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 27, 2012

(Not) Flying While Fat

From time to time I arbitrate disputes in court-annexed arbitration.  My schedule has been sparse for the past 2 years, what with the various personal and professional matters demanding my attention (though, I do get the distinct impression that I will be doing at least one arbitration session in the coming two months).  Many of the cases that come up involve parties who are the antithesis of all my personal values, but who do have legal rights which I am duty-bound to uphold.  And in many of the cases that come up, the litigants rightly deserve one another.

Though I will not be hearing the following case, it seems to fall into such a category.

Weighing in at 425 pounds (and that was without one of her legs), Vilma Soltesz was, by all accounts, a fatso.   So fat, that the airlines could not accommodate her on a return trip from Hungary -- even the local fire brigade was unsuccessful in removing her from her wheelchair and placing her into the airplane cabin seats (plural).  Unable to return home to the Bronx to obtain the medical care for her conditions (plural) -- she didn't trust the doctors in Hungary where she was born and where she was vacationing -- she died and was buried over there.  And now, her husband Janos is looking to sue the airlines for heavy amount of money.

I, for one, would be concerned (as the airline stewardesses and/or captain apparently were) that the seat belts might be insufficient to restrain her, and, in the event of a major acceleration (which, as my high school physics teacher taught me, is change in velocity multiplied by change in direction), she would become a ballistic projectile in motion, posing a danger to the passengers.  Never mind the damage she could do to the aircraft.

Having stated this, I would have taken the case if Janos had walked into my office with it.  The travel agents were specifically informed that Vilma was a fatso, and assured Vilma and Janos that they could be accommodated.  And the fact that Vilma got tickets for not two, but three seats on the aircraft indicates that they were candid with the travel agent as to the extent of Vilma's obesity.

Vilma had rights which were violated.  Janos wants vindication of those rights (in the form of money).  And while Vilma was antithetical to all of my values (and Janos doesn't seem to be much to write home about either), I would prefer by far to have a few Vilmas fly on a few flights from time to time than to give the airlines carte blanche to run roughshod over their contracted obligations to their passengers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Torah Protection

The eminent Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky has reportedly told his followers that, on account of the prevalence of Torah study that occurs in the City of Bnei Brak, they are safe from the missiles which are being launched at Israel.

My comments (in no particular order):

1.  The operative word is "reportedly."  Because those rabbis in the insular religious communities totally eschew the internet and related technologies, the information about them that appears on the Internet is second-hand at best.  The propensity for the words of such rabbis to become distorted by the time they are reported on the internet is quite considerable.

2.  I personally believe that one very major component of Israel's defenses against its enemies, whether the Israeli government realizes it or not, is that there are Jews who study Torah and Talmud and commentaries thereto.  [With sparse exceptions, I myself read the Talmud every day, even if I have to read it myself without joining a study partner.  In addition to that, I attended a Torah study session with some newly-ordained rabbis just a few hours before composing this posting.  I believe that the Jewish people has survived for thousands of years because of Torah study.

3.  Like every other city that is, was or will be, the City of Bnei Brak does have its share of shady individuals and groups, and people who otherwise engage in questionable behavior.  I shall not now glorify them by giving specifics.

4.  In the final bottom line analysis, the security and safety of Israel and the Jewish People is in the hands of G-d.  And while I obviously do not want any more Jews anywhere to be the targets of missiles (whether this current Gaza ceasefire holds remains to be seen, but I'm not making book on it).  And in the final bottom line analysis, G-d will decide which need is more pressing, the need for the irreligious Israeli public to see a Torah learning center such as Bene Brak be spared from the destruction of the Muslim missiles, or the need to bring some of the insular rabbinical leaders down a peg or two.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Experience Keeps a Dear School

I have not (yet) accessed an actual copy of Poor Richard's Almanack, published by Benjamin Franklin, but one of the many famous aphorisms from Franklin's annual tomes goes to the effect that "Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other."

But for all of the fools who pay the high tuition fees to learn in the School of Experience, there are always some who don't learn the lessons.

Such as the shmucks at New Jersey Transit.

Despite multiple emphatic predictions from the various weather wonks (plural), the NJT folks insisted on parking their rail equipment (commonly known as "trains") in the Meadowlands yard at Kearny to wait out Hurricane Sandy.  And so, all of those brand new locomotives and rail cars got soaked with the filthy saline solution constituting the storm surge.

This in and of itself is not remarkable.  But the Long Island Railroad and the Metro North Railroad did take the weather predictions seriously, and did move their equipment away from the low-lying areas.

