April 27, 2005

Dease & Desist

Apparently, Father Dennis Dease, head of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, thinks more highly of Fidel Castro than of Ann Coulter.

Last year, Dease criticized the Bush Administration's restrictions on travel to Cuba, a position actually taken by many Cuban Americans as well. But, then, according to a May 27, 2004 Star-Tribune report,

St. Thomas has been a pioneer in academic exchanges with Cuba. The school's president, Father Dennis Dease, travels frequently to Cuba, and has encouraged cultural and academic exchanges with the University of Havana.

In my experience, those advocating more openness with Cuba rarely do so hoping to topple Fidel. And indeed, when a Cuban baseball team toured the US In 2000, they made sure to stop in at St. Thomas for a game against the college's team.

Perhaps the team's greatest achievement - returning home almost intact - was also the occasion for Father Dease to embarass himself. The defecting player, Mario Miguel Chaoui, drove away from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and surfaced again in Miami.

According to the May 9, 2000 Strib,

Informed that Chaoui had surfaced in Miami, the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, said, "My initial reaction was that I was relieved he is safe; he's OK. I'm happy for that."

Asked his personal opinion, Dease said, "This is his own choice. I respect that. But I've been to the country and I see that people can be happy there. It's a time of great change in Cuba."

Is it any wonder that a guy who lectures a Cuban refugee on the virtues of Castro's Communism would find Ann Coulter "crossing the line?"

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

Why Change the Rule?

People think "filibuster" and they think senators reading from the phone book. It doesn't work that way now. With the cloture rule, it takes 60 votes to close debate on anything brought under an "open rule," meaning no limit to debate. At the same time, it takes a quorum to conduct business.

This means that the Republicans would need to keep 50 members on the floor at all times, in order to keep debate going, while the Dems would only need to have 1 member present to object and force a cloture vote, which the Republicans can't get 60 votes to pass. There would be no need for the Dems to hold the floor. No Mr. Smith making impassioned pleas, just Republicans praising a candidate, and failing to move the nomination. All the while, those same Republicans wouldn't be able to attend committee hearings.

This morning NPR (don't ask) was reporting that Reid is trying to get the Republicans to drop the nuclear option in return for withdrawing some nominations, which would really screw the separation of powers and give the Dems what they want - a de facto transfer of nomination power from the President to the Senate. My guess is Reid wouldn't even be talking if he thought he had the votes.

I don't think the filibuster rule, as presently constituted, is long for this world. The Dems are almost certainly drawing up battle plans for revoking the thing either piecemeal or in total when they get back into power. Their argument will be that the Republicans wanted to do it, but the Dems held firm against radical judges. Now that you've voted them back into power, they have an obligation, blah blah blah. More than the nuclear option, it's the pre-emptive option. Please let's not call it the pre-emptive nuclear option.

Posted by joshuasharf at 05:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

Home Sweet Home

I could never live in New York. The sheer anger required to survive would kill me with a heart attack. New York plays to every bad character trait I've spent the last 8 years trying to change. Being here a couple of days is enough to see that.

I'm here for what I initially feared would be the worst, that is now mercifully receding into the more distant future. Susie's dad was admitted to the hospice, then to the hospital, but has recovered nicely. It's not a long-term recovery, sadly, but later is always better than sooner. Susie will stay behind indefinitely.

I'm staying in Boro Park, Brooklyn, one of the more deservedly maligned boroughs. These people either have tremendous faith or are completely insane, since they continue to lay on the car horn for 30 seconds at a time, despite the fact that I have never seen it have any perceptible effect on the 14-block line of traffic. In Denver, they run red lights. In New York, they double-park to go get a cup of coffee.

I've seen Denver drivers get more aggressive over time, probably as the local culture get swamped by unassimilated immigrants. But nothing like this.

I can't wait to get home, even if it is alone.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

In the First Round, the Cardinals Select...

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to become Pope Benedict XVI.

OK, so there was no truth to the rumors that Cardinal Ratzinger's first words as Pope would be "Be afraid, be very afraid."

