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, December 26, 2010

White Christmas

To all of my friends out there who celebrated Christmas, I hope that you had a merry one. The weather forecasters inform us that the next 48 hours will make lots of the Eastern Seaboard, from Washington to New England, very white indeed, albeit after the holiday.

As is making the newsrounds, John White and his family received a very nice Xmas present from Governor David Paterson. White was convicted of manslaughter in the killing of Daniel Cicciaro Jr., as Cicciaro and his friends converged on White's home in Miller Place, NY. Governor Paterson, the lame duck Chief Executive of the State of New York, commuted White's sentence to time served, and White was home for the holiday.

Cicciaro and his friends were white, and White is black, and the whole matter has lots of racial overtones and undertones. One mitigating factor in White's original sentence was that White said, with some degree of credibility, that he feared a lynch mob. Cicciaro & company did, after all, converge on White's house to send a message to White's son, who had been alleged (apparently falsely) to have issued a rape threat against a white girl.

I have mixed feelings on this one. First of all, Paterson's failure to alert Cicciaro's family that he was issuing the commutation belies a severe disregard for the rights of victims. And as blogged previously in connection with this case, any matter in which Fat Al Sharpton issues a commendatory statement is always, always suspect unless demonstrated otherwise.

But one test I apply to determine my objectivity is to inquire what the stance would be if the religious, ethnic and/or social groups were to be switched or shifted. And so, I now inquire of myself what my position would be if John White were Jewish. I have had some occasions in my formative years to face gangs of Gentile kids (their specific ethnicities are not particularly relevant) with violent intentions against me and/or my companions. And I know a number of Jewish people who have actually been on the receiving end of violence by gangs of Caucasian non-Jewish gangs coming up to their homes.

[While I make no claims to being totally free of biases, I do not automatically side with Jewish criminals. This Blog's past postings regarding the recent Florida execution of cop-killer Martin Grossman should bear that out.].

If John White had been a Jewish man whose family was threatened by a mob of white Gentile teenagers who came to his house, then, under the circumstances, I would have some empathy for John White. Yes, Mr. White did overreact in trying to protect his family from what he believed was lethal danger, and so, he certainly deserves some sort of punishment. There also was a settlement for an undisclosed sum in a civil lawsuit by Cicciaro's parents against White. But what Cicciaro and his mob did was wrong!

On Long Island, law enforcement agencies and community activists are always talking about the problem of criminal gangs of youths. And almost all of those gangs are Black and/or Latino. Why do white gangs pose less of a threat to society?

Were I the Governor, I likely would have let John White's sentence of 2 - 4 years stand. In that regard, Paterson commuted White's sentence to time served; he did not pardon White. John White can go right back to the slammer to resume his original sentence if he commits any further crimes.

But Paterson's commutation states what Cicciaro's family and friends have yet to acknowledge: Cicciaro's mob behavior was wrong and unacceptable!

There is plenty of blame to go around on this one, and no ideal resolution to the tragedy. But Paterson, with only days to go before leaving the Governor's Mansion, sent out a message that does need to be sent.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scoring at the Mets Game

Apparently, it is not unusual for elementary school students to have a crush on their teachers. I say "apparently" because it is not a matter of firsthand knowledge for me. To me, teachers -- even the ones I personally liked -- were agents of The Enemy. As much as I enjoyed many aspects of my grade school and high school experience, I was always, from day one, disdainful of the controlling authority they represented. It was not until college that I had anything remotely resembling an attraction for any of my professors (and the most that ever came of that was, on one occasion, when she gave me a ride in her car to the train station on a foul weather day).

[As surely you gather, I knew quite well the furniture layouts inside the principals' offices of the schools I attended.].

It was only at the verge of my adulthood that I began to realize that the teachers who knocked me around the most for my less-than-optimal attitudes were the ones who believed, deep in their hearts, that I would one day wise up and become a respectable and contributing member of society. It was "tough love" in an era before that term was widely used. Their faith in me was not misplaced, I am grateful to report. And I am willing to bet that, as long as they were able, they followed my career from afar, along with other problem children whom they helped to set straight, just as I take due note of my own former students who achieve in their chosen fields.

