Saturday, November 15, 2003
Isn't She Lovely?

For those of you wondering where I've been the last couple of days, I've been in the hospital with my wife. On Sunday, we had an appointment with our obstetrician. For a couple of weeks now, the baby has been registering a low-ish weight and was beginning to fall in the percentiles.

Given that we'd just about gotten to the 39th week, the doctor basically recommended that the baby would do better outside than in at this stage and booked us into the hospital for a stress test to see how the baby would hold up during labor. Based on the results of the test, they would recommend either inducing a birth or going for a caesarean section.

We came in Tuesday night and spent the night in the hospital, with my wife hooked up to monitors and getting some stuff to bring on mild contractions. The baby passed the test, so they decided to try and induce labor.

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. We spent three full days trying to bring on active labor. My wife was stuck in bed almost this entire time, hooked up to an IV drip and a monitor.

By Friday afternoon, we had begun to make some headway. However, on Friday night the doctor checked and saw that the baby''s head was not far down enough. Resignedly, he decided to operate as the safest option for mother and baby.

And so, Lia Cora Tsur was born at 23:35 Friday night. Both she and her momma are doing fine. After all the worrying about her weight, she came out at 2.9 kg (around 6.3 lb), on the small side but not remarkably so.

Having conducted a completely objective and thoroughly scientific survey of all the newborns in the hospital nursery, I can conclusively declare that she is the prettiest of them all.

We've been through a really rough week. My wife showed amazing strength getting through all the stress, the boredom, and the frustration without complaining much. I really hope our daughter has inherited this.

One more picture, this one of your humble servant with the little one. Ain't she cute?

The Israel Hospital Experience

Having spent the better part of the week at the obstetrics ward, I think I've gained some insights on the hospital experience here, or at least the part of it dedicated to birthing babies.

The Israeli national health system puts a heavy priority on babies. I would argue that we've got one of the finest neo-natal, birthing, and post-natal systems in the world. Under the national HMO system, Israelis can choose any hospital for delivery. This sets up competition between the hospitals, which means they are constantly improving the services they give.

The doctors and nurse-midwives are first rate. A lot of them still manage to give a personal and human touch to everyone despite the high rate of people moving through the delivery ward.

I've also noticed that births in Israel are a family-heavy event. You'll see entire clans camped out in the waiting areas by the delivery room at just about any hour of the day. You'll even see some of them in the middle of the night. And on Saturdays, the place is packed with families coming to visit newborns. They hang out, bring a picnic lunch, and make a day of it.

Somehow, I don't see this happening in an American hospital. Maybe I'm wrong.

The religious and the ultra-orthodox are heavily represented among the women giving birth, much more than the relative size of their community. But that's the law of averages in action. The average secular woman in Israel has 2-3 kids; the average haredi woman 7-10. Guess who you'll find more of at the hospital.

In short it's been a bit of a rough week, but it'll make an interesting story for the kid later on in life. Especially if we need something to hang over her head.

Synagogue Bombings

One of the only good things about being stuck in the hospital all week was letting myself get cut off from all the bad news. Then I go home for a few hours and hear about the double synagogue bombings in Istanbul.

What can you say but: Miserable animals, may you rot in hell for eternity.

I'm curious to see how this plays out in the world press. Is there a rational person who can look at these attacks and not see the underlying motivation as entirely anti-Semitic? I'm betting that there are.

Doubtlessly we'll soon hear the usual bullshit from the lefty chattering classes about root causes, settlements and so on. Despite the fact that these are Turkish synagogues and the Jews killed were Turkish citizens. Clearly, what's at play here is a bunch of demented people who hate Jews so badly they have no compunction about murdering fellow Muslims if it means they can slaughter a few yahud in the bargain.

I liked the >reaction from the krauts and frogs.
France said it "condemns with the greatest vigour the odious double attack", which only "strengthen the determination of democratic nations to combat together anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance, as well as fight unceasingly against terrorism".
Which is nice, coming from the country which has the worst and most prevalent incidents of anti-Semitic violence in Europe and a government who always tries to explain why these incidents aren't "really" anti-Semitism.

And this from Chairrmany:
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the bombing of synagogues "fills us with particular horror and outrage". He stressed that the fight against international terrorism and anti-Semitism "must be a collective effort of the international community".
Fischer added that Germany is willing to do anything to fight the war on terror except, you know, actually fight it.

