Lonely Man of Cake

June 12, 2007

The Future of the Golan Heights Wineries

Filed under: Israel,Politics,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 6:12 pm

With mounting speculation that an impending peace deal with Syria would most probably require Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights, one of the more interesting, but less publicly debated, ramifications of such a deal would involve the fate of the numerous wineries in the area.  On my recent winery tour in the north, we visited two of (at least) seven wineries in the area: Bazelet ha-Golan (amazing Cabernet) and the bio-organic Bashan Winery (amazing Port).  The Golan Heights winery–which we were not able to visit–is the institution that put Israeli wines on the map and that put the myth of all-kosher-wine-taste-like Manischewitz to rest.

This article in Decanter Magazine discusses the issue, and while the article does not introduce much new material to the discussion, it is interesting to note Daniel Rogov’s casual feelings about a possible withdrawal, and the misplaced (and naive) projection of the CEO of the Carmel Winery that such a move would encourage wine tourism in Israel.

What are your feelings on the issue?

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May 3, 2007

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.

March 27, 2007

Cannabis Kitniyos

Filed under: Israel,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Politics,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 4:51 pm

Israel’s (very secular) pro-marijuana party עלה ירוק (Green Leaf) has apparently entered the halakhic sphere and issued a notice which states that marijuana is considered kitniyot (definition), as it is related to hemp (or not), which is apparently kitniyot.

Some musings:

  1. It would be funny if marijuana was actually considered chametz. Would selling your chametz then be considered a criminal act? (Note: Kitniyot need not be sold.)
  2. Does inhalation amount to the halakhic standards for consumption? (The Gemara in Tractate Avodah Zarah speaks about this with regard to inhaling smells emanating from an idol worship ceremony. If I’m not mistaken, the Tosafists say that inhalation is to be considered a category of drinking… I’ll dig up the source.)
  3. What of hashish, which is a marijuana derivative?

I’m not sure how to read into the fact that this “psak” has so far appeared only in English language publications.

(Hat tip: yeho)

March 12, 2007

Message to Stanley Fisher

Filed under: General,Israel,Politics,Reality — lonelymanofcake @ 2:57 pm

PROLOGUE: The press conference was canceled. I think that it may have been a strategic semi-bluff by Fisher, who continues to impress me. Even so, my letter stands. I am disgusted by the likes of the workers of the Electric Company, who, though state employees, receive average salaries which are 400% higher than teachers; and teachers don’t get unlimited free electricity. And they still have the audacity to strike and demand more. Just like you get free electricity if you work for the Electric Company and free phone calls if you work for Bezeq, you get free money if you work for the Bank of Israel, at the taxpayer’s expense. And they still have the audacity to strike and demand more!

Dear Professor Fisher,

I found out recently that the worker’s committee of the Bank of Israel has decided to go on strike for an indefinite period, and that as a result, you will be giving a press conference this evening at 8:00 PM. Your announcement has caused the press to speculate that you intend on tendering your resignation as a result of the intolerable working conditions posed by your intransigent subordinates at the Bank of Israel.

I sincerely hope that it is not your intention to leave, and that, in reality, you will announce at the press conference that every striking worker is to be summarily terminated with no compensation. Plenty of talented workers in this country could fill the coveted positions at the bank; and due to their merits, not their connections.

If you do announce that you will be tendering your early resignation, then you will have confirmed for me what I have feared all along:

  1. That socialism still pervades even in what should be the bastion of Israeli capitalism, The Bank of Israel;
  2. That Israel, despite its renown for high-tech, is still a third world country, with more control exerted by racketeering labor unions than the government;
  3. That even the idealism which would lead an economist and executive of your caliber to leave behind the prestige of Citigroup could not overcome the stifling bureaucracy inherent in every Israeli institution.

I hope that you prove me wrong this evening.

Yours truly,
Lonely Man of Cake

March 9, 2007

Some Good Shabbat Reading

  1. Steven I. Weiss of Canonist has been duking it out with sociologist Samuel Heilman after Weiss reviewed Heilman’s latest book and pointed out some statistics which do not jive with math or logic. Start here for the book review (and comments), continue here (also with comments), and round it out here.
    1. Apropos Steven I. Weiss, if you ever feel like “you’ve reached the end of the Internet” and want some fantastic material, check out Weiss’s pioneering J-blog “Protocols.”  Though defunct for over two years now, Weiss and a small team of bloggers covered every major story of (Orthodox) Jewish interest since December 2002.
  2. The eventual impact of global warming may have global consequences far more devastating than “mere” environmental damage.  Read the introduction here, and the 25-page white paper, here.
  3. Dikembe Mutombo, the 7-foot 2-inch center for the Houston Rockets and the oldest player in the NBA, authored a groundbreaking study when he was a student at Georgetown in which he assailed “one of the sillier ideas of modern linguistics… that one language is as good as another, that no language is clearly superior to any other.”  His idea has been further developed with added criteria.  Spanish comes out on top; English is in second place.

