Thursday, February 23, 2006


My office is offering a 3 day seminar on communication, so I signed up. I thought it would be interesting to see how big of a role language plays. It turned out that everyone in the office had signed up for the seminar and there were only 3 native Hebrew speakers there. The rest were Russian speakers and one other American.
The first day was interesting as we learned about some of the obvious problems with people communicating. Hopefully the next two sessions will be just as fun and informative.

I was communicating with some of the guys at work today (from the FSU) and they felt pretty strongly that we need the death penalty for service people who don't come when they promise to. Actually, only one of them insisted on the death penalty. The other one thought you should take a bb gun and shoot out their windows every night until they come to answer your call.

At least it confirmed that the problem with service in Israel is very bad. One guy's contractor has promised every day for a month that he will come tomorrow, to finish up some work that he is in the middle of. Another guy couldn't get the air conditioning service people to talk to him.

This is not a problem with language, this is a problem with lack of quality. The only way to survive is to know people who know people. When we had a problem with water in our basement, a friend called the plumber who owed him a favor and he came over right away. I am sure that without that help, we would still be waiting for him to come over.

Communication is very important. You have to be able to make sure that service people understand that it is in their best interest to come over. It all comes back to it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

david irving put away

David Irving is a guy who said a number of times in the past 20 years that the Holocaust never happened. He claimed that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz. For this crime against humanity he was thrown into jail for 3 years.

Maybe I'm missing something here?!?

Why is it a crime to publicly announce your lack of knowledge? Let's put Hamas in jail because they said they don't recognize Israel. Duh, it's there. Check the maps.
How about if we say we believe Sharon is already dead and they are just cooling the body until right before the elections to announce it for political gain.
Oops. I'm already in jail for that one.
Does everyone believe that Washington crossed the Rubicon?
Did the US invade Vietnam?
Did we put a man on the moon?

This guy should be laughed out of academia, not thrown into jail. If he can prove his facts in serious debate, then let him have a go at it. I have no problem having him fired from his job for trying to falsify history. He was a history teacher. If he tried to falsify history with no basis in any matter, he should be fired. But to throw a guy in jail because he doesn't believe that 6 million people were killed in a genocidal attempt to wipe out an entire nation because of the threat they posed as the conscience of the world???? (Did you read mein kampf?)

The holocaust was indeed a tragedy on epic proportions, but you can't lock up a guy for 3 years because he says it didn't happen! I think the pertinent question here is: "Is the world a safer place now that David Irving will not be a part of it for 3 years?"

The answer is no.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

freedom of choice

If anyone is wondering what kind of food to bring to a funeral, I just read that while smiley face cookies would be in bad taste, Better then Sex cake is definitely the way to go. (Recipes are at the site)

"people should not be punished for exercising their democratic choice" - Makhmood Abbas

WTF kind of ridiculous statement is that.
I would agree that people should not be punished when a dictator determines foreign policy and anyone who disagrees with him gets a couple weeks in the local gulag and then shot in the head. However, if people vote for a group that says that they are planning on being very violent then they are directly responsible. They were not duped. It is not like the Israeli public who voted for Sharon who said before the elections that he was against disengagement (Amram Mitzna's platform) and then turned his back on the people who voted for him. These are people who said, Hamas please attack Israeli. Kill as many of them as you possibly can. More then half of the population apparantly would like to see more violence against Israel. Their actions in the ballot box speak louder then any words possibly could. This voting speaks louder then palestinian citizens dancing on international television when they heard about the twin towers going up in smoke.

The civilized world should stand up now and say, maybe they do not want peace. Maybe they are bad people. Maybe the only answer is to wipe out that cancer from the world. Rehabilitation doesn't always work, especially when the entire society is corrupt.

Take an example from God and what he did to Sodom.

People are held accountable for their choices, and voting is exercising your right to be held accountable for the poeple you vote for.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

religious meet secular

My wife went to a meeting last night of religious and secular people to air out their differences with each other. While these meetings may cause personal respect between one group and the next (which is a very good thing unto itself), they are unlikely to cause either group to see things from the other side's perspective.

