September 12, 2005

"Activists," Eh?

Jim Hughes of the Denver Post covers the local activists on both sides of the Robert nomination this morning. Sort of.

Of 18 paragraphs, three discuss the pro-Roberts Judicial Confirmation Network, four equate the two sides, and seven discuss NARAL and other left-wing opponents of a sane judiciary. (Four paragraphs are neutral, not mentioning the activists directly.)

While the Post is silent on the conservatives' desiderata, the coverage of the lefties includes the following:

NARAL "action teams" will be watching the hearings from Colorado, ready to cry foul if they don't like what they see, executive director Meg Froelich said.

"Let's not have a coronation with Roberts," she said. "Let's have a real, genuine process."


The Colorado Coalition for Fair Justices - a coalition of local activist groups, some opposing Roberts and others officially neutral - has asked Salazar and Allard to forward to the Judiciary Committee a list of questions it wants Roberts to answer on civil liberties and environmental matters.

"We're really looking for a transparent process, one that asks important and tough questions and demands clear responses," said Catherine Montoya, head of the coalition and a consultant who works with People for the American Way, a national group that opposes Roberts' confirmation.


"We expect our senators not to act merely as a rubber stamp to President Bush's nominees," NARAL-Pro Choice Colorado said in a statement shortly after Roberts was nominated. "Sens. Salazar and Allard have a duty to Coloradans and the American public to ask tough questions and only vote for nominees that support privacy, freedom, reproductive rights and personal responsibility."

The Post describes at length the positions and tactics of the leftist opposition to Roberts.

Hughes knew about Progress for America's position that prior hearings - specifically those of Ruth Bader Ginsburg - set a precedent for what nominees should be required to answer.

How do I know he knew this? Because he was in the roomwith Clay and me as we interviewed Ben Ginsburg and Bob Knauss:

Posted by joshuasharf at 11:37 AM | TrackBack

September 11, 2005

The "Truth" About TABOR

Colorado will consider a major tax increase this fall, loosening the tight taxing and spending restrictions known as the TAxpayers' Bill Of Rights, or TABOR. Some of the money raised in Referendum C will be earmarked for roads in Referenum D. As part of its attempt to influence - er, inform - the public, the Denver Post today ran the first of a four-part series, "The Truth About TABOR."

If only.

This fall, Coloradans will choose whether to give up about $500 each in tax refunds over the next five years so the state has more money for roads, schools and health care.

Under TABOR, growth in state spending is limited to population + inflation. Any money raised beyond that must be refunded to taxpayers. Each year uses last year as its baseline, meaning that should revenue fall as a result of a downturn, there's a permanent reduction in tax rates as a percentage of state GDP.

Referendum C would suspend those refunds for 5 years, and eliminate that "ratchet" effect. It is estimates that this would raise $3.7B over 5 years. Referendum D would earmark $2.1B for roads, school buildings, and police and firemen's pensions.

Referendum C says nothing about where the money goes. The legislature will be free to spend it however it likes. Should C pass and D fail, the legislature would have all $3.7B at its disposal.

But while the article eventually describes what D does, the lead and the article leave the impression that the legislature would be required to spend the money on "roads, schools, and healthcare." This constitutes a lie, at least a lie of omission.

As for that $500 number, if it seems a little low to you, you're not alone.

To provide that money to the state, the average taxpayer would give up a total $491 in tax rebates over five years, according to estimates by the nonpartisan staff of the state legislature.

Those rebates are separate from state income tax refunds.

Opponents of Referendums C and D argue with the staff estimates on how much taxpayers would lose in TABOR refunds.

They divide the amount of forfeited tax refunds by the number of families to conclude that the average family would give up $3,200 over the five years.

This is not the difference between saying, "the average taxpayer" and, "the average of taxpayers." In fact, most of TABOR's rebate gets swallowed up by a variety of special rebates, refunds, and programs. (See page 10.) These are all discretionary, and it would appear that they would not retain their funding under C. Therefore, while the amount that taxpayers would have to give back from rebates is probably around $491, the actual amount of the tax increase is closer to $3200 per family. Moreover, since families (including some middle-class families) also benefit from many of the refund methods, that money should be included in the amount they're being asked to forgo.

