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Mishmar HaNegev

January 4, 2009 Leave a comment
Mishmar HaNegev

Mishmar HaNegev

I spent the summers of 1970 and 1971 in Israel, as I mentioned in passing in my post yesterday about Duke Ellington and me. There, I spoke about my mother’s first cousin Batia, who left Eastern Europe for Palestine in the 1920s, was a pioneering resident of a kibbutz near what would become the 1948 border between Israel and the West Bank, and ultimately settled in Tel Aviv, where I often stayed with her and her husband Fritz during my time in Israel. Today, in reading about the current conflict in Gaza, I thought back to the two weeks I spent on a kibbutz not all that far from Gaza in July 1970. I couldn’t remember the name of the kibbutz, but I have a clear picture of it and know it’s just a few miles north of Beersheva, in the northern part of the Negev Desert. I went to google maps, brought up a map of Israel, and there it was, Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev. And there was the access road from the main highway to the kibbutz, which I walked several times in the hot sun with my belongings.

I went to Israel in 1970 on a group trip/tour with some other American college students. I had no clear idea what I was doing there. I just thought it would be an interesting experience. I had no expectations. In contrast, many of the others had thoughts of moving there and were using the trip to explore the country as well as to visit relatives. One thing after another would go wrong over the course of the trip, enraging some of my travel mates because their plans were getting totally screwed up, but for one of the rare times in my life, I was cool. I didn’t care. I really didn’t have expectations. I really didn’t have a clue why I was there. Everything was a learning opportunity. Many illustrative stories come to mind. But let me just say a few words about my time on the kibbutz.
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Categories: Food, Today's News, Travel

The (Finance) Madness, revisited

January 4, 2009 Leave a comment

On Thanksgiving Eve, in my post The (Finance) Madness, I wrote about and linked to an article by Michael Lewis in Portfolio in which he discusses what went wrong on Wall Street. I don’t make it a habit to agree with NYT columnist David Brooks, but we share admiration for this article. Yesterday, in his annual column awarding “Sidneys” to the best magazine essays of the year, he wrote:

The first Sidney goes to Michael Lewis, whose essay “The End” appeared in Portfolio magazine. Lewis often writes about people who can see reality clearly while the rest of humanity is lost in a fog of delusion. He describes Meredith Whitney and Steve Eisman, two financial analysts who understood early on that the U.S. financial system had turned into a doomsday machine. Whitney announced early on that Citigroup was in a ton of trouble. Eisman stood up in the middle of a speech by a mortgage company C.E.O. to tell him that his default rates were about to become astronomical.

At the climax of his essay, Lewis has lunch with John Gutfreund, the former chief executive of Salomon Brothers who had been the subject and victim of Lewis’s first book, “Liar’s Poker.”

“Your [expletive] book destroyed my career, and it made yours,” Gutfreund told him. Lewis believes the turning point on Wall Street came when Gutfreund turned Salomon Brothers from a private partnership into a public corporation, leading to a wave of such transformations.

I recommend once again that you have a look at this article.

Categories: Business, Culture

Auto Unions

January 4, 2009 Leave a comment

What do I know about the auto unions? Close to nothing, which is why I keep putting off this post. But I’ve been wanting for days to link to an article I found interesting, so here I am doing so.

But first, you might be wondering why my post isn’t titled Ron Gettelfinger and Me (Gettelfinger being the UAW president since 2002). This would be more in keeping with the spirit of my recent posts Ahmed Chalabi and Me, My Chalabi Number, and Duke Ellington and Me. Rest assured, I could write such a post. It would begin with a review of my role as a member of the university’s bargaining team when we successfully negotiated the first contract between the university and the academic student employees (mostly graduate student TAs and RAs) in 2004. The student union was affiliated with the UAW, and I had the pleasure that May of meeting face-to-face with Elizabeth Bunn, the UAW’s #2 official in her position as Secretary Treasurer, which she still is. Using the method of counting I described in the Ellington post, this makes me two steps removed from Gettelfinger: I know Elizabeth Bunn and she knows Gettelfinger. But the story of my direct engagement with the UAW is not the purpose of this post. (And I’ll leave the Jimmy Hoffa and Me post for another day. There’s a two-step path from me to him as well.)

The article I want to link to is Jonathan Cohn’s piece last week in the New Republic called Auto Destruct: The Tragic Nobility of Detroit. I’ve grown tired of the easy and mindless criticisms lobbed at the auto unions in some people’s discussions of the auto industry bailout, and especially of the continuing false charge that autoworkers are paid $75 per hour in wages and benefits. (See, for instance, here for a discussion of this phony figure.) Cohn’s article does not specifically address this point, but it does put the current auto union contracts in a historical context, and in the context of the union trying to obtain for its workers what would have been unnecessary had there been a national health care plan. Here’s one passage from the first part of the article to give you an idea of its content:
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Categories: Business, Politics