from the same mess kit for years. In general, the bulbul's posse comes before everything. In veteran couples they settle on branches of a loquat tree. Representatives of each sex or a pair of same-sexed bulbuls are typically monogamous, but the important thing is that the gang is all there and that they are never alone.”

The Bulbul had another problem -- probably ultimately the reason it wasn’t selected: In Hebrew, “bulbul” is kiddie-slang for what American kids call a “pee pee”. Did we really want a National Bird with a name like that?

Of course Haaretz rejected that criticism: “That folksy usage of the unpretentious bird's name to describe the male genital organ proves the extent to which the bird is loved by the masses. This is not a crude or insulting expletive, but a childish term of affection that illustrates how Israelis relate to themselves: oversized, pampered infants forever.”

In conclusion, Haaretz summed up their choice of the Bulbul: “There is no doubt that the bulbul is ours: loud, quick to anger, lavishing gregarious affection, and in love with his friends. He makes noise as he brags to his pals about his exploits, and calls himself affectionate names. He doesn't stop singing even as he is joyfully robbing fruit from others in true bulbul style.”

So that’s Haaretz for you.

In any event, the Hoopoe won. National headlines at the time were funny – several read, “Non-Kosher Bird selected as Israel’s National Bird”.

What? They thought someone was planning on EATING the thing? Good grief.

Those who voted for the Hoopoe probably had their own reasons, but for the record, the Hoopoe is mentioned in both Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14: 'And the stork, the heron after her kind, the lapwing, and the bat.'

The ‘Lapwing’ is thought to be today’s Hoopoe. The Hebrew word is dukiphath which is hard to identify today. Some suggest it was a common domestic fowl, others say it’s the cock-of-the-woods, but most believe the ‘Lapwing’ to be the Hoopoe.

Besides that, there’s a lovely old legend about King Solomon and the Hoopoe.

It seems that during a long journey across the desert, King Solomon was perishing from hot sun. Hoopoes came to his aid by flying in a dense mass over his head, filtering the sunlight and offering him shade. So grateful was the King that he told the Hoopoes he would give them whatever they wished. The Hoopoes consulted among themselves and finally agreed to their wish: that every Hoopoe should be given a crown of gold to wear like Solomon himself. Immediately, King Solomon granted their wish, and every Hoopoe found his head adorned with a golden crown.

But alas, after a time, the Hoopoes realized that their wish had not been wise. The golden crowns were heavy and made flying difficult. Worse than that, because of the gold, every fowler on earth was trying to catch them. Since they couldn’t either take off the golden crowns or hide them, the unfortunate Hoopoes were falling prey to predators in massive numbers.

The Hoopoes went back to King Solomon and begged him to rid them of this fatal gift. He did – instead of the golden crowns they wore before, now each was adorned with a glorious crest of feathers for a crown.

So there you have it: the Hoopoe, the Israeli National Bird, with its outrageous crown, who comes visiting almost every day.

Next thing you know, Shimon Peres will be knocking at my gate, too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

That thin-skinned tyrant in the White House has a short temper, we all know that. Heaven forbid that anyone even imply that Dear Leader isn’t universally loved and obeyed.

It’s gotten so bad that fear of offending the finely-honed sensitivities of the Community Organizer almost prevented Bibi from accepting 14,000 symbolic yellow roses from Christian supporters all across the United States.

At least this Middle Eastern version of the War of the Roses appears to have been settled. Today Bibi will accept the roses, allowing the Community Organizer to go eat worms. A host of charities and IDF institutions will enjoy the flowers.

But wow -- what a brouhaha!

It all started with that nasty session in the White House when the Community Organizer ditched Bibi and his advisors in one room, while First Daddy went off to eat dinner with his family. Leaving the Israelis alone and foodless at mealtime, the Community Organizer left the room with an abrupt “Let me know if there is anything new.” Rather than risk White House eavesdropping, the Israeli delegation decided to just leave. “It was awful,” one Congressman who was with the delegation said. “They treated him like he was the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

As I argued before (see my blog of March 28) Bibi was not “humiliated” by the Community Organizer’s consummate display of bad manners, but the US most certainly was. One of the embarrassed Americans, a Florida-based radio talk show host named Janet Porter, decided to take action. She called on her listeners to send yellow roses to Benjamin Netanyahu as a symbol of friendship and support. Each bouquet would cost a symbolic price of $19.48.