Speaking as someone who has a very narrow interest in Church doctrine, this strikes me as good for the Jews. Ratzinger understands that the Church does evangelize, but was a moving force behind Pope John Paul II's efforts to stop singling us out for special treatment. The now-unavailable Ratzinger Fan Club Blog (seriously) had a couple of fine posts on this subject, and it seems that Ratzinger went about as far as we could reasonably hope for him to go on this score.

My only real disappointment here is that the cardinals didn't choose someone for whom the Islamic issue is a higher priority. The Wall Street Journal had a fine article yesterday on the Church's falling behind Islam in numbers, and the Islamic beachhead in Spain. Sooner or later, they're going to have to confront the fact that 40 years of accomodation hasn't worked out very well.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

Carnivore of the Capitalists

Red meat for business and economics.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2005

Papal Futures

A lot has been made of the possibility of a non-European pope. My guess is that this won't happen this time.

I would point out, though, that it's not just the number of cardinals from a region that matters (a mindset that recalls the UN's dysfunctional regional voting blocs, and one that Catholics might wish to avoid encouraging). One of the recurring themes has been that the cardinals don't know each other very well, since they have few opportunities to meet and are geographically dispersed. Italians are only 21 Cardinals, and while they might not actually carpool, my guess is they've had much better, um, networking opportunities, than the rest of the conclave.

I don't mean to suggest in any way that any untoward politicking went on over the last few years, only that once they get in the room together, the Italians are likely to see friends among the other Italians, while the other cardinals are more likely to see strangers.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Risk Management

On top of everything else, only JetBlue and Southwest will be profitable this quarter, because they're the only two airlines that managed to hedge a substantial part of their fuel costs.

The Denver Post covers this from the local - i.e., Frontier - angle, and includes this whopper: "Hedges come with risk, and good hedges require a solid balance sheet..."

True as far as it goes, which is basically far enough to back away from the gate, and not much further. Two hundred words isn't enough time to explain why an unhedged position isn't a risk-free position. But shouldn't the fact that the airlines who didn't hedge are getting killed on fuel costs kind of hint in that direction?

Look, you're running an operation that's wildly cyclical, in an industry that may not have shown a profit over its lifetime. Your major cost is the single most volatile commodity known to man, and it's completely beyond your control. Wouldn't you want to do something to protect yourself against that?

Hedging usually does require some up-front costs, but unless you're going to Vegas, selling uncovered calls or buying puts with borrowed money, proper hedging reduces risk.

Once again, it's the smaller, more imaginative airlines that were on top of this, hedging their risks, while the bigger boys apparently couldn't be bothered. Maybe there's a reason they're all in bankruptcy.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

One More...

Reed Carefully:

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

Springtime in the Rockies


Posted by joshuasharf at 11:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Oh, the cowboy and the farmer should be friends (should be friends).

Posted by joshuasharf at 11:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Carnival of the Capitalists

Blog home of the Wordly Philosophy.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Live-Blog: The Problematic Style Grid

The talk will be based on a paper by Callahan and our professor, Tom Howard, about the dictatorship of the Morningstar "style" grid. You know: large-cap growth, small-cap value, etc. These began as descriptive, but have now become normative, and their claim is that it hurts returns.

Specifically, their claim is that these boxes don't really represent style or asset classes, but characteristics of the portfolio. What had been intended as guides to the investor have now become strait-jackets to the manager.

5:36 - The boxes in the value-size grid are highly-correlated. Why, then, are they considered asset classes?

5:38 - It also means that an all-stock portfolio becomes a hard-sell, since it doesn't fit into these boxes.

5:39 - "Style" really should mean the method of investing; what do you look for in a company?

5:41 - Stocks that meet a manager's style may not fit neatly into a box. It only makes sense to keep managers in a characteristics box if the following 3 conditions obtain: 1) a manager's screened stocks need to fit into a single box; 2) the screened stocks themselves cannot drift to other boxes; 3) Multi-specialists outperform those who let their portfolio characteristics drift.

5:42 - This system, according to a literature search, did not evolve from empirical data, but from convenience and the above 3 assumptions.