None of this is explained anywhere in the article.

Finally, the article gives short shrift to alternatives. It mentions Joe Stengel's idea of selling off some state assets, but that's only a one-time fix. Those assets could also be leased, providing a revenue stream. Amendment 23 could be changed, and the state could apply for Medicaid waivers, releasing some of the pressure from the two biggest budget line items. None of this is suggested as an alternative.

In the end, the article accepts uncritically C&D's proponents' estimates of the cost to families, assumes that the money will go to certain programs, fails to mention alternatives. Even the headline focuses attention on TABOR as the main culprit, rather than a combination of budget decisions and priorities.

We'll see what the next three articles bring.

Cross-Posted at Oh That Liberal Media, and Newsbusters.

Posted by joshuasharf at 11:00 PM | TrackBack

September 09, 2005

All Together Now...

..."Supreme Court Justices do not make policy." What on earth are Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard doing quizzing Chief Justice nominee John Roberts about western water rights? Other than the proper roles of federal and state governments in setting the rules, the kinds of cooperation permitted to the states, and so forth, but these issues apply to lots of regional issues all over the country.

Roberts, however, has apparently seen The Incredibles:

[He], however, told Allard "all parts of the country are unique to one degree or another."

Salazar, though, seems to think of the Court as a legislature:

Salazar said Wednesday that he wants to get to know Roberts and find out whether he will work to “create unity” on the high court.

“We haven't seen that under the Rehnquist court,” Salazar said. “We've seen a very divided court, with many 5-4 opinions. I would hope that, if Judge Roberts becomes the chief justice, he can try to get the members of the court to act more as a body, as opposed to that kind of division.”

On major decisions, there is sometimes a desire to achieve unity. But this division is at least as much the fault of a recalcitrant and unreasoning Left as it is of the Chief Justice. Taking a look at the two Ten Commandments decisions last year, they were both 5-4 decisions, with the only swing vote being O'Connor. To expect John Roberts to get John Paul Stevens to vote more sensibly is asking a little bit much. And Salazar would make the situation completely impossible by replacing Justice O'Connor with her "clone," if possible.

The Chief Justice should try to achieve some level of amity and needs to be able to preserve the collegiality necessary for the Court to work. It's not his job to assure 9-0, or ever 7-2, decisions. One suspects (cough) that Salazar is really asking Judge Roberts to achieve unity through surrender.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:11 PM | TrackBack

Salazar Misses the Point

Senator Ken Salazar sent out an email appealing for aid to Katrina victims containing the following line:

The victims of this terrible tragedy love this country, but their country has let them down.

No, Senator, their government has let them down. Specifically, their state and local governments.

Their country, on the other hand, has responded admirably and generously.

Posted by joshuasharf at 06:55 PM | TrackBack

Beauprez Unplugged

I had a chance to meet Bob Beauprez briefly in the runup to last year's elections, and to see him speak a few times as well. He's always struck me as an appealing figure, with a way of connecting to even large crowds, both feeding from and feeding their energy.

So when the RMA was invited to sit down and chat with him this morning, I was happy tp take the chance. Ben DeGrow was also able to make it, and between the two of us, perhaps we got a little better measure of where the campaign and the candidate stand at this point.

Right now, my overall impressions were of a very confident candidate, sure that he's the right man for both the office and the Republican party, with a good grasp of the basic issues and the politics involved. He understands why he's running, why he wants the job, why he thinks he can win. However, there's a point where the stump speech is going to have to be supplemented by specific policy proposals, even if nobody reads them. It may be too early in the campaign for that, lest they become a target and stale by inauguration time, but calls for substance eventually must be heeded.

Starting off with the politics, I asked Rep. Beauprez about his history as an executive, even though he's a legislator now. Specifically, I've been dismayed by the Republican inability to maintain a deep bench in the state. So, as the incumbent in one of the most competitive House districts in the country, what has he done about succession planning there?

