Lonely Man of Cake

May 22, 2007

Back to School!!!

Filed under: Academia,Education,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 1:12 pm

On March 28, 55 days ago, Pesach recess began.  And it will finish only on Thursday.

The representatives of the various student unions finally mustered a vote last night, which unlike three previous voting attempts, was not disrupted by belligerent students who are intent on continuing the strike, citing the continued inadequate offers from the government.  Because of these disruptions, voting was planned, but could not be held on either Saturday or Sunday night.  The representatives attempted to evade the protesters by surreptiously changing venues, but the protesters would quickly discover and converge on the new location.  For the vote last night, the student representatives hired a security firm to facilitate smooth proceedings.  The vote was carried out successfully, with more than 60% of the delegates voting to accept the government’s latest offer and end the strike.

Unfortunately, it appears that students in this academic year will have a heavy price to pay for their benevolence, in both tolerating duration of the strike and implicitly supporting its aims.  This strike was never about the current generation of students.  The government made it quite clear in its first offers to the students that the higher tuition would be “grandfathered in” and apply only to the next generation of students.  It is those students and their parents, as well as future students and their parents, who should have been leading the strike.  Not students who stand to gain nothing, i.e., us.

This imposed altruism cost us, the students of today, over one month of the semester and has also created an erosion of faith in the student government.  We will pay for the watered down agreement with a semester that will now extend long into July, extended class hours (some classes will go until midnight!), classes on Friday, and an exam period which ends around Rosh Hashana.  One of the principal aims of the strike was to bring tuition to an affordable level for all students.  This aim was not achieved, and irreparable financial harm will now be inflicted on those students who designate the summer months as the period in which they take jobs in order to afford tuition and the cost of living.

The National Union of Israeli Students, the organization which led the strike, though its director himself attends an institution which did not strike (!), will no doubt declare victory and highlight the concessions of the government.  In doing so, they will have emulated the government’s penchant for doing the same: declaring victory where they are the unambiguous loser, and leaving the citizens/students to pay the price.


May 16, 2007

Hesder Army News III

Filed under: Army,Israel,Judaism,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 11:46 am

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has responded to the petition sent to him by Hesder students angered by a policy change which would prevent them from serving in the Golani brigade or Paratroops in homogeneous Hesder platoons.

It appears that the petition did the Hesderniks more harm than good.  Under the previous proposal, the students would at least have the option to serve in Golani and Paratroops, albeit in mixed platoons.  Ashkenazi took this one step further and decreed that this latter option would be unavailable as well and that Hesder students would under no circumstances be allowed to serve in Golani and Paratroops, not even in mixed platoons. According to Ashkenazi, the decision emanates from the popularity of the two latter brigades, the recent exponential growth of Hesder programs, and the army’s logistical need to fill the ranks of less popular units.


May 13, 2007

Israeli Citizens Most Litigious in all of Europe

Filed under: Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 4:40 pm

No surprises here. Some Israelis are known to go hotels and search tirelessly for the duration of their stay to find a way to sue the hotel in small claims court for distress (עוגמת נפש) resulting from some minor fault in the hotel. (Yet others use the potential for suing as leverage to bully compensation out of the hotel.)

Israelis file more than 184 cases per-1000 citizens, making Israeli citizens the most litigious in all of Europe. (Since when is Israel part of Europe?) Many of these claims are no doubt facilitated by Israel’s notorious small claims court system, which allows any citizen to file suit against anyone in exchange for a small fee, and without the need for a lawyer. Want to sue someone? Fill out the form here, bring it to your local post office, and let the justice system do the rest.

This judges in this tiny country have 2,335 cases, on average, filling their dockets each year.  Only Irish judges have more, with 3,814 per-year.  Given that Ireland and Israel have similar population figures, this discrepancy would seem to stem from a judge shortage in Ireland.

