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April 16, 2006

You tawkina ME?

Without actually asking for a rabbinical opinion so as to avoid the embarrassment of acting inconsistently with the opinion I had sought, I did a little research and found there was a machloket (difference of opinion) on whether attending a baseball game was permissible during the year-long mourning period. I've basically given up my concert series for the year -- my wife goes with a friend -- but it didn't really seem inappropriate to see a baseball game. (And please don't tell me in the comments that there really isn't any machloket. I don't want to hear that.) So I went to Shea Stadium with my mother and my kids and saw the Mets beat Milwaukee, 9-3. I suppose I could have asked one of the thousands of moderately to very frum people at the ball game, now that it was too late, but I have to say I was thinking of them more in terms of help for a minyan in case the game went on too long. It didn't, and I got home in plenty of time to go to my father's shul for mincha-maariv.

(The epilogue is that at mincha-maariv the rabbi noticed a sunburn on my forehead and asked whether I had spent the day outside. Discretion being the better part of valor, I simply said yes, without explanation. He added, "Or were you up with Hashem in the heavens?" I responded, "You don't get a sunburn there." And I quickly added, "So they tell me, so they tell me.")

I've told you that boring story to tell you this one. Today's New York Times has a front-page mini-article called "New York Leads Politeness Trend? Get Outta Here!" about the City's efforts to enforce manners -- or social convention, call it what you will. Since a failed public-school system is too challenging for it to deal with, the City has been passing legislation that penalizes bad behavior.

The model is a City law that authorizes jail time for people who interfere with a sporting event. Used to be, a guy who ran onto the field during a ball game would be kicked out of the game and given the equivalent of a parking ticket. No more.

What's more, you can now get a $50 fine for putting your feet up on a subway seat. You can get a $50 fine for talking on your cell phone during movies, concerts, and shows. Parents who are unsportsmanslike at little-league games can be ejected and are allowed to return only after taking anger-management classes.

A member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has his doubts about this approach:

"It sounds like your City Council is getting really uptight," said Aaron Peskin, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who, along with his colleagues, has nevertheless looked to New York's laws for guidance. "It all seems a little overwrought."
And even New Yorkers are wondering.
The famed Gray's Papaya hot dog chain tries a similar tack, selling "Polite New Yorker" buttons for $1. About 60 are sold a week, but most go to tourists who think they are a joke, says the owner, Nicholas Gray.

"I try to do my part," said Mr. Gray, who requires his employees to wear the button on their uniform even though he does not. "I'm not always that polite. I'm just another New Yorker."
But Letitia Baldridge, who was White House social secretary for President Kennedy, is pleased.
"Most people just seem to ignore common sense and common courtesy so it does have to be legislated," she said. "To have this happen in New York is going to inspire a lot of other people. I cannot applaud it enough. My hands are tired from clapping."
Quite honestly, it's going to be a major adjustment for New Yorkers.

And along those lines, I have a confession. When I drove back to my mother's house from the Mets game today, there was a lot of traffic. The road divides a couple of miles outside the ballpark with the left two lanes going to the Cross Island Parkway and the right two lanes to the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, where I was headed. The right two lanes were backed up, so I (and some other drivers) got in the third lane and headed toward the Cross Island Parkway -- and then cut in just before the road split, saving about 20 minutes. I figured I had to do it now before the City passes a law against it.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm headed back home tomorrow, but I probably won't be able to post much this week. I want to thank fee simple for offering his thoughts about Star Trek technology, and I'd like to encourage him to continue posting whenever he pleases, at least through the end of the week.