He answered that he was well aware of the problem of succession planning in general, that he had taken great care to put the bank on such footing that it could survive his leaving it. And he was also well aware of the problems that the party was facing in the state on that score. In fact, that was a strong argument for his running, since he believed himself to be the strongest candidate in the state for governor, and that coattails would probably be essential to retaking the legislature, and protecting the Congressional delegation.

That is, while he might have been at risk in the 7th with a weak gubernatorial candidate, he believes he can help carry the seat top-down. In particular, he spoke highly of Rick O'Donnell, who now has four years of state experience and access to more money than he did when he lost to beauprez in 2002.

Cynics will point to his belief that he could well have lost the 7th, but will win the Governor's race as personal political survival, but I honestly think it's more of a happy confluence of interests. And with an executive background, it wouldn't surprise me that he'd be more comfortable as chief executive than as a legislator.

In response to Ben's question about what he brings to the race, and to the downticket candidates, the most interesting part of his answer concerned his legislative experience. Recent experience in Louisiana has shown the difference between a governor who uses his Washington connections efficiently, and state and local governments more interested in protecting their prerogatives. This affects not only disaster planning, but also Medicaid reform and illegal immigration.

Incidentally, Beauprez is one of the few sane Republicans I've seen who understands the potency of illegal immigration as an issue. I'll refer again to my sister in Georgia who almost never votes Republican, and almost never fails to bring it up as an issue.

On Ben's question about education, and specifically about First Class Education as a starting point, Beauprez hedged a little, but basically endorsed the idea, saying that he was "inclined" to support it. His only quibble was whether 65% was the right number, that is, how do we know it's not 62% or 70%?

To me, that's a perfectly reasonable way to object to issues where the government shouldn't be involved, as a way of pointing out the government's inability to micromanage. In this case, though, it seems like an objection that's better off dropped.

I do think Beauprez's got a grasp of the basic problems public education facing, and no rose-colored glasses on how we're doing. He proposes that parents need to get involved pre-K and pre-1, especially pre-3. He certainly understands that throwing cash at the problem won't make it go away. And he supports vouchers and choice as a means of letting teachers exercise their judgment, though one gets the sense that he's driven more by that outcome than by a voucher-ideology.

As for the one thing that could do the most good - increasing discipline in the classroom - the Rep. has no illusions about needing to fight that battle in the initiative process, since the ACLU and CEA keep winning court cases.

Interestingly, Beauprez sees the teachers as allies here rather than enemies, since they suffer almost as much as the kids. I think he may be understating the problem of an intractable CEA, hell-bent on opposing meaningful classroom reform, but given a couple of terms, and teachers willing to vote out union reps and union heads, who knows what can happen?

Not as a trick, but as a lead-in to the Big Question about Refs C&D, I asked about the cost side of higher education. Beauprez surmised without concluding that it had to do with a focus on research rather than teaching. I'd agree to some extent, but with two caveats. Economics tells us that if an industry doesn't get more efficient, its costs will rise as it becomes relatively less efficient. Since teaching now is more or less the same as it was 100 years ago, the costs are relatively higher. But I'd also strongly refer him to this article in the Wilson Quarterly.

Finally, C&D. He points out correctly that C&D raise $2 Billion for a stated $400 million problem, and that they don't actually solve anything. In fact, the problem is short-term liquidity, not long-term solvency or even income growth. So securitizing the tobacco settlement and leasing back some unused state property make sense to get past that.

As for the long-term issues, these short-term problems are only going to recur unless there's some systemic reform, which means rethinking all three parts of the Gallagher-Amendment 23-TABOR vise. Here's where there were no specifics. Beauprez's stated assets is his ability to run a primary race without alienating the opposition. Maybe after he's won the nomination, he can find a way to incorporate some of Holtzman's ideas into a general election platform.

On the whole, yes, I liked what I saw. It's still a long, race though; expect that whole style-vs.-substance thing to rear its head. Again.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:37 PM | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

Book Review - A Civil War

When Charlie Weatherbie arrived to take up his first head coaching position, he was asked about Army-Navy. He'd seen other rivalries, he said. He knew about other rivalries, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, for instance. Seemed no different to him. People at Navy spent way too much time worrying about Army when there was a whole season to play.

