Saturday, April 05, 2003

Come on by for Coffee Sometime

I just found Beirut Calling, a blog by a journalist named Martin Young, based in Lebanon, writing for Slate among other places. In the spirit of keeping up with the neighbors, I've added it to my blogroll.
Desert Fox Gets Whiny

Remember Rick Leventhal? He was supposed to be the front-runner for sexiest war reporter. Well, he lost my vote today. It's lucky for him that the episode that did it aired in the wee hours of the morning U.S. time, so that his American fan base remains oblivious.

His tantrum took place when he breathlessly reported from his brigade encamped in the desert outside of Baghdad that he had HEARD that the U.S. forces were rolling into Baghdad. When the anchors informed him that not only did they have this information three hours ago, but that his colleague, Greg Kelly, had already broadcast live while rolling through city streets, his face visibly fell, and his tone grew petulant and defensive as he halfheartedly continued his report, knowing that he'd been upstaged. He was stuck in the desert while Greg was getting the glory.

After being told for the second time that "we heard about that from Greg," he had to get all it out: "I have to admit that I'm pretty jealous of Greg right now. We all want to be up front." (such crucial information for his audience...) Trying to console him, the Fox anchor said, "Well, I bet that Lauren is glad that you're not up there." I'm presuming Lauren is his wife. His dismissive response? "Ah, Lauren's in Las Vegas, by the pool at the Hard Rock Cafe Hotel. She's not paying attention to any of this." He says this ON THE AIR. On the day after a high-profile reporter was killed in Iraq. Now that's disrespect.

So he has officially lost my vote for Sexy Embed of 2003. Replacements? Well, this Greg Kelly looked pretty cute up there on that tank....
Hot, hot, hot

You can call it a heat wave, or a hamsin or a sharav or whatever, but it's HOT outside. Now we see why the U.S. was so itchy to move ahead in March, not April. We spent the day marinating ourselves in cold chlorinated water at the local swimming pool.

However much Imshin suffered with her hairstyling trauma, it made for entertaining reading. One of the small-town advantages of living in Ra'anana over Tel Aviv (in addition to the fact that our garbage collectors never strike) is that there are many women around who run hairdressing business out of their homes, so you are spared that whole dizzy, pretentious, trance-music hair salon scene. I avoided hairdressers when I lived in Tel Aviv, too. Now, I get my hair cut just two doors away, at my neighbor Adi's place. Imshin, next time, bring the girls out here to Ra'anana, I'll bring all three of you over to her house, it'll be relaxed, fun, and way cheaper.

And let me just say for the life of me, I don't know why Israeli hairdressers have the urge to turn every brunette's hair the same reddish color. Which reminds me, Imshin, you never really said bottom-line if you liked it or not?

Friday, April 04, 2003

How Awful

My heart is in my throat since hearing just now that Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly was killed in a jeep accident in Iraq. They say that no one really pays attention to bylines in newspapers the way that other journalists do, and I plead guilty. I feel like I "know" reporters that I've been reading and admiring for years. If in previous wars, journalists were clamoring for access to what was going on in the field, this one has taught us that access has its price.

Here is his last column to demonstrate to those who may not be familiar with his work what a loss this is to American journalism.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

This is WAR -- Stop Relaxing!

Israelis are all obviously far too calm and happy at the moment, enjoying the nice weather and worrying about trivial matters like general strikes, so Ha'aretz has got to hit us with an article like this:

The Israel Defense Forces has stepped up its level of readiness - primarily with respect to its intelligence-gathering operations - as part of an effort to keep up with developments in Iraq on the eve of the battle for Baghdad. The defense establishment believes this battle is likely to be the turning point of the entire campaign and could push Saddam Hussein into using nonconventional weapons.

Aside from the heightened awareness and increased efforts to receive reports on use of nonconventional weapons against coalition forces as quickly as possible, defense sources stressed last night that there had been no changes to their assessments of the situation and that the likelihood of an attack on Israel was still low.

(doom-and-gloom background music)

Nevertheless, the sources added that this situation could change rapidly.