May 10, 2007

JIB Award Surprise

Filed under: Blogging,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 5:58 pm

Turns out that I completely overlooked the fact that my post, “The Truth About the Temple Mount Excavations,” was both nominated for a JIB in the “Best Jewish News Post” category and advanced to the finals!


If you haven’t yet read the post, which was written at the height of the manufactured controversy over Israel’s repairs to the structurally unsafe Mugrabi Bridge, or if you want to refresh your memory, check it out here.

And of course, VOTE HERE!

May 7, 2007

BREAKING: Herod’s Tomb Discovered

Filed under: Academia,Archaeology,History,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 10:49 pm

UPDATE: Hebrew University press release.

Archaeologist Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University will announce tomorrow morning that he has, after a quest which lasted over 30 years, discovered the location of Herod’s tomb. Apparently, Herod is entombed at the Herodium, “a fortified palace built by Herod some 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem,” confirming the location noted by the historian Flavius Josephus some 2000 years ago.

The Herodium, or Herodion, is a wonderful archaeological site which is unfortunately visited rarely because of its remote location in the territories. I had the fortune of visiting two years ago. A picture from that visit below:


May 6, 2007

Selfish to the Extreme

Filed under: Israel,Reality — lonelymanofcake @ 9:02 pm

I make no secret of the fact that I hate strongly dislike Israelis, with their tactlessness, cutting in line, and general misanthropy.  Nowhere is the ugly side of the Israeli more exposed than on the road, where drivers intentionally speed up so as not to let you pass, never signal, think that looking in their mirrors before passing is optional, ride on your tail with brights on even if there is nowhere to go, etc.  I’ve hypothesized in the past about why this is the case, but that’s not the point here.

Drivers here are so self-absorbed when they drive, so militant, so unable to grasp that there are others on the road, that it comes as no surprise that a motorcyclist was in a serious accident and laying prone on a busy road for over 1.5 minutes as other drivers maneuvered their way around his motionless body without stopping and helping.  I was shocked when I saw the headline, but unfortunately, it’s par for the course here.  You can watch a video of this travesty here.  Just sickening.   If you read Hebrew, read the two schools of comments in this Ynet article: those who are sickened and those who rationalize the disgusting apathetic behavior.

During the height of the Intifada (probably sometime in 2001) I was walking down the deserted King George Street (near Maoz Falafel) when I heard what sounded like an explosion nearby.   A plume of dust came out of one of the neighboring storefronts, which was under renovation, and I quickly realized that the “explosion” was actually the sound of the collapsing second floor and that there were groans emanating from the store.  As I fumbled to dial for an ambulance with my trembling fingers, I noticed that no one was stopping to offer help.  Only a short while later, an off duty army medic tended to the hurt worker, who we stayed with until MDA arrived.

Back then, I was too much of an optimist (and Zionist) to think anything of the fact that I was the only one who initially stopped to help.  But the picture is now becoming all too clear now that I’m not intoxicated with idealism and seeing things here as they actually are.

I was wondering to myself over Shabbat how it is that Olmert successfully prevented his party from dissolving and his ministers from resigning, despite the very clear conclusions of the Winograd Report.  Now I know.  Olmert didn’t have to convince anyone.  The Israeli public is like the cyclist dying in the middle of the road.  Olmert and his government are the selfish, self-absorbed drivers of the cars who take a look at body and go on their merry way.

May 4, 2007

Israel University Strike Update

Filed under: Academia,Education,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 9:27 am

The strike at Israel’s universities and colleges has now finished its third week. With a weakened government and an education minister who would like nothing more than to resolve the strike before the dissolution of the government (looks good on the resume for the next government, right Yuli?), the students are now in the driver’s seat. Most importantly, the students have been consistently drawing sympathetic coverage from the press, which is all to eager to cover yet more instances of unprovoked police brutality and the inability of the government to negotiate with the people.

