Saturday, December 31, 2005

Blog Block

I have no clue what I want to blog about now. Sometimes, you're just stuck. I have been sitting at the computer on and off for a couple of hours, reading other blogs, listening to the Giants-Raiders game, checking my mail, putting my picks in late (I had posted the picks for today's games before Shabbos, but hadn't had time to put them all in), and reading what has happened in the world and to Lebron and the Cavs today. And while usually, something pops into my head or I see something that I want to write about, tonight... nothing. So now I'm just writing this rambling, random, stream-of-consciousness post about not having anything to write about - and yet, I can't bring myself to just STOP. :::sigh::: Okay, time to go take care of important things, like continuing my job search. Maybe, just maybe, I'll call Dell and give them what for (that manager's call I was expecting the past 2 weeks? Yeah, right. What a bunch of liars). Maybe I'll pay off some of our overdue bills and get some work done, because that's why I drove here from Monsey in the first place. Argh. Time for a break.

Oh yeah. The Cavs beat the Pistons, 97-84. :)

EDIT: Happy New Year, too!!

Interview with Life-of-Rubin

Basil interviewed Chaim of Life-of-Rubin in his continuing series of blogger interviews. It's quite interesting: Good questions, excellent answers. (Check out Basil for more details on how to be on the 'to be interviewed' list, and how to submit questions for future interviews.)

Check it out!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/30

Quick, before Shabbos!
LGF has a hilarious article about the 5-year old who "outed" his spy mother.

The Volokh Conspiracy succintly points out why people who criticize Israel's checkpoints are stupid.

Malkin points out that TSA is learning from Israel, and the ACLU is hypocritical.

Ace of Spades (via PT) keeps tabs on Atrios. 2,000,000 hits for this?! (Funny, but actually not as pathetic as it sounds.)

64% of Americans favor the NSA intercepts. As Ann Coulter noted, let the MSM make an issue of it: Bush will gain ground with this story. (via Instapundit)

Political Teen: Imagine if this was Judaism being practiced. What do you think would happen?

DovBear tells the truth (or is it heresy!?) about Chanukah. Be careful when repeating these over...
Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos!

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Gambling & Other Vices

SIL posted yesterday about Chinese Auctions*, which not only garnered a number of excellent comments, but also spawned talk about gambling and the like. JH commented,
The halachic definition of gambling isn't so simple...I think there are a lot of "chance/skill" games that do not constitute gambling (ie. Poker tournaments for a charity). It would be nice if someone posted detailing the halachos of gambling etc.
Ironically**, Gil wrote a post at Hirhurim today which discusses a couple of views on addictions in general (including gambling). After essentially noting that becoming addicted to anything is a problem, he stated:
What about Chinese Auctions and charity raffles? I'm guessing that these are also addictive gambling and that R. Willig's strong words apply to them as well.

UPDATE: To clarify, R. Willig is very concerned about people whose addictions being with what many consider to be mundane instances. One Purim cigarette a year isn't going to get you hooked. But, study after study tells us, every addict begins with that one cigarette. Every gambler starts of with some innocuous form of gambling. It behooves our community to not start people off on paths of addiction.

I should add two things. First: R. Mordechai Willig does not discuss Chinese Auctions. That is my extension of his comments. Second: R. Asher Meir disagrees***.
So, if your gambling event is meant to be an entertaining evening for people who are happy to support your organization, by all means go ahead. But if you want to create a business which will cater to gambling aficionados, then you must be extra careful not to take advantage of people nor to condone gambling as a way of life...

You're on safe ground if everyone feels they're in a "win-win" situation: either they make a little money, or they give much-needed help to a worthy cause.
JH and I both took issue with the 'every addiction starts with one' point in the comments, and both of us seem to be making similar points (JH actually wrote a complete post on this as well). While every addiction must start somewhere, it is the individual who must be careful not to involve himself with any activity that may be addictive. It does not make sense to say that all activities which may lead to someone becoming addicted not be done - taken to the extreme, even alcohol for kiddush would be problematic. As JH stated,
I still stand by my position that halachic prohibition is dependant on the individual and not the institution.
This seems logical enough to me.


* Others have covered this as well, including Orthomom & Yeshiva Orthodoxy.

** While Gil has commented here in the past, I doubt he saw this post. However, perhaps JH asked him to write about it.

*** The link is fascinating, and discusses gambling in general. It argues against certain halachic misconceptions some people have about gambling.


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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chinese Auctions

I was fortunate to grow up in a small town, where everything was usually a few years behind fashion and materialism wasn't as important. (That's my disclaimer so I don't sound high & mighty and judgmental, it's just where I'm coming from...)

When I first came to NY, I was very surprised by the Chinese Auction phenomena. Organizations that imparted Torah and Judaism or espoused the Torah way of life, a life where the material is supposed to be used only in service of the spiritual, were conducting Chinese Auctions as fundraisers, appealing to the materialistic side in us, and making us feel more materialistic. Hmmm... let's see... I'm going to win the sheitel and the iPod and wouldn't it be nice if I got the helicopter lessons and the make-up gift certificate... Oohh! And trip to Florida for winter break! That would be nice. I never thought I needed that stuff (well, except for the wig) but now it gets me thinking. And wishing.

Chinese Auctions are very successful, and its not too hard to understand why. Besides, it even makes you feel good - its tzedaka so everyone's a winner! I doubt that an auction of Artscroll Shases and Kiddish cups would bring in as much money.

It's natural for individuals to want nice things and most people aren't ready for the bread and salt life, but it doesn't seem right when Torah organizations, our beacons of light, take advantage of this human weakness. Or do the gains, the operating funds the organizations receive which allow them to continue their good works, justify the means?

JIB Awards 2005: Nominations are up!

(Hat tip: Elder of Ziyon)

The Jewish & Israeli Blogging Awards 2005 nominations page is up at the Jerusalem Post. The Post put up a welcome post and an explanation of the categories, in addition to the full nominations page. You can also look at the categories individually, if you wish.

SerandEz was nominated in 5 different categories: Best Overall Blog, Best New Blog, Best Political Blog, Best Series (Crazy Shabbos), and Best Post (Welcome to the [J-] Blogosphere).

Thank you all very much for your support! And be sure to vote when the first round of voting begins January 9th!

New Blog for Jewish Professionals

There is a new blog that is worthwhile to check out, particularly anyone who is involved in the Jewish community at large. The blog is Jewish Community Professionals, [or Jewish Pros] and so far it looks very good. (Gil at Hirhurim noted it yesterday.) The person who started the blog is a very intelligent, thoughtful person, and though I've only met him once, his brother is a friend of mine starting from when I was in Israel. Here's his first post:
I am a Jewish communal professional in the Jewish Federation world. I wanted to start a blog where myself and other Jewish pro's can discuss issues ranging from workplace topics like fundraising, programming, education, lay/pro relations to more personal issues of balancing work and family, salaries, and building strong ties across diverse Jewry.

