This Blog Has Moved


New Address:

All posts are available in the new blog

Please do not post any comments here. Go to the new address to comment. Thank you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Complaint Letter

I wish I had a way with words like the author of this complaint letter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wrong Neighbourhood for Hesitation

If Israel continues to hesitate (half a day now) and does not respond swiftly and with disproportionate force to the attack this morning on the border with Gaza, the gains from the past month of fighting will be severely impacted. This is not the place nor the time for hesitation or restraint. This is the time for Israel to establish new engagement rules with Hamas: just as they want hundreds of terrorists released in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier, so should dozens of Hamas terrorists die for every dead Israeli soldier. It's either this or we are back on the slippery slope.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Who to Vote For?

The elections are two weeks away. This must be the most dormant election campaign I've seen in my life, probably a combination of the general "there-is-nobody-worth-voting-for" feeling and the fact that the political parties suspended their campaigns during the fighting in Gaza.

I am still undecided about who to vote for. The natural choice is the Labour Party, but I have an ongoing issue with their economic agenda (and with their "disappearing act"). The logical choice would be Kadima, as I agree with most of their agenda. The problem I have with Kadima is that most of the people there, including the leader of the pack, are not exactly my cup of tea. My heart goes for Meimad-Green Movement, but I have thrown my vote away in the past for Meimad when it did not make it in, and I don't feel like repeating that mistake.

Interestingly, the Israeli blogoshpere seems to favour Meimad-Green Movement, so perhaps they will surprise everyone after all and make it through on a "trend vote", just like the Pensioner Party did in the last elections.

Oh well. Two more weeks and then I'll need to make a decision.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cultural Differences

So the inauguration ceremony is over and pundits are busy analysing Barack's speech and Michelle's dress. I didn't watch the event (except for bits and pieces on YouTube), but I took a look at the agenda today and I confess of being envious of one thing: the fact that it was peppered throughout with culture.

It opened with an invocation from a pastor Warren. Then Aretha Franklin muddled her way through "My Country Tis of Thee". After the vice-presidential oath, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and others performed a piece by John Williams. After the presidential oath the Marine Corps band played. Not to mention the presidential ball after the ceremony, where the first couple danced solo on stage while Beyonce sang.

Can you imagine Perlman performing while Bibi or Barak are sworn into office? Or them letting a rabbi say a few words? Or either of them dancing with Sarah or Nili (respectively) in front of the entire nation? Sadly, the most we can except is watch them mumble the words to the Tikvah.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Our Neighbour and Why We Have to Kill Him

This appeared on Pajamas Media, and is worth bringing it here in its entirety.

Our Neighbor and Why We Have to Kill Him, By Leon de Winter, January 19, 2009

Our neighbor lives in the house in which our grandfather used to live. He claims he bought the first part of the house from a Turki, and later the second part from a British bank, but that doesn’t make the sale any less illegal: my family lived in that house for hundreds of years and we don’t accept the documents of sale. Now he’s living there. He is the son of monkeys and pigs.

The problem is that he’s not just brazen, he’s also strong, although he is a tiny guy. The whole neighborhood hates him. He’s a thief and possessed by the devil. But he seems to be able to beat everyone. We tried to force him out of the house together, but it didn’t work. He has bulletproof windows, and the roof is made of inflammable material.

All we think about is him. Our own home is in ruins because all our efforts, all our money and ideas and energy are devoted solely to destroying our neighbor’s house. We’re utterly convinced that we will be perfectly happy just as soon as we’ve killed him and his house is a heap of smoking rubble. We live for one thing only: our neighbor’s demise. It’s a noble ambition for which we’re all willing to die.

Sometimes our neighbor seems to forget we exist, then we throw a couple of pebbles at his windows. If we’re lucky, there’s a window open and we toss a Molotov cocktail inside to start a nasty fire. That makes our neighbor angry, and that’s good. We don’t want him to forget us. Life means nothing to us as long as our neighbor’s living in that house. So we make sure he remembers us, even though we can’t force him out and he sometimes beats the hell out of us.