No, I did not cuddle up with adoration to my teachers. But some kids do. And such kids are vulnerable, big time, if the teacher to whom the cuddle up has nefarious intentions.

Randy Mudge is one such teacher. Mudge, of the Hunter-Tannersville Central School District in New York was suspended by the Commissioner of Education upon the finding that, on at least two occasions (in 1989 and 1992), he gave favored treatment to certain female students under his tutelage, and then, after they graduated and attained the legal age of 18 years, took them to Mets games and, after the respective games, had nominally consensual sex with the respective young ladies in the back of his vehicle in the Shea Stadium parking lot.

The Education Commissioner found that Mudge had groomed the young ladies for the sex while they were still his students and underage, and, finding that he lacked the requisite good moral character, suspended his teaching certificate for a year.

Mudge appealed, and the Court backed the Commissioner.

My questions:

1. Does the Education Department really expect that Mudge will somehow acquire the good moral character necessary to be a school teacher during the course of his one-year suspension?

2. What took so long for the case to be reported and acted upon?

3. What parent of a teenage girl would allow their daughter to go out to a baseball game, with a male teacher, unaccompanied? [Note: There were several outings to Mets games before graduation, before the ones when Mudge actually shtupped his by then former students.].

On this last one, I have a theory, albeit not a scientifically-tested one: People who are raised to never question authority have too much trust for any authority. Such blind trust is passed down from generation to generation, resulting in a society that is easily led astray by the government, etc.

But, having had an innate disdain for authority, I never had that problem!

The mom of a student who attended my son's day school (but who was not in my son's class) reported to my wife that her daughter had seen my son standing out in the hallway, obviously for disciplinary purposes. At the parent-teacher conference night about a week later, my son's rabbi/teacher told me and my wife that our son had gotten a bit out of bounds, and it was necessary to expel him from the classroom.

The colloquy went something like this:

Rabbi: "Your son has, of late, gotten a bit disruptive in class, so I had to make him stand outside in the hall a few times in the past two weeks."

Wife: "What did he do?"

Rabbi: "He wouldn't pay attention and was telling jokes to the other boys when I was trying to teach."

Wife: "So did you send him to the Principal's Office?"

Rabbi: "No! I just sent him out to stand in the hall. Sending him to the Principal's office would only brand him. I just wanted to get him out of the classroom so I could teach. Unless they are really, really disruptive or dangerous, I keep the Principal out of it"

Me (to Wife): "I always knew that our son was an outstanding student!!"

My wife began to wince, but the Rabbi laughed. And I knew that he would appreciate the humor. After all, we had known him when he was still in high school, and knew that he, in a similar vein, had also been "outstanding" in the hall on more than one occasion. The Rabbi, too, had a healthy portion of skepticism for authority and the government.

Somehow, I think that this Rabbi's daughters are not going to be such easy scores at any baseball game. As it is, they do not blindly accept whatever the government feeds them.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When is The Internet not the Internet?

Past postings have speculated on the prospects for the insular religious Jewish communities in general, and the Agudath Israel of America in particular, becoming an internet presence. The rabbinical sages have nominally banned the Internet (with an ever-growing list of exceptions for business and livelihood purposes). It has been, and continues to be, my contention that official acceptance of the Internet will occur gradually, as the rabbis are able to find credible face-saving stories to make it look as though they are not backpedaling from their original stance.

[Note the use of the term "official" acceptance; many in the insular communities alreadly are cryptocyberians.].

Well, I got the latest Hamodia weekly edition today from my usual source, and, in a 2-page spread on pages C28 and C29, Hamodia announces its "Free Digital Edition," "Opening a Clean Window to the World," with the blessings of the rabbinical sages. An Internet version of the same display ad is available here (and you can read it in its entirety if you are so inclined). The long and the short of it is that it involves a one-site connection with no active clickable links, so you cannot be exposed to any material that will evoke impure thoughts.

Curiously, the internet version of the display ad (but not the print version) bears the legend "Hamodia's Clean Window email edition does not in any way endorse or condone personal/home email/internet use."

So the "Clean Window" edition of Hamodia is delivered over email, which supposedly is to be accessed only in the office and not at home. I think we all (including the rabbis) know that there are more homes with internets in these insular communities than anyone cares to publicly admit, but it still has to be kept sub rosa.

