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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

August 21, 2005

Summer Sunday in Denver

Posted by joshuasharf at 04:57 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2005

Estate Sale

The neighbors next door were an older couple. He had had cancer, and when he went a few months ago, it wasn't surprising that she followed quickly. Good people, from my few interactions, and good neighbors.

Their kids, who have had the house for sale for a while now, finally organized an estate sale for all the stuff they didn't want, and since books tend to go cheaply, I wandered over to see what they had. Almost bought the old IBM Selectric for $5.00, but figured the cost of shipping it to Dan Rather or Mary Mapes would be prohibitive.

They were also newspaper-savers, like me. A bunch of Kennedy assassination papers, from both of them. And then, this (click to enlarge):

Nice. The moon landing, and appropriately enough for this weekend, a visit to Los Alamos. But what's missing? This (also click to enlarge):

And here's Page 6, in case you want to read the whole thing.

The paper also carried a little story about Miss Kopchne's time here in Colorado, campaigning for Gov. McNichols, so it probably gave her more ink than the Boston papers did.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:23 PM | TrackBack

July 10, 2005


So, I'm sitting out here in Cherry Creek North, enjoying the free Wifi thoughtfully provided by the neighborhood business community, getting a little writing done on the finance research. It's lovely weather. The Sunday evening cafe society is alive and well, and the ubiquitous stop signs keep all but the most ambitious motorcycle engines to a purr. And polite dogs are welcome.

Suddenly, as I'm sitting here, I notice that I don't feel the air. At all. There's no breeze, and the temperature has just crossed into the no-man's land between "a little warmer than skin temperature" and "a little cooler than." It's a remarkably - odd - feeling of nothing. You lose yourself, you lose the sensation of having a skin. You lose the sensation of there being any air, although continued breathing is reassuring.

Such moments don't last, obviously. Ah, even now, it's just a little cooler, and that's all it takes to break the spell. But while it lasts, the air is as clear to the touch as it is to sight.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:47 PM | TrackBack

July 06, 2005

Deconstructing a Sukkah

Ah, at long last, the silence is broken. So, after graduation, I thought, I'll have all this free time! Right. For the moment, that free time is being used catching up on 3 years of neglected household chores. Like finishing the garage (pictures to follow).

And then, there's the beginning of the back yard's Long March back from xeriscaping nightmare to plush green grass & garden. Step 1: clear out all the accumulated detritus so I can actually get to work on it, killing weeds, planting grass, maybe tilling a small area for tomatoes and corn. The first thing is to get rid of an excess wardrobe I had put shelves in and was using as an ersatz toolchest. (Thus the gorilla shelving in the garage.)

The second thing is getting rid of the old solid wood sukkah. Each panel was a 4x8 piece of plywood nailed onto an 8-frame of 2x4s. One of those panels had a swinging door. Before I replaced it with a tarp-and-tube design, it was warm, cheerful, homey, and solid. It also took a three-many crew four hours to put up.

The problem with building something to last is that it takes a professional wrecking crew to break it down. I figured I could just use the hand-held circular saw to cut all the panels in half, and put the stuff out for large-item pickup. Except that, according to the lady on the phone, some contractors had the same idea over the years, and the remnants of brick walls and A-frames had gotten a little too much to handle, so now they aren't taking "building materials."

"But I'm not a contractor."

"They damage our trucks."

"But you'll take a large wooden bureau I'm going to put out."


"And it's wood, too. And the drywall remnants won't damage the truck. They crumble into dust."

"We provide this service as a courtesy..."

"It's not a courtesy. I'm paying for it."

"I'll be happy to give you the names of services to come haul your stuff away."

At least she didn't lecture me about how she lives in Aurora and pays taxes and doesn't even get these services and I'm not the only one who pays taxes and the service is spread all over Denver and I ought to appreciate what I do get. Although she did start down the Dark Path of the Philosophy of Law, and why some bad apples had ruined everything for the rest of us.

Since the last time I had a public servant talk to me as though I were in the 4th grade was when actually was in the 4th grade, I figured that now would be a good time to take up her offer to have the regional supervisor call me so we could get this cleared up.

We'll see. The alternative may be to pry the thing apart piece by piece and start hiding the remnants in the bottom of the large garbage can.

Posted by joshuasharf at 09:13 AM | TrackBack

June 19, 2005

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As part of my new What Do I Do With All This Free Time Liberal Arts Self-Education Program (WDIDWATFT LASEP), I've been working through the Teaching Company's Classics of American Literature. You see, in order to get anything out of the course, you actually have to read the books, which presented a problem up until recently.

The second author in the series is Ralph "Don't Ask Where's?" Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a deeply subversive writer, but the lecturer points out that very intelligent, well-educated people often walked out of his lectures not quite sure what he had been talking about. As with certain recent President candidates, this may be more an assumption of intelligence than an actual reflection thereof.

Still, some individual quotes are quite striking:

Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?

Heh. Newton thought of the calculus, which he called "fluxions," while he was trying to solve the problem of calculating the flow of a river around a bend. I have no idea if Emerson was aware of this, but I don't see any reason to assume he wasn't.

Thus architecture is called "frozen music" by De Stael and Goethe. Vitrivius thought an architect should be a musician.

There's an overused quote, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." If the quote really is older than a 1983 interview with Elvis Costello - and there's no a priori reason we should credit him with this original thought - then it probably means something other than the way he used it, that writing about music was absurd. I have my own ideas, but the floor is open for interpretations.

And then, from "The American Scholar," one I like the best.

Thus far, our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give letters any more. As such, it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. Perhaps the time is already come, when it ought to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids, and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close (emphasis added -ed.)

Remember, Emerson was writing only a few years after de Toqueville, when the country was still slightly bewildering to a European for its attention to business and its restlessness. He wasn't arguing that business was bad, only that the country also needed scholarship.

And he certainly wasn't arguing for bookishness. Instead, he was hoping for a peculiarly American type of literature, poetry, and scholarship, informed by but not dependent on (or overly reverent of) our European heritage

That's a hope that one of our main political parties appears to have abandoned.

Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books.

Substitute Ward Churchill, Catherine McKinnon, and Cornell West, and you'd get a fair sense of academia today. Leaving aside the rather dramatic dropoff in the quality of thought, it doesn't appear that academia's defense of its orthodoxies is any different now from then. But if I had to have my child brainwashed, I'd rather it were by Cicero, Locke, and Bacon.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

Maxwell Falls

Maxwell Falls is one of those hikes where all of the signatures in the register are from Denver or Evergreen, possibly Conifer. The falls themselves aren't much, but the getting there is a lot of fun. As always, click to enlarge, (although the larger ones are a little over 200K).

While "Colorado" means "red," visitors are always surprised that the state isn't greener. It's amazing what a little rain will do...

It's hard enough being a lab without also be asked to be a llama:

As it turns out, four other large dogs were similarly burdened, so I didn't feel too bad about asking Sage to carry the water. Hey, he's gotta earn his keep somehow.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2005

Colorful Sunset Colorado

Since the Governor of Minnesota and one James Lileks late of that state have taken to ridiculing our new state quarter, as well as the signage reading "Welcome to Colorful Colorado," erected at great taxpayer expense on all roads leading into the state, I thought I'd remind them of why those signs exist. As always, click to enlarge.

Posted by joshuasharf at 04:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Colorful Xeriscape Colorado

Every so often, one of the local papers runs a column about how xeriscaping doesn't mean brown. Over the last couple of years, I've planted a series of xeriscape plants along the front of our lawn, on the Strip The Kills Growing Things (click to enlarge):

It even look as though this year, my favorites, the Hens 'n' Chicks, will have multiple blooms...

Posted by joshuasharf at 04:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 7:2

"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men..."

My father-in-law passed away on Thursday evening. I flew to New York for the funeral on Friday (Jewish law requires that the burial take place as quickly as possible), stayed for Shabbat and the weekend, and am now back in Denver.

In fact, on Sunday, there was a wedding at the shul literally next door to the shiva house, although I don't think many people had a choice about which place to visit.

For all of you who've expressed your concern, thank you. David was a good man, and while I can't believe that his passing was a blessing in any sense, his memory should be.

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


In his Washington Post column from today, George Will pretty much sums up Europe's Nanny-state infantilization:

It is fine for people who are not French to admire from afar how "civilized" the French are in cherishing their "way of life" -- short workweeks, many weeks of vacation, laws "protecting" labor by making it difficult to fire people. But those laws, by making employers reluctant to hire, help explain France's double-digit unemployment.

Cast a cold eye on this way of life -- this amalgam of desires for increasing affluence and leisure and weight in the world -- and "civilized" looks like a euphemism for "childish." Children are unaware of the costs of things, and the incompatibility of many desires.

Will doesn't say so, but there's no question that 50+ years of living under the American defense umbrella, in a world economy powered by American growth, has reduced the western part of the continent to the emotional stage of teenagers: old enough to operate the toys but not to produce or even understand them.

The EU was the means by which the delinquent French, Germans, and Belgians would entice college-bound New Europe to hang out for the summer rather than working.

The truly sad part is that Europe has entrepreneurial talent out that wazoo - just look at cell phones - but that talent is stifled by a system that resents success, especially new success. America has always benefitted by welcoming such people. Perhaps one of our greatest systemic threats is a China that now also does so, combined with a Democratic party that wants to replicate Europe's political culture here.

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May 19, 2005

This Would Be Really Funny...