Well, if it does, we're all pretty screwed. Except for schoolkids, exactly nobody is toting around their gas mask anymore (I mean, I would have looked pretty dumb carrying mine at the beach two days ago.)
Defending the Jewish Female Libido

So here's how it goes. A Canadian blogger named Angua writes what he thinks is an amusing riff on White House Master of Ceremonies Ari Fleischer. It might have faded away quietly, except that popular Calpundit decided it was too hilarious not to reprint and comment "Who says Canadians can't be funny?

So via Calpundit, it reached Judith Weiss, whose blog brought it to my attention.

Angua writes:

"Incidentally, this is why Jewish men are able to breed:

(Then there an excerpt from the White House briefing transcript of an inane exchange between Fleischer and reporters, with the usual lame jokes.)

Angua continues:

Jewish women are genetically trained to look at a balding guy in glasses who is a professional weasel working as a shill for an alleged "war criminal" and go, "Wow, he can make funny unscripted jokes under pressure. Hot!" Do you have any other explainations?" "

OK, politics aside for the moment. I've got no great affection for (or attraction to) Ari Fleischer. But if you're going to abuse him, abuse HIM, don't turn it into an assault on the sexuality of Jewish women. Believe me, we've got enough jokes written about us as it is.

Not to mention that this is completely off-base factually. The woman who finds Ari "hot" and presumably plans to breed little Fleischers is his new wife, White House staffer Rebecca Davis, a midwestern Catholic.

According to the article last year in The Forward detailing their interfaith wedding: Fleischer, 41, met Davis, 26, an Indiana native and staffer at the Office of Management and Budget, at the White House during the spring of 2001. The couple dated for a year; Fleischer proposed with a Tiffany's solitaire ring on a Sunday afternoon in late April.

Presumably it was more important to Ari to marry within the party.

So back off, Angua. By the way, how hot are you?
So What Would Be So Bad About the Hilton?

"Channel Two television news reported that six Israeli soldiers are spending their reserves duty guarding a lone settler at the illegal outpost of Mevo Dotan B, not far from Jenin.

MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said guarding the Mevo Dotan settler was costing Israel $43,000 a month and that he had raised the issue with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week. Sharon said he would look into the matter.

"We are not talking about the army securing residents," Cohen said. "We are talking about a lone settler who is acting insubordinately and he is causing six reserves soldiers to endanger their lives," he added.

Israeli media reports said the six reserves soldiers offered to pool their money and pay for the settler's stay in a hotel inside the Green Line so they would not have to guard him anymore. According to the reports, the settler declined."

Here's the full story.

Maybe I should tell my son that this is why they can't pay the teachers? (See post below)

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

My Son, the Future Prime Minister of Israel

Back in Rhode Island where I grew up, the kids pray for snow days. Adults dread them. Here in Israel -- the equivalent is a strike day.

Today, all schools have delayed opening until 10 AM due to a teacher's strike protesting Bibi's budget cuts. My six-year-old, was, naturally thrilled, but asked me to explain to him what a strike is. So, trying my best to do it at a kindergarten level, I said, "The teachers work very hard and want to be paid enough money to buy the things they need. The government says that it can't pay them that much, because they don't have enough money. So the teachers get upset and say that if they don't get the money they need, they are not going to work until 10 o'clock."

He asked, "Are the teachers angry?" I answered, "Yes, they are angry, but at the government, not at the children."

He thought and thought -- he's a typical male in that he was never presented with a problem that he didn't try to fix. He asked me several follow-up questions as to how the government could acquire more money. I tried to avoid having to get into a deep discussion about economic theory.

Finally, he said, "I know! There are a lot of governments in the world! We could just ask another government for the money."

I just smiled and nodded and told him that was a good idea, as if no one around here had ever thought of it before....

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

"Now Do You Understand Us, World?"

Israel's Channel 2 News military reporter Roni Daniel sounded downright plaintive last night when discussing the problems that the U.S. forces are having at checkpoints and in urban areas, distinguishing friend from foe, innocent civilian from guerrilla fighter.

Daniel and some of the Israelis in this New York Times piece echoed the kind of righteous indignation I've heard from a lot of people as the war has unfolded. They express hope that the world will now understand what we are facing, how difficult this kind of fighting is, and that now maybe our actions in the territories will be seen more sympathetically by the international media. That after their "embedding" experience, the representatives of news organizations will understand that even when the IDF does the best it can to focus on its mission of rooting out terrorism (happening in Tulkarm even as I write) that some civilians will get hurt, no matter how hard they try or how much restraint they exercise.

