Monday, October 30, 2006

Electronic Weirdness Department: Counting Comments

As a software developer with over 25 years’ experience – and the grey hair to prove it – I have a strong aversion to computer programs that don’t work. The only thing more annoying than software that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do is broken software (or hardware, for that matter) that all of a sudden starts working properly for no discernable reason. Inconsistency sucks. It’s evil. If I wanted to deal with inconsistency, I’d have found a career dealing with people or animals instead of computers.

So, as a way of expressing myself without the nasty human-interface stuff, I took up blogging as a penance hobby. Beats talking to real people, right? I get to say what I want, nobody can interrupt me, and if nobody actually pays attention to what I’m saying, well, that’s just normal – they don’t pay attention in person either. No arguments, no talking back, I can delete comments I don’t like. In cyberspace, nobody can hear you scream – unless you’re Crystal, of course.

Great. I’ve got a hobby. Just me talking to a computer, not giving a flying copulation who’s reading what I write (which is why I check my visitor stats no more than once every half hour or so, usually). Everything is smooth and simple. No worries. No expenses to speak of: free blog platform and hosting courtesy of, free boring blog template provided by same, future more exciting template to be provided by Vaguely Sinister Wife (who, inexplicably, does things like this for me out of the goodness of her lethal little heart), free sidebar toys. No pressure, as long as I come up with a new post every few days. (Actually, that can add up to rather a lot of pressure.) No aggravations.

No aggravations…

No aggravations?

So tell me: Why can’t Blogger decide how many comments there are on my last post?!? On my main page, Blogger tell me that “Ditching Israel: a false panacea” has four comments. But the single-article version and the monthly archive page say it has five comments. And the “post a comment” page has six comments on it – including the last one I wrote, the absence of which on the single-article page tipped me off to the problem.

Now if Blogger simply wasn’t working for a while, I wouldn’t complain – after all, it’s a free service, and they hardly owe me perfect, 365-day-per-year interruption-free service for the money I’m not paying them. If the comment counter were showing zero, I could understand; after all, I’ve written a bug or two in my time, some of which were doozies. I could even contain my frustration if Blogger had lost a comment or two; shit happens, especially to me.

But how can Blogger come up with three completely different numbers for the same thing? If they have my last comment in their system, why does it show up only on the “post a comment” page and not elsewhere? Why am I seeing this problem only on my most recent post – a slightly boring, but harmless and well-intentioned little essay? What kind of screwed-up logic from Hell could create such an annoying discrepancy? WHY DOES BLOGGER HATE ME?!?

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Sorry for shouting. While I take some deep breaths, please leave comments to console me and help me calm down. Maybe Blogger will even display them properly.

Stupid hobby.

Addendum: Now that I’ve posted this semi-coherent rant touching cri de coeur, the comment counter on my main page, as well as the archive page and the single-post page, is showing six comments for my previous post, as it should. I look like an idiot, even though I didn’t do anything wrong. I hate computers.

Appendix: I have Blogger set up to email me every article that I post, along with every comment that someone posts. Interestingly enough (at least to me), just after I posted this piece, the last two comments that had been posted on my previous article – both of them more than 24 hours old by the time Blogger emailed them to me – suddenly turned up in my inbox. I was thrilled, of course: There really was a glitch at Blogger! I’m not necessarily an idiot! Then, of course, the Blogger server went down so I couldn't tell anyone about what happened.

Have I mentioned that I hate computers?

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ditching Israel: a false panacea

American support for Israel has long been a loaded political issue. Whatever difficulty the United States faces, opponents of Israel find some way to claim that it’s all because of U.S. involvement with Israel. America’s bogged down in Iraq? Well, Bush and his guiding neocons sent the troops in just to protect Israel, right? America’s economy isn’t in great shape? Well, what can you expect when Israel soaks up untold billions in American aid? Oil shortages? Let’s not even get started. And since 9/11, everyone’s thinking about terrorism – and, as usual, it’s all Israel’s fault.

I wasn’t entirely surprised, then, to receive the following question:

If we (America) ditched Israel, wouldn’t that solve all our terrorism problems?

Here’s my response:

The short answer: No.

The medium-length answer: No, it wouldn’t, for various reasons.

