Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Black-robed Bench Brats acting up

Well, folks, another one of New York Chief Judge Judy Kaye's black-robed bench brats is acting up in the news again. The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended that New York Supreme Court Justice Justice Laura D. Blackburne be bounced from the bench for having a court officer escort a drug dealer through the rear corridors and out the back door of the courthouse, so that the drug dealer could evade arrest by the NYPD on fresh robbery and assault charges.

[Caution: Do not be too impressed with the title! In the State of New York, the "Supreme Court" is the LOWEST court of general jurisdiction; the top of the judicial pyramid, where Judge Judy Kaye sits, is known as the "State of New York Court of Appeals," and the intermediate layer courts are known as the "Supreme Court, Appellate Divisions." Is it any wonder that the judicial system in New York is always so fotutto?]

Now, soon-to-be-ex Justice Laura has been suspended and will, we hope, be officially removed when her case finally makes it up to the Court of Appeals, which in theory should uphold the Commission's recommendation and send Laura Blackburne packing.

It is not my primary blogosphere niche to berate the American Civil Liberties Union, so I will leave that function to the experts. If truth be told, the liberal idealistic high school version of me was actually an ACLU member, but I made the strategic decision to not renew my membership when they had the infamous Skokie affair. The ACLU principles look good in the abstract, but their practical application of the theory is very suicidal. In any event, I mention that Laura Blackburne was a Board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU's New York affiliate.

All of the publicity associated with Laura Blackburne has detracted from the notoriety of another one of Judge Judy's black-robed bench brats. Two days before the Judge Laura decision, the Commission made the equivalent of a plea bargain with Town Judge Richard T. Distefano, who was suspended from the practice of law for stealing client funds, apparently before he ascended to the bench. Distefano had a checkered disciplinary record as an attorney, and he has agreed to leave the bench and not seek a judicial office in the future. He saved the New York taxpayers the cost of evicting him from the bench, for which we all in a sense should be grateful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chicken fat

The other night we attended a yeshiva fundraiser. The kind where you buy a half-page ad in the Dinner Journal, in return for which you get the kavod and esteem and plaudits, plus lots of food, food and more FOOD. Despite what follows, it really was a very lovely event, what with all of the newly-minted Rabbis sitting on the dais and beaming. We really enjoyed it. Really!

BUT, it was too damn crowded! Now this isn't a totally bad thing, because if you do the arithmetic, it means that lots of people bought half-page ads (and larger), which means that the yeshiva got some good funding so that it can continue its good work. But I don't at all do well in crowds (unless I am picking pockets).

For one thing, the sumptuous hors d'ouvres tables were not optimally placed to facilitate the orderly flow of traffic. Perhaps if the crowd size were 60% or 75% of what it was, then it wouldn't have made much of a difference, but the extra personnel overload exacerbated the choke points. They would have done much better if they had placed some more small tables for people to sit down, so that they would be out of the way of the traffic.

Then, in the dining room, there were too damn many tables, and too damn many people at each table. And because one of the video projection screens (basically a great idea, to be sure, because everyone, regardless of seating position, could see what was happening on the dais) monopolized a section by the wall, the table that was placed there didn't have much clearance. I could not eat undisturbed for more than a minute or so at most because people were always attempting to pass through that maybe eight inch gap between the back of my chair and the back of the chair at the adjacent table. It was difficult for an anorectic person to pass between the tables!

Which brings me to the most troubling observation of the evening: There weren't too many anorectics there; to the contrary, the crowd clearly demonstrated America's growing obesity problem! So many corpulent yeshiva bochers (and big fat spouses thereof), some of whom had circumferences which nearly equaled their heights. And if the food spread wasn't the cause of it, the Viennese table spread for dessert really took the cake (pun intended)! In many respects, Jewish culture is obesity-faciltative!

This has troubling implications. I'm sure that some of those fatsos there have trouble qualifying for health insurance and life insurance. So when these big fat yeshiva bocherim marry and start having lots and lots of children (which I endorse and applaud, what with Hitler and the Muslims and the Catholic Church Crusades and everyone else who have been and are still trying to exterminate us), they have large families who are at risk if the big fat father or big fat mother or even a big fat little child gets sick and/or dies without adequate insurance coverage. So hardly a week goes by that I don't get some shnor in the mail to help the family of a sick or dead rabbi or yeshiva bocher or kollelnik, and I can't help but wonder what insurance coverage the poor zhlub had.

