Musing on Friction

— State Senator Daylin Leach

I like to think of myself as a pretty worldly guy. I’ve been to the rodeo. I’ve eaten the Easter Peeps. I’ve paid full price for a muffler. But every once in a while, something so outrageous, so off-the-charts awful happens (like Celine Dion making a new album) that even I am shocked.

Such a thing happened last Tuesday in Harrisburg when our new Governor, Tom Corbett gave his budget address. I entered the Hall of the House for the joint session all prepared. I had my ankle warmers and flask of hot cocoa, because one can get cold in the capitol. The Senator sitting next to me had his flask of Jaegermeister, because one can get sober in the capitol.

I was wearing my “Tony Luke’s Makes the Best Sausage” T-Shirt (I get a small fee) and my giant foam hand with extended index finger in case Corbett mentioned Temple University and my jar of mace, in case… well… just in case.

The governor’s speech started off promisingly enough in that he didn’t trip walking up the stairs. That is no small thing. In 1822 Governor Joseph Heister fell off of the dais during his budget address and hit his head. For the rest of his term he could not be persuaded that he wasn’t a large chicken, which led to some very restrictive, yet innovative agricultural legislation.

While there was much in Mr. Corbett’s budget I disagreed with, that is for another day. After the address was over, I dragged my neighboring Senator (he finished his flask) back to his office and started lazily paging through the 1,124 page Policy Statement which accompanied the budget. In it, I found something truly shocking.

Governor Corbett included the following paragraph which set forth a new policy on how we regulate. It turns out that the Governor wants a “friction free” relationship between regulators and the industries they regulate.

Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness. State government needs to be a partner with job creators. To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators. In addition, the DCED secretary is empowered to expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

This is troubling. “Friction-free” relationships are very rare in the best of circumstances. I haven’t had a friction free relationship since my imaginary friend Dodo, when I was a kid. But by the time I turned 40, even he came to loath me.

Historically, friction doesn’t arise because regulators like Woody Allen movies and Industrialists don’t. There is only one reason for “friction,” which is that industry doesn’t like to be told they can’t dump poisons in lakes or mercury in the air or have to give their workers bathroom breaks. So in other words, a “friction-free” environment sounds frightfully like a regulation free environment.

Things then go from bad to worse. Under this new policy directive, those who head our regulatory agencies (the Secretaries of Department of Environmental Protection, Labor and Industry, etc.) will lose their power to make regulatory decisions.

Now, in order “to be more responsive to the needs of job-creators” (very little is ever said about the needs of “job-doers“) the Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development is “empowered to expedite any permit or other action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

Ok, lets stop there. What will our actual regulators now do since they are losing their ability to regulate. One word… Yahtzee!!

Keep in mind, that this strips the departments of their control over when to issue permits, and “any…other action.” Presumably going to the rest room now requires a call to DCED.

Of course, this only applies if “creation of jobs may be impacted.” I suppose this could have been broader. It could apply “only if air is being breathed somewhere” or “only if Lindsey Lohan is getting arrested.” But this is pretty darn broad.

Any regulation could theoretically impact the creation of jobs. For example if a regulation says you have to clean up a stream you polluted, that will cost money that could have gone to hire someone to dump more pollution into that stream. Or if a regulation says you can’t beat employees with rubber tubing, the guy who beats folks is suddenly on the street.

Finally its bad enough that there is a guy whose job is to stop health, safety, worker and consumer regulations. But its even worse when you realize who that guy is. The head of DCED is a man named C. Alan Walker.

Let me start off by saying that I do not know Mr. Walker. I have never met him. He may be a perfectly delightful man. Maybe he buys flowers for his wife on her birthday. Maybe he buys flowers for my wife on her birthday. God knows someone should. That said, his public record does not instill great confidence that he will be a strict guardian of our safety.

First, he has given $184,000 to Governor Corbett over the years. That sounds like a Kool-Aid drinker to me. I don’t have many $184,000 donors (although I am open to meeting them!). But if I did, I doubt I’d have a very arms-length relationship with them.

He is also the head of one coal company and has an ownership interest in an unknown number of other coal companies. That is also strange. At any given time, I know exactly how many coal companies I own. He also has a history of polluting and refusing to clean up until a court makes him.