First, not all terrorism emanates from the Moslem world (although Islamist terrorism is definitely the flavor of the month nowadays). Anything that would be perceived as a major victory for Islamist terrorists would encourage not only further Islamist terrorism, but also non-Islamist terrorism. It’s a very bad idea to hand any terrorist, anywhere, a major victory, unless the compensating benefits are enormous. Appeasing terrorists does not reduce terrorism – it encourages terrorism.

Second, not all Islamist terrorism has anything to do with Israel. In fact, most of the Islamist terror directed at targets outside Israel is organized, inspired, and sponsored by al-Qaeda (including its many offshoots) and Iran – and neither of these is primarily concerned with Israel. (Both, of course, dislike us, and Iran in particular does sponsor a great deal of anti-Israel terrorism; but both have agendas far beyond opposition to Israel. Al-Qaeda, in particular, is widely viewed in the Arab world as having publicly adopted opposition to Israel as an opportunistic attempt to cash in on the general anti-Israel sentiment in the region.)

Radical Islamic groups perceive themselves as being immersed in a global struggle against “infidels” – a “clash of civilizations”, to borrow a phrase. In this view, Israel is certainly one of the insults inflicted on the Islamic world by the West, but it is hardly the only one, or even the most important one. Were Israel magically to disappear tomorrow, the Islamic world would still be mostly poor, backward, ignorant, envious, and led by incompetent despots; and the West, with the United States as its largest, richest, most powerful, and most “decadent” member, would still be the enemy.

Terrorism, in my view, results from a combination of real – and, more importantly, perceived – grievances, and an ideology that focuses attention on these grievances, promotes violence as a “solution” to them, discourages societal introspection, and dehumanizes “the other”. Once a society has embraced terrorism as a strategy to cope with its self-perceived problems, I believe that a dynamic is established that is very difficult to eliminate; and in particular, I don’t believe that removing the ostensible external causes of grievance is likely to have a significant effect in reducing terrorism emanating from such societies. It’s simply too easy to find new grievances.

Third, eliminating U.S. support for Israel would not eliminate Israel itself – and would cause a great deal of damage to the United States. Israel, while small, is relatively prosperous and technologically advanced, with a per-capita GDP (according to the CIA estimate for 2005) of almost $25,000 and a total GDP of well over $100 billion. This means that U.S. aid to Israel, at about $2 billion per year, represents less than 2 percent of our annual GDP; and in fact, this overstates the importance of this aid, since much of it consists of credits that we must use to purchase U.S.-manufactured military hardware that we would otherwise make – and export – ourselves. In effect, then, the bottom-line value to Israel of the aid it receives from the United States is far less than the official amount of that aid; and for the same reason, the real financial cost to the U.S. of this aid is much lower than it appears. So while losing this U.S. aid would be costly to Israel, it would hardly be fatal to us. (Further, U.S. weapons that are known to be used by Israel are considered to be especially attractive to other international buyers; thus, having Israel as a major export customer brings substantial financial rewards to the U.S. defense industry.)

Were the U.S. to “ditch” Israel, the political and military cost to America would be substantial. While losing U.S. diplomatic support would be painful and difficult for Israel, being perceived as having abandoned one of its closest allies would be terribly damaging to America’s reputation for loyalty and trustworthiness. It would also leave the U.S. without a single strong, stable, genuinely friendly, and reliable ally in the Middle East.

In short, I don’t believe that abandoning support for Israel would in any way help to reduce terror attacks on the United States; in fact, I believe that such a move would only encourage terror organizations and their supporters to continue targeting the U.S. If America’s antagonists believe that America is weak and inconstant, they will redouble their efforts. Nothing is as encouraging as success.

(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Welcome to the world, Havel Havelim #90!

The 90th edition of Havel Havelim (the Jewish/Israeli blog carnival) is here – hosted by Soccer Dad. There’s lots of great stuff to read, so click on over!

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

“So what” Department: New review, new sidebar, new title – nu?

This blog has been reviewed yet again – this time by the good (if somewhat gothic in appearance) folks at Ask And Ye Shall Receive. Strangely enough, they seemed to like it; probably their minds have gone from listening to the wrong sort of music. Happens to the best of us.

Having both reviews come out on the same day – particularly considering that both “Ask” and “I Talk Too Much” took several weeks to get around to my blog – was a bit of a surprise. The fact that the “Ask” reviewer was much more positive than the crew at IT2M wasn’t surprising, however; it just reinforces what seems to be the general verdict about this blog: it’s not for everyone. Most people who meet me say more or less the same thing – I’m not for everyone either. So apparently my faulty blog accurately conveys my faulty personality.

