Google Timshel Arts WWW


Friday, January 9, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from A Circle of Three," by A. Valentine Smith.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:40 PM EST


Update on the Update

Well, the new page is all set to go (except for a couple minor bugs that still need a little working out). Unfortunately, I set it up in a subdomain, and I'm having odd problems accessing the page.

I was accessing it throughout last night, even modifying and reloading the page, and again this morning. However, when I exited out of my browser and tried to get back to the new blog, the browser couldn't find the subdomain server. As soon as I'm all set to go, I'll just switch the new page out of the working folder that I currently have it in and into the main index file.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 AM EST


Thursday, January 8, 2004

Thursday Blog Memo

I've got a bunch of stuff that I intend to post, but I'm going to make a sincere effort to get my new design up and running tonight, so I'm hesitant to spend too much time on posts that might just disappear into the archives largely unread. So, if I see anything that I just have to mention immediately, I'll put it up, but otherwise, there probably won't be anything new here until tomorrow.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:28 PM EST


Well, Stone Does Fade... Sort Of

I tend only to read Ann Coulter when somebody else links to her, and I've begun receiving negative reactions when I link to her. But a column of hers to which John Hawkins linked has a line that nearly caused my monitor to become coffee-streaked. It's about the Episcopalian Church, but it is more appropriately (and more fairly) applied to religious liberals of all sorts whose theology incorporates the Old Testament in some way:

They acknowledge the Ten Commandments — or "Moses' talking points" — but hasten to add that they're not exactly "carved in stone."

8 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:34 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Stillpoint," by Denise Lussier.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:39 AM EST


Greed Isn't the Cure for Damaged Faith

It's a commonplace to suggest that research inevitably "discovers" the need for further research. Well, the American Catholic Church's audit of dioceses' activities with respect to child abuse has found — guess what — the need for larger and more pervasive auditing!

That, of itself, would be worth little more than a chuckle. Until we're ready to address the moral corruption at the heart of every facet of the scandal — from the abuse itself to seminarian hothouses to the hierarchical shenanigans to the lackluster force that most Americans bring to their morality and their theology — I suppose we'd best keep a sharp lookout. However, before you read this, you might be well advised to support your jaw:

At issue is a proposal put together by the [Providence] diocese's seven-member lay review panel as a recommendation to Bishop Mulvee. The diocese would offer that all those who had lost their right to sue because of the statute of limitations be offered therapeutic counseling for as long as they live, and a sum of $25,000 each or, as an alternative, arbitration that could raise the compensation to as much as $90,000.

Former Attorney General Dennis J. Roberts II, chairman of the lay advisory panel, said he thought the proposal was a "gift" since it would be going to people who no longer have any legal claim. He said that in offering money to such victims, "we have to be mindful that we can't give away the store."

[Victims' lawyer] DeLuca said the proposal was inadequate, put forward without any real consideration of his clients' needs or what had happened to them. He said some of his clients had been institutionalized and only recently have had the strength to bring their complaints forward.

"They [the diocese] made a cookie-cutter offer, and it's not fair," he said. "To come to the conclusion as to what's to be done without talking to them about the pain in their lives, short-circuits the whole process."

My moral compass may need some tuning, but I'm pretty confident that it is safe to suggest that temporarily sated greed will not cure somebody who is still in spiritual anguish about alleged abuse at the hands of a long-dead or -retired priest. Apparently, "the whole process" being short-circuited is the process of securing DeLuca another "new, black Volvo -- with tiny DVD screens in the headrests facing the backseat."

In the post to which that link goes, I wondered whether the lawyers would call off their suits if the Church acted as, in one of the lawyer's words, "a church, any church, should behave." Well, now we have an answer, and there's a reflected lesson to be learned by it.

Even when they are, as a practical matter, on the side of right, such people act from less-than-laudable motivation. In the opposite way, representatives of the Church ought to ensure that they are acting from the most-laudable motivation for a Church — fidelity to God — even if, by some secular standard, that manifests in ways that might seem wrong as a purely practical matter. I can't shake the feeling that, underneath all of the specifics and pain and accusations, it is passive theology that is inviting attack from wolves who howl falsely to the tune of human sympathy and fairness.

Yes, Mr. DeLuca, let's assess each victim on his (or her) own merits. That way we can ensure that the "compensation" takes the right, most productive, form. And for those whose suffering is either long past or affected their longer lives only minimally... well, surely you'll agree that it is only fair that they get less. Nothing, even.