Every now and then our neighbor gets fed up with our stone-throwing — those are the best moments. Then he storms out of our grandfather’s house and smashes our kitchen or bathroom or refrigerator to pieces. By doing so he proves that it’s right that we hate him. We provoke him until he reveals his true demonic character. That’s what we live for. We can’t beat him, but there’s something satisfying about watching him kick our old, worn-out, empty refrigerator to shreds after we have tried to ransack one of his freezers — he has several, all full of food which he bought with the wealth he found in our grandfather’s house. What he does to us is much worse than our provocations, but we keep provoking him because that’s the main thing we want in life.

Our neighbor, the dog, wants us to leave him alone. We can’t. His death is our ultimate ambition in life. We live in our hovel, we grow nothing in our garden, and we leave our schoolbooks on the shelf because we dream of returning to our grandfather’s house and work solely towards our neighbor’s collapse. Nothing is allowed to distract us from that.

Our neighbor claims that when he bought the house, it was just a wooden hut on a piece of barren land that he turned into a palace. He claims he planted a fertile vegetable garden — that’s a lie. It was an estate with fertile soil and the bathrooms had gold taps; our grandfather told us so himself, we even keep the key to his house in a sacred place. If we had still been living in our grandfather’s house then we would have had all those freezers in which our neighbor keeps his food. The family of monkeys and pigs never lived there before; our neighbor’s existence is based on clever lies and forgeries.

We keep challenging him and when we’ve insulted him enough and managed to wreck some part of his house, he marches angrily into our place. We can’t stop him and we have no idea how long he’ll stay in our hovel, until one day he leaves. Then we lick our wounds in satisfaction and survey in intense pleasure all the destruction he left behind, and we show it to the world. Our scars prove to us and to the world that our cause is just. We know he doesn’t harm us when we leave him alone, but we want him to harm us. If he wouldn’t, the world would think he is just an ordinary guy. Which he isn’t. That’s why we provoke him. Without him harming us, we wouldn’t exist.

We want to kill him, but we don’t have the right weapons. He has the means to kill us all, but he doesn’t, the coward. If we had the weaponry he has, we would have killed him long ago. And the fact that he doesn’t kill us, although he could, is a sign of his unbearable arrogance.

Some, who don’t live in our neighborhood and who don’t know how things work around here, occasionally ask us, “Why do you keep provoking him when you know that he’ll hit back so ferociously?”

This question proves they are ignorant about our neighborhood. We do it because that’s what our life is about. Our neighbor, who’s a murderer of prophets, humiliates us just because he is there. That’s why we can’t think about anything else. Our grandfather’s honor is worth risking our own lives and those of our children and grandchildren. We have no future as long as our neighbor lives in peace and plenty. None of us in the neighborhood can build as long as his house remains standing.

Strangers sometimes try to persuade us that we ought to build a viable house on our own lot. But nothing is viable beside our neighbor’s stolen property. He is the burning focus of our existence. He is rich, so we are poor. He is powerful, so we are weak. He has to disappear. A little further along in our neighborhood we have a friend who supplies us secretly with stones and Molotov cocktails. He’s working on a big bomb that will reduce our neighbor to a miserable pile of atoms in a fraction of a second. That bomb will kill us too — that hellish thought is almost erotic. Our neighbor will burn, and we will as well, but one thing is certain: we won’t feel inferior anymore; at last we’ll have beaten him, in death — which we don’t fear, but he does.

The neighborhood will be completely gone. And that’s how it should be. Death will free us of the son of monkeys and pigs, and of our infuriating obsession with him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Voodoo Judaism - Continued

I have written before about voodoo Judaism, and since then things seem to be getting worse. The latest manifestation of this disease is the story about how Rachel Imenu (Rachel the matriarch) appeared as an old woman to IDF soldiers during the fighting in Gaza, warning them about traps the Hamas laid. She even told the soldiers who she was, probably to make sure they wouldn't confuse her with just some old Palestinian woman who happens to be a closet Zionist.