Everyone did seem to agree on a few things:

  • “Peekaboo posts” – good.

  • “Peekaboo sidebar” – good.

  • Still too much bric-a-brac on the sidebar – bad.

  • Long, abstruse posts – probably okay if anyone had the patience to read them.

  • My template – uninspiring at best.

…And while I didn’t get any particular criticism of the blog’s title, I was liking it less and less over time; it just didn’t seem accurately to convey what I was getting at. (I was also advised that it would be smart to get “Middle East” into the blog’s title rather than “Mideast”, to attract more search-engine users.)

So, after pondering the reviews and my own thoughts, I made a few changes:

  • I ditched the “link-swap” ads on the sidebar.

  • I reorganized the sidebar stuff into five categories, each with its own “peekaboo” menu.

  • When I saw that multi-level “peekaboos” worked so splendidly, a mad gleam came into my eyes (or so I gathered from the reaction of the various cats, Wolfoid Dog, and Vaguely Sinister Wife – all of whom edged away from me and eyed the room’s exits). Why not create the ultimate uncluttered blog sidebar? Why not, indeed! So I did it. I’ve now got just about the world’s shortest sidebar, until you start clicking on it. (I’m reminded of a beloved Ephraim Kishon story, “The Silver Frenzy” – evidently do-it-yourself projects make a lot of guys somewhat manic.)

  • I gave my blog a new title. Goodbye, “On the Contrary: Don’s Mideast Musings”. Hello, “You’ll come for the terrorism, you’ll stay for the taxes – welcome to the Middle East!”

So far, nobody seems to care about most of these changes; I ascribe this lackluster response to the masses’ usual inability to appreciate genius in its own time. Several readers have expressed mild approval of the change in title, although pretty much everyone seems to be concerned about how long it is. “How can we possibly ever link to one of your articles now?” they whine. “Just quoting your blog title will make our links two pages long!”

Hmph. Philistines. Art is art, and if my muse demands of me a fifteen-word blog title, I dare not argue. One dismisses muses at one’s peril – they have important friends.

But I suppose that I should show some mercy, to my own poor typing fingers if not to my readers. So now I have to come up with an official, approved shorter version of the new blog title. After deep reflection, I’ve narrowed it down to two choices:

  • “Welcome to the Middle East!” – functional, friendly, but perhaps a bit too white-bread perky for my taste;

  • “You’ll Come for the Terrorism” – darker, stranger, scarier. Kind of like me, except that most people don’t find me all that dark or scary.

So, Dear Readers: What do you think? Do we go for the bland, non-threatening “Welcome”, or shall we embrace “Terrorism”? Your opinions are cordially requested; who knows, I might even pay attention to them!

Or not.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

I’ve been slapped!

Some time ago, I submitted this blog to the kind, gentle folks at for one of their famous no-holds-barred, obscene-but-honest reviews. After sending them my information, I began to read what they had to say about other blogs whose owners had dared to request a review - and I began to be very, very frightened.

I quickly realized that my sidebar was far too long and sloppy; this alone was going to get me a right reaming. My frequently-long posts were also going to be problematic. So I scurried to find some technical solutions to these problems - without, G_d forbid, actually putting less stuff on my sidebar or learning to write short posts! I dare to say that I succeeded to a degree; and so when Sassie Sadie at italk2much got around to reviewing On the Contrary last night, she indeed didn’t find too much to complain about.

That said, she didn't find all that much to praise, either:

D’oh. I tried to read this blog. I’m sure that the person writes well and that they have a well-meaning message to send out. But it just seems so all over the place that I can’t follow it. He seems like a nice fellow though. The blog may be a bit too political for some. The template is nothing to write home about. It’s simple. He has used the More/Less code in his sidebar. Thankfully, because there is a f_ckton of useless sh_t in there. [Vowels deleted to avoid offending the sensibilities of very sensitive readers with very limited imaginations. You’re welcome. -Don] Sorry, not much to say on this one. It is what it is.

Well, it wasn’t quite the glowing endorsement I’d fantasized about receiving; but considering how the italk2much reviewers react to a solid majority of the blogs they review, it wasn’t half bad either. On the Contrary is definitely visually dull, and has no pretensions of being otherwise (although I'm thinking of adding a graphical banner). At least I’ve managed to avoid making the blog hard to read, for those few people interested in reading it.

