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Malcolm Jolley: Whites for dinner

Commentary

I received an email this week from a wine importer promoting a Prosecco advent calendar. Produced and assembled by the well-established producer Canella, the calendar is really a $200 case of 24 small 200 ml bottles of tank-made bubbly. Most mornings I really prefer orange juice, coffee, and water before at least eleven, even in December, so I’m not sure the liquid calendar fits with my lifestyle.In my experience, there is almost always a bottle of Prosecco in an ice bucket at the breakfast buffet provided by Italian hotels. Also in my experience, I have never actually seen anyone partake in the first thing in the morning fizz on offer. But, surely, some people must? Still, I like that the idea exists, and if I were in the corporate gifts world, I would be tempted to send a few to my best clients for fun.

A glass of sparkling wine in the morning seems pretty louche, but I suppose it wouldn’t get one into too much trouble, provided that was it (at least until lunch). Certainly, it seems pretty tame compared to whatever prompted the story that came out last month about the California brunch restaurant that offered bottomless mimosas and a $50 clean-up fee for anyone found throwing up in their restrooms.When I gave this story a Google to find a link, I discovered that the vomit fee may well have been a Canadian invention based on this 2021 story from BlogTO. That this was happening mid-COVID strikes me as rather impressive. I don’t want to be old-fashioned, but this may be a sign that wine and breakfast don’t really mix.

Wine and dinner certainly do, though. And, increasingly by my observation, white wine is at the table for the day’s last meal.

Exhibit A: My wife and I recently hosted a dinner party made of old friends to mark a birthday. Some wine was consumed. And while both kinds were on offer and poured before, during, and after dinner, a thin majority of it turned out to be white wine by the recycling bin tally the next morning. The numbers were aided by at least one guest who stuck to white all through dinner, and a few others who switched back to white after.

Exhibit B: I attended a mid-week dinner talk recently and was seated at a table of eight. As I recall, of the six of us seated who took wine with our salad and chicken breast, half (including me) stuck to white.

Exhibit C: The British trade magazine website, The Drinks Business, reported this month that University of California Davis scientists have discovered a molecule, quercetin, which they believe causes headaches in some people when it’s combined with alcohol. The molecule, or “flavonoid” is most prominently found in the skins of grapes. It is extended contact with skins, especially thick ones like on Cabernet Sauvignon, that makes wine red.If the article about quercetin and red wine headaches explains the phenomenon correctly, and if the sufferers wished to avoid the headaches but still drink red wine, then a successful course of action might be to try red wines made from thin-skinned grapes. These are usually from cooler climate regions since thick skins protect grapes from sunshine and heat dehydration. Pinot Noir from Canada or Northern Europe would be a good candidate to experiment with.

It seems that some people really do get red wine headaches. This was the explanation of our guest who stuck to white at the dinner party. Since she started, her husband often goes along and joins her happily.

If pathology isn’t enough to cause red wine avoidance, then vanity might. Two decades of frequent professional wine tasting (and a fair amount of off-hours wine drinking) have worn at the enamel of my teeth. I have veneers for some teeth, but the ones I don’t stain easily, and there’s no veneer for purple lips. Sticking to white at dinner parties or public events makes for better photo-ops, as well as easier to clean spills if things go really wrong.

There is also the matter of alcohol. No rule in the wine world is without many exceptions, but by and large white wines have less alcohol than red ones. Or at least, red wines are more likely to be made in a big, high-alcohol style than white ones. Whether for clarity of mind or kindness to the liver, a move to lower-alcohol wines is often easier by sticking to white, especially if one’s options are limited.

The best reason to drink white wine with dinner, though, is that it tastes good. Some foods really do go better with white wines, like an omelette or shellfish. And there is the matter of continuity. If I have opened a white wine as an aperitif before dinner, and if the dinner works with red or white wine, like a vegetable pasta, it’s easier to keep on the white than to open a new bottle of red.

Again, all wine world rules come with many exceptions, but by and large, the white wines that work best for heartier dinner foods lie on the fuller, weightier, and rounder flavour spectrum, as opposed to the crisper more aromatic end. I mean, I am more likely to pour a Chardonnay with a mushroom lasagne than a Sauvignon Blanc. Scallops would be another story, though.

White wines that show oak have become so unfashionable they may be becoming fashionable again. In any event, I have successfully paired subtly oaked Chardonnay or white Côtes-du-Rhône with slices of roast beef or steak while I was carving and still sipping the before-dinner wine. The tannins from the barrels function like the ones from red grapes and meld nicely into the fatty meat.

Life is short and the list of wines is long. If you prefer to drink white with dinner once in a while, or every time, then know you are in good company and of sound reason. 

Ian Cooper: Be aware, law students—anti-Israel activism may (rightfully) cost you a job

Commentary

As the war between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization started to unfold last month, many law students at top schools across North America immediately rallied to the Palestinian cause.

Take, for example, Ryna Workman, the student bar association president at New York University’s law school, who claimed in an October 10 written statement: “I want to express, first and foremost, my unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance against oppression toward liberation and self-determination…Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life. This regime of state-sanctioned violence created the conditions that made resistance necessary.”