My wife gave me two examples from the secular side:
1) A former yeshiva boy who stopped being religious in the army was at a shabbos get together with some army buddies. He opened a bottle of wine and asked a religious boy to make kiddush. The religious boy said it was יין נסך, forbidden wine, because it was opened by somene who was not shomer shabbos. He was so put off by that that he decided he didn't want to have anything to do with religious people. (we're not going to discuss the halachic aspect of this case, but there are opinions that say that the wine is forbidden and opinions that say the wine is not forbidden)

2) A couple adopted a child and wanted to convert her. The rabbinical court said they had to sign a paper saying they would send her to religious schools. The couple refused to sign the paper because they didn't want to "lie to themselves and to to religious court." They thought that was such a horrible experience that it left a strong distaste in their mouth for religious people. (They did sign the paper in the end and sent the child to some religious schools.)

On the religious side, the issues that I have heard are more along the lines of:
If they are not going to keep shabbos or kosher then I don't want my children playing with their children because it is much harder to raise your kids religious when their friends from school are out at a movie on Friday night. It is hard to send them to a nonkosher house where you don't know what they might eat. Therefore, we don't want non-religious kids in the religious school.

The issues, as a whole, seem to be that secular Jews want to be able to do anything they would like to without barriers. In other words they do not want religion to be a factor in their life. Religious Jews want to hold onto their code of behavior and are not willing to compromise so as not to offend someone.

An example I gave to my wife is, I don't complain when my co-workers always go to a non-kosher place for lunch on Thursday, even though I am automatically disqualified from going. However, they would be very against a company rule saying that they had to eat at a kosher place, so that I could go too.

In both the situations that the seculars mentioned, there is nothing that could be done from a religious perspective. If you're going to be offended and hate me for the rest of my life if I won't drink something forbidden, there's nothing I can do about that. Hours of explaining are not going to change the fact that if it is only forbidden food because you touched it. The religious guy didn't tell the secular guy, as far as I know, that he was a bad person. He told him he wasn't going to drink the wine. The secular guy in this case was not harmed at all by the first guy not drinking his wine. His pride may have been hurt, but that is because he doesn't understand the law and he doesn't want to understand the law.

In the second situation, the couple was actually hurt. They just wanted to raise a child in Israel. Non-Jewish children are second-class citizens in Israel and the parents wanted to bring the child up as a cultural Jew. However, there are 2 ways to become Jewish. Being born into it and converting. If you're born into it and you don't want to follow the rules, there is nothing we can do about it right now. You live your life and we'll live ours. But if someone else wants to become Jewish, one of the requirements is to accept on yourself Jewish law. They are very lenient about that here, making the couple sign a paper, which they never really have to follow, that they will teach their child what being Jewish means.

This is a battle that is being fought across the spectrum of life. Secular people wanting to live a life without limitations and religious people holding strongly to their values. Groups like this will help explain each side's perspectives in a nonconfrontational manner, but in the end the result is the same.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

sharon's burial

No, the PM isn't dead yet. Here's to hoping he lasts a long time. I'm not sure what the point of Omri's 6 months suspended sentence is. What's going to happen in 6 months when the PM takes a turn for the worse? Wouldn't it make more sense to put him in jail now and let him out to visit his dad twice a week. They could let him out for the funeral, if that happened during his 9 months in jail. I would even be happy to let him sit the shiva before returning to jail, as long as they added 7 more days on to his sentence.

Speaking of the PM's burial, Noam Federman got some publicity in todays English ynet. He send a letter froma concerned citizen asking the health department to ensure that the prime minister is not buried illegally. Apparantly, the PM buried his wife illegally in a nature reserve and is planning on lying next to her after he's gone.
When he appaled to the court to exhume Lily's body and move it to somewhere legal, the court turned him down with the explanation that he was correct, but she was already buried, so it is too late. That is a ridiculous explanation. Can you imagine the court saying it was too late if you or I had been buried illegally? The Israeli Police Grave Digging section would be out the next morning, and probably spit on the dead people as well.

This appeal against the prime ministers stated intentions to commit a crime after his demise was done correctly. If he waited until after the PM died, his appeal would have gone unanswered. Now there is an opportunity for them to make other plans before they need to announce them to the world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hebrew lesson

The word חייב means obligate. לחייב means to obligate. חיוב is to enforce or coerce.

However, when you ask if something should be חיובי when you are writing a procedures document, they give you an answer that makes no sense at all. Then you go around in circles for a couple minutes until the person you're talking to asks you to explain yourself in English.

Apparantly, חיובי is not something that is obligatory. It means positive, affirmative or favorable.