So my blog “is what it is”? I guess I can live with that. Thanks, IT2M!

P.S. I’m also thinking of giving the blog a new title; any suggestions? And no, I’ve already thought of “Yawn: the blog”!
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Strategic assets and white elephants

I just answered an question relating to to supposed inadvisability of Israeli territorial “concessions” to our Arab neighbors. The question is one that comes up rather often in discussions of Israeli policy and politics; so I think my answer may be worth sharing. A____ gave a fairly thorough account of the historical enmity to Israel of the various Arab countries, then asked:

If the Arabs do not want a binational solution or any form of peace, then they will not stop until Israel is fully destroyed; so doesn’t giving them land just speed up the “wiping israel off the face of the earth” process?

Dear A____ - Your description of Arab states’ hostility to Israel is factual enough, as far as it goes; but I can’t say whether it’s actually a useful answer to any particular question. In response to your question, I’d like first to point out that there is a big difference between talking about “the Arab states” and talking about “the Arabs”, as you did. “The Arab states” refers to a relatively small group of countries (or, more accurately, governments) with known histories and policies, such that it’s possible to say definite and verifiable things about them. For example, I can say that among the Arab countries near Israel, only Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel and recognize its existence, and know that I’m saying something true. On the other hand, to say that “the Arabs do not want any form of peace with Israel” is to assume that all Arabs think exactly the same way - a gross over-generalization. There are many millions of Arabs, and among those millions of people there is a great deal of diversity of opinion. We should all get out of the habit of talking about “the Arabs” as if they were all alike, just as we should expect others to avoid making sweeping generalizations about “the Jews”. Second, I believe you’re making one of the classic mistakes about Israeli policy regarding territorial withdrawal. You’re assuming that all land Israel holds is an asset, such that any time we “give” land to the Palestinians (or the Syrians, or the Lebanese, or whoever) we are strengthening them and weakening ourselves. If this were true, obviously it would be important to retain as much land as possible, and to make territorial concessions (if we made them at all) only in return for very substantial benefits. Indeed, this assumption is true in certain cases. The Golan Heights, for example, has genuine strategic importance for Israel - both in regard to our water supply and in direct military terms. Giving up the Golan Heights and returning to the international border - or worse, the 4 June 1967 de facto border, which had some Israeli land under Syrian control - would genuinely weaken us, and thus it would make sense to make this concession only in return for full, reliable, and permanent peace with Syria and other local Arab states. On the other hand, I see no reason to view Israel’s former settlements in the Gaza Strip as an asset to Israel: they were hugely costly to defend, and the only people who benefited from them were a few farmers who made substantial profits by using cheap Palestinian and Thai labor, and irrigated their crops with heavily-subsidized water. As far as I’m concerned, getting out of the Gaza Strip made Israel stronger and more viable, not less; and while the Palestinians certainly “spin” our withdrawal as a victory for them, I believe that in the long run the Disengagement was a victory for Israel. (All this has nothing to do with the issue of how much compensation should have been paid to our former Gaza Strip settlers and how well or badly their resettlement has been handled; the fact that I believe the Disengagement was a good idea doesn’t mean I think the Disengagement was carried out perfectly.) Similarly, I support retaining some parts of the West Bank, in order to strengthen Israel’s strategic position compared to the pre-1967 situation; but I see no reason that Israel should retain all the small settlements scattered through the entire West Bank, where a few thousand settlers live among two million Palestinians. Many of these small settlements are very costly to defend, and do not provide any compensating benefit to Israel. How is such a settlement an asset to Israel? Why does closing down such a settlement aid the process of “wiping Israel off the map”? In short, I believe that certain pieces of land are genuine assets, while other pieces of land are “white elephants” in the technical sense: that is, supposed “assets” that in fact cost far more to maintain than they yield in benefits. (Remember that white elephants were given by the King of Thailand to his enemies: they were holy so they couldn't be used for work, they were a gift from the King so they couldn’t be discarded, and they cost a great deal to feed!) It seems to me that the best way for Israel to survive is to focus less on how horrible “the Arabs” are, and instead focus on how we can strengthen ourselves. What can we do to improve our economy (which in turn supports our military and our educational system)? What can we do to increase our internal cohesiveness? How can we manage our affairs so that we can exist within some vaguely rational border as a democratic state with a solid Jewish majority? If Israel does a good job of strengthening itself - which mostly means strengthening its own population and institutions - nobody is going to be able to “wipe us off the face of the earth”, at least not without using nuclear weapons and presumably facing a massive retaliation in kind. But if we fixate on control of land as the sole criterion for security, we are going to neglect other factors which are in reality much more critical to our long-term survival. Best regards, -Don Radlauer

(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Havel Havelim #89 is up!