...if George Allen were even thinking of defecting on judicial filibusters:

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May 13, 2005

Maguire on Kaus on Limbaugh on Starr on Filibusters

Mickey Kaus is accusing Rush Limbaugh of Dowdifying Ken Starr's position on judicial filibusters. Tom Maguire isn't so sure. (Hat tip: The InstaProf.) Here's the transcript of the whole Nightline segment featuring Starr:


(Off Camera) And joining me now, Kenneth Starr. He's the dean of the Pepperdine University Law School. He was the independent counsel on the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons, US Solicitor General under the first President Bush and a judge for the US Court of Appeals. Let's talk first of all, Judge, about these assaults, some of them actually physical, most of them these days, though, verbal. I, I noted at the very beginning of the program, going back to the days of, of, of the calls for the impeachment of Judge Warren that it's not new ...




(Off Camera) ... to this country to have these kinds of assaults. Nevertheless, it seems to be particularly widespread and vitriolic these days. Your, your response.


Yes, the stakes are very high. Feelings are running extremely high. But you're so right. Chief Justice Warren was the subject of calls for impeachment. William O. Douglas was, as well. But there is, I think, now a more focused set of issues and concerns that are leading a number of our political leaders to be very, very stringent in their comments and, and criticisms. And I think it does raise issues with respect to the independence of the judiciary that we need to be very mindful of.


(Off Camera) Well, let's parse that a little bit. I, I don't think any judge would complain about being criticized. None of us is above criticism. But when the calls come, explicitly or implicitly for impeachment, not because a judge has committed any crime, but because the judge may hold a, a set of views that are, that are inconsistent with those, of those calling for the impeachment, what do you think of that?


I think it's unfortunate. I completely agree that as a coordinate branch of government, the judiciary is appropriately subject to criticism. That's our system. Justice Brennan put it very well in a different context when he said, in a democratic society, debate should be robust, uninhibited, open-ended and it's gonna make us uncomfortable. That is good. But where we do, in fact, step over the line, in my judgment, is when we say, or our political leaders say that we so fervently disagree, that we think that impeachment is appropriate or necessary. When those judges are, whether right or wrong, exercising their independent judgment, under Article Three of the Constitution.


(Off Camera) So, if, if Majority Leader DeLay were to come to you and say, Judge Starr, I've always admired you, you think I need to stifle it for a while? What would you tell him?


I would say, criticize but criticize in the spirit of Justice Brennan. Be robust but don't go all the way over to say that a conscientious judge or justice, exercising his or her judgment, should be impeached or, or to call for impeachment.


(Off Camera)What ...


-I, I would say moderate the tone a bit.


(Off Camera) When you were quoting Justice Brennan a moment ago, you referred to his admonition that debate should be open-ended. Which, of course, in the framework of the US Senate, is what the filibuster is, is all about. What are you views on the filibuster, as it relates specifically to judicial appointments?


Well, the Senate has the raw power and has, in fact, used it once famously, in the process of considering the proposed elevation of Abe Fortas to the Chief Justice-ship. But I think it's imprudent and unwise for senators to invoke this important device. I think it is more apt, more appropriate for legislation but not for, for judging, I think, or for ruling on judges and voting on judges. I think that does trench on the independence of the judiciary. But even more so, I think that in our system of separated powers, the President does deserve a vote on his nominees, up or down. And especially when we're talking about the courts of appeals. We're not even talking about the United States Supreme Court.


(Off Camera) -Expect, I think we are talking here about the US Supreme Court, aren't we? I mean, it, it is everybody's expectation that everything that is going on right now is just sort of a dry run for what is assumed will happen sometime, if not in the next few months, then certainly in the next year or two. And that is that President Bush will have one, two, possibly three appointments to the Supreme Court. So, what happens in the US Senate now is exceedingly important. Would you go so far as to do away with the filibuster?


I would not do away with the filibuster, in terms of Rule 22. But I would say, be judicious in its application. And I don't think that that's been happening. And I regret that.


(Off Camera) So, you're, you're opposed to the invocation of the filibuster, in this case. But you wouldn't go so far as to get rid of it.


I'd be very cautious about getting rid of it. I think that the filibuster rule's a part of our traditions. But I think it needs to be, like a lot of tools in the tool chest, very cautiously used.


(Off Camera) Judge Starr, always a pleasure, thank you very much for joining us.


My pleasure, Ted.

Koppel clearly doesn't ambush Starr. The conversation starts out discussing the heated rhetoric over judicial decisions, and then moves into the filibuster. But Starr never says it shouldn't be done, only that we should be cautious. He clearly draws a line between using it for judicial nominations and using it over legislation. And when he talks about it being "part of our traditions," he may have in mind its broader use, not this specific application. In fact, he says that it's never been used before in this way, which pretty much rules out judicial filibusters as being "part of our tradition."

I think it's not as clear as Rush would like, but if Starr's actual position is somewhere between where Kaus places it and where Rush puts him, it's much closer to Rush's view.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 10, 2005

Politically Tone-Deaf

Byron York previews the hard filibuster negotiations still ahead. He suggests that some Republicans are still more concerned with process rather than result:

"Who cares about these individual nominees?" adds Republican A. "You care about the process going forward. Frist isn't in this to protect Janice Rogers Brown or Priscilla Owen. He wants to fix this and have a system that works for both sides going forward."

Republican A is so politically tone-deaf that he shouldn't be allowed to campaign, much less plot strategy. We all know why Justice Brown and Justice Owen and Judge Estrada scared the Democrats the most.

Abandoning them will allow the leftist identity politicians to bang the drum that the Republicans, those racist, sexist pigs, were willing to ditch the girls and the blacks to make sure their white men made it through, conveniently ignoring who it was that opposed them in the first place. Seriously, couldn't you see Bill Clinton getting up in front of a black church political rally and saying that?

Such is the nature of leftist political rhetoric.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:43 AM | 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.

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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 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.

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April 12, 2005

One More...

Reed Carefully:

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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).

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April 05, 2005

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

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.

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March 30, 2005

Frying Pan to Fire

Having just completed a contract with a natural gas company, I've now begun a new one with a biotech. Perhaps there's a military supplier out there who needs some help.

During the interview, the VP of Discovery asked me what I thought of coming to work for a biotech, a pharmaceutical company. I told him that my grandfather died of a heart attack, that my father had had a couple himself, and that frankly, I was counting on them.

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March 27, 2005

Happy Easter - from Vernal, Utah

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March 22, 2005

Spring is in the Air

There's a moment that usually comes in, oh, late August. You're out walking around, in my case, I'm walking the dog. It's been hot for 2 months. (Here in Colorado, it cools down at night, but we're not talking about then.) The sun is out, but it's early in the day, so it's warm. And you walk under a tree, or into some kind of shade, or a little breeze kicks up, and it's cool. Not just less warm, like it was yesterday, but cool. And then you realize that Labor Day is right around the corner, and in my case, that Rosh Hashanah is right around the next corner.

This morning was the Springtime equivalent. The sun peeks up over a building, and it's warm. Purim, and then Passover, and then Memorial Day. Harbinger of big changes.

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March 19, 2005

Hockeytown USA

Realizing that "triumphalism" is the word-to-be-avoided when blogging, I'll try to gloat ceremoniously. After all, when you're deprived of professional hockey, you need to take what you can get.

DU beat Colorado College 1-0 for the WCHA Championship.

Now, take a close look at that grid. Colorado had all of two teams in the 10-team tournament. Minnesota had, 1, 2, 3, no, four, count 'em, four teams. (Not to mention North Dakota, suburb of Minnesota and home state of both the Rocket and Lileks.) And look at that final matchup, including, hmmmm, two teams from Colorado. Minnesota placed 40% of the teams in the tournament, and none of them even made the Finals? Wow.

So, ah, what did the Alliance bet Fraters this year on the tournament?

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March 13, 2005

Road Trip

Ah, nothing better than a good night's sleep behind me and a ribbon o' road in front of me. Word to the wise: watch the Speed Limit signs going through Empire. No, I didn't get a ticket...

No, the trip isn't the reason for the blogging vacation, and I realize this post is a violation of the self-imposed blogxile, too, but as Tom Lehrer said, "Sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly..."

Right now, I'm in a very nice little bookstore/coffee shop/wine bar in Steamboat Springs, with the dog enjoying the chilly weather outside, wondering when is he going to come out already. Steamboat's a neat little town, although it's slowly being overrun by development to accomodate people who want a smaller place than Vail.


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March 08, 2005


Condolences to Bob at the Daily Blogster, who lost his beloved springer spaniel Hannah this morning.

If you've lost a pet, you know what it's like. If you haven't, there's no way to describe it without drifting over into being maudlin. You certainly can't analyze it.

A few months ago, my sister lost her dog of 14 years, Muffin. She took it worse than her kids did, who immediately started pressing for a replacement. It really changes the rhythm of a house when a dog dies. A few years ago, friends of mine lost their 18-year-old house dog, Bookshy, and it was years before they could settle on getting another one.

I myself have only lost one dog, a cockapoo named CB, when I was about 11. Dad came upstairs and told us that "the dog had died," figuring that strong medicine is best given straight. CB had had a heart condition for which he took pills, and during the night he just gave out. (Dad claims that late that night, before he put the dog in his basement room, CB came over to him and put his muzzle on his leg, which he never used to do. Did he know?) We buried him (quite illegally, but a cremation for such a fine dog was out of the question) in the back yard, near the electric pylon.

Sage the Lab is starting to show some signs of middle age as he approaches six, and every once in a while I find myself thinking about what it'll be like when he goes. The only possible response to such thoughts, naturally, is denial.

(Click "Continue Reading" for Rudyard Kipling's take on the matter.) To read a number of essays on the subject by someone who really could write, try Thurber's Dogs, which seems to have been reissued as The Dog Department : James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking Poodles.