Sometimes it's easier just not to try.

therapy of a long walk

Sometimes you just need to get out. Today was one of those days, when I just didn't think I could handle sitting at my desk any longer. So, when my Tuesday afternoon shwarma group decided not to go for schwarma today, I went anyways. I decided to walk instead of hoping on a sherut or bus, so I could get some fresh air. Walking through Technion campus till Neve Sha'anan. Then going to the bank machine and having my American ATM card eaten.
The schwarma was good (My company has an account there, so I got to sign for it).
An enjoyable walk back.
Then I decided that the answer is to actually go open source on the software that I have written and earn some money by providing service contracts. It was originally written in ASP.Net with C# and an MSSQL backend and a C# .Net portable client system, because I needed some experience in that, but now I am planning on rewriting it in python with a postgresql backend and I haven't decided on the front end for the portable client, but I'm prtetty sure it won't be .NET. I may just use an Access front end and distribute the Access Runtime library, because I use that at work and it is easy to play with. Or I may try to play with WxWidgets to see how that interacts with a database because we're planning on redoing our front end at work and it would give me good experience. In any case, the more open source, the better.
My goal is to have it ready for a first release for general practitioners in 3-4 months.

I'm also working on some disruptive technologies for the Israeli train system, that my traintalk buddy dreamed up. I'm very excited about the potentials of that because if it can be done for free, which is how we are trying to do it, then it opens up a world of possibilities.

My head is clear now and I can put in the rest of a day at work.
As they say: Sababa.

Monday, February 13, 2006

happy tu bshvat

For tu b'shvat my office gave each employee a large container full of dried fruits. Not even one bukser was inside. Apparantly, buksor is old ghetto jew - mishmaish (dried apricot) is new Jew.

We didn't plant a tree this year in honor, but our trees are blooming. Our almond tree, which we thought was dead, has flowers blooming. The lemons are ripe and if you want to try some good grilling, cut open a fresh lemon and stick it on a steak. Absolutely delicious. Don't forget to take off truma and maaser. Which reminds me, I think maaser changes at tu bshvat to maaser sheni. I'll have to discuss it with the rabbi again to find out exactly when to do what. I'm sure he'll tell me we've been doing it all wrong. But at least we get the trumah right, so we're not going directly to hell.
Spring is just around the corner. I'm thinking of starting some cherry tomatoes and maybe some zucchini. We'll have to see if I have time to set up an area.
There are some great tu bshvat songs that my kids learned. I thought i had never heard them because they were zionist songs, but my sister says she learned them in bais yaakov so they can't be that zionistical.

For all the chutznikim: Enjoy your bukser.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

value of regards

On Friday afternoon my brother-in-law, may he return to full health soon in our days, called me and said that he had regards for me from someone. He then asked me how I knew that person, and I gave him the standard reply, "I know a lot of people." He thought the message on the back was kind of strange, as it a blogosphere identification and he is not a member.

There are 2 kinds of blogs, anonymous blogs and blogs that are not anonymous. I, as most of you know, have a non-anonymous blog. Approximately 85% of my readers have known me for a long time. The other 15% are random people, who may enjoy what I write or may come to laugh at my opinions on various topics.

The person sending the regards is an anonymous blogger, for the most part (He can't be that anonymous if he is sending me his business card). Anonymous bloggers don't want people to know who they are for a variety of reasons. These reasons may include:
  • they will get put in administrative detention if shabak finds them
  • they are writing about things they don't want associated with them
  • They are expressing a fantasy part of their life, being creative in their writing and don't want their friends/relatives to think of them that way. (similar to the above reason)
  • They are writing about personal issues, maybe therapeurically
  • They like having a secret identity.
  • Other reasons
I do appreciate the business card.

One of the hardest things for me about making aliyah was suddenly losing all of the contacts and business relationships that I had made over the 7 years that I was working back home, as well as all the personal and family contacts and relationships that I had grown up with. If I had a question about food, we had a good friend who was a caterer. Any legal questions, there were plenty of lawyers. Doctors were around to answer the medical questions. Same was true with accounting, politics, plumbing, electrical, you name it. I was part of the loop for technology or computer issues.
When I moved to Israel, I lost all that. We had a plumbing problem, I had no idea who to call. We called a friend who had pull with a plumber and he came out right away. We had an electrical problem and I didn't know who to call. We got someone's name who came out and said, "no, I don't want to do this job." We called someone else who did what we needed and the electric box blew up a week later. Someone else asked us why we used him, "...everyone knows he's incompetent."
So slowly, slowly we're learning the ropes and finding out all the stuff that you're just supposed to know . Building a network of contacts is a long process that includes a lot of give and take. It takes years or even generations before you really know what's going on.