The story started circulating a few days ago, and today incredibly (or perhaps not so incredibly), it was given a boost by none other than Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tsfat, and son to previous chief rabbi of Israel, Mordechai Eliyahu. Appearing before students at Machon Meir, he recounted how his ailing father visited the tomb of Rachel Imenu to ask her to go to Gaza and help the soldiers there. This is the same rabbi (the father) that declared before the disengagement from Gaza in 2005: "it shall not come to pass!", assuring his gullible disciples to stay put because a last-minute miracle will cancel the plan. Evidently his divine powers have only increased since, as he is now capable of summoning Rachel Imenu at will.

If this were not so sad, it would be funny.

So Much Fuss

I don't watch news on TV and I don't read (paper) newspapers. And yet I cannot escape the hoopla around Obama's inauguration ceremony today. I understand "change is coming" and I understand "yes, we can" and all that. But for heaven's sake, it's only an inauguration ceremony! It's not as if Obama has done anything yet to justify all brouhaha. Let him first find a cure for cancer or achieve world peace, then we can celebrate so lavishly. Surely in these economic times a little humility on the expenses side would have been a welcome "change", no?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Deterrence - An Idea

So the war is over and Israel is pulling out of Gaza, having apparently won this round.

The following days and weeks will show whether Israel indeed succeeded in the main goal of this war: creating enough deterrence vis-a-vis the Hamas, to make the terrorists think twice, and three times, before launching rockets into Israeli cities. Within this context, I have an idea of a deterrence system that, whilst might seem a little harsh at first, might just do the job.

Israel set up an early warning system (EWS) so that every time a rocket is launched from the Gaza strip, a siren (known as "Red Colour") is sounded in the cities and villages of southern Israel where the rocket is likely to land. Depending on the distance from the Gaza strip, this warning gives people 15-60 seconds to find a shelter. I'm proposing that this automatic EWS be connected not only to the siren system but also to an unmanned, computer-operated, artillery battery that has its cannons aimed at the Gaza strip. Every time the "Red Colour" siren goes off, the computer will point the battery cannons to a random point in Gaza and fire a salvo of shells to that point.

The system will not be operated by Israel. In fact, Israel will guarantee that there isn't a single soldier within a radius of one kilometer from the battery (except for routine, scheduled maintenance). The system will be operated de-facto by Hamas itself, every time a rocket is launched from Gaza. It will be Hamas' decision whether it wants to shell its own population.

Despite its harshness, I am confident that this Pavlovian contraption will serve as an effective deterrent against the cowardly bastards that hide among Palestinian innocent civilians to fire rockets at Israeli innocent civilians. It might take a while, as the Hamas' learning curve seems to be longer than that of a dog, but eventually they too will learn.

The only question is: will Israel have the guts to use such a deterrent? I think the answer is obvious.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why Israel is Winning the War

In the modern age wars are seldom decisively won. Especially wars between unequal sides, like the current war between Israel and Hamas. To win a war against a terrorist organisation that masquerades itself as a legitimate governing body, nothing short of total destruction will suffice (something which the Sri Lankan government is close to achieving against the Tamil Tigers, but you don't hear much about that in the news, do you?). But such a total win would be a Pyrrhic victory, at a devastating cost to the winning side.

However, within the constraints of a limited war against para-military terrorist organisations such as the Hamas, Israel is actually winning this war. Just like, contrary to popular wisdom, it has won the war against Hezbollah in 2006. Here's why.

Both Hezbollah and Hamas are leading an ongoing war-by-proxy against Israel on behalf of Iran, whose declared policy is the destruction of the Jewish state. Iran does not wish to engage Israel directly (for obvious reasons), but the Iranian leadership is willing to fight Israel until the last Lebanese or Palestinian is left standing. So Israel must create an equilibrium against Hezbollah and Hamas similar to the equilibrium it has with Iran. This equilibrium is borne out of enough destruction and death on the other side to make it think twice, and three times, before initiating acts of hostility in the future.