And over at the other end of the NJT, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority actually did learn from its expensive lesson last year with Hurricane Irene.  For those who are unfamiliar, assuming that the rails are not flooded out and that the equipment is in fact running, one can, as I have done on a few occasions, ride NJT from New York to Trenton and then catch a SEPTA train from Trenton to Philadelphia, and vice-versa.  Some SEPTA rail cars parked at the Trenton station during Hurricane Irene got soaked when the Assunpink Creek, which flows by the tracks at the Trenton station, overflowed.

[It is parenthetically noted that much of the railroad right of way between Trenton and Princeton Junction is in low-lying flood-prone territory, and indeed, I have over the years been delayed on more than one Washington to New York Amtrak train on account of the surfeit of hydrogen hydroxide on and around the rails.].  Ironically, when Hurricane Irene hit last year, it was NJT that moved its cars from Trenton.

This year, the SEPTA people were determined to not make the same mistake, and moved their equipment before Sandy came.

Given the enormity of the storm, I would give the LIRR a B-minus in its performance during Hurricane Sandy, a tremendous improvement over their D-minus to F grades which have been typical over the years.  LIRR thought about recovery.  LIRR did not have any significantly damaged equipment on account of Sandy.  And LIRR has recovered as best it can; the tunnels under the East River are the property of Amtrak, upon whom LIRR must unfortunately depend for tunnel maintenance and accessibility.  Is this just a fluke, or is LIRR really beginning to understand the lessons which are part of the curriculum of the School of Experience? 

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hurricane Sandy's Nonphysical Damage

Various prior postings to this blog have mentioned the technophobia of the various insular religious rabbinical authorities, who have at various times banned internet access in the home, text messaging, social media such as Facebook, et cetera.  And incidents of rejection or expulsion of students from private religious schools on account of having an internet connection in the home, an e-mail account and/or a Facebook or Twitter presence, or a cell phone have been legion.

I could not agree more that the internet poses some significant major league moral and ethical obstacles to society.  But the internet also provides significant advantages and efficiencies in the communication of valid and useful information.

Many insular Jewish religious communities were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  And it turns out that many individuals who nominally are members of those afflicted insular Jewish religious communities have made use (and continue to make use) of one or more of the banned evil technologies in order to, quite literally, weather the storm and its aftermath.  For some, the use of those evil prohibited technologies have no doubt made the difference between life and death.

Yes, the insular religious rabbinical authorities can continue to deny that the new electronic technologies are of any good to their constituencies.  But due to the recent and ongoing Hurricane Sandy experience, those denials can no longer command much credibility by the rabbis' followerships.  

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Cuomo Orders Election Fraud to Proceed

Prior postings here have commended New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, for his effective leadership, notwithstanding the deep disagreement with Cuomo's political agenda.  But Cuomo's leadership and his political agenda are inextricably tied together, and where the two conflict, the political agenda will corrupt and pervert the leadership, and not vice versa.

Cuomo is an unabashed Democrat, and is in the tank for Obama, at least to the extent that the Obama agenda does not interfere with the Cuomo agenda (a major plank of which is to succeed Obama in the Oval Office).

Hurricane Sandy is a disaster, and Andy Cuomo has been effectively exercising his leadership skills to bring New York through the recovery process.  Most of it has been a matter of what is good for the people of New York is very consistent with Andy's political agenda.

But now, the leadership has been corrupted and perverted in a matter which goes to the very heart of any political agenda:  The election process.

Many polling places have been effectively knocked out by the Hurricane (fortunately, not my own; I have already visited it and done my duty to vote against Obama).  And so, in what ostensibly is a move to defend New York residents' right to the ballot, Andy Cuomo has issued Executive Order No. 62, permitting voters in New York City, or in Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk, or Westchester Counties to vote by affidavit ballot at any polling place in the State of New York.

There are, to be sure, provisions for the affidavit ballots to be transmitted back to the home districts, and to be scrutinized.  But it does leave the door wide open for election fraud.  And the identity theft epidemic now raging in this country can only exacerbate the opportunities for election fraud.  And while both major political parties have been known to perpetuate election fraud at various times and in various locales, the party most likely -- and most desperate -- in this election is the Democrats, what with the Obama thugocracy of ACORN, SEIU, the Chicago political machine, et cetera.  How clean can Cuomo and his political team really remain?

Accounting for the affidavit ballots is going to be very interesting.