One dirty little secret in the religious Jewish community is that we frequently do not insure our lives adequately. There is an aversion in the black hat crowd towards life insurance, and that aversion goes far beyond issues of income (or lack thereof). A family with one child, let alone eight or nine, should take the trouble to insure the lives of Mom and Dad. But so many just do not do it!

The Jewish community is coming upon a health epidemic. All of these fatsos creeping up in age are becoming increasingly susceptible to the various maladies associated with obesity. This can only have adverse financial effects upon the families who depend upon them. Whatever issues exist with the individual family budget and insurance (and they often are significant issues) are only exacerbated by the ever-fattening obesity crisis in our community.

My own daily routine includes both learning the daf and physical exercise. One need not join a gym; it can be done in one's own home. So start exercising, and get rid of that chicken fat !

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Deform Judaism and the Religious Right

Here's the first two sentences of the 19 November 2005 posting by AP writer Kristen Hayes on the Union for Reform Judaism's convention in Houston:

"HOUSTON - The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a 'monopoly on God' while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said 'religious right' leaders believe 'unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person.'"

The official press release gives details.

Two sentences, and already I have lots of problems, but first I must frankly disclose that my own upbringing included family memberships in Conservative and Reform Jewish congregations.

In the first place, the Deform Movement (okay, so I confused the resh with the dalet) is NOT true Torah Judaism. Though they say that they recognize the Torah, the then proceed to go against its values in almost every aspect of their teachings, including but not limited to same-gender marriages, desecration of the Sabbath (note that this Houston convention, with all of its chillul Shabbat, was held on Saturday), and the very definition of who is and who is not a Jew.

And Eric Yoffie is "Mister Yoffie" because he is not a rabbi and I will not refer to him as such. The Deform Movement's qualifications for ordination are so flimsy that anyone claiming "rabbinical" credentials under them cannot be taken seriously.

But enough of the theological emotionalism! Let us look at the practical real-world applications. There is no denying that, even as they expand their qualifications for including people among their group, the Reform Movement has a piss poor record for keeping its children in the fold. The attrition rate from even what the Reform Movement designates as "Judaism" is astronomical. Remember that this is based upon self-identification of the people involved!

Challenge: Is anyone out there a person who (a) identifies themselves as a "Reform Jew" and (b) had at least 7 great-grandparents who identified themselves as "Reform Jews?" If so, please step forward!

As for the content of Mr. Yoffie's message: Without denying my own concerns about certain elements of the religious right, I recall that not too long ago Deform Movement was preaching the message of ecumenicalism and brotherhood, and many Deform leaders were criticizing certain groups for offending our Christian brethren by bringing to light their targeting the Jewish community for missionizing. The party line was that Israel and the Jewish people need all the friends they can get, and that we should not question the motives of those who speak out in our favor. Howcum it's now okay for Mr. Yoffie to do it?

As a parting comment, many clergy of the Reform Movement (remember that they are not Rabbis and will not be referred to as such) specifically assail "the Orthodox" (The use of the singular proper noun to refer to the plural is often done with negative and denigrating implications) in their sermons. This has happened in Roanoke, Virginia, in Hudson, Ohio, in Louisville, Kentucky, and who knows where else. In my own congregation (it is Orthodox, if you must label it), during the past 18 years our Rabbi (and he's a real rabbi) has only once, in passing, said something mildly critical of certain specific Jewish leaders allied with the so-called "Conservative Judaism" movement.

I won't ask you to tell me what is Jewish about that group that calls itself "Conservative Judaism," but will someone please tell me what about it is conservative?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I know it’s a little bit late to start analyzing the recent elections, but I’ve been rather busy this past week (pardon me for sounding like the Mother of All Excuses Place website).

The long and the short of it is that the Republicans (yes, that is how I am registered) had been getting a bit arrogant ­ and a bit expensive, what with the taxes (federal, state or local), cost of gasoline, cost of transportation (public and private), et cetera. Every Republican loss boils down to someone’s arrogance or something’s expense.

