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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spy v. Spy?

Our Shavuot holiday was inspiring but largely uneventful. Having experienced many nights of less than optimal sleep over the past two months, the sleep achieved during the holiday, though hardly the best I have ever known, was quite welcome. With my schedule for the coming month, there is little reason to expect a significant number of really good sleep nights for that period.

The news story that inspired this posting is the sentencing of admitted spy Ben-Ami Kadish, who was fined but avoided jail time. Judge Pauley wonders, as do I, why it took Uncle Sam 23 years to bring charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Iris Lan would have Judge Pauley believe that it took the FBI that long "to put all the pieces together." But His Honor didn't buy it, and neither do I.

The case is notable mostly because the Israeli information handler dealt with by Kadish was the same one who handled Jonathan Pollard.

My comments, in no particular order:

A. Yes, Israel does spy on the United States. And the United States similarly spies on Israel.

B. Knowing what I know about military procedures relating to classified information, and about human nature in general, there is only a small, limited set of circumstances under which one might conceivably be involved in espionage on a one- or two-shot basis. Because once you begin, your handler and/or some party associated with your handler thereafter owns you, and you must keep on playing the game. I don't like having to answer to anyone, so I have always taken pains to stay far from anything resembling espionage.

C. One of the conditions of that aforementioned small, limited set of circumstances is that the temporary spy must accept no money or other commodities of value for his or her services. Quite curiously, the "facts" as agreed to by Kadish and the U.S. Attorney specifically provide that Kadish neither requested nor received anything of value for his services.

D. Yet, according to the criminal Complaint, Kadish remained in telephone and e-mail contact with his handler up until the FBI began questioning Kadish in 2008.

E. Jonathan Pollard, beyond all doubt, was provided with cash and other goods and perquisites for his efforts. It certainly was far, far more than his out-of-pocket cab fare, telephone calls and photocopy expenses.

F. More to the point, there were, and are, persistent rumors that Pollard had customers other than Israel. If this is true, then it would go very far towards explaining why the U.S. government dealt with Pollard in a manner as harsh as it did, and why Israel has been less than enthusiastic about pressuring the United States for Pollard's release.

G. When Kadish began providing documents in 1979 or before, there still was this entity known as the Soviet Union. At the time, the conflict between Israel and the Arabs was a proxy war between the USA and the Soviet Union, during which Israel used American weaponry against the Soviet weaponry used by the Arab states. More importantly, Israel, on its own and in conjunction with the United States Department of Defense, made modifications and improvements to the American weapons, to the benefit of both Israel and the United States.

H. As Judge Pauley surely suspects, there is much, much more to the Kadish story than the government is disclosing. And the obvious use of the bringing of charges in 2008, after 23 years, as a lever to pressure Israel, does not account for the whole story. I, for one, do not have sufficient information to do anything more than engage in speculative guessing as to what these other factors might be.

I. Judge Pauley inquired of Kadish's attorney as to Kadish's source of livelihood. The only answer given was that Kadish had some investments. Might there be a tax angle to this all? As a tax attorney, I can think of all sorts of taxation issues.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Inspiration or Plagiarism?

Because the courses I teach are designated as "Writing-Intensive," the Term Paper requirement is unavoidable, for both student and professor.

So, having assigned the Term Papers, I now have about a week remaining to grade them before the grade submissions deadline arrives. [Actually, it is less than a week because our great holiday of Shavuot, commemorating our receipt of G-d's Torah at Mount Sinai, will soon be upon us.]. This, therefore, will be my project for today and tomorrow (and possibly Wednesday).

The premise of Western Civilization is that we are part of a great continuum, whereby all we have is derived from those who preceded us, and, likewise, what we do will be the basis of those who will follow us. For this reason, proper scholarship dictates that the intellectual ideas and precedents we apply be acknowledged and cited. Indeed, the law review article of mine that was published a few weeks ago cites sources going back to King Hammurabi.

It is a bit of a stretch to expect law review level scholarship from undergraduate level students. Nevertheless, I do require my students to give proper citation in their Term Papers, and citational errors are viewed with greater concern than some misapplications of the spelling and grammar conventions which greatly alarmed the battleaxes who were my junior and senior high school English teachers.

Of course, I take a very strident attitude to the outright plagiarism involved in purchased term papers. These are the ones where a sentence placed in the Google search engine hits some verbatim documents. I had graded all of four Term Papers and found yet another Internet term paper vendor (whose name will not be noted in this posting, lest the site be given free advertising).

Sometimes you just know when a Term Paper is not kosher. A few years ago, I read a sentence which used the word "bulwark." The word did not strike me as one typical of the vocabulary of today's undergraduate students in America, so I googled just a 4-word fragment from the sentence and immediately found verbatim term papers on 3 different Internet sites.