More after the jump.
One Senator said to me that he’s not surprised that the Corbett Administration is doing this. He’s just surprised that they are saying it out loud. (No, this was not the Senator with the empty flask). But I disagree. Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States before, ever. This looks to be a hyper-aggressive move to gut our health and safety laws for the benefit of wealthy corporations. I’m starting to miss Governor Heister.  

Purim from the Outside-In


An Outsider’s Take On Purim’s Public Relations Problem

— Julie D. Bartha

First off, you should know that I am not Jewish. I grew up in the Morrell Park neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized my neighborhood was a Catholic island surrounded by a sea of synagogues. I had never even heard of Purim until well into my adulthood.

When I was a little kid, my parents decided to not raise us within an organized religion. They let us kids seek religious truths for ourselves, and I’ve always been grateful for that. It allowed me to explore a variety of faiths with an open mind. But I was also a little lonely growing up. The others kids all seemed to have a sense of belonging that I lacked.

More after the jump.
I went to public school, mostly with other Catholic kids who couldn’t afford Catholic school tuitions. I can only remember two other Jewish kids in my classes. Elliot Avidan hated me because my mom got me braces for my enormous buck teeth when I was just 9, and when his mom found out, she got the name of our orthodontist and slapped a set of those metal bad boys on his choppers later that same year. (To be honest, his buck-toothed smile was just about the only one bigger than mine back then.) Francine Greenberg lived around the corner from me, and we often played together at her house and mine. But I was always a little jealous of Fran because of our third grade teacher, Mrs. Ginsberg.

Mrs. Ginsberg was my most favorite teacher – in fact, she inspired me to become a writer. (I remember the moment distinctly: she returned my brown construction paper-covered writing journal to me one day after grading it, and said, “I love reading your journal, Julie. You write the funniest stories.”) But Mrs. Ginsberg was also Jewish. And her first name was Fran too. They had that special bond. That year, I so wished my parents had made me Jewish. And had named me Fran.
Outside of Elliot, Fran and Mrs. Ginsberg, the only other things I knew about Jewish people while growing up was that: they read Hebrew from right to left (which I thought was cool), Yiddish words sounded like sneezes; and that Hanukah sounded like a better holiday than Christmas – eight days of presents as opposed to one, of course — until I learned that most of the time, those presents were different colored pairs of socks.
Which brings me to Purim. As a writer with a good deal of publicity experience under my belt, I feel obliged to tell you that you have this ongoing public relations problem. Your holidays are always in the shadow of the Christian holidays. There’s CHRISTMAS! And hannukah. There’s EASTER! And… purim? Even today, as more of the Jewish holidays and culture have become widely known to the general public, very few people know what Purim is, or how it’s celebrated.


I think the problem is in the advertising. Jewish holidays need better marketing. Like a mascot. Or a logo. For Christmas, we have SANTA and a BIG BRIGHT TREE. Now that’s something you can get excited about. For Hanukah, you have some fancy-looking candle holder and that little wooden top. That’s like giving your kid a deck of Uno cards when they could have a Playstation. For Easter, we have a GIANT EGG-HIDING BUNNY. You don’t forget a big giant bunny! That’s a memorable image And a little scary. But for Purim, you have … what is it? A scroll?

The timing is bad too. I know that you have this whole “follow the Jewish calendar” tradition, but positioning Purim so close to Easter creates an unnecessary competition. Consider a fixed date. In fact, this year, you had a golden opportunity to make Purim the hot, happening holiday, and you didn’t take advantage of it.

I understand that there’s a lot of – ahem – merriment associated with Purim. Like Mardi Gras, but with more Manischewitz. St. Patrick’s Day was just two days ago. If more people knew about Purim ahead of time, they could have made a weekend out of it. Everybody I knew becomes Irish for a day. If you can swing juggling the 14th day of Adar so that it lands next to St. Patty’s Day next year, party lovers everywhere will jump at the chance to become Jewish the day after.