Forget about it, says Barry Rubin. That's big-time wishful thinking, he says. Here's a sample:

"Simply put: Things thought to apply only to Israel have now been shown to work almost equally against the United States. Problems attributed to an Israeli hasbara weakness also hold true for the mighty and competent American public relations system. Attitudes attributable to anti-Semitism are paralleled by the effects of anti-Americanism....In short, Israel's situation is by no means unique. Deeper, systemic, problems about how governments, media, and intellectuals function and how they view the world can work against anyone, or at least anyone who deals with the Middle East...The information/hasbara battle is unwinnable not because of ineptness but because Arab and many European governments, all of the Arab and much of the European media, and a large part of the world's intellectual class will not give you a fair chance. They will quickly declare your intentions bad, your leaders dishonorable, your plans unworkable, and your efforts unsuccessful. It is dreadful that the world's fortunes in the 21st century must still be determined by war.
But given this sad fact, it is fortunate that its outcome will be determined not by the war of words but on the battlefield, or at least in the material sphere of achievement."

This is the first time I've heard someone claim that the ARABS are disproportionately influencing world media and intellectual life, turning the traditional accusations against the Jews on its ear. Not totally unjustified, however, in light of what we've seen over the past two years, in an era of al-Jazeera and academic boycotts against Israel.

His conclusion troubles me. So what do we do? Give up? Decide that they are going to hate us no matter what so we stop trying to make our case? Rely solely on our brainpower and military might? Surrender the "war of words?" Settle for being strong but allow hate and resentment for us to grow worldwide? I don't think so.
(Thanks, Talg)

Speaking of word warriors, check out the E-mail exchanges between feisty blogger Asparagirl and a hapless anti-Israel E-mailer. Good job fighting on the front lines. She's only 23 years old. Man, I feel ancient.
Spring Has Sprung

A beautiful, glorious spring day in Ra'anana. The sun is shining, everyone is outside getting their exercise. The only cloud on the local landscape is the fact that we are still toting around these gas mask boxes. Today, I'm flipping between CNN, Fox, and Sky, waiting for the Battle of Baghdad, and praying it won't be completely horrible. And that we'll get the "all clear" sign soon.

Update: Forget spring, we've jumped right to summer with a definite heat wave. After school ended, I picked up my son and headed to the beach with a friend and her children. As we lounged on a blanket watching the kids play in the sand and surf, the Mediterranean lapping at our toes, we said to each other, "Boy, it's tough living in a war zone."
Scary, scary, scary

SARS is the story that got buried under the war. If I had to pick between the threats that face me right now or this scary pneumonia, I'll take the Middle East over the Far East. So far, no cases reported in Israel. I'm hoping that this might be the silver lining of the war and our lousy economy -- normally, we have a pretty steady flow of foreign workers coming in from the Far East, particularly China. I hope that the missile threat and the fact that contractors are broke means that over the past few months, that flow was halted. I'm sure at this point, they've got to be doing some serious screening.

Update: I should have knocked on wood a few times before posting this. I think I jinxed us: of course, on the news tonight there is the story of an Israeli businessman who returned recently from a business trip to Singapore, who is in Beilinson Hospital with SARS-like symptoms. A close friend of mine cancelled a business trip to Singapore last week, and at the time, the disease was not on my radar screen. I thought she was cancelling because she didn't want to leave her kids alone with the Iraq threat, but of course, she was just being careful about her health.
Ya Think the Justices will have to View Playboy for Hours, Many Evenings in a Row, In Order To Make Their Decision?

Soft Porn and Hard Dilemmas

How can you resist a newspaper story with a headline like this? It's an extensive article by crack Ha'aretz legal reporter Moshe Gorali. In summary:

The state cannot censor the TV viewer in his home, argue those who want the Playboy channel broadcast. Women will be seen as sex objects, warn those opposed. And now an expanded panel of 11 High Court justices must rule on the pros and cons of the case.