Just to clarify, by "passive theology," I don't mean theology that encourages passivity, although that's dangerous in excess, too. Rather, I used the term to indicate a theology that is made subservient to other areas of thought, mostly secular — allowing politics or psychology or legality or even fashion to determine one's theology. To be sure, such things ought to inform theology (except fashion) or be considered during the practical application of it, but understanding of God and that which He would have us do must be primary.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:17 AM EST


Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Is the Name Sly, Too?

I don't know that I've ever seen a more apt example of the thinking behind the "pro-choice" abortion position — whether it's out of a lack of deliberate consideration or derives from evil impulses — than this tidbit from Howard Dean's past, offered in passing in a George Neumayr piece:

Such lies and schemes are familiar to Vermont pro-lifers. They are still shaking their heads over Dean's "Dr. Dynasaur" health care program which allowed low-income mothers to claim their unborn child for eligibility in the program, then gave them funds to abort the child.

Children when convenient, unwanted growths when not. I wonder, though, whether it occurred to anybody who participated in the naming of the program that the dinosaurs are extinct.

(via Amy Welborn)

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:45 PM EST


Tuesday... Making Things "Coming Soon"

Just so's anybody who cares knows, I'm getting rolling with my usual tasks a little late today, because I spent some time working on the blog's redesign.

I like the new design, obviously, but I'll be curious to see what sort of reaction I get, if I get any. I just couldn't do the standard template-type layout. Not that I've been radical. I just tried to put a little extra thought into the artistry of the layout itself. (Hope I'm not over-selling it!)

Anyway, it's entirely possible that I'll have it up and running before next week — after just 9 months of procrastination!

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:37 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Oxidation," by Gary Bolstridge.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:26 PM EST


Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Spinning Numbers... and Allegiances

Leave it to our old friend Jody to bring me to a defense of Mark Shea.

I had swung by Mark's blog to see if he'd had cause to comment on the fact that Joseph D'Hippolito placed a column with the Jerusalem Post, and I came across an entry and a comment thereto that incited me, as an involuntary reflex, to write this post. Mark says of libertarians:

Nonetheless, libertarian*ism* (not "every last libertarian") is a philosophy best suited for people whose thinking is about one-generation deep. It tends not to hold up well over the long run and it most appealing (tellingly) to the sort of DINK (Double Income, No Kids) culture that inhabits the internet. So sociologically, I regard it as one of those obvious "boy's philosophies" that is sweet in the mouth but sour in the belly and can't last outside the hothouse of an economically prosperous young American middle-class before it has realized that life is essentially about self-sacrifice for others. Self-described libertarians who do live as though life is essentially about self-sacrifice for others are what I call "inconsistent libertarians".

In response to this obvious description, Jody commented:

That way you would have learned that most Libertarians are straight (90%) small business owners (23%), split fairly evenly between high school and college educated folks and those with advanced degrees (51/49%) were raised Christian (72%), are again split pretty evenly between those who make more than $50K (52%) and less than that (48%) are in monogamous (70%) long term relationships of 11 years or more (56%) with other libertarians (75%), and are politically active (57%) registered voters (90%). 82% of them are charitable toward libertarian causes, 44% toward humanitarian, 33% toward cultural and --zounds-- over a quarter (26%) of them donate to religious ones.

See, that would have shown that the real world basis for your argument that Libs are shallow, "Me-Centric" folks without much concern for their community or the future, really doesn't hold up under the least bit of -- wait for it--empiricism. (Ooo! There's that pesky word and concept again!)

Those numbers, which Jody has apparently selected and parsed with care, come from a Liberty magazine survey. Let me make passing note that Jody has, in the past, been quite willing to attack surveys as a data source, citing a personal bias (i.e., tilting toward the respondent's idealized version of himself). I haven't accepted that as a self-sufficient argument when used against me, so I won't use it as such here. Yes, surveys are problematic, but as Jody implies in his comment, some information is better than none. Figure out the bias and correct for it.

A magazine readership represents a self-selected pool — in this case, probably trending toward older, better-off libertarians who give thought to their being libertarians. So, while Jody picks up a point in that these respondents will probably skew toward the wealthy side, Mark picks up a stronger point in that the respondents would skew away from libertarians who are, in Jody's words, "shallow, 'Me-Centric' folks without much concern for their community or the future."

But accepting these numbers as accurate still leaves Jody spinning beyond the bounds of the laugh test; for example, how do the 23% of respondents who own small businesses amount to "most Libertarians"? The fact is that the survey's results, while they do so less than the corresponding survey in 1988 apparently did, strongly support Mark's characterization. I'm not going to take the time to research the truly relevant factor — the comparison to the general population — thoroughly, but we can make some generalizations on that count, with some quick census data.

