Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

An Old Rule of the Road

Notwithstanding the habits of the British, one of the oldest traffic rules is to drive one's car (or wagon or chariot) on the right-hand side of the road.  As a little boy, I knew and practiced it with my tricycle even before receiving my driver's license.

The town in Israel where I live has a little network of dedicated bicycle lanes, mostly (but not all) on sidewalks off the road from the traffic.  I was riding along one of them today, going at a healthy rate of speed, and saw another bicyclist coming towards me.  I slowed down and took pains to steer towards the right side of the bike path (which is about meters wide at where I was).  The other cyclist started to steer in front of me -- i.e., towards his left.

He continued to do so, and I had to quickly shift towards my left (i.e., his right) to avoid a collision.  We did avoid the collision, but we each had to momentarily stop.

Israel is a land where many languages are spoken on the street.  In my town there are groups of speakers of English, Russian, some German, a few Ethiopians, and a growing sector of French (including many from Montreal).    Like many visitors and recent arrivals, I am still brushing up on my Hebrew (and will likely start with an organized Hebrew language course, known as an "Ulpan," at some time in the next few weeks; details are in the works).  It is not uncommon to conflate words among the various languages, and that is what I did today.

The other bicyclist seemed clueless as to the old rule to keep toward one's right.  And I did detect an attitude during our very brief encounter, which could not have lasted more than 5 seconds in toto.  And I was not in the best of moods at the moment, never mind the other issues that were at hand.  The only words spoken were (1) the other cyclist's startled "Slikha!" {Hebrew equivalent of "Excuse me!}; and my disgusted admonition to him to stay on the right hand side.  The appropriate Hebrew would have been "L'Yamin!" {To the Right}, but the first words I grabbed from my linguistic armamentarium were not Hebrew, but were some of the scarce and sparse few Russian words I know, no doubt couched in suboptimal grammar and tense:  "Na Pravo, Eedeeot!"

He turned towards me.  Without specifically intending it, I apparently had spoken in his native language.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Wheeling and Dealing

Yesterday was the Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av), a very sad and disastrous day in the Hebrew Calendar.  Actually, yesterday was the 10th day of the month of Av, except that the 9th fell on the Sabbath, when we do not fast (except if it is Yom Kippur).  That's 2 days without anything resembling a physical workout.  I really didn't want to go for a third day without some sort of significant exercise.

Not to worry.  As mentioned previously, I am not all gung-ho excited over the city of Tel Aviv.  Nevertheless, to give credit where credit is due, Tel Aviv is a very bicycle-friendly city, with ample racks to lock up bikes, dedicated bicycling lanes and trails, and plenty of entrepreneurs in the business of selling and servicing bicycles.

Thursday I was at a meeting in Tel Aviv.  A number of us from that meeting had planned to (and in fact did) go to another function a bit more informal today.  One of the other persons who went to today's function suggested that I ride my bike, and noted that he and probably about half of the other meeting attendees would be dressed in their summer athletic gear.

And so, I rode my bike to the meeting.  It was about a 16 kilometer ride.  Good workout, meeting was better than average, maybe some business deals shall come of it (too early to tell).  And with all of the time I would have waited to change busses, it probably didn't extend my commute by more than about 15 minutes.  Had I waited until I got home, my workout would have killed almost another hour at minimum.

I'm not saying that I will ride my bike into Tel Aviv every time I need to go, nor even a majority of such occasions.  It can very safely be said, however, that this is likely not my last bike ride into Tel Aviv.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015


My wife and I have begun the process of getting our Israeli driver's licenses.  We went to a local designated optometrist's office for an eye test.  We now need to see our physician (in our chosen health care plan), and from thence, we will need to go to a (not so) local Ministry of Transportation driver's center.   Then our application swill be approved (we hope), and we will then need to take driving lessons (though, with our history of driving in the States, we may only need a few sessions, we are told), and then the road test.

Not an efficient system, even by New York DMV standards.

Meanwhile, our American licenses, together with our passports, will suffice for the next few months.