The central legal question is whether or not pornography objectifies women and therefore violates "human dignity." Well, yeah, it does. But so does "Joe Millionaire," and that's being broadcast in Israel right now without any complaints.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Score One for the Radical Fringe

Whatever one might think of the Rachel Corrie bulldozer debacle, it has had an impact. The Hebrew-language website Ynet quotes a senior IDF official as saying that the army is officially abandoning the tactic of bulldozing houses in Gaza because the army "has come to the conclusion that the damage to Israel's image internationally is greater than its effectiveness" as a terror-fighting tool. The right is condemning it as the military capitulating to the media. A left-wing politician, Ran Cohen of Meretz hailed it, saying that that "world public opinion has managed to accomplish what morality and common sense failed to acheive."
Bye, Bye Starbucks -- and Why It Flopped

Starbucks agrees to close Israel operations

Globes correspondent 31 Mar 03 17:27

Starbucks Coffee International and Israel’s Delek Group today announced they had reached an agreement to end their joint venture in Israel, and that the Starbucks chain in Israel would close. The decision to dissolve the joint venture has been due to on-going operational challenges in the market, the companies said in a statement. Israel is one of the few places in the world where Starbucks has failed to penetrate the market.

So you want to know what the "operational challenges" were?

First off, Israelis have a million places to get cheap cappucino. Unlike American coffee, the standard cup of coffee here already has frothed milk, it's called "Cafe Hafuch." If you want to charge high prices for your coffee, you've got to offer something special. And not just armchairs.

Secondly, Starbucks arrived too late. Unlike America, where they pioneered the upscale cappucino joint concept, by the time Starbucks arrived in Israel, we had three established, high-quality local brands happening: Ilan's, Arcaffe, and Aroma. They were even beaten in by the California cappucino purveyor, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. By the time they got here, caffeine addicts already were set in their ways and loyal to their brands.

Third, they didn't adapt their concept to the Israeli public. This is a country of Jews. We want FOOD with our coffee. Not a scone, not a muffin. Real food. Arcaffe got the message, and has a whole bakery in some of its outlets, you can get soup, you can get lasagna, you can get a salad. Aroma serves a full-scale breakfast. Coffee Bean and Ilan's have an extensive array of sandwiches.

Israelis like things the way they like them. Even McDonald's and Burger King have had to tinker with their menus to suit local tastes.

But don't feel too badly, Starbucks. Dunkin' Donuts didn't make it here, either.
Passover Camp

With the long Passover school vacation looming ahead, my son's after-school program sent home a note with their plan to keep the kids occupied. I just had to translate the beginning of the note:

Spring Passover Camp

Despite the "situation" we are going ahead with our plans for a spring Passover camp program. The camp will include daily nature-oriented field trips, but only to enclosed buildings or to fenced-in areas. The trips will be accompanied by an armed security detail.

We've become so used to living like this, that I hardly blinked when I first read the note. It seemed like a completely practical note to send home to the parents. The woman who runs the program simply knew that every single parent was going to call her and ask about the security arrangements so she simply saved herself the time and trouble. I can't really believe I actually live in a time and place in which you have to bring an armed guard to escort 15 little kids to go on a nature walk or horseback riding in order to get their mothers to agree to send them....? But you do. I hope there's room in the van for the 15 gas mask kits.
Well, This Sounds Like Good News.....

AS SAYLIYA CAMP, Qatar (Reuters) - U.S. special forces are in control of movement across Iraq's western desert, a senior U.S. commander said on Monday. "We are denying freedom of movement throughout the western desert and are being very effective at it," Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told a news briefing in Qatar.

So does that mean can we get stop schlepping our gas masks around yet? Or does the fact that the Scuds can't be moved into western Iraq still mean that there might be some hidden under a rock somewhere that could still be operated?

I was talking to my friends today over coffee and we discussed all of the factors that would have to come into play for us to really be in danger from Iraq.

1. Saddam has to want to attack us
2. He has to have the means to attack us: i.e., a Scud on a launcher in place in Western Iraq or a drone or whatever
3. He has to have enough communication working to be able to give the order to let it fly
4. His weapon has to actually work and not malfunction
5. The Patriots and other anti-missile systems in place have to fail to intercept it

So while we might not feel totally invincible, the odds seem to be overwhelmingly in our favor. Halfway through the discussion, I had to point out that it was a little absurd that we were talking about the threat from Saddam over coffee in a cafe in central Israel....but that's another story.
The Real Debate of this War...