I would love this blog to take a life of its own, to deal with long term challenges and contempary issues as well. I hope this becomes a useful place to share your hopes and dreams as well as your challenges and dissapointments.

The bottom line is that Jewish professionals are a different breed. If we wanted a career that would earn us the big bucks we would have become attorneys and investment bankers. Instead, we rather work day in and day out with the one people who G-d calls "stiff-necked". That definitely takes a unique kind of person, be it NCSY, AIPAC, Jewish Federation, a Kiruv worker or day school educator.
Check it out.

As the Bear Dozes...

DovBear has asserted that President Bush violated the 4th amendment and possibly other freedoms guaranteed to us by the United States, along with a few laws, by ordering the interception of conversations between known terrorist cellphone numbers abroad and people in the United States in contact with them by the National Security Agency (NSA).

In his post on the subject, he challenged many of the more "right-wing" bloggers who comment there, including myself, to sign a waiver of our rights so President Bush can track everything we do. Instead, we challenged his assertions that the wiretaps were illegal, bringing in numerous facts and arguments why they would be legal. DovBear responded with his usual empty rhetoric, which was mindless babble as always. Interestingly, after a commenter named "C" said,
May I say, I find it fascinating listening to people quoting from editorial pages whining about the legality, or lack thereof, on the subject of wiretapping. There is really little worse then watching s/o ramble on regarding a topic of which he has no connection to. The only person actually saying s/t of worth would, I hate to say, Ezzie, b/c he's pointing out facts. Not knee-jerking.
, DovBear was smart enough to state:
Arguments are what matter. Nothing else.
This brought immediate satisfaction, as we threw in over the next hours a number of interesting articles that feel the President acted legally. DovBear added... none.

So, here's some reading for DovBear:
The Justice Department explains why the President's actions were legal.

(Some of these are taken from other bloggers)

Cass Sunstein (a liberal) has a few posts on their legality.

Geof Stone argues it is unconstitutional, but Nephtuli said to check the comments.

Orin Kerr argues they're constitutional. [@ volokh, though volokh is down]

Clinton's associate Attorney General stated it was legal.

The WSJ had an op-ed on the conflicts between executive power and FISA.
Enjoy!

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/29

Just a few quick hits tonight... or is it morning? Oy.

*Post of the Day* LamedZayin discusses the 4 sons of the Pesach (Passover) Haggadah, even though it's Chanukah. A brilliant breakdown of Jewish society.

Blogging: Meryl Yourish added a few blogs to her blogroll, including SerandEz! I have no clue what drew her to my blog, but I'm flattered and appreciative.

Thinking: MCAryeh rambles. Beautifully.

Stacey has the best Chanukah gift of all. Nachas.

Nephtuli, who's been blogging like crazy since the end of finals, says some people aren't thinking at all. He's right, too.

Funny: Ayelet has a funny and cute story from her bilingual daughter.

Less People Less Idiots has a great post on the ills of the world: Parts I & II.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"With Sportsmanship and Fairness"

Let's see if you can catch the contradictions:
Dozens of masked Palestinian gunmen took over election offices in the Gaza Strip, exchanging fire with police and demanding spaces for the ruling Fatah Party's military wing on a list for Jan. 25 parliamentary elections.

The clashes came hours before a Wednesday afternoon deadline for submitting the list and as Fatah's two main factions — party veterans and a young generation of activists — announced an end to an internal rift that had threatened to bolster the electoral prospects of the militant Hamas. After intense negotiations, young guard members said Fatah will submit a single, unified list for the elections.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas praised the party's decision to unify and urged Palestinians to come together. "What's important is that we go through the election process first united but also ... with sportsmanship and a spirit of transparency and fairness so that we can achieve the true democracy that we all want," he told reporters in Gaza.

So, let's recap: Abbas is praising the party's decision to unify, which happened after (and because) shots were fired and his own party took over election headquarters. In addition, he has the gall to praise what happened with the words "sportsmanship", "transparency", and "fairness".

You have got to be kidding me.

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Video clips and submissions

Does anybody know how to post video clips on Blogger? I would love to put up some stuff. I remember seeing it on someone's blog a while back (Mirty?) but I can't remember who/when and I'm not keen on looking for a post that may not exist.

Next: People are always welcome to submit posts for my daily roundup. That does not necessarily mean they will be chosen, but to date I've used most of the posts people have submitted. This is especially good if you think you've written a great post and would really like others to read it, and perhaps comment/critique it. The email address is serandez at verizon dot net.

I've been asked why I do the roundups. There are a few reasons: I enjoy pointing out that which I think people will find interesting, or at least that I found interesting. The people who read them seem to think they're interesting as well, usually, so they like it; and the people who wrote the pieces are happy to have extra readers. Then there's the hope that more people will e-mail me submissions, which would allow me to see some of the best of the blogosphere every day that I otherwise would not see.

Thank you all very much!

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Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/28 (& Funny Story)

Today was the funeral for my wife's grandfather, A'H. I will post more about that at a later date, iyH. It did, however, allow me the experience of meeting J-blog commenter Charlie Hall, whose brilliance is immediately obvious (and yet another reason he gets along so well with my wife's extended family). It was an honor and pleasure, though next time I hope it will be under better circumstances.

I was also talking in the car with my brother-in-law, who I recently mentioned my blog too, and he told me a very funny story. He was talking last night with a friend of his from Chicago, let's call him "Gregory". Gregory asked my brother-in-law if Dr. Abraham Luchins who just passed away was related to him. My brother-in-law answered that he was, it was in fact his wife's grandfather - but how did Gregory know? Gregory answered that he had read it on a blog, and the name Luchins stuck out, so he figured he would ask. My brother-in-law asked him what blog, out of curiousity, and he answered something like "It's called SerandEz. I started reading it because it covers a lot of the blogs I read, and gives a nice summary."

Well, welcome Gregory, I'm glad you're enjoying!

And now, on to the roundup which I started last night, but didn't have a chance to post...

*Post of the Day* Responding2JBlogs is debating existence, friendship, and religion in his own mind. Fascinating to read, even if you might not agree.

Judaism:
A former professor of mine, David Kirschner, has an excellent, tear-jerky post at Beyond Teshuva regarding his relationships with his father and his son.

Gil has an excellent post from the principal of a girls' high school about the (Aish) movie "Inspired" and what we can practically do to address certain issues.

Godol Hador is deferring to someone greater than him, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, to ask whether the first 11 chapters or so of the Torah can be learned allegorically.