The Feast of Lots ends with the unity toast for a reason — nothing brings people together better than drinking.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a point of learning more substantial things about Judaism. I’ve interviewed rabbis about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, attended Passover Seders and have come to have a real appreciation for the rituals and sense of community you all share. As an outsider, I’m still a little jealous. I may have a scary egg-hiding bunny to cling to once a year, but I understand that bond Fran and Mrs. Ginsberg shared. You truly have the whole Megilla, in every way that counts.

And now that I know that it’s not a sneeze, I offer, on this Purim holiday, my sincere, heartfelt, L’Chaim! To you. To Fran. To Mrs. Ginsberg. And even to Elliot. Hopefully now that his teeth are straight, he’s forgiven me.

Northeast Philadelphia native Julie D. Bartha is a writer and editor based out of Burlington, New Jersey. Her WordNerdGirl blog can be found at wordnerdgirl.blogspot.com

Purim Humor by Daylin Leach, Minyan Maker In Harrisburg

— Daylin Leach

When I was elected in 2002, I became the tenth Jewish legislator in Pennsylvania. Thus, because of me, we now had a minyan in Harrisburg. We could theoretically get together to daven three times each day. And although we never actually have (I said “theoretically”) it was empowering to know that we could.

Flush with this newfound sense of power, we set about to make state government more overtly Jewish. Of course, when I say “we”, I should note that the other nine Jewish members were not actually with me on this. In fact, some of them actually formed a committee to find a non-Jew to convert, so that they could have a minyan that never meets which did notinclude me. Nonetheless, I lifted my head high, started humming “I am Jewish, Hear me Roar” and set about changing the world.

More after the jump.
I considered a number of different proposals to launch my Make-Harrisburg-Jewish (“MHJ”) initiative. I introduced a resolution declaring that the official state cookie be the hamentash. Sadly however, in what I considered to be a slap in the face, the House chose the Chocolate-Chunk Ham Cookie instead. I next tried to introduce a resolution honoring Esther’s father Mordecai. But there was some confusion because of a previous resolution I had introduced honoring my Uncle Mordecai for teaching me how to cook smelts.

I also tried to inject a little of my heritage into the work-a-day world of the legislature. For example, whenever a lobbyist for the hazardous sludge industry would buy me dinner, I would say the Motze. Also, I would go light on the lobster. I also tried to use Yiddish in some of my floor debate. Although I learned fairly quickly that the Speaker of the House did not take well to being referred to as Meshuggana.

Finally, I settled on the idea of trying to get at least one Jewish holiday recognized as an official state holiday, like all of the major Christian holidays are. This seemed only fair. But which one? Yom Kippur was too somber, and legislators are not big on either fasting or atonement. For a while I was big on having Pennsylvania recognize Tu B’Shevat. When some representative from Cambria or Pike County would ask what Tu B’Shevat was, I would simply reply “It’s the Rosh HaShanah for trees, silly”.

I even organized a huge rally in the capitol rotunda for my Tu B’Shevat bill, although admittedly having the rally under the 60 foot high Christmas tree did distract from the message. But that did not really matter because no one actually showed up at the press conference except for a writer from Sushi! Magazine who misunderstood the press release.

But I persevered. After equally unsuccessful attempts to gain state recognition for Rosh Chodesh Sivan, The Month of Av, and “Beer Day” (I briefly went in a different direction), I settled on the joyous holiday of Purim. What better day to make an official holiday? The schools and banks would close. Appliance stores would hold big sales, and families would gather in public parks to play with noisemakers, boo Haman and listen to a P.Diddy concert.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been successful. In fact I learned quickly how many impediments there are to good things becoming law in Harrisburg. First, the Chairman of the “Minority Religions and other Pagan Groups” Committee refused to support the bill. Then the “Sons of Haman” weighed in, and they have a lot of clout in Harrisburg (who knew?) Soon thereafter, the chemical lobby came out against my bill because it failed to adequately promote the use of any dangerous toxins whatsoever. Finally, the entire Republican Party accused me of being a Democrat and said they could never support any legislation under those circumstances.

Although Purim is still not an official holiday, some good did come of my efforts. First, I did manage to get Uncle Morty’s Smelt Bill passed. Also, my Purim bill has become a very effective “poison pill”. When anyone wants to kill any major proposal on gambling or property taxes, they just slip in the Purim Amendment and the bill dies. Finally, I learned a lot about how Harrisburg really works, and I will use that knowledge to get my latest proposal to change put “Pennsylvania, the Simchas Torah State” on all automobile license plates by the end of the year. Happy Purim!  