Who is the most attractive male correspondent this time around, grabbing the title of "Scud Stud" away from Gulf War I winner, Arthur Kent (where is he today, anyway?)

The two leading contenders, Michele claims in A Small Victory, are NBC's David Bloom and Fox's Rick Leventhal. We don't see NBC in Israel, so I can't make an informed choice. But from the still pictures, and having watched Bloom in the past, Leventhal is more my cup of tea. I'd rather be embedded with him.

(On a professional level, I've heard nothing but praise for Bloom's reporting. But we're not being professional at the moment, are we?)

The staff shuffling at CNN means that the current correspondent in Israel is Kelly Wallace , which pleases the local male population to no end. Seeing her on the air, she reminds me of the girls I went to prep school with in New England. Perky, blond, and always perfectly dressed and accessorized. Reporting from the suicide bombing in Netanya yesterday, she had her hair pulled back with this cute tortoise-shell barrette. Bet she has no problem getting one-on-one interviews with Israeli leaders. Good thing she's here, I can't picture her getting all dirty and mussed up with the troops in Iraq. That's a job for the tougher Christiane Amanpour, who truly doesn't seem to mind being on the air wearing the same shirt for four days in a row.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Suicide Bombing in Netanya

I'm sitting here listening to the initial reports on the radio of a suicide bombing in Netanya at a cafe. An hour ago, I was sitting in a cafe here in Ra'anana, just 20 minutes away. There was a guard at the door, but still....Too close for comfort.

Memo to friends and family: I'm fine. Sounds like no one was killed, one or two people seriously hurt, the rest only injured lightly. Terrible that this sounds like "good news." But it is far better than what could have been -- it is a beautiful day and everyone is out and about, flocking to outdoor cafes. On the radio, they are already calling it a "miracle." And a reminder that with all of the fuss about Iraq, our biggest threat is closer to home.

If these light casualty figures continue, it is thanks to pure luck: or to a diligent guard.

I hope this is the worst we see today. It's Land Day and the atmosphere is generally tense because of the Iraqi situation.

A commentator just observed correctly on the radio that all sides are going to be looking at the reaction/condemnation of the Palestinian Authority's new Prime Minister Abu Mazen with a microscope.

Update: Unclear how many people were injured all told -- I'm hearing numbers between 38-58. Bottom line is that 15 are still in the hospital, and it sounds that at least 4-5 were seriously wounded. Here are the reports in Ha'aretz and The Jerusalem Post.

No word from Abu Mazen, but the secretary of the Islamic Jihad, who sent the bomber, has plenty to say: "This is our way of showing solidarity with the people of Iraq, " he said, adding that the bombing was a "gift to the heroic Iraqi people" and that Islamic Jihad had sent volunteers for suicide missions to Baghdad. I hope they all go. We'll pay for the tickets.

I like the pithy description of the event put forth by Israeli GuyGil Shterzer:

"The story here is about a brave soldier, a damn ass cafe owner who didn’t employ a security guard a monstrous society that produces human bombs and a stupid country that still doesn’t have a goddamn security fence."
How Does a Media Outlet Know that It's Pissing a Lot of People Off?

When a new group blog is born, devoted solely to criticizing them. Here it is, the Biased BBC Blog. How long till the left starts the equivalent regarding Fox News?
Mixed Messages

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Sunday announced at the weekly cabinet meeting a decision to cut the number of army reservists called up for the Iraq war in those places where they are not needed..

Mofaz added that assessments regarding the Iraqi threat to Israel have not changed and that Israel will remain on high alert, especially in the Home Front Command, the Air Force and Intelligence branches. Neverthless, the army continues to be ready for the possibility of an immediate call-up of hundreds of reservists. He called on the public to maintain their sealed rooms and to take their gas mask kits with them at all times. This from Ha'aretz.

Mofaz was the only cabinet minister who brought his gas mask to the meeting, according to Army Radio. You've got to love our leadership.