Mississippi Fred brings in a wonderful comment from another blog regarding the problems that bans have caused - writing off 95% of Judaism.
Life:
Shoshana is going to Israel! And she misses the person who initially started her there the first time, which has made her what she is today.

Compassion in action - and the hypocrisy that sometimes exists. (submitted by SoccerDad)

Jack wants to know if you've ever been addicted to love. He's also got a bunch of other great posts, as always, but to link to all of them takes way too much time. So go to his homepage and read.
Blogging:
Want to make your computer look nicer? Mirty has another post up at CodeScripter! This may be her best one yet - it's easy, fast, and makes everything a whole lot prettier.
Video:
Chaim has up a video from the Avraham Fried/Ohad concert we both attended. Remember that sick note I talked about? This is it. Amazing.
Israel:
Batya muses about the bias in the NYTimes - and dissects a piece. David is disgusted with the LATimes, and dissects the jerk they printed piece by piece.
Check it out!

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I Blog...

(Hat tip: Tzadekes) [I believe she said it was in the Post yesterday, though I'm not sure which one...]


Awesome.

Menorah Story, Part II

Part I is here.

Chanukah that year was great, and I really had a great time. I realize now that it was probably Junior, not Senior, year - but either way the story is the same.

A few months later, everyone was cleaning out and packing away their things. I'm not sure if it was Pesach or the end of the year, but for some reason, I realized that I needed to put my menorah away. All my stuff was sealed already, and I didn't have enough room for it in any of them; so I asked a younger guy if he could put it in his box. He said it wasn't a problem, and put it between sweatshirts in a box to protect it. While cleaning out his room, he moved the box into a hall; meanwhile, I was shmoozing with other people down the hall.

A little bit later, I heard a commotion. The younger guy was furious - one of the workers had been taking trash out of the hall, and took his box with it. His box, which was clearly not garbage, and had a folded sweatshirt on top. His box, which had inside of it my beautiful silver menorah. The one I'd gotten as a bar mitzvah present, and which I had always loved. Sadly, there was not much to do: There were so many boxes that day, and if I recall correctly, the garbage trucks had come around the same time, and the garbage was all gone already.

The Yeshiva expressed sympathy, but there was nothing they could do. My menorah was gone, and gone forever. But what can I do - I have my own wonderful memories of Chanukah which I choose to remember, and that's what I'll do. Memories like taking a bus and long walk to Petach Tikva from Yerushalayim to pick up my grandmother; then bringing her back by cab to HarNof, where she had her daughter-in-law, 3 grandchildren, and over 20 great-grandchildren waiting for her to celebrate her 89th birthday. Memories like lighting in the entrance of our home, carefully locking the screen door so the frigid winds wouldn't blow the candles out. Or writing my name with candles as a kid, dancing through WITS with all our teachers, seeing the neighbors' menorahs shining through the Cleveland snow, or looking at the countless windows of every building in Neve Ya'akov with lights peering out. Watching child after child light at each cousin's home. Watching my aunt help my uncle, who has Huntington's, light his menorah - and the obvious happiness on his face to be able to do so.

Those are the memories I choose to remember. Have a wonderful, freilichen, Chanukah.

JIB Awards Correction


As I noted yesterday, the JPost page everyone's been looking at is in fact only a test page. AussieDave of IsraellyCool (who is hosting the JIBs) put out a statement regarding the JIBs today, partly in response to the many bloggers who were linking to that test page.
3. Finally, many of you have stumbled upon a Jerusalem Post test page showing the final cut of "nominees." Some of you even posted a link to it. This is not the final page, nor does it show the final list of nominees. It is merely a test page used by the Post to experiment with some formats. Many of the shown blogs may not be in the final cut, and some other blogs may be included, after we have evaluated their eligiblity and nomination link format requirements.
Well, I hope I'm not cut, and if I'm added to any that would be cool. Currently, SerandEz is listed in four categories: Best Overall Blog, Best New Blog, Best Series (Crazy Shabbos), and Best Post (Welcome to the J-Blogosphere). Please have SerandEz in mind when voting starts January 9th! Thanks!

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Year-End Thank You

From an e-mail forward... because we can all use a smile. Courtesy of SIL.
As the holidays approach, my heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of
you who have taken the time and trouble to send me "forwards" over the
past 12 months. Thank you for making me feel safe, secure, blessed, and
wealthy.

Extra thanks to whoever sent me the one about rat dung in the glue on
envelopes 'cause I now have to go get a wet towel every time I need to
seal an envelope.

Also, I scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason. Because
of your concern I no longer drink Coca Cola because it can remove toilet
stains.

I no longer drink Pepsi or Dr Pepper since the people who make these
products are atheists who refuse to put "Under God" on their cans.

I no longer use Saran wrap in the microwave because it causes cancer.

I no longer check the coin return on pay phones because I could be
pricked with a needle infected with AIDS.

I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a
water buffalo on a hot day.

I no longer go to shopping malls because someone might drug me with a
perfume sample and rob me.

I no longer receive packages from nor send packages by UPS or FedEx
since they are actually Al Qaeda in disguise.

I no longer answer the phone because someone will ask me to dial a
number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda,
Singapore, and Uzbekistan.

I no longer eat KFC because their "chickens" are actually horrible
mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers.

I no longer have to buy expensive cookies from Neiman Marcus since I now
have their recipe.

I no longer worry about my soul because at last count I have 363,214
angels looking out for me.

Thanks to you, I have learned that God only answers my prayers if I
forward an e-mail to seven of my friends and make a wish within five
minutes.

I no longer have any savings because I gave it to a sick girl who is
about to die in the hospital (for the 1,387,258th time)

I no longer have any money at all - but that will change once I receive
the $15,000 that Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in
their special email program.

Yes, I want to thank you so much for looking out for me that I will now
return the favor! If you don't send this e-mail to at least 144,000
people in the next 7 minutes, a large pigeon with a wicked case of
diarrhea will land on your head at 5:00 PM (CDT) this afternoon. I know
this will occur because it actually happened to a friend of my next-door
neighbor's ex-mother-in-law's second husband's cousin's beautician.
Amen.

Baruch Dayan Emes

*This post will remain on top for a few days. Scroll down for the latest from SerandEz.*

Serach's grandfather, Dr. Abraham Luchins, passed away this morning. The levaya (funeral) will be tomorrow morning in Brooklyn, at Parkside Chapel at 11:30 AM. His wife, Dr. Edith Luchins, passed away 3 years ago; he is survived by his children R' Dr. David Luchins; Dr. Daniel Luchins; R' Dr. Yirmiyahu Luchins; Dr. Anne Greenfield; and R' Yosef Luchins.

Baruch Dayan Emes.