5:45 - First, Russ Wermers (U.Md.) did demonstrate in a August 2000 Journal of Finance paper that stock-picking ability does exist.

5:46 - Wermers also found that small-cap, growth, and good stock-pickers drifted the most, and had a 2.9% excess alpha. (July 2002 working paper.)

5:51 - Asness in Financial Analysts Journal, M/A 1997. A value-momentum specialist actually would perform better.

5:53 - Back-test Graham, William O'Neil, T. Rowe Price, and Neff. Rigidly apply each of these methodologies regardless of the stock over the last 20 years, and see how well the best stocks fit into each characteristic box. In order to avoid hindsight, use only forward-looking earnings estimates.

5:57 - In Graham's case, 53% of the top stocks fell outside the small-cap value box, the best box for his style. The % in value move all over the place, from less than 60% to over 90%. The % is small-cap also drift from about 35% to 80%. Finally, Graham outperforms the Russell 3000 by 8% a year, 1995-2003.

6:02 - You need to have the top 20 Graham picks to get the full benefit of his style. This averages out to his 10th best pick. In any given characteristic box, the best box averages to the 35th best pick. Which throws away almost all the benefit of their styles.

6:05 - Overall portfolio tilt? By combining the 4 styles, you actually get a very balanced portfolio, slightly tilted towards growth, and slightly tilted towards small-cap.

6:11 - The peer groups are M(arket) - S(ize) - V(alue) - M(omentum), rather than Growth-Value/Size. Measuring against a characteristic peer group becomes more complicated, requiring weighting for the boxes, rather than a single box.

6:16 - The correlation coefficients among the "style" boxes are huge, averaging 0.86. The correlation coefficients among sectors average 0.55. If the job of the portfolio manager is to look for low correlations, calling the "style" boxes different asset classes makes no sense.

And for the core paper, that's it. I'm going to try to re-start comments and trackbacks, hoping I've shaken most of the spam.

Posted by joshuasharf at 05:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Portfolio Management Live-Blog

Craig Callahan, Founder and President of ICON Advisers, will be addressing our finance class this evening. We've been told that the press may be there, which, in bloggese, means, "you may preempt the press with a live-blog." (Be careful to distinguish this from Bloghese, a clothing line from central Italy.)

ICON is a value investing firm, basing its methodology on the Graham-Dodd model. For the uninitiated, this means looking for undervalued stocks, as opposed to growth investors, who look for stocks with growth potential.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Temple Mount

This is a long, and complicated topic. Suffice it to say that the President's calling for Sharon not to expand Ma'ale Adumim suggests the same fundamendtal misunderstanding of the problem as we have seen before.

Strategically, Abbas calls is a "provocation," but the Palestinians have shown that the real provocation isn't anything Israel does, but the fact that Israel is.

Tactically, this is about Jerusalem, specifically, the Temple Mount. If the Palestinians complain that Ma'ale Adumim is about "Judaizing" a city that's been Jewish for over a hundred years, it strengthens their rhetorical claim to the city.

To those who ask Israel, "why can't you share?" I would point out that Muslims go up to the Al-Aqsa mosque every Friday for prayers, while the rabbis prohibit Jews from setting foot up there. The Waqf has dug up the ground and planted trees with deep roots and published widely in an attempt to deny even the existence of the Temple on the Temple Mount. In Hebron, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is open to everyone under Israeli rule. Under Muslim control, of course, Jews were forbidden.

Clearly, we're not the ones who need lectures about sharing.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Passover Preparations

As part of my preparations for Pesach this year (Passover to many of you), I've been reading through the Mishnah related to the holiday. The Mishnah is the earliest written codification of the Oral Law, and forms the basis for the Talmud. The Talmud occupies a more central place in Jewish life, with its legal, theological, and philosophical debates, but it would also draw me away from my primary purpose here: focusing on the holiday.

I'm always amazed at how much of our current practice is rooted directly in the Mishnah, written 1900 years ago or so, and practiced for hundreds of years before that. Almost the whole of the Seder, for instance, is laid out in the last chapter. Unlike so much of the prayer service, which succeeds a Temple Service it can't hope to replace, the Seder really is a continuous link back.