A subtitle to the Navy side might be "The Education of Charlie Weatherbie." Even going into the game, after Army Week and a whole season of "Beat Army," he was more focused on the winning season than on Beating Army. At the end of the game, Weatherbie broke down in tears, repeatedly apologizing to his players for a critical coaching mistake that probably cost them the game, taking responsibility in the best Academy tradition.

Talk about a transformative experience.

Army and Navy have been playing each other in football for 100 years, they've been fighting wars together for over 200. What Weatherbie didn't understand - what most people don't understand - is that while the Academies live to beat each other in football, they respect rather than hate each other. They save that for the Air Force, the kid brother who thinks it's about winning games.

The book is 10 years old by now, and the football programs have changed a little. In 1995, both academies had programs on the rocks. Army had a respectable program, but Navy had suffered through a couple of 1-win seasons. Both schools were in the lower tier of Division I-A, and were regularly scheduling I-AA teams to pad their win totals. Bowl games were fond, distant memories. Since, while Army's coaching has completely fallen apart, Navy has gone on to several bowl games and has recently dominated the series.

The Naval Academy was also suffering through a series of scandals - an Electrical Engineering cheating scandal, alumni involved in a murder-suicide, and three midshipmen killed in a freak car accident returning to the Yard. Army had won the previous three games by a total of five points, leaving this as the last chance for Navy's graduating firstclassmen to win The Game. A popular superintendent had reluctantly returned to Annapolis at the end of his career to right a ship gone horribly wrong.

While West Point as a whole didn't need the win as badly as Navy did, their coach probably did. And the Army football team didn't lack for compelling characters with compelling stories. Often these reflect the harsh and somewhat anachronistic discipline that the Academies impose on their underclassmen. One of the best concerns Army team captain Cantelupe and Beast, the introductory hazing new plebes go through the summer that the enter West Point:

Like every plebe, Cantelupe hated Beast, although his approach to it was a little different than most. Cantelupe takes the things that are important to him very seriously: his family, his friends, his responsibilities, and his football. Beyond that, he sees most things in life as not being worth too much concern.


Cantelupe did what he had to do when it came to corps discipline. But he always did it with enough humor to keep himself sane. On one of the first nights of Beast, the first classman in charge of his squad sat everyone down after dinner and demanded that they tell him their family's origins.

"Klein," he demanded, looking at Derek Klein, "What kind of name is that?"

"Sir, it's German sir," Klein barked back.

"O'Grady," the firstie continued, "What kind of name is that?"

"Sir, Irish sir."

It continued like that until the firstie reached Cantelupe, who was both bored and bemused by the whole exercise.

"Cantelupe," the first roared, "What kind of a name is that?"

"Sir," Cantelupe replied, his face as straight and serious as everyone else's, "it's produce sir."

The firstie stared at Cantelupe in disbelief. Everyone else stared at the floor, praying they wouldn't burst into laughter. Klein was biting his lip so hard he thought it must surely be bleeding.

"Do you think that's funny, Cantelupe?" the firstie screamed. He then gave Cantelupe several minutes of haranguing on what happened to wise-ass plebes who didn't take their superior officers seriously.

If Feinstein has a problem, it's that there are too many good stories, with too many good personalities. Guys who have to work their way through Academy prep school to make it in. Guys who fail out. And the ever-present tension between the Corps or the Brigade as a whole, and the football team's special privileges.

He's covering the story of two teams through a whole year, and it's hard to make the narrative hang together. While Feinstein nominally tells the story through Cantelupe and Navy's captain Andrew Thompson, they provide more of a common thread than a consistent point of view. Also, as the above passage indicates, his praise for his editor is somewhat misplaced.

That said, it was probably a mistake for me to read this book in August.

I already can't wait for the last weekend in November.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:26 PM | TrackBack

The Indispensible Mark Steyn

In yesterday's Telegraph:

On 9/11, the federal government failed the people; last week, local and state government failed the people. On 9/11, they stuck to the 30-year-old plan; last week, they didn't bother implementing the state-of-the-art 21st-century plan. Why argue about which level of bureaucracy you prefer to be let down by?