The current war will end pretty much the same way as the 2006 war with Hezbollah did. Hamas will fire the last shots (or, rather, rockets) thus allowing its leaders - after they emerge from their hiding hole under Shifa hospital - to declare victory. Fair enough, no harm done. But it is Gaza that will need rebuilding, not Israel. It is Gazans who will bury more than 1,000 people, not Israelis. And it is the Hamas leadership that will face tough questions from within and without, not the Israeli government. So Hamas will think twice, and three times, before launching new rocket attacks against southern Israel.

Soom after the end of the 2006 war, Hezbollah's leader Nasrallah confessed that had he known the extent of Israel's response he would not have authorised the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers (an event that triggered the war). And despite his recent belligerent rhetoric, Nasrallah decided not to open a new front against Israel in the north, and hastened to deny that it was not Hezbollah that fired the few rockets against northern Israel. Why? Because Nasrallah spent the last couple of years acting more as a building contractor than a political leader, given that entire neighbourhoods were flattened during the 2006 war. His people will not readily accept a renewed destruction of their homes and lives, so he's being careful. He's thinking twice, and three times, before acting.

Israel is close to achieving the same equilibrium against Hamas. And this is why Israel is winning this war. True, every equilibrium in nature eventually disintegrates, requiring a new equilibrium to be found, but this is unfortunately the best Israel can hope for when dealing with a terrorist organisation that refuses to recognise its right to exist. One can only hope that when the time comes for the future equilibrium to be found, it will be an equilibrium achieved by diplomacy and negotiation, aimed at reaching some peaceful modus vivendi, and not another war.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Proper Welcome

Hey, I want one of these!

Friday, January 09, 2009

VaYechi - The Blinding Light of Knowledge

ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים שבע עשרה שנה, ויהי ימי יעקב שני חייו שבע שנים וארבעים ומאת שנה

(בראשית מ"ז, כ"ח)

Parashat VaYechi is a "parasha setuma", a closed paragraph, meaning there is no gap in the Torah scroll between the end of the previous parasha, VaYigash, and the beginning of our parasha, which opens with the words:

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.

(Bereshit 47, 28)

In Hebrew, setuma means shut or unknown, and Rashi offers two explanations for VaYechi being a "parasha setuma". With the death of Ya'akov, the eyes and hearts of the people of Israel were "shut", and they didn't know that the Egyptians would soon enslave them. A second explanation is that Ya'akov, on his deathbed, wished to tell his sons what the future holds for them but God "shut" the future from him and blocked him from revealing the "end of days".

The death of Ya'akov marks the birth of the people of Israel, the moment a family turns into a nation. It is only natural for Ya'akov to want to tell his sons what the future holds, to prepare them for this journey. Such knowledge would have strengthened them in the hard times ahead, knowing that despite the hardships they will face in Egypt, redemption will come and they will be saved and taken to Israel.

But knowing the divine plan also has negative aspects. A person who knows what happens at the end is exempt from planning his life or thinking about his actions based on his interpretation of reality. Knowing for certain that the current situation is going to change is dangerous, as it might make us ignore the day-to-day life and lead us to immoral deeds in the name of the future redemption. The people of Israel might have given up all hope of trying to shape their destiny, relying instead on the prophecy of Ya'akov that redemption will arrive.

Rambam makes this point very clear in Hilkhot Melakhim. He states categorically that nobody knows what the future will bring and what life would be like in the days of the Mashiach. He urges us to spend very little time on the stories about the "end of days" and the coming of the Mashiach, and he quotes the Talmud to curse those who busy themselves trying to figure out when Mashiach will come. The sages teach us that redemption is a tricky matter, now you see it - now you don't, just like a deer running in the forest. We have nothing but our eyes and our brains to guide us in the world and we should not waste time trying to figure out the endgame.

A vivid illustration of this appears in our parasha. Yossef's brothers are afraid that he will punish them for having sold him away in his youth, but Yossef tells his brothers not to fear. He tells them that despite them having done harm to him, God turned it to good and he is now in a position to save his people. He teaches them that all their calculations were turned upside down because man cannot forecast the future and God's plan is what matters.