My friend and colleague Batya is the editor of the long-awaited après-Sukkoth edition of the Havel Havelim Jewish/Israeli blog carnival, and, as usual, she’s done a great job of putting it together. Enjoy!
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Saturday, October 14, 2006

My contribution to humanity: Don’s aphorism of the day

All my regular readers have come to rely on this blog for pithy aphorisms that guide them through their daily lives; this may explain why I have very few regular readers. However, today I’ve come up with a truly great aphorism, a paragon of pith, a phrase-o'-wisdom that will make our entire species and its pets smarter, nobler, and more spiritual:

I pitied myself because I had no headlights, until I rear-ended a man who had no brake lights.

Having taken these words into your heart, you are now an enlightened being - and don’t forget who enlightened you! If you meet Buddha on the road, tell him that he’s all washed up in this town - the guy may have been all right in his day, but where’s his blog?

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Achieving mindlessness: A tale of fish and fuel injectors

So - we made it to Eilat.

Mister Mechanic stayed in his shop under Vaguely Sinister Wife’s watchful eye (and concealed .45) late into the evening, reassembling Long-Suffering Renault’s engine, now including the correct (I hope!) timing belt, water pump, and their exciting collection of fashion accessories. As he labored, he frequently called his associate who had disassembled the thing, to ask what went where; since the guy specializes in four-by-fours rather than family cars, apparently he hadn’t done this particular job on this particular model before. Somehow he got the engine back together, with only a few probably-unimportant parts left over; V.S.W. drove home and life continued in its course. More or less. The first time I drove the Renault, I noticed that it was idling a bit rough. Of course, I was concerned. Maybe one of those unimportant left-over parts actually was supposed to do something? But the car did seem to run decently once it had warmed up a bit, so I reassured myself that things must not be too bad. After all, the last time Long-Suffering Renault had a problem with the timing belt, the results were a rather catastrophic engine failure rather than just a little rough going; I assumed that if Mister Mechanic had made some drastic error, it would manifest in some equally spectacular fashion. Before all this drama started, I had already been concerned that my car was showing some manifestations of A.A.S. (Automotive Angst Syndrome, that is - although as a French car, it probably prefers to be diagnosed with less-Germanic diseases of the soul). Mostly it ran fine; but once in a while it took a couple of attempts to start it, and a couple of times it stalled out on me at low speeds. The latter behavior was alarming; but as I do when Vaguely Sinister Wife fondles her chainsaw (a cherished birthday present from herself) and glances my way, I shrugged off the foreshadoings of possible doom. I'm a very good shrugger. On Sunday morning, then, we set out for Eilat. All seemed copacetic. The luggage fit in the trunk, the Wolfoid was happily ensconced in the back of V.S.W.’s jeep, and none of the human passengers had more than superficial knife wounds. So generous was my mood that I decided to give Long-Suffering Renault a treat: when we gassed up at the northern fringes of the Negev Desert, I added a serving of fuel-injector cleaner to the car’s dinner. For such virtue one should receive only nice rewards, no? No. As we proceeded into ever-deepening desert, my car began to seem distinctly anemic; while at 1.6 litres it’s never been exactly a muscle car, it was requiring much more gas-pedal action for much less impressive results than usual. And when it idled (and, for some reason, also at about 3000 R.P.M.) it vibrated alarmingly. Something was definitely amiss. I believe I managed to present a convincing image of sangfroid (I’d originally written “coolth”, but is is a French car, after all) and thus didn’t alarm my passengers overmuch, but I was certainly alarmed. Would we make it to Eilat? “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” - seldom have I so sincerely meditated on that mantra. We managed to progress determinedly if not steadily southwards; and it was with a huge sense of relief that I finally greeted the hotels of Eilat as we laboriously topped a rise and they appeared in the middle distance. We found the hotel - a fourth-rate Holiday Inn with the worst soundproofing I can recall in any hotel I’ve slept in that sponsors discotheques in its lobby every other evening - parked with only two or three stallouts, and proceeded with our vacation. (Wolfoid Dog is vacationing at a kennel here in Eilat, so we can visit him and see how he’s doing. I’m told he’s keeping company with a similarly wolfoid female, so I can only imagine him happy. In fact, I’m sometimes amazed that he doesn’t get tired just from smiling so much, the son of a bitch.)