80% of the surveyed libertarians are over 35, with 62% between 35 and 60; 90% of them are men. While 29% and 26%, respectively, claim to be religious and to have donated to religious causes, only 13% had attended a church within the week before the survey, with another 7% picked up extending the range out 30 days. While Jody is correct that 57% are politically active, 74% of them do not participate in any community groups.

With regard to income, Jody cuts the data in such a way as to come within 4% of balancing upper and lower incomes, but splitting the data at $50,000 isn't particularly applicable, considering that, in 1999, the median U.S. household income (including households with multiple workers) was $42,000. Continuing to pretend the numbers are comparable, the 20% of libertarians who make over $100,000 per year match up to 12.3% of the general public (which, remember, includes the libertarians). The 52% of libertarians over $50,000 match up with 42% of the population, while the 48% of libertarians under that line match up with 58% of the general public. And, once again, the libertarian data is for individual income, while the population data is for household income. Considering that 60% of libertarians are married and that 60-something percent of the general population is employed, this difference in the data probably makes a huge difference. (For some sense of the degree of difference, consider that the median income for non-family households was $25,700, while the per capita income was $21,500, both of which are less than half the median libertarian income.)

Of course, the most shocking data that Jody downplays in order to disprove Mark is that, in a nation that hovers around replacement level (one child for every adult), 49% of the surveyed libertarians had no children. Another 10% had only one child (remember that it takes two people to make a child). In a group that is married at about the same rate as the general population (around 60% of people), and is 80% above the age of 35, that goes a long way toward justifying Mark's DINK assertion right there!

A quick note on Joseph's column, which started this whole inquiry. Although, as a writer, I'm happy for Joseph that he placed a piece with such a well-known publication, and although I continue to agree with much of what he says (but with a bit less vehemence), there's something that causes me discomfort when a Catholic writes in a major paper of the Jewish state that there is "pervasive, virulent anti-Israeli and anti-Western sentiment within the Church's upper echelons." Don't get me wrong; I'm a strong supporter of Israel, and I am aghast as anybody when members of the hierarchy take what I see as the European elite position. But saying so, without strongly offsetting the sentiment with other factors, in a Jerusalem newspaper just... well, it's disconcerting.

5 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:24 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 01/06/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Shed That Skin" by Dan Lipton. Once again, I cannot recommend the CD from which this song comes, Life in Pictures, enough — if you like musically intelligent, slightly quirky pop/rock music. To find out more, read my review, click Dan's name, or give "Shed That Skin" a listen.

"Shed That Skin" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:30 PM EST


Vouchers for Me My Children, Please

I received an email, today (well, yesterday, technically), arguing against "school choice." As it happens, it tapped into an issue that has had me down and disheartened all day today. Because I haven't said much about this issue, and because I didn't blog much today, I thought I'd post the bulk of my reply here. I've cleaned it up a little bit, but I still don't attribute to it more quality than that of an on-the-fly email of too great length:

I'll be honest with you that I haven't researched or considered the practical intricacies of "school choice," which is why I don't write about it as extensively as I do other topics. Suffice to say that people whose opinions I trust are almost uniformly for it, and that a sensible form of voucher system strikes me, without regard to others' opinions, as a great idea.

Here's where I'm coming from. My wife teaches grade school. Teachers in Rhode Island get an enviable deal; unfortunately, political and union corruption are such that our state is in a liberal-policy hell, and my wife and I have caught the bad end of it in every way. Public school teaching jobs are supremely desirable in our state, so they have a tendency to go to friends and family, or at least to people who are in the system and liked. My wife worked hard, as a substitute, to be among that last group in a nearby town. Unfortunately, when a job in her certified range came up, the hiring fell the other way because of an internecine battle that encouraged the superintendent/principal (one person, in that case) to hire from well outside of the system.

So now my wife works for peanuts (and no tangible benefits) at a Catholic grade school, which is, nonetheless, among the highest-rated in the low-income city of Fall River. Her pay is not sufficient for us to be able to afford the certification upkeep, such as professional development courses, that the states require and for which public schools offer assistance, days off, and so on. Thus, her certification is threatening to lapse in Rhode Island, and Massachusetts has continued to add requirements (usually $100 standardized tests), with all calls for information resulting in endless hold, presenting barriers to certification there. And yet, the lack of accountability in the public system, which benefits financially through continued failure, ensures that any and all funds or regulations meant to alleviate problems are applied too inefficiently to solve them.

From this perspective, I support any policy that shakes up a complacent system. School ratings, tying performance to cash, and so on will increase the incentive for public schools to hire based on quality, not for reasons unrelated to teaching, and to apply their massive funds in ways that assist the students and, for the students' sake, non-connected teachers. As that happens, private schools will be less able to satisfy quality requirements with the teachers whom the public system drives away without providing some form of compensation.