The response was nothing short of amazing -- Christian supporters of Israel flocked to Porters Faith2action website and ordered the flowers, each bouquet of which would be accompanied by a card with the words “Be encouraged, Americans stand with you,” and a quote from Psalms: “The Lord builds up Jerusalem.”

What a lovely thought, really. When the chips are down and someone reaches out with a message of support, that’s the kind of thing you never forget. Very nice.

So Porter contacted a Beit Shemesh-based florist named Richard Kovler, who in turn contacted the Prime Minister’s office to see how the flowers could be delivered. Kovler was shocked to hear that “the Prime Minister’s Office could not get involved.” Why? “Because Netanyahu must be very careful to avoid anything that smacked of disrespect for the American president.”

It may have been even worse. On Thursday night, representatives of the Christians complained that delivery to the Prime Minister’s Office had been made conditional on preventing photographers from attending. They said Netanyahu’s advisers insisted on the flowers being delivered “like a thief in the night” with no publicity.

Bibi’s office later released a statement offering a different interpretation of the events: the prime minister received many gifts, they said, and since it was not possible to allow the press to photograph all the deliveries, the policy was not to allow the press to photograph any of them.

But now, with a bit of heat having been applied by someone, somewhere, the Prime Minister’s office has changed its tune – or maybe it’s just that someone with some common sense overruled a low-level bureaucrat’s mistake.

Today Bibi’s office announced that the Prime Minister will be pleased to accept 14,000 yellow roses “in accordance with required security procedures” and will donate them to charity and to the IDF. Photographers will be allowed.

Good grief. I think there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome in play here. The Community Organizer kicked Bibi in the teeth, no question about that. The Christians reached out a hand to help him up, but Bibi, fearful of offending the White House bully again, said, “No thanks.”

It’s apparently safer to side with the guy who’s torturing you rather than antagonize him into delivering another vicious kick. Makes me pine, once again, for the days of Menachem Begin.

All that aside, the choice of yellow roses, all by itself, is interesting.

Yellow roses -- specifically – are indigenous to the Middle East. In the 18th century they were discovered growing naturally here, quite different from the roses then in cultivation which were primarily shades of red or pink, with white roses just beginning to be popular.

Unfortunately the yellow roses growing here had an unpleasant characteristic: while red and pink roses had the distinctive aroma we associate with roses, the naturally-growing yellow ones did not. In fact, they stank. It took many years for hybridizers to gradually phase in the more pleasing aroma that rose-lovers liked.

As the stink was replaced with a pleasant scent, the meaning of yellow roses evolved, too. Throughout history, the color yellow has been closely associated with the sun. As the source of light and warmth, the sun is integral to life on earth, and generally holds many positive connotations. In many Eastern cultures, the color yellow represents joy, wisdom and power.

Not so yellow roses in Europe. There, yellow roses -- with their unfortunate aroma – carried a much more negative connotation, that of jealousy and dying love. Gradually, as the scent changed, the symbolism did too. Now the almost universal meaning of yellow roses is that of joy and friendship.

As one florist puts it: “Yellow roses send the perfect message of appreciation and platonic love without the romantic subtext of other colors. They represent feelings of joy and delight and are an ideal way to brighten someone's day who may be feeling down. No other flower can bring out a smile in quite the way that a yellow rose can.”

I agree. So thank you, Christians, you made us smile. The flowers will brighten the day for lots of Israelis, even those of us who won't actually see them. Even more than the flowers themselves, we appreciate and welcome your gesture of friendship and support.

And don’t even think of not voting on November 2.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Once again, we’re back to this: if you wrote this stuff as fiction, no one would publish it. It’s just too far out.

It’s funny – in the last blog I lamented the lack of outrage at Muslim terrorists specifically -- Muslims, followers of Islam, are responsible for 99% of the terrorism around the world, a mad, insane killing spree that – so far in 2010 -- has murdered just under 1300 people.

(And yes, to those of you who emailed me, I view the loss of a mother in Pakistan, a child in Iraq, or a teenager in Russia, Iran or Sri Lanka with equal horror. Random slaying of innocent civilians is evil, regardless of where it occurs or what the nationality or religion of the victims. All life is precious.)

What happened then? With the ever-escalating number of victims of Muslim terror, worldwide, you’d think some strong condemnation would be coming out of the White House. But no, quite the opposite happened. The Community Organizer is now contending that Muslim terror does not exist.

An AP news bulletin advised that the White House is busy redrafting a new document to outline US national security strategy. In this newly revised statement, all references to “religious terms” such as "Islamic extremism" are being removed. Instead, the new and ever so politically correct document will “emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror or counterterrorism” a White House official said.