Bleeding heck.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003
From the Desk of the IMF

The International Monetary Fund did a little checking up on the financial management of the Palestinian Authority. You'll never guess what they uncovered:
  • Some 8 percent of the PA's budget is under Arafat's sole control to do with what he pleases. In 2003, ghoul boy paid out $34 million; nobody knows exactly who this money went to and what they did with it.
  • Over the years 2000-2003, $900 million disappeared into the Palestinian Finance ministry, which again paid it out to persons unknown.
  • The official number of security personnel in the PA is 58,000, nearly double what the Palestinians were allowed to have under the Oslo agreements.
In short, the place is a bigger sinkhole than anyone previously thought. And we haven't even mentioned the vast sums of money which go towards keeping Suha Arafat in the manner to which she has become accustomed.

Why do people still agree to give these people money?

Baby Formula Screwup: the Finger-Pointing Begins

Remedia's lawyer testified today in front of the Knesset Health, Labor and Welfare Committee today and started pointing fingers. He accused Humana, the German company which manufactured the lethal baby formula, of having made changes to the composition of the formula without informing Remedia. Humana, Remedia claims, decided that the soy which formed the basis of the formula already had vitamin B1 and so they didn't add it.

Humana, on the other hand, claim that according to their tests the formula contains B1 and they don't know what the Israelis are talking about.

In short, finger pointing-a-rama. Personally, I'd take Remedia a bit more seriously if their initial reaction the other day had not been to float a theory that the formula had been intentionally sabotaged by anti-Israel types.

Any way you look at it, Remedia bears the majority of the blame here. They knew that they were making changes to the baby formula. Even if the Germans made a bigger change than Remedia had expected, it was still Remedia's responsibility to check the new product thoroughly. Clearly, they screwed up there.

They also failed to notify the Health Ministry that they were making changes. Had they done so, the Health Ministry would have checked the product. (You can argue that the Health Ministry should have done a better job checking in general, but that's a different issue).

Remedia is being sued for over a billion sheckels in a class action suit.

On Israeliness

The Jerusalem Post magazine had a kind of rambling piece about the nature of Israelis.

Israelis, the big cliche goes, are called sabras (prickly pears) because they're tough and spiky on the outside but sweet and tender on the inside. In real life, Israelis are more often aggressive and off-putting on the outside but on the inside they treat you like one of the family.

This is a notoriously informal country. People here have no compunctions asking you five minutes after they met you how much you make a year or how much your mortgage is. The guy behind the meat counter at the supermarket will argue with you that you need 850 grams of steak instead of half a kilo because he doesn't want to cut the piece he has in two.

The whole concept of formality and civility confuses the locals to no end. Not only do they not see the need for it, a lot of them see civility certainly as a negative thing. I tell you, if I had a sheckel for every time one of the locals told me that I was "too nice" or "too American" to get by here...

Things in Israel operate on the concept of dugri "straight up," without unnecessary ornament or niceties. At best, this is means things are refreshingly straightforward. At worst, it means that people rub each other the wrong way, lacking the necessary social tools to lubricate social interactions.

This whole attitude is a historical development, a reaction by the native born Jews here to the position of Jews back in the Old World. When European Jews first started emigrating en masse to this country at the beginning of the last century, they consciously did away with all the trappings of what they saw as the weak Jews and their old way of life. Unfortunately, in creating a New Jew they threw out a lot of the baby with the bathwater. An interesting anecdote: Back in the '60s they did a study of attitudes in the Israeli workplace. The majority of those questioned in one place did not see the need to greet visitors or offer them a chair.

Interestingly, as Israel becomes more globalized, there's an increas in interest in manners and civil behavior.

The article wanders along into other directions, including a kinda-trite, semi-amusing list of Israeli quirks. (My favorite: "Tell racist jokes, but get angry about anti-Semitism.")

It also defines a number of Israeli "types". A lot of these are actually universal types with certain local nuances. The "Arse" type is basically an Israeli version of a goombah, for instance. Israeli hippies are like hippies everywhere else (minus perhaps the vehement anti-Israelism that seems to be so much a part of the crunchy lifestyle in America these days). And there's nothing particularly Israeli about the overbearing Jewish mother.

However, there is one category here which is uniquely Israeli. This is the "Freier". The article describes this type as:
Freier: The worst insult in Hebrew vernacular. A good guy who people say is a sucker: He doesn't watch his back and isn't cynical, tough, or suspicious. Anyone can cheat, fool, or use him and he doesn't mind or even notice.

Antonym to "you are such a freier": "You are so Israeli."
"Sucker" is too imprecise a translation for "Freier". Basically, a Freier is someone who plays by the rules in a society where people either ignore or try everything to get around the rules.