I'm sure I've written about this before, but the moon is also a link back. The sun, when it shows up, looks more or less the same every day. The sun is linked to the seasons, but yesterday is proof that the seasonal weather doesn't always provide reliable visual clues to the past. Sure, you might say "the sun rose in that spot on the horizon 2000 years ago," but I suspect that resonates better with most Druids than it does with us.

Judaism uses a lunar calendar, though, which means that the moon looks the same on Seder night as it did on the night of the Exodus. (It's true for every holiday, of course.) When I'm out on a driving trip, I sometime play the "first white man to see this" game, imagining what that might have been like. Looking up at the moon on Seder night is a lot like that.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Coffman Bows Out

State Treasurer Mike Coffman has decided not to run for Governor, after all, apparently conceding the ground to Representative Bob Beauprez of the 7th District. The Post speculates that he'll run for Beauprez's seat instead. This would imply that Beauprez has all but decided to run. DU President Marc Holtzman is still in the race, for the time being, but Beauprez's star power in the party is probably too much for him.

I can't say I'm entirely thrilled about this turn. The 7th is still closely-divided, and has become, if anything, slightly more Demcratic since it was formed, although the margin is only a couple of thousand voters. Beauprez could hold that seat as long as he liked, and is now on the Ways and Means Committee.

On the other hand, taking back the legislature is not going to be easy, and the party may be judging that having a Democratic governor and General Assembly is more dangerous to your wallet than losing one house race.

Stay tuned.

Posted by joshuasharf at 06:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Drought" Over

Well, yes, that drought, too. But, this is what I had in mind.

Naturally, we're still getting the warnings from the usual scolds that the reservoirs aren't full, and that the Platte snowpack is below normal. All this is true, and we'll still have to put up with watering restrictions this year.

What bothers me is terminology. "Drought" is a meteorological condition. "Shortage" is an economic one. The "drought" is, in fact over, as has been for some time. The water shortage is likely to go on, as it has for the last, oh, 150 years or so.

Look, almost the entire state's snowpack is back over 100%. You don't go from below-normal to above-normal without above-normal snowfall. In business terms, "drought" is an income-statement problem, while the "shortage" is on the balance-sheet.

The water managers are essentially accountants in this matter, and they have a healthy accounting conservatism. But use of the word "drought" to mean a 5-year period, in which exactly one year's precip fell below average is political. It's intended to scare people, and to stampede them into accepting permanent and unnecessary changes in lifestyle, when a few well-placed water projects could solve the problem for generations. In fact, by referring to the "5-year drought" or "ongoing drought," these reactionaries take water projects off the table altogether, since you can't really save what's not coming down in the first place.

Look, Coloradoans have done some silly things with our water. We're not living inside Bio-Sphere II, and we can't just plop down maples and crabapples and Kentucky blue-grass and think it's not going to cost anything. I've xeriscaped a portion of the front yard where the grass was struggling (naturally, now it's invited itself in) and any re-seeding has been with fescue. The washing machine is a front-loader, which uses less water. The actual cost of water is still pretty low, as a portion of the monthly budget, lower than the cable bill, for instance.

Still, you can only achieve so much by savings; fixing old reservoirs and even building a few new ones is just common sense. Calling a non-drought a drought is just dishonest. It's typical of the enviro-left that they can't win without these distortions. It's also typical that there's plenty of middle ground they don't care to explore.

Posted by joshuasharf at 06:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Delegitimizing Israel

There was a point where I supported Sharon's disengagement plan on tactical and strategic grounds. Hillel Halkin put it well, describing it as a strategic pullback, designed to unilaterally draw the borders of the inevitable Palestinian state, to Israel's best advantage. On objective grounds, Israel is completely within its right to do this, the Palestinians having double-faulted away entire sets at this point. The position that the fence is a "land grab" is true only insofar as one assumes that the Palestinians have an inherent right to everything the Jordanians held onto in 1948.