My mistake was to think that the citizenry of the Big Easy would rise to the great rallying cry of Todd Beamer: "Are you ready, guys? Let's roll!" Instead, the spirit of the week was summed up by a gentleman called Mike Franklin, taking time out of his hectic schedule of looting to speak to the Associated Press: "People who are oppressed all their lives, man, it's an opportunity to get back at society."

Unlike 9/11, when the cult of victimhood was temporarily suspended in honour of the many real, actual victims under the rubble, in New Orleans everyone claimed the mantle of victim, from the incompetent mayor to the "oppressed" guys wading through the water with new DVD players under each arm.

Welfare culture is bad not just because, as in Europe, it's bankrupting the state, but because it enfeebles the citizenry, it erodes self-reliance and resourcefulness.

New Orleans is a party town in the middle of a welfare swamp and, like many parties, it doesn't look so good when someone puts the lights up.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:15 AM | TrackBack

Labor Day Hike

From here. Click to Enlarge. 'Nuff said.




Posted by joshuasharf at 10:04 AM | TrackBack

September 06, 2005

New House

No, I haven't forgotten, I've just picked most of the local low-hanging fruit. So I'm widening the search to the rest of Colorado.

Here's one.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:41 AM | TrackBack

September 04, 2005

NOLA's List

Federation of New Orleans is maintaining a list of Jewish evacuees & refugees, and their locations and contact information.

So far, to nobody's surprise, the main destinations are Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Memphis.

Denver did seem to pick up one gentleman, and one family seems to have just kept on driving until the language sounded familiar, and ended up in Montreal.

Also, Diane Brezner of Houston's BJE tells me that long-term plans are being developed, and promises to keep me informed.

Posted by joshuasharf at 04:15 PM | TrackBack

Atlanta Swings Into Action

This morning, I received this email (slightly edited below) from my brother-in-law Steve Filreis, in Atlanta.

Yesterday afternoon, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta convened an emergency conference call with professional leadership from local agencies, synagogues, shelters and camps. We discussed specific ways our community will be assisting evacuees from the Gulf Coast communities with housing, education and job needs. The outpouring from our community has been extraordinary and our network of Jewish community agencies, schools, synagogues and organizations will work together to most effectively help those in need. Our community agencies, synagogues and organizations are working in close partnership to respond to this crisis:

1. JF&CS is responding to a wide variety of issues for evacuees now in Atlanta, including medical, financial, counseling and job placement needs. They are also assembling a volunteer corps prepared to assist in many different ways;

2. The Atlanta Rabbinical Association will coordinate with all area synagogues the collection of names of volunteer hosts willing to house evacuees for the short and long term and forward this information to the MJCCA's Housemate Match program; The MJCCA is also prepared to open its health and wellness facilities to evacuees

3. Atlanta area day schools and the MJCCA pre-school have begun accepting students from New Orleans. CJEe is serving as a clearinghouse for information and coordination;

4. Camps Barney, Coleman and Ramah Darom are prepared to offer their facilities if needed as temporary shelters;

5. The Cohen Home has offered temporary shelter for evacuees, along with the Congregation Shearith Israel Shelter;

6. Hillels of Georgia is preparing to coordinate student volunteers;

7. Congregation Or Hadash reports that 50 members are prepared to host evacuees in their homes;

8. The AA Synagogue is hosting a bat mitzvah of a New Orleans girl in September; other synagogues have begun discussing ways of offering High Holiday tickets to evacuees;

9. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is representing the Atlanta Jewish community in working directly with United Way and other Atlanta non-profits on community-wide responses;

10. Also, since this, The Temple Night Shelter and the Shearith Israel Night Shelter are open for Storm refugees.

11. Beth Jacob is referring offers of help to Susan Metz at JF&CS

Here's how you can help:

* To make an online contribution with a credit card, click here: Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