Israelis pride themselves on not being "freierim", which is amusing seeing on how often they get duped, especially when it comes to anything concerning consumer rights.

(Hat tip to Rinat's site, where she has a lively discussion going on about Israeliness.)

Another Underworld Murder

Once again, a mafia hit gone wrong.

Daniel and Ella Nahshon went shopping for a used car in Hadera. While they were walking around the car lot with the lot's owner, someone threw a grenade. The grenade exploded, killing Daniel Nahshon on the spot. Ella died a few hours later in the hospital.

The car lot owner has been involved in problems with a protection racket, and he was apparently the intended victim of the attack. This incident is similar to one in Tel Aviv a few months ago when a bomb intended to kill a mafia figure went off, killing a civilian instead.

The police already have a lot of work on their hands what with preventing terrorist attacks and all. But it looks like they'll have to start cracking down harder on organized crime around here.

Monday, November 10, 2003
I.G. Farben Bye Bye

This is kind of neither here nor there, but worth a mention anyway.

The German pharmaceutical giant I.G. Farben filed for bankruptcy today. The company gained notoriety during WWII both for using slave laborers and for being the major shareholder in the company that produced Zyklon-B for the gas chambers.

Farben has, of course, been out of the poison gas and slave labor biz for a while. And yet, I must admit to just the slightest frisson of glee hearing that they are no more.

The Baby Formula Brouhaha

The problem with Remedia's soy-based baby formula appears to be a complete lack of vitamin B1. This absence of B1 seems to have been responsible for the death of three infants and brain damage in at least seven others. An enterprising doctor working for the Ministry of Health discovered the problem and the ministry has jumped into action, arranging B1 shots for any babies who were fed the Remedia.

It's a cock-up of the first magnitude. Remedia switched their formula about six months ago, according to the company to put them more in compliance with kashrut regulations. The German manufacturer of the product somehow screwed up and did not add the B1 into the mix.

However, Remedia also failed to report to the Ministry of Health about the change and thus it went unnoticed until children started dying. Not surprisingly, Remedia's stock took a nose dive on the markets yesterday. A possible Ministry of Health investigation looms, not to mention a host of lawsuits. I wouldn't be surprised if the company is bankrupt two months from now.

In a particularly shameful sideshow, Remedia's CEO was caught on tape yesterday talking to an official from the Ministry of Health. He intimated that the product might have been sabotaged on purpose by one of the employees of the German company who has anti-Israel views. I doubt that any conspiracy theory is going to help him keep his job at this point.

Sunday, November 09, 2003
Green Light on the Hostage Deal

After a day of emotional debate, it looks like Sharon has secured a very slim majority in the cabinet in favor of the hostage deal with Hizbullah. The cabinet heard from the different security bodies today. (The IDF favors the deal; the intelligence agencies oppose it).

Over the weekend, ministers heard from the families of the hostages included in the deal as well as the family of missing aviator Ron Arad, who is not. The former begged the ministers to help bring their loved ones (or their bodies) home. The latter begged them not to abandon Arad to his fate.

During the deliberations, Sharon told his ministers that voting for the agreement meant saving the life of an Israeli citizen, referring to kidnapped businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum. It looks like he's managed to convince just enough ministers to pass the thing.

Ben Caspit wrote an editorial in today's Ma'ariv (Hebrew link) opposing the deal. A lot of the editorial focuses on the fact that the hostage deal does not include information about Ron Arad, and thus pretty much closes the book on ever finding out what happened to him. But Caspit also talks about the problematic nature of the deal as a whole:
A whole country is mortgaging its future and the future of its citizenry for the benefit of a radical, evil, and unpredictable terrorist. Behind him stands Iran, the greatest threat to humanity today, looking down on the agony of an entire nation with sadistic glee. The time has come to say to this gang "enough is enough." To let them understand that we Jews know how to stand on principle. That we also have red lines and that anyone who messes with them, we'll mess with them back.
Sharon has refused to negotiate with Arafat because of Palestinian terrorism, Caspit points out. But here he's negotiating with Israel's sworn enemy, a terrorist organization that openly calls for our destruction, which only last week placed a series of roadside bombs along Israel's border with Lebanon. Not only are we negotiating with them, but we're also letting them dictate all the terms.

Caspit was on the radio this morning, talking about how he opposes the deal with a heavy heart. He said this deal is a direct result of the 1985 Jibril deal, which he and a lot of people view in retrospect as a mistake. Caspit said we have the chance to change the rules of the game here and signal to the hostages that we're not willing to pay any price and give in to every single one of their demands.

