December 6th, 2013

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Last Night's Annual Nerdpocalypse

Last night was the annual Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA) Chairman's Dinner, aka ‪#‎telecomprom‬. For those unfamiliar with this ritual, it is somewhat similar to the White House Press Corp dinner. The telecom bar gathers (1600 in attendance last night) and the Chairman of the FCC makes a self-deprecating speech that also mocks the audience of assembled lawyers and lobbyists.

Like most folks in my profession, I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Telecomprom. I genuinely like a bunch of the people, and also appreciate the need to mingle and engage in the social back and forth that creates community and facilitates getting stuff done. OTOH, it's very crowded and loud.

Chairman Wheeler did a pretty good job. More importantly, they gave Former Acting Chair Now Back To Commissioner Mingon Clyburn a chance to have an "acting" Chairman's Dinner Speech. The FCBA President announced "and now, the Chairman of the FCC." [Pause] "Perhaps he didn't hear. And now, the Chairman of the FCC" and up walks Clyburn. :"I know you all bought your tickets when I was still Acting" explained Clyburn, and then went on to make one or two jokes before yielding the floor to Chairman Wheeler.

You can tell what are the hot issues by the jokes. Wheeler began by saying we had some good wine, but it was limited, so AT&T and Verizon tables would be limited to one bottle each, but Sprint and T-Mobile could get as many as they wanted "But for God's sake, please actually buy something!" This is a spectrum joke for those unfamiliar with our world.

Most of the jokes were about Wheeler himself on expected and safe topics. His age, his background as a lobbyist, his interest in the Civil War (he's actually written a respected book on the subject "Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails," about how Lincoln used the telegraph to revolutionize control of the military and manipulate the press). Example: "As a former lobbyist, let me advise you how to lobby the Chairman. Don't wait for him to pull out pictures of his grandchildren, ask him. For those of you smart enough to applaud, here is a picture of my grandson []" (Slideshow of pictures of grandchildren was a running joke during his speech). "I am probably the only FCC Chairman to have lobbied his own staff. That's why I hired them. They never gave me what i asked for." [Picture of Wheeler at table surrounded by sleeping staff] "Here I am at the first staff meeting, explaining how we can learn key things for Net Neutrality from the Battle of Antietam."

Annoyingly, I managed to do something nasty to my back. I suspect its because I was carrying my backpack the whole time rather than checking it in the coatroom (a notorious chokepoint. You can spend half an hour after the dinner trying to get your stuff).
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A Brief Reflection On The Passing of Nelson Mandela

Of the many remarkable things about Nelson Mandela, what I find most remarkable is that he was both a revolutionary leader and a man capable of building the country and leading it after the revolution. And when the time came for him to step aside and demonstrate how democratic transition of power works, he did that as well. After he retired from active politics, he continued to exercise quiet moral authority in a way that bolstered, rather than overshadowed, his successors.

His choice to pursue reconciliation, in a way that openly acknowledged the violence and injustice of the past but allowed South Africa as a whole to move beyond it, demonstrated a reconstruction genuinely run by the "angels of our better nature." It was a wonder and an astonishment to a world that often confuses "vengeance" with "justice."

Mandela also had this blessing. He lived long enough to see his dreams realized. Not all of them. Their is much poverty and inequality remaining in South Africa. But he lived to see true political freedom for his people and he set them on a path to better days.
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I get annoyed at Rick Warren For cultural appropriation

Dear Rick Warren and other Christian people who want to use Jewish examples to argue that you are oppressed by various laws like the insurance mandate.

As an Orthodox Jew, I can assure you that we have an extremely rich and complex methodology for resolving conflicts of secular law with our religious code -- an exciting byproduct of, among other things, nearly 1700 years of Christian oppression starting when Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire. (And prior to that living under the rule of idolatrous Greeks, Romans, Persians.) Y'all might want to study it.

But even if you don't, please stop trying to co-opt my religion for your political purposes when you clearly know jack shit about it. If you find this irreconcilable with your religious belief, I suggest you do what my ancestors did for the last 2,000 years when confronted with edicts to do things like convert to Christianity or die -- GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. Srsly. When the conflict arises between your duty to God and your creature comforts under secular law, you flippin' make the sacrifice. You think (some of) my ancestors left Russia because they wanted to? Hell no, they left to avoid the edict that Jews must serve in the army so that the Czar's soldiers could kick the shit out of them until they converted to Christianity. Confronted with this irreconcilable conflict between secular law and our religious convictions we RAN OUR FREAKIN' ASSES OFF.

Closer to home, my wife spent several years after graduating pharmacy school working temp jobs. Why? Because every pharmacy wanted her to work on Saturday. She said: 'I'll work Sundays instead." They said: 'Sorry, it is not worth it for us to adjust our schedule to accommodate you.' And that was that.

To be clear, I'm not telling you that you shouldn't take advantage of the freedoms we have to protest a law you don't like because you feel it violates your religious principles. That's your right and one of the great things about this country. I am also not going to try to tell you that the law doesn't actually, violate your religious principles. That's for you to decide. But, as the Mormons discovered when they wanted Utah to become a state, not every religious exercise is protected and we as a society have to balance the need to respect religious freedom v. a law of general applicability judged necessary for a well-ordered society.

I just would appreciate it if you would not make analogies to my religion and drag us into it. The more so because if there *were* a law that said "all places that sell meat must make pork available to any patron that wants it," that would not violate Jewish law. Oh, it would be an expensive pain in the patootie to manage so that the pork did not contaminate the kosher food, but there is no law against benefiting from the sale of pork. So the analogy doesn't really hold for those of us who actually know the law.

So, to summarize, (a) please stop trying to co-opt my cultural oppression (a lot of it done by your Christian forbears, for which I do not hold you responsible (hey, you weren't even born yet) but which does add irony here) for your own political purposes; and, (b) if you are, then please get it right and actually study the law. Because we did not have the luxury to whine and piss and moan and sue people over things like this. We had to friggin' deal with it, flee for our lives, or die.

Love and smoochies.