Directions to Parkside Chapel: Belt Parkway Exit 11-N (Flatbush Ave.). Straight until the 3rd traffic light; building and parking lot on the left side.

Happy Chanukah!!

Happy Chanukah everybody!

I've always liked taking pictures of menorahs, especially when I can catch their reflections in the glass. This year is no different. The menorah I'm using this year is actually my father-in-law's, which they gave us last year because I don't have one. I received a stunningly gorgeous silver menorah for my bar-mitzvah which I loved, but I don't have it. Why not? Well...

Every year in high school, almost every single person in WITS would head home for Shabbos Chanukah, which was an extended off- err, out-Shabbos. There were usually a handful of guys who would stay - so few that the sons of the rabbeim would outnumber us. The primary reason I would stay: Money. Who can afford the $140 flight to Cleveland for a weekend? (Apparently, everyone but me... but that's their problem.) Plus, there's the crazy amount of snow; the shlep; and the pointlessness of it. A short weekend cooped up in a snow zone is not something either me or my parents wanted - especially as a high-schooler.
The first couple years I was there, there were a few older guys there whom I was close with who stayed as well. We had an all-around great time, playing football on the frozen tundra of the WITS front yard, making pizza and fries, and just "cooking" in general. The fry-making was especially cool, resulting in the most incredible fireball I've ever seen - the burst of light and heat so large that a guy walking out of the kitchen, facing the other way, ran back in to ask if the fries guy was all right in the back portion of the kitchen. Figure he saw a reflection of a fireball that was 30 feet away, to his back-left, around a doorway [through a wall]. I just remember seeing a blast of light and a clatter and running in to see if he was okay. Lesson learned: Less oil.

Each year, though, less and less people would stay. One year, I was invited to a couple friends in Milwaukee, one in Glendale, one on the West Side. It was really nice, and I had a great time. I finally saw Braveheart; I saw Star Wars: Episode I; and I finally had my first steak. Yes, that said "first". Growing up, I was apparently convinced of the incredibly obvious fact that I didn't like meat, thereby saving my family many hundreds of dollars. Lesson learned: Meat good. Make man big and strong. I also had the distinct pleasure of being in my friend's Rav4 after what for Milwaukee qualifies as a big snowstorm. He'd just received his license. The car started to skid, and my completely moronic friend slams the brakes. We plow right into a snowbank on the side of the road, and I give him a nice little speech about how to drive in snow. Lesson learned: Don't let friends drive dumb.

Finally, my senior year, I decided to stay again, despite there being just 2 other people in the entire yeshiva doing so. Both of whom happen to be in the Beis Medrash, and both of whom happen to live in the "coachouse", which used to be a coachouse. Which of course leaves me in the main building, a more than 50 thousand square-foot monstrosity, half of which used to be a convent, and the other half all industrialized and new; a one hundred year-old mansion with mysterious cabinets and hollow shelves, with strange fireplaces and a non-functioning dummy elevator, and with strange 15-foot high stained glass paintings of Mary and who knows what else hidden behind deep red curtains; a deathly quiet shell just a few hundred feet up a forested, rocky hill from the shores of Lake Michigan which normally has 130 people in it... all by myself.

Sweet!! Music blasting everywhere (stations in Milwaukee are pretty good!), dancing around wearing whatever the heck I wanted to, and staying up as late as I wanted without getting 3 hours of detention from Rabbi R. And all the leftover pizza I could handle. I was living it up. Except every stinking creak I heard would freak the heck out of me for a while, and dancing around gets pretty boring after a couple hours by yourself. Thankfully, we went to two or three Bucks games that weekend ($5/seat I think), including one time where the scalper was bidding against the ticket agent AT THE BOOTH. The lady behind the counter would say a price, and he'd offer similar tickets for a couple bucks less. About a week later, there was a huge scalper bust. Lesson learned: Don't scalp tickets right next to the booth.

Anyways, back to the point. Because I knew every year that I would be one of a select few to be in school, I decided to bring my real menorah. Every year, when the yeshiva would light, there would be numerous little, cheap, throwaway menorahs, plus a few real ones that were okay - and then there were a select few truly beautiful ones that really stood out on the table. For me, who would not be going home at all, this was my little enjoyment of Chanukah. Each year, a few people would comment on how nice it looked, and that it was nice to see amongst all the wax burnings and upside down soda cans (a personal favorite!). Senior year, the new General Studies Principal took fabulous pictures of the menorahs and their reflections - and mine was prominently displayed. Seeing that beautiful silver menorah always brought a smile to my face.

To be continued... here.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/27

Yes, I do sometimes write my own stuff too... But while writing is definitely what got me addicted to blogging (did I just say addicted?! No... I'm not addicted. I'm, um, interested in blogging! Right?), reading is what keeps me coming back for more. The following posts are good examples of why.

*Post of the Day* None. I chose two in the post below this. :)

Judaism:
Rachel Adler of Beyond Teshuva addresses an issue that all of us face at some point - flat-lining in our Judaism.

The other BT blog, OffTheDerech, has come back to life with a guest post from a Ger (convert).

Gil at Hirhurim wonders about the emphasis people place on writing BS'D (an abbreviation for "With God's Help") on the top of every paper.

Mississippi Fred Macdowell and the Freelance Kiruv Maniac debate documentary hypothesis at On the Main Line.
Culture:
Orthomom addresses Lakewood's hypocrisy; Lakewood realizes it as well, and properly addresses the issue. Well done, all-around!

Robbie wonders why Chanukah needs to be so deep-fried.

Shira reviews Shlock Rock.
Education:
Robbie wonders about someone's kid, and brown-striped zebras. Then he really wonders about that kid's teacher.

Orthomom just wonders about her 5-year old's sex ed - and is satisfied that it's pretty non-existent.
Israel:
Nephtuli gives a near-perfect analysis of the decision Kadima-leaning Israeli voters face.
Check it out!

No, I didn't just put Robbie in because he asked. I put him in because they were really good, funny posts. But, in general, if you'd like to be included in the roundups, you should e-mail me at serandez at verizon dot net. Thanks!

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/26

Blogging has been a bit light the last few days, sorry. Hopefully I'll have more time as the week passes. Meanwhile, read some of these other great bloggers! :)

Note: I'm not going to roundup too much Chanukah this week, I'll leave that to Batya for Haveil Havalim #51.

*Post of the Day Weekend*
Psychotoddler recalls a fateful day from 20 years ago. Mrs. Balabusta adds details in the comments, too.

This deserves top billing, too: Stacey recalls a sad Chanukah from the past.
Culture:
Psycho I mean, Cro Magnon drags Female by hair to see King-Kong - and has big enough keyboard to blog about it.