The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passsion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair--
But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long--
So why in--Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

-- Rudyard Kipling

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March 06, 2005

Spring Cleaning

Ah, it's the first week in March, which means Cycling Season has arrived in Colorado. People ride their bikes all year round here, but the it's only now that you see people dressed as though their Sunday rides were being sponsored by Cingular.

It's also the time for the state parties to meet to elect their leaderships for the upcoming cycle. In this case, the Democrats have decided to replace Chris Gates with a relative unknown, more acceptable to the lunatic fringe Mike Miles wing of the party.

Under Gates, the party positioned itself and its leadership to the center-left, and retook both houses of the state legislature, a Congressional seat, and a Senate seat. This is a little like firing a coach after his second consecutive Super Bowl win. Gates is resorting to a recent Democratic tactic: accusations of vote fraud. Seriously.

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February 25, 2005

Ethel Merman

For those of you who happened to be listening yesterday, yes, that was me on Hugh's story recounting the story of Donald O'Connor's Merman-induced hearing loss.

Naturally, as soon as I hung up, I remembered that the show was "Call Me Madam," and the look on O'Connor's face as she slams his head down on her shoulder and starts to sing is priceless.

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February 15, 2005


I couldn't agree more.

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February 12, 2005


One of the few advantages of the whole sorry Ward Churchill episode is that it's given me a chance to sneak in a few Stan Freberg lines. Freberg was one of the great comedic radio talents of the 60s. His "Green Christmas" got at last a few DJs fired, but it was iconoclastic, not filthy.

I have to say my humor was really shaped by a generation or two before my own. Aside from Freberg, that Nichols and May sketch still doubles me over.

And I went to go see Victor Borge in concert four separate times. I don't think I heard a single joke he hadn't been telling since 1950, but when you tell a joke for that long, you've pretty much got the timing down.

Bob Newhart's another guy who's still funny, even today. His deadpan came naturally - he started out as an accountant. I once saw him accept a Mark Twain Humorist award at the Kennedy Center, and he had people laughing with an accounting joke.

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February 11, 2005

Dems Fundraising

Earlier in the week, the RNC sent out a fundraising missive aimed at Senate Minoority Leader Harry Reid.

The whole week, probably counting on the laziness of their target audience, the Dems have been sending out fundraising email accusing the Republicans of "personal attacks." Today, Harry Reid himself signs one of these letters:

All this week, you've been hearing about how the Republicans are launching cheap personal attacks against me despite George Bush's hollow promises of bipartisanship. Don't worry about me. In case you didn't know it, I'm a former boxer, and I am prepared to fight back--hard--against the dishonest attacks and stand up for our core Democratic values.

The whole thing is about Reid's voting record, his obstruction of judges, and his public statements not matching with that voting record. Remembering how George Mitchell looked conciliatory while torpedoing Bush 41, this White House seems determined not to let Reid repeat that success.

There is one rather curious paragraph about Reid's fairly well-appointed living quarters, contrasted with his emphasis on his simple rural roots. It seems odd for Republicans to be begrudging a guy his success. But it certainly doesn't come close to the expertise with which the Democrats wield with weapon time after time.

I'm just not sure that harking back to small-town simplicity brings to mind whining about someone publicizing your legislative record. For a boxer, that seems awfully wimpy.

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February 10, 2005

The Old Dominion Moves Forward

The folks over at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and by extension, the self-named Progressives, see a grave threat to our religious liberties in HJ 537. Go read the press release or the reference to it. They're the same. I'll wait.

Scary stuff, huh? Well, now, that's why I linked to the actual bill, rather than to a press release from a activist group. Here's the bill as voted on. The existing Article I Section 16 is in regular text, the proposed insertion is in italics:

That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

To secure further the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the Commonwealth nor its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including public schools, shall not be infringed; however, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions, including public school divisions, shall not compose school prayers, nor require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity.

And the General Assembly shall not prescribe any religious test whatever, or confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any sect or denomination, or pass any law requiring or authorizing any religious society, or the people of any district within this Commonwealth, to levy on themselves or others, any tax for the erection or repair of any house of public worship, or for the support of any church or ministry; but it shall be left free to every person to select his religious instructor, and to make or his support such private contract as he shall please.

Read that last sentence in the insertion again. Ah, I see where they're coming from. It's plain to see that the next step is to give the Episcopal Bishop of Richmond a seat on the Virginia Supreme Court. Then he'll get to see what Christian forbearance and charity really mean. It takes the skills and subtlety of a post-modern "critic" who doesn't believe that that the actual words in the actual text have any meaning. That's how you see that "not requiring" really means "kick out all the Methodists."

I'm pretty sure that most Christians in this country aren't oppressed - you have to travel to Saudi Arabia or Bethlehem or China for that. Still, it's good to see that public property doesn't have to be atheist property.

For the record, here's the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, drafted by Jefferson, which bears some resemblence to the section in question.

UPDATE: Yes, this piece was edited slightly for style, but not for content.

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February 06, 2005


Yesterday, I got up early to walk the dog. With shul starting at 8:45, although I'm rarely never on time for that, a 45 minute walk, plus time for feeding him, plus a little light breakfast and a scan of the paper means getting up at 7:00 even on a Saturday.

Denver's in a peculiar place, and frequently has morning cloud-cover when the surrounding area is clear, and vice-versa. Yesterday, I could just make out some clear sky over Kansas. And wouldn't you know it, the sun managed to thread the needle just right for about 15 minutes.

With the mountains to the west, all the viewplanes are directed that way, so you pretty much have to find a hill or a 6th-floor apartment or the far side of a lake to get a good sunrise view, but still. Blazing orange, and then ripples of purple and pink all the way west. Still a grey background, but there were enough little tendrils reaching down to catch some sun, too.

As I've said before: you always hear about the sunsets, nobody ever advertises the sunrises.

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January 31, 2005

Attention Intelligent Design Advocates

There's a reason this is funny:

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Technology Mismatch

Is there any truth to the rumor that Mac will allow the iPod to simulate the radio experience even more realistically by hooking up with your car's GPS and fading out through underpasses & tunnels?

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The WaPo Defends Its Constituency

The Washington Post today editorializes about Civil Service Reform, opposing it. In one breath, they oppose potential "politicization," and in the next breath defend the "mostly Democratic unions."

The irony must have escaped the Post editors.

They also note that

The vast majority of government managers have no experience making more sophisticated evaluations. Training managers will take an enormous amount of time and money, both of which the government is notoriously stingy about committing.

In fact, it's going to take more than that. If managers are simply handed a news system to implement, they'll see it as more paperwork to accomplish the same ends, and it won't change anything at all. Managers need to be trained to understand the system as a whole, a means of aligning systems with strategy and mission. Clearly this big picture has eluded the Post editors.

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January 24, 2005

What is Your Name?

Am I the only one who hears the new TurboTax commercial and is surprised when the next question isn't "What is your quest?"

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January 23, 2005

Week's Best Line Overheard at a Party

"So he has his father's hypochondria and his mother's melodrama."

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January 22, 2005

New House

Less time now to cruise the mean streets, looking for misbegotten homes, but some of the nicer ones are still worthy of comment.

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January 18, 2005

Fun and Games With Streaming

For some reason, the KRLA player on the computer at work speeds up people's voices slightly, but raises their voices about an octave. Gary Coleman sounds about normal, but K-Lo sounds like she's in high school, and one of the callers to Hugh's show, full of um's and ah's, sounded like an incarnation of one of the characters from Lum and Abner.

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January 15, 2005

Media Alert

Heh. Probably the first and last time I'll be using that headline.

Clay and I will be John Andrews's guests on his 710 KNUS show tomorrow night at 7:00 Mountain Time, as Dusty Saunders like to call it, the "forgotten time zone." We expect a fair representation of the Alliance to call in.

KNUS has live streaming now, so feel free to listen and call in.

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Back Up

Looks as though the jsharf.com site is back up now, houses, trip photos, books reviews, and all. It was actually back up within minutes of the original posting, but the UPDATE at the bottom didn't reach everyone...

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January 14, 2005


The general jsharf.com site it going to be down while the Hostlane guys make the switch over to ColdFusion MX from 5.0. I've been wanting to do this for a while. There's nothing there that's database-driven, although there are some apps coming on line that will be. So a long weekend is as good a time as any to be down.

Be patient, and the trip photos and funhouses will be back in due course.

UPDATE: Well, that was fast.

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January 13, 2005

The Parade Continues

Here's another one. Enjoy it now, because there's a house going up behind it, and that lovely view they spent all that effort on is liable to go away forever...

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January 12, 2005

New House

Today's new entry in the Parade. There are a few more in the pipeline. Man, I love this town.

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January 11, 2005

New Service - Notifications

For those of you who don't like or don't have RSS feeds, View From a Height can now send an email to you whenever there's a new posting. Just use the little form over there on the left. Yes, that one, over there, under the Search tool. Enter your email, and you can add yourself to the mailing list.

The more I learn about MoveableType, the more I like it. Actually, it just proves the usefulness of reading manuals.

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Disaster Relief

In view of Powerline's extensive quote from Diplomad,

In Jakarta, aside from flags at half-staff, we have seen no signs of mourning for the victims: while employees and dependents of the American embassy spent their holiday loading trucks and putting together medicine kits, the city's inhabitants went ahead with New Year's parties; nightclubs and shopping centers are full; and regular television programming continues. At least 120,000 of their fellow countrymen are dead, and Indonesians hardly talk about it, much less engage in massive charitable efforts. The exceptionally wealthy businessmen of the capital -- and the country boasts several billionaires -- haven't made large donations to the cause of Sumatran relief; a few scattered NGOs have done a bit, but there are no well-organized drives to raise funds and supplies.