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Yesterday we spent the day at the beach, snorkeling and relaxing - except for Long-Suffering Renault, which doesn’t swim and thus hung out at the beach’s parking lot all day. The day was exactly the kind of day that makes for completely uninteresting blogging: nothing dramatic happened, and the big excitement was watching fish in every color of the rainbow (sometimes on the same fish!) swim about trying hard to ignore the stupid tourists. I worked hard on achieving a state of Zen Vacation Mindlessness; this state of mind (or of non-mind) is difficult for me to achieve, even with sun, fish, and light reading (a history of the Auschwitz Sondercommando) ready to hand. I state with pride that I managed it, pretty much, at least by my own medium-to-abysmal standards. Today we took our car to a local mechanic, recommended by another mechanic who in turn had been recommended by a local friend of ours. He hooked a gizmo to our car’s internal computer, which promptly complained that one of its fuel injectors was unhappy. He informed us that a more detailed and reliable diagnosis would take a few hours, so we returned to Hotel Noisy; Vaguely Sinister Wife is out walking somewhere with Number One Daughter, and I’ve been left all alone in the hotel room with nothing but books, a bed, and the Internet. Poor me.
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This is billed as a “serious” blog, meaning that I’m supposed to be drawing cosmic (or at least locally cosmic) conclusions from all the stuff that goes on around me. But I’m on vacation, fer chrissake! Can’t I just skip the conclusion this once? No? Bastards. OK, so I’ve got to come up with some lesson I’ve learned from my automotive travails. Here’s a first stab at it; and if you don’t like the moral, you can find me in the water tomorrow and complain about it. I’ll be the one with a snorkel sticking out above the surface. Today’s profound lesson: Make lots of money, so you can... Buy a new car every few years, so you can... Throw it out (or flog it off on someone) before it starts needing serious repairs, so you can... Buy another one. (Repeat as needed.) It’s not much of a lesson, is it? But I am, after all, on vacation. Categories: .
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Original Idea of the Day: A rant about a car mechanic!

