Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ay Oh Ay Oh Ay Oh AY OH!

In How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer uses world cup soccer to show how globalization has influenced local cultures differently in different regions of the world. Rejecting the theories of both the left and the right, his soccer example shows that globalization enhances local culture and corruption at the same time.

One fascinating and unexpected chapter of the book called “How Soccer Explains the Jewish Question,” tells the history of Jewish soccer clubs in Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

“Although it seems strange now, the idea of a professional Jewish soccer club it is only strange because so few of the Jewish soccer clubs survived Hitler. But, in the 1920s, Jewish soccer clubs had sprouted throughout metropolitan Europe in Budapest, Berlin, Prague, Innsbruck, and Linz.

Jewish teams cloaked themselves in Jewish, not Hungarian or Austrian, or German, nationalism literally wearing their Zionism on their shirts…their unabashedly Hebrew names, Hagibor (the hero), Bar Kochba (after the leader of the second century revolt against the Romans), and HaKoah (the strength), had mistakenly nationalist overtones.

If all of this seemed explicitly political, it was because these clubs were the product of a political doctrine. An entire movement of Jews believed that soccer and sport more generally, would liberate them from the violence and tyranny of anti-Semitism. The polemicist, Max Nordau, one of the founding fathers of turn of the century Zionism, created a doctrine called muskeljudentum or muscular Judaism…To beat back anti-Semitism…Jews didn’t merely need to reinvent their body politic; they needed to reinvent their bodies. ” (Foer 69)

Interesting right? That’s only the beginning. Foer goes on to tell the story of Hakoah, the most successful of the Jewish soccer teams. Recognizing that soccer carried political mileage, a number of wealthy well-connected Jews created the team with the hope that it could be used to disprove stereotypes about Jews, and fight anti-Semitism. However, because it was run like a capitalist machine, Hakoah initially confirmed stereotypes that were already held by German and Austrian soccer fans, and gave them a not-needed opportunity to pick fights. In the end, the team did achieve many of its goals. It became internationally successful and renown, like Manchester United today, and won the 1925 championship. Additionally, the team inspired a community of loyal followers, which included highly assimilated Jews who previously hid their identity, and each victory was seen as a sign that the period of Jewish discrimination was coming to an end.

Just as it began, the story of Jewish soccer in Europe ends unexpectedly. Hakoah’s 1925 success led the team to take a trip to New York. When the players saw that New York was uninfected with European anti-Semitism, it became their Zion, and the players immigrated en masse there (Foer 75).

A final fascinating element of the chapter is Foer’s explanation of how Jewish identity is used in today’s soccer competitions. Whether or not you believe that anti-Semitism is growing in Europe, it is unquestionable that it does still exist today. Tottenham, a soccer club in North London, refers to its players as Yiddoes. Some of the greatest teams in European soccer refer to themselves as Jewish, because Jews founded them in the 1880s. Ajax of Amsterdam even use Israeli flags to decorate their stadiums.

What is the significance of this Jewish identification mean? While the teams take on Jewish identity as a way to compliment the Jews, it still treats them like others. Similar to how Americans use Indians as sporting mascots, in the European context the Jews are treated as a cartoon images who cannot escape their otherness.

What can we take from this text, and the chapter about Jewish soccer? A few simple truths:

1) Processes of globalization can be best explained when studied locally (duh!)
2) Maybe instead of spending millions of dollars creating Jewish babies and “fighting” anti-Semitism in Europe with policy analyses, the Jewish government should be buying us all umbros and cleats…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Coffee 101

I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the java and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup …

Slip me a slug of the wonderful mug
an Ill cut a rug just as snug in a jug
Drop a nickel in the pot joe
Takin it slow
Waiter, waiter, percolator…

As a high school senior I was an employee of a certain evil coffee company, and as a result I attended coffee classes. At the time I thought this was an absurd waste of time; why would I ever need to know how to use a French press, let alone how to best expedite pastries, or how to “tamp” the coffee in the espresso wand. (Note; Tamping is when you pack the coffee into the wand just tight enough to make the espresso shots pull right. This is the only complex part of espresso making that was retained when the evil coffee company purchased their newer model machines. )

Surprisingly enough, I actually retained some interesting information from coffee class. While some people master the art of sommelier, and learn wine, I learned to taste the difference between coffees from different regions of the world. Here’s the lesson I learned. Hope you enjoy it:

How to Taste Coffee:
When tasting coffee, it is best to brew it through a French press. Take your French press coffee, and there are three steps:
1) smell the coffee.
2) Take a sip. Swirl the coffee in your mouth. Swallow
3) Describe the coffee

Some adjectives often heard at coffee tastings: flavorful, smooth, smoky, fruity, chocolatey, spicy etc.

Around the world in 30 cups…

Coffee grows primarily in three regions of the world:
South America and the Caribbean

Beans from each of these areas tend to take on flavors in the soil. Because of this you can identify the origin of coffee by taste:

South America and the Caribbean coffees have fruity undertones. They are often described as berry-like, but taste like tomato to me.
Asian coffees are spicy, with hints of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spicy.

African coffees have earthy nutty undertones. They sometimes have hints of nut and taste a bit gritty.

Non-European coffee blends are named after the region in which the beans were grown, i.e. Java is from Java, Colombian coffee from Colombia etc.

European coffee (my favorite) is a whole different bag. In fact it is kind of a misnomer, seeing as no coffee beans really grow in Europe. European coffees are named after coffee roasts (the process beans go through for flavor enhancement) and different European regions have distinctive roasting styles. French roast and Italian roast are the darkest, while American roast is light. While it is universally known that Italian roast is dark and American is light individual coffeehouses have different standards for what constitutes dark roast vs. medium or light. For instance, Starbucks’ is the darkest around, while Dunkin Donuts roasts are medium, and many street vendor coffees seem to be really light. My favorite coffee place in Brooklyn, Ozzie’s has an excellent darkish hazelnut blend that’s great, while the other excellent coffee place in the ‘hood tastes darker and earthier so I think its made from dark roasted African beans.

So you see, a cup of jo can actually be quite complicated, super mega jumbo mocha latte aside. Next time you go to grab a cup or buy some beans, I hope you’ll be able to make a more educated decision to find something you like. Coffee lesson 2 will be about fair trade beans. Drink up.

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