I point out this description of domestic disaster relief in its infancy, from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, especially the following:

Supplies and donations (both military and civil) began coming to San Francisco from all over the country, even arriving before the fires ended. Train boxcars filled with donations carried signs such as "For the California Sufferers, From Denver, Colorado, More to Follow." The Southern Pacific Railroad reported 1,800 carloads of relief supplies that came into the city in a single month.

At first, I figured the curious absence of numbers and activity from the Indonesian and Sri Lankan governments was an illusion, that of course those numbers were just rolled into the economic damage headings that we see, that they must be working feverishly on behalf of themselves. Alternately, maybe it was the response of a people who wanted to respond, but just didn't have the structure to do so. Now, I'm not sure what to make of it.

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January 10, 2005

The Great One Pouts

Although not necessarily without cause.

Hugh Hewitt is upset. He's upset that the general blogospheric reaction to the Memogate report is positive. He's upset because Thornburgh got as far as showing a possible connection between CBS and the Kerry campaign, and a possible connection between CBS and the Democratic Party, and then stopped at the gates. The analogy he draws is to Ben Bradlee urging on his boys to break down the White House gates.

Now, some would note a certain irony in Hugh's asking the blogosphere to behave as the WaPo did in the defining events of the MSM as we know it. I think it's actually pretty apt. Watergate was a problem, and the public did have a right to know whether the President was subverting the political process. Just as now, the public has a right to know whether one of the major networks, the Tiffany Network, the Pajama Network, was acting to subvert the political process.

That Hugh sees this is a net plus rather than a risk is a result of his faith in the blogosphere as the distributed, collective wisdom of the people, rather than wisdom concentrated and dispensed by the elites. It's a sound, although not infallible instinct. Still, the odds of finding yourself being rolled through the streets in tumbrils are slightly lessened if you don't act like Louis XVI in the first place.

So why is the blogosphere acting like satisfied dolphins rather than energized sharks? One reason is that this election was both nasty enough and decisive enough to return politics to normal, and nobody want to refight it. Secondly, Kerry lost.

The former is a red herring. Nobody is asking anyone to refight the election. The latter is also a red herring. Kerry lost, but the detritus of his campaign, and that of the DNC, is all around us, and some of it could end up at the helm of the Democratic Party. It'd be helpful to know what sort of people they are.

Still, in the couple of cases so far of campaign or government collusion with media old or new, it's the media that gets hung out to dry. Jon Lauck and Armstrong Williams are derided, not the John Thune or the Ed. Dept. lackey who let the contract.

So the real target can only be CBS. But heads did roll. Also there's a sense that the points have been either proven or conceded, and that CBS News is already a synonym for Mickey Mouse, with apologies to ABC.

So let's follow Hugh's comparison to the Reformation. The Church's initial reaction to the debate was to flail, excommunicate people, and basically try to exercise power that it no longer had. They had been talking to each other too long even to realize that anyone else existed. Eventually, the cardinals did absorb the lessons, root out the worst of the corruption, and learn to confine itself to spiritual matters, rather than artistic, monetary, and carnal ones.

In the long run, networks that are dysfunctional and irrelevant become confirmed in their irresponsibility. Perhaps the only way that CBS will ever accept the truth about itself, and serve as an example to the others, is if it's forced to look at the portrait in its attic long and hard, warts and all. Otherwise, it's only going to get worse.

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January 09, 2005

Where In the World Is Blog?

Too late for the contest. 20 Years too late.

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The AP and Religious Strife

The AP reports that:

Two hand grenades hurled in a clash between Christians and Hindus killed at least three people and wounded 37 in a part of eastern Sri Lanka where international aid workers are helping tsunami victims, police said.

No aid workers were injured or near the explosions, officials said. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in Sri Lanka to see tsunami damage, was in Colombo at the time of the blast.


He said Christians were angry that Hindus had demolished a church and may have carried out the attack in retaliation.

Clashes between Hindus and Christians are rare since both groups belong the Tamil minority and believe they are oppressed by the country's Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

Sri Lanka's east coast was ravaged by the Dec. 26 tsunami and more than 30,000 people have been killed nationwide with 800,000 displaced. International aid workers have been setting up camps and guarding against the spread of disease.

The Tamil Tiger rebels, who have been fighting for two decades for a Tamil homeland, have both Hindus and Christians among their ranks.

About 76 percent of Sri Lanka's 19 million people are Sinhalese while Tamils make up 18 percent.

First of all, the AP's concern for UN aid workers is touching. While I certainly don't want to see anyone killed, I have to wonder if, had UN workers been killed or injured, that august organization would have cut and run as quickly as they did in Iraq, or have whined about the US Navy not providing sufficient security.

But what really strikes me about this report is the difference between how the AP is reporting this religious violence, and how it reports Muslim-inspired violence. Contrary to popular opinion, there is such a thing as Hindu militancy. There's not much of it, and, to the best of my knowledge, there's no internal need within Hinduism to convert the world. So they make mischief by taking down churches and mosques on Hindu holy sites, and burning Valentine's Day cards. None of which, of course, justifies throwing grenades.

It appears from the report that the ongoing civil war, insurgency, whatever, is an ethnic conflict, rather than a religious one, since Hindus and Christians are fighting together. Also, Buddhists (at least in America) advertise their beliefs as compatible with other religions, so it's hard to believe they have a long history of oppressing them.

Also, look how little religious information is actually contained in the report. We know there are Muslims in Sri Lanka. After all, that was supposedly the reason that the government didn't want Jews Israelis there. But we're not told if they're Tamil or Sinhalese. The totals given add up to 94%. What are the other 6%?

According to the World Fact Book, 74% of the population is Sinhalese, 18% is Tamil, and 7% is "Moor," a term I thought went out with Shakespeare, but is singularly undescriptive here. Religiously, 70% is Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 8% Christian. Which means that at least 4% of the population is Sinhalese but not Buddhist, while at least 5% of the population is Hindu or Christian, but not Tamil. What are the sympathies of that roughly 4.5%? That would go a long way to characterizing the conflict.

So what we're left with is a report that focuses on an odd case of religious violence in an ethnic civil war, while at least partly casting that civil war as being religious. But when Aceh, and southern Thailand, and parts of Pakistan, and Nigeria, and Sudan, and Israel, and Saudi, and Iraq, and the Balkans, and schools in Russia, go up in flames, the cause is always ethnic.

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January 04, 2005

Cost of Malpractice Suits

During the Colorado Senate race, Ken Salazar was fond of claiming that the cost of medical malpractice suits was only 0.1% of all medical costs. Sadly, Pete Coors never really articulated an effective response to him. In today's Wall Street Journal, solo practitioner Benjamin Brewer summarizes nicely the actual costs of out-of-control tort lawyers.

Here's the map:

And here are the numbers:

At this point, I am the only doctor in a county of 14,000 people and 486 square miles who regularly performs Cesarean sections -- a delivery method any mother must be prepared for even if it's not what's planned. (One of my hospital's two general surgeons will do a C-section in an emergency if I'm out of town.)


While base rates can be around $150,000, some rates reached as high as $230,000 in the Chicago area in 2004, according to a report cited in a publication of the American Medical Association. (Rates vary based on the number of surgeries performed and babies delivered, as well as doctors' claims experience.)

ISMIE, a mutual medical malpractice insurer in Illinois, raised rates 35% in 2003 because of an increase in the size of payouts and number of lawsuits, according to its annual report. (Only three percent of ISMIE's invested assets are in common stocks, the report says.)


At Gibson Area Hospital, where I deliver, we had five family doctors doing OB care five years ago. At the end of 2004, we had just two. Of those two, only I do C-sections.

At least our hospital delivers babies. Of the 102 counties in Illinois, 26 have no hospital obstetric services. An additional 23 counties have no hospitals at all. In many of these areas, women travel far within our state or travel to bordering states to deliver their babies.


Some hospitals with critical needs have subsidized some of the increases in insurance costs for delivering doctors. For hospitals in rural areas, this strategy only goes so far. Red Bud Regional Hospital in southern Illinois closed its OB department in November when the insurance costs for their two delivering doctors reportedly hit $250,000 per year -- or $2083 per baby.

My hospital is helping me continue to practice. It paid most of the $31,000 increase in my insurance costs for 2004. (I pay taxes on the money they paid on my behalf, which cuts down on the benefit a bit.) I paid the remainder of the $49,500 bill for professional liability insurance. I deliver about 60 babies a year. I haven't been sued.

Ironic that the same people who romanticize the little guy, the solo practitioner, the small businessman, when it comes to HMOs and WalMart, are so eager to back a system dedicated to their destruction.

Certainly the left's first response will be to subsidize the service, which really means subsidizing the tort lawyers. Their second response will be to require hospitals and doctors to provide an increasing number of services at below-market prices, and thus, substandard quality.

As you see, it isn't merely the dollar amount of the damage awards that matters. It's the cost of the litigation. It's the cost of keeping attorneys on staff, or on retainer to deal with these. It's the cost of insurance, which companies need to have money on hand in case Typhoon Edwards strikes. It's the rising risk-aversion that pervades every aspect of our medical care and, increasingly, the rest of our society as well.

All isn't lost. Dr. Brewer notes that Texas and Mississippi have both restored some sanity to their systems, and even California has made some progress. But until we start adding in other costs, citizens of states like Illinois will continue to drive for hours to deliver their babies.

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Many Ways to Give

It says something good, I think, that a country that has so often been criticized for competitive consumption now seems seized by a fever of competitive giving. There are many fine organizations funnelling money into tsunami relief. Here are several.