Krum reviews Munich, and doesn't agree with most of the fuss about it.

Chaim reviews a bunch of Jewish CD's in 5 words.

Wolfish Musings discusses the new "women's only" mall in Bnei Brak. Scary.

Nephtuli points to a video by the ACLU. Pathetic (but a must-see!).

Mirty reviews Ushpizin at The Jewish Connection - and doesn't think it's right.
Judaism:
Godol Hador ducks some sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) in an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

Jameel, meanwhile, got chased by an angry mob - and not the Arabs in the Muqata!
World:
SoccerDad points to a wonderful post by a soldier in Iraq. The picture at the bottom is worth far more than a thousand words.

Romach thinks we live in a world of information - so much, it's impossible to process it all. The article he links to is incredible - when I have time, I'm going to write about it.
Check it out!

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JIB Awards Warming Up...

ADDeRabbi noted that the JIB nominees were up at the Jerusalem Post, but I was wondering what happened to a lot of the categories. I checked over at IsraellyCool's JIB homepage, and he hadn't posted anything yet - but Elder of Zion says that it is likely a test page by the JPost in preparation for the nominations, considering voting doesn't begin until next week. Looks good so far - and not just because I'm listed under "Best Overall Blog" and "Best Post" (for Welcome to the J-Blogosphere). Really.

I've already noticed a few blogs that I'm surprised are not on a couple of the categories, but perhaps they're in other ones or these aren't the complete lists, so I'm not going to go through them yet.

And the waiting begins...

Aliyah Revolution!

Ze'ev has linked to an interesting video from Kumah on making Aliyah - it's cute, and important to see. Read Ze'ev's post, as well...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Lander College Battle of the Bands 2005 Part II

[continued from here]

The Bands: (again, as noted in the previous post, this will iy"H be rewritten in more detail later)
Corduroy
The Sfardy Party
The Great Assembly
Kol Tzipor
Midnite Remedy
Omek Hadavar
Azamrah
PHP
Revelation
Dreidels
B'Simcha
Od Yosef Chai
The Sponsors:
Dougie's Bar-B-Que & Grill
73-27 Main Street
Flushing, NY 11367
(718) 793-4600

Safra
Judaica & STAM
141-24 Jewel Ave.
Flushing, NY 11367
(718) 268-5151

Co-Sponsors

Stratton Sound
Professional Sound Engineering
New Jersey
(732) 691-9712

Wasserman's Supermarket
Main Street, Queens

Kosher Concessions.com
Email: Info@kosherconcessions.com
Phone: (201) 836-3770
More to come...!

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Professor Justice: Fire & Hire

[Previously on NYC Transit Strike: Intro, Economics, Sue Them, Selfish, Pensions, Lawsuit.]

Previously by Prof. Justice: Holiday Correctness, Terminate Tookie.

Fire & Hire

Hi all, Professor Justice here. Thanks to Ezzie and the rest of you, the TWU strike and accompanying debate appears to have been exhausted. There is, however, a rather dreary remnant which will linger for quite some time that I wish to share with you. First and foremost, who and what is Roger Toussaint? He is an uneducated thug who was expelled from school in his native Trinidad for writing slogans on the walls. Then, after being hired by the MTA, who apparently enjoy paying uneducated thugs well, he was fired in 1998 for doing union business on MTA time. His claim to fame was that he successfully sued the MTA because they had spent ten thousand dollars investigating him. This somehow made him a hero by the rank and file. Indeed, a member of his own executive board dubbed him “a hero throughout the local as someone who was able to fight back...”

The point here is that Toussaint isn’t just another loudmouth radical; he is a criminal who, like members of an organized crime family, believe in intimidation and extortion as a way of conducting business. And it is worse for the rank and file who disagree with their party line. Even the MTA instructed employees who wanted to cross the picket lines not to do so because they “couldn’t guarantee their safety.” Excuse me? Unions and their brash, arrogant entitlement attitude have now been reinvigorated and solidified. Just watch what will happen when the next teacher, police and fire contracts expire. No, they may not strike, but they will be vocal - very vocal. And truthfully, who can blame them. Their starting salary is below thirty thousand and we’re paying someone to drive a bus, conduct a train and sell tokens fifty thousand. Now, Capo (organized crime terminology for the captain of a “crew”) Toussaint is demanding that we should work in the private sector until we’re 80 and pay taxes so some 20‑year old driver can retire at 55 and never have to pay a penny for their pension or health insurance. But that’s not all. He is also demanding that there be fewer and less severe disciplinary rules. Sure, then there’ll be absolutely no recourse for their rudeness, discourteousness, and nastiness, not to mention their bitterness over having to exert themselves and their acting as though they’re doing us a favor when we ask them for assistance.

If this sounds as liberalism at its best, that’s because it is. Unions have effectively institutionalized dumbness, laziness and rudeness without any accountability for lack of productivity. And don’t forget their overwhelming sense of a wide array of entitlements. Moreover, they never have to bear the consequences for their bullying tactics when others happen to disagree with them, because to them, there is no rule of law other than their own. Where do you think this process starts? Our academic institutions of higher and “enlightened” learning. This past semester at NYU, graduate students - that’s right, graduate students - went on strike. Hundreds of doctoral and master’s students who serve as teaching assistants refused to grade papers and exams, lead discussion sections or teach classes to protest the administration’s refusal to negotiate another contract with the UAW (United Auto Workers). And how did NYU’s president, John Sexton respond? By warning students that they risked losing their spring semester stipend. Oh boy, now I’m shaking in my shoes.

I know, the Taylor law, which makes it illegal for public employees to strike, is supposed to impose penalties such as being assessed two days pay for every day they strike, “hefty” fines for violating court injunctions prohibiting a strike and possibly jail. Big deal. You saw how well that worked. It took three days of commuting hell and millions of (perhaps a billion) dollars in damage to the city and its business, before a judge even suggested that he might jail Toussaint and his henchman. Oh, that and the loss of the right to collect union dues. Do you know what that means? Well, when I began teaching at a public university, you can imagine my surprise when I received my first pay check and there was a deduction for union dues despite my never having joined. No matter, the Taylor law allows them to deduct it anyway. Why? As a “concession” for not being allowed to strike so that they can spend my money holding rallies for the protest de jure. Some good that concession did.

What most pundits, commentators and editorialists missed here was the one and only thing which would have definitively sent an effective message and set the proper precedent. Their termination. At the first threat of a strike, the Governor and Mayor should have made it explicitly clear that any TWU employee who did strike would be summarily terminated along with the complicity of any union official. It worked when President Reagan did it to the air traffic controllers in 1981 and it would work now. Not many employees would be that willing to risk their fifty thousand plus a year salary, health benefits and pension plan for some degenerate thug who would still be receiving his. But it didn’t happen because most politicians, Pataki and Bloomberg included, aren’t willing to risk the political fallout that would inevitably occur. With more than twenty thousand applications already pending at the MTA, it would have been worth the risk, especially since both are lame ducks.