Now, from the parental perspective. Portsmouth, the town in which we rent (and in which Patrick Kennedy lives), has a great school system. Barrington, three towns over, has probably the best school system in the state. Between these two towns are Bristol and Warren, which share a dreadful school system. By dreadful, I mean that, despite the quality taxpayer-funded facilities, a combination of faculty/staff issues and the sort of families in the towns (heavily immigrant; 31% of graduates going directly into the workforce) keeps the public schools poorly rated, and private school is advisable for those who can afford it.

So, we're looking to buy a house. We can't even touch the homes in Portsmouth or in Barrington. (Let's limit our options to the towns listed for simplicity's sake.) Suppose we move to Warren (the cheapest town of the four). I assume that a reasonable and fair voucher system would work, essentially, by giving hometown families the standard public-school arrangement and opening up the extra seats to others on a competitive basis. That means that, as a motivated family in a poor town, we could use our vouchers either to help us with the cost of private school that our local school, through its failure, necessitates, or to send our children to Barrington or Portsmouth as slots and ability allow.

As I've found today, it seems that we can't afford even a moderately appealing house in Warren, so it doesn't much matter for us. At some point (rumors are that it might be this year or early next), our landlord is going to sell. The tiny undeveloped lot behind his much-larger property is currently on the market for as much as he was looking to sell his property and house for a few years ago. The deal that secured us relatively low rent was our role keeping the house lived-in while his family moved away for work reasons. They've since decided not to come back, and there's no way we can afford market-value rent in this town.

So, the upshot is that, barring unforeseen changes in our status or really dramatic (and really unlikely) dips in the local real estate market, we face the probability that we'll be forced to rent somewhere like Warren and to live with its public schools, however bad or good they might be. I'm well aware that education is more up to the parents and the individual student than anything else, but the school sets a tone, determines the height of distraction hurdles, and imprints its own reputation on the college applications of its students.

My wife and I are more educated than we need to be, and it hasn't done us much good. But I'd still like to give my daughter, her sibling still in the womb, and subsequent children the chance to start at least at the social level that we have somehow managed to squander.

3 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:31 AM EST


Monday, January 5, 2004

A Budding Career for a Dangerous Writer

Lane Core has made the acquaintance of one Matt Taibbi, who gave me the occassion to write, last February:

Perhaps in the alternate reality in which one can cast the right wing, pro-government, pro-war bias of Reuters and the New York Times as self evident, it is perfectly fine to let slip the term "Oreo" in a non-cookie sense to describe a "traitorous black person representing the [pro-war] 'cause' (Kevin Martin, head of the 'African-American Republican Leadership Council')."

The piece of Taibbi's to which I was responding was sloppy, offensive, arrogant, and (particularly horrid for a guy with apparent pretentions to journalism) ignorant. It is dispiriting that his work is finding its way into other periodicals than the rag that he helped to begin (I believe) in Buffalo. Then again, back when I discovered his work, Providence Journal writer Sheila Lennon acclaimed, "The writing swoops from his brain to my screen without processing, no distance. Taibbi's experience is raw, fresh, and eye-opening."

Eye-opening to those in the media who feel constrained. More appropriately eye-popping to the rest of us.

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:42 PM EST


The End of Marriage in Two Rhetorical Steps

It's difficult to know what to address about Jeff Soyer's post in response to a column by William Murchison. The difficulty derives mainly from my schedule, because the entire post could be dismantled and addressed almost to the sentence. Most obvious are Soyer's dreadful mischaracterizations of the Bible and biblical history, as well as his ad hominem attacks on Murchison. In this respect, Soyer's is like an aggregation of the very worst of false "common knowledge" in this area.

Many of these barbs sprout from a fairly egregious misrepresentation of the position of those who hold that the key benefit to the public of individual marriages is procreation. Here's the relevant text from Murchison:

No heterosexual relationship, no procreation. No procreation, no human future. That is where the state's interest in this thing comes in. It comes in also in consideration of the massive evidence supporting the heterosexual family as the most successful setting for training up the products of conception, namely, children.

Soyer discards that last sentence to justify this riff (ital. in original):

So if procreating is the only reason for marraige, then why bother with marriage at all? Obviously being in love with one another isn't a factor. Caring for and pooling resources isn't a concern. Taking care of each other when sick doesn't produce a baby so why do or encourage it? Wouldn't it be better if women just lay on gurneys in a government facility somewhere with their legs up and men could just stop by and do their thing? Then the women would just pop-out the children and there'd be plenty of procreating for all.