Approximately one-third of my students do not speak English as their first language. It has come to the point where spelling and grammatical errors are encouraging signs because such butchering of the English language indicates that the work is the students' own. A perfectly-written Term Paper by one who was not drilled with the English spelling and grammar in the manner typical for my Baby Boomer generation in America is a waving red flag.

And, of course, I spot-check the actual citations. Some of them are ill-written, but at least I can find them. Some of the citations cite secondary and tertiary sources when they should be citing primary sources (e.g., the cited article from the New York Times discusses IRS Notice 2008-83, when the student should go to the IRS website and access Notice 2008-83 directly).

Some of the students just string together direct quotations from their sources. I can't gig them for plagiarism because they cite the sources from which the quotes were derived. It isn't very creative writing, but at least it is honest writing.

Query: Just where is that fuzzy demarcation of where inspiration ends and plagiarism begins? Does stringing together a bunch of quotes constitute a creative inspiration? Does changing a few words here and there in the quotation constitute a new work?

Along such lines, listen to the popular Neapolitan song "O Sole Mio" and compare it with Elvis Presley's "It's Now or Never."

Was "O Sole Mio" inspiration for Elvis, or did Elvis plagiarize the melody?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Orts & Ephemeris

Lots of things are going on now, so I am not postured to do any deep intellectual blogging -- at least for the next 24 hours. The following items and events have occurred, are occurring or are slated to occur:

A. A new law review article of mine has been published. Another article in a different law review is in its final editing stage and is slated for publication shortly. And a third article, not nearly as research-heavy as the two just mentioned, has been accepted for publication in a legal periodical, and is slated to appear within the next 2 months.

B. I have a court date tomorrow, and need to prep for that.

C. I have just completed administering my Final Exams. Well, almost. A greater than usual number of students didn't show up for the exams. Most of them contacted me in advance with their situations, and for these I have made or will make accommodation. Those who did not contact me in advance (and indeed, have yet to contact me) will receive a big, fat "zero" for their final exam grade. And they will go to the Department Chair and whine. But my Department Chair has almost always backed me up on this type of thing, and I would expect him to do likewise. After all, the syllabus handouts, distributed to everyone on the first day of class, explicitly lay down the rules about the need to contact the professor in advance if any accommodations are to be made for missed exams.

[This is a cultural value I picked up from my days with the Internal Revenue Service. Untimely tax returns are penalized, and extensions (at least the first one) are granted for the asking if requested before the due date. A similar world order is imposed upon my students.].
I think that the flu epidemic is playing at least some sort of role behind the higher numbers of absentees. But the rules are uneffected: Apprise the professor in advance that you are missing the exam, and reasonable accommodation can usually be made. Don't come to me after the next semester begins, as a few have been known to do, and for the first time tell me how sick you were! How long do you think you would last if you pulled that shtick with your gainful employment?

In any event, I am now grading the exams. I am going blazooey, so posting this is my much-needed break.

D. Speaking of Final Exams, our son has completed his, and is now moving his chattel goods from the dorms and back home. There goes the privacy my wife and I had enjoyed. Awshucks!!

E. Notwithstanding item D above, our son will be away with friends this coming Shabbat. Not to feel lonely, though. We have four houseguests slated to come over and visit, including our fatso friend, referred to as "He" in prior postings (here and here and here and here). As for the dining dynamic described more fully here, we will sort of be evenly matched: 3 fatsos and 3 non-fatsos (though the excessive adipose tissue on one of the guests counted in the "fatso" column has only been acquired relatively recently). We're looking forward to it.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Benedict's Travels & Travails

As Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel was approaching, I became attuned to some of the controversies that came up within the Jewish community. For various reasons, I decided at the time to sit this one out. But this evening I found myself participating in a very charged conversation with several acquaintances, and realized that the whole matter has been obsessing me, whether I admitted it or not. I need to vent!

And so, I will, of sorts, weigh in with this posting. There is no expectation that this posting will win or lose me any friends or enemies, nor change anyone's viewpoints, nor resolve any of the controversies. And I make no pretensions whatsoever of being neutral or objective. What I do purport to do is to identify some of the complicating issues that serve to make the controversies complex if not intractable.

First and foremost, the Pope's constituency is not the Jewish people. The Pope's constituency is the Catholic Church and its adherents (and the Catholic Church is in no way a monolith). It is unrealistic to expect the Pope to be a champion of the Jewish agenda (if such indeed is susceptible to definition).

The very establishment of the State of Israel had theological repercussions within the Catholic Church. A people whom the Church had always viewed as accursed Untermenschen had achieved statehood. It was -- and still is -- theologically simpler for the Church if the Jewish people would simply be eliminated. But there was a practical side, because the Church's holy sites in the Holy Land stood a better chance under a regime of the Jews than under a regime of the Muslim Arabs.

