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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Coaching Gabby for Discrimination

As an Olympic gold medalist, Gabby Douglas has become a national heroine, and is now doing the lecture and talk show circuit.  Such activities no doubt redound to the benefit of what should be her bank account, and I hope that the dollars are still there when she reaches her age of legal majority so that she herself can have access to every dollar thus posted, and not have her money squandered by profligate guardians (as happened to child actor Jackie Coogan) or swindlers.

Gabby's remarks on Oprah Winfrey's show have now caused a public stir.  I will presume that the misadventures publicly related by Gabby happened substantially as stated.  This is not so much a straw man argument or an allocation of the burden of proof so much as it is a reflection of my own experiences as a minority group member who has had occasion to endure analogous bias.  From this presumption (which, again, I believe to be well founded), it follows that:

A.  The biased and bigoted remarks uttered by Gabby's training mates are not to be condoned.  Period!

B.  The biased and bigoted remarks uttered by Gabby's training mates were every bit as detrimental to Gabby as claimed.

C.  As detrimental as Gabby's experiences (and, for that matter, mine) were, other successful people have endured far, far worse.  An example that immediately comes to mind is that of the late Admiral Hyman Rickover, whose page in the yearbook from his Naval Academy class (as well as the page of the other Jewish class member) was perforated so that it might be torn out by classmates who preferred to not have Jews as their equals.

[Yes, I know that Rickover did have some very serious personal issues in dealing with his own Jewish identity.  He nevertheless did more than his part, after advancing to the higher Navy echelons, to combat Naval institutional prejudice against Jews, Blacks and other minorities, contributing in no small measure to bringing the U.S. military closer to the ideal of a true meritocracy.].

With her Olympic medals, Gabby Douglas has had placed into her hand a retribution of the highest order against her former training mates and coaches at the Excalibur Gym.  Any future medals can amplify that retribution all the more.  Similarly, Admiral Rickover's successful career in the Navy was a sharp slap in the face to all of his Annapolis classmates who ripped Rickover's page out of their yearbooks.  For that matter, I do not doubt that many of those who assailed me (verbally and otherwise) in my youth have cringed upon reading of my own personal and professional achievements.

Those on the left side of the political spectrum seem to have a need to be victims, and those liberals of privilege who relish their personal creature comforts often satisfy that victimhood requirement with proxy victims for whom their hearts can bleed.  Many such victims-by-proxy go to great lengths to develop and train their proxies.

Gabby Douglas can now step beyond victimhood if she is not co-opted as a victim by the leftist political agenda.  Immediately prior to her appearance on Oprah, she had the esteem of virtually all of America, irrespective of political orientation.  But if Gabby allows herself to be so co-opted (not unlikely, given that her mother seems to be in the tank for Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, Barack Hussein Obama, ad nauseam), then those at the Excalibur Gym who taunted Gabby will no longer feel chastened by her success, but rather, will view Gabby's fixation with victimhood as a vindication of their attitudes.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Smoking Out the Tobacco Problem

For the record, I am a nonsmoker, and my house is and has always been a smoke-free zone.

As detestable as the interventionist policies and practices of the government may be when it comes to the use of tobacco, the fact is that tobacco use is a severe health issue.  This is a matter in which none of the major players have clean hands:  Not the tobacco companies, not the smokers, and not the government. 

And understand that the victims include more than just those who are addicted to the substance.  The livelihoods of the small business enterprises such as retailers and individual tobacco farmers have been and continue to be manipulated by the government's inconsistent and contradictory policies.  And the cure purveyed by the government threatens personal autonomy within the walls of the homes of those who happen to be tobacco users.

It is difficult for me to draw solid bold lines on what my stance on the tobacco issues should be, but I do favor the free transmission of accurate and objective information.

Hamodia, a newspaper of the insular religious Jewish community, has published an article in its "Inyan" magazine [Hamodia, Inyan Magazine, August 22, 2012 / 4 Elul 5772] entitled "Smoking:  A Preventable Addiction."  The use of the Internet amongst the insular religious Jewish groups is a very controversial issue, but Hamodia does have a closely circumscribed Internet presence, including the aforementioned article (at least a part of which is not in the proprietary zone of the Hamodia website).