Putting aside that Soyer changes emphasis from public policy to individual motivation (a significantly different question), by skipping Murchison's mention of the longer-term commitment of actual parenthood, Soyer allows himself to dismiss the very heart of marriage. Granted, it was an oversight on Murchison's part not to state so explicitly, but in the context of the larger discussion, it is clear that procreation followed by "training up" indicates that marriage is meant to encourage people to have children and to raise them in a stable household with their own parents. Sex will happen and, therefore, procreation will happen. Marriage is meant to channel this inevitability into an institution that makes it a positive benefit for society, rather than the drain that childbirth becomes out of wedlock.

Of course, the continuation of the human race isn't the only benefit of marriage for society, and thus Soyer's argument goes (ital. in original):

Personally though, I think the state should encourage marriage and between both heterosexuals and homosexuals since people involved in a loving, stable union are much more likely to be good and productive citizens who also care about their fellow humans and society as a whole. It's also economically desirable for society because two people in such a union -- marriage -- provide the first line of defense against poverty, caring during an illness, maintenance of a home, and generally provide a better model of citizenship and participation for the town or village they live in. Otherwise, the state would have to provide for this at great burden to the taxpayer.

While I'll concede that Soyer is correct that strong relationships result in all of these benefits, and that they are benefits not just to the individuals, but also to society, it is plain that he lacks a linchpin that would make this a case for equating gay marriage to plain ol' hetero marriage: There is no reason — and no logical or legal argument — that such "unionized" individuals need be sexually intimate. For the social service of mutual care, any two (or more) people will do.

For one who makes multiple appeals to the force of logic (as Soyer does), it oughtn't be difficult to see that the "loving, stable union" between a man and a woman is unique among the variations in its ability to generate children. Thus, we have the argument from those whom Soyer ridicules: The distinctive quality of heterosexual marriage, that which merits its public recognition as a uniquely beneficial institution, is ultimately the two-part, fluid practice of procreation and childrearing. If one admits relationships to the marriage fold that are biologically excluded from this complete process, one devalues it in the way that Soyer dismisses without consideration in this passage:

As for the claim by Murchison (and others) that gay marriage somehow "undermines" traditional marriage, that is nonsense. How can encouraging more people to marry hurt the foundation of current marriages? Logically, that makes absolutely no sense.

The meaning-changing leap that is somehow not apparent to a surprising (disheartening) number of people — of reasonable intelligence and apparent goodwill — is from undermining the traditional institution of marriage to undermining specific, already formed "current marriages." It is in the delta between "marriage" and "marriages" created by this discontinuous thinking wherein Soyer provides proof of the very suggestion that he mocks. "Encouraging more people to marry" — which is to say, encouraging people who do not wish to enter into traditional marriages to marry in some different way — robs marriage of its import and, ultimately, its ability to deliver the benefits that make it sufficiently crucial to justify exclusive public recognition.

Just because Soyer takes such glee in it, I want to quickly correct his reading of a particular passage in the Bible that is representative either of his misunderstanding of scripture or his distortion of Christians' thinking. He writes, "Public prayer (such as on TV or at a football game or commencement speech or school) is frowned upon by God (Matthew 6:5-6*)." The asterisk is meant to direct the reader to the scriptural "evidence" noted by the citation:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret

I don't think that even needs to be put into context for the meaning to be clear. Considering that, by Soyer's reading, Jesus would have disapproved of religious gatherings in synagogues and churches, it is obvious that the key phrase is "that they may be seen." For the purpose of being seen, not for the purpose of offering prayer. To be sure, the forms of "public prayer" that Soyer lists can be used toward the former purpose, but that doesn't mean that they are by definition. After all, Jesus also said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:26 AM EST


Sunday, January 4, 2004

Two Great One Liners

In the midst of well-worth-reading pieces, I came across two lines that actually made me laugh out loud, and that I'm sure I'll be "borrowing" in the future. First there's Mark Steyn, in a column arguing that Hussein should be denied Milosevic's fate:

This is what the Zionist neocons would call chutzpah.

And then there's the more-broadly useful sentence offered by Christopher Johnson in a post about the inner (and outer) turmoil of one Episcopalian bishop who ultimately voted in favor of letting Vicky Gene Robinson join his club:

Peter Lee doesn't want to be the salt of the earth; he wants to be its parsley.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:53 PM EST


World Famous in Rhode Island

Hey, look! The Redwood Review is world famous in Rhode Island:

The Redwood Review, published by the Third Thursday Writers' Group of Newport, includes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography and artwork. As the group's name suggests, they meet on the third Thursday of each month in the venerable Redwood Library.