This business card could have been very helpful to me two years ago when I sent a resume to the company he works for. I didn't even get an interview, though the headhunters I was dealing with said it was a 90% probability. Once, back in America, I didn't get a job because they gave it to the project manager's son's best friend. A couple weeks later, someone in shul said they needed someone with my qualificaltions and doubled my salary. As they say, it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Now I have one more person on my list.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

no train

The train didn't come this morning because someone got run over. (Like he couldn't see that coming from a mile away.) While getting hit by a train is in no way humorous for the guy getting hit, it did bring to mind an old camp song, part of which goes:

A man was standing on the tracks and didn't see the train
yisgadal viyiskadash vimiroo amen.

I made it to work in good time anyways. There are always sheruts leaving from right next to the train station and surprise, surprise pretty much everyone wanted to go to haifa, so there were very few exta stops on the way.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

obituary of an alumni director

No, he's not completely dead, but I'm sure a part of him died the day he left.
As a disclaimer: I haven't spoken to him since I got the e-mail that he was no longer with us.

Once upon a time there was an alumni director who we will call fred. Fred wasn't always an alumni director, at one time he was a regular alumnus and before that a student. Fred thought that he would stay forever at the institute where he was happy. He learned Torah, played ball and rooted for the bears. Fred finally left the institution when he found out that he would only be allowed to touch with two hands in touch football games and that it was considered inappropriate to throw younger bachurim into trees.

A couple years later, after Fred learned a little bit about life, got married and learned a little bit more about life, he returned to the institute from where he had only good memories. When the administration saw that Fred was not going to leave this time they asked him if he would be the alumni director, thinking that would stop him from swinging on the rafters in the new bais midrash and throwing freshies over the railing by the old dorm rooms. As the alumni director Fred was responsible for picking apples and eating in NY restaurants. As long as there were other alumni there it was all good. He was also supposed to remind alumni of all the good memories that they had of the institute so that they would have a warm, fuzzy feeling inside and give the institute a lot of money. But it was more then just money, it was about maintaining a connection to the past and also about money.

Now Fred has decided that it is time to leave the institution again, once again for personal reasons. This time I doubt the reasons had to do with touch football, but it may have had to do with the Packers. It's hard to live in a state where you passionately hate their NFL team. "Personal reasons" gives you such a wide range of options to make assumptions as to why a person would leave.

We wish Fred much luck in his future endeavors and we are certain that he will be back at the institute at some point, if not permanently then as a visit, because it is so hard to just let go.

media bias flip flop

Public opinion is generally formed by what is written in the media. This is why so-called "non-free" countries limit what the media is allowed to publish. They don't want the people thinking bad things about them.

This is supposedly not an issue in a country with a free press. The press is supposed to present a fair, unbiased view of current events and then the readers can decide how they want to react to different stories. The editor determines what stories are newsworthy and what bend to give every story. While freedom of press takes away power from the government, it gives that power to a couple of people who were never voted in to anything and have nothing balancing their power.

The editors of the large media outlets in Israel determine the elections. Until a couple days ago, the Yediot and Maariv were both firmly on Olmert's side. Nothing he did was a mistake. Nobody asked Kadima any policy questions. Nobody is questioning why he was letting Hamas shoot rockets into Israel while he decided to send his police force to beat up some Jewish kids.

This is not the first time the major media outlets lined up on a political question. For example, the story of why the chief of staff in the military was fired when he spoke about security issues in the disengagement (or uprooting as Diskin called it) was given minor publicity.

Two days ago the media slightly changed their bias and started promoting Netanyahu over Olmert. They still haven't hit Olmert with hardball questions, but apparently they didn't like the way the poll results were going so they decided to give Netanyahu a couple extra seats.