Long serving Nassau County NY DA Denis Dillon’s loss to Kathleen Rice had elements of arrogance and expensiveness. Dillon was getting arrogant after 3 decades in office, but the voters of Roslyn were further disenchanted with Dillon on account of what they viewed as a slap on the wrist for their disgraced school superintendent Frank Tassone. It was Tassone who did Dillon in, at least in Roslyn.

Arrogance is nothing new. After three terms, Alphonse D’Amato became the ex-Senator from New York by a very thin margin, because he had gotten a bit too arrogant for many voters who would otherwise have supported him. And D’Amato’s colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania had been given the lesson in 1967 when he lost the race for Mayor of Philadelphia (some believe that Arlen needs a refresher course). After winning the legalistic argument that he was not required to resign as District Attorney to run for Mayor because the DA post was a state job and not covered by the provisions of the Philadelphia City Charter, he lost the election by a thin margin because too many people thought that he had been a bit too arrogant. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do.

But there are two kinds of politicians: Those who strive for the public welfare, and those who are in office. There are many Republicans who must now shift gears and start striving for the good of their communities.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Riots in France, American preparedness, and IRS investigations

Muslim riots in France are being blogged and reported quite extensively. Areas of inquiry I would like to see covered include:

1. What roles are the Muslim clergy playing in this whole thing? Are they advocating the lawlessness (which, with all of my prejudices, I strongly suspect)? Are any Muslim imams in France calling for law and order and an end to the violence? If so, this should be reported.

2. What is being done in America to deter similar Muslim behavior here? History, recent and distant, has shown that Muslims respond quite positively to a clear show of force and strength. It must be made clear that America will not tolerate the same kind of behavior that is now happening in France.

There are, to be sure, several differences between American and France. Most notably, many Muslims have integrated into our American society, and have found success and prosperity in America. Without in any way negating the statements made in the previous paragraph, I will observe that many in Muslim community leadership positions can potentially be persuaded to take a stand against violence because they have much to lose if the Muslim community in America behaves in the same manner as their French counterparts. There are Muslims who are quite willing to work with the authorities to keep law and order in the streets of America. Outreach to the Muslim community is a valuable component of deterring Muslim riots in America (though, as noted above, a definitive show of strength is a sine qua non to effective deterrence).

3. What are the authorities in America prepared to do if deterrence fails, and the Muslims start rioting in the streets here? Will there be pissing contests over whether the first response should be the Army or the State Militia or the local gendarmerie? Will the police and the fire departments break down each others' wagons? Are the Federal, state and/or local chief executives prepared to give the "shoot to kill" order?

But never mind the Muslims! We need to protect ourselves against the Internal Revenue Service!

Seems that the All Saints Church in Pasadena, California is now being investigated by the IRS. The Church allegedly violated the restrictions against partisan political activity by tax-exempt organizations because an "emeritus" guest pastor (whateverthehell that may be) made certain statements in a single sermon. The church has retained Marcus Owens, former chief of the IRS's Exempt Organizations Division and now a member of the Caplin & Drysdale law firm, to represent them against the IRS. This is a power hitter lawyer at a heavy artillery tax law firm (the Caplin in Caplin & Drysdale is Mortimer Caplin, former IRS Commissioner). Marc Owens has responded quite eloquently to the IRS's nastygram investigation letter (as well he should, given the fees he must be billing for his services).

Understand that I have no inherent empathies for All Saints Church. It is a leftist idiotarian moonbat congregation, plain and simple (just surf through their website if you have a sufficient supply of Zantac, Prilosec and/or Nexium to treat your stomach)! I will even go so far to say that All Saints Church DESERVES the IRS investigation.

It is reassuring to know that the IRS is enforcing the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code that prohibit churches from engaging in political activity. Perhaps the IRS will give similar scrutiny to the various Muslim mosques, whose activities of late have grown ever increasingly political.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rosa Parks, Samuel Alito and Innovation

How on earth can the Rosa Parks news thread ever be tied in with the Samuel Alito news thread? What does one have to do with the other? Plenty, when viewed from the vantage point of the innovation process.