Publication costs are covered by donations, and the journal itself is distributed for free. You're likely to find a copy in unlikely places, such as restaurants, doctors' offices, even hair salons.

The author, Rhode Island Poet Laureate Tom Chandler, correctly notes that editing "a literary journal requires dedication, an eye and ear for the beauty of words and, of course, the money to create a published text." So much is this true that, although I'm glad to have contributed to "a testament to our [state's] place in the national literary culture," I don't think I'll be publishing the Redwood Review again this year... unless somebody else takes on the burden of finding the money.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:46 PM EST


Saturday, January 3, 2004

Mucky Sheep

Although, shocking as it may be, it appears that Barbara Nicolosi takes a more conservative stance on adoption by homosexuals as a matter of public policy than I would, she is precisely correct about the way in which a NYC pastor presented the issue from the pulpit. She's even developed a great parable that reaches well beyond its inspiration, to apply very broadly indeed.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:55 AM EST


Joyful Brokenhearted Activism

John Piper offers a great reminder:

And yet, Christian exiles are not passive. We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Or we should. This is my main point: Being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can't, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying "good riddance" to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate. ...

The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don't own culture, and we don't rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:49 AM EST


Turning the Page on Credulity

Donald Sensing notes Michael Crichton making a great point:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say.

Every now and then, one of the documents that I edit will essentially consist of tables and then text restating the tables, but in prose format. This is an apt metaphor for the news media. If you want to know what happened, you have to draw the facts from out of the text and reorganize them for yourself. Pick out the clues, and think of every scenario that fits. Then go to a different source and see if there are any clues that the original left out.

This, by the way, is the major lesson of news-based blogs. Journalists — even of the expert columnist type — are no better qualified to sort those clues than the average head-on-shoulders American. In many cases, the journalist distorts the clues.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:46 AM EST


Change the Voters, Not the Votees

Lane Core puts his finger on an incorrect emphasis in commentary on the intersection of Catholicism and politics (bolding in original):

With all due respect, Ambassador, let's get real here. The problem is not that the Democratic Party has written off the Catholic vote. The problem is that (1) the Democratic Party has written off the Catholic conscience because (2) it can do so with impunity, counting on millions of Catholics to deny in the voting booth what they purport to profess in the pew. I think you would do much better to address some pointed remarks, not to politicians of any party, but to Catholic pastors of all stripes.

This is among the more frustrating dynamics that I've found, as a conservative Republican Catholic living in a heavily Catholic blue state. No matter the issues, folks just don't feel right if they vote for a Republican. It is just so... darn... slow to change the gut feeling that the Democrats have so effectively established that they are the good-works party. The fact of the matter is that most people develop their impressions for whatever reason and just vote according to them for long periods of time.

The challenge is not indomitable. If you look at the list of issues in the article that Lane cites — "respect for human life, protecting the institution of marriage, parental choice in education, protecting Social Security, the poor, economic justice, human rights, workers' rights, welfare reform and immigration" — you see that several are clearly Republican positions, while those that might generally be associated with the Democrats are only so because they aren't well understood. That suggests that Catholic leaders must do a better job of educating their brothers and sisters in Christ (which means that they have to better understand the issues themselves).

The trend is certainly in that direction, because it's getting difficult to ignore the disparity between the Democrat line and the Democrat record. Moreover, I've never seen an organized parish Committee for the Protection of Social Security, while pro-life committees abound.

2 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:31 AM EST


Why We Failed on September 11

Must-read column by ex-NSA general counsel Stewart Baker on one reason intelligence failed to stop September 11. This is truly chilling:

In August 2001, the New York FBI intelligence agent looking for al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi didn't have the computer access needed to do the job alone. He requested help from the bureau's criminal investigators and was turned down. Acting on legal advice, FBI headquarters had refused to involve its criminal agents. In an e-mail to the New York agent, headquarters staff said: "If al-Midhar is located, the interview must be conducted by an intel[ligence] agent. A criminal agent CAN NOT be present at the interview. This case, in its entirety, is based on intel[ligence]. If at such time as information is developed indicating the existence of a substantial federal crime, that information will be passed over the wall according to the proper procedures and turned over for follow-up criminal investigation."

In a reply message, the New York agent protested the ban on using law enforcement resources for intelligence investigations in eerily prescient terms: "[S]ome day someone will die—and wall or not—the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain 'problems.' Let's hope the [lawyers who gave the advice] will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL [Usama Bin Laden], is getting the most 'protection.' "

You know you're dealing with 9/11-related material when reality has an urban-legend, Internet-rumor feel.