There is no denying that Jewish people have long suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. We are not just talking the Crusades and the Inquisition, but it goes all the way down to the personal in the present day. Specifically, many if not most Jewish people in America have had negative childhood experiences of one kind or another involving kids from Catholic schools. From my conversations with many, many other Jewish people, I have concluded that I lucked out in this regard, for while my own negative experiences with the Catholic school kids were not particularly remarkable (and in fact I had many positive childhood experiences with Catholic schoolboys), many other Jewish kids of my generation were not so fortunate.

[Disclosure: My higher education includes a degree from an institution run by an order of the Catholic Church. Never for even a fleeting moment did I ever regret the decision to attend that fine school.]

And just as the Catholic Church has its history with the Jewish people, it has caused no less offense towards the Muslims.

And, in addition to the Jews and the Muslims, there are significant elements of the Eastern Church who are present in the area, who also have historical gripes with the Catholic Church (and with one another).

Any visit to the region by any pope, therefore, inherently presses against lots of sore spots. Accordingly, the Pope has had to tread very carefully during his visit. And there were bound to be instances when whatever he would or would not say would be offensive to either Jews or Muslims (or, perhaps, both). He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't.

Take, for example, the Pope's visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) in the Holy City of Jerusalem: For various political and practical reasons, the Kotel is, administratively and legally speaking, a synagogue. Benedict's visit to the Western Wall had been scheduled for Lag B'Omer, a day of significance on the Jewish calendar. The security people in the Israeli government, who, for the most part, do not place a high priority upon religious observance, had made a decision to exclude the public from the Kotel during Benedict's visit. This, of course, was like stirring up a hornet's nest (and, for the record, I firmly believe that Jewish people should never be precluded from praying at the Kotel -- We've been kept away from there for too, too long).

Okay, so they modified the plans in a manner to provide for the Pope's security without making the Wall judenrein. But then the Rabbi of the Kotel declared that Benedict shouldn't have his crucifix exposed when he visited the Kotel.

In a perfect world, I would agree with the Rabbi. But this is not a perfect world, and the last time I was in Israel, on one of the occasions I visited the Kotel I saw some Filipino Catholic priests whose crucifixes were visible. Nobody seemed to be upset (they were, after all, Catholic priests). But then, again, the paparazzi weren't there at the time to record anyone making a big affair of it.

And, speaking of removing religious symbols, the Vatican had requested that Jewish symbols be removed from the ambulance that would be part of the Pope's entourage.

It is clear, then, that there was no way of avoiding controversy when the Pope visited the Holy Land.

Another factor that is playing into the mix: Benedict XVI, before he became Benedict XVI, was Joseph Alois Ratzinger. He is the first German pope in nearly half a millenium. And Israel's relationship with Germany is a very complex and paradoxical one. While there remains, since the founding of the State of Israel, an expressed revulsion to Germany and all things German, the fact is that Israel is a country created in the image of Germany. German architecture (Bauhaus and post-Bauhaus), German engineered infrastructure, and, before the Japanese and Korean automobiles came, the cars, trucks and busses were German.

Much is being made over the fact that Joseph Alois Ratzinger served in the Hitlerjugend and the Wehrmacht. My take on it: Just as Israel has compulsory military service (with some exceptions for religious individuals, but that's a whole other can of worms), so, too, did Nazi Germany. The young Ratzinger actually deserted the Wehrmacht, the German army. This shows that he either (A) was a coward; or (B) had principles. I never met the man, but nobody, not even his detractors, characterize him as a coward.

In any event, the fact that he is German is a further complication to the controversies. It is quite possible (read "highly probable") that a double standard is being applied to Benedict XVI because of his German background.

And so, whatever your take may be on the controversies anent to Benedict's visit to the Holy Land, understand that controversy was unavoidable.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Wal-Mart Bargain

The 20 November 2008 Wal-Mart stampede in Valley Stream, New York has, of course, kept the legal profession quite occupied. Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice has reached a settlement agreement with Wal-Mart.

Thus far, I give Ms. Rice high marks on the deal. The public is getting much more from Wal-mart than would be possible under a successful criminal prosecution. Wal-Mart is increasing its safety policies and procedures, thereby raising the bar for all such retailers. Victims of the stampede can, if they so choose, be compensated without resorting to the courts.

It's a good deal, BUT …

The program is only as good as its gatekeepers. Specifically, Ms. Rice's office has placed ads such as the one in the 9 May 2009 Newsday (page A 38), addressing "Anyone Present at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart Store on November 29, 2008, between 2:30 - 6:00 A.M."

Query: How many of those who will respond to the advertisement were, in fact, actually at Wal-Mart at the time? And how many of those who were will exaggerate their losses?

Observation: To get a claimant's affidavit, DA's website provides that one can "Download PDF English" or "Descarga PDF Español."

Query: How many of those who will be claimants, bona fide and otherwise, should not have been in America in the first place, let alone at the Wal-Mart?

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