I try not to use blogging as a substitute for psychotherapy. Really I do. Partly because I don’t think it’s fair to expect unpaid strangers to slog through my neuroses, but mostly, I think, because I blog under my real name and I’m worried that y’all would send me bills for each 45 minutes you spent reading about my inner turmoil and conflicts over toilet training. Today, though, I’m gonna rant. I’m gonna rave. I’m gonna kvetch, ’cause I’m pissed. At what, you ask? Oh, this one’s new. This one’s exciting and original. I’m angry at my car mechanic! Still awake? Really? Maybe you should send me a bill. OK – so here’s the story: Vaguely Sinister Wife’s stepmother arrived today for a visit, leaving her home somewhere in Yenemvelt (which is one of those untranslatable Yiddish words that in this case refers to the far-northern stretches of America’s Midwest) to stay for a week or so in our happy climes. We’ve planned to spend next week in Eilat, with hotel rooms booked starting Sunday. And, just to be responsible, we brought my car to the mechanic on Wednesday morning, to get the timing belt and the water pump replaced before the drive down south. Nothing was broken, mind you; the water pump had a slight leak and the timing belt should be good for another 40,000 kilometers, but we figured we’d be virtuous and make sure the car was not going to die on us in the middle of the trackless wastes of the Negev Desert. The mechanic told us he should have the car ready for us at the end of the same day we brought it in – which was yesterday, as I write this. Yesterday evening came and went; no call from the mechanic. (Israelis are famous for calling when they have something they want to say, not when you expect them to call to keep you up to date; the idea of progress reports as a courtesy seems never to have reached our happy little country. Probably has something to do with the fact that telephones used to be an unreliable, scarce, and expensive luxury; but this mechanic came of age in an Israel with an excellent, modern phone system and more than one cell-phone per citizen.) Today we continued to hear nothing from the mechanic; finally, as evening approached, we called him to find out what was going on. It turns out that the mechanic’s part supplier had (supposedly) sent the wrong parts – after the mechanic had already spent a good deal of time on fiddly disassembly of the relevant bits of my car’s engine. The mechanic sent the parts back. The supplier sent different – but still incorrect – parts. Now the mechanic is hoping to get the right parts. Tomorrow is Friday, which is normally a half day for businesses like repair shops. Tomorrow evening is the beginning of Succoth, a major holiday – and the Sabbath to boot. And Sunday morning is when we’re supposed to be off to Eilat. (And yes, we’d told the mechanic in advance what our situation was; now stop interrupting, I’m on a roll here.) So: I don’t have a car. Vaguely Sinister Wife’s jeep (actually a little Suzuki Vitara) can hold four people and a couple of six-packs. (We were planning to take four people in my car, plus two people and Wolfoid Dog in the Vitara.) As of a couple hours ago, the mechanic has my car partly disassembled and doesn’t have the parts he needs to finish the job. Now, the natural solution – assuming the correct parts do not miraculously appear in the very near future – would be for the mechanic to give up for now, put the car back together as it was, wish us good luck on our trip to and from Eilat, try to get his stupid parts supplier to compensate him for his lost time, hope that our repeat business would be worth his extra trouble, and maybe overcharge us a bit when we come back and he redoes the repair. Normal, no? Ahhh, but this is Israel! When we reminded the mechanic that we absolutely need the car by Sunday morning at the latest, and that if he can’t finish the job he’s got to at least get it back to the perfectly drivable state it was in yesterday morning, he informed us that we would still have to pay him something like 600 shekels – call it U.S. $140, but remember that salaries here are much lower than they are in the States – for his labor taking the engine apart and reassembling it with the same old parts he started with. Now this, as we say in Hebrew, is not OK. So his parts supplier screwed up; why is this our problem? Mister Mechanic insists that the whole mess isn’t his fault, since he’s not the one who made the mistake. Very likely (since renting a car for a holiday week would cost a lot more than 600 shekels), we’ll indeed have to shell out the aforementioned sum for a car repair that didn’t happen; we’ll go away mad, and the mechanic already feels persecuted because we have unrealistic expectations having to do with not paying for services ineffectively rendered. And even if by some miracle he gets the right parts and fixes the car in time for our trip, we’ll never take either of our cars to him again: Screw-ups happen, and how could we ever feel comfortable doing business with a guy who expects us to pick up the bill when things go wrong in his operation?

*      *      *

The problem, of course, is that Mister Mechanic is passing the buck: The person at fault is the parts supplier, so we’re told that we can’t hold the mechanic responsible. But life doesn’t work that way. From the customer’s standpoint, “the mechanic” is not just the guy with a wrench in his hand; it’s the facility he works in, his network of suppliers, and so on. We don’t pay him to tighten (or, in the current case, loosen) bolts, but to fix cars – and the difference between those two concepts is an important one. The mechanic isn’t selling us his labor; he’s selling results. Labor he wastes because he hasn’t developed the right network of parts suppliers is his lookout. But since Mister Mechanic doesn’t seem to understand this, he’s going to lose us as a customer – along with a lot more that 600 shekels in future business.
*      *      *

At the moment, both Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy seem to be having their own Car Mechanic Moments. Here in Israel, generals and politicians are scrambling to absolve themselves of all blame (and cast it on their colleagues, of course) for the less-than-satisfactory outcome of the recent unpleasantness in Lebanon. (I’m still not sure whether to call it a war; it certainly lasted longer than many of our wars, but during most of that time it consisted almost entirely of aerial bombardment and not ground conflict. But unpleasant it certainly was, except possibly for the pilots; so “unpleasantness” it is.) And the Palestinians are having a great deal of trouble deciding whose job it is to make the trains run on time, or indeed whose job it is to build railroads (and pay teachers, and so on) in the first place. Lacking clear answers to their problems of governance, many Palestinians appear to be taking rather drastic measures (i.e. shooting one another) as a means of expressing their discontents. Nobody – Israeli or Palestinian – seems to be ready to say, “It’s my fault; I screwed up; I’ll fix it.” Why do I get the feeling that a lot of ordinary Israelis, along with a lot of ordinary Palestinians, would be happy to take their business elsewhere? Categories: , , .
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