* To send a check, make it payable to "JFGA", put "Hurricane Katrina" in the memo line, and send to Randy Gorod, JFGA, 1440 Spring Street, NW, Atlanta, 30309;

* If you need help - or know someone who does - contact Yael Stein, LCSW, at Jewish Family & Career Services: 770-677-9305 or;

* If you want to help, or to "adopt" an evacuee family, contact Susan Metz at JF&CS: 770-677-9329 or;

* If you are able to host evacuees in your home - for either a short time (less than a month) or an extended period (up to 6 months), contact Rita Zadoff at the MJCCA's Housemate Match at 770-395-2625 or

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:58 PM | TrackBack

Media Alert

I'll be on John Andrews's Backbone Radio on 710 KNUS this (Sunday) evening at 5:15 PM Mountain Time, discussing the varying blogospheric reactions to Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:53 AM | TrackBack

Long-Term Assistance

Even though my family is from Newport News, Virginia, I never really understood the unique nature of the experience of Jews in the south until reading Eli Evans's The Provincials.

So I've had a soft spot for the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. Now, the museum is planning to turn its extensive knowledge of the remaining Southern Jewish communities toward post-Katrina rebuilding efforts:

The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) has been inundated with calls and emails from congregations and individuals from around the country asking what they can do, how can they help, etc. As can be seen by the national news accounts the relief effort has not fully taken shape yet due to the immensity of the disaster and the inability of the agencies to actually assess the next steps. As the Institute is regionally based and physically located in Jackson, Mississippi we are well positioned to help channel funds directly to our communities in need.

To that end, the Institute has established the:

Institute of Southern Jewish Life – Katrina Relief Fund.

The various communities of faith are and have established funds to administer through their own churches. We will do the same but, of course, the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam certainly comes into play here with a percentage of the contributions that flow in being allocated to secular agencies as well. Funds will be segregated from the normal flow of dollars and contributions to the ISJL. Obviously the accounting will be transparent and no fees will go to the ISJL. Again, no administrative fees will be assessed insuring 100% of dollars raised going to the effort.

ISJL is a 501(c)3; therefore, all funds are fully deductible to the fullest extent of the law. We are grounded within the impacted region and we have contact with the Jewish communities that are in need The process would be to work through the communities’ rabbinic, lay, and where present, agency leadership for humanitarian needs first and then assistance with rebuilding if applicable of Synagogues that may have been damaged.

This tragedy is of indescribable magnitude. The ISJL will be a force in the recovery and serve as a major conduit of funds in and out from around the country and abroad. National agencies will be seeking local contacts for the dispersement of those funds raised on their part. Due to our strategic geographic location and contacts throughout the United States we gladly take on this role of assistance. We are proud of our ability to serve in this very difficult time for all of us.

Our hearts and prayers go to all of those affected and whose lives are forever changed by this natural disaster.

Macy B. Hart
Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life
P. O. Box 16528
Jackson, MS 39236
Phone 601/362-6357
Fax 601/366-6293

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:08 AM | TrackBack

September 03, 2005

Clothes Needed

Temple B'nai Israel in Baton Rouge needs packages of clothes - oversized t-shirts, shorts,shoes - and baby items- clothes, diapers, wipes, formula, bottles, etc.

You can send packages directly to:
Rabbi Weinstein at B'nai Israel
3354 Kleinert Ave. Baton Rouge, LA 70806.
The Temple phone is 225-343-0111

From reader Stephanie Seldin Howard.

Posted by joshuasharf at 11:17 PM | TrackBack

September 02, 2005

New Company

Athena Investment Services is a new company that I've been doing some research and web development for over the last couple of months. They're trying to reshape the way mutual funds are categorized and evaluated, and we're starting off by challenging the traditional Morningstar Style Boxes.

Go take a look, download the Style Grid paper, and then go back as the thing develops.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:28 PM | TrackBack

Memphis Steps Up

I just got off the phone with Jeffrey Feld of the Memphis Allied Jewish Federation, and he described a community that's coming together in a big way to provide appropriate services to the hundreds of Jewish refugees and evacuees that the city is seeing. They appear to be trying to find long-term housing for people, which is a good sign, as well as placing kids in the appropriate school, rustling up clothing and food, and paying for medicines until insurance information can be reconstructed.