Baker goes on to suggest what has been more and more on my mind as foolish town council after foolish town council votes to thumb their noses at the Patriot Act:

The second lesson is that we cannot write rules that will both protect us from every theoretical risk to privacy and still allow the government to protect us from terrorists. We cannot fine-tune the system to perfection, because systems that ought to work can fail. That is why I am profoundly skeptical of efforts to write new privacy rules and why I would rely instead on auditing for actual abuses. We should not again put American lives at risk for the sake of some speculative risk to our civil liberties.

It's difficult — and not altogether comfortable — to guess at what it indicates, but I can't help but see significance in the fact that so many who oppose post-9/11 security measures push to repeal them rather than to insert protections. It is important to ask "who's watching the watchers," but it seems we're much too quick to declare that our worries indicate that the watchers oughtn't be watching, rather than that somebody should be watching them.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:17 AM EST


Friday, January 2, 2004

Paul Krugman... Dishonesty or Incompetence?

There's a reason that people's view of the current state of our economy depends largely on from whom they get their information. People who get their information from Paul Krugman (such as Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon, who passed the gloom on to her readers) recently learned this:

It was a merry Christmas for Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus, which reported big sales increases over last year's holiday season. It was considerably less cheery at Wal-Mart and other low-priced chains. We don't know the final sales figures yet, but it's clear that high-end stores did very well, while stores catering to middle- and low-income families achieved only modest gains.

Based on these reports, you may be tempted to speculate that the economic recovery is an exclusive party, and most people weren't invited. You'd be right.

In short, the rich have more money to blow on trinkets, while working class families have less money to bring to their stores, right? Not according to Sharper Image CEO Jeff Forgan:

In an interview with Reuters, CFO Jeff Forgan attributed the boom to the introduction of more practical, lower priced products and the resulting shift of the average buyer's household income from over $150,000 to between $50,000 and $100,000.

For years, the retailer was best known for lavish products -- most notably its electronic massage chairs -- one might walk into the store to try out, but would be unlikely to purchase. Nowadays, you'll find Sharper Image's more affordably priced ionic air filters in apartments across America.

Sharper Image has just dipped into the edge of the pool from which Wal-Mart sips. Hasn't Krugman noticed more of that sort of person at the Sharper Image that he frequents? Sharper Image has begun advertising on basic cable, don'cha know, and I'm not talking just PBS, here, but Fox News, even. And has Krugman ever been in a Wal-Mart?

Speaking of that low-brow retailer, its glum news was that total "U.S. comparative sales are currently tracking nearer the low end of the 3 to 5 percent range for the December period." I'll be honest with you: having only spent a few minutes wading through numbers, and even though I deal with this sort of language as part of my job every day, I'm not positive about what this means. I think it means that Wal-Mart expects this December's revenue to have only come in around 3 or 4% higher than the same month last year.

If that is the case, extrapolating 3% to the whole fiscal quarter, Wal-Mart's quarter ending January 31 will have seen revenue of $73,733,580,000. For you Krugman fans, that's $73.7 billion. For the same quarter last year, the figure was $71.6 billion. What, you might ask, was the comparable figure last year for Sharper Image? $0.2 billion. Neiman Marcus? $0.9 billion. In other words, with its year-on-year increase of $2.1 billion, Wal-Mart's worst-case revenue increase alone would have been enough to offset the economic loss if Neiman Marcus and six Sharper Image–sized companies had taken the holiday quarter off entirely. Put another way, Wal-Mart's "modest gains" are the economic equivalent of 190% sales growth of Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus combined.

So much for Krugman's closing rhetorical question: "Can an economy thrive on sales of luxury goods alone?"

Of course, one can cut these numbers to support just about any argument, if the will to bend the truth is there. One needn't risk giving that impression, however, because the easiest rebuttal to Mr. Krugman is just to say that job growth lags corporate growth. Those who benefit most directly from corporate revenue increases will be the first to show signs of a recovery, which means stockholders, who don't have to wait for raises or new employment from a company to see their profit. And, indeed, Krugman complains that "a recovery that boosts profits but not wages delivers the bulk of its benefits to a small, affluent minority." You can't get to the latter without the former coming first.

What this all boils down to is that Mr. Krugman, in his continuing (and vain) attempt to talk down the economy, is merely trying to point out why the stage of this recovery that we are currently experiencing would be a cause for concern if it weren't just a stage of the recovery. It's similar to the trend of Paul Krugman's silly and deceptive market analysis, which would be cause for concern if it weren't just a stage in his continuing loss of credibility.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:49 PM EST


Procedures for Missing Keys

It has always seemed pretty settled to me, for daily-living purposes, that when you lose a key and aren't reasonably sure that it's somewhere within your house, you replace the locks. Simple, no? Well then:

The Energy Department is conducting a widespread review of security at America's nuclear weapons laboratories after reports of hundreds of missing keys, some of which could allow access to sensitive areas.