One of the scarier prospects of the strike has been contemplating the status of the current semester. The student leaders at the helm of the strike assured the students that the semester would not be extended (which for us, means well into July) and that the instructors would work with the students to make up lost lectures and assignments. The worst case scenario was that the university administrations would cancel the semester, a threat–with its attendant repercussions–that the student leaders assured us would not materialize.

As hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens gathered yesterday in Rabin Square, the an e-mail was sent out to university students around the country by the Committee of University Heads in Israel.

Here is a summary of what is stated in the e-mail:

  • Classes will resume on Sunday, May 6, regardless of how many students attend.
  • The semester will be extended by two weeks.
  • Students who do not return to classes beginning Sunday will not receive the same consideration for making up material and completing assignments.
  • The threat looming over the entire notice is that if students do not return to classes beginning Sunday, it will cost them the semester, whatever that entails. While it’s not spelled out in this letter, it was widely reported in the press that students who would not return to classes would lose this semester’s credits.

    The letter was greeted with an uproar from the public, who found it outrageous that the university presidents/heads–who receive their 700,000 NIS (an extraordinary salary in Israel) from the university budget–had the audacity to threaten the student strike. The “talkbacks” for newspaper articles reporting on this development were filled with invective regarding the cushy lifestyles of the university heads when students have to juggle three minimum-wage jobs to just make ends meet. Naturally, the students leading the strike immediately condemned the threat and called on students to take the strike up a notch.

    The cherry on top for students is that this morning, the committee of university instructors (professors, etc.) announced that they will not fold to the idle threat of the university heads and turn their backs on striking students. The professors, who also stand to benefit from a successful strike, which would return over one billion NIS to university coffers, declared that they would not fail students who continued striking.

    I don’t have class Sundays, but I’m curious as to what will be. I suspect that students will chain the university gates and block access to the campuses. Stay tuned.

    May 3, 2007

    Hesder Army News II

    Filed under: Army,Israel,Judaism,Orthodoxy — lonelymanofcake @ 1:52 pm

    The story that I brought to you on Friday regarding the new limitations on Hesder army service has (finally) been picked up by Ynet.

    Reader/Cousin Yaacov hit the nail on the head with his important clarifications, but there is apparently more to the story. Under a program spearheaded by General Elazar Stern, the army has been trying for some two years already to “integrate” Hesder students into “regular” platoons. Until then, Hesderniks, or in the army parlance, Beinishim, served in homogeneous platoons, composed only of other Hesderniks.

    To eliminate any ambiguity, Hesderniks can still serve in Golani and the Paratroops, but by doing so, they relinquish their “right” to serve in a homogeneous Hesder platoon, and must serve in an integrated platoon. The reason for the singling out of Golani and Paratroops given by a senior army official in the Ynet article: as it is, motivation to serve in these two brigades is high, and there would be no problem filling the platoons. In other words, even Hesderniks want to serve in Golani and Paratroops so badly, that they would have no problem serving in an integrated platoon. Many Hesderniks think otherwise and have sent a petition with hundreds of signatures to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

    The army’s motivation for ending a 30 year tradition of homogeneous Hesder platoons does seem a bit dubious. The commonly invoked rationalization that the army needs to be a melting pot and integrated experience holds true, from personal experience, even when Hesderniks have their own platoon.

    A few years ago, I had occasion to sit down with General Stern and ask him a few questions about his planned changes to the Hesder system. Stern, though religious, did not go to Hesder and went through his army service as one of the few (if only) religious soldiers in his company. I think that this important biographical piece of information sheds light on where Stern is coming from. I asked him, from a logistical perspective, what happens when you scatter all of the religious soldiers among the three platoons that are in each company. Each platoon has a different time schedule. What happens if the religious soldiers from one platoon go the synagogue and start praying, and only 20 minutes later, the religious soldiers from another platoon are given time to pray? With a homogeneous platoon of Hesderniks, everyone prays together! Stern answered without flinching: They should pray outside of the synagogue.

    I’m all for integration.  But there was nothing wrong with the status quo that warranted such drastic changes.