Workman’s prospective employer, a global law firm, didn’t take kindly to Workman’s apologia for a modern pogrom and victim blaming and promptly rescinded Workman’s job offer.

The one-sided statements emanating from other elite universities prompted dozens of American firms to send a letter to law school deans at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, the University of Michigan, New York University, and Stanford, expressing their concern about “reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assaults on college campuses, including rallies calling for the death of Jews and the elimination of the State of Israel,” and encouraged the schools to do their job in providing “students with the tools and guidance to engage in the free exchange of ideas, even on emotionally charged issues, in a manner that affirms the values we all hold dear and rejects unreservedly that which is antithetical to those values.”

These events have highlighted the tension between the freedom of individuals to express their political views and the freedom of prospective employers to take such statements into account when it comes to hiring. Individuals have a constitutional right to speak their minds without government interference, but it doesn’t come with employment guarantees. If private citizens, including employers, don’t like what they hear, they are free to act accordingly. This distinction between government and private actors, which receives extensive consideration in every single first-year constitutional law class, should be obvious to law students, if anyone.

The drama has not been limited to the U.S. At Toronto Metropolitan University’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law, 74 students signed a particularly obnoxious letter that stated “’Israel’ is not a country, it is the brand of a settler colony. So-called Israel has been illegally occupying and ethnically cleansing Palestine since 1948, when the British unlawfully conceded Palestine’s territory.”

The letter went on to claim that “the apartheid state referred to as ‘Israel’ is a product of settler colonialism…We assert that Hamas’ attack was a direct result of Israel’s 75-year-long systemic campaign to eradicate Palestinians, and that Israel is therefore responsible for all loss of life in Palestine.”

These are, speaking charitably, odd contentions given that (1) the group ought to have known that Israeli statehood has been recognized by the United Nations as a matter of international law for more than 75 years and (2) since Palestine, as defined by these students, is all of Israel, they too appeared to blame Hamas’s massacre of Israeli citizens on the Israeli government.

The students who have faced a backlash on both sides of the border are crying foul, but law firms are not only entitled to exclude them as a matter of employment law, they’re wise to do it.

Many of these strident public statements evinced a lack of basic skills nearly every law school exam tries to hone—namely an ability to wrestle with ambiguity, use precise language, and recognize opposing arguments.

They also exhibited a remarkable tone-deafness. It would be fair for prospective employers to wonder if this group could be expected to get along with colleagues and clients or worry that they would bring this combination of righteous toxicity and ignorance to their new jobs. 

Law firms are tightly knit environments in which new hires usually arrive for their first day of work with no relevant work experience, a high sense of self-worth, and an unusually large salary for a first job. Senior lawyers are expected to provide files to juniors and to spend years mentoring them, usually working on small teams within a specialized practice area.  

For those who stay a decade or more, equity partnership and the eventual bequest of a “book of business” offer the prospect of a seven-figure income. It’s not an easy path, which is why there’s so much attrition in the early years of practice. But it’s a fair trade for those who have the required skills and want to put in the time and effort.

Incoming students may feel it’s their right to waltz into a high-paying job in a large law firm, but many partners do not want to work with people who publicly express views they or their clients consider odious. 

Moreover, the warmed-over Marxism represented by the settler/colonizer narrative students have been parroting is fundamentally incompatible with a law firm’s corporate culture.

Large law firms are among the least Marxist workplaces one can find. Those who own the means of production—client relationships—profit off the labours of a much larger mass of proletarians who do the bulk of the work, measured in six-minute increments, who in turn are supported by a vast number of administrative staff who have no prospect of becoming owners, and who are often the first to go in an economic downturn.

The most common areas of private practice—corporate/commercial, civil litigation, insolvency, employment, and tax—and the high hourly rates charged for such expertise, do not provide fertile ground for social revolution.

In the absence of any employment history, grades and extracurricular activities are generally used as predictors of future job performance when engaging in the annual speed dating ritual that is student hiring. The thinking is that people who are involved in their communities can be assumed to be hard workers who can juggle multiple commitments and that they will bring the same energy to their new careers.

That thinking seems to be changing, as employers are beginning to ask why someone who fulminates in the language of intersectional justice and decolonization would ever want to work in a large law firm, and why the firm should want to bring such an avowed revolutionary activist into its midst. Whatever it means to be an ardent decolonizer in a major North American city in 2023, surely two thousand billable hours a year in the corporate restructuring or commercial litigation department couldn’t possibly scratch that itch.

Law firms are businesses that sell a tireless commitment to client service. They’re not Bolshevik workers’ councils that exist to effect broader social change.

In a choice between picking a student whose interests are rooted in critical race theory or one who is president of the business law club, the latter is looking more attractive than ever.

Rather than lament the absence of an imagined right to say whatever they want, however they want to say it, and be hired for a high-paying job by people who find their views abhorrent, these law students ought to have the courage of their convictions and choose careers that are more suited to their priorities and aspirations.

That may mean avoiding large full-service law firms and taking a lower-paying job in government, a legal clinic, or an NGO. 

No employer should have to apologize for hiring people who actually want to do the job they’re offering. When applicants tell employers who they are and what they want to do, they can’t fault law firms for listening.