The Jew and The American Tough Guy

Steve Hofstetter

If you haven’t been watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, you’re missing out on something rare. A Jew portrayed on camera as a tough guy.

The stereotypical Jewish character on television is not usually one we can be proud of. From Woody Allen’s nebbish and neurotic to Mrs. Seinfeld’s overbearing and oblivious, the Jews might have a reputation as scholarly, but never sexy. This must be what it Italians feel like watching Jersey Shore.

More after the jump.
The coolest Jew in television history was a young Henry Winkler – he could get any girl he wanted, start a jukebox by hitting it, and even jump over a shark white not getting his leather jacket wet. Of course, the character he played was Italian. No one would believe all that could be done by Arthur Fonzewitz.

But Boardwalk Empire is a bit different. If you’re unfamiliar, the series chronicles the based-on-a-true-story of bootleggers and gangs during prohibition, with the three main factions being the Irish in Atlantic City, the Italians in Chicago, and the Jews in New York. That’s right – the Jews.

According to the show (and history), while Al Capone was just getting his feet wet in Chicago, the most powerful boss in the country was Arnold Rothstein. Best known as the man charged with fixing the 1919 World Series, Rothstein is portrayed by the show as a handsome and rich tactician. And while his rival gangs are quick to anger and too power hungry to see the big picture, Rothstein is even-tempered and the smartest one of the bunch.

My favorite scene was when Rothstein was hiring three small-time gangsters to transport his money, and to be sure of their loyalty, made them each sign life insurance policies with Rothstein as their beneficiary. Brilliant. Cold-blooded and terrifying, but brilliant. Rothstein is the enemy of the show’s main character, but I still find myself rooting for him.

Also getting some camera time is Meir Lansky. The modern world was briefly introduced to Lansky in “Bugsy” and again in the made for TV movie “Lansky.” But despite helping start Las Vegas, Lansky is not a common household name. I always knew who Lansky was, because he’s the man who taught my father’s father to play pool. In a strange coincidence, my grandmother on my mother’s side met Bugsy Siegel a few times. If the Jewish mob still existed, I’d probably be pretty connected. Being involved in USY, having worked at Camp Ramah, and being on the JDate.com billboard doesn’t quite carry the same cache.

But I’m not rooting for Rothstein and Lansky because of my family’s passing acquaintance. I’m rooting for them because part of me is proud to watch Jews be gangsters, instead of just their accountants. Thank you, “Carlito’s Way.”

When “The Passion of the Christ” came out, a lot of Jewish groups protested the film, saying that its depiction of Jews as Christ killers was anti-Semetic. I had a slightly different view.

See, Jews have never been seen as an intimidating people. Maybe this is one we should start taking credit for. If someone is going to say we killed Christ, why not let them say it? Sure, we got him. And Kirk Cameron is next.

An aside, the best part of Mel Gibson’s legal troubles is that no self-respecting Jewish lawyer will represent him. Hey Mel, I bet you’d like to be friends with a few Jews right now, huh?

I know that the vast majority of Jews in the 1920s were not like Arnold Rothstein, Bugsy Siegel, or Meir Lansky. Even Rothstein’s right-hand man in the show is Italian. But it is nice to see a few of us actually portrayed as tough guys. I’m not encouraging criminal behavior, but it’s nice to see we aren’t all Uncle Leo.

While I am enjoying Boardwalk Empire, I am glad that Jews eventually went legit. I can’t imagine how lame Goodfellas would have been if Joe Pesci was replaced by Jackie Mason. And reality TV wouldn’t have worked either. “Growing Up Goldberg” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I do, however, try to break the shlubby stereotype whenever possible.

After joking that I was going to get my friend a lousy Christmas present, he joked that I shouldn’t even be celebrating Christmas since I killed his savior.

“Sure,” I said. “What do you think I’m celebrating?”

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been on VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central. To find out how to book him at your next event, visit SteveHofstetter.com. This column was originally published on jdate.com.