IsraAid, and the Jewish Federation of Colorado both have links. According to the Jerusalem Post description, IsraAid is "a coordinating body of Jewish organizations worldwide and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Israel, which are active in humanitarian relief work and concerned about global issues." And the Orthodox Union is accepting checks, as well.

Given that the Vatican still hasn't made amends for accusing Israel of stiffing Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lankan government isn't likely to be held accountable for letting its people die rather than take an Israeli field hospital, these are both good ways to make sure Jews get appropriate credit for valuing human life.

The American Red Cross is getting money from Amazon. (These are the good guys, not the ICRC, which for some reason considers the national emblem of Israel to be religious, and the cross and the crescent to be, um, national?)

And Jim, over at ThinkingRight, has a link to give through World Vision.

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January 01, 2005

New Houses

A couple of new houses up over on the Main Site.

Happy New Year!

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December 29, 2004


You might want to live in some of these. Then again, you might not.

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Rube Goldberg Does Coffee

When I left this contract a few months ago, they had a normal coffee machine. The kind you find everywhere. Fill up the filter, press a button, and come back later to find the pot almost empty and you get to do it again.

I return to find - this. Only there's no demo, so I blink at it, uncomprehendingly, like some Star Trek barbarian who's been transported up to the Enterprise in a show of force. (Obviously, the translucent arm in the demo is that of a creature caught halfway between our universe and some other dimension.) I've taken to calling it "The Repicator."

The system works with little single-serving coffee bags. You pick the bag you want, put it in the little slot, and the machine cuts a hole in the bottom and forces hot water through the thing. I suppose the advantage is that you aren't stuck with One Flavor of regular and One Flavor of decaf.

Since every cup is a process unto itself, it also eliminates the general feelings of unfairness on the part of the one person who always has to make the new pot of coffee. (Oh stop it. You wouldn't have any idea what I'm talking about.)

Still, doesn't this seem like a solution in search of a problem?

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Not Generous?

Note that the people doing the complaining are the NGOs, not the recipients. Show them they're delusional.

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December 28, 2004

What to Do About Next Time?

It's interesting to compare the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post on the Tsunami, and what to do about the Next Big One. The two responses tell you everything you need to know about how they think.

Here's the Journal:

It is preposterous to blame the inexorable forces of nature on the development of industry and infrastructures of modern society. The more sensible response to natural disasters is to improve forecasting, put in place efficient communications and evacuation procedures and, should the worst arrive, conduct relief efforts and rebuild what nature has destroyed. Those cautionary measures, as is now clear, cost money. The national income necessary to afford them is made possible only by economic growth of the sort too many of environmentalists retard with their policy extremism.

Rich countries suffer fewer fatalities from natural disasters because their prosperity has allowed them to create better protective measures. Consider the 41,000 death toll in last December's earthquake in Iran compared with the 63 who died when a slightly stronger earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

The principal victims of the tidal waves in Sri Lanka and elsewhere Sunday were the poor people living in coastal shanty towns. The wealthier countries around the Pacific Rim have an established early-warning system against tsunamis, while none currently exists in South Asia. Developing countries that have resisted the Kyoto climate-change protocols have done so from fear that it will suppress their economic growth. These countries deserve an answer from the proponents of those standards. How are they supposed to pay for such protection amid measures that are suppressing global economic growth?

And here's the Post:

Coloradans join with people worldwide in mourning the horrendous loss of life from last weekend's tsunamis in south Asia. As the awful toll grows, it's appropriate to ask if anything can be done to prevent or minimize future calamities. The answer is yes - but only if governments, including the U.S., invest in science and technology.

The international community is responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis, although the magnitude of the tragedy likely will provide a severe challenge in the coming weeks and months. Looking to the future, officials of the nations hit by the tsunamis recognize that they were unprepared for the disaster and need to create a warning network. Some may need international funds, but all need outside expertise.

Now, without any warning in either case, the San Francisco quake killed about 0.1% of the number killed in Iran, or in the India quake, or in the Mexico City quake. The presumed benefits to the tens of thousands of others came from building codes that wealthy countries can afford.

The Journal wants to extend those benefits to the developing world, along with all the other attendant benefits of higher living standards. The Postwants an expensive government international welfare program, with only one purpose and one primary benefit.

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Thoughts on ID

I am an Orthodox Jew. I am also an evolutionist. How I resolve the assumed conflict between the two is one matter, but if it was good enough for Rav Soloveitchik, it's good enough for me.

Ben has linked to the online discussion brewing amongst Hugh, Rand Simberg, and John Mark Reynolds. All make good points, but my sympathies here are with Mr. Simberg.

Science looks for natural mechanisms for how the world works. By definition, it cannot accept a deus ex machina. And ID, by definition is a Deus ex machina. The impression I get is that, deny it though they may, proponents of ID do argue from the missing bits rather that from what's there. Arguing that scientists should open their minds to other possibilities is like arguing that chess players should think about having the queen jump pieces every once in a while.

The WSJ published a good critique of ID, February 13 of this year. Since it's no longer available on line, I've taken the liberty of reprinting it below. Read the whole thing.

Let's remember that while evolution has been around for a couple of hundred years, grand theories adapt slowly. Galileo was 400 years ago, yet only now are we getting to a theory that may tell us what space is. We've only understood the molecular structure of DNA for about 40 years.

It's also important to remember what evolutionary theory does explain. Evolutionary biology, which looks to explain biology in terms of evolutionary theory, is becoming increasingly important.

The problem with scientism, as opposed to science, is its assumption that the material world is all there is. It leaves no room for the spiritual, no room for the moral, no room for Man's relationship to God, no room for a God. Religion should and must have a problem with that.

Moreover, evolutionary scientists seem to forget that they, like religion, like everyone else in the world, have to continually re-make their case to new generations. There are alternate ways of thinking about the world, and no battle is ever permanently won. By talking to each other too much, they risk forgetting the arguments that won them their pre-eminence in the first place.

Kestrel, you are an atheist, so unburdened of the need to reconcile the two. Your comments?

Evolution Critics Come Under Fire for Flaws In 'Intelligent Design'

Sharon Begley

EVEN BEFORE Darwin, critics attacked the idea of biological evolution with one or another version of, "Evolve this!" Whether they invoked a human, an eye, or the whip-like flagella that propel bacteria and sperm, the contention that natural processes of mutation and natural selection cannot explain the complexity of living things has been alive and well for 200 years.

Biologists used to just roll their eyes (and sometimes descend to name-calling) at all this. More recently, they've been joining with First Amendment groups to oppose moves to water down the teaching of evolution in classrooms. But now they are firing back with science. Their target: a line of attack that has promised over the past decade to "smash through the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence to bring Darwin to the canvas once and for all," as cell biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University, Providence, R.I., puts it.

The latest flaps are over Georgia's proposal (withdrawn last week) to eliminate the word "evolution" from science classes, and a Missouri bill requiring that biology curricula include a creationism off-shoot called "intelligent design." This new antievolution argument evolved (no irony intended) from the belief that living things are so complex they only could have been designed by an intelligent being.

For years, intelligent-design theory had been bogged down in what one wag calls "the argument from personal incredulity" ("I can't see how natural forces could produce this, so it must be the work of God").

DARWIN'S NEW FOES, however, are smart enough to realize that just because most of us can't imagine how the sun can burn so hot for so long, it doesn't follow that God, not nuclear fusion, keeps the fires stoked.

In 1996, biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., therefore offered a stronger argument against evolution. Complex living structures, he argued in his book "Darwin's Black Box," possess "irreducible complexity." That is, they can't function until all their components are assembled, much as a mousetrap isn't much good until the base, spring, bar and all the rest are connected.

Moreover, the individual parts of complex structures supposedly serve no function. Because evolution selects only the fittest innovations, useless ones vanish. The odds against a bunch of useless parts lying around at the same time and coming together by chance are astronomical, mathematician and evolution-critic William Dembski of Baylor University correctly notes.

But a funny thing happened when biologists started scrutinizing structures said to be irreducibly complex. Take the flagellum. It turns out that its base -- which Darwin's foes assert has no stand- alone function -- is made of the same necklace of proteins that compose a kind of syringe used by primitive microbes.

Called the type III secretory system, this microsyringe enables a bacterium to inject a toxin into its victim (this is how bubonic- plague bacteria kill). This component of the flagellum, then, could have been hanging around a very long time, conferring benefits on any organism that had it, ready to combine with other structures (which also perform functions in primitive living things) into a full-blown, functional flagellum.

"As an icon of antievolution, the flagellum has fallen," says Prof. Miller, a practicing Catholic. "If bits and pieces of a machine are useful for different functions, it means that natural selection could indeed produce elements of a biochemical machine for different purposes."

IT'S LIKE DISCOVERING the mousetrap bar was a fine toothpick long before it got together with the other parts to kill rodents.

Components of other irreducibly complex structures and systems, it turns out, have functions, too. Humans, for instance, have a complex multipart biomachine that plays a key role in how cells produce energy.

Irreducibly complex? Maybe not. Two of the six proteins that make up the proton pump that produces energy are dead ringers for those in ancient bacteria. Evolution could have co-opted them when it was putting together the more complicated biochemical processes inside animals, including people.

Biologists have pinpointed the origins of only a few of the complex structures in humans and other higher organisms. Even in these cases, Prof. Behe argues, they have not explained, step by step, how simple systems could evolve into complex ones. But with discoveries like the microsyringe, Darwinians have cast serious doubt on the claim that it is impossible for evolution to shape any complex system.