Knowing the future is a great source of light. But when one is exposed to a powerful light source, one is also blinded. God, in His mercy, stopped Ya'akov from revealing the great light of the future to his sons in order not to blind them, in order to enable them to lead meaningful lives by making their own decisions, dreaming their own dreams and having their own hopes for the future.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Like Riding a Tiger"

I rarely write about business on my blog, but this one is simply too big to ignore.

Ramalinga Raju, the Chairman of Satyam Computer Services, one of India's biggest IT companies, admitted today that over 1 billion dollars of assets listed on the company's balance sheet are "non existent". To put it in proportion, the total assets are just above 1.1 billion dollars, so 94% of the company's assets were fraudulently reported. The resignation letter Mr. Raju sent to the board of directors is suprisingly frank and open. He describes the experience using these words: "It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten." Very poetic. In the letter to the employees the new interim CEO writes about "a series of extremely unfortunate events", which reminded me of the wonderful books by Lemony Snicket.

Satyam as a company is finished. It will likely be sold to a competitor (Infosys, Wipro, and the like) for a pittance, and many of the 50,000-plus employees will find themselves out on the street. The entire episode is already being labelled as "India's Enron" and the repercussions on corporate governance in India will be harsh and long-lasting.

And now for the personal angle (without going into too many details). Last year I signed a contract with Satyam, which was signed on their side by the "other Raju", Satyam's CEO, Rama Raju. I met a couple of the people mentioned in Mr. Raju's letter to the board mentioned above. But this seven-figure contract was not honoured by Satyam and we never got the money from them, so the matter is now in legal proceedings. The news today does not add to my confidence about Satyam's business practices or those of Indian companies in general.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

39 Steps (Israel)

A couple of years ago I watched the play 39 Steps at the Criterion theatre in the West End. It was a brilliant production, with four actors playing dozens of roles in a comic rendering of the 1935 Hitchcock movie (which, in turn, was loosely based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan). I enjoyed it very much. So last night I decided to take my wife to see the Israeli version of 39 Steps at Bet HaChayal in Tel Aviv (originally, it played in HaBima).

The Israeli version is an almost exact copy of the British version. Same set, same clothes, same mannerisms. But not everything can be successfully duplicated. The play takes place in Scotland, so the Scottish accent and dialect of some characters in the British version played a major role in the story (the farmer going to tend to his "coos" was particularly funny). This was completely lost in the Hebrew version, even though the actors did their best to put on different accents. Disappointingly, even the relatively "translateable" German accent of the Annabella Smith character was lost in Hebrew.

Two of the actors are Moni Moshonov and Avi Kushnir (top two in the picture), who are famous comedians here. However, I felt this played against them. Both are strongly associated with the successful long-running TV comedy sitcom Zehu Ze of the 70s and 80s, which was a funny show but mostly used shallow and noisy humour. At times it seemed like the play risked degenerating a re-run of Zehu Ze with Moshonov and Kushnir cracking up at their own funny jokes.

In short, I was quite disappointed with the Israeli version of the play, but I guess it isn't entirely fair to compare it to the award-winning British version. I would still recommend it to friends, especially if a trip to London isn't something they're planning in the near future.

Friday, January 02, 2009

1,100 Books and Growing

A few months ago I started cataloguing my library, in the hope of having an online catalog of all the books I possess. I've now passed the 1,100-book mark and I estimate I still have 200-300 books to go, most of them sifrei kodesh (religious books), which will probably need to go in manually as these publishers aren't big on ISBN... I realise that it would be impossible to upload every single volume in my house, but I'm hoping to get close.

I tried to rate most the books I remember reading. I have given 3 stars to most books, as they are just "a good read". I gave 4 stars to really good books, and 5 stars to books I think are a must read (very few of those). I don't have many 1-star and 2-star books for the simple reason that it's unlikely for me to buy a book without knowing something about it first, so the chances of me really not liking the book are slim. But there are some notable exceptions.

Although the statistics are not 100% accurate, I learnt that I have roughly the same number of books in English and in Hebrew (although with the sifrei kodesh the balance will go in favour of Hebrew). I also have only a handful of books in Italian and French; even though I read more in these languages, I don't actually own these books.