I note one teenage girl's account: "One friend goes to a really religious school and tells me that if her principal knew she had an email address she would be kicked out." This young lady's friend would do well to obtain the principal's own e-mail address (and preferably, those of her husband, children and mother-in-law). That way, any threatened expulsion from school can be parried by a threatened public disclosure of the principal's own family e-mail addresses.

If this Hamodia "Clean Window" thing is successful, then I would not be a bit surprised if similar technologies from similar vendors were to become a component of the Agudath Israel's soon-to-be-resurrected Jewish Observer. They will be pleased to use the internet, as long as it isn't really the internet.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Orts & Ephemera:

I have administered my Final Exams for the semester. Proctoring the exam, attending a departmental meeting, and showing up in court, all in a day's work.

Now the Final Exams need to be graded. Understand that these are essay exams for the "Writing Across the Curriculum" courses I teach. And, oh yes, there are also Term Papers to grade.

In addition to grading papers and exams, there are some submission deadlines for a group report, and I must also begin to draft the written materials for a continuing professional education course to be taught in a few months.

And then, there are the clients, one of whom I just spoke with this evening at shul. Yes, I am busy, busy, busy!

The posting of 6 December 2010 wondered how certain news rags aimed at the insular religious Jewish communities would deal with the story of Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer and her death while trying to rescue victims of the big forest fire in Israel. Hamodia didn't mention her at all, but Yated Ne'eman told the story relatively straight. As always, neither of those papers publishes pictures of women, so Ahuva wasn't pictured in either.

Given all of the things going on in the world at this time, Ahuva is no longer front-page material. It would not surprise me, however, if she comes back to life, so to speak, in the news media, during the coming months.

I don't claim to be adhering to any formal 12-step program, but I am now in my 13th day of freedom from playing Killer Sudoku and Boggle online. These wasteful activities were keeping me up into the wee hours of the morning, detracting from my efficacy, and sapping my creative energies. I decided that I needed to curtail these activities. And so, after oversleeping following too many hours on the Boggle website, I woke up and decided that, just for that day, there would be no Boggle and no Killer Sudoku. My creativity has begun to recover, I am accomplishing more in a day, I am sleeping slightly (but only slightly) better, and I am less irritable.

There is an excellent chance that I will get through tomorrow without any Boggle or Killer Sudoku, thus achieving the 2-week mark.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Madoff Suicide

The suicide of Mark Madoff is tragic on all levels. Never mind that he was the son of Bernard Madoff, arguably the world's most hated person. Never mind whether or to what extent Mark was or was not complicit in his father's sinister machinations. Never mind the lawsuits to which Mark was a party at the time of his suicide (and which will, no doubt, continue forward with his estate as a party). And please, dump your inclination to comment to the effect that this was the wrong Madoff.

One of Bernie Madoff's victims described Mark's suicide as the ultimate punishment for Bernie Madoff. I agree, and would say that Bernie rightly deserves it, EXCEPT that there are other victims of that suicide who are totally innocent. Specifically, Mark's children, including and especially his two-year-old son who was asleep in the next room as his father hanged himself. I don't even want to think about the long-term psychological damage this will, no doubt, inflict upon the kid, nor do I envy the person (probably Mark's wife) who gets stuck explaining it all to the kid when he comes of sufficient age to comprehend what happened.

And so, the repercussions from Bernie Madoff's crime just keep on coming and coming and coming.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 06, 2010

Some Burning Issues

My comments regarding the big Carmel forest fire in Israel, in no particular order:

1. Israel received significant foreign help in battling the blaze, including firefighting planes from Egypt and Turkey. Relations between Israel and Turkey had, just a few week ago, been at an all time low, but, on the occasion of the fire, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone and cooperated in the effort. This tells me that something is afoot. I am not a foreign relations expert, but I would suspect that included amongst the dynamics that brought Erdogan and Netanyahu together are the following:

A. Turkey had started going anti-Western (not that it ever really, really has been pro-western) about the time Barack Hussein Obama won the United States Presidency. Erdogan probably viewed Obama as a weak leader, and placed his bet on Iran and the Saudis. But with the results of the midterm election last month, Obama's days are numbered, and Turkey will eventually have to deal with a Republican administration, which will not match Obama's tolerance for anti-American posturings. Turkey is not quite ready to totally wean itself from American aid, military and otherwise.