The article describes Rabbi Yechezkel Ishayek's efforts to reduce the incidence of tobacco use amongst the insular religious Jewish community, a practice I do applaud in light of his use of the objective accurate information model (though I am not totally unconcerned about the potential for coercion in future efforts by others which might conceivably follow on to Rabbi Ishayek's project).

A few matters in the article struck me as remarkable (and I am in good company, because my wife made similar observations when she read the article).  In no particular order:

A.  Rabbi Ishayek noted that he "heard testimony from world-renowned experts and came to the conclusion that one of the reasons why the smoking rate did not decrease in the religious world as much as it did in the general population is because, baruch Hashem, we are not exposed to the secular media. While it is a wonderful thing that we avoid the spiritual dangers inherent in that  media, we are also not adequately exposed to information about the dangers of smoking."

Yes, many of the people in the community truly lead very sheltered lives.  But then, on the other hand, there are many, many who have very excellent knowledge of world current affairs.  As valid as Rabbi Ishayek's observation may or may not be, methinks that it is an oversimplification and that there is more to the story.  Specifically, I will suggest that a social group which has effectively been taught from early age to hold science and the scientific method in contempt would be a natural for ignoring, minimizing and invalidating the information on the hazards of smoking which was in fact sent out amongst them.

B.  The rabbinical leaders of the various factions within the insular religious Jewish community, individually and collectively, have already demonstrated their ability to regulate the behavioral impulses of their followers when they so choose.  Knowing the tobacco usage habits amongst such social circles, I have to wonder just how much of a priority those rabbinical leaders place upon decreasing tobacco usage.  See "A" above.

C.  I will note that until relatively recently, the city of Bnei Brak in Israel, which is overwhelmingly populated by the insular religious groups, had a cigarette factory in operation on its main drag, Rabbi Akiva Street.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Paraclete or Kapo?

Like many, my sociopolitical Weltanschauung has evolved towards the right.  I shall not now detail the metamorphosis process which brought me from where I was to where I now am, other than to state that one major issue (though hardly the only one) which caused me to introspect and reevaluate myself was the frequent occurrences of Jewish liberals carrying the water for the enemies of the Jewish people, all in the name of social justice.

The issue rears its head in the news today.  It seems that Bernard Kleinman, the defense attorney for convicted terrorist Ramzi Yousef, now is trying to induce the legal system to end Yousef's solitary confinement at Supermax and allow him contact with others.  Kleinman wants the government to explain why Yousef is still a threat, such that solitary confinement is warranted.

I understand the need, in our criminal justice system, for defense attorneys to zealously advocate their clients' causes.  I understand that a lawyer's representation of a client does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the client's views, positions or actions (I myself have professionally advocated, albeit not in a criminal context, positions with which I absolutely cannot personally identify).  I understand the importance of Constitutional due process, even though it is not always the most efficient way to do things.  And I understand that we lawyers all cannot have designer clients, and we must take the clients the way they are as they walk through the office door.

But to me, it is obvious that Ramzi Yousef is a very, very dangerous man, and his very interactions with other inmates may well inspire them to try to emulate his viciousness.

Bernard Kleinman has had a long career as a criminal defense attorney.  And while I know nothing about Bernard Kleinman's personal sociopolitical Weltanschauung, I just cannot help but wonder whether, and to what extent, he is another self-hating Jewish liberal who has crossed the line beyond zealous advocacy of the client' rights and into actually savoring the opportunity to do so (there is not a whole lot of wondering to do regarding whether Ramzi Yousef has been softened up by the example of a socially-conscious Jewish liberal who has tried to help him).

Put another way, would Kleinman have been a Kapo had he been in Auschwitz?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Truth or Unintended Consequences

For reasons too complex to delve into at present, Nassau County, New York is among the wealthiest counties populationwise, but is perpetually on the brink of big time, major league financial disaster, what with a government that has been dysfunctional from the County's inception.

And Edward P. Mangano, the County Executive, was supposed to have some solutions to Nassau County's fiscal woes.  Given the political and fiscal situation, Ed Mangano is damned if he does and damned if he does not, no matter which issue he addresses.  He is, however, an accomplished and intelligent man.