March 7, 2007

Crazy Taxes

I enjoy sharing with folks some of the more creative ways various legislative bodies have cultivated in order to take our money. The illegal drug tax was probably the most creative/ironic/offensive one. That petrol in Israel is charged a 100% excise tax also gets points for creativity.

Here is the story of a 79 year old fellow, David Wetzel, who is a biodiesel pioneer and activist. His converted 1985 Volkswagen Golf has consumed, according to Wetzel’s records, 1134 gallons of waste vegetable oil. A short while ago, Wetzel was visited by two agents from the Illinois Department of Revenue, who demanded that Wetzel pay retroactive “gas” taxes (about 20 cents per-gallon) on his bio-diesel, and file for “special fuel supplier” and “receiver” status from the state.

While the sum of the taxes is somewhat negligible, and Wetzel complied with that request, the principle behind Illinois’ harassment of Wetzel is downright offensive. Never mind that restaurant owners paid tax on the vegetable oil when they bought it for its intended use. (Can taxes even be levied on used goods?) Wetzel’s car was able to achieve 45 MPG utilizing a domestically produced fuel which is estimated to produce 60% less emissions than regular petrol.

Could it be that the US government fears fuel efficient vehicles because it means less revenue from gas sales? If so, then Wetzel wants equal treatment for hybrid cars: the miles traveled on the electric part of the motor should be assessed and taxed as well!

March 3, 2007

Parking Crisis in Tel Aviv

Filed under: Automotive,Israel,Politics,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 6:57 pm

If you’ve lived in or visited Manhattan, then you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of circling endlessly in search of that elusive spot.  You’ve cursed at the shmo who got lucky and chanced upon a spot just as the car was pulling out; you’ve contemplated “giving up” and paying exorbitant garage fees; you’ve gotten a $100 (or more!) ticket for parking illegally or overstaying your metered welcome; you’ve turned around and gone home (I’ve done it).

I don’t really go to Tel Aviv all that often.  In fact, I was last in Tel Aviv about six months ago.   But one factor which definitely keeps me away is the sore lack of parking to be found there.  An official survey recently undertaken in Tel Aviv which examined the “parking crisis” uncovered the following facts:

  •  There are 260,000 available spots in the city (includes private parking)
  • 360,000 spots are needed for residents and businesses; this does not even include the need for parking for those who visit the city.
  • Tel Aviv reaped 180 million NIS (about $43 million) in revenue from tickets last year

The below chart illustrates the crisis; the gray columns represent the amount of spots currently available, while the black represents the amount of spots needed.

Maybe some enterprising entrepreneur will bring SpotScout to Israel.

February 25, 2007

Strike Watch

Filed under: Academia,Education,Israel,Politics — lonelymanofcake @ 5:47 pm

I was almost positive last week–as were most of my fellow students–that there would be a strike of at least one day at the Israeli universities. The strike, which was supposed to have taken place today, was called off a few short hours after Shabbat as marathon negotiations between student leaders and Education Minister Yuli Tamir resumed from Friday afternoon. Crisis averted for the students. Tamir upset the religious MKs who protested that the Friday meeting carrying over into Shabbat. But the ultra-Orthodox community is up in arms over a little shtick pulled by El Al over the weekend.

The high school teacher’s strike will continue tomorrow in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.

And the all-powerful National Workers Union will go on a general strike this week in protestation of unpaid salaries.  When the 700,000 members of the union commence a general strike, it usually entails the paralysis of much of Israel’s infrastructure.

What a country.

February 24, 2007

IDF Air-Taxi Service

Filed under: Army,Conservation,Israel,Politics,Security,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 10:29 pm

Israel’s Channel 2 has an excellent expose`/TV news-magazine program called ‘Fact‘ (עובדה/Uvda). This week featured a particularly unsettling segment on the frivolous use of Israeli Air Force helicopters by IDF generals and senior government officials for personal trips (including spouses) and distances easily traversed by car. IDF rules allow for the use of helicopters for officers from the rank of (Major)[1] General (swords and one falafel for those keeping track) and above for flights which would take longer than 20 minutes. But the coordinators who receive the orders for these flights and the pilots who carry them out felt that they needed to expose to the public the fact that their services are continuously exploited at the expense of Israel’s taxpayers and national security.

The video is in Hebrew only (some portions have Hebrew subtitles) and as with (too) many Israeli websites, can be viewed only in Internet Explorer.

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[1]I put “Major” in parentheses because this specific rank in Hebrew is called Aluf (אלוף = General), whereas one rank higher, the rank possessed only by the Chief of Staff is called Rav Aluf (רב אלוף = Major General). I’m not sure why the IDF’s English translation of these ranks is not faithful to the Hebrew.

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