But never mind the Israeli version of the DMV; we have the Postal shmucks to contend with.  Several times they failed to deliver, or (more often) delivered late packages we sent to our son and other friends and relatives, even when sent via Registered Mail.  With UPS and FedEx, it's still lots of paperwork and expense, but at least the packages reach their destinations in a reasonably timely manner.

But the consensus seems to be that things are improving.  The old Labor Party in Israel was very much into giving patronage plums to lots of its sycophants, and the ways of the old bureaucracy are still entrenched to a large extent.  But as Israel's high-tech sector grows, the toleration for such inefficiencies is, over time, wearing a bit thin.  Labor (Histadrut) still tries to flex its muscles; for example, they had threatened a strike this coming Wednesday, but have now called it off.  Very much like the labor unions everywhere else.

[Not that I oppose labor unions per se.  In proper proportion, they do keep industry honest.  But they themselves need to be reined in by various checks and balances.].

And don't get me started with the banks here.

Okay, okay, enough of the gripes for now.  My wife and I are quite happy with our decision to take on our respective gigs here, notwithstanding the aforementioned problems.  But it takes a special kind of toughness to live in Israel.  So far, we seem to have been able to cut the mustard.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Plans for the foreseeable future

The story of the Iran nuclear deal is all over the place; I have nothing to add to the commentary regarding it other than to state, most emphatically, that it is bad for the world for all of the reasons noted by the various pro-Israel and pro-America activists.

These, of course, are dangerous times for the whole world.  Now that my wife and I are in Israel, we have certainly had much to think about as far as our personal safety goes.  And we have, over the past few days, fielded questions regarding our future plans in light of the Iran nuclear deal.

To answer everyone's inquiries, there is and was never any question that we would remain here in the Holy Land of Israel for the duration of the long-term gigs that brought us here.  We do not believe that it is any more safe in the United States than it is over here.  For one thing, America is, by and large, a far softer target for the Muslim terrorists than is Israel.  Moreover, while all of America's political and social institutions seem to be crumbling before our very eyes, there is a certain degree of normalcy and stability over here in Israel which is not evident in America.

And while the Rabbis have long admonished us to not rely upon miracles, the world needs a miracle or two in the face of this Iran nuclear agreement.  And the odds of a miracle happening here in Israel are far, far greater than the odds of a miracle happening in the USA or anywhere else.

Israel, after all, has a long and distinguished track record for miracles.

In short, we are here, and, until further notice, intend to remain here for a while.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Official Languages

Our furniture and other items of personalty have arrived from America.  The past few days have been spent unpacking and reorganizing; nothing particularly remarkable as far as this type of thing goes.  Last night my wife actually cooked a meal in our kitchen and served it on our dining room table, a welcome improvement from snarfing food on the run, or even eating at restaurants all the time.

The following administrative law decision from the Illinois Department of Revenue has come to my attention, especially its curious footnote: 

" 5 ILCS 460/20 states that the “official language” of the State of Illinois is English. 35 ILCS 120/7 requires that all books and records required to be kept by the Retailers Occupation Tax Act “shall be kept in the English language.” 86 Ill. Adm. Code 130.801(e) requires that books and records necessary for a determination of correct tax liability “must be kept in the English language.” In light of these provisions, it would be absurd for me to conclude that the department must issue its own documents and forms in a language other than English."

This is interesting and ironic to me because I now find myself in a jurisdiction whose official language is other than English, and my mastery of the Hebrew language leaves much to be desired.  While many of the official forms in Israel do have their English versions, official or (usually) otherwise, there still are many transactions where I must seek assistance beyond Google Translate in order to sufficiently comprehend the documents at hand.  I have had occasion (most notably but not solely the lease to our apartment) to engage a young American man, the son of a former client, whose linguistic skills and amenability to use them to supplement his income have worked to our mutual advantage.

Additionally, the Illinois provision is most out of character with what is thought of by most (including the liberals themselves) as the liberal stance -- One would think that it would be most politically incorrect in Illinois, the home state of Barack Hussein Obama (Hawaii and Kenya notwithstanding).

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