Sadly, it looks like we passed up that opportunity and will soon help Nasrallah take the mantle of king of the Arabs.

Unless Nasrallah himself manages to put the kibosh on the whole deal. Buoyed by what he saw in the Israeli cabinet, Hizbullah's chief goon spent the weekend making all kinds of declarations. Among these, he declared that the deal hinges on Israel releasing the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar. Kuntar is a despicable piece of filth who was caught while carrying out a terrorist attack in Nahariya:
On April 22, 1979, Kuntar and three other Palestinian terrorists from Lebanon infiltrated Israel by sea at the Nahariya coast. The four broke into the Haran family's apartment and took 28-year old Danny Haran and his four-year old daughter Einat hostage, intending to take them back to Lebanon.

Smadar Haran hid in the home's attic, holding her two-year old daughter Yael in her arms and trying to keep the girl quiet. Smadar blocked Yael's mouth with her hand to keep the little girl from crying out and alerting the terrorists to their presence in the attic.

Tragically, the little girl choked to death in her mother's arms. Smadar watched her family being viciously murdered.

Meanwhile the terrorists made off with Danny and Einat towards the sea, intending to take them back to Lebanon. Police forces and soldiers pursued them, and during the exchange of fire a police officer, Sgt. Eliyahu Shahar, was killed. The terrorists killed Danny and Einat.
Sharon managed to convince the ministers to vote in favor of the deal by promising not to release terrorists with blood on their hands. Kuntar falls squarely in this category.

If Nasrallah turns this into a deal-breaker, then he may himself accomplish what the pleas of the intelligence services, the Arad family, and the consciences of 11 cabinet ministers did not.

Baby Food Scare

It's been a scary weekend for parents of newborns. At the end of last week, reports came in that the death of three infants had been traced to a popular type of baby formula. The three, who all died in the last six months, had been fed Remedia soy-based formula.

In addition to the three who died, 17 other babies have become in and in extreme cases suffered brain damage after being fed the formula. It turns out that the German company which produces the soy-based Remedia changed its formula a few months ago. The problems started right after that.

The Health Ministry has ordered the formula pulled from the shelves and has started an epidemological investigation.

In the meanwhile, thousands of parents have been calling in looking for answers to questions. People are massively freaked out and I'm curious to see if any heads will roll.

More of the Usual Shenanigans at the Palestinian Authority

I've stopped following the daily blow-by-blows in the formation of Abu Ala's new Palestinian cabinet, mainly because it's as boring as it is byzantine. And in the end the result is exactly what you would expect it would be.

Anyone looking for a good working definition of "The more things change the more they stay the same" should look no further than Ramallah.

After a month of putting on a show of being independent, Abu Sock Puppet finally conceded to put Palestinian security under the control of the Palestinian National Security Council. And you'll never guess who controls this council.

So, we're basically back to where we were with the Palestinians. Arafat controls the guns and the loyalties of all of Abu Ala's deputy prime ministers. Proving once again that nothing will ever change with the Palis until their terrorist king keels over dead.

Another thing that never changes in Palestinian-land is corruption, and lots of it. Want to know where a nice chunk of the international aid money given to the Palestinians goes? Look at Suha Arafat's bank account.

According to a recent "60 Minutes" report, Arafat diverts $100K a month to his wife, who lives in France. Suha has been hiding out in Paris with their daughter since the beginning of the intifada.

Most Palestinians despise Suha, amongst other things because she is a Christian. I wonder how they'll react to reports that she's living the bon vive while the majority of them are literally living in their own shit.

According to the 60 Minutes piece, by the way, Arafat is worth $800 million.

Another report, this time by the BBC, uncovers something that Israel has been telling the world for two years now, namely that Arafat personally oversees payments to terrorist groups. According to the BBC report, the PA pays out $50K a month to the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, the terrorist scumbags who have been responsible for dozens of suicide bombings and shooting attacks.

Ah, but it's not how it appears, say the PA's flacks:
A former minister in the government led by ex-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) says that the money is an attempt to wean the gunmen away from suicide bombings. He says the policy of paying the money was not instigated by Mr Arafat but has been carried out with his knowledge and agreement.
You can almost see Jon Lovitz's pathological liar character (sporting a bushy moustache and wearing a shiny suit) explaining it. "We're not paying them to commit attacks. We're paying them not to commit attacks. Yeah, that's it. That's the ticket."