Innovation requires the ability to view a situation from a fresh perspective, unbound to the prevailing conventional wisdoms. Implementing an innovation requires breaking down the natural human resistance to change. Pershing and Patton had to overcome resistance to the idea of tank warfare, and Billy Mitchell was court-martialed essentially on account of his promotion of military uses of the airplane. Sarah Schenirer faced resistance from the rabbis when she brought Torah education to religious Jewish girls, and Rabbi Pam faced more resistance than anyone in the Agudath Israel is comfortable admitting when he implemented his idea of bringing Torah education to Jewish children from irreligious backgrounds. In many religious Jewish social circles, the idea of procuring life insurance is met with recalcitrant resistance. Samuel Plimsoll ran up against much resistance in his campaign to save sailors' lives by preventing the overloading of cargo ships. And in our own day, the prevailing culture of Iraq has trouble dealing with this innovation known as democracy.

There can be no denying that much of this brouhaha over Rosa Parks is plain and simple pandering to the
b-l-a-c-k community.

HOWEVER, neither can there be any denying of Rosa Parks's role in the practical implementation of the principles enunciated a year earlier by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court can file a paper mandating cultural diversity as an ideal, but it took some real striving to put that ideal into practice.

Diversity of culture brings along diversity of ideas, and facilitates better reactions to new ideas. In other words, the diverse American society of the late 20th Century and beyond, which Rosa Parks helped to create, was a society conducive to innovation.

It is always very easy to engage in "what if" speculations; the fact is that we usually have no way of knowing what would have happened if we had done things differently. Accordingly, I will not make any point blank statement to the effect that all of the great American innovations in science, technology, the arts and commerce were facilitated by our cultural diversity.

But neither will I bet even my lunch money (let alone the mortgage money) that so much innovation would have been possible if America had not been brought beyond the stage of arguing over which members of the public should be sitting in which seats of the bus!

So what does this have to do with Judge Alito?

For various reasons, not all judicial dispositions are published in the official court reporters. In many instances, the so-called "unpublished decisions" (if I can read it then how can it not be published?) outnumber by large margins those that have been officially published.

Some courts place limitations upon which prior court cases that can be cited as precedent in legal memoranda. Specifically, some courts do not permit the citation of cases duly decided, but not published in the official court reporters. In fact, at least one court has chastised an attorney for citing an "unpublished" decision in her brief.

In other words, some judges trying to avoid accountability for their decisions. Judges can "hide" an opinion in an obscure or complicated area of the law (including but not limited to taxation) by arranging for it to not be officially published. This opinion, if it is not citable, cannot be considered as valid precedent.

The potential for abuse is not insignificant. After the Civil War, the Erie Railroad litigation was characterized by secret unpublicized decisions of corrupt judges. In our own day, the published/unpublished status of a judicial opinion can easily be subject to the whims of judges or other courthouse personnel whose object view been obscured by the placement of silver coins over their eyes.

Fortunately, Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1, when implemented in 2006, would allow attorneys in the Federal Circuit Courts to cite any opinion, published or otherwise, without fear of chastisement or sanction. FRAP 32.1 does not go far enough because it still does not give the "unpublished" opinions any precedential value. But at least the lawyers who cite "unpublished" opinions will no longer be chastised for so much as mentioning them in their briefs.

The proponents of FRAP 32.1 faced stiff opposition in getting as far as they did. They fought the good fight, and even got some small modicum of success.

This is good because expanding the universe of citable opinions adds diversity to our legal literature. Not only is the judiciary held accountable, but diverse ideas are introduced into the legal literature, and we can better engage in productive legal innovation.

And one staunch proponent of FRAP 32.1 was none other than Judge Alito.

Never mind the debate over the supposed "right" of a woman to do as she pleases with her body (for the record, I strongly oppose abortion whenever some non-lethal alternative is available)! Never mind the debate over whether the Constitution is a "living document!" These are all meaningless unless the judiciary is held to the standards of accountability and honesty.

Judge Alito, in championing the citability of the so-called "unreported" judicial opinions, has done his part for diversity.