Sources tell CBS News that lock and key experts will begin visiting all U.S. nuclear labs next month to assess the problem of missing keys and apparent security lapses, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

The review follows reports last summer that a government facility known by its World War II code name "Y-12" had reported "a number" of keys missing.

In fact, 200 keys were missing.

Hey, I've got an idea. Let's explore even more sensitive technologies and develop even more frightening research. It'll all be done carefully.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:32 PM EST


Today Didn't Happen

I just do not know where today went. And it wasn't just me. The dog, who's usually impatient to get into the yard by 10:00 a.m., didn't get off his couch until almost 5:00 p.m.

This morning we looked inside a few houses, and while it was reassuring to see that there are homes within our (ostensible) price range that don't make one cringe at the thought of living there, it still is daunting to see how small a house so much money will supply these days. And that raises the whole panoply of insecurities and fears. (Is that our price range?)

You know, I'm starting to think that I'll never find a satisfying and/or adequately paying job. My needs and expectations are modest, but I don't think I'm qualified to do anything that anybody is actually willing to pay to get done.

Well, I'm not going to use this post on the first Friday of the new year to bemoan my circumstances. Maybe this year I'll get my fingers on the reins.

Posts are a-comin'.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:28 PM EST


Twenty for the Weekend

Moving along with the tier 4 CDs from my collection — commiseration in the form of bidding would be much appreciated:

Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (3 CD boxed set)
Extreme, Pornograffitti
Faith No More, Angel Dust
Fury in the Slaughterhouse, Mono
Jeffrey Gaines, Somewhat Slightly Dazed
Jeffrey Gaines, Galore
Grant Lee Buffalo, Jubilee
Grateful Dead, Two from the Vault (2 CD)
Grateful Dead, Without a Net (2 CD)
Guns 'n' Roses, Lies
Arlo Guthrie, Best of Arlo Guthrie
Handel, Water Music, Royal Fireworks, et al. (2 CD)
INXS, Live Baby Live
Billy Joel, Songs in the Attic
Billy Joel, Kohuept
Billy Joel, Greatest Hits Volume III
Billy Joel, 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert (2 CD)
Elton John, Caribou
Elton John, Greatest Hits
King's X, Faith Hope Love

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:55 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Fantasia in C Minor, Opus 64," by Zona Douthit.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:50 PM EST


Thursday, January 1, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Hogmaney (New Year's Eve)," by Christine L. Mullen.

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:19 PM EST


Now It Starts to Hurt

Well, here we go... selling off my tier 4 CDs. If you see anything that suits your tastes, please consider bidding on it:

Alice in Chains, Dirt
Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies
The Beach Boys, Made in U.S.A.
The Beatles, Please Please Me
The Beatles, Yellow Submarine
Beethoven (Leonard Bernstein), Fidelio (2 CD)
Beethoven (Szell), Symphonies 1 & 6
Black Sabbath, The Ozzy Osbourne Years (3 CD)
Blues Traveler, Four
Jackson Browne, Running on Empty
Jimmy Buffett, Barometer Soup
The Cars, Greatest Hits
Nick Cave, Your Funeral ... My Trial
Nick Cave, The First Born Is Dead
Nick Cave, Murder Ballads
Nick Cave, No More Shall We Part
Eric Clapton & B.B. King, Riding with the King
Counting Crows, This Desert Life
Miles Davis, First Miles
The Doors, The Best of the Doors

No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:12 PM EST


Three... Two... One...

So, here it is: 2004. I had intended to write something profound, but I'm just too tired. What this coming year will bring, I don't know. God preserving, about halfway through the year, our family will increase by one. In that respect, we are truly blessed.

But that means Dad has to figure out what he is being called to do. We'd like to find a house. I'd like to find a way to support the family on just my income — however I make it. Who knows. Windfall, calamity, and stagnation are all up in the air. It would take so little in any direction. Blessings and disappointments, breakthroughs and failures come all mushed together, and it is our task to sort through them and figure out which to address. Which direction to head.

I have very much appreciated your readership during 2003; increasingly, it has offered me warm solace or cold water, as necessary. And I hope that you'll continue to find my writing of value. Whatever the year may bring, I look forward to puzzling it all out in this new medium that makes friends of strangers and an expert of the man on the street.

Happy new year! God bless you and guide you through its wrinkles.


No Comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:13 AM EST


Powered By Greymatter