B. The Wikileaks fiasco revealed that many nations, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are postured against Israel, nevertheless share Israel's opposition to Iranian armaments buildup, nuclear or otherwise. These nations are now quite ill-postured to criticize any anti-Iran statements or actions that Israel has taken, or may take in the future, thus increasing dramatically the odds for some sort of physical measures on the part of the Israelis. Also increased are the odds of significant Iran-backed terrorist activity on Saudi or Turkish or Egyptian soil. [It is still not clear how the fire started, but there is some very strong speculation that it was an act of terrorism.]. Maybe Ergodan now needs to cooperate with Israel more than he needs to knock Israel.

2. An estimated 10,000 people were evacuated from the fire. And 42 civilian uniformed services personnel, including a busload of corrections officers, have thus far died while actively fighting the fire -- approximately one-tenth the number of the firefighters, police officers, court officers and other civilian uniformed service personnel who died while responding to the Muslim attack on the World Trade Center. Israel's population is a little less than 8 million, while the U.S. population is approximately 310 million. Accordingly, multiply the Israeli numbers by approximately 38 to get an idea of the degree of the human toll taken upon Israel. [Imagine the evacuation of 380,000 people in the United States, and multiply the number of fallen World Trade Center firefighters by a little more than 3.]. Yet, the MSM in America are giving this fire very low-profile coverage.

3. Most of the aforementioned uniformed service personnel were corrections officers en route to evacuate a prison threatened by the fire. Due to the nature of the situation, the evacuation of a prison is not a straightforward operation like the evacuation of a school. It is, of course, very tempting to think that the prison should be allowed to burn with the inmates inside. But some of the inmates do actually get rehabilitated, and someone who is sentenced to, for example, 4 or 5 years should not receive the death penalty. It would have been highly irresponsible to not try to evacuate the prison. The corrections officers who died in the attempt died no less honorably than the New York City firefighters who died trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center.

4. As of this writing, the latest casualty was Haifa Police Chief Ahuva Tomer, the highest ranking policewoman in Israel. All of the feminazis are now in quite a predicament because Ahuva was an accomplished woman with a family who rose to the top of a decidedly male organization. And her attitude was, "I don’t feel like I’m special. I do function in a predominantly male society, but I am an equal among equals and I try to be the best I can. But women need to understand that this is not just a question of equality of opportunity, but also equality of responsibility."

So Ahuva has said a word that is anathema to the feminazis: "Responsibility."

5. Also feeling at least some very small degree of discomfort are the insular religious rabbinical figures and their followers. Ahuva is now being glorified for going off the baby-making Hausfrau track, and she died a heroine trying to rescue other Jews. It is people like that who maintain the safety of these rabbis and their students as they study in their yeshivas. Don't get me wrong -- I do believe that yeshiva learning is vital to the survival of the Jewish people (and, for about a year, I did put my hard-earned money where my mouth is when my own son learned in a yeshiva in Israel on my dime.). But such yeshiva learning is possible because there are men -- and women -- who place themselves in harm's way. Freedom is not free!

And, I am wondering how newspapers such as Hamodia or Yated Ne'eman, whose orientation is by and large with the rabbinical establishment, will spin the Ahuva story. I expect to learn in the next week or two when the Hamodia and Yated Ne'eman I read make their way through the usual pipeline to me.

6. I have long viewed Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu with a certain degree of chariness. Though he is not totally ineffectual, he has long been too soft upon the enemies of the Jewish people, and too quick to knuckle under to pressure. It must be remembered that his political career stands upon the dead body of his brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, the fallen hero of the Entebbe Rescue on 4 July 1976. The aforementioned Wikileaks scandal has shown Netanyahu to be even more of a wimpy capitulationist than most had pegged him for. If there is one thing that has come out of this forest fire fiasco, it is a demonstration to the world that Yoni Netanyahu was not the last Israeli who had any beitzim, and that there are more brave and valiant Israelis where the fallen heroes came from. If I were Benjamin Netanyahu, I would be quite concerned over this last matter even as I would welcome it.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Entering the Cyber Stone Age

The posting on this Blog from 2 August 2009 speculates whether the Agudath Israel of America will eventually get itself a website.