This unbridled power must be taken away from the press. Media outlets should have a committee that determines when stories are too slanted or when one side of a story is one the headlines and the other side of the story gets half a column on page 4. There should be rules regarding how long someone can be an editor for. There are a lot of ways that the free press can and should be fixed. But it needs to work without government oversight or we go back to our first problem.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

no bracha on the train

I was sitting on the train last Thursday night on my way back from Tel Aviv. Across from me was a couple of seemingly non-religious soldiers, a boy and a girl (the girl had a gun and the boy didn't), who appeared to have some sort of relationship (they weren't, חס ושלום, making out but they weren't not making out either, if you know what I mean. Let's just say they weren't exactly shomer negia). I say seemingly non-religious because it is hard to tell what level of religious people are just by the way they dress or act. I think I'll call them potentially religious people. The boy takes a drink of water from his bottle and passes it to the girl. The girl picks up the bottle and is about to put it to her lips when the boy says to her, "say a bracha." She starts laughing like it's a big joke and starts to put the bottle to her lips. The guy grabs the bottle and says, "I'm serious, say a bracha." The girl looks at him with a "you've got to be kidding" glance. Then she says to him, "I'm not saying a bracha." And she drinks the water.
The guy says to her, "I can't believe you just drank that water without saying a bracha." She says back to him "shut up" and that was the end of the bracha conversation.

Obviously there may have been some background to this story, but I found the part I witnessed to be a very funny conversation and thought I would share it with you.

Monday, February 06, 2006

amona, dominica and onwards

Two sides get together to have a fight. Both sides planned on fighting, except according to my neighbor who insists that they picked up random stones that were hanging around the shomron. If the government had really just wanted the buildings down they could have waited 3 weeks after giving the notice and nobody would have been there any more. There are ways to do things without being violent.

Olmert said there is no need for an enquiry on police violence because the police did what they were supposed to. The orders were to beat up everyone there. They did it. There is no reason for a commission of enquiry to find this out.

To say they were surprised to have rocks thrown at them is ridiculous. You don't go into a place with horses and riot gear when you are expecting peaceful demonstrators.

The kids think they are the modern day Maccabees, saving Israel from the vicious government. The government needs to save face because they aren't stopping the rockets coming across the border. Put those 2 things together and you obviously have an altercation.

The police had to be nice to the people at the anti police-brutality rally last night, so they went out and beat up the wife of the ambassador from the Domincan Republic. No, she wasn't protesting anything. She was by her house tending her garden and the police decided she had an illegal maid and beat the crap out of her.

If that isn't bad enough, Olmert (the jerk) decided to transfer tax money to Hamastan because officially they aren't in office yet. I just told my mom on Friday that it wasn't like he was going to do it on Sunday, it was just propaganda. But no, their utter stupidity cannot be hidden for even one minute. In the same breath that he says the police brutality was the settlers fault, he then gives money to the arabs to see if they can oneup the policemen, but in central tel aviv.

The game here seems to be how many Israeli citizens can get hurt because of the Israeli government.

Yesterday I was sitting outsidea shwarma house in Haifa looking at the traffic and it occurred to me why Kadima has a chance to win in the upcoming elections.

Israelis are dumb. This was made extremely clear to me after I saw that 4 different ambulances with their lights and sirens going were cut off by incompetant drivers. One ambulance had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting someone who watched the ambulance coming towards him and then decided to walk across the street when the light turned green. A driver decided he could probably make the left turn just before the ambulance got there. I watched it from the side thinking, "there is no intelligent life here."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

good friends - not so good???

Have you ever heard the expression - "I have 3 friends I can turn to in any situation: Jim, Jack and Johnny"? According to a Ynet article, those friends may have betrayed you.

Landau Kosher, a controversial kashrus organization based Bnei Brak, has published an article stating that whiskey is not kosher.

Rabbi of Brooklyn, NY, one of the commentors on the article, said that there is no problem with bourbon in any case. it is only a problem with scotch.

My little brother once asked a rabbi a question about using baby wipes on Pesach. The rabbi went out of his way to answer a different question and told him he couldn't use them on shabbos. All I'm saying is that sometimes rabbi's answer questions that nobody asked.

However, the question of whiskey being kosher is a real one. An Israeli friend once asked me how I knew that whiskey was kosher if there was no symbol on it. I explained that it is mesora. All Americans know that straight whiskey is kosher. It's something we learned in yeshiva without asking a single rabbi. The vybish (woman's drink, also known as liqueur) you have to be careful of, but not the real stuff.

Fobidding crown royal, for example, would be akin to saying chulent can't be eaten Friday night.
מנהג ישראל כדין הוא

Of course, it may be much ado about nothing. I would compromise and agree to ban scotch if they promise not to mess with bourbon for a good 20 years.

While you are up finishing your supply just in case the psak goes against rational thinking, listen in to Sometimes you just need a drink.