Not to mention the end of Captain Thugssaint and his ilk.
Professor Justice practices Criminal Law in New York, teaches trial advocacy, and is a Professor of Business Law.
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Haveil Havalim #50

Haveil Havalim #50 is up over at Daled Amos! He did a great job, of course, bringing the number of links back down to a more manageable number, so I can actually go through them later without missing a week of my life. :)
Haveil Havalim is the carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Soccer Dad. The term “Haveil Havalim”, which means "Vanity of Vanities", is from Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, which was written by King Solomon. Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other “excesses” and realized that it was nothing but “hevel”, or in English, “vanities.”
Check it out!

Last week: SerandEz hosted the 1st Anniversary Edition!

Next week: Batya of Shiloh Musings/Me-Ander will host. Email her at shilohmuse at yahoo dot com.

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Lander College Battle of the Bands 2005

A quick recap for now, with a full one to come later this week. I can't find the cable I need to upload pictures from my camera, and they're making the CD's now, and will not be able to tell me what songs each band sang until afterwards. I'm also going to be giving the school the recap (out of the kindness of my heart, aww...) to use as they please, so I'd like it to be accurate.

The Lander College for Men last night hosted the 1st Annual Lander College Battle of the Bands! There were 12 bands, hailing from all over New York, and they were surprisingly quite good. I originally was not even sure I would attend, assuming that it would be a bunch of average bands at the best who don't know how to play to a crowd - and I was wrong. I arrived a bit late, during the second band's set, and the 4th floor was rocking.

The Prizes:
1st Place: $1000 in Cash.

2nd Place: $300 gift certificate to a Judaica store.
The Rules:
Each band was allowed two songs, of which at least one had to be an original. The bands were judged in 4 categories on a scale of 1 to 10: Talent; music appeal; stage presence; and audience approval. Songs could be fast or slow, happy or sad - they only had to relate to Judaism in some fashion.
The Judges:
The judges a nice sampling of Jewish musicians, and were not giving away free scores to any of the bands. They were:

Benji Raphaeli - Producer & Manager of Chai5.

Yossi Sonnenblick - Singer on Dveykus. He now serves as a Professor of Jewish History at the Lander College for Men, and he's excellent.

Ophie Nat - Very popular soloist, who also teaches at the Yeshiva of Central Queens (YCQ) elementary school just down the street. His debut solo album, Ophie, was a big hit.

Marc Levine - Guitar and backup singer of the Nochi Krohn Band. He and Nochi sang under the Chupah at a good friend of mine's wedding, with Marc playing acoustic as well. The Im Eshkachech they sang was an original. I have never - in my life - heard such excellent music and singing under a Chupah.
To be continued...

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Battle of the Bands!

Lander is hosting a Battle of the Bands! Right now, in fact - 11 bands (YU, Lander, Chofetz Chaim, Ohr HaChaim, Shar Yoshuv... maybe others?). If you're anywhere near Kew Gardens Hills, and you're male, come check it out! I'm going there now - maybe I'll post about it later.

75-31 150th Street if you're interested (4th floor).

How the Court's Ruling Affects Religion

As noted on Friday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a courthouse the ability to hang a display which included the 'Ten Commandments', unanimously rejecting the ACLU's plea that the display violated the requirement for "separation of church and state". In its decision, the Court noted
the ACLU makes repeated reference to “the separation of church and state.” This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.
It is clear that this statement may be of concern to many, particularly those who have always understood separation of church and state to fall under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. However, there is little to be concerned with. The Court is very careful in noting not only why this particular display is allowed, but reminds the constituents what would have resulted in this display not being allowed. While it is true that the concept of 'separation of church and state' is false in nature, the Establishment is clearly not; and any display which would violate that clause would still not be allowed.

The Court cites McReary, which gives an example where a court not only put up a display of the 'Ten Commandments', but put it up with no context, alone, and was celebrated with a speech from a priest regarding its religious importance. This, obviously, fell under the Establishment Clause, and was ordered to be taken down. The Court here notes that specifically because this display was intended for secular purposes; was provided with a context as to how it has helped form the legal system by which we abide; and because a reasonable person would not view it as an endorsement of religion, it was deemed acceptable.

This decision of the Court should be applauded: Not (only) because it removed the false misconception that church and state are on either side of a line that cannot be crossed, but because it defines just when they can meet - and when they cannot. It is highly important to people of all religions, and even to many who are not, that religion not be removed from the public sphere. Recognition of the role religion has played in our history is highly important, but even more important may be the recognition of the role religion may play in the future. Our government cannot endorse any religion or any religious view over any other; but that does not preclude us from allowing our religious ideals to dictate our views. To me, this is something that is especially important to us as religious Jews.

It is vitally important that government not endorse religion; it is equally important that government do its utmost to protect religion as well.

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End of War

I really enjoyed this line from James Taranto on Best of the Web this past Friday:
Cease-Fire's Greetings
While we weren't looking, apparently they resolved the "war over Christmas." Christmas will be this Sunday, and Monday, Dec. 26, will be a "holiday." Fine by us--we'll see you Tuesday.
Cute.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Cute Chanukah Song

Hat tip: Mommy

This is really cute: Click on an individual candle to get it to sing or not; click on the shamash (middle candle) to have them all sing or stop. Menora song.

Courts: Separation of Church & State Does NOT Exist

Wow. The court ruling [link is the decision] that will shock many Americans. The entire ruling is worth reading (13 pages, I've only read parts so far), but the statements within are astounding, and require little commentary. The ACLU will likely appeal this decision - which was a summary judgement by the court of appeals - to the United States Supreme Court. But it will be an uphill battle for them, as this was a very thorough and well-written decision. The decision was unanimous and written by 6th Circuit Judge Richard Suhrheinrich.

From the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals:
Were we to focus on the perceptions of individuals, every religious display would be “necessarily precluded so long as some passersby would perceive a governmental endorsement thereof.” Pinette, 515 U.S. at 779 (O’Connor J., concurring). Thus, we find unavailing the ACLU’s own assertions that it finds the display offensive and that the display “diminishes [its] enjoyment of the courthouse.” (Compl. ¶ 18.) Religion does not become relevant to standing in the political community simply because a particular viewer of a governmental display feels uncomfortable. Id. at 780 (O’Connor J., concurring); see Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 597-98 (1992) (“People may take offense to all manner of religious as well as nonreligious messages, but offense alone does not in every case show a violation. We know too that sometimes to endure social isolation or even anger may be the price of conscience or noncomformity.”). Our concern is that of the reasonable person. And the ACLU, an organization whose mission is “to ensure that . . . the government [is kept] out of the religion business,”16 does not embody the reasonable person.