[To bring everyone up to speed, the Agudath Israel of America is an advocacy group for some of the more insular segments of the religious Jewish community (NOT to be confused with Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex, NJ, which does have its own website.). In such circles, there is much consternation with the new technologies, including and especially the Internet. A more in-depth analysis of this phenomenon is to be found in an article by Nathaniel Deutsch entitled "The Forbidden Fork, the Cell Phone Holocaust, and Other Haredi Encounters with Technology."].

The newspaper Hamodia has published an interview with Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, written by Rabbis Avraham Heschel and Yosef Rapaport. Rabbi Perlow is the top rabbinical banana at the Agudath Israel. Given Hamodia's editorial policies, it is more likely than not the interview questions were scripted in advance and/or edited afterwards by the Agudath Israel. I say this not to cast any negativity upon Hamodia, but only to acknowledge what I believe to be the likely facts. Consistent with the policies which Hamodia freely concedes as its own, the publication of the Perlow interview is likely an instrumentality of Agudath Israel's policies.

In the interview, Rabbi Perlow admits that the Internet's use can be restricted, but cannot be banned outright because (A) it is now increasingly a necessity for earning a living; and (B) most of the community would not adhere to the ban. The Rabbi also admitted that most of the insular community does in fact use the Internet.

It is likely, in my mind, that this is a calculated step towards the Agudath Israel's adoption of a website at some time in the future.

The foregoing contentions were conceived prior to my accession last evening of the succeeding edition of Hamodia, which, through a fortuitous chain of events, I managed to get hold of shortly after its publication instead of about a week later. This latest edition of Hamodia, along with the latest edition of Yated Ne'eman (which I got hold of along with Hamodia, through the same chain of events), published an account of the Agudath Israel's Thanksgiving Weekend Convention in East Brunswick, NJ. At the Convention, Rabbi Perlow, consistent with some of his statements in the Hamodia interview, addressed the problem of children who have not been placed in a religious school.

That issue made the rounds in late October, when Rabbi Aron Krausz strongly condemned those schools that reject students for petty and picayune reasons.

Also in the 3 December 2010 edition of Yated Ne'eman, on page 22, is an article by Avrohom Birnbaum entitled "It's Time to Bring Back the Jewish Observer!" (exclamation point in original). Rabbi Birnbaum was a panelist at one of the sessions at the Agudath Israel convention, and, as such, expressed sentiment that the Jewish Observer, an AI publication now (to use a Catholic term) in limbo, ought to be restored to its former status as a viable thought-provoking intellectual publication. Rabbi Birnbaum reported the response to his call to bring back the Jewish Observer as 100% positive, and that "the first person to spring up and applaud that clarion call was the Agudah's Executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel." While the JO's current induced coma has been presented as a financial-based decision (and finances, no doubt, did play a role), howcum the AI's own EVP cannot, after a year and a half, get it going again? Methinks that the prospect of the involvement of the Internet medium has some of the rabbis spooked.

But why would Yated Ne'eman publish Rabbi Birnbaum's account if it were totally contrary to rabbinical sentiment? Methinks that it is part of a strategy for the AI to be able to backtrack, without backtracking, on the anti-Internet posture it has assumed in very, very recent times.

And so, I see a pattern here. Rabbi Krausz comes out against those schools that reject Jewish children, and Agudath Israel follows suit at its Convention. Rabbi Birnbaum calls for the revival of the Jewish Observer, and Rabbi Zweibel agrees enthusiastically (although, to be sure, doesn't decree the magazine back to life). In recent years, the Agudath Israel's rabbinical leaders have, after years of denial, finally admitted that there is abuse of children at the yeshivas (but still strongly opposes efforts to hold accountable the responsible individuals).

Once upon a time, the rabbis controlled, to a large extent, the flow of information to and from their communities. Now, with the Internet technologies, that prerogative has largely disappeared. The management of information requires more proactivity than silence and denial. Remember that the flow of information through channels not controlled by the Politburo is what brought down the former Soviet Union

I cannot help but ask whether the Agudath Israel is providing leadership, or followership. And I stand by my belief that the Agudath Israel will eventually find a face-saving way to go cyber.

Labels: , , , ,