Feld estimated that about 5,000 of New Orleans's 10,000 Jews were known to be in Houston, with Memphis taking in hundreds.

When I asked him what they needed, he interrupted the "?" at the end of my question to say, "Money." The fact is, Memphis has an abundance of stuff. I'm sure that local merchants are donating plenty of items. But over the longer term, people will need to pay for things. So right now, money.

You can email Jeffrey at, or call him at (901) 767-7100.

Don't be shy about contacting specific local organizations as well, such as synagogues and social service agencies. Each one has an appropriate and sudden role to play.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:14 PM | TrackBack

Orthodox Union

The OU link is now a joint effort among the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, and the Rabbinical Council of America.

Here's a videotaped appeal from Rabbi Yisroel Schiff of New Orleans's Beth Israel Congregation to YU.

Posted by joshuasharf at 02:57 PM | TrackBack


I am not a browncoat. Not even a digital one.

And yet Wednesday night, at a screening of the upcoming movie Serenity, I found myself surrounded by them.

Browncoats are the fans of a science fiction series with an even shorter life than the Star Trek cartoon series: Firefly. The screening was the tail end of an innovative marketing campaign, designed to spread word-of-mouth among fans, and to take advantage of their feedback. Read more about the phenomenon, here.

Judging both by the results, and the enthusiasm of the fans, I'd say they've succeeded. One high-schooler I spoke with claimed to have seen the film four times. "We got to meet some of the actors, too. Dorks. We're just total dorks," he said, as only one confidently bedorked can.

Firefly was canceled after 11 episodes - currently being rerun on the SciFi Channel - but the sharp dialogue and down-to-earn characters earned it the dreaded cult following. The crew members on Captain Malcom Reynolds's Serenity are losers in a solar civil war, reduced to being outlaws to make ends meet. They're also harboring a psychic, trained to be a lethal fighting weapon. (Being a psychic would help in, say, anticipating your adversary's next move.) The winners in the civil war, the Alliance, have dispatched a British-accented assassin to track down and kill the psychic before she can be turned against the Alliance.

Since the producers are smart enough to understand that they'll need to expand their audience beyond the fanbase of a half-season TV series, all of this is explained in a pre-credits 15-minute sequence. All I can say is, watch those transitions.

The film itself follows Serenity as it fights to survive while unraveling a terrible secret about the Alliance. That secret involves yet another party, not a side in the civil war, the "Reevers," monsters who could be Orcs Release 7.0, but who in fact are human.

Serenity works on two levels: as an ensemble piece about Serenity and its insubordinate crew, and about the nature of the perfectability of Man. Like most one-part ensemble pieces, there's not time for more than a facet or two of each character. But since stories about leadership are more interesting than stories about followers, we get to see more of Reynolds's wrinkles than other characters.

While the crew acts as voices for the conflicting values that Reynolds must balance, it's not as though they don't have personalities. They're all likeable, and the Browncoats' affection for them is palpable. The witty, smart dialogue doesn't reduce them all to smart-alecks, but

As for the Perfectability of Man, the Alliance and its assassin seek "a universe without sin," while Reynolds is bored by sermons and embraces human flaws. Those who might mistake the Alliance for a charicature of American religious conservatives should be reminded that traditional conservatism takes man's flaws for granted. The greatest horrors in the name of human perfectability were committed by 20th Century Leftists, and that belief in perfectability still drives much of the modern liberal agenda, although comparisons to Pol Pot and Lenin would be more than a little over-the-top.

The creators have simplified matters considerably by not including aliens. The solar system in question was settled by colonists from earth, and evidently didn't harbor indiginous intelligent life. Good. While some might lament the loss of stand-ins for "diversity," there's not much room for Vulcans in a story about Fallen Man.

As always with space science fiction, the special effects count for a lot. I only found myself shaking my head twice, once when the gas from the ship clearly clumped up as though it were encountering resistance in the vacuum, and another where the Serenity's, er, hard landing, reminded me more of a Dr. Who episode than a big-budget flick.

