Basic Training started 53 years ago, today

During the month of May, most of the soldiers who are recruited came from technical schools, the street, a jail and/or from lower socio-economic groups.

Matriculation exams are in May and June, so it’s obvious that kids doing the “matrix” will not be called up till August.

There are some exceptions however to who gets enlisted in May: returning citizens, new immigrants, people who have studied abroad, people enlisted due to human error which can arbitrarily change an enlistment date, and other bureaucratic mishaps.

With an MA in hand from an elite university in Canada, I was enlisted in May. Yes, I was one of two “demographic exceptions”, the second being Freji Buabi, who had just immigrated from Lebanon with a PhD.

Freji had a very pronounced Arabic accent, and said that if things get rougher than they already were, he would volunteer to be shot as a terrorist in an exercise.

Recently, I have come to remember a few of the people and incidents that made Basic Training as interesting as it was difficult.

I did night guard duty with Mizrahi between 3 am and 6 am three times a week. Mizrahi had been the slammer twice for drug dealing and car theft. He came from a small town in the dessert.  Although he was native born, his Hebrew was awful, all masculine and feminine forms mixed up. He could not write one word without a mistake.

Mizrahi hated me; he told me that he has pissed in my canteen “to sweeten up” the time I had to spend “with a low life like me”.

Mizrahi had a girlfriend and let’s put it this way: he had not yet entered the promised land. Using a flashlight one night, I wrote his girlfriend a love letter for him and, two weeks later, my status with Mizrahi and his toughs changed. I got big portions at lunch, and I was no longer harassed.

Mizrahi eventually returned to jail where I imagine he resides till today, if he is still alive.

Shimon Drori was from Beer Sheva. Drori had been enlisted in May due a sports injury he had incurred at the time he was supposed to have enlisted.

We had a lot in common: he read a lot; loved to speak English & French, secular and suffered from minor asthma. But more than anything else, Drori was a kind sort.

When someone fell, he helped them get up. When his mom sent him a package, he shared the goods. When we boarded a truck to go home for the weekend, he would always ask where I would be staying, as I had no “home”.

I looked for Drori many times after the army, but apparently the Earth swallowed him up. Or he lives in San Francisco or Berlin.

Piko was the son of a famous General in the Israeli Defense Forces, a fact he half tried to conceal; I stress the “half”.

Nasty, evil and snide, he picked up on everyone’s weakness and harped them.  I am clumsy (understatement); I certainly gave him material for him at which to poke fun. Luckily Piko was caught drunk and went off to kalaboosh (jail) in the middle of Basic Training.

Then of course, there was Shmulvater who probably was the most stupid soldier I ever met. He used to brag that he could get the Base Commander’s car to drive him home. He did so by faking his mother’s death. Shmulvater of course never returned to finish basic training with us, as he served 60 days in military prison.

I also remember the clothes and the smells. I am very tall, and nothing fit me. Buabi told me, ”Fuck off Shevat and stop complaining, this isn’t a fashion show. We are prisoners of war”. And everything smelt of gun oil.

There are interesting borders that I have passed thru in my lifetime. The Taba Gate border crossing from Eilat, Israel to Sinai Egypt is a line in the sand which separates two different worlds. The border between Singapore and Malaysia being another such border.

But nothing for me is more differentiating than the border between Montreal’s McGill University and IDF basic training, which I crossed 53 days ago today.



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The AI Craze-Beware

Does anyone remember the TQM (total quality management) craze, which was a cure-all for everything from faulty service, poor recruitment, shitty products and poor planning? *

What ever happened to JIT-just in time-the  Olympic gold-medal planning process, rendered totally irrelevant by changing circumstance?**

And MBO, management by objectives-a scheme which died of a heart attack cum stroke when things started changing so quickly that goals are now defined almost ex post facto.***

If you storm forward, you either become a war hero or come home in a box. If you wait a while, you lose the financial benefits that many early adapters get, but when the going goes sour, you don’t sink with the ship. And the going ALWAYS goes sour. ALWAYS. No wars end all war; all total solutions fails and breed a new set of problems.

AI does not replace human intelligence. It’s a change and  a meaningful one. But it is just another change. But it is not a game changer for the complexity of human organizing.

I prefer to wait and see what damage AI does, and help clean up the mess. I do not want to be vaseline used admister AI. For me, that is not OD.


*The software industry taught us that releasing products that don’t work well is a very good business.

**Oh yes, disruptions to global supply chain can occur. It takes years and years to fix. Wars also break out, which ruin all assumptions.

***I do not know of one industry that can define goals a year in advance and stick to them.







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Employees who care could get in trouble- And that is a HUGE PROBLEM

Recently my car was stolen, as were another 43 Hyundai vehicles the same night in the “Sharon Area” just north east of Tel Aviv.

The cars were stolen at 22.00 (10 PM)  and appeared on a security camera at 22.14 in the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, where the cars disappeared and were dismantled, with the spare parts sold back to Israeli garages the very next day in a rare form of Palestinian/Israeli cooperation.

Getting reimbursed and re-equipped with a new car turned out to be a major challenge. The bureaucracies of the (almost brain dead) Israeli police, the insurance company, the Ministry of Transportation and the various authorities was a nightmare.

One of the more interesting things I noticed was that how few people really cared about the issue at hand. Rather, they cared about filling out the various screens and not getting in trouble. Nearly no one gave a flying fuck about me.

For example: to get reimbursed, I need to provide a copy of my stolen car license. But the license was in the car’s glove compartment. And the Ministry of Transportation would not issue me a copy because “the car appears to have been stolen. Please contact out help desk”, where no help was available “for this specific issue”.

Another example: I needed to provide a copy of a receipt for the last time my car was in a tune up, detailing what work had been done in order to access the state of the automobile. When I called the garage I was told that “due to the long line of people waiting now, please drop by the ( לקפוץ) garage in person and we will try to assist you”. The aforementioned garage has a severe parking problem; extracting the receipt and job order took me 4 hours.

Each step of the way, it was clear to me that no one cared. No one wanted to advocate for me. Why? Because a system has been put in place to prevent proper customer care. The customer is no longer a customer, but a pain in the ass. The maintenance of the system, however stupid, is the customer.  A new form of Leninism. The centrality of the Party, or in this case, the system.

It seems to me that people who care for the customer are people must be willing to take on their own organization, fight their own employer tooth and nail, in order to give service. They need to care about the customer, not the system, to get things done.

Like the lady from the parking meter company. I called her to cancel my parking meter subscription for my old car and transfer it to my new car. Her system was down, but she promised to call me back-and she did. “In the meantime, if someone uses your parking meter, I’ll strIke off the bill. Don’t worry. Here is my email if something slips through the net. I’m not supposed to do it, but I see you waited 25 minutes waiting for me and I’m sorry for that”.

Or the insurance agent who told me that “I’ll make sure that you are reimbursed without that God dammed car license. The insurance company is trying to get you to do their work”.

What actually is caring? In this case it is

  • Over-extending your role as needed to get the job done
  • Putting the client’s legitimate needs first
  • Following up on your own initiative
  • Using common sense when the system does not work
  • Challenging the system when needed

And I wonder just how many companies recruit for a caring attitude? I am sure that very few. Customer care is really not in anyone’s interest. You only get cared for by caring people.


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