But he has made a significant error:  He and some other Nassau County politicos, in trying to pander to the not insignificant Salvadorean community on Long Island (legally here and otherwise), have officially greeted and honored Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Vice President of El Salvador.

Never mind that Sanchez Ceren attained his office through the familiar tactics of threats, coercions and assassinations.  Never mind that he is politically a Communist.  Such things are commonplace in Latin America.

But on September 11, 2001, Sanchez Ceren was present at a rally at which the Muslim attacks on the World Trade Center were lauded, and America (and Israel) were denounced, and the American flag was burned.

This kowtowing to Sanchez Ceren has not escaped notice.  Many are protesting it, including the local Tea Party.

So now, Sanchez Ceren's flunkies are telling the media that Sanchez Ceren "was present but did not actively participate" in the flag burning, and he wants to strengthen ties with the United States.

So now, Mangano and the other politicians who carried Sanchez Ceren's water are now running for cover, claiming (probably accurately) that they were not aware of Sanchez Ceren's activities.

Significantly, more than a few of Long Island's approximately 100,000 Salvadoreans are also speaking out against Mangano's meeting with Sanchez Ceren.

The Law of Unintended Consequences operates very robustly in Nassau County, and has been doing so since 1898, when the County was formed from the eastern part of Queens County because the residents did not wish to go along with the combination of the Five Boroughs into a unified New York City.  Mangano's latest fiasco is just another Unintended Consequence, albeit one which may well come back to haunt him.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Nonexistent Dangers of a Nonexistent Government


Volumes can be written on why many if not most of the insular Jewish groups are at odds with the governing authorities in Israel, but, stripped of all their political and egotistical baggage, the fall mainly into two categories:

            A.  The founding fathers of the Zionist movement, including and especially Theodor Herzl, were irreligious and gave little if any deference to Halacha (Jewish law) in their efforts to form the State of Israel; and

            B.  Before and during the Nazi holocaust, many prominent religious Jews, including rabbis, were done dirty by many Zionist activists.

Accordingly, many of the insular groups have, at best, a confused and contradictory identification with the State of Israel.  They will, for example, continue to refer to the main airport as "Lod" and thereby not need to speak the name of David Ben-Gurion, a key secular founding father of the State.  At worst, they give aid and comfort to Israel's enemies, including Iran.

Not recognizing the legitimacy of the Israeli government, many think nothing of flouting its laws, including the tax laws and including, sometimes, the traffic regulations (such as the seat belt laws).  Never mind that, in theory, the halachic principle of "Dina DiMalchuta Dina" (The law of the land is the law) applies to matters such as taxation and traffic.

With that as a background, I note the following news item:  "Avreichim Rescued From IDF Firing Zone."  The word avreich (avreichim in the plural) refers to a recently married full-time yeshiva learner.  Some avreichim decided to go out on a hiking excursion to the Golan Heights, and wandered into a military firing zone (there are a number of such zones in the Golan).


"After being rescued, one of the avreichim was asked why they entered the military zone, which is clearly marked with highly visible signs to prevent a tragedy from occurring. He explained 'one of the group said they are not shooting here'. The avreichim were found about 3km (1.8 miles) into the firing zone area, an active firing zone at that."



I shall not now get into the question of whether being raised in an insular community away from the evil influences of the world is or is not an inhibitor of the development of common sense (and neither do I suggest that the avreichim involved are paragons of common sense).  Methinks, however, that the key issue here was not common sense (or the absence thereof), but rather, an ingrained conditioning to reject the validity of all pronouncements by the Israeli government -- including warning signage that one is about to enter a military firing zone.

Ignore the Sign, Pay the Fine!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Bringing Christine Back to the 1980's

The main reason I am not a customer of the Chick-Fil-A fast food franchise is that the food is not kosher.  Nevertheless, I support the enterprise rights of Chick-Fil-A as I do any other legitimate business.