Under President Bush the document read, "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century."
That’s gone. No more references to Muslim terror or Islamic extremism will be permitted. It doesn’t say what he intends to replace it with – ‘human terror’, maybe? As in ‘Radical Muslims don’t terrorize people. Humans terrorize people”?

And if you think that’s the worst thing the Community Organizer did yesterday, guess again. As you no doubt know, he then went on take his first steps toward fulfilling his campaign promise to dismantle the US’s arsenal of nuclear weapons by limiting the situations in which they can be used. This is a huge, major and utterly insane concession he’s making -- he’s conceding the battle before it even starts. He’s openly inviting an attack – and has already admitted that no matter what, the US will not respond with nuclear weapons.

The White House is proud of this. The Community Organizer, in his infamous Cairo speech, promised a "new beginning" in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. Other administrations, which based their relationship with Muslims on “fighting terror and winning wars” were wrong, they say.

So there’s your hope and change, folks. In terms of change, the old Reagan deterrent of “mutually assured destruction” that helped keep most terrorists at bay is now a thing of the past. It’s been replaced with a different kind of destruction – that of the US itself.

From now on, the Community Organizer’s weapon of choice will be limited to one thing only: hope.

The insanity of all this is beyond comment -- almost.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Is anybody besides me getting tired of this yet?

In January, 2010, 303 people around the world were killed in Muslim terror attacks. That includes the 105 killed – but not the 100+ who were injured – when a suicide bomber drove his car into a volleyball match in Pakistan, plus 37 other, separate, attacks.

February, 2010 – a month shorter by two days – saw 307 people dead of Muslim terror attacks around the world. February also included – the only one so far this year -- a non-Muslim terror attack when American Joseph Stack set his own house on fire, then flew his small plane into the IRS building in Austin, TX, killing two.

In March terrorism attacks took a big jump – 479 people were killed by Muslim terrorists protesting one thing or another. Sadly, that includes two Israelis who were killed in an ambush attack from Aza. Interestingly enough, two terror organizations took credit for that one – both Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they had accomplished the feat. Another Israeli was killed by a Kassam rocket fired from Aza earlier in the month.

Here’s the toll so far in April – 151 dead, and this is only the 6th day.

On April 1 – a real life “Fool’s” joke, no question about that – two Russian terrorists were killed in a “work accident” – they loaded their car with explosives, but it exploded prematurely, so they managed to kill only themselves.

Also on April 1, a total of 18 people were injured – no deaths – in separate and unrelated (except they were all accomplished by Muslims) bombing attacks in Yemen, Mozambique and India.

On April 3, 25 died when Iraqi gunmen in army uniforms attacked a village in Baghdad. They tied up the victims -- residents of nearby homes – and then shot them dead.

On April 4, 42 died and another 224 were injured when three suicide car bomb explosions went off in Baghdad. One was near the Iranian embassy, while the other two were detonated in the west-central district of the city.

On April 5, two died and five were wounded when two suicide blasts occurred near a local police department in Ingushetia, Russia. The second blast was timed to go off as officials rushed to aid those injured in the first.

Also on April 5, 44 were murdered and another 100 were injured when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a political party rally in Pakistan.

The Muslims were busy on April 5 – in another terrorist incident, seven died when terrorists attacked the US consulate in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Apparently no Americans were killed, even though U.S officials claim the consulate was the intended target.

Yet another victim died at Muslim hands in Sri Lanka, when terrorists sprayed campaigners with bullets on the last day before the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections.

And today, April 6, so far 28 have died and another 75 are wounded in Baghdad were bombers destroyed several buildings in the capital city.

So here’s my question: can you imagine what the world-wide response would have been if Jews had been behind the -- so far in 2010 – 1240 premeditated civilian murders, all across the globe? (The two Texans killed by the frustrated US pilot are not counted in that total.)

Or for that matter, what if they’d been Christian? Or atheists? Or people from any other identifiable category?

Would the world be so silent -- so politically correct as to not point a finger – if all the murderers hailed from South Carolina, or Limerick, or the Alsace District of France?

But no, they were Muslims, expressing their dissatisfaction with something by setting out to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. And because of that, the rest of us are supposed to give them a pass. We are expected to maintain that ridiculous fiction that Islam is a religion of peace – even as these “peaceniks” set about killing as many of us as possible.

So there’s my question: Where’s the outrage? Am I the only one who’s getting really tired of this?