I had hoped that the Palestinian reaction would be to realize the stew they were in, treat the loss of yet more territory they thought of as their own, as the loss it was, and perhaps proceed down whatever violent or non-violent path they needed to take in order to get back to sanity from their current, pathological state.

Not to be. Instead, backed by the Arab League and sadly, the US, they are treating it as a victory.

It speaks volumes that the Arab League would torpedo a Jordanian proposal on the grounds that diplomatic recognition is "something tangible." This sort of reasoning appeals primarily to the western diplomats who are the Arabs' target audience. The pursuit of diplomatic relations for their own sake is redolent of State Department and Labour policy that got us into this mess in the first place. Entire institutions dedicated to "diplomatic processes" have been dragooned into the Arab cause up in Turtle Bay. What's really tangible is disarmament and a few riyals crossing the border in the other direction, along with a couple of hundred terrorist leaders swinging from their feet for the benefit of al-Jihadi al-Jazeera.

Jews continue to farm land in Jordan as part of the peace treaty with that country. Personal ownership is different from national sovereignty. Just ask the Japanese who bought all that trophy real estate in the 1980s. Religious Jews see living in the Land of Israel as a commandment, even if it's outside the borders of the State of Israel. There's no inherent reason that Jews couldn't choose to live as either residents or citizens of a Palestinian state, except for that fact that they'd all be dead the next morning, which ought to be enough reason to hold off minting that new series of diplomatic car tags. But it also means that the term "ethnic cleansing" isn't really that far off the mark, even though it's a democratic government acquiescing to the bigotry of its external enemies.

The settlements have always been seen not as natural cities for individual Jews, but as arms of Israeli government policy. That, combined with the term "settlement," which conjures up imaginary log cabins rather than actual shopping malls and hospitals with real sliding glass doors and cement foundations, has always made them seem impermanent, without roots.

That the Arabs see Tel Aviv more or less the same way is inconveniently unrealistic for the Europeans and the American left, so it also generally isn't acknowledged by them, either. In the Arab mind, Gush Katif is just an outlying suburb, and if Jews - just for being Jews - can be removed from Gush Katif, there's no inherent reason the Arabs can't be renaming Diztengoff Street in due course.

When Oslo started, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who wholeheartedly supported the thing. He was adamant that there were certain red lines that no Israeli government could cross. "But it's not me you have to convince," I said, "it's the Arabs. They're the ones who have to believe." Silence.

I don't for a moment believe that Sharon has succumbed to the Peace Psychosis of the Left. The man spent his whole life fighting not only Arab armies in general, but terrorism in particular. Unlike Peres, he's not looking for open borders, but a defensible fortress. It may well be that forcibly relocating Jews from Gaza is better than telling them they're on their own and letting them get slaughtered. From a PR point of view, I know which one I'd rather see on the nightly news, although neither one is pretty.

But I do know that the Arabs still aren't convinced.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Squaring the Sunni Triangle

The Indispensible MEMRI is reporting that 64 Sunni clerics (no, despite the useful number, there's no Mullah Madness basketball tournament scheduled) are advocating that Sunnis join the new Iraqi armed forces, militia, and police.

This is probably good news. I say "probably," because my friend Michael Eisenstadt points out that Sunnis traditionally have dominated those institutions, and more likely to have military training in arms and tactics. Despite the British efforts to integrate Shiites into the Iraqi military during their occupation, Sunnis eventually rose to the top and controlled the command structure. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the mullahs are planning on history repeating itself.

Which, of course, is exactly no guarantee that it will. There's plenty of evidence that, if anything, Iraq is much less sectarian than it has been in the past, and that large numbers of Sunnis are ready to join the rest of Iraq in building a country worth keeping together. The mullahs make a point of stressing non-cooperation with the Americans, which may also be a way of appealing to people not enamored of US troops, suggesting that switching rather than fighting may be the fastest way to get the US to leave.

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

AP Captions

Boker Tov, Boulder points out some problems with an AP Caption:

The golden shrine of the Dome of the Rock mosque, located in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known to Jews as Temple Mount is seen inside the walled Old City in Jerusalem, Wednesday April 6, 2005

This transition has taken place quite recently, since the start of the current terrorist wave in 2000. Up until then, the site was called the Temple Mount, usually with something like "holy to both Jews and Muslims" added on.