But recently, a controversy has developed.  It seems that Chick-Fil-A's President, Dan Cathy, has made public statements against same-gender marriage, and made disbursements from his personal fortune towards the expression of his sentiments.  [Quite frankly, though I personally agree with his sentiments, the issue is not of sufficient priority for me to be as vocal or as financially munificent in the expression of such personal views.]

There is but a single Chick-Fil-A franchise business in New York City, a concession at New York University's food court.

So Christine Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker, wrote a letter to John Sexton, the President of NYU.  Ms. Quinn stated in her letter that "I write as the Speaker of the NYC Council" and "Let me be clear ‐‐ I do not want establishments in my city that hold such discriminatory views."  The letter, which was written on official New York City stationery, further stated, " I urge you to sever your relationship with the ChickfilA establishment that exists on your campus."  It is a matter of public record, and of unabashed public statements by Ms. Quinn, that she herself is party to a duly solemnized same gender "marriage" relationship.

Firstly, it must be noted that there is no evidence that Chick-Fil-A discriminates against employees or customers based upon sexual preferences.  Moreover, it must be remembered that the Chick-Fil-A establishment at NYU, like most if not all other Chick-Fil-A establishments, is a franchise.  This means that it is independently owned and operated by some entrepreneur or group of entrepreneur who has invested their own money in the business, and pays hefty fees to Chick-Fil-A for the use of its name and logo.

Well now, it seems that Christine is backpedalling.  Notwithstanding the official letterhead, and the rank-pulling statements in the letter, she now says, through a spokesperson, that she was expressing her personal views as a concerned citizen, and that Chick-Fil-A has the same right to do business in New York City as any other law-abiding entrepreneur.

Even the New York Times carried a piece critical of Quinn.

I note that 42 U.S.C. § 1981 protects contract rights from "impairment under color of State law," and that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 gives those whose rights are so impaired the right to sue those persons responsible.  These, and other provisions of the Civil Rights Act, would be powerful artillery for any lawyer taking up the case to sue Christine Quinn.

My question:  Did Christine do her turnabout after coming to her senses on her own, or did she receive some lawyer letters from Chick-Fil-A's retained counsel?

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Siyum at MetLife Stadium (and Other Venues)

The big story over the past 24 hours in the New York City metropolitan area traffic reports has been the gathering of over 90,000 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, more popularly known as the home of the NFL Giants and Jets.  It was a Siyum, a celebration on the completion of the study of the entire Talmud.  For various reasons other than the traffic delays it caused, it was really, really a huge thing.

I shall not now get into the political issues of how the Agudath Israel of America put the whole thing together, nor shall I dwell upon the missteps that were made, but if I had to give it an overall grade it would be borderline B-plus / A-minus.  Understand that just two weeks before the event, it looked as though it would play out in the C-minus or D range.

Understand that there were other Siyums in other cities and countries, so the total numbers of participants worldwide are in the hundreds of thousands.

No, I was not there personally, what with other things on my schedule.  But for the past 7+ years, I, too, have been studying a page of the Talmud each day, and I, too, have now completed the cycle.  More often than not, my schedule is not conducive to learning with a partner or in a group, so I read my page of the Talmud alone, each morning, usually before my physical workout.  Some days the reading is more superficial than others, and some days it is almost entirely in English (I usually look at the Hebrew/Aramaic if possible).  And sometimes I get ahead or behind a page or two, especially when traveling.

What is so big about this Siyum?  For one thing, there were many comments from the MetLife Stadium personnel about how well-behaved and orderly the crowd was.  The typical football game has less persons in attendance, and there are usually a number of incidents of rowdiness.  Not at the Siyum, though.  Remember the Occu-shmucks in Zuccotti Park?  Remember how unruly they were?  The Siyum was the antithesis of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

More importantly, however, is that the Agudath Israel of America, which has in the very very recent past sponsored and put together events which have been divisive to the Jewish people, pulled off an event which, with a few minor sad exceptions, was a unifier.  Stock in the Agudah's reputation has risen.

And, as Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel who survived the Nazi concentration camps, observed in his speech, hundreds of thousands of Jews united in studying Talmud is a clear defeat for Hitler.

Tomorrow, I, along with thousands of other Jewish people throughout the world, will once again start at the beginning of the Talmud.