The ACLU’s argument contains three fundamental flaws. First, the ACLU makes repeated reference to “the separation of church and state.” This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. See Lynch, 465 U.S. at 673; Lemon, 403 U.S. at 614; Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 312 (1952); Brown v. Gilmore, 258 F.3d 265, 274 (4th Cir. 2001); Stark v. Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 640., 123 F.3d 1068, 1076 (8th Cir. 1997); see also Capitol Square, 243 F.3d at 300 (dismissing strict separatism as “a notion that simply perverts our history”). Our Nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion. See, e.g., Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983) (upholding legislative prayer); McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961) (upholding Sunday closing laws); see also Lynch, 465 U.S. at 674 (“There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.”); Capitol Square, 243 F.3d at 293-99 (describing historical examples of governmental involvement with religion). After all, “[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Zorach, 343 U.S. at 313. Thus, state recognition of religion that falls short of endorsement is constitutionally permissible.

Second, the ACLU focuses on the religiousness of the Ten Commandments. No reasonable person would dispute their sectarian nature, but they also have a secular nature that the ACLU does not address. That they are religious merely begs the question whether this display is religious; it does not answer it. “[T]he Establishment Clause inquiry cannot be distilled into a fixed, per se rule.” Pinette, 515 U.S. at 778 (O’Connor J., concurring); see Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 597-98 (1992). Although treating the subject matter categorically would make our review eminently simpler, we are called upon to examine Mercer County’s actions in light of context. “Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.” Van Orden, 125 S. Ct. at 2863 (plurality opinion). Moreover, “[f]ocus exclusively on the religious component of any activity would inevitably lead to its invalidation under the Establishment Clause.” Lynch, 465 U.S. at 680. The Constitution requires an analysis beyond the four-corners of the Ten Commandments. In short, “proving” that the Ten Commandments themselves are religious does not prove an Establishment Clause violation.

Third, the ACLU erroneously–though perhaps intentionally–equates recognition with endorsement. To endorse is necessarily to recognize, but the converse does not follow. Cf. Mercer County, 219 F. Supp. 2d at 789 (“Endorsement of religion is a normative concept; whereas acknowledgment of religion is not necessarily a value-laden concept.”). Because nothing in the display, its history, or its implementation supports the notion that Mercer County has selectively endorsed the sectarian elements of the first four Commandments, we fail to see why the reasonable person would interpret the presence of the Ten Commandments as part of the larger “Foundations” display as a governmental endorsement of religion.

We will not presume endorsement from the mere display of the Ten Commandments. If the reasonable observer perceived all government references to the Deity as endorsements, then many of our Nation’s cherished traditions would be unconstitutional, including the Declaration of Independence and the national motto. Fortunately, the reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff. See Washegesic ex rel. Pensinger v. Bloomingdale Pub. Sch., 33 F.3d 679, 684 (6th Cir. 1994) (Guy, J., concurring) (describing the “eggshell” plaintiff as unknown to the Establishment Clause). Instead, he appreciates the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American legal traditions.
Wow.

(via the Political Teen, who has video of an interview with an ACLU leader)

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/22

There are some excellent posts all over the blogosphere today, many outside of the J-blogosphere - and I think I've written enough about the Transit Strike by now, don't you?

*Post of the Day*
RenReb may not be poor, but she definitely can't afford Chanuka presents. This is classic RenReb, and a great post.
Kofi Annan:
Claudia Rosett explains why he snapped at a reporter earlier today, and she is sharp. (via Instapundit)
NSA Intercepts:
The US Department of Justice responded to the NSA issue with a letter backing President Bush's assertions that the wiretapping was legal and necessary. It's a fascinating read. (via Instapundit)

Ann Coulter gives a hilarious and sharp article on Townhall (just for you DB), praising the New York Times - and wondering why the Times won't let the President do what they did. I don't agree with everything in the article, but she makes a number of excellent points. (via Political Teen)
Palestinians:
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial about the lack of reporting of Palestinian activities. (via LGF)
Blogging:
Can a blog be sued for trademark infringement? Bloghead says that's exactly what's happening - and by Jews for Jesus, no less...

AirTime has created a J-Blogger game! It's cute. (via Mirty)
Judaism:
The Orthodoxy Test went flying through the blogosphere, thanks to its creator LamedZayin (lots of people posted their results there). Apparently, both Serach and I are right-wing Modern Orthodox, which was only a little surprising.

Godol Hador writes a book ban on behalf of the Gedolim. Hilarious. He also has an interesting post on schools, which I had to disagree with him on (see the comments).

HappyWithHisLot is not so happy with the latest Gedolim ban - movies on flights.
Israel:
Ze'ev is back in full swing, and wonders "What If?".

JoeSettler's put up a quiz too - and it tells you who to vote for in Israel. It says I'm NRP - I noted in the comments at least one flaw, but it's not terribly off.
Life:
Jack talks about his daughter. Very touching.
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Russian Restaurant Sues Over Transit Strike

(Hat tip: Irina) [Previously on NYC Transit Strike: Intro, Economics, Sue Them, Selfish, Pensions.]

I was waiting for this to happen:
Owners of a theater district restaurant sued the Transport Workers Union, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city Thursday in what was apparently the first lawsuit over financial losses due to the transit strike.

Owners of the Russian Samovar, partly owned by dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov until earlier this year, said the walkout and restrictions on vehicles entering Manhattan had caused the West 52nd Street restaurant to suffer a loss of customers and revenue.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan state Supreme Court, blames all sides of the labor dispute for the strike, saying the union struck illegally because the state's Taylor law bars walkouts by public employees, and because the same law forbids bargaining over public employees' retirement benefits.
I particularly enjoyed this line:
The lawsuit says that when the parties to the negotiations reach a contract settlement, the businesses that lost money "have no place to go except to this court for relief from the outrageous, purposeful, illegal and intentionally harmful strike."
Apparently, they are planning on turning this into a class action suit, which will mean they will actually be able to carry the lawsuit through to the end. I am not sure why the city and MTA are being sued, because I don't know what, if any, illegal actions they did. The only complaint against the city I can think of is restricting traffic, though I'm sure they can argue that their actions were necessary under the circumstances - and possibly shift that responsibility on to the MTA, who would then shift it onto the transit workers union.

Well, as this strike was illegal, no matter what one's stances are on the negotiations, I hope the restaurants win. The union deserves a good spanking for this.

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Blogger Trouble, Anyone?