In one of those strange-bedfellows moments, theologians are joining biologists in criticizing intelligent design. Biologist and Anglican priest Arthur Peacocke, for instance, argues that evolution is God's way of creating. George Coyne -- astronomer, Jesuit and director of the Vatican Observatory -- goes further. Invoking God to explain what we can't otherwise account for, he says, is "a kind of idolatry," because true faith should come from within and not because we can't fully explain the natural world.

The evolution wars show no sign of ending, but maybe they are starting to generate a little light as well as much heat.

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December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

To Whom It May Concern. I'm on my way to the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, (Maynard, not Stonewall, or even Jesse), so it looks like the last few days have been an Blogging Holiday, after all.

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December 21, 2004

Light Blogging Today

Actually working on a contract today. Lots to write about - but it needs time to steep.


  • Charles Krauthammer, Michael Medved, Shmuley Boteach, and me
  • The Price of Zinc in China

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December 17, 2004

Peach State Blogging

I'm visiting my family in Atlanta for the week, as well as working on a contract that'll be easier to finish from here. So no more photoblogging until I get back to the scanner, and a little bit of local color.

I'm at the Panera near my parents' house, and I notice a large number of parents bringing their kids in here before school. I've not seen that in Colorado. The kids do seem to be drinking orange juice and milk, not coffee, though.

And two seats away, the executive board of a local country club seems to be holding an unofficial meeting. Or maybe it's an official one.

Different city, different airlines, same problems (registration required). At least ATA, when it went bankrupt, sold off some of its gates rather than holding onto them with a death grip like some airlines.

Same airport, new name, though. I noticed that they have changed the name to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There's only one reason for this: Hartsfield was white, and mayor in prehistoric times. Maynard Jackson was black. As near as I can tell, Jackson's main contribution to the city was screwing up the Olympics.

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December 15, 2004

One Last Favorite

OK. One more. This is an arch at Canyonlands National Park, one of the more under-rated national parks. It's right next to Arches, which tends to get a lot more attention.

The shot is facing east, there's that canyon just behind it, but the arch perfectly frames the LaSal Mountains (last seen from the Uncompahgre Plateau) just east of Moab.

Since then, I've wanted to go back, and get the same shot 1) in winter, 2) with a full moon behind it, and 3) at sunset. Looks like I'll get a chance. (Hint: Moab, UT, 12/26/2004)

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San Luis Sunset

This is one of my favorite pictures of all time. OK, one of my favorites among ones that I've taken, but then isn't that always the case?

It's a picture of a winter sunset in the San Luis Valley, driving back up 285 at the end of a long weekend.

As always, click to enlarge.

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Fun With Scanners

The building being reflected is the D&F Tower, downtown. It used to be considered a skyscraper. Yes, that's with a polarizing filter. My first boss wrote a program called GeoClock. It showed a map of the world, and where it was light and dark. Eventually, it also calculated the position of the sun at any time at any place. I used it to figure out when the sun would be hitting one side of the tower straight-on, and then I could take the picture at a 90-degree angle to that, to maximize the polarizing effect.

On New Year's 2001, they shot fireworks out of the windows. A year later, that was considered inappropriate.

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December 05, 2004

Denver Convention Center

The New Denver Convention Center, under construction for several years, is ready to open.

Denver has a law requiring 1% of any public works project over $1 million to be reserved for public art. Shame it didn't say it had to be for good art.

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Damn Spam

Evidently, someone has hijacked the jsharf.com email domain, and has been sending out email with a spoofed header, using some_garbage@jsharf.com as the return email address. Given that the sender seems to be from Russia, using a Chinese ISP, I don't think I'm going to make much headway in getting the ISP to shut them down. Hopefully, I can ride it out.

Aside from the general ethical issues of sending email to people who don't want it, it's a terrible annoyance to me as well, since I'm getting all the rejections from spam-killers and bad email addresses, to the tune of several thousand a day.

If anyone has any suggestions, please send them to jsharf-at-ix.netcom.com. In the meantime, if you're here out of pique from having received spam apparently from this address, my apologies, but please reserve your wrath for the cretins who actually send this stuff out.

By the way, there's an easy, market-based solution to all this: charge a small amount, say, 1/10th of a cent, to send an email. I'll happily pay it, and it will make life so much harder for so many spammers.

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Guilt by Association

Bill Rhoden, on this morning's Sports Reporters, went from wrong to dishonest. In his blind defense of Barry Bonds, Rhoden said, among other things, that:

  1. Bonds' use of steroids didn't diminish his assessment of Bonds as a ballplayer
  2. Maybe the other players should have had better chemists
  3. We don't know for sure that Lyle Alzado and Ken Caminiti died from the effects of steroid use

Tom Boswell and Mike Wilbon dispose of point #1 in yesterday's WaPo. And the reason that #2 is illegal is because we do know #3. So much for Mr. Rhoden.

Sports has got a couple of bigger problems. As many writers have noted, baseball's most beloved records have fallen, or are about to fall, not to the heirs of Ruth and DiMaggio, but to the heirs of DuPont and East Germany. (Maybe that's unfair to DuPont.) Even if Bonds goes off the juice tomorrow, he probably still passes Hank Aaron. There's no way of "putting and asterisk," or noting those records were cheap in any meaningful way: the official records still list the 1919 White Sox as the World Series winners.

At the same time, the NBA is dealing with the dark side of the hip-hop culture on a weeklky basis. Entire teams were turned into wholly-owned subsidiaries of Gangland (the Portland Trailblazers, for instance), and now "respect" justifies jettisonning the playground ethic of picking on someone your own size.

Sports needs to reinstate, or expand, its ethic of guilt by association.

After 1919, Judge Landis made not only gambling, but associating with known gamblers, an offense. It got Leo Durocher suspended for a year, even though he had stopped. (As it happens, it got him suspended from managing the 1947 Dodgers, where he probably would have gotten himself killed by cumulative injury defending Robinson.)

Baseball, the NBA, the NFL, need to make associating with known gang members, or known steroid-dispensers, an offense against their respective leagues. Not only won't we tolerate you using drugs, we won't tolerate you hanging around with people who deal them. Or people who shoot other people. Or doctors who have a habit of slipping a little something extra into the exercise shake. They can certainly afford the background checks on their personal trainers.

Mike Wilbon made it clear on PTI the other day that he things Carmelo, a good kid, needs to grow up and get some new friends. Well, it's not just true for Carmelo, it's also true for about 1000 other guys who play professional sports for a living.

I suspect there's no way on God's green earth that the baseball players' union is going to go along with this. And I can't blame Selig for not wanting to pick a fight with a union that wins every one of them. But it certainly would solve the problem, and maybe help some of these young men grow up.

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December 03, 2004

Christmas in Denver

It started with taking the Columbus out of Columbus Day. You knew it would come to this.

Denver has one of the most garish but beloved Christmas lights displays in the country. Included is a sign that says - gasp - "Merry Christmas." Naturally, the mayor thought it would be a good idea to replace that with "Happy Holidays." Evidently, that tremor they picked up at the earthquake center in Golden was the Wrath of Nordlinger, because today, the mayor has, ahem, clarified his position. "Merry Christmas" stays; "Happy Holidays" is turned away at the goal line.

In an example of moral clarity that is the hallmark of contemporary mainstream Christianity...

...Philip Wogaman, president of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, wasn't so sure.

Wogaman said as a mayor representing a diverse citizenry, allowing a phrase that is decidedly centered toward one faith - as "Merry Christmas" is - could be considered somewhat exclusionary to those who aren't Christian.

"On that score, I would have to say it's not proper for a political figure to imply that the entire community is of any one faith," Wogaman said. "On the other hand, I could understand a political figure extending the same kind of courtesy to all different faith groups."

In fact, the mayor is scheduled to be at the Federation's menorah lighting, so Mr. Wogaman needn't lose any sleep over any implied exclusivity.

(Aside: one of the annoyances of Messianic Judaism's presence is handling clerks who say, "Merry Christmas" without looking to see the yarmulke perched on my head. I've never had any use for the snarkier comebacks some people spend time perfecting. Good grief, these people are just being nice, and you want to punish them for not being PC-nice? I always just smile and say something like, "Thanks, you too." If they notice, they're usually a little embarassed, and hopefully they'll look next time, but at least I wasn't the one who embarassed them. The problem is, with Christians wearing yarmulkes lurking around, they may think I mean it.)

Now, the lights display is clearly Christmassy. It's got reindeer, a Santa, Frosty, and... a creche. Yes, it's legal, but it still bothers Mike Littwin. Littwin's pretty much of the same mind on Public Christmas as I am (except that he's married to a Christian). I have to agree that I find the creche a little bit jarring, but probably because we've been - protected - from religious imagery for so long that it looks out of place. I pretty much just look past it. Like the Greeks in the Greek Orthodox Church across the street look past the menorah.

But to drop a line claiming that we are, "clinging, and at times tenuously, to the concept of separation of church and state" is just absurd. I suppose it's possible that the secular side of the argument really believes it's under siege, but then why is the ACLU able to systematically remove public displays of the Ten Commandments from around the country? The ADL actually puts out a little pamphlet advising cities and schools how they can avoid the marauding bands of civil rights attorneys this year.

Which brings us to The Parade. Each year, for 30 years, Denver has had a Parade of Lights. This year,

[Pastor George] Morrison wanted to enter a float featuring multicultural Christian themes and a Merry Christmas message. Parade officials told a representative from Morrison's church, the 4,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, that religious messages aren't allowed because they might offend others.