Since the PLO, er, PA let it be known that they would call it "Haram al-Sharaf", that was usually added to the end.

Now, the AP has revered the order of priority.

Soon, they'll stop using the term "Temple Mount" altogether, and people will start wondering what's so special about the "Western Wall."

Until they go back to calling it the "Wailing Wall."

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 05, 2005

Orthodoxy and Public Policy

The current issue of Tradition is devoted to Orthodoxy and its role in influencing public policy. Meir Soloveitchik, who carries a heavy burden with that last name, contributes a short essay about bioethics. In light of the Terri Schiavo case and the discussion of the "culture of death," his quoting of Rabbi Norman Lamm's investiture address at YU is worth reprinting:

That learning must be more than knowledge, that it must enhance life, was expressed in a startlingly poignant way by the Zohar (a major Jewish mystical text -ed)...The Biblical Tree of Knowledge, it taught, possessed within it yet another tree...the Tree of Death. When man combines knowledge and life, he is capable of suppressing the Tree of Death. But if he pursues knowledge alone, unconcerned...with human compassion and love and gentleness - he releases the noxious Tree of Death in all its many and ugly manifestations.

Soloveitchik goes on to give a number of examples of medical technologies that might be permitted purely on a cost-benefit basis, in terms of the lives they might save, but which are or ought to be forbidden on public policy grounds.

While organ sales are clearly forbidden even halachically, other technologies are less obvious. Unimplanted embryos have no status in halacha. But creating them for the sole purpose of harvesting their stem cells cheapens our respect for life. The strict rule of halacha can and should be tempered by considerations of what kind of society would result.

It's a fascinating article, rigorously argued, by the latest Soloveitchik generation, working on getting his sea legs.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

House Delegation to Rome

According to NRO, Her Royal Highness the Representative from Texas Sheila Jackson-Lee will be going to Rome.

The able-bodied Queen Jackson-Lee, for whom Virginia has almost named a state holiday, is perhaps best-known for throwing fits on airlines and charging her constituents for limo rides from her Capitol Hill row house to...the Capitol.

"Hey, as long as you're not using that sedan chair any more..."

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


I know Hugh's looking for an English-speaking Pope, whether he be Australian or Nigerian. While Ratzinger's 78 years came up, Arinze's 72 would also likely make him a short-timer.

While I like the idea that the Italian winning streak has gone the way of the US dominance of the America's Cup, this guy is pretty intriguing, as described in the Wall Street Journal:

Angelo Scola -- An Italian born Nov. 7, 1941, Cardinal Scola has been patriarch of Venice for three years. During his time in the job, the 63-year-old has called for broadening Catholic religious instruction to include issues involving the economic and bioethical challenges facing society. He has also been vocal about the need for the church to find a way to confront the Muslim world and recently launched a publication dedicated to that topic.

If the War on Terror is the great defining issue of our age, a Pope who takes that struggle seriously could be as great an ally in this war as John Paul II was in the last.

He has begun a journal, Oasis, to look at the Church's relations with Islam, and seems to be one of the few people not named Mark Steyn to take Europe's demographic problems seriously.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Carnival of the Capitalists

This week's econo-blogging roundup is here.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 03, 2005

Steyn on Schiavo

Mark Steyn has a typically insightful Spectator column on the Terri Schiavo matter. (The Chicago Sun-Times and Washington Times will carry shorter, edited versions today and tomorrow.) He puts down the larger reaction to apathy and truth-avoidance than to actual malice, although political decisions can get made both ways. In this case, people simply didn't want to put in the effort to see past the comforting medical and legal euphamisms. As is his wont, he also ties in larger demographic trends.

During my orientation Friday, I got into a brief discussion of the matter with the company patent attorney, and I thought it was telling that his greatest personal affront was reserved for the cost of flying in Congress to get involved in the issue. "That's my tax money!" he cried. Well, doing the math, it comes out to at best a dime per taxpayer, and only civility prevented me from offering to cover his share.