Is everyone else having trouble with Blogger? I can't seem to edit posts, or even switch to 'edit HTML' as I'm writing this one. The formatting that I normally have included when I start a post is missing; and anytime I try and post a comment, the first word verification attempt always fails - and no, I'm not putting the letters in wrong. Am I the only one?

Oooh - just discovered I can't 'tab' from this to 'publish post' either. Or between lots of other fields - and only in Blogger. Weird.

Why DovBear is Wrong on Pensions

DovBear wrote an editorial earlier today which on its face seemed quite sensible. However, when one thinks about what his points are, it is actually quite illogical.
According to the newspapers, the MTA has subjected New York City to a transit strike in the name of trying to get current workers to agree to have new workers put 6 percent of their pay toward pensions.

This demand, though not unreasonable on the face, is actually an attack on the pensions of all public workers. If accepted, the proposal will create divisive contract with different benefits for new workers versus existing workers. Seen in this light, the MTA's proposal is a pretext for weakening unions.

That's intolerable, and the transit workers are right to fight it.
There are a number of responses to these points, including that there are numerous other issues (as I mentioned on Tuesday). But his primary complaint seems to be that the divisiveness between the old and new workers is an issue that we cannot afford to face. The question is, simply: Why? What's wrong with there being a different set of rules? Clearly, the current pension structure is incredibly problematic. As many commenters noted, GM is a perfect example of poorly planned pension benefits driving a company into a huge deficit. The same issues that exist with Social Security exist here: When these plans were designed, life expectancy was far shorter than it is now. As this is no longer the case, it is impossible for the city to continue paying these benefits.

Gil may have put it best when he noted:
Is it just me or has declining pension benefits been the standard throughout the private sector for over two decades? Pitting old workers against new workers??? What do you think a change from defined benefit to defined contribution plan does? But it's still the standard!

I don't understand how the government is supposed to run a financially viable enterprise based on economic conditions from 40 years ago.
Exactly. As in any other situation where a problem needs fixing, this is a problem that needs to be fixed. If the MTA's raises were well under the cost-of-living increases, it is clear that the unions would be justified in raising this as an issue that must be solved. The same applies here in reverse: The current pension benefit structure is ruinous to the city and the MTA. It needs to be changed.

DovBear continued:
Unions are the only ones doing anything to stem the declining standard of living for working people. A few generations ago, during the nostalgic 50s, a blue-collar worker could expect to own his own house and retire in comfort. Those days are gone, and they are gone, in part, because unions have been weakened. Workers' rights, pay and pensions have eroded as unions have eroded.
I'm not sure any of those claims are true, but that's neither here nor there. Unions served an important role, particularly in the 1950's. However, there are no true monopolies in today's world, and unions do more to upset the economic system we have in place than to protect workers' rights. By keeping wages higher than market level, they ensure that many unemployed workers are not able to find jobs as companies cannot afford to hire more workers. By protecting members, they assure those members that mediocre work is sufficient to hold onto a job - costing both the city and taxpayers money. And by asking for extremely generous benefits, they drive cities to raise prices, thereby hurting primarily those in the lower and middle economic classes.

The Transit Workers Union, as I noted earlier, is not worried about protecting the lower or middle class, nor about helping the citizens of New York City. They are worried only about themselves, no matter what damage it does to the economic stability of the MTA and the city. On a related note, DovBear very much liked this question on his blog by mycroft:
(mycroft) The real effective cost of using the subways and buses is cheaper in real terms than it has been in a long time. Why is it than when the MTA is in debt-the workers have to have cutbacks but when they are awash in funds they can't be treated properly?

(DovBear) Fantastic question.

Ezzie? CWY? Tully?
I actually think the question answers itself. When the MTA shifts into the red, it has two choices: Raising prices or cutting costs. As mycroft noted, the cost of the subways is relatively cheap - which means that the MTA is running them efficiently. That leaves either raising prices or cutting salaries when they need more money. If the MTA determines that raising costs would not help as much as cutting (salary or pension) costs, then it makes perfect sense to cut those benefits.

But the reverse is not true: The TWU members are not shareholders in the MTA, and they should not expect to 'share in its profits'. As long as the MTA is in the black, costs should either remain stable or drop. Therefore, the MTA should charge less to riders, just as it costs the MTA less to transport them - it is a not-for-profit organization, and should only be charging as much as it costs them to run, maintain, and expand the transportation system as necessary.

It is nice that the strike has ended, although it is disappointing that the union seems to have received most of its demands. It will be interesting to see how much this hurts the city in the long run, and how long it will be before these issues resurface - as they inevitably will. This would have been the perfect opportunity to fix many issues, including, as DovBear correctly noted, a good opportunity to weaken unions. It's too bad the city blew it.

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Transit Strike Over - And Still, Selfish

It's interesting how I felt that the strike itself was a selfish series of actions on the part of the TWU, yet now that the strike part is over, I think the actual stopping of the strike was pure selfishness as well.

What essentially happened was this: The judge threated the union heads with jail in contempt, and they ended the strike. Was this the only reason? Well, no - but I'm sure it played a role. Or, as Steve Brizel e-mailed me:
The union heads played their hand as far as they could- they walked out and were on the verge of being held in contempt when they agreed that their members should return to work. If they had been thrown into Rikers, they would have become martyrs, rightfully or wrongfully, but the union would wind up being broken by virtue of the Taylor Law sanctions and fines. They could care less about the comfort of the riding public-which IMO, is the attitude of the average public servant-they are willing to strike to protect themselves but extending themselves for the public or even offering a smile seems beyond their basic capabilities.
What I think played another major factor in their decision was the following: The people of New York were quickly figuring out alternative methods of getting around the city - as of now, many of those methods were more expensive or bigger pains, and traffic was quite high, but each of those problems were easing as the days passed.

Now, imagine if the strike continued for a number of weeks. New Yorkers would have basically solved how to get to and from work every day, and businesses would be back up to decent levels. Some may even have found that a little extra walking or biking - even in the cold of winter - was actually doing them some good, too. The MTA may have found some replacement workers, and gotten some major trains up and running; and cabs and vans would have dropped prices a bit to compete. Not too many people would have been sympathetic any longer to a union whose demands were so far off the pale, which becomes more clear as their services are realized to be less necessary than they were originally perceived to be. [This should not be understood to mean that their jobs are unimportant; rather, that there are viable alternatives to riding a unionized MTA.]

Let's be clear: The workers are [edit] not going back on the job, but it has nothing to do with their heartfelt desire to help the citizens of New York. They are going back on the job simply because being on strike was causing people to lose all sympathy for their positions, and the longer they would be on strike, the less anyone would ever care for them to stop. It may have been a wise decision to stop the strike; but it was still a selfish one.

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