You just roll your eyes at this sort of thing. When some moron of a pastor decided to do a little co-branding with a certain movie earlier this year, and put up a marquee saying that the "Jews Killed Jesus," probably a dozen FBC members trekked down from Arvada to join us in protesting. They're there for every pro-Israel event. They paid for bringing Bus 19 to Colorado on its US tour. They're the Church Voted Least Likely to Object to a Truck-Driven Menorah. The Downtown Denver Partnership missed the bus here, because they had a chance to open it up to everyone and instead alienated a lot of people.

So instead of shouting "Silent Night" over a V-8 powering an F-150, they'll just come down to sing carols ahead of the parade start time. (No word on whether the hot chocolate will have a hechsher.)

Still, there are a lot of tall buildings downtown, and they might want to scope out the area ahead of time:

And you thought the Target CEO was the Grinch.

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November 29, 2004

Speeches to Exercise By

The Ashbrook Center has a fairly extensive audio archive of speeches online. As some of you know, I've been exercising recently, and after a lapse because of the end of the Jewish Holiday season, have picked it back up again in recent weeks. During the lacuna in my employment, I've been back up to an hour a day. I had been listening to the Teaching Company's CDs, but the current set is American Literature, and since I hadn't been able to keep up with the reading, I've been putting off the CDs.

The speeches, many of them evidently delivered to a dinner audience, demands just the right level of engagement.

WARNING: if you're a Leftist, or if you have seriously considered leaving the country or leading a secession movement in recent weeks, do not listen to these tapes while engaged in strenuous physical exercise. Better yet, do.

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November 28, 2004

New Book Review

A new Book Review up, about Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies. The book's a little old, from 1998, but the ideas are still timely, as we debate letting people make decisions about investing their own money, for instance.

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November 23, 2004

Ironies Abound

So, as I'm sitting the Social Security office for 90 minutes, waiting for a 5-minute transaction of getting a replacement card, what's on TV but Fox News? Fox News in a bureaucratic office?

Neil Cavuto is on. It's roundtable time, mostly about the declining dollar. Isn't that, why, yes, it's Trapper John. Or rather, it's Wayne Rogers. The former star of that liberal icon M*A*S*H, is now a financial contributor to Fox News.

Eat your heart out, Mike Farrell.

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Jason Whitlock's Courage

You think you know where the Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock is going with this column (free registration required). Stern's protecting his league, the style of play stinks, he's sending a message. Whitlock's a good writer, but this looks a little like a style-over-substance column, something he's writing about because he has to, and he just wants to write about it better. Then, like a blindside tackle, this hits you:

In this column, I am calling on my peers in the media to level with NBA players (and all professional athletes) and tell them what's really going on.

American sports fans, particularly those who consistently shell out the hundreds of dollars it takes to attend a professional game, are fed up with black professional basketball players in particular and black professional athletes to a lesser degree.

Yeah, let's cut through all the garbage and get to the real issue. The people paying the bills don't like the product, don't like the attitude, don't like the showboating and don't like the flamboyance. The NBA, which relies heavily on African-American players, is at the forefront of fan backlash. Stern realizes this, and that's why, spurred on by the Detroit brawl, he is reacting decisively.

What the players must come to grips with is that just because race is an element in the backlash, that doesn't mean the backlash is fueled by racism.

We're witnessing a clash of cultures. A predominately white fan base is rejecting a predominately black style of play and sportsmanship.

Who is on the right side of this argument? The group that is always right in a capitalistic society. The customer.


We, black people, begged for integration. We demanded the right to play in the major leagues, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL. These leagues accommodate a white audience. As long as the customer base is white, the standard for appropriate sportsmanship, style of play and appearance should be set by white people.

This is fair, particularly when the athletes/employees earn millions of dollars and have the freedom to do whatever — and I mean whatever — they want when they're not playing or practicing.

If African-American players are unwilling to accept this reality, NBA owners will speed up the internationalization of their team's rosters. Many African-American players with NBA-quality skill will soon find themselves circling the country playing basketball with Hot Sauce and the And 1 Tour while Yao Nowitzki collects a $10 million NBA check.

The black players will have no one to blame but themselves.

(emphasis added)

To quote Ron Artest, "that's like, 'wow.'"

I've always like Whitlock on the Sports Reporters. He doesn't deny who he is, he just doesn't think that every black athlete is a hero or gets a break, and every criticism of blacks is racist. That's the difference between him and, say, Bill Rhoden of the NYTM. Heck, that's the difference between him and Mike Lupica, who works himself up into self-righteous liberal indignation every other show.

There are some racists out there who will use Whitlock's column as self-defense. Well, there are immature athletes who've been using the power of crying, "racist" as cover for this kind of garbage for far too long. Whitlock has the sense to distinguish between race and racism, the understanding that actual racism is a tiny fraction of what it used to be, and the courage to brave being called all sorts of names by black "leaders" who don't get it. I'm sure that not a few emails to Mr. Whitlock were addressed to "Uncle Tom" Whitlock this morning.

Racism isn't when blacks are held to a "white" standard because they're people. Racism is when they're held to a different standard because they're black.

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That Wacky Federal Government

It's about time I replaced my Social Security card. To find out how to do that, I went to - where else? - www.socialsecurity.gov. How do I prove I'm me?

Identity: ...The identity document must be of recent issuance so that we can determine your continued existence.

Who says government officials don't have a sense of humor?

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November 22, 2004

Red/Blue ACT

The guys at Powerline are engaged in a takedown of Jim Holt's denigration of the Red States. It includes the following statement:

Next, Holt says that the states vary in the "value they place on education." That's certainly true. The effect can be measured in a number of ways. One of the most basic is to look at high school students' test scores. Look here, for example, where average ACT scores are compiled by state. As of 2004, the average ACT score in America was 20.9. Presumably if the blue states are far ahead of the reds in their concern for education, the red states should be clustered well below the average. Right, Mr. Holt? Sure. Well, let's check the actual data. Among the red states showing better than average achievement for their high school students are Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. So one half of the states that voted for President Bush have school systems turning out above-average scholastic achievement tests.

Sounds random to me.

Unfortunately, the data does seem to indicate a difference in ACT scores among those tested. Looking at the data more closely does seem to indicate the dangers of eyeballing patterns, and seeing if the data "looks" random.

Warning! Serious Statistical Geekery Ahead! If you want the conclusions, skip to the last paragraph.

I ran three different statistical tests. The first was a simple correlation between the ACT scores and Red/Blue status, signified by a 1 (red) or a 0 (blue):

  Total English Math Reading Science
r -0.439 -0.410 -0.482 -0.409 -0.346

For a sample size of 51, a correlation of 0.14 (or -0.14) would be considered significant, as a rule of thumb. All of these are significant.

Next, I used something call the Mann-Whitney U-Test. Bsaically, you rank all the scores, assigning 1 to the lowest, all the way to 51 for the highest. Ties are averaged. The test statistic is a z. In this case, the higher score, the stronger the chance that the two sets of rankings are different.

  Total English Math Reading Science
z -3.887 -3.608 -4.196 -3.318 -3.203

These are huge z-scores. The Messiah comes at z = 4.0. We can state with near-certainty that the ACT scores of red states rank lower than those of blue states.

Finally, I directly compared the average ACTs. This is a two-part test. The first part showed that the variances of the two samples could be treated as the same. That made the second part a simple t-test. Since there are 31 red states, and 20 blue ones (including DC), there were 19 degrees of freedom. The 90% confidence threshhold for 19 degrees of freedom is 1.33:

  Total English Math Reading Science
t 1.364 1.373 1.321 1.363 1.407

All of these are significant, too, with the base exception of the math scores.

Here's my Excel file.

So what? Well, we can say that the ACT scores in red states are almost certainly lower than those in blue states. Since some states test only a few percent of students using the ACT, it's hard to tell how that affects scores. It's possible that some states' scores are dragged down by broader participation.

It's also possible that some states have such low participation that their ACT scores aren't representative of their school systems. A cursory correlation suggests that about 30% of the scores' declines are explained by higher participation, and that red states are more likely to have higher participation rates, with a correlation of 0.52.

They may have stronger teachers' unions, stronger bureaucracies, fewer private schools, higher SAT participation.

In any case, there's nothing in the data presented to indicate that Holt's sneering thesis about red-staters caring less about education is true.

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November 17, 2004

Russia's New Missile - Speculation

The New York Times is reporting that Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is developing a new type of nuclear missle system.

I wonder if it has anything to do with this.

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November 16, 2004

More on State

Yesterday, I wrote that the choice for National Security Adviser and Deputy Secretary of State would tell us a lot about where the Administration was heading. Here's why.

The National Security Adviser's job, among other things, is to organize foreign policy options and initiatives to fit the President's rather busy schedule. This includes vetting and considering opposing views and alternatives. If the NSA has generally been supportive of Administration policy, he will continue to frame options in light of that policy, while still providing reasonable objections to, and defenses of those ideas.

An NSA who is unsure of himself, or of the Administration, may tend to either muddy the waters more than necessary, or may allow himself to be used as a back-channel to the President by dissenting voices. Barring a complete breakdown in policy or of the world situation, such a back-channel is more likely to be destructive than constructive.

It's important to remember the Miss Rice isn't going away - she'll still be a major part of the Preisdent's foreign policy team. But she won't necessarily be in the same day-to-day role that she had before. It's important that the President choose someone who can continue along the same lines.

As for the Deputy Secretary of State, that's critical, too. While the Secretary help set policy, the Deputy manages the Foreign Service and the career diplomatic corps, "Main State," or, "The Building," as it is known. Currently, that position is filled by Richard Armitage. Armitage isn't a bad guy, he's just a career diplomat who tends to encourage the Secretary to go native.