One of his other arguments, that the Congress was clearly not representing the public will, given 70% poll approvals of the courts' decisions, seems irrelevant. We have elections. If people are truly upset that Congress got involved, they'll have an opportunity 18 months from now to do something about it.

When I pointed out that the ABC poll was factually flawed, his response was that no poll had shown less than 60% approval. Even if we had government by plebiscite, this would barely be enough to get cloture.

I think lawyers and law professors have had a tendency, since they understand the legal issues better, to excuse the whole matter on those grounds. "Yes, there's a tragedy, but..." The Federal courts don't like being backed into a corner, and the judges probably believed that Congress was trying to dictate procedure. I understand the need for an ordered legal system as much as anyone, but to cavalierly kill someone so you can stick your thumb in Congress's eye over a turf battle strikes me as a case of badly misplaced priorities.

The latest issue of Tradition, published by the Rabbinical Council of America, discusses Orthodoxy in the public square. Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik begins his symposium paper with a story from the Talmud where the rabbis override the clear halacha in the interests of public policy, to avoid a coarsening of society.

They never made a habit of doing so. But if the sign of wisdom is knowing when to go that direction, we have a court system notably lacking in the wisdom we've assumed it's cultivated over time.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005


The Jews' relationship with the Popes have, for excellent historical reasons, varied from the ambivalent to the tempestuous.

While the medieval Popes frequently did what they could to protect the local Jews from rampaging mobs, the uncomfortable facts remain that 1) Church teachings were the inspiration for those mobs, and 2) the Pope headed that church.

As recently as the 19th Century, Pope Leo XIII was castigating the secular society that held out our greatest hope for full acceptance in the West. And during WWII, Pius XII was hedging the moral authority of his office. (I don't think he was complicit; I do think he encouraged local actions to save Jews; I do think that he failed to publicly condemn the greatest crime in history, a crime in which many Catholics participated or acquiesced.)

This Pope changed a lot of that. From his visit to the Rome Synagogue, to his visit to Israel, to his frequent denunciations of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in general, to his building on John XXIII's Nostra Aetate (40 years old last week), to his long-overdue recognition of the State of Israel.

Jews will miss this Pope. Let's just hope that his changes are institutional, and outlive his papacy, so that we don't miss him more than we think.

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Con Law

Mark Mulligan, guest-blogging over at Clay's site, raises some interesting questions about the differences among the Amendments in the Bill of Rights, especially where they concern Jose Padilla.

I understand the arguments against gun control. Criminals and terrorists arenít going to Wal-Mart or Garts. Iím just trying to understand the process by which we decided that the 2nd amendment was sacrosanct and the 5th and 6th werenít. I donít remember a national debate. The government decided for us and we went along.

If everything about Jose Padilla is true and can be proved in court I want him locked away in a deep hole for a long time. However, if it isnít Ė given who his friends are - Iím not sure I want him owning a gun.

The 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments are qualitatively different from the 2nd in at least two ways.

First, the government is a direct agent in Amendments 4,5, and 6. Therefore, it can take or not take actions that the courts can rule on. If the government were selling guns, like Virginia used to sell liquor, it could probably try to issue an administrative "Do Not Sell To" list that could also be challenged in court.

Secondly, Amendments 4, 5, and 6 enjoin actions by the government. Amendment 2 protects specific actions by me. The freedom to walk the streets freely may follow from 4-5-6, but it's indirect.

In that sense, the 1st Amendment is much like the 2nd. There are plenty of non-shooting positions in a terrorist operation, and I'm not sure I'd like Padilla wandering around collecting Saudi jihadist literature after Friday prayers, either. But I'm also not sure I could stop him.

For that reason, the context of actions taken under the 1st or 2nd Amendment matters. If my target terrorist organization is meeting at a mosque, the FBI can follow the guy right into prayers and eavesdrop on his conversations. Likewise, the purchase of a gun may be evidence of criminal intent, given the right context.

Again, any of this is subject to modification by the law, but where you're starting from matters.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack