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?


June 11, 2007

Pedantic Petulance

Filed under: Academia,Hebrew,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 8:54 pm

My recent positive posts shouldn’t serve to overshadow my general state of annoyance at the way things are in Israel. Here’s another pet peeve:

Israeli pop-star Harel Moyal has had a song of his yanked by Israel’s state sponsored, commercial free music station, Galgalatz. Why? Galgalatz refuses to continue playing the song because Moyal “mispronounces” a single vowel. His pronunciation reflects the colloquial articulation, which vocalizes the initial vowel in מכיר as mekir, instead of the correct makir. Moyal will need to re-record the entire song as a result.

This instance is but a small illustration of an upsurge of the almost French-like pedantic punctiliousness among Israelis when it comes to the spelling, pronunciation, and accentation of the modern-Hebrew language.  Did the FCC file an injunction to cease broadcast of System of a Down’s song “Lonely Day” because it contains the grammatically incorrect refrain “the most loneliest day of my life”?  Should country music songs containing the contraction “ain’t” also be re-recorded?

Hebrew subtitling on Israel’s channels 1 and 2 will consistently correct the grammar of people being interviewed.  It is a favored pastime of “talkbackistim,” i.e., people who leave comments on Israeli news websites, to point out either the bad grammar and/or spelling of other commenters (commentators?).

Linguistic pride is a wonderful virtue.  A country that takes a recording artist to task for mispronouncing a single vowel should treat its leaders with the same level of accountability.

June 7, 2007

Odd, But Familiar Dream

Filed under: Academia,America,Diaspora,Education,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Reality,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:07 pm

There must have been copious amounts of MSG in my dinner last night, because I had a dream that was off the hook. What really set this dream apart was its vividness and highly realistic feel. Here goes:

I am approached by Richard Joel, the current president of Yeshiva University. He says: “We would like for you to be the next vice-president of Yeshiva University.” I hesitate. On the one hand, this is the institution that left me bereft of a “real college experience,” sold me short on Judaic studies, and that is slowly morphing into a trade school for the intellectually challenged. On the other hand, I have a very strong familial connection with the institution, and if you know who I am and what I’m talking about, it makes Richard Joel’s proposition quite eerie.

Joel clearly senses my hesitation. “Compensation is $100,000 per-month,” he says. I accepted the position immediately.

What does it all mean?
Should I be disturbed that even though I was morally conflicted about accepting the job, it was ultimately the bottom line that tilted the scales? Does it mean that I am hesitant to serve the community in which I was raised?

Or should I look at the positives:
I must have very high self-esteem if I dream about being offered such a powerful position at such a young age. (In the dream, I was myself, at my current age, and even “mentally” questioned how it was that I was being offered the job, given my age.) I felt up to the task and never questioned whether I was qualified to handle the burdens of the position.

My current interpretation is that the dream represents the crossroads at which I stand. The job offer is the looming specter of the probability that one day, come what may, I will invariably be drafted to the ranks of Jewish communal service. This is almost fait accompli. There is then the moral question: as ideal-driven as communal service may be, there are the occasional ethical sacrifices to be made. And finally there is the question of “selling out,” which is something I battle with every day: do I abandon my ideal line of work–whatever that may be–because a healthier income from a less ideologically rewarding job might be the ticket to a “better” life?

Stay tuned. These considerations will begin playing themselves out over the coming weeks.

June 6, 2007

Merlot: Why it Sucks

Filed under: Culinary,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:18 pm

I had an oenophilic epiphany last weekend as I gallivanted around the country tasting fine wines: I can no longer tolerate drinking Merlot. OK, I’ll acknowledge that it was with the help of Merlot that I was able to build my palate and appreciation for wine. It is an easy drinking wine, light on the tannins, and is generally easy to decipher flavorwise. Merlot is certainly the entry-level wine of choice for many. So, thank you Merlot for being there for me at the beginning of my quest.

But when you’ve learned to finally ride your bicycle, you remove the training wheels with no pretension of ever reattaching them. There is always a place for the guitar soloist, but there is nothing like the aurally transcendent experience of big band jazz or a symphony orchestra. One boutique vintner, when presenting his wines to us last weekend, called the Merlot “the queen” and the Cabernet “the king.” I will often say that Merlot feels two-dimensional while Cabernet and other powerful full-bodied wines feel three-dimensional.

I am not alone here. Growing popular distaste for Merlot was canonized and perpetuated in Sideways with Miles’s notorious exclamation: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!” A survey conducted by AC Nielsen examining wine purchasing trends in the US showed that while Americans continued to purchase Merlot, even in the aftermath of Sideways, 3% fewer households were repeat purchasers of the varietal. And it goes without saying that popularity of Pinot Noir, an exciting, full-bodied cherry-berry varietal, skyrocketed in the wake of Sideways, with 14% increases in both household penetration and frequency of purchase. In general, this two year-old article from the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the Merlot dislike phenomenon from a historical perspective and the author hypothesizes that the bad rap Merlot has taken of late is a function of the rate at which the varietal was planted during the period which saw a surge in the popularity of dry reds in the States.

Just to make sure that I wasn’t blowing things out of proportion, I decided that even after tasting lackluster Merlot after lackluster Merlot last weekend, I would try one last time.  I saddled up a Carmel 2004 Regional (Upper Galilee) Merlot, let the bottle breathe for an hour, thereafter decanting into glasses to allow for additional oxygenation.  The color looked good for a Merlot.  On the nose, the first thing that hit me was the strong smell of alcohol, and indeed, the wine’s 14% alcohol content is on the high end for a Merlot.  The smell of oak was also very strong (12 months in French oak barrels), with a very vague hint of cherry.  The first sip that I took was very aggressive on the tip of my tongue (i.e., acidity issues), and the wine felt like an “oak bomb.”  The oak overpowered any of the other potential flavor components of the wine, which was a real disappointment.  When I tasted the wine the next day, it had opened nicely and was much more tame, with a distinct cherry bouquet and taste.   That was it.  Oak and cherry.  Not a very impressive wine.  My score: 82, and that’s only after the wine has been allowed to breathe overnight!

June 4, 2007

Hesder Army News IV

Filed under: Army,Israel,Religion,Security — lonelymanofcake @ 10:00 am

Amir Peretz, in perhaps one of his final significant meetings as Defense Minister before either Ami Ayalon or Ehud Barak take over the Labor Party, has officially placed a moratorium on General Elazar Stern’s plans (previously discussed here) to prevent Hesder students from joining Golani and the Paratroops in the upcoming August draft.

It appears–assuming that the chain of command places the Defense Minister over the Chief of Staff–that the ultimate arrangements for the August draft will be to the satisfaction of the Hesder students.

June 3, 2007

Israeli Gas Prices, June 2007

Filed under: Automotive,Israel,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 11:33 am

The new Israeli gas prices, which are calculated in the final days of a given month and updated on the 1st of the month,  as of June 1, 2007:

$5.64 per-gallon of 95 Octane (which in Israel is considered “regular unleaded”).
This is calculated at 6.07 NIS per-liter, with the shekel closing at 4.07 NIS to the US Dollar.

While this constitutes a 1.34% increase over the May 2007 price of 5.99 NIS per-liter, the change is not represented in the dollar amount of $5.64, which, because of the recently strengthened US Dollar, remains equivalent to the May 2007 price.

June 1, 2007

Apologies… and Plans

Filed under: General — lonelymanofcake @ 3:41 pm

This past week or so has been quite busy.  A good friend of mine flew in last week and sponsored a weekend of wine tasting in the Golan and Galilee.  I already began typing up my impressions of each of the six wineries that we visited, and just attempting to remember the name and vintage of each wine that we tasted is quite an effort.  The weekend, in addition to giving me a break from life in Jerusalem (and its residents!), also afforded me with a very timely opportunity to reassess my personal position vis-a-vis where I stand as a resident-alien in Israel, especially given my very opinionated, often negative, views of life in the Holy Land.

The dramatic change in topography, plentiful forests, and change of scenery must have done something to my head (or maybe it was having tasted some 30 wines), because once again I do see some sense in staying in Israel, even if only temporarily.  Or maybe it was the vintners, with their passion for the land, down to earth ways, and the satisfaction they display when they talk about what they do.

Our last stop before heading back south to Jerusalem was at a boutique winery called Nahal Amud, which is near Mt. Meron.  The owner of the winery was unable to give us the requisite tour/tastings because of personal obligations, but he said that his son was in the vineyards doing some spraying.  We had been looking forward all weekend long to walking through some actual vineyards but hadn’t had the opportunity to do so.  So I coordinated with the fellow in the field and we were given a detailed explanation and orientation about the agricultural side of grapes.  The fellow, who must have been in his mid 30s, told us of his love for the vineyards and how he spends his nights with the grapes rather than at bars or clubs.

This was the first time in a while that my positive experiences in Israel, on a day-to-day basis, overwhelmingly outweighed the negative ones.  Maybe its time to leave Jerusalem.  Or maybe this was a rare exception to the rule.  It’s probably a good idea to leave Jerusalem anyway.  Someone else can live in my hot, noisy, overpriced apartment for two years before they come to the same conclusion.

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.

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