    Winograd Aftermath II

    Filed under: Israel,Politics,Winograd — lonelymanofcake @ 9:06 am

    Yesterday the government should have come tumbling down.  Amir Peretz was rumored to be mulling a quick resignation.  Tzippy Livni was supposed to confront the Prime Minister and assert that his failure to step down would cost him her resignation.  As I mentioned yesterday, Livni’s resignation would probably topple Kadima, further hastening new elections.

    But this is Israel.  You learn very quickly here that having high expectations (or occasionally, any expectations) is often a recipe for disappointment.  Peretz did not step down.  His continued functioning as defense minister continues to endanger Israel’s citizens and the soldiers of the IDF.  Livni presented the expected ultimatum to Olmert.  But Olmert didn’t resign.  Livni was not true to her word, and did not resign.  Kadima decided against mutiny.

    The fate of an entire country hangs in the balance, the weaknesses of the IDF are exposed, and the failings of this ineffectual government are itemized in the Winograd Report.  And the government?  Olmert claims that he will preside over instituting the reforms called for in the Report.  Bullshit.  He wants another day being ferried around the country by helicopter, another day watching traffic part ways for his motorcade, another day playing prime minister.

    The myth of the Kadima juggernaut was already dispelled when the results came in for this past election, with Kadima garnering far fewer seats than what had been predicted.   It’s time for Olmert’s fairy tale to end.

    May 2, 2007

    Winograd Aftermath

    Filed under: Israel,Politics,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 9:58 am

    It’s been about 36 hours since the interim report of the Winograd Committee was released. Former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who wisely stepped down a while ago, has been gallivanting around the United States, instead of perhaps apologizing to grieving parents who unnecessarily lost their sons because of his unwillingness to admit that his army was not ready for war. Defense minister Amir Peretz, a former labor kingpin who has about as much military experience as I do, is finally rumored as mulling resignation, despite his many assertions to the contrary over the past few days. Peretz’s behavior is emblematic of what is wrong with the entire current administration: putting personal interests ahead of those of the entire nation, not to mention one’s political party.

    Many commentators (and citizens with common sense) have been uncomfortable, from  Peretz’s initial appointment as defense minister, with the idea that someone completely unfamiliar with the defense establishment is suddenly at its helm. Peretz wanted to be the minister of the treasury–a position now in limbo because of the audacious indiscretions of its former occupant, and ongoing criminal investigations surrounding Olmert, who assigned the position to himself. Olmert’s price for becoming Prime Minister was to recklessly relegate Shaul Mofaz, the reigning defense minister and former Chief of Staff, to minister of transportation, and promote Amir Peretz to the coveted post of defense minister. Olmert should have never made this appointment. By the same token, Amir Peretz should have declined based on his lack of experience, given the volatility of the region and the sensitivity of the post. By accepting the post of defense minister, Peretz, who was known as a champion of Palestinian rights, ended up presiding over numerous incidents in which innocent Palestinian blood was shed. Hardly the dove Peretz’s constituents hoped for when the latter overtook the ever-defeatable Shimon Peres in the 2005 Labor primaries. Alienating your constituents is one thing. But Amir Peretz’s refusal to acknowledge that he was in way over his head no doubt caused unnecessary casualties and heartbreak.

    Last but not least, Ehud Olmert. He looked exhausted yesterday at the appointment of the new chief of police, and the feeling is mutual. The country is tired of Ehud Olmert, who ever since the Second Lebanon War has been fighting a daily battle to remain in office. Some 75% of Israelis recently polled want him to tender his resignation immediately. The sad truth for Olmert is that his resignation or ousting in a no-confidence vote spell the end of his political career. All indications are that Olmert will be defeated handily in the Kadima primaries by Tzippy Livni, who will confront the prime minister with an ultimatum this afternoon: either you resign or I do. The implication of Livni’s resignation is likely a wholesale mutiny in Kadima.

    This country deserves better. I can’t wait to cover the new elections.

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