But these moments stood out only because the crew has gone to lengths to get other details right. The ship's opening sequence for instance, features an atmospheric re-entry that actually remembers there's heat and friction involved.

In fact, the movie's whole look smacks of realism. Whedon and his group have mastered the futuristic-grunge look, the one that started with Blade Runner and seen most recently in Minority Report. The one where dirt and disorder coexist nicely with nifty new technology. In one scene, the captain casually tosses a paper-thin video capture onto his chaotic desk. And believe me, I know chaotic desks.

And that's the real strength of Serenity, the reason that with any justice, it should run for weeks at the top of the box office. It's irreverent without being self-parody. It's serious science fiction that doesn't take itself too seriously, the way The Incredible did for superhero cartoons.

Now, excuse me while I check the listings for the Firefly marathon.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:13 PM | TrackBack

Jewish Community Responses to Katrina

The response to Katrina from the Jewish Comunity sadly seems to be suffering from a lack of organization. Aside from the Chabad webpage, which includes a blog and appears to have been planned years in advance (< Fill in Hurricane Name Here >), there appears to be no central location for coordinating a national response to a regional problem.

However, that isn't keeping people from trying. Reader Stephanie Seldin Howard of Santa Clarita, CA writes that her son's junior high is adopting a family who's relocating there, and that she herself is donating furniture to that effort. She's also got a boy scout troop, a cub scout troop, and a reform congregation who want to help, but have so far no place to direct their efforts.

Reader Judi Cohen of Greensboro, NC is offering her home to a Jewish family who needs a place to stay. Contact her here.

At the same time, Houston Federation has organized a list of contacts for channeling specific goods and services.

And New Orleans Federation is still trying to locate people who need help. Email to get in touch. (Note: that email address has changed from a prior posting. The one here is the latest.)

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:06 PM | TrackBack

Differences in Style

Rwanda? Think about that for a second. Are there not better analogies? This is not centrally-organized genocide, where the great powers were warned in advance, and where the planning had taken months, if not years. This is a thugocracy filling a vacuum. South Central comes to mind. (As I recall, people blamed the police chief, not the President.) Maybe New York 1977. (As I recall, people blamed the Mayor, not the President.) Not Rwanda.

And if one is looking for overseas examples, why Rwanda? Why not Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan? I suppose Pol Pot is only good enough for our soldiers. (Only the best.) Could it be that they - good Leftists that they are - chose Rwanda for a reason? Or did it just, you know, leap to mind?

They should be ashamed of themselves.

As for the rest of their commentary, start with the above post and just keep scrolling. You'll find an isolated link suggesting a Red Cross contribution, and a great deal of carping about the Federal Government. Apparently, that's about as far as their notion of "community" extends.

Now consider the response of the RMA, of which I am immensely proud. An actual analysis of responsibility for crisis response and advance planning. Followed by link after link after link after link after link of community-based suggestions.

Some of us have even posted pages of links.

Some carp. Others offer help.

The Regressives, with their humor deficit fed by a self-righteousness surplus, make it hard to take them seriously. But sometimes, the contrasts are instructive.

Posted by joshuasharf at 11:37 AM | TrackBack

September 01, 2005

Katrina Damage Update - Jewish Community

The Jewish Federation of Seattle has sent out the following damage report from New Orleans:

There are almost 10,000 full-time Jewish residents in New Orleans, not to
mention a large population of Jewish students attending colleges in the
area. Approximately half of the full time residents evacuated their homes
in advance of the storm, but not everyone was able to leave. The vast
majority of the homes of members of the Jewish community have been
destroyed. As of today, 300 residents of the Jewish Home for the Aging need
emergency evacuation. At least one synagogue in New Orleans, Shaar Hadash,
is under water, and another is heavily damaged. The JCC and communal
services building has been destroyed. The need for cash assistance,
temporary housing, access to health care and personal counseling are
enormous. Beyond New Orleans, the Jewish communities in Mobile, Biloxi and
throughout the region also have similar needs.

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:31 AM | TrackBack