The Deputy can serve as a liaison between the Secretary and the careerists. He can act to enforce reform, or to undermine it. A weak Deputy, or one who sees himself as reporting to the diplomats rather than to the Secretary, can inhibit reform, embolden those who would use leaks and Congress to undermine the Administration, and distract the Secretary from the important business of actually conducting diplomacy.

For an introduction on how this is done, go rent "Yes, Minister." Seriously.

This last is going to be even more important in the President's second term than it was in his first. Careerists know they'll outlast whatever political appointees or elected officials are placed in their way. The opposition in Congress may or may not have learned the dangers of rooting for the enemy. While there may be a tendency for careerists to hedge their bets a little for a President who may be re-elected, they begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel fairly shortly into a second term.

The only way to combat this is to aggressively let it be known that there is no light. The President has made a good start. Now, we need to see if there's follow-through.

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Book Reviews

More or less completing the port from the old site, the Book Reviews are up.

Some of the reviews (and some of the books) are quite old, a fact which has not prevented me from linking to Amazon anyway.

As far behind as I am on my reading, I'm even further behind on my writing about my reading. (The reverse would be either science fiction or Lapham-eqsue.) I'll let you know when I put up a new review.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2004

Secretary of State Rice

President Bush with likely nominate Condoleeza Rice to be the next Secretary of State. This does seem to mean that Main State will finally have to put up with a Secretary who is more likely to expect State to follow the President's line. Of course, wuch will ride on who the next National Security Adviser is, and who the #2 person at State is.

The President is already engaged in a full-scale battle with a CIA that thinks it runs foreign policy. Is he ready for, or does he also feel the need for such a reform at State as well? State has many more tools at its disposal, should the diplomtic corps decide it wants to fight.

Posted by joshuasharf at 06:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thinking Right Out of Action

Jim Cannon, proprietor of Thinking Right, and member of the Rocky Mountain Alliance of Blogs, is currently recovering in a nursing home, undergoing some physical therapy as part of his rehab. I stopped by to see him, and he's in good spirits, although he wishes he were back home and on line.

Take care, Jim, and we're all thinking of you.

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November 14, 2004


Michael O'Hanlon, a childhood friend of mine, hails from the Brookings Institution, and specializes in foreign and defense policy. While pretty much toeing a traditional liberal line, he's still one of the more thoughtful Democrats out there, not given to Red-State bashing. He really would like to see the party rejuvenate itself. O'Hanlon's latest Lesson for Democrats is a start, but it falls far short of what's needed.

O'Hanlon rightly credits big ideas with providing the intellectuel heft necessary to sustain a governing majority, even if he isn't exactly in love with the current governing ideas. He calls on Democrats to come up with their own "neo-progressive" movement, to produce their own big ideas. But the list he produces is disappointing:

  • A long-term strategy to win the war on terror. O'Hanlon calls, essentially, for more of the government-to-government pressure and welfare that has already failed. And linking of terrorism to economic, rather than political, freedom, isn't likely to produce either results or big ideas.
  • Energy policy. True "Energy independence" is an economic pipe-dream, and making this a major plank ignores the fact that our economy as a whole is less dependent on foreign oil than 25 years ago. How else could we sustain a recovery with $50 a barrel oil? And the true path to opportunity for 3rd world farmers isn't biomass fuels. It's the admission of high-yield GMO crops that the NGOs have been waging a propaganda war against.
  • Training and equipping African militaries to stop civil conflict Again, this is a pretty small big idea. In the absence of political reform, the mere maintaining of street order just makes it easier for corrupt dictatorships. A true "big idea" would be a comprehensive plan for Africa to join the 21st century.
  • A major child survival initiative Child survival rates are more closely linked to economic development than anything else. The "big idea" O'Hanlon is grasping for here is how to raise third-world living standards, not how to send more NGO doctors overseas.

Most of these ideas have already been tried, or really aren't very big. What conservatives have isn't a piecemeal set of projects and plans. They have a comprehensive ideology (economic growth, political freedom) that points the way to solve many of these issues. It's good to see someone trying, but if O'Hanlon is serious about a "neo-progressive" movement, he'll have to do better than this.

Posted by joshuasharf at 09:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2004

Bush Hatred Is Different

Remember when Jonathan Chait published his screed about why he hated Bush, prompting the first of Hugh's blog-seminars? One of the more cogent defenses of Bush-hysteria was that, well, the Republicans felt the same way about Clinton.

So I decided to go back and look at what the Republicans actually did say about Clinton in 1996, when he was re-elected.

Shocking, the hatred that poured forth from the pens of Republican columnists. For instance, Bill Safire had this to say:

Right-wingers can call Bill Clinton the first president elected by women; we can deride his inability to achieve a majority, despite the inflated poll predictions; we can thank him for depressing voter turnout and thereby becoming the first Democratic candidate since Al Smith to return a GOP Congress to power; and we can mutter that he won only because he adopted our principles of balanced budgets with tax cuts.

But the political fact is - he won. Re-won the presidency big, starting from flat on his back. That deserves a nongrudging respect, and it's why I'm telling myself to get over it.

How can you stand to read it?

Cal Thomas, that centrist, was even more bitter:

The main casualty in the 1996 election was not Bob Dole but ideas. Focus groups and constant polling ensured that no idea -- good or bad -- would go unpunished by demagogues seeking political advantage. So the voters were left to cast their ballots on "feelings." Even though most of them don't trust Bill Clinton, somehow he made a plurality feel good enough to re-elect him....

There are profound differences between the two parties. Democrats have been hiding or stealing their ideas. Republicans must remain steadfast in theirs.

The main message from the 1996 election? Liberalism is dead. Republicans need no longer negotiate with the vanquished.

Oh, the invective! Oh, the unrestrained passion!

Even George Will couldn't contain himself:

Pursing its lips austerely, the electorate saw its duty and did it pitilessly. Feeling inclined to extend the Clinton presidency, it did so in a deflating manner, making him a lame duck on a short leash held by a Congress that probably will be controlled by Republicans for the rest of his tenure. Which is why his postelection smile could be construed as an inverted grimace.

Fred Barnes pointed out in his Weekly Standard column that the press was likely to be less forgiving, something President Bush won't have to worry about. Krauthammer advised Dole not to go softly into that good Medicare Commissions, and reward Clinton for his demagoguing of the issue.

I looked through a variety of mainstream conservative columnists, and that's really about as bad as it got.

But the anti-Bush screeds are coming not merely from the online community, where little brackish backwaters of resentment and hatred haven't even been cleaned out by the stiff rain of electoral defeat. They're coming from Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Bob Herbert, and the pages of the Times. This is a one-to-one comparison - mainstream conseratives to mainstream liberals.

It's not something for liberalism to be proud of.

Krauthammer was right that many people considered the election of 2000 to have been unresolved. Toqueville wrote that an election resembles a national crisis, but that immediately afterwards, things are settled, and return to normal. If that never happened, if the national crisis persisted for 4+ years, it's no wonder that some people have gotten used to operating in crisis mode. But we need to get back to a point where we're adversaries, not enemies.

Look, it's easier to take being called morons and religious freaks when you win. Certainly it's less threatening. But it's not healthy under any circumstances. It leads to physical attacks, shootings at buildings, swastika-burning, you know, politics by other means. And it leads conservatives to feel marginalized, even while winning elections.

Posted by joshuasharf at 03:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 08, 2004


From a case study examining GE chairman Jack Welch:

For a large organization to be effective, it must be simple. For a large organization to be simple, its people must have self-confidence and intellectual self-assurance. Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick, convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they've know since childhood. Real leaders don't need clutter. People must have the self-confidence to be clear, precise, to be sure that every person in their organization - highest to lowest - understands what the business is trying to achieve. But it's not easy. You can't believe how hard it is for people to be simple, how much they fear being simple. They worry that if they're simple, people will think they're simpleminded. In reality, of course, it's just the reverse. Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple. (emphasis added - ed.)

Remind you of anyone you know?

If this doesn't exemplify the difference between the Kerry approach and the Bush approach, I don't know what does. Kerry is complicated, and anything but self-confident, when it comes to projecting the power and values of the United States. Kerry, who prides himself on his mastery of nuance, seemed terrified of being simple, for fear of being labeled "simpleminded."

Bush, on the other hand, is not only simple, he is villified as "simplisme." But everyone in that organization knows the purpose in Iraq, and in the war on terror. Rest assured, there's a lot of complex planning that going into a war, from the decision to go to the final execution. The trick is not to let the details obscure the purpose. Bush clears away that mental and moral brush, leaving a clear sense of mission.

It's one of his great failings that while the military and the executive follow so willingly, the President is so poor at articulating that mission to the American people at large. Still, they get it, and they get that he gets it.

Posted by joshuasharf at 04:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Welcome to the new home of View From a Height. Blogspot was clearly beginning to shake and shiver under the weight of the election-blogging, and it was time to unify the jsharf stuff, anyway.

I figured the time to do it was after the election, when things had calmed down a little, rather than, um during the election.

The design's the same, so people shouldn't be too disoriented, except now you can see that Denver has trees.

I'm giving MovableType a try. I've used it for Oh That Liberal Media! for a while now, and I've been pretty impressed. We'll see how it goes here.

Changing blog locations is a bit like changing phone numbers - years later people will still be hitting the old site, finally getting around to listening to that last outgoing voice mail. I expect to lose a little readership in the transition, but the new site will also let me do a lot of non-blogging. The book reviews, for instance, will have a room of their own, with a little couch and a coffee machine.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